Harry's Christmas Angel
Summary: It's almost Christmas on Voyager. But don't be fooled by the title. A sometimes very dark PWP-wannabe fantasy that developed a plot. Tom spends most of Christmas Eve in sickbay. This is the third in a Holiday Series, Harry's Halloween Dance Date was first, Harry's Thanksgiving Tom was second. I believe there's enough background for this story to stand alone. Please heed the warning.
Disclaimer: The Ensign and the Lieutenant (sigh), and everything, belong to Paramount. The story is mine. Appreciation goes to the PKSP for their comments on my earlier story. Copyright 1998, 1999.
Warning: Rated R. Language, adult situations, lots of angst. This is more like a Christmas Eve spent in the emergency room. If male-male relationships bother you, if a little kinkiness gets to you, then please read elsewhere. If you can get past all that, there's a story here. If you are under 18, don't even think about reading it.
"Harry, let me ask you something?" Tom looked up from the PADD which had occupied him for the past hour or so. Both he and Harry were at the table in Harry's quarters working on the weekly reports for their respective stations, flight operations for Tom, and ship's operations for Harry.
Harry surfaced from the concentration he'd been giving to his report and looked up at his friend and lover. He flicked shining dark hair off his face. "Hmm?"
"I've been good, haven't I?"
Harry wasn't sure where Tom's question was leading, so he carefully asked for additional information before answering. "You mean, today?"
"Well, today and . . . and since . . . " Tom's fair skin flushed a little pink, "since Thanksgiving?"
Thanksgiving. Now Tom's question made more sense. The events leading up to Thanksgiving had left Harry feeling left out despite his attempts to bring the neglect to Tom's attention. After a very nice Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall, later in his quarters, Harry had let Tom have it. He had called in a bet he'd won and had Tom dress up in a Pilgrim maiden's outfit. Tom had protested, but had gone along with it. The rest of the evening had gone very well, Harry thought.
"Yes," Harry finally agreed in response to Tom's question about being good. "You've been great. Why do you ask?"
Tom seemed to be relieved to hear that. Unsure how to broach the topic, Tom said, "Well, it's about the outfits. You know? On Halloween, I dressed up like Seven and on Thanksgiving . . ."
"You looked terrific, Tom." Harry smiled in satisfaction.
"But . . . why?"
Tom realized he was going to have to be more specific. This question had been haunting him for a while. "Why did you want me in women's clothes? Or . . . I don't know, why did you want me to look like a woman?"
Harry looked at Tom closely. He heard the anxiety in his lover's voice and he saw the puzzlement and maybe something more like fear on Tom's face. "I think you're beautiful."
"But . . . aren't I . . ." Tom couldn't describe himself as beautiful and struggled to frame his question. " . . . I mean, don't you like me . . .you know . . . as a guy? Just as I am?"
Suddenly, Harry understood. His friend's insecurities were bubbling to the surface. Harry sighed, Tom's shakiness about himself must have been reinforced by those scenes. "It's not you. You're a truly beautiful man."
Tom tried not to blush. This wasn't exactly what he'd hoped to learn. Harry often said to him these same words, or similar ones. "Then, why, when you win a bet, do you want me to dress up like that? I mean, you've even taken pictures of me . . . I don't get it."
Harry wondered what he could say. He tried to figure out a way to frame the truth so that it would be okay. "Do you really want to know? Or is there something else going on?"
He watched as Tom picked up his PADD, fiddled with it, and put it down again. "Well, in a week it'll be Christmas and Hanukkah, and I guess . . . I guess I'm worried." Tom's very troubled blue eyes held Harry's dark ones. "We'd joked about my being an angel and all . . . "
"And you wonder if I'm going to ask you to dress as one in some kind of robe or something?"
"Yeah," Tom admitted, blushing furiously now.
"Well, yeah. I'd really like you to do that. But you haven't lost a bet to me yet."
"Somehow, I don't think that's going to last," Tom said ruefully. "I don't know how you do it, Harry. But I just have a feeling . . . you know?"
Harry grinned. For the longest time, Tom had always won their bets until Harry had caught on and turned it back on the pilot. Although Harry was pretty sure Tom didn't know what Harry had done, it was possible his lover was beginning to develop suspicions. "I hope you do lose a bet. I have a vision. . . really, I do. You have on a filmy white silk robe that forms a V down to your waist where there's a silk sash. The robe barely overlaps and falls from there to your bare feet . . . You have nothing on underneath, all of your skin is shaved clean except for your head. Your hair is a like a yellow halo framing your face." Harry sighed, his eyes fixed on the internal image. "My angel."
Tom almost gasped at the word picture, at the dreamy look on Harry's face. But it brought him back to the question he'd tried to ask earlier. "But, why, Harry? Why me as some sort of woman?"
"It turns me on," Harry said simply. It was the truth. "Don't get me wrong, you, as a guy, turn me on. You do. But when you're a guy as a woman, I don't know how to describe it. I want to just take you and take you and take you. It's like sensory nirvana."
Tom squirmed. He didn't know what to make of his friend's statement. Clearly, there was no trick here. Harry was bringing up stuff they hadn't talked about since early in their relationship, when they'd discovered that Harry liked having a lot of control and Tom liked having him be in control. They'd talked until almost time for their next shift about how far they might go, how much control Harry wanted to have, and how much control Tom wanted him to have. They'd talked about a safeword in case it was ever needed. Tom had revealed how hard it was for him to trust anyone. Harry had promised if the safeword was ever used, he would immediately stop whatever it was he was doing and that use of it would not affect their relationship.
So far, the safeword had never been invoked. Tom worried a little because last time he'd come close to using it. And yet the result of that Thanksgiving scene had been a profound release, a sense of giving up barriers that had withstood previous assaults of all types in his stress-filled life. Tom had experienced a kind of freedom. If his barriers were down, he didn't have to put so much effort into crafting a mask for almost every occasion.
Putting these thoughts aside, Tom tried to concentrate on what Harry had told him. "Um . . . sensory nirvana, huh? But what about . . . Harry, I'll just come out and ask this. Are you okay with me being a guy? Do you wish I wasn't?" He finally got up his courage to ask what he was really afraid of. "Am I . . . is it . . . Am I somehow filling in as Libby until you can have the real Libby back?"
A part of Tom's question could be answered easily. "No. You're not Libby, I'm not pining for Libby anymore. You're not a substitute for her. Does that take care of it?"
"Mostly," Tom said with evident relief. But he still worried about the other part. He wondered if Harry would answer the earlier question. If Harry didn't, he wasn't sure he could bring it up again. For a long while Harry was silent, handling his PADD, avoiding his gaze. Then, sensing Tom's eyes on him, Harry looked up, the dark eyes seeming a little haunted, as if they were peering out from the inside of a pressure suit.
"I don't think I have trouble accepting you as a guy. I know you are. I know it when we make love." It was Harry's turn to blush, that golden skin darkening with his embarrassment at having to explain his needs. "I appreciate looking at you, as a guy. But . . ."
"But?" Tom felt a thin tendril of dread thread its way up his veins to his heart, almost stopping it from beating the next beat. Then Harry resumed speaking.
"Yeah. I *love* the thrill it gives me when I see you as a woman. I don't really want you to *be* a woman, just . . . just look like one. Like, in the Seven outfit, I couldn't keep my eyes off those breasts, even though I knew they weren't real, and your ass in that skin tight suit, gods, Tom. All I was thinking about was you underneath it and it just turned me on."
Tom tried to figure out what his lover meant. He wasn't sure and was bothered that somehow *he*, as Tom, didn't quite have the same effect. Maybe he'd understand more if Harry talked some about the Pilgrim outfit. "And the Pilgrim dress . . . ?"
Harry closed his eyes at the delicious memory: Tom in the floor length dress, apron, bonnet, wig; and his helping Tom in the long process of dressing in it. "It was so great," Harry smiled at the remembrance.
"What was great, Harry? I just don't understand it."
"Cause it was different, I guess." Harry tried to figure out a way to explain it without hurting Tom's feelings. Earnestly, he asked, "I mean, isn't it exciting sexually when you do something different, maybe even forbidden or outside your normal experience?"
Blushing an almost unnatural shade of red, Tom had to agree. "Okay, yeah. But why this? Why does this work for you?"
"Why do you like to do something different?"
Tom had no verbal response for that question, only the increasing spread of redness on his chest, neck, face, and ears gave Harry any answer. Tom thought that maybe there were some mysteries that were meant to remain locked in long forgotten connections. Or maybe the truth would be too uncomfortable to face and would take away the excitement if uncovered. Maybe he should let it go. Harry loved him both ways, that much he knew. No, it was more than just known. Harry's love for him, and his love for Harry, were like the hull of Voyager, a shield which protected the occupants inside in a virtually unbreakable, all encompassing shelter.
With unaccustomed insight, Tom realized that his resistance to Harry's 'dress-up' demands no longer bothered him. In fact, he was surprised at the warmth that suffused him; it had everything to do with a desire to please Harry. Tom grinned, a light in his eyes. "You know, Harry, I don't think you're going to have to go to so much trouble to win a bet with me in the future. I . . . " Tom looked away for a moment, then directed his gaze at Harry's dark eyes. ". . . If I can please you . . . "
"And I you?" Harry breathed for both of them since Tom's chest seemed to have momentarily stopped moving.
"It's been awhile," Tom offered shyly.
Harry grinned at his lover, both knowing what they were talking about even if someone listening in would have been hard pressed to figure it out. "But you've been so good."
"What has 'good' got to do with anything?" Tom answered with a laugh and leaned across the table so that his face was close enough to Harry's that a few more inches would result in a kiss.
"Tom! We've got to finish these reports." The protest was pro forma, Harry's 'good ensign' persona exerted itself half-heartedly. It would just take a nudge from Tom for Harry to give in to what they both wanted.
"They're not due until the day after tomorrow." There was a wheedle in Tom's voice.
"True," Harry reflected. "It probably wouldn't do to neglect you for too long."
Tom's whispered words drifted the scant inch to Harry's face, "No telling what mischief I might get up to if neglected . . ."
Breathing harder, Harry answered very softly, "Prevention of problems is such an important part of any relationship . . ."
He closed that scant inch and kissed Tom's lips, raised a hand to place it behind Tom's head and kissed him harder, shooting his tongue down Tom's throat, his hand kneading the back of Tom's head as Tom's breathing caught and became ragged. Letting go of the kiss, Harry kept his hand in place and gently pushed Tom's willing head down onto the table so that the pilot's upper body was across the surface, his uniformed butt at the table's edge where his long legs fell off, his feet on the floor.
He had an idea then.
Breathing heavily, Harry bent down over Tom's head, one hand on Tom's back, the other bracing himself on the table top. "Tom?"
Tom's heavy lids lifted as eyes beginning to glaze turned up to look at his lover. "Mmm?"
"I want to tie you down on the table . . . your legs to the table's legs, your wrists to the opposite side. Is it okay, Tom?"
Harry's breathlessness was catching, the image almost too powerful to resist. If he was tied down, Tom thought, he wouldn't be able to move much. Speaking through ragged breaths where air was hard to come by, Tom asked, "What will you do?"
In short panting breaths, Harry told him, "I'll use very soft restraints. And when you're all tied down, I'll rub you down with oil." Harry's panting escalated as he became more excited by his word pictures. "Then, we'll take it from there . . ."
Tom moaned, his breathing now urgent and shallow, "Harry . . . Harry . . ."
Harry lifted himself up off the table and went to the replicator for the restraints and the oil, plenty of oil. He had a feeling that they were going to use a great deal of it. He authorized a privacy lock and soundproofing of his quarters, all the while tugging off his own clothes even as Tom took off his.
On his return, Harry looped the softly padded restraints around each of Tom's ankles and wrists and each in turn around a table leg. He had Tom test the restraints and accompanied each test with a light kiss. But Tom's pleasure quickly turned to panic as he flashed back to an earlier time when he'd been tied down and forced. A blackness descended on his vision, and a roar set up in his ears. He felt as if his back and chest were being crushed by an invisible weight and he began to thrash around as much as the restraints allowed. Incoherent noises, almost like choking, emerged from his throat.
Harry quickly realized this wasn't Tom's normal protests, something more serious was going on. "Tom?" he asked, "Tom? What is it, love?"
Tom didn't hear Harry, so lost was he in the black panic that had overwhelmed him. He grabbed onto the one thought that remained in his terrified mind, his safeword. His safeword. "Auckland," he managed to cry out, tears streaming down his face.
Before Tom spoke, Harry was already releasing him, his ankles, then his wrists. He gathered the sobbing man from the table into his arms. Then he half dragged, half carried Tom over to the couch and settled them both down on it. Holding his lover's face between his hands, Harry cried, "Oh, Tom. Tom, I'm so sorry. I didn't think . . . "
Between sobs, Tom tried to tell him it wasn't his fault. Harry's arm went around his shoulders, comforting him with small rubs. With his other hand, Harry fingered the tears away from Tom's face even as more fell. When Tom seemed a little calmer, Harry held him more tightly to his chest, all the while murmuring words of comfort and regret. Finally, Tom stretched out on the couch, his head in Harry's lap, Harry's face above his.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Harry asked softly, ignoring the lack of clothes on the still trembling body of his lean lover.
"I fucking freaked, is what happened," Tom told him, angry at himself. After the stricken look on his lover's face, Tom said, "I should have known better, I'm sorry, Harry. I . . . I wanted to . . . I really did."
"What freaked you out?"
Tom could detect nothing but concern in Harry's voice, face, expression, the soft fingers playing across his face and damp hair. He sighed as Harry's fingertips touched his lips. "Tied down."
Harry nodded and made a small sound meant to encourage Tom to continue. In some dismay, he watched as Tom rolled so that his head faced away from Harry, his knees drawn up. For neither man had the excitement of earlier been sustained even though they remained naked together on Harry's couch. Harry let a hand drape itself on Tom's back applying broad, calming strokes up and down that long expanse.
Tom seemed to be able to relax into Harry's touch and he began to talk. "Funny, the safeword I chose, 'Auckland'." At the pause in Tom's words, Harry simply continued to stroke him as if the silence didn't exist. Eventually, Tom picked up the thought again, settling his knees even closer to his chest, as self-protective a posture as he could manage and still be on the couch, still have his head on Harry's thigh.
"I understand. Tom, you don't have to tell me."
Tom sighed. "It's okay, maybe telling you will take away their power. I guess . . . I guess, you know, I was raped a few times in prison?"
Harry nodded but Tom couldn't see him faced away as he was. "Yeah."
"It was worse when I was tied down."
"Oh, baby," Harry crooned in sympathy. "I didn't think . . ."
"Not your fault," Tom assured him. "We . . . you and I . . . we were playing. Hell, I was going to get what I wanted."
"That too." Tom wriggled in pleasure as Harry's hand moved down to float his feather touch on Tom's back. Tom sighed again, this time in contentment. For long moments they remained this way, Tom on his side, Harry's hand stroking him, the strokes increasing in their sensuousness and in the pleasure Tom felt. His earlier panic faded as these sensations renewed his excitement.
Harry used the time to think as one part of his mind monitored Tom's state of being reflected through his moving fingertips. Another part of his mind struggled to put it all together. Finally, he ventured, "So . . . restraint is out?"
"Yeah," he answered Harry's question, his voice husky with desire.
"What about lovemaking?" Harry asked, still needing renewed clarification of what would be okay and what would not.
Tom groaned, "Yes-s." Almost too low for Harry to hear, his voice still speaking into the room, Tom added, "Please . . . oh, gods . . . "
Harry knew they were both excited , but Tom had just been traumatized by being tied down, "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."
Tom stiffened up. Harry didn't want him now, he'd blown it, he never should have let the panic get to him. If he hadn't used the safeword . . . Without his permission, a sob escaped and he forced himself to get back under control. He took a deep breath, his shoulders sagged against Harry's thighs.
He heard Harry call his name only dimly. If Harry was going to end it . . .
"Tom." Harry punctuated his word, by rolling Tom's shoulder back so that he could see Tom's face. "Sweetheart?"
Sweetheart? Grasping on to that endearment for all it was worth, Tom allowed himself a spark of hope. "H-Harry?"
"What's wrong? I was just worried that it might be too soon after . . . after being tied up."
Understanding lit Tom's features and his relief was all too evident in those beseeching blue eyes. "You still want me?"
"Of course I do. Sheesh, Tom, you're lying on it."
Tom blushed, "Yeah. Well."
"So? Is it okay?"
Tom reached his arms up and pulled Harry's face down to his waiting lips. His thrusting tongue kissed an answer to Harry's question as Harry's hand roamed down his chest, ruffling his chest hair on a walk further down. Tom's light fingers traced soft circles on Harry's head. As the petting intensified, Tom tried to convey how much he wanted to continue their activities through his moans, the writhing of his body, the kisses he placed against his Harry's mouth. Thoroughly aroused, Tom told him, "I want you. I want it all."
Later, Tom confided, "I could use a cool shower."
"Perhaps I'd be best if I helped you," Harry offered, lightly kissing Tom on the lips.
Tom gripped his lover's head and pulled him closer in order to deepen and intensify the kiss. Letting Harry go, Tom grinned widely at the man before him. "I think I'd like that."
As the days counted down to the next holiday, acknowledgment of the dual festivals of Hanukkah and Christmas resulted in the ship's mess hall and one of the holodecks decorated in symbols of the season. Menorahs with candles and stars of David shared space with representations of Santa Claus, reindeer, manger scenes with baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, also, fake Christmas trees, and holographic snow flakes. The only thing missing, Tom thought, was a real tree.
Tom huddled with Seven in astrometrics asking for her to search for a planet that had trees. Totally mystified, she nonetheless found no reason not to attempt to meet his request and modified her search parameters accordingly. While Seven worked on his project, Tom used precious replicator credits on such items as tree ornaments, brightly colored balls, small bells, and assorted items that he remembered from distant times long ago and far away. At the back of his mind, he wondered if he should bring Harry in on the plan, but he wanted to surprise Harry. However, he remembered the last time he'd surprised Harry.
Over dinner in the mess hall, Tom decided he'd bring Harry in on his plan, or at least most of his plan. There were still some things he didn't want to share with Harry until the proper time and place. "Harry?"
Harry looked up from this green, flowing thing that passed for dinner. "Hmm?"
"You know the holidays are coming up?"
Harry looked around the mess hall at all the decorations. "Yeah."
"I want a real tree this year. I've asked Seven to look for one."
"A real tree? What Voyager forest were you planning to harvest?"
"Very funny, Harry. A planet. There's got to be a planet around somewhere with real trees."
"Does the captain know?"
"Well . . . no, not yet."
Harry looked seriously at his friend. "Your butt's mine, don't forget that."
"Harry. The Captain won't mind." Tom squirmed a little in his chair as the mention of his butt reminded him of the incredible sensations it had experienced not long before.
"When were you planning on telling her?"
"When we find the right planet."
"I see." Harry wondered which was worse, the green slime on his plate or his friend's latest harebrained idea. After a quick glance at their surroundings, Harry casually mentioned, "You know, Tom, I still have that dress. And I could easily replicate a really fine new outfit."
"Sh-h," Tom pleaded looking around them. Fortunately, Harry had apparently looked carefully before he spoke because there was no one in hearing distance. Tuvok was way over in his usual corner and Neelix, for once, wasn't hovering nearby.
Tuvok's hearing was more acute than even Tom's paranoia could imagine. Without betraying through so much as a twitch, Tuvok had diligently listened to the young lieutenant's plans. He almost raised an eyebrow at the ensign's reference to a dress but restrained himself. What the two young people did in the privacy of Kim's quarters was none of his business, even if he did have a very clear idea of what had been going on in there. But he did wonder what Lt. Paris was planning with this tree-on-a-planet idea of his. It could involve matters of ship's security. He would have to keep a careful eye on the lieutenant. Perhaps a word with Seven would be in order.
Harry leaned over the table closer to his lover. "Do things by the book, Tom."
"I will, Harry. I'm being good. See, I've even told you about this."
Tom looked at Harry with such innocence in those clear blue eyes that Harry almost relented. But he gave Tom one of his sternest examinations, one where he knew his eyes were like black holes, trapping all deception within them. Satisfied that Tom's gaze remained open with no trace of guilt or guile, Harry returned his attention to his food, his point made. He hoped. After all, this was Tom.
The next day Seven told Tom that she had located a planet meeting his specifications. It was only a day's journey out of the way (and another day's journey back) in Voyager. No detour would be needed if Tom were allowed to take a shuttlecraft.
Armed with his news, Tom found the Captain in her ready room. "Captain?" he smiled at her.
"I know where we can get a real Christmas tree."
"A *real* tree?"
He grinned, "Yes, ma'am."
"And why do we need a real tree?"
"Ship's morale," he replied promptly.
"We could replicate a tree just like we did last year."
". . . and the year before that and the . . ."
She held up her hand in surrender, or to shut him up, Tom wasn't sure which. "And you want to go get it?"
"If I take a shuttle, I can rendevous back here in three days."
"Christmas Eve," she mused.
"Or we can take Voyager and be back on course in less than two days."
Janeway thought about it. "What else do we know about this planet?"
"Well, Seven said that it was either unoccupied or, if occupied by sentient life, they're prewarp, even pre-electrical power."
"I see," she murmured, buying some time. Her mind took Tom's idea one step farther. Christmas on a planet instead of a starship? What an intriguing thought. "Let's take Voyager on this little detour, Tom. Plot a course. But let's not say anything to anyone. I'll brief the senior staff after lunch. Otherwise, I want to keep things quiet in case it doesn't work out. Who knows what color these trees will turn out to be?"
Tom couldn't suppress his grin. This was great. "Yes, ma'am."
He left the ready room with his grin intact and took his place at the helm. Harry couldn't help but notice from his place at Ops the smile and jaunty steps of his lover. Uh-oh, Harry thought, it looked as if Tom was up to something.
After lunch, during which Tom had remained studiously silent in the face of Harry's persistent questioning, Janeway called the senior staff into the conference room for a briefing. Once they had assembled, she told them with a small smile, "We're taking a slight detour to procure a Christmas tree."
Harry grinned at that and looked at Tom who matched his grin. Chakotay wondered what was so important about a tree. He thought the replicated trees of the past several years had been just fine. B'Elanna considered this a ridiculous idea, but kept that thought to herself. She had read the Captain's enthusiastic nonverbals just fine. And her friends seemed happy enough about it, in fact, from the smug look on Tom's face, this could have been all his fault.
As Tuvok glanced around the table, he identified various sentiments. The humans who came from the North American continent on Earth seemed very pleased. The others appeared skeptical of the plan. He also noticed the interesting silent exchange that took place between Paris and Kim. Paris seemed to beseech Kim whereas Kim seemed to evaluate the Lieutenant rather carefully.
The day before Christmas Eve, Tom brought the ship into a standard orbit above the planet. All their scans told them that there was a large variety of animal life, some in groups, some in more solitary placements on the planet, as well as a diverse selection of trees in the ancient forests that covered much of the planet's continents.
Tom, Harry, B'Elanna, and Chakotay beamed down to a clearing on the surface along with a small security detail headed by Tuvok. Tuvok had surmised that Paris had faced a disciplinary hearing in Kim's quarters the other night. From snatches of conversation he had inadvertently overhead, Tuvok understood the procedures to have been initiated because of Paris' silence on the reopening of the topic of the tree expedition during a lunch date with Kim. He didn't understand the reasons why the taller and, presumably, physically stronger as well as somewhat older lieutenant, submitted to the dressing up inflicted by the younger man. 'Fascinating' didn't nearly cover it.
Tuvok set up his security perimeter while Paris led the tree seeking group in its mission. Tuvok couldn't help but overhear what to him was an esoteric discussion of the merits of various types of trees.
"The long needled ones are the true Christmas trees," Harry informed the group.
"No, no, Harry, it's the short needled, blue-green trees. Those are *real* Christmas trees."
The light bickering went on as Chakotay and B'Elanna exchanged bemused glances. Chakotay shrugged, as if to say, 'who cares?' and B'Elanna completely agreed with him. Finally, Chakotay could take it no longer. "Enough. We'll get two. One for the mess hall and one for the holodeck. Once of each," he said with emphasis.
"Yes, sir," Kim answered smartly.
"Fine," Tom sulked.
"Kim, you're with me. B'Elanna, you're with Tom. Select your tree and meet back here in fifteen minutes."
Tom looked as if he was about to protest. How could he find the right tree in fifteen minutes?
"Come on, Helmboy," B'Elanna urged with a trace of disgust in her voice.
With poor grace, Tom followed her. He started to resume his argument but B'Elanna wouldn't let him. "No way, Paris. You take it up with Harry." Impetuously, she added, "If you dare."
"What do you mean by that, Torres?" Tom demanded.
"Oh, nothing. Let's get your precious tree and get back up to the ship."
He snaked out his arm to catch her by the sleeve. "Wait. What did you mean?"
She looked up at the puzzled and anxious young man who'd stopped her. She debated what to say about the gossip she'd heard on the ship. Maybe there was nothing to it, but Tom's piercing look suggested that perhaps there was something beyond sex going on. Carefully, she suggested, "Let's just say Harry seems to have you wrapped around his little finger."
Uh-oh, she thought at the very vulnerable look she saw on the pilot's face in the few moments before his impervious mask snapped firmly in place. Definitely something to the gossip. She knew these two spent many hours in each other's cabins. After she'd heard the rumors, she'd checked and found that sometimes the soundproofing was on. Somehow, she didn't think it was Harry practicing his clarinet. She decided to let her fellow officer off the hook. "Hey, it's okay. It looks to be mutual." At Tom's intent stare, she added emphatically, "You two love each other, right? Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I can be a little tactless."
"Sometimes?" Tom kidded and they both laughed.
He began to size up the trees for the qualities he was looking for: straight trunk, fullness of branches, 'correct' length of needles. Here and there were the kind of trees with the short blue-green needles that reminded him of what he thought of as *real* Christmas trees from his childhood. Not that there had been too many of them. Occasionally, when his father was available, the family would spend the Christmas-Hanukkah holidays in a cabin in the mountains. Then, they would have a *real* tree, not a replicated one like all the other years and almost all the other families they knew who actually celebrated these events.
Even B'Elanna had to concede that Tom had located a really beautiful tree. He stepped back and phasered the trunk toward the base. Using rope from his climbing gear, he tied the tree up with B'Elanna's help and carried it over one shoulder toward the rendevous point.
Neither they nor the security team were prepared for the onslaught of animal-like creatures that rushed out of the forest at them. Tom was swept off his feet, trampled and tumbled over and over by numerous creatures who simply walked, ran or jumped over him. One moment he was walking with the tree, the next, he felt multiple hard blows to his body from all directions. There were knife-like slashes all over and a stinging, deep pain. Before he could scream he was unconscious.
The speed of the creatures was so great that the hand held phasers of the security detail were of no use. In seconds, the creatures had disappeared back into the forest taking the trussed up tree with them. Tom lay motionless on the ground, his uniform ripped to shreds. He was unconscious and bleeding profusely when B'Elanna both reached his side and commed the security detail and Chakotay. "Tom's been attacked! Don't phaser down any trees!"
Very quickly, she assessed how badly Tom had been mangled and how much he was bleeding. She placed her fingers firmly on a spurting artery and commed the ship, asking for immediate beam-up to sickbay.
The two were gone before Harry and Chakotay arrived on the scene. Harry blanched at the amount of blood on the ground and the bloody fragments of Tom's uniform. With Chakotay's steadying hand, Harry pulled himself together and both looked to Tuvok for an explanation.
"I did not see the attack," Tuvok informed them. "But my tricorder did pick up the group of creatures that committed the act. They went there."
Tuvok pointed into the forest, near where Tom and B'Elanna had exited with their tree. Chakotay tried to assess the situation. "What happened?"
"I do not know. But we can follow them easily enough."
"Commander, if it's all right, I'd like to beam up and see how Tom is," Harry requested as politely as his agitation would allow him.
"Go ahead, Harry," Chakotay told him. He'd seen the evidence on the ground of the extent of the attack on Tom. He, too, had heard plenty of rumors about the closeness of the two men and he didn't want to keep Harry from being with the young lieutenant.
As soon as Harry safely beamed up, the entire security detail and Chakotay moved into the forest, following Tuvok and the tricorder readings. At some point, Tuvok stopped and the detail stopped as well. Chakotay looked questioningly at Tuvok and then allowed his gaze to follow the security chief's pointing finger. At least two dozen animal-like creatures of assorted shapes, sizes, and species were gathered around the trussed tree, several were unwrapping it, others were bending over the stump where it had been phasered. Still others were watching intently.
Tuvok signaled for a silent retreat. As the group backed up, they could see the tree being hoisted into place on the stump. When they paused in their retreat to watch this, they were stunned to see tendrils shoot out from the stump and embed themselves in the base of the severed tree and in its branches as well. For their part, the animals themselves also seemed transfixed by this scene of restoration and repair. In moments, the two parts of the tree were joined together, only a bump existing where the separation had occurred.
Slowly, Chakotay tapped his comm badge and very quietly ordered a beam up for the entire landing party. Janeway beeped him when he returned and asked Chakotay and Tuvok to report to sickbay.
"On our way," Chakotay reported as he and Tuvok exited in a hurry.
In sickbay, B'Elanna and Harry were standing off to the side, somewhat tense, hands entwined, while the doctor and an assistant worked on Tom Paris. Both new arrivals were stunned to see how much blood there was on B'Elanna's uniform.
"Report," Janeway barked.
Tuvok began, "We followed the attackers. They had taken their severed tree, put it back on its stump, and through some process, reintegrated the two parts."
Those calmly delivered words took some of the fight out of Kathryn. "So, we brought the attack on ourselves by cutting the tree down."
"It would appear to be the case," Tuvok intoned.
Chakotay added, "I don't think they recognized Tom, or us for that matter, as . . . beings. Their tree was being stolen and they took it back as quickly as they could."
She shook her head. "Damn."
"How's Tom?" Chakotay asked.
"Not good, the doctor wouldn't tell us much, just that he had lost a lot of blood and had 'traumatic' injuries. Apparently, B'Elanna's quick action in putting pressure on the artery and ordering that beam out kept it from being worse."
Hearing her name, B'Elanna stared dully at the new arrivals. Sensing her distress, Chakotay moved to her side, a bookend for Harry on her other side. "B'Elanna, nice work."
Her voice had none of its usual fire, "Anyone could have done it."
"But you did," he gently pointed out. He leaned around her to look at Harry. "Harry."
Kim's eyes never left the images coming through the privacy screen, the doctor and the assistant moving around Tom's biobed, working over his friend and lover. Tears spilled out of Harry's eyes, "He just wanted a Christmas tree."
"I know," Chakotay sympathized. "Apparently the occupants of the planet have first dibs and aren't sharing."
Harry looked at the commander, recognizing the attempt to lighten the mood, but unable to shake off his horror at the truly bloody mess he'd seen on beaming up to sickbay. A mess that so short a time before had been a vibrant, loving Tom Paris. Janeway flanked Harry and placed her hand on Harry's shoulder. "Harry. Tom's a survivor. I know he'll survive this."
B'Elanna looked down at the floor. She wasn't so sure. They hadn't seen the arc of blood that had pumped out of Tom, the white pallor of his face where it hadn't been mauled by the animals, the deep gashes on his body, his torn and bloody clothes. "It happened so fast," she shared with them, her voice subdued.
Eventually, they arranged themselves on the empty biobeds, except for Tuvok who was dispatched back to the planet with the charge to try to establish communications with the planet's occupants. As the time wore on, Neelix came in with food and drink. Chakotay finally left, feeling he had provided all the comfort to the survivors that he could and knowing that his presence wouldn't make a difference to the young pilot. From the bridge he commed Tuvok, then reported to Janeway on Tuvok's progress in establishing communications. Hours later, she, too, had to leave when her presence on the bridge was requested.
Harry and B'Elanna maintained a mostly silent vigil. Occasionally B'Elanna would break the silence to berate herself for not acting fast enough, Harry would beat up on himself for not dissuading Tom from his scheme. Finally, in exasperation, B'Elanna demanded, "What could you have done, Harry, to stop him?"
"You'd be surprised," Harry told her grimly.
"Is it true?" She asked.
"Is what true?"
"Rumors, you know . . ." she said evasively at Harry's hostile tone.
"Just what the fuck are you talking about?" His anger, his cursing, were so unlike the Starfleet ensign she knew that B'Elanna just stared at him for a moment, speechless. "B'Elanna," his voice was threatening. "What were you talking about?"
"All right, there's rumors. Jenny Delaney says she saw Tom leaving your quarters one morning, walking really weirdly in heels and that when she saw him later in the mess hall he had trouble walking in his regular boots." B'Elanna saw that Harry had the good grace to blush. "She thought you must have been playing some interesting games."
"Jenny Delaney said that?"
"Yeah. And Henley says she saw Paris on another occasion with the same symptoms. So, there's rumors going around."
Harry snorted. He wasn't going to feed the rumor mill by telling B'Elanna. But maybe Tom had better use the regenerator on his feet after wearing those four inch heels Harry liked him in so much.
"Look, I never told anyone that that wasn't Seven at the Halloween Dance, that you were actually with Tom," her voice was softer now, not trying to hurt him. "So. . . ?"
"B'Elanna, I'd never embarrass Tom by telling anyone about what we do or don't do in our rooms. If he wants to tell you, that's up to him."
"But what about the rumors?"
"Consider the source," Harry said simply. Jumpy from B'Elanna's news, Harry got down from the biobed and began to pace the sickbay space. Irritation made his voice harsh. "What's taking so long?"
The doctor's voice carried out to them from behind the screen. "Mr. Kim, if you aren't quiet, you will be asked to leave."
Alighting off her biobed, B'Elanna intercepted Harry and put her arm around him. "Harry, it's going to be okay. And I'm sorry about the rumors."
"I'm sorry I got on your case. I know you didn't create the rumors." Harry was thinking furiously that he'd have to be a lot more careful in the future. He wondered if they just shouldn't do it anymore, but he knew with complete certainty that Tom needed what they were doing. Maybe Tom didn't like the exact games Harry had been playing, but Harry knew the other man liked the sense that someone else was in control. Harry worried that if he put a halt to it, Tom might go elsewhere for what he needed. Or become even more reckless than he already was. Unfortunately, the only person he could talk to about his dilemma was Tom.
"Harry," B'Elanna cajoled, as if reading his mind, "talk to me."
He shook his head. Not now. Not while Tom was hurt, not while the doctor was still working on him. His perfect mask had almost slipped. Harry wasn't used to having to put on a mask, nor to keep important things about his life hidden from his friends. It made him acutely uncomfortable even as he realized that Tom had perfected masks as a way of life. He wondered how his lover managed to do it.
At long last, the doctor invited them around the screen to see Tom. For just a moment.
In his pompous tones, the doctor announced, "Lt. Paris has been put back together once again. But be brief."
When Harry approached the biobed, he was struck by how pale Tom looked. A blanket covered him up to his waist, two IV lines ran into his hands. Shocked, Harry realized that Tom's chest was smooth, devoid of the red-gold curls normally seen there. The freshly regenerated skin on his face, shoulder, arm, chest, all showed silvery striations that no doubt continued down his body. Harry looked to the doctor for reassurance. Tom's eyes were closed, the lids an almost transparent blue, dark half moons under his eyes. The doctor nodded and Harry called Tom's name. "Tom? Tommy, talk to me, just open your eyes for a second."
Tom thought he heard Harry's voice, as if calling him from another room. His eyes felt too heavy to lift the lids, but he willed them to open, just a little, just for a bit. Harry and B'Elanna stood by his bed. Vaguely, he remembered B'Elanna's hand pressed against him after the . . . what had happened? Weakly, he asked, "What?"
"It's all right, Tom. You're going to be all right."
Harry's voice was clearer. Despite his lover's words of comfort, his voice sounded thick, as if it had tears in it. Tom tried to reassure him, "Don't . . . "
Harry smiled down at him, "Do what the doctor tells you, now. Understand?"
Tom was almost too tired to respond with a smile of his own. But he managed a little crook of his mouth as he recognized the irony of what Harry was telling him. Since when had he ever followed the doctor's directions? But he couldn't think any further through the fatigue. On their own, his eyes closed. As he drifted off, he felt Harry's soft lips press against his cheek and he called up a brief half-smile.
Thanks to the doctor's hypospray and due to the seriousness of his injuries, Tom slept through the afternoon and evening. When he woke up the next morning, he still wondered what had happened to land him in sickbay. The doctor managed to fuss over him until he couldn't stand it any longer. "Doc, please, just tell me what happened."
"What do you remember, Lt.?"
"We got a tree. Then a loud noise, I was knocked down, then I hurt all over. Then I woke up here?" This was where his memory faltered. He touched his head and found it all there. "Harry and B'Elanna . . . ?"
"Yes, Lt., you did wake up here very briefly. That was about fifteen hours ago."
"Oh, shit." The doctor successfully repressed his smile. Continuing his explorations, Tom ran his hand over his chest and frowned at the strange sensation of feeling just skin. "What the . . .? Whose idea was this? Harry's?"
The doctor placed a hand on Tom's shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. "I don't know about Ensign Kim, but your injuries were such that we had to create a sterile field to repair the damage."
"How bad was it?"
"Let me ask you this? How do you feel this morning?"
"Sore," Tom admitted. "Tired."
The doctor was sure Tom felt both of those things, and probably more. "The only time you feel badly the next day is when you've been seriously injured. Am I right?"
Tom didn't want to admit it, but he'd had enough experiences with sickbay to draw some conclusions. He managed to give the doctor a small victory in the form of a grimace.
"You arrived here down three pints of blood; you were in shock, bleeding from multiple lacerations; you had a concussion, multiple contusions, a lacerated kidney, five broken ribs, numerous other broken bones in your arms, hands, and hip." The litany had made an impression as Paris' skin paled to an even whiter shade of white. "There was internal damage. Something like a claw tore through your buttocks. "
Tom gasped and nearly passed out, his skin so transparent that blue veins appeared as networks underneath it. "That's . . ." Tom's numbed mind couldn't begin to deal with this.
"I've had you on fluids since you arrived here. However, all the dermal and osteo regenerations have been completed. Probably better than anyone, you know that healing takes time and rest. There's some further treatment you'll need every six hours or so. And a liquid diet until further notice."
"Will I . . . will everything be all right?"
"Yes. Just not right away." The doctor tried to vocalize a sympathetic tone of voice for the young man who seemed so totally defenseless before him.
As Tom struggled to come to terms with the extent of his injuries, he also tried to remember what happened to bring him to this state. When memory failed, he asked, "What happened?"
"Lt. Torres said that a 'herd'? 'swarm'? of animals came out of the forest and simply mowed you down to retrieve their tree."
"Oh." Lying so helpless, Tom wished he'd just gone along with replicating trees as they had in the past. Harry had tried to warn him. When was he ever going to listen to his friend?
When he woke up from the nap he took after eating his liquid meal, Tom felt better physically, but as the memory returned of the doctor's description of his injuries , he groaned and wished he'd never awakened. Harry's soft voice greeted him, "Tom?"
Tom saw his lover staring down at him, concern on that familiar face. "Harry. . . I'm sorry, Harry."
"It's all right, Tom. Listen, the doctor says you can go back to your quarters now. You'll have to come back here in a few hours for some kind of treatment the doctor wants to do. But, how about it? We can talk at your place?"
As he checked himself, Tom realized that all the tubes were gone, but that under the sickbay blanket he didn't have much on. "Um . . . clothes?"
Harry grinned. "I brought you some." As Tom swung up on the biobed, Harry placed a neatly folded stack of clothes next to the sitting patient. "How do you feel?"
"I'm okay, Harry."
Tom seemed subdued and preoccupied. Harry could guess and tried to reassure his lover. "It'll be all right, you'll see."
A half-hearted grin was all he received in reply. Seeing his lover's hands fumbling to get his clothes on, Harry wordlessly offered his help. He pulled Tom's shorts up to his waist, again noticing the lack of hair on his body. The effect of that sight was to take his breath away. Harry tried to concentrate on helping Tom pull on the remaining clothes, the soft sweat pants, the t-shirt. But as he pulled the t-shirt down Tom's smooth chest, the palm of his hand couldn't help paving the way. Harry marveled at the skin that felt like satin. "Uh . . .Harry?" Tom's voice interrupted his reverie.
He looked up to see Tom's sardonic grin. In as normal a voice as possible, he replied, "Yes, Tom?"
"I thought you were helping me to get out of here."
"I am," Harry asserted with a grin of his own.
"Funny, I thought you were engaging in a little foreplay. I'm not sure the doctor needs anything more to stimulate his imagination."
"He's in his office," Harry pointed out.
"Yeah." Sliding into a pair of slippers, Tom indicated, "I'm ready. Let's get out of here."
Once in his room, Tom flopped on the couch, the short trip taking most of his energy. Harry seemed to be bustling around as if avoiding him. There was something bothering Harry. "What is it, Har?"
Without preliminaries, Harry told him, "I think B'Elanna's guessed. She told me about rumors on the ship."
Tom thought back to his conversation with her on the planet. The little dig, the statement that Harry seemed to have him wrapped around his little finger. "Yeah, she hinted at something like that with me." Tom buried his face in his hands. "What do we do?"
Straightlaced, Harry said, "Next time we're on the bridge, I guess you should just show up wearing that hot little dress from last time. Neelix could be tipped off to show it ship wide."
Startled blue eyes flew open. "No! Harry don't . . . " then he saw the huge grin that creased his lover's face and smiled at the spoof on himself. "Oh, gods, Harry, don't even joke about it."
Turning serious, Harry asked, "What about it, Tom? Is any of this hurting you?"
"I guess . . . sometimes I wonder . . . um . . . sometimes it embarrasses me. I'm a lieutenant, you know? What the hell am I doing dressing up like . . . well, like a woman. I guess I ask myself that sometimes."
"I love you, Tom. And I don't want to think I'm using you."
"If I thought that, I wouldn't go along with it."
"But there is something you like about it all, isn't there?" Tom looked quizzically at Harry. "The idea that someone else is in control?"
After a long pause, Tom nodded. "Yeah. I guess I do."
"Would you find someone else if I didn't do it?"
Tom colored briefly. "No. I don't think so." After a moment, though, he added softly, "I don't know."
Harry realized that any further serious discussion with Tom concerning their future activities would have to wait. Tom looked worn out. Harry quietly got up, retrieved a blanket and pillow, and tucked Tom in on the couch. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a soft smile. Harry kissed Tom on the cheek and left his side so that Tom could fall asleep.
Janeway visited the doctor in his lab. The holodoc appeared to be concentrating on his work over some instruments. "How is Lt. Paris?"
"Right now he's all right."
"I'm preparing an ointment to help destroy any bacteria that my earlier treatments failed to eliminate. There
is the potential for a threatening build-up of such bacteria. The creatures that attacked him carried germs I hadn't seen before."
Kathryn tried to read between the lines. "I assumed that Tom was healed from his injuries."
The doctor elaborated, "There's a six percent chance that the bacteria weren't all killed and will infect the lieutenant with its unknown properties."
She pressed the doctor a little more, "Just six percent?"
"That six percent could multiply enough to kill him. In my lab, I was able to kill 76 percent of the bacteria with hypospray procedures. However, 98 percent were killed on contact by an antibacterial ointment I developed. It needs to be reapplied periodically to prevent reinfection from the surviving bacteria."
"Very well. Keep me informed. We don't want to lose him."
The doctor promised to keep her in the loop as he returned to his work.
The comm went off in Paris' cabin. With Tom asleep on the couch, Harry answered it, turning his attention from the PADD report on the planet's creatures. "Kim here."
It was the doctor. "Ensign. It is past time for Lt. Paris to report for his treatment."
"Sorry, doctor. He's asleep."
There was silence for a moment. "Ensign, would you report to sickbay? Perhaps I can instruct you on administering the treatment."
When Harry returned to the room, Tom was still sleeping on the couch, his face drawn and tired. Harry placed the items he'd received in a bag on the table and went to kneel by his friend and lover. Regretfully, he placed a hand on Tom's shoulder and gently shook him. "Tom? Tom?"
Tom stirred but didn't open his eyes. Harry tried again. "Tom. You need to wake up."
Blue eyes blinked and seemed to register Harry's presence. Then they closed again. Harry leaned close to his ear and spoke to him, "I hate to do this to you, Tom. But you really should be awake."
"What?" demanded a weak, irritated voice, eyes finally open.
"Listen to me, Tom. The doctor wants me to do this and it'll save you a trip to sickbay. But I could use a little help from you."
Confused, Tom asked, "Huh?"
"Remember how the doctor told you about the injury to your . . . uh . . . backside?"
How could he forget that one? According to the doc, he'd been torn apart. "Yeah. So?"
"He wants me to put some medicine on you."
Suddenly, Tom was wide awake and sitting bolt upright. "What?"
"He doesn't want to take any chances with infection. He said a lot of bacteria was let loose when you were injured, that the hyposprays and all aren't enough. This . . .procedure is supposed to kill any bugs on contact. Remember, he told you that you needed to do this every six hours?"
"Uh-huh. I thought he was talking about a hypospray or something. Just what are you supposed to do?"
"Spread an ointment on where you were hurt. On your backside."
"I don't think so," came Tom's determined statement. "End of discussion."
Kim commed the doctor. "Doctor, Tom doesn't want me to do it."
"Very well," came the doctor's voice, "send him here. I'll take care of it."
Tom shook his head. No way, no how. "No!"
"Tom says 'no'," Harry reported.
"He either allows you to do it or he will be beamed to sickbay immediately."
"Shit," was Tom's ungracious comment in defeat. "You do it, Harry."
Harry let the doctor know that the situation was under control.
"Just what I wanted for Christmas Eve, Harry. How do I get so lucky?"
"The doctor said you might want a tranquilizer to help you get through it." He lifted a hypospray.
"No-o, I think I prefer to know what's going on." Tom sighed. "Let's get it over with."
"Captain, the away team's succeeded," Chakotay reported to Janeway in her ready room.
"What's the news?"
"The creatures on the planet regard their trees as sacred objects. When Tom tried to take one, they didn't understand anything but the fact that one of their trees had been injured and severed from its life force. In their cultures, no one does that to the trees. Apparently, they will harvest old and diseased trees, but only after the life force has left the tree. So, they swiftly went after the tree to restore it to its life force before it was too late. In their haste, they didn't pay any attention to Tom. They say they regret injuring our pilot."
"Do they understand why we wanted the tree?"
"Yes, when it was explained that the tree was to be used for a sacred ritual in our culture, they understood. In fact," Chakotay grinned, "they have invited us to choose from among one of the trees that has lost its life force. In deference to the difference in 'real' Christmas trees as discussed by Harry and Tom, we have permission to take two such trees. They'll guide us to the proper ones."
Janeway stood up, a huge smile on her face. Clapping her hands, she said, "This is good news. Would you tell Harry and Tom? I think they should be allowed to pick out the trees. You and they can beam down whenever you're all ready." After a thoughtful moment, she added, "You know, I wouldn't mind going down there myself."
Chakotay grinned at her, his dimples making his face seem ten years younger. He held out his arm for her and, once she hooked it, proceeded out of the ready room.
Virtually the entire senior staff beamed down to the planet surface's, Tom and Harry, Kathryn and Chakotay, Tuvok and B'Elanna. If Tuvok felt uneasy about the make-up of the away team, he held himself in check. After all, the away team who established communications reported the native creatures to be friendly and nonthreatening. Depending on the species, they had no weapons save their teeth, claws and hooves.
Janeway snatched surreptitious glances at the pilot, carefully assessing his well being. Apart from a pinched look of fatigue about his eyes, he seemed all right. She was glad that he would have the opportunity to go back to the planet and put to rest any nightmares he might incur due to the earlier attack. If he did retain any lingering effects, Harry had placed himself at the pilot's elbow, ready to help if needed. She wondered at the seeming strain between both of them and the security chief.
The group had selected a private location for the beam down and followed the directions of the earlier away team to the forest and the waiting natives. Janeway noticed that Tom seemed to flinch when he saw the large group of natives, his body language preparing him to flee if necessary. However, when they reached the natives, it was clear from their body language that they meant no harm. Two creatures came forward to greet the away team, a large, horse-like native and a small tiger-like creature. The grey-green 'horse' sat on its haunches before Tom and the 'tiger' rubbed itself against Tom's legs emitting a purr-like sound.
Tom's apprehension, hell, his downright fear, vanished when the tiger began to purr against his leg. He smiled shyly at Harry and asked Chakotay, "What's okay here?"
The horse emitted noises that the universal translator clarified, "We are sad that you were hurt. We did not want to hurt you. We did not know what you were, that you were a creature, too."
"Oh. Okay. Look, I'm sorry about hurting your tree."
The tiger rose up on its rear legs and placed its soft paws against Tom's chest. The purrs were translated as, "You love trees, too. It will be well. Come. We have some trees whose life force has left them for you to use in your worship."
Almost without thinking, Tom stroked the head of the green and yellow striped creature now rubbing its ear against his chest. The creature's purr increased in intensity. Tom asked, "Is this okay?"
"This humble *merckle* likes your action," the creature said with an untranslatable word a part of its statement. From the context, Tom and the others deduced that *merckle* was either its species or its name.
Tom scratched its ears before the creature returned to all fours. The horse observed the proceedings with an expression that seemed to convey satisfaction.
"Shall we go?" Janeway encouraged.
The horse and tiger led them to places in the forest where a long needled tree, not as vibrantly colored as its surrounding trees, was pointed out to them. Since this was Harry's favorite kind of tree the young ensign was invited to critically inspect the find. He pronounced it completely satisfactory and the horse and tiger in a coordinated action that was almost a blur, detached the tree from its home and presented it to Harry.
"Thank you," Harry told them solemnly. From the incredible speed of their actions, Harry realized how easy a target Tom had been when they'd come after the earlier tree. He also realized how effective their hooves and claws were in bringing down the tree in moments.
Tom, too, appreciated the speed and potential deadliness of these natives. He realized how lucky he was to be alive. Maybe he'd forgive the doctor the medical treatment Harry had performed. From his sickbay duties he knew too well the difficulty in treating injuries sustained on new worlds with new sources of potential infection. Only a few years before both Janeway and Chakotay had been suspended in stasis chambers and then left on a planet because of an unknown virus they had not been able to cure. A nudge from Harry snapped him out of his reverie. The tiger, who seemed to like him, was once again rubbing against his leg and purring. It was telling him they could go look for the next tree. Shrugging, Tom smiled at Harry, his first smile since the procedure several hours earlier. "Let's go. Can't have the wrong Christmas tree on Voyager."
"We have the right tree," Harry corrected.
"Not in my book."
"Boys," Janeway warned.
With an unrepentant Tom Paris smile, the pilot grinned at her and said, "Sorry, Captain."
A few minutes later a short needled tree was pointed out to Tom. He walked around it, gave it a careful appraisal, then nodded. "Looks good."
In a repeat blur, the creatures had the tree ready for Tom in under a minute.
"Thanks," Tom told them.
The horse snuffled and said, "We are curious about your ceremony."
Janeway and Chakotay exchanged glances. "It's Christmas Eve," she told him.
"Yes, it is."
Four sets of eyes rested on the security chief, with B'Elanna simply looking on in bemused silence. Tuvok asked the Captain, "I take it you are asking about bringing more of the crew down to have a celebration here on this planet?"
"I was wondering about that, yes."
"As long as the natives agree, I see no security reason that would prevent it."
The trees were set up in the clearing, bases provided and self-powered tiny lights wound around each tree from base to top. Tom brought down the decorations he'd been hiding and began decorating *his* tree along with others who thought his tree was the correct tree for the occasion. On the other hand, Harry had a few decorations of his own and brought them down for *his* tree. Just as some of the crew thought Tom had the correct tree, others considered Harry's tree perfect and decorated it with their balls, ribbons, bells, and other reminders of Alpha Quadrant holidays. Tom's tree had a star on its top. Harry's tree was topped by an angel.
As dusk descended, Neelix organized a holiday meal down on the surface, the natives invited to participate along with the starship crew. On one table sat a large menorah with white candles set in place, the table offering smaller candles in burn-proof flat holders. These candles were to be lit and held in the darkness. One by one the crew picked up a candle and had it lit by the person just ahead. Candle light and the lights on the trees cast eerie shadows on the alien planet. A guitar and a flute played ancient carols in the background.
The crew surrounded the now laden trees with at least ten different species of native creatures intermingled in their midst. Once all crew members were seated on the ground, each holding a lit, glowing candle, into the solemn silence little Naomi asked, "Why do we light this candle?"
The answers to her question came from different traditions, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, and so on around the globe of old earth and then around the settled planets of the Alpha Quadrant represented by Voyager's crew. As the old stories were retold, the native creatures listened with care, hearing messages of hope and redemption, peace and serenity.
Then the music increased in volume and very old songs were sung. One traditional song, in particular, touched the natives with its references to 'friendly beasts'.
In a strong bass, Harry led off:
'Jesus, our brother, kind and good, was humbly born in a stable of wood
And the friendly beasts around him stood, Jesus our brother kind and good
B'Elanna's serious alto continued:
I, said the donkey shaggy and brown, I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town, I said the donkey shaggy and brown
And I said the cow all white and red, I gave him my manger for a bed
I gave him my hay for to pillow his head, I said the cow all white and red
I said the sheep with a curly horn, I gave him my wool for his blanket warm
And he wore my coat on that Christmas morn, I said the sheep with a curly horn
Tom (leaning back on Harry):
I said the dove from the rafters high, I cooed him to sleep that he should not cry
We cooed him to sleep my love and I, I said the dove from the rafters high
And I said the camel all yellow and black, over the desert upon my back
I brought him a gift in the wise men's pack, I said the camel yellow and black
Thus every beast remembering it well, in the stable dark was so proud to tell
Of the gifts that they gave Emmanuel, the gifts that they gave Emmanuel
Seven (remembering the collective):
(repeat first verse)
Jesus our brother kind and good, was humbly born in a stable of wood
And the friendly beasts around him stood, Jesus our brother kind and good'
As the notes of the music died away on the evening breeze, Harry looked down to find Tom nearly asleep, his head rested against Harry's chest, one hand loosely upon the tiger lying next to him, its muzzle on Tom's thigh. "Hey," Harry whispered, "I think it may be time for bed."
Warm and at peace, Tom gazed up at his lover's face that glowed hazily in the candlelight. "Hmm. Don't want to move."
Surreptitiously, the doctor walked over and took a tricorder reading on his most troublesome patient. He leaned down and smiled at Tom. If Tom hadn't been so suffused with a sleepy warmth, he wouldn't have believed it possible that the doctor smiled at him. So, he smiled back, a dreamy look on his face.
Harry told the doctor, "I hate to disturb him to put him to bed."
"I think we can call this a medical beam-up." To Tom, the doctor said, "Say good-night to your friend there, it's time for you to go home."
A little more awake, Tom knew when he'd been outvoted and outmaneuvered. Turning to the tiger and to the horse who was not much farther away, he told them, "Thanks for the trees. And . . .well, it's been a memorable Christmas Eve."
The tiger purred, a little drool dribbling on to Tom's thigh, and said, "We wish you peace, Tom Paris."
Almost as if it were shy, the horse snuffled his head against Tom's shoulder and wickered its soft nose against Tom's cheek. Tom raised an arm to pet its long head. "You, too," Tom told them.
Harry helped Tom to his feet, and, as with a few others, disappeared to where they could beam up privately without the natives realizing exactly what had transpired. The doctor dogged their path and rematerialized in Tom's room, standing beside the two lovers.
Harry wasn't surprised, but Tom did a double take. "Uh, doctor, this isn't sickbay."
"I'm making a house call, Lt." The doctor directed Tom to lie down on his bed. Too tired to argue, Tom did as asked while Harry hovered just behind the doctor.
After scanning Tom much as he had done on the surface, the doctor turned to Harry and both moved away out of Tom's earshot. "Doctor?"
"Ensign. I'm afraid the bacteria has increased in his body. His temperature is elevated and his blood pressure is lower than it was before he left sickbay this morning."
"I put the ointment on, doctor," Harry assured the doctor, fearing he was being criticized for not taking good enough care of his lover. "Maybe it isn't a build-up of the bacteria, but just . . . overdoing it."
"No, there's definitely a bacteriological cause. I hate to spoil the evening, but you're going to have do it again. I had figured that three times spaced six hours apart would kill any efforts on the part of the bacteria to grow. Since he's only had the one treatment and there's signs of infection, I have to believe that the original protocol was correct. With hyposprays I had him protected against the usual bacteria found there, but this is an alien one. The only really effective treatment is that ointment topically applied."
The doctor asked, "How long since you put in the ointment?"
Harry checked the time. "Seven hours, forty minutes. Look, couldn't the next treatment wait until morning? Tom's exhausted."
The doctor shook his head. "No. I don't dare risk waiting. I'm sorry, Ensign. I'll stay and help however I can."
The sleeping area was only at 20 percent illumination but, when they returned to the bed, they could make out Tom turned on his side away from them. His legs were brought up, his breathing was even. Light snores indicated that he was asleep.
"Oh, shit," Harry exclaimed, the word as soft as it was uncharacteristic. Harry sat on the bed next to his lover's curled up body. When he placed his hand on Tom's forehead, he could feel the fever that signaled the onset of infection. Sighing deeply, Harry stroked his finger along Tom's cheek. "Sweetheart? It's me, I'm sorry to wake you up, but . . .but it's time."
A few more finger strokes, a few more words, and Tom finally opened his eyes. What was Harry thinking, waking him up like this? He just wanted to sleep. But Harry wouldn't stop talking. "What?"
Tom heard the word 'treatment' and shuddered. Not again. "No," he protested. "No, Harry, please."
"I'm so sorry, love. You've got a fever and the doctor insists."
The doctor? Tom's eyes flew open and he rolled onto his back. Sure enough, there was the holographic doctor standing near his bed. Scared and angry, Tom demanded, "Why's he still here? He wants to watch? Not enough action in sickbay?"
"Sh-h, Tom. He's here 'cause he's worried about you."
Tom snorted, "Yeah, right."
"Lt., I'm the one who patched you up to begin with. There is nothing to be embarrassed about."
"Fine. We'll trade places."
Harry stepped in, trying to soothe, "Tom, please, I know this bothers you. But you're running a fever." Harry put an edge to his voice, "We've got to kill the bugs. Now. The doc here can help you through this."
Oh, gods, Tom thought, this can't be happening. Now there was to be a witness. "No. I don't think so. Please, doc, just go. Please?"
Hearing the lieutenant beg him was a surprise for the doctor. This must be very important to the young pilot. "I'll get the materials and then I'll go over to the couch. I'll be available if needed, but I won't be here watching."
Once the doctor had left the ointment, gloves, and wipes on the night stand and moved away, Harry asked Tom, "Is there any way to make this easier?"
"No," Tom admitted, miserable by thoughts of the whole ordeal that lay ahead. "Just . . . just stay close to me."
At some point Harry's hand on him stopped, then moved back, moved away, moved back again. "Sweetheart, there's something here, I need to call the doctor over."
What? "No-o, please no." Tom couldn't bear to have the doctor see him with Harry's hand on his ass. "Easy, baby, easy. It's almost over. Please, sweetheart, just a few more minutes."
He would try to pretend that this wasn't happening, that the doctor wasn't leaning over the bed, wasn't looking at what Harry was doing with his hand.
Harry and the doctor discussed something in low tones. Tom could tell a tricorder was scanning him very closely. He could almost feel the slight shift of air as the instrument in the doctor's hands went back and forth over him. Tom gripped the pillow under his head tightly, waiting with held breath for this ordeal to be over.
"Tom. The doctor says there's some infection inside you, where the skin healed over. It's the alien bacteria. He says its serious."
Tom gave up hiding. He pulled the pillow off his head and turned over, wincing when his sore bottom hit the bed. "What happens now? More drilling and excavation?"
The doctor ignored his sarcasm. "Identify the exact coordinates of site, transport out the infection, load up the site with the antibacterial cream."
Tom blanched. It was worse than he thought. "If you're talking about the *site* you just explored, I think I'd rather die."
"Tom. No!" Harry implored. "Please. I know . . . look, I know how embarrassing this is, but you really will die unless the doctor treats you."
"Fine." Tom's mind was made up. He could already feel the increasing temperature that accompanied the infection. He felt the ache in his bones and joints. Maybe it would be swift, maybe he wouldn't hurt too much while the infection claimed him.
"Don't do this, Tom. Don't close yourself off from me! Don't be so stubborn and selfish that you'd leave me alone without you. Don't!"
Tom stared up at Harry's pinched face. This was real anger. His lover's eyes were so dark that they threatened to overwhelm everything else.
"What? If I die, you'll spank me?"
Harry looked angry enough to strike Tom. "You think I won't? Come on, I'll haul your bare ass over my knee right now. Let's do it!"
Tom cringed back from Harry's anger. "Let me go, Harry. Just let me go."
"You've given up, haven't you? How dare you give up just because the way to save your life involves some indignities? How dare you?"
Tom rolled over, the sheets entangling in his legs as he pulled the pillow defiantly over his head. But Harry grabbed the pillow and threw it across the room. He pushed Tom back over onto his back and knelt on the bed, his angry face in Tom's defeated one.
"I won't let you give up. Do you hear me, Tom? I love you and I will fight for you. If I have to have you declared incompetent and make this decision for you, you are going to live, godammit, do you understand me?"
"Jeez, if it means that much to you," Tom conceded sullenly.
"No. *It* doesn't mean that much to me. *You* do."
"A sucker bet, Harry."
"Not for me."
Tom realized he wasn't going to change Harry's mind. He hated what was going to happen to him, hated his helplessness and the alien bug that had invaded his body. Grimacing tightly, Tom nodded. His voice flat, he capitulated, "All right. Do it."
The doctor hovered nearby, letting the two deal with the lack of choices open to the lieutenant. He stepped forward at this point and directed, "We'll need to leave for sickbay."
Tom glared at the doctor while Harry retrieved a soft pair of sweat pants. Moving to the edge of the bed, the pilot pulled them on. Harry gave him a pair of slippers that Tom slipped onto his feet. But when Tom stood up, he winced. He felt lightheaded as well, probably from the growing fever. "Doc, I don't think I'm going to make it."
Harry grabbed him around the waist before Tom's legs gave out. As Tom struggled to stand up, the doctor called for a site to site transport to sickbay.
Once in his own domain, the doctor quickly settled Tom in a biobed. He set up an IV drip and prepared for the brief surgery. This time Harry was allowed to hold Tom's hand. After the doctor administered a brief local anesthetic, he applied additional antibacterial cream around the infected site. The holodoc sent a nanoprobe in to the site of infection, marked it carefully, then transported out the bulk of the infection to a waiting sterile tube. Lancing the site, the doctor manually coated generous amounts of the cream on every area where the infection had been or might have been.
A tricorder scan confirmed that the doctor had captured and covered ninety-seven percent of the internally located alien bacteria. He completed his scan by running the tricorder over Tom. There were traces of the alien bacteria all over Tom's body, everywhere that hadn't been covered with the doctor's cream. Fortunately, these external bacteria were benign, unable to reproduce or survive for long on Tom's skin. There was one spot on his thigh that had no residue of the bacteria at all. The doctor was puzzled, but filed away the observation as just another oddity in the Delta Quadrant. He didn't remember any cream being applied there, but perhaps some had landed on Tom's thigh by accident. Finished with his work, he lowered the drape and covered Tom's lower body.
"How are you feeling, Lt.?"
"Yes. But I want you to spend the night here to monitor your situation."
"Doc. It's Christmas Eve."
"I'm sorry, Lt. Although it's too soon to expect your fever to drop, I want you here in case it doesn't."
Harry placed his hand on Tom's cheek and gently stroked his face. "We want you well for tomorrow, right?"
"Sure." Tom closed his eyes and gave in to the soothing feel of Harry's cool hand on his heated cheek. Although he hadn't felt anything, pain or pressure, from the doctor's surgery, he did feel the exhaustion that thoroughly drained him.
An hour later, Tom's fever had spiked dangerously. Harry was about to fetch the doctor when the hologram appeared out of his office. "Doc . . ."
"I saw the monitor, Ensign. Let's see what's going on." The doctor checked all the monitors and used his medical tricorder to scan Tom. A visual scan revealed a heat flushed patient verified by the tricorder readings. "Temp's at 104.4"
"Isn't that high?"
"Very high. Particularly in light of the expected decline that so far has not materialized."
Harry held Tom's hand, noting the clammy feel of his lover's palm. Tom slept restlessly, bothered by the increased sounds around his bed.
"I don't understand this. The infection was removed, any of it that remained should have been killed by the antibacterial cream. Unfortunately, it appears that the cream no longer is effective against the bacteria."
"What do the scans show you?" Harry asked, his anxiety showing.
"There's more infection now than there was before the surgery. Except for one thing."
Neither noticed that Tom's eyes were partly open, fever burning brightly.
"This place on the Lt.'s thigh." The doctor pulled back the sheet and pointed to a roughly circular area on the top of Tom's leg. "There's no bacteria traces there nor were there any present earlier."
"Merckle," Tom muttered. "Merckle."
"What's that?" the doctor asked Harry.
"Um, the tiger type of creature on the planet." Harry turned to Tom, brushing limp hair from Tom's forehead. "What about the merckle, Tom?"
"Drooled," Tom told him weakly.
"The tiger drooled on you? Is that what you're saying, Tom?"
"Yes." Tom closed his eyes, no longer able to keep them open. He shivered, his teeth beginning to chatter as chills shook his body.
The doctor knew he'd spent too many hours patching up the lieutenant to lose him now, but he wasn't sure what remained to do that might save the man. The doctor increased the temperature level of the biobed to warm up the lieutenant. That seemed to be about all he could do for now. If things became worse, he could give him powerful pain killers. Turning to Harry, the doctor asked, "What did the Lt. mean?"
"About the tiger? When we were on the surface, Tom was leaning against me, the tiger was by his side, his head on Tom's leg. I guess Tom means the tiger drooled on his leg. What do you think?"
"As good a hypothesis as any considering the paucity of facts. If that's true, then the tiger's drool may have properties that kill the bacteria completely and thoroughly." The doctor commed the captain whose answer sounded sleepy.
"What is it, doctor?"
"Mr. Paris has taken a turn for the worse. We believe help for him may be found on the planet in the form of the native who resembles a tiger. Apparently, drool from the tiger has killed some of the bacteria, at least on the surface of the lieutenant's skin."
There was silence from the captain. At length, her voice could be heard saying, "Very well, inform Commander Tuvok and we'll beam down in ten minutes. Meet us in the transporter room."
Harry was torn between going to the planet and staying with Tom. But when it came down to it, Harry couldn't leave Tom's side. His lover was still shivering, although the adjustments to the biobed seemed to be helping. Harry told the doctor, "Don't be gone long."
"I won't, Ensign." The doctor turned to the very sick pilot and asked him if he wanted any pain killers. Through chattering teeth, Tom managed to say no. He wanted to stay clear headed as long as possible. Taking a few last scans, the doctor reassured the anxious young man standing by his patient's side. "I'll be back before you know it."
The doctor carefully didn't voice any false promises. From his own tests, he knew that unless this merckle had a bug killer handy, the lieutenant was going to die, perhaps in less than an hour.
Janeway, the doctor, Tuvok, and two security officers beamed down to the dark, empty meadow where earlier there had been over a hundred of the crew. With only the light from a half moon to light the planet's surface, the scene of the festivities hours earlier now seemed like a desolate, abandoned place. The decorated trees still stood, the tables remained in place, but the absence of people gave it the appearance of a ghostly village.
There were no signs of the native creatures. In pairs, the landing party fanned out hoping to locate one of the inhabitants.
On Voyager, Harry kept up his vigil by Tom's side. Although he couldn't read and understand all of the instruments, he could determine that Tom's temperature was raging. The shivering had been replaced by a dry, penetrating heat that left his lover limp, unnaturally flushed, and moaning. The doctor had shown him how to lower the biobed's heat setting and Harry did that, hoping that a little external cooling would help his desperately sick friend. Fevered eyes opened wide, fear clearly shining in Tom's face. "Harry? Harry?"
Harry couldn't believe how weakly his lover's voice had called his name. "I'm right here, Tom," Harry reassured him, holding Tom's burning hands together in his own cooler ones, careful not to tangle the IV line going to one of Tom's hands. "Can I get you anything?"
"Thirsty," Tom mumbled.
The normally blue eyes were dulled now by the fever, the face that could smile so beautifully was tight and drawn. It hurt to see Tom looking this sick. "I'll be right with you."
Although he was reluctant to leave Tom, Harry felt it best to give the sick man some water, especially since he'd asked for it. Returning with a glass of water with a straw in it, Harry held the glass with one hand and with his other arm, boosted Tom's head up to where he could sip from the straw. He couldn't get over how hot to the touch Tom's skin felt. Tom took a few sips and indicated he was done. Harry eased his head back on to the bed. "Better?"
"Sweetheart? What do you need?"
Tom's voice came out a weak whisper. "No regrets, Har. I love you. Thank you."
"What? What are you saying? Tom?" Harry bent close to Tom's face, able to feel the radiant heat that suffused Tom's entire body.
If anything, Tom thought he probably felt worse than he looked. The infection was like a hot poker that had visited his gut and decided to stay. Knowing he didn't have much time left, Tom wanted to say good-bye to Harry. Tears even hotter than his skin spilled from his eyes, "Har. I'm going. I'm sorry. You've been . . . everything to me. I love you so much."
"No, Tom. Hang on, sweetheart. The doctor's down on the surface now. He's trying to get a cure. I know he'll succeed, I know it. You've just got to hang on."
Tom grimaced, the fever making his joints ache with an internal pain that he couldn't will away. "It's all right, Harry. You . . .you find someone . . . after . . .promise me?"
Tom shuddered from the deeply painful infection in his body and the temperature that now soared higher than he could ever have imagined. He was unable to suppress the groan that escaped from his mouth and his fingers gripped Harry's hand with what little strength he had left.
"Tom. Stay with me, love, please. Stay with me. I need you," Harry told him, matching tears streaming from his own eyes. "I love you so much."
Hearing those words, Tom smiled weakly. He never thought he would die loved by anyone. But here was Harry, his lovely dark Harry, his rescuer from loneliness and self-hatred, telling him he loved him. Tears ran unchecked down his burning cheeks. He had to give Harry one last gift, just as Harry had given him so much. "I will be your angel, Harry, any time . . . any where . . ."
"Oh, gods, Tom, no, stay . . . please stay . . ." Harry pressed Tom's hands to his mouth, kissing the heated digits one by one as if this act would keep Tom tethered to the world of Voyager, to the sickbay, to the biobed, and most of all, to Harry, where Tom's lonely and battered spirit belonged.
But Harry realized that nothing he could do or say was going to halt the inexorable sequelae of the alien bacteria. It was killing Tom. He knew Tom had only minutes left. "I love you, Tom," he whispered against the burning tide ravaging his lover's body. "I love you, I love you."
Tom heard Harry's words, wanted to say more, couldn't. He was too weak, his systems were checking out one by one. His eyes shut, the pain began to leave him, and he hoped that if there were any gods at all that they would have mercy on him, that they would judge him by what he had tried to become, not by what he had been. Most of all he hoped that he would be able to keep his promise to Harry to come back as Harry's angel.
It was late on Christmas Day and Harry slept in Tom's bed, exhausted by the long ordeal in sickbay. He stirred in his sleep, felt currents of air brush across his tired body, fought to stay asleep, couldn't. He opened his eyes wondering what strange events could be disturbing the air in the cabin.
"Hey," a soft voice told him. It sounded like Tom.
Harry struggled to fully awaken. He sat up and couldn't help but smile at the vision standing a few feet away towards the foot of the bed. It looked like Tom, tall, sandy haired, long legs, a dazzling grin on a pale face.
"Hey," the vision said again and twirled around. "How do I look?"
Breathtaking, thought Harry. The vision wore a draping, lustrous white robe of smooth silk, open to the waist over a hairless chest. A silk sash held the two sides of the robe together at the slender waist, then the robe fell away to the sides, revealing slim hips, long legs. Those legs were spread ever so slightly apart, bare all the way down to the long feet that anchored the vision to the deck floor.
As the vision turned all the way around, the robe swirled outwards flying away and back. Barely revealed was a smooth white back as the robe swung away from the body and then back again, settling in place when Tom stopped turning. A very huge grin appeared on Tom's face. "Well?" he demanded.
"You are an angel," Harry told him seriously. "A very beautiful angel. My beautiful angel. Come here."
If at all possible, the grin widened. Tom picked up something on the end of the bed and stepped like a flowing apparition in the dim cabin light to where Harry sat on the bed, his back leaning against the headboard.
"You're beautiful," Harry whispered.
The apparition leaned down and kissed Harry on the lips, its lips warm and vibrant, its tongue exploring inside Harry's mouth.
"Tom . . . Tom . . . uh . . . you know I like doing this, but you just got out of sickbay . . . uh . . ."
"Six hours ago, Harry. I'm fine. The merckle's drool, gross as that sounds, was all I needed to get rid of that damned infection." Tom twirled again, knowing the effect his barely concealed body was having on his lover.
Tom raised the skirt of the robe to Harry's face, rubbing the soft, sueded silk against his lover's face. "I need you now, love," Tom purred. "I need the sex, the heat, the surrender. I'm yours, Harry. This is your Christmas gift. I'm your angel."
Harry barely breathed, "Yes."
Tom's grin broke the spell that his words had worked. "Well, until I act like Tom Paris again."
Harry laughed at his irrepressible lover. "You are acting like Tom Paris, right at this very instant. You have no idea how glad I am to have you back."
"Show me," Tom dared. He danced back a few steps from the bed while one handedly pulling Harry off the bed. "Undress your present, Harry, and show me."
With a groan of pleasure, Harry advanced to his lover and placed his hands on Tom's shoulders. He leaned up and kissed those lips that now were a healthy, moist pink. He embraced the man who he had almost lost such a short time before. His hands went around Tom's shoulders and gripped his back. He rubbed the silky fabric of the robe, enjoying the smooth, soft properties of the glowing material.
He broke off their kiss long enough to breathe, to tell Tom how much he loved him. He brought up one hand to cup Tom's face, to run his thumb along Tom's jaw line, along his straight nose, to fondle the cleft between his mouth and nose. All the while, he breathed both his love and his tongue into Tom's ear. Tom began to make those soft moaning noises that told Harry he liked what was being done to his face, to his body.
Tom found something that resembled his voice. He turned his head toward the direction of Harry's face caught between his shoulder and neck. "I love you, Harry. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah."
"I love you, too, angel." Harry kissed Tom gently on the lips. "Thank you for coming back to me."
Tom's eyes blurred with tears. "You wanted me. How could I leave the only person in the universe who actually wanted me?" He kissed Harry back and settled into his arms. Finally, Tom managed to ask, "We're going to be all right?"
"Yes, love. I will be so careful of you," Harry announced with a fierceness that surprised Tom.
"Hey, I won't break."
"And I won't break you." Harry kissed each blurry blue eye. "You're the best Christmas present I've ever had."
As they settled on the bed, Tom heard Harry whisper, "My angel."
Author's note: I placed the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah together for this story. I think that by the 24th century we will know that celebrating different religious traditions enriches each and diminishes none.
The traditional song "Friendly Beasts" can be heard on Garth Brooks Christmas CD, Beyond the Season.