Guarding Christmas

By Welsh Dragon

Thanks to Ellison Wonderland for the excellent challenge, which was:

"How about: Chakotay sees Tom doing something very unexpected at Christmas, that makes him see Tom in a completely different light. Tom doesn't know that Chakotay has seen him. You can take the story anywhere you want from there..."

Well, I cheated a little, by having Tom know immediately that Chakotay saw him... Also, P/T never happened <g>.

Merry Christmas to you all, and a happy and healthy New Year.

To the cpsg, for the years of fun - thank you.

Chakotay was furious.

Furious with Janeway, with this ship, with the Delta Quadrant, and more importantly, with himself. He should have known by now that any suggestion he made, even if it was the best idea since warp travel, would be shot down in flames by the Captain. The holier-than-thou, 'it's-not-a-good-idea-unless-it-comes-from-me-or-Seven' Captain.

He was sure that people could see the anger radiating off him. Crew members passing him in the corridors were keeping well to the other side, and the smiles which normally greeted him were dying on faces.

He didn't care. For once, he wanted to dispel the image that most people had of him being calm, focused, serene. He was *damn* *well* *furious*. He desperately needed to hit something.

Standing outside the holodecks he frowned as he noticed that one was in use with a privacy lock, and the other, which he'd managed to book ten minutes ago, was still running a program which he didn't recognise. No privacy lock meant that he had the right to go in there and demand his holodeck time. Which is exactly what he did.

What greeted him was the winter wonderland scene of mountains, a lake and a large log cabin. Everything was bathed in the bright whiteness of crisp snow. It was far too bright, and made him squint in his irritation.

This was the program which Paris and Kim had agreed to write for use during the Christmas period. During the past couple of years, Christmas had grown in importance for the crew, especially for the Terrans. Even other species took the time now to take part in the celebrations, although most didn't understand the cause of the festivities.

A party was to be held in the cabin which he could now see had colourful, flashing lights in the windows. Due to start on Christmas Eve and carry over well into Christmas Day, the Captain had decreed that each crew-member would receive
a small gift at the party, paid for out of the emergency ration account. Tom and Harry had volunteered to wrap the presents and set them under the tree which they would make sure would be suitably decorated.

They were obviously running late with the preparations, but in his current mood, Chakotay was not disposed to allow them any extra time which intruded into his holo-time.

Striding purposefully up to the cabin, he stalked through the doorway, only to be brought up short.

It wasn't the stunning sight of a huge eight foot Christmas tree which stopped him. It wasn't the sight of the tasteful decorations covering the tree, or the pile of colourful gifts underneath it. It wasn't even the warming, crackling log fire which halted him in his tracks. It was the sight of the man lying on the floor, curled in a comforting, fluffy blanket, fast asleep.

For some reason, Tom Paris was camping out in the holodeck cabin. He was lying very close to the stacks of presents, looking very young, but very unhappy.

Chakotay stood there, not knowing what to do. His anger was bleeding out of him at the sight of the pilot, although he couldn't explain why.

Tom must have felt some change in the room, perhaps the realistically cold air from outside had disturbed him. He sighed sleepily, shuffled over onto his back, and blinked his eyes several times at his senior officer, standing in the doorway. Suddenly, all drowsiness left him, to be replaced by what Chakotay recognised as embarrassment, and a not small amount of fear.

Fear? Why was Paris suddenly scared of him? Usually, Paris was so uncaring of the Commander's opinion of him that he appeared downright insolent. So why this apprehension now?

Chakotay closed the door on the winter wonderland outside, and stepped further into the room. Tom released his legs from the blanket knotted around him, and gracefully sat up, only to spoil the nonchalance by bringing his knees to his chest, and clasping his arms around them. The psychologist in Chakotay recognised the defensive posture immediately, and wondered again at this enigma in front of him.

"Commander? You're a little early for the party, you know?"

Tom's words brought Chakotay out of his musings, but it was the smirk that accompanied them which infuriated him.

"I know that Lieutenant, but do you know that *you're* a little late in leaving this program? I booked this holodeck for the next couple of hours."

Chakotay smirked himself as Tom's face fell, but the sneer also fell when he saw Tom glance anxiously at the pile of presents under the tree. Chakotay felt the anger returning - how *dare* Paris think that he would steal any of the crew's gifts?

Tom was mumbling apologies as he rose from the floor, folding the blanket neatly and placing it over one of the comfortable, plump sofas which Chakotay was only now noticing. That was when he also noticed that Tom was trembling. The chill which had entered with Chakotay had long been banished by the heat of the fire, so there was no reason for the other man to be cold. Was this fear again? Fear of Chakotay?

As Tom passed close enough to touch, Chakotay did just that. A gentle, finger tip touch to his arm stopped the younger man's exit. When Tom refused to meet his eyes, Chakotay whispered, "What's wrong, Tom? Has something happened? You looked so unhappy when you were sleeping. Tell me. Tell me what's wrong, maybe I can help."

For some reason, it was important to Chakotay that Tom trust him enough to talk about his grief, to allow him to do something to help. Chakotay was stunned when tears suddenly appeared in the blue eyes, and the choked laugh sounded anything but amused.

"Can you turn back the clock, Chak? Can you stop my father from taking my presents away from me? Can you do anything to help a sad, frightened eight year old boy? Because I can't. All I can do is make sure that everybody on this ship has a Christmas to remember... but sometimes that isn't enough, it just isn't enough."

The horror which Chakotay felt at Tom's words was almost eclipsed by sympathy. Almost.

He acted on instinct, and pulled the younger man into his arms, holding him tightly and feeling the shudders going through the slim body as Tom battled not to break down.

Tom was only aware that he felt embarrassed, safe and... loved. A strange emotion for him, particularly as the man who held him so closely had been a part of his passionate dreams for years. Tom knew that he could have spilled his secret only to this one person, and some strange twist of fate had made that happen tonight.

Chakotay had finally drawn Tom to one of the sofas near the fire, and had gently prodded him to talk. In a small, faltering voice, Tom had told his Christmas story.

"I can't remember what I did. To this day, I can't remember what I did that was so wicked that Dad would take my presents from me. I think that's the worst thing, the not knowing." He laughed humourlessly. "Maybe I was just being me. Just being a naughty eight year old."

As his voice became wistful, and his eyes drifted to views of the past, Chakotay hugged him closer.

"I loved Christmas, you know. Not just the presents, but the whole atmosphere in the house. Everyone was much more relaxed, even though there was a lot of work to be done. We had Starfleet parties virtually every day for a week, but I didn't mind so much because a few of the guests bought me toys and games."

Tom smiled ruefully at his younger, naive self. "It never crossed my mind that they weren't giving me a present because they liked me, but because my father would approve. I just loved the fact that I had all these gifts to open."

Tom swallowed his distress and leaned against Chakotay, trying not to cry as the memories became stronger.

"What happened, Tom?"

"I don't know! I just... I got up Christmas morning and Dad was putting all my presents into a plastic sack. He'd already burned a lot of the books and... I don't *know* what I did! Why didn't he tell me what I did wrong?"

Chakotay gathered the distraught man to him, understanding that earlier, Tom had been guarding the presents from a spectre which had haunted him for years.

He swore that this year Tom would have a Christmas to remember. A Christmas to banish all the bad memories of the past.

Epilogue:

The morning chime woke him immediately, as it always did. Stretching carefully so that he didn't wake his lover, Chakotay slipped out of bed and padded barefoot and naked into the living room. Passing the Christmas tree and pile of gifts stacked precariously beneath it, he opened the door to the Dorvan morning.

Smiling a little sadly, he remembered the first Christmas that he and Tom had spent together. Hours of talking in the cabin on the holodeck had mended broken hearts as well as bridges, and had started the two men on their lives together.

Returning to the Alpha Quadrant had not been as traumatic as most had imagined, and by then, Tom and Chakotay had been together for ten years. Nothing could keep them apart, certainly not the Federation, or Starfleet, or Owen Paris.

Relations between the Paris men had improved, though they were more acquaintances than father and son. Tom had still not had the courage to question his father about the long-ago Christmas, but Chakotay had no hesitation in doing so during one of those few times when he was alone with his father-in-law.

Paris Senior's response had astounded him. He remembered nothing. Nothing about stealing presents from his only son, nothing of Tom's heart-break. Chakotay walked away from him, disgusted.

Chakotay's smile changed to one of joy, because now Tom had plenty of rewards for his 'good behaviour', including a man who loved him with his whole heart, and a comfortable, *true* home on a beautiful world. Also, hidden away in the pile of gifts, were the keys to an old beat-up Camaro, which was parked around the corner, and which Chakotay knew would keep his lover away from him for hours on end. It would be worth it though, to see the love and happiness shine out of Tom when he saw the ancient vehicle.

Turning as he heard his partner padding through the house, Chakotay looked to the heavens, thanking the gods and Santa for bringing him the best gift he'd ever received. No power packs required. Guaranteed for life.

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