A sequel to 1998's "All Around the Christmas Tree" --
Hazy images sharpened into definite forms as Kathryn Janeway’s eyes awoke to her surroundings. She stretched as best she could, leaning onto the bar that spread horizontally on her stand. The visual clues snapped her mind into focus as well and she recalled where she was – on the on the Christmas tree in someone’s home. Hmm. Now who was that awful little man? Oh, yes; now she remembered! She sighed wistfully. He hadn’t taken her from her ornament box in several years. But here she was, once more placed among the fresh green of the tree’s branches. Perhaps the hard feelings and tumultuous times are behind us now, as he seems to have forgiven her for the wild escapade of a few years back – that harrowing time that left him in rehabilitation for several months, followed by prolonged multiple medications.
She leaned back into the cradling tree. A spicy-sweet fragrance swirled around her and the room as the small lights warmed the tree’s essence. She smiled contentedly, surveying the area. This year, she found herself between a blown glass balloon that looked like a rainbow crazy quilt and the little lamb. She really liked the lamb; he made her feel warm and cozy. She closed her eyes, reflecting on the sweet sadness that filled her.
The reason for her fall from grace, as well as her host’s untimely tribulations, was the other interloper who led her astray – whatever had she been thinking? That tattooed one hadn’t really been there for her; he was just using her to try to find another way to access the overly-endowed blonde who frequented this household – what a cheap trick! Soon afterwards, he proceeded to bad-mouth his host and all he’d done for him – whatever had caused her to have feelings for him in the first place? She smirked. Oh, yes; there was ‘that’… his eyes, his lips, his touch – she started feeling all tight and squiggly and warm again in all the wrong places. No! Enough of that, Kathryn! You’ve been pardoned, forgiven – you’re back in your host’s good graces; let’s keep it that way!
All those years alone inside her box, alone with just her memories of that fateful Christmas Eve. One of the wise men ornaments told her that for a couple of years while she was in ‘exile’, her favorite ornament was hung beside a new one – a shapely young blonde in a blue garment that looked as if it had been painted on her! The two of them smiled and appeared very friendly.
She brushed away specks of storage dust from her uniform. A few flecks still stuck to her because of residual sticky residue. But now he was gone. She heard rumors from the angel at the top of the tree that their host had thrown the tattooed one away and taken the blonde in blue for himself. That certainly served him right! No one seemed to know what happened to him; he just disappeared into the night.
She sighed, wondering if she let a good thing slip away from her. But then this wasn’t anything new and she had gotten accustomed to the solitude. It was so much easier without emotions complicating the important things in life. So here she was now – five years older and wiser – but still alone. Even the angel agreed that it was lonely at the top.
What the… she blinked her eyes open. The stillness of the scene suddenly quaked; the entire tree was shaking! Was it going to fall? What was going on? Another southern California earth tremor? A storm of tinsel icicles flew all around; several small ornaments bounced on the branches around her, a couple of them crashing to their demise on the floor below. The balloon bobbed here and there, but clung tightly with its clamped base. The lamb, nestled within its branch, seemed secure with its soft fur woven through the needles. She grabbed onto her branch, hoping not to be dislodged.
Slowly the shaking eased, like ripples disappearing in a pond. As the final ebbs faded away, she heard a male voice yell out. “Damn it, Daniels, now where are we? Can’t you ever get your temporal coordinates straight?”
A voice – a male voice! But it wasn’t Chakotay. Who could it be? “Hello?” she managed to stammer. “Who’s there?”
With a hesitant step, she slid off her platform and climbed up a couple of branches towards the source of the voice. She heard more movement around the curve of the tree, coming from behind the brightly colored drum several branches above her. Her movements became more determined. “Hello?” she called out again. “Are you all right?”
More grunts came from the hidden area and finally a loud sigh. “Hey! Who’s there? Where am I?” asked the new voice.
Janeway scrambled through the thick needles, careful not to get burned by the hot lights that illuminated the way. “Keep talking,” she called out. “I’m following your voice.” The climb wasn’t easy, but she kept pulling herself up over the branches, avoiding the prickly ends of the needles.
Finally, she rounded the curved edge of the red and blue drum. There, seated in a silver gray chair, sat a tall brunet man, dressed in a blue uniform that looked almost like…
“Hi, there,” he smiled at her. His face took on the same bewildered amusement as hers as he took in the image of the uniformed woman standing in front of him. His eyes came to rest on the pips on her color. “Uh… you’re Starfleet? And a captain? Did Admiral Forrest send you”?
“Why, yes, I am, but I don’t know an Admiral Forrest,” stammered Janeway, confused by the different uniform but not by the same number of pips on his uniform. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Captain…uhm…”
His expression brightened as the common bond between them became apparent. “It’s Archer… Jonathan Archer. And you are?” he asked, stretching out his hand.
Moving towards him, she took his hand, noting its broadness and the strength of his grip. “It’s Janeway, Kathryn Janeway. Captain of the USS Voyager.”
“Pleased to meet you, Captain Janeway. Although I didn’t know that there were any… um… female captains in Starfleet. Is that why your uniform looks different?”
It was her turn to appear bewildered. “I beg your pardon? There are many women captains in Starfleet; you seem to be the one who is different!”
He looked around, still somewhat shaken and confused by his surroundings. “Something tells me that neither of us is really where we’re supposed to be.”
She smiled. “That’s true. I believe that we are in the terran year of 2003.”
“2003? The twenty first century?” He sighed. “That figures. Why not? Seems like I’m always going to times before and after where I think I’m really located.”
“And that is?”
“Well, I think my real time is in the year 2153.” He looks at her. “Did Daniels bring you here, too?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know anyone named Daniels. My ‘time’ is the 24
Color flooded Archer’s face. “Delta Quadrant? What the hell is that? The only ‘del’ anything I know is the Delphic Expanse.” He looked around him again. “And I don’t think that’s where I am now!” He looked at his chair resting on the cushion of needles of the tree. “Okay; I give up. Just where are we? This doesn’t really seem to be my conn or the bridge.”
Janeway looked befuddled. “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about a Delphic expanse, nor do I remember it as a place in Starfleet logs. Are you sure that’s a place?”
He stood up and began fingering a couple of the green needles surrounding his chair. “I’m not even sure this is a place! Where did you say we were?”
She folded her arms across her chest. “No where that’s been mentioned so far, I’m afraid. Look around you, Captain; what do you see?”
“Lots of green. Looks like we’re in the middle of an ocean of giant pine needles.”
“Anything else?” She drummed her fingers, impatient with the man’s denseness.
He glanced around him, taking in the glimpses of color. Suddenly a laugh took over his body. “You, know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say we’re on a Christmas tree!”
“Good guess, Archer,” she smirked. “And – by some bit of chicanery, you and I are what are known as Christmas tree ornaments.”
His face contorted with disbelief. “Christmas ornaments? What the hell is that all about? You mean we’re not real… not alive?”
Her throaty laugh took him off-guard. “Oh, we’re about as alive as our characters are ever allowed.” She moved closer to him. “Actually, you’d be surprised by what all we can do. And it sure beats all the responsibility of commanding a starship.”
His eyes sparked with interest. “Okay; I’ll bite. I could sure stand to have a break from the weekly grind.”
Janeway took a couple of steps closer to him. “If you’d like to look around some, let’s get you out of that sitting position.”
He grunted and struggled, pulling himself out of the chair to a standing position. He was taller than her by at least eight inches. He rubbed his haunches and stretched his legs, attempting to bring some feeling back to them. “That has got to be the most uncomfortable conn chair I’ve ever sat in.”
“Well, at least you get to sit; they’ve got me standing all the time,” Janeway countered with a laugh. “Now – you want to take a tour and look around? Actually, I’ve made some pretty good friends among the other ornaments on the tree.”
“Any more like us?” Archer asked.
Janeway felt her face flush. “Off and on over the years. I think our host sort of… um… rotates us. Playing favorites. That sort of thing.” She pulled aside a branch so he could follow her.
“So you’re saying we’re his favorites right now?” Archer climbed around a very hot red light.
“I guess,” she said wistfully but quickly putting on a smile. “So – what would you like to see first, Captain Archer?”
He reached over and gently squeezed her shoulder. “Please… it’s Jon, okay?”
She covered his hand with hers, noting how warm he felt. “Agreed. And it’s Kathryn.”
“Good; always glad to get the formalities out of the way,” he smiled back at her. He craned his neck, looking upwards towards the top of the tree then looked below them. “Actually, I think I’d like to climb to the bottom of all this. Maybe even see if I can find something to eat.”
“We can do that,” Janeway nodded. “I’m sure we can find the remains of some food, or maybe even something in a snack dish.”
“Great! I’m starved; let’s go!” He began clambering down the long branch, bouncing along it and upsetting her balance.
“Uh, Jon – you really must be more careful. These branches can get unwieldy at times; you never know when you might slip.”
He hung onto a couple of needles. Looking at the three-foot drop below them. “Yeah, but I don’t think we’d get more than a few bruises. Looks like there are plenty of packages under the tree – and I see a nice cushy velvet tree skirt under everything. You’ve got to take some chances every now and then, Kathryn!”
She felt the start of some anger at his brashness. “Oh, I’ve had my share of misadventures – even have a few scars to show for it.” Even have some scars that you can’t see, she thought to herself.
He raced ahead of her, ignoring her warnings. He slid down branches, brushing away needles that snagged at his uniform as he went by. He bound from level to level, seemingly oblivious to any danger or harm to his body or clothing. His actions bruised many of the needles, leaving a trail of pine scent to guide Janeway along his path. She shook her head in amazement – Archer had to be almost her age, yet he acted like an uninhibited adolescent. How on earth had he ever gotten to be a Starfleet captain?
Her mind was still wondering about this strange new friend when she dropped from the lowest branch onto the cushion of a tissue-paper wrapped item. From its soft ‘give’, she guessed the package must contain a sweater or garment of some sort. She couldn’t see Archer, but she heard his now-familiar grunts and continued walking around the area.
Then she saw him. He was disrobing! He had pealed down his jumpsuit and was tugging off the black short he wore underneath.
“Ah… Captain… er… Jon – I beg your pardon, but just what are you doing?
Archer popped out of the knit shirt, standing in front of her clad only in his royal blue tank top and briefs. “My uniform got covered with sap and other stuff. Wanted to get out it and see if I could get it cleaned up.”
Janeway’s mouth dropped. “You want to… what?”
“Get cleaned up!” Archer answered, picking up the discarded pieces, not bothered by her discomfort. “Can’t let all this tree goo harden on my clothing.”
Janeway froze with his candidness. “Well, no; but I certainly don’t think you need to disrobe immediately! That’s what quarters – and privacy! – are for. Surely you don’t act like this in front of your female crew members?”
“Sometimes. We do what needs to be done whenever it needs to be done.” He looked down at her, finally noting her embarrassment. “Guess you folks in your time are a little bit more uptight. But hey – it’s life on a starship; we’re all family!”
“Well, we were certainly as close as family, but not that close!” Janeway huffed, shaking her head.
Archer bent his arms, stretching his still-cramped muscles. “It’s a hell of a lot more comfortable this way, too.”
Janeway tried to ignore him – and the way his physique was warming her, “ But you’re a Starfleet captain; proper decorum and dress are part of the rank.”
A glint appeared in archer’s eyes. Was he trying to see how far he could goad her on? “Guess we’re a whole lot more casual in my time; I certainly didn’t mean to offend you or anything.” He slowly began to pull on his jumpsuit.
Janeway, beginning to appreciate the beauty of his physique, reached over to him, stilling the motion of his hands. “No, no; it’s just that…” Her hands ran up his upper arm and shoulder. “My goodness; it seems that you get plenty of physical activity to keep yourself in such… good shape.”
Archer subconsciously tightened his muscles. “Well, yeah; got to do something to relief the stress. Small ship, spartan living conditions. It’s not exactly a luxury resort – ”
Janeway leaned back, taking in a broad perspective of the new visitor. “And they’re… so blue!”
Now it was Archer’s turn to become bewildered and uneasy. “Uh… blue? What… ?”
“Your underwear,” Janeway answered. “They’re so… blue!”
Archer glanced down at his form-fitting wear. “Oh yeah; I guess they are.” His eyes lit up as he continued to taunt the proper woman in front of him. “But it’s kinda dismal aboard the Enterprise. Guess this is Starfleet’s way of trying to brighten up the surroundings.”
A quick intake of breath betrayed Janeway’s thoughts. “I know it certainly would have cheered up my life.”
“Don’t tell me that starships in your time are still dark and dismal and cramped,” Archer mused.
Janeway felt her fingers twitch and her stomach tighten; she wanted to reach out and touch him more, to feel if his shoulders were as taut and firm as they looked. “Not really,” she managed to gulp. “It’s just that we were away for such a long time. Even a spacious ship can become a prison in that amount of time.”
Archer unconsciously straightened under her attentive stare. “Oh? Just how long were your missions?”
Janeway shook her head in nervous laughter. “Oh, normally they weren’t all that long. I’m thinking of one in particular. We were only supposed to be gone for three weeks; but, due to a slight glitc…” She paused. “Due to an unexpected temporal accident, we discovered ourselves 70,000 light years and 70 terran years away from Earth.”
Archer let out a whistle. “So Future Guy got you, too?”
“Who?” Janeway queried.
“Daniels. The guy I mentioned earlier… from the 30th century. You know… the Suliban; the Xindi…” He stopped in mid-sentence as the realization hit him. “You survived… Earth survived! The Xindi never got to Earth…” His face exploded into a broad grin. He began to pace, rocking the branch where they stood. “You’re still here!”
Janeway reached out to quiet his unsettling movements. “The Suliban? The Xindi? I’m not sure what you mean, Captain.” Her insides quivered; yes, he truly did feel as good as he looked.
He grabbed her into a big bear hug. “Earth is still here! The Xindi didn’t destroy Earth!”
“Of course we’re here,” she answered, pushing back a little bit. “Why shouldn’t we be?”
Archer’s grin became a boisterous laugh. He backed off, bracing himself against the branch. “It’s a long story; I don’t know if you’d understand it all.” A sudden thought changed his tone to from gleeful to somber. “Oh, shit.” He looked into Janeway’s shocked face. “Pardon my language, Captain,” he mumbled. “I’ve probably jumped to conclusions. You say we’re in the year 2003, 150 years earlier that ‘my’ time and 350 years from yours. It’s the time travel bit. We’ve been thrown before the era for the Xindi; they may destroy Earth yet.”
Janeway’s face paled, looking like she’d been hurled back and forth at zero g. She held her head in her hands, obviously in some discomfort.
“Is there something wrong, Captain?” Archer asked.
“Yes,” she mumbled. “All this bit with time travel – it always gives me a headache. And there may be separate timelines, too.” Recovering from her uneasiness, her expression took on an appearance of horror. “And if that’s true, then Earth might be destroyed in your timeline but not in mine.”
Archer slumped back onto the package behind him. “Now you’ve got me confused! What the hell – ”
Janeway laughed and placed her hand on his chest. “See? Isn’t this fun? But I guess it’s to be expected; after all, we are in Braga’s home and he does think of himself as the king of time travel stories.”
“Braga? This is Braga’s place? Hell – no wonder this is all confused.” Archer slumped with a groan. “Maybe I should go talk with him.”
“About what? Think a moment, Jon – we’re Christmas tree ornaments! What sort of impact would we have on timelines – or plotlines, for that matter…” She stopped in mid-sentence and jumped back with a quick gasp. “Wait a minute; maybe there is a way to get his attention.”
“And that is?” Archer was interested.
One of Janeway’s trademark smirks lit up her face. “There was a time – a few years back – when another… um… ornament and I sparked his interest a bit.” Memories flitted across her face, memories of pleasure and playfulness. “Of course, he wasn’t the same for months after that…”
Archer’s face brightened with piqued interest. “You mean others had to write the scripts and you finally got something decent for a change?”
A hearty laugh came from Janeway. “Oh, yes; there were changes for sure!”
“So how do we do this?” Archer asked, leaning into her conspiratorially.
Janeway’s fingers began tracing small circles on his chest. “Jon – how long has it been since you… well… ”
He stilled her hand between his. His eyes twinkled as his thoughts read hers. “A long time. That’s the way it is with us captains, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” she answered. “And our host is vowed and determined to keep it that way. Nothing seems to get under his skin like Starfleet captains having certain… needs.”
He understood. “You were all the way out there… 70,000 light years from Earth… and no one at your rank level.” A sigh and then a laugh. “Of course, there weren’t any other Starfleet vessels out there when we were.” He looked at her, trying to read something that was buried deep within her.
She shook it off. “Ah, that was long ago and in a galaxy far away.” She laughed. “Besides, I had to concentrate on getting my ship and crew back.”
“Of course – it’s mission before all else,” he sighed. “But you wanted to, didn’t you? You’re a beautiful, charming woman, Kathryn, and I’m sure that you would have liked to had someone who could do this.” His fingers traced the outline of her jawbone, teasing her tensing tissues until his thumbs rested under her chin. A slight pressure and her face turned up to meet his. He leaned down and kissed her. Drawing back, he smiled. “Nice.”
This was going somewhere she didn’t need to go. This man – whoever he was and whenever he was from – seemed to know exactly what she longed for and how to get to her. He was packaged quite pleasingly and certainly Starfleet couldn’t quibble about either of them fraternizing with one of their own crew. And – damn it all! – they were merely plastic ornaments! So, why not?
“Jon,” she whispered.
“Yes,” he said, his lips finding all the delicious spots on her neck.
“It’s Christmas. What would say about our being presents for each other.”
“Mmmmm?” he answered, half-mesmerized.
“We’re both wrapped up; let’s unwrap each other and see if we can have fun with each others toys.” She felt his the lower part of his bright blue wrapping growing snugger and warmer.
He smiled as the meaning of her words registered. “Uh, oh; I think you have a few more layers of wrapping than I do.”
“That can be rectified,” she smiled, her hand sliding open the front of her jumpsuit. “Only don’t expect to find anything as lively as your undies.”
He guided the sleeves down her arms. “You mean that by your time, Starfleet wasn’t issuing black lace lingerie to its female captains?”
She laughed, stepping out of the garment. “We are quite utilitarian. Besides – who’s there to dress – or undress – for?” The dark turtleneck shirt worn under her uniform hung loose and long on her torso, covering a firmly rounded derriere and any garments underneath. His hand slid under the back lower edge of the shirt and slithered up her back. Chills went through her in their wake. With the skilled expertise expected of any Starfleet captain, he stripped her swiftly and silently. Not to be outdone by his actions, her hands performed their duty, stopping only momentarily as she grinned at his preparedness.
“Does everything meet with your inspection?” he asked.
“So far, Captain,” she smiled. “But let’s take it all out for a spin and see if all our equipment is compatible.”
“A wise suggestion,” he responded. As his hands cupped her lower cheeks, they slid into the undulant spaces of the velvet tree skirt and began their joint maneuvers.
Silvered light from the morning sun woke them; another day was begun.
“Well, I don’t think we solved any of our time-hopping problems,” he smiled.
She traced lazy designs across his chest. “No; but maybe we have solved how to handle certain… protocols… between senior officers.”
“No regrets?” He began nibbling on her fingertips.
“Jonathan, a captain’s got to do whatever is necessary to complete a mission,” she sighed, falling back onto his warm body and drawing his arms around her.
They resumed their long winter’s nap, oblivious to the time and space around them.
Time warp back to ENTERPRISING TIMES