The next day Vin organized everything for the party. Inez came to his cabin and helped him with the invitations. Vin wanted it to be a small party, just those who even if they thought he was strange wouldn't come out and say so. Besides the other six officers he invited Casey and her aunt Nettie. Nettie was head of the hydroponics lab, which provided the crew with fresh vegetables. She ran the department like a small friendly kingdom, and people assigned to the lab never wanted to leave. She'd helped him determine the genetic blueprint for one of his party items. Casey was the supply officer, so she had helped him get a lot of the things he'd needed, like the lights for the tree she had promised him. They were really components for the ships indicator panels, but no one had to know that. He also invited Chanu from engnineering, since hew was also from Texas, the place which Vin considered home. It would be sort of like having family there, he figured. Lieutenant Travis from Admin rounded out the guest list.
"Vin what do you put on the top of the tree?" Inez asked as she helped him decorate it.
"A star," Vin said excitedly. "I programmed the replicator from pictures I have and it came out perfect."
Vin went to a box and pulled out a gold star. The design was simple with no fancy frills. Inez said she usually had an angel.
"Got some of those too," Vin said as he handed her a box.
The door opened and Lila sauntered in. The big cat walked to Inez and demanded to be petted. Inez obliged her by scratching the cat behind the ears. When Lila was satisfied she moved to Vin to see what he was doing. As she got closer to the tree she began to growl.
"It's only a tree," Vin smiled. "Nothin's gonna hurt you."
Lila wasn't convinced and growled louder. Vin told her to behave and she grudgingly left the tree alone. They spent the morning decorating and finishing the invitations. Inez said she had to get back to the saloon. Vin went with her since he had to be on duty in a little while. They left together and Vin stopped her before she could walk away.
"Just wanted to say thanks," he smiled self-consciously.
"It was my pleasure," Inez said and kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be back later when Casey gets the lights."
Vin nodded and they went their separate ways. Neither one of them noticed Commander Wilmington standing around the corner with a smile on his face.
+ + + + + + +
Vin headed for the turbolift so he could get the bridge. As the doors opened he entered to find Ezra heading for duty also. Vin stood quietly next to the security chief. Ezra knew he sometimes made the Vulcan nervous. Every once in awhile Vin had a hard time understanding humans and Ezra's fancy words made Vin unsure.
"Hey, Ezra," Vin said. "When you were younger did you do anything for the holidays?"
"Sometimes," Ezra admitted. "Mother often dragged me to these horrendous parties."
"Oh," Vin frowned. "So you don't like parties?"
"Not the ones she took me too," Ezra replied. "Everyone pretending to be something they weren't. I prefer more intimate parties with a few people."
"That's good to know," Vin nodded. "'Case I decided to throw a party."
Ezra wondered at the remark as the turbolift doors opened and Vin made his hasty exit. The last thing he could imagine Vin Tanner doing was throwing a party.
"Good afternoon everyone," Josiah greeted them from the Command chair. Josiah was the ship's counselor and normally would not have had the con, unless the ship was in stand-down mode. "The captain left instructions to patrol the area around Corbius Cluster."
That explained the stand-down,- the most hostile life form in the Corbius Cluster were grebian honeyworms that were so sticky that they bonded to human (and Vulcan) skin on contact. Vin couldn't understand what reason Chris could possibly have for going there.
"Shall I plot a course sir?" Ensign Sing, stationed at Ops, asked.
"Yes," Josiah smiled as he watched Vin.
Vin already knew the co-ordinates but he waited patiently for the new ensign to program them into the computer.
"Course set in sir," she announced.
"Mr. Tanner use your discretion at speed," Josiah instructed.
"Aye sir," Vin said as he punched the ship to warp six and they sped away.
Josiah smiled as Vin set a sedate pace for the Maverick. The counselor knew his tour of duty would be a quiet one and settled in to enjoy himself.
+ + + + + + +
Buck walked into the saloon to find Chris sitting alone at the back table. The mustached first officer walked over and sat down.
"Buck," Chris said warily when he saw the grin on Buck's face.
"You'll never guess who I saw coming out of Vin's quarters," Buck winked then jerked his head towards the bar.
"What are you trying to say Buck?' Chris asked.
"Seems Inez has a soft spot for our resident Vulcan."
"Buck I'm warning you," Chris scowled.
"No, it's the truth," Buck laughed. "Inez kissed him before she left."
"What rumors are you starting now senor?" Inez asked as she came over to take his order.
"Saw you kissing our pointy-eared elf this afternoon," Buck said with a smile.
"Have you no shame!" Inez bellowed and put her hands on her hips. "Spying on me!"
"No, No!" Buck yelled defensively. "Pard, help me out here."
"No way. You're on your own," Chris smiled and sat back.
"If you must know I asked Vin to help me fix something," Inez explained. "He's very good at things like that."
"Sometimes," Chris laughed.
"Yeah," Buck chuckled. "Remember that time he dismantled the transporter to see if he could make it work more efficiently."
"Did he really take apart the transporter?" Inez asked.
"Was his first day on board," Chris said. "Had to take the Maverick to Starbase 7 to have it put back together."
"They were not happy," Buck laughed.
"I can imagine," Inez smiled. "Did you want anything?"
"Yeah, darlin', I'll have a hamburger with the works," Buck answered. Inez walked back to the bar to fill his order. "So, Chris, you have anything planned for Christmas for Vin?"
"I'm working on something," Chris admitted.
"No." Chris smiled.
"Come on, Pard, I can keep a secret," Buck prodded.
"I want it to be a surprise," Chris said. "Hopefully I can pull it off."
+ + + + + + +
Later that evening Vin and Inez finished tree with the lights Casey had procured. It wasn't a traditional evergreen but it was as close as they could get. The lime green foliage clashed the red lights and with some of the ornaments so it was a bit on the garish side. Vin hoped no one would notice.
"Do you think we have enough food?" Vin asked.
"We have plenty," Inez assured him.
"You don't think the tree looks funny?" Vin asked giving it another look.
"It's fine," Inez laughed. "Everyone will love it. When are you delivering the invitations."
"Tonight after everyone is asleep," Vin answered.
"Good," she smiled. "I better get going."
Vin walked Inez to the door and stopped. He quickly leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek.
"What was that for?"
"Mistletoe," Vin said pointing up.
"I'll have to remember to avoid that with the Commander at the party," Inez said as she saw the green foliage that Nettie had helped him replicate.
Inez walked out and the door closed behind her. Vin dimmed the lights so he could see what the tree looked like in the dark. The colored lights blinked on and off merrily. Vin sat on the couch and pulled out his holoprojector. He hit a few buttons and images began to appear above the projector. Vin smiled as he watched his mom put the star on the tree as his dad turned on the lights. The man Vin was named after came in carrying him on his shoulders. Vin called him uncle Vlad even though he wasn't a real uncle. Vin leaned back and sighed. He really missed his uncle. Vlad was only seventeen or eighteen years older than Vin and he was more like a brother. Vin wished he could be here for the holidays but knew that was impossible. There was too much red tape involved in getting a civilian aboard a starship just for a visit, and there wasn't time to cut through it.
Vin decided he better deliver the invitations before he fell asleep. He grabbed the small pile of cards from the table and went out the door.
Chris lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. If everything went according to plan, Vin's surprise should arrive in just a few hours. The captain had the rare luxury of being off today. He thought he'd spend the day with Vin. Chris knew this was an important day for the Vulcan. When Buck told him Vin usually celebrated Christmas and was feeling down because he was homesick Chris knew he shouldn't leave him alone today. Vin was very good at hiding his feelings but Chris could tell when something was bothering the younger being. With the decision made Chris rolled out of the bed and got in the shower.
Chris emerged a half-hour later after taking a long hot shower. He got dressed and walked into the main area of his cabin to get breakfast. As he walked over to the replicator he noticed something on the floor. It was a green piece of paper and Chris bent down to pick it up.-You are invited to a traditional Christmas party.
The party will be in Lieutenant Tanner's quarters
starting at 1500 hours.-
Chris smiled when he saw it was being thrown by Vin and Inez. That explained why Buck kept seeing them together. After reading the invitation Chris knew going to see Vin today would be useless. The Vulcan would be spending the day making sure everything was perfect, and having him there would only make him more nervous than he probably already was.
+ + + + + + +
The time for the party was getting closer and Vin kept moving things around. He wanted everything to be perfect. Vin placed a bowl of eggnog on the table and stepped back. He realized it was at just the right level for Lila to drink out of and moved it.
"Relax, Vin," Inez said as she watched him move the bowl.
"Want everything to be just right," Vin, said as he fussed with the centerpiece - a Telurian flower that resembled earth poinsiettas - at the buffet table.
"Enough!" Inez declared grabbing his arm and pulling him to the couch. "Now just sit here and relax."
"But I ain't done," Vin complained.
"Yes you are," she said patting his hand. "All you have to do is wait for your guests."
Vin sighed and did as she said. Inez laughed and leaned back on the couch. She surveyed the room and smiled. Vin had decorated everything including the ceiling. Inez couldn't wait to see the reaction as Vin's unsuspecting guests walked under the mistletoe. The door chimed announcing the first guest. Inez was hoping it would be the commander.
"Hey, Buck," Vin said. The Vulcan pulled Buck into a hug and kissed him.
"Whoa, now hold on there Vin," Buck said pushing the lanky Vulcan away.
"It's mistletoe," Vin explained pointing up.
"I don't care what it is," Buck explained. "You don't go around kissing other guys."
"But it's tradition," Vin said. "Anybody who walks under the mistletoe you have to kiss."
"Inez, darlin', why don't you come over here," Buck said wagging his eyebrows.
"I don't think so senor," she laughed. "Why don't you come over and enjoy the show."
Buck joined her on the couch as the door buzzed again. Vin opened it and JD sputtered as Vin kissed him.
"Hey!" JD yelled.
"It's tradition kid," Buck laughed. "You get to kiss anybody who walks under the mistletoe."
"Missile toe? What the heck is that?" JD asked.
"See the plant above the door?" Vin said pointing. "That's it."
"But why do you kiss under it?" JD asked.
"I don't know," Vin shrugged. "You just do."
The next to arrive was Ezra. As the door opened he looked up and sighed. He knew Vin wouldn't forget the mistletoe. The security chief walked in and kissed Vin quickly on each cheek than stepped back. Vin smiled as Ezra continued into the room.
"Hey, how'd you know about that?" Buck asked as they watched Vin kiss Nettie while JD kissed Casey.
"I've been to a few Traditionalist parties," Ezra answered. They heard a slap and turned to see JD explaining the mistletoe to Casey.
"Poor JD," Inez said in sympathy.
"Now that was worth coming for," Buck laughed.
"You have no manners," Inez complained as she got up to join the other women.
Josiah and Nathan arrived to the same treatment as the others. Josiah found the custom very intriguing. Soon, everyone had arrived but Chris. Even Lila was there staring at the tree. Vin tried to keep up with the conversation but kept looking at the door.
"Don't worry, Vin, he'll come," Josiah assured the younger being.
"I know," Vin said anxiously.
"This is a great party, Vin," Nathan said. "I've never seen a real Christmas tree."
"It's not a real one," Vin sighed. "It's supposed to be a blue spruce. This was the closest the planet had."
"It's still a nice tree," Josiah added.
The guests admired the tree and the other decorations and Vin eagerly explained each one. When the door chimed again. Josiah laughed as Vin leaped across the small cabin to the door.
"This should be interesting," Josiah commented.
Vin opened the door and Chris stood on the threshold. Vin kissed Chris quickly on the lips then gave him a hug. Chris hugged Vin back and looked up.
"Where'd you get the mistletoe?" Chris asked. "Last I read it was rare."
"I made it," Vin beamed and grabbed Chris's hand. "Come see the tree!"
JD laughed as Ezra held his hand out to Buck. The commander grumbled as he placed a bar of gold pressed latinum in the security chief's hand. Now that everyone was there Vin and Inez set the food out. Everyone loaded up their plates and started to eat. Vin poured everyone some eggnog and waited to see their reactions.
"What is this?" JD asked suspiciously holding up the thick pale yellow liquid.
"It's egg nog," Ezra said. "It take a little getting used to."
Josiah decided to be brave and give it a try. They all watched in anticipation as he swallowed. Josiah tried not to show his reaction to the awful taste but couldn't help it as he gagged.
"You don't like it," Vin said disappointed. "I tried to make it like my mom's. I had no trouble finding the eggs but couldn't find any nog."
Ezra choked on his drink and Buck slapped him on the back. Ezra knew what the drink was made of but didn't want to point out Vin's mistake in front of everyone.
"Everything else is good Vin," Josiah said. "It's alright that this didn't turn out."
"I guess," Vin sighed as he took everyone's glasses.
"Captain Larabee," a voice called over the captain's combadge.
"Larabee here," Chris said as he hit the badge.
"The USS Gettyburg has arrived."
"Thank you, I'll be right there," Chris replied.
He looked at Vin's crestfallen features and realized Vin thought he was leaving. "Be back as fast as I can," he assured the Vulcan.
"Take your time, Chris," Buck said. "We'll still be here."
Chris left and the party continued. Buck took the mistletoe down from the door and kept trying to get Inez to stand under it. Nettie finally took it away from him and told him to behave. No one was watching Lila as she sat in front of the tree growling. Her tail began to flick back and forth as she crouched down ready to jump. Vin turned and saw her but it was too late.
"Lila, NO!" he yelled as the big cat sprang onto the tree.
Pandemonium broke out as a small mammal leaped out of the thick branches. The tree crashed o the floor as Lila chased the uninvited guest. The next thing in their path was the food table. Josiah tried to save some of it but was only able to lift the cake out of the way as the table folded under Lila's weight.
Casey screamed in surprise as the small animal landed on her head then jumped away. Buck was finally able to grab Lila but not before everything in the room was destroyed. Once Lila stopped chasing it, the creature sprang to Inez's shoulder and hid in her hair.
"You crazy cat," Buck said. "Look what you did."
"Hey where's Vin?" JD asked as he looked around.
"I'm not certain," Ezra admitted. "He was here a minute ago."
"Computer locate Lieutenant Tanner," Nathan said.
"Lieutenant Tanner is in his cabin," answered a female voice.
Josiah smiled and pointed to the bedroom. The counselor walked to the door and found it locked.
"Vin, come on out," Josiah called.
"No," Vin answered. "Everything's ruined."
"No it's not," Josiah lied.
"Yes it is," Vin contradicted. "You can all go if you want."
"Poor Vin," Inez said as she held the now friendly mammal. "He wanted everything to be perfect."
"How was he supposed o know there was something in the tree.?" JD said.
"Or that Lila would try to make it dinner," Buck chuckled. "If you think about it, it's sort of funny."
"This is ridiculous," Nettie exclaimed. "Vin Tanner you come out this instant!"
"No!" Vin yelled. "Just go away!"
"What the hell happened?" Chris demanded as he walked into chaos.
+ + + + + + +
Chris couldn't believe the mess. When he'd left everything was fine. He'd only been gone a few minutes. Everyone was standing there looking rather guilty when Chris noticed the small mammal Inez was holding. He looked down at Lila and knew exactly what happened. Chris stepped into the room followed by another man. He was Josiah's height with graying dark hair cut short. The gentleman also sported a close trimmed beard and mustache. Above the mustache were shinning blue eyes dancing with mirth.
"Well, captain, I never expected a reception like this," he said with a slight Russian accent.
"Neither did I," Chris replied. "Where's Vin."
"He's pretty upset," Nathan said.
"Locked himself in his room," JD said pointing.
Chris sighed and walked over to the door. The stranger followed him and stood patiently behind him.
"Who is he?" JD asked in a whisper.
"How the hell do I know kid?" Buck replied.
"Vin come on out," Chris called.
"Vin don't make me over ride this door," Chris said.
"You can't," Vin said defiantly. "I over rode the controls."
"Uh oh," JD said as he watched Chris run his fingers through his hair.
"You could order him to come out," Josiah suggested.
"Yeah, Vin never refuses an order," Nathan said.
"Especially from Chris," Buck laughed.
Chris knew that was true, but he hated to bully Vin if he was already upset.
The stranger with Chris stepped forward. "Let me try," he winked., and then tapped on the door. "Vladimir Illya Nemudrovich Tanner, do not make me come in there and get you!"
The door snapped open, and Vin stood there, his eyes wide with disbelief as realization dawned on him.
"Uncle Vlad!" Vin exclaimed and threw himself into his uncle's arms.
"Merry Christmas lad," the big man said as he hugged Vin tight.
"I've missed you," Vin said as he squeezed tighter.
"Easy there, Little Elf, you're liable to hurt me," Vlad said as he pushed Vin back. "Let me look at you."
"Hey he called him elf," JD said.
"No wonder he never minds when I called him that," Buck smiled.
"I swear you get scrawnier every time I see you," Vlad said as he shook Vin. "Don't they feed you on this ship?"
"Yes, sir, I can eat anything I want," Vin said happily. "I really like hot fudge sundaes."
"Still addicted to sweets I see," he said with a laugh. "Now what happened here?"
"Nothing," Vin sighed hanging his head.
"Come now, is that how a Tanner is supposed to act?" Vlad asked gently.
"No sir," Vin said raising his head. "I wanted to have a party like my parents used to have. Everything was fine until...."
"Until that rather large cat decided to wreck everything," Vlad smiled. "I take it she's yours?"
"Yes sir," Vin smiled back.
"Still picking up strays," Vlad chuckled and pulled him against him. "Now come, introduce me to your friends."
The mess in the room was forgotten as Vin introduced his "uncle" to the others. Josiah moved closer to Chris and stood next to him.
"That was a really nice gift, Chris," Josiah commented.
"I knew how much he missed his parents," Chris replied. "Figure this would be the next best thing ."
"Well it certainly did the trick," Josiah smiled. "I've never seen Vin so happy."
"Yeah. Looks like they're pretty close."
Chris smiled as he watched Vin with Vlad Nemudrovich. The captain knew hero worship when he saw it and was glad Vin had someone to look up too.
Inez suggested that they move the party to the saloon. They would have it to themselves since she had closed it for the party. Buck said that was a great idea as he led everyone out the door. Vlad was talking to Josiah as they left Vin's cabin. He looked back to see Vin moving towards the captain. The archeologist smiled as Vin stopped by Chris's side and began to thank him excitedly.
"He is happy here," Vlad commented to Josiah. "I can tell."
"Captain Larabee is fond of him... We all are," Josiah admitted.
"I was worried when I found out he was assigned to this ship," Vlad explained as they walked along. "It has a somewhat less than stellar reputation, meaning no offense of course."
Josiah laughed. "It's crew does live up to the Maverick name... but we prefer to think of ourselves as 'unique'... and if Vin is anything, it's unique."
Because the Gettysburg could not deviate from her operating schedule for more than a few hours, Vin's visit with his uncle would be a short one. After the party, Vin had escorted the archaelogist to the ship's stellar cartography dome and had trained it on the Xanthus cluster. The large supernova had been visible for 40 earth years, but it still shone like a beacon in the blackness of space.
"You remember," Vlad said softly as he recognized the celestial body.
Vin nodded, hoping he had done the right thing by bringing Vlad here. He didn't want to dig up any bad memories for the man who was the closest thing to a family he had. He knew that the archaelogist and his parents had endured tremendous hardship and isolation during the time they had been stranded on an uncharted asteroid that they had never even given a name. But for Vin, it was a childhood which, and after some dark beginnings, he remembered kindly. His memories of those times were of being happy, safe and loved - protected from a universe that viewed him as a freak.
"You taught me what Christmas is about," Vin said. "Not just the Star story, but... " he was having trouble finding the right words. "...you know what I mean."
Vlad nodded. "So did you."
Vin looked at him curiosly as the older man sat on the cushioned floor and motioned for Vin to do likewise.
"I don't know if we would have survived those years without you," Vlad said.
Vin didn't understand. He'd only been a little boy. He hadn't done anything special.
Vlad continued. "When we needed hope... a reason to go on... when it all seemed so pointless... We'd look at you and know that we had to survive... " Vlad looked at him and smiled as he continued, "...because Fate or some million-to-one miracle had brought us together with a skinny little Vulcan boy with big blue eyes."
Vin knew the story. He had heard it countless times, how Vlad and his parents had almost as an afterthought visited Tasco 7 to explore an ancient ruin and had found one living thing on the otherwise dead world - him. The fate of his Vulcan parents was a mystery still.
Vlad turned to face Xanthus again and said softly, "'Unto us a child is given'... that's what it's all about, Vin." He put an arm around the young Vulcan's shoulders. "Someday, you'll understand."
The moment was interrupted when JD and Casey entered the dome. Vin figured they probably wanted to be alone, but he didn't want to leave, not now, not this time.
Vlad greeted the young couple and motioned for them to join him and Vin on the viewing deck.
Casey's eyes grew wide when she spotted the supernova. "Oh... that's pretty!" she exclaimed.
"The Xanthus supernova," JD explained. "First time I've seen it."
"Sit... join us," Vlad invited the pair and then winked at Vin. "I will tell you a story about another star..."
+ + + + + + +
As they watched the Gettysburg pull away from the Maverick at Warp 2, Vin moved alongside the Captain
"Chris?" Vin said as he got closer.
"Just wanted to say thank you," Vin said as he gave Chris a crushing hug. "That was the best gift I've ever had."
"You're welcome," Chris wheezed. Vin realized he was hugging him too tight and released him. Chris wasn't sure who was happier at that moment, him or Vin, and he found it impossible to keep the smile off his face when he said "Merry Christmas, Vin.".