Disclaimer: Story mine. Characters not.

Competing entry for The Bard Challenge #22: Baby, It's Code Outside


Claus And Effect

By Del Robertson



Uncharted Space - Somewhere In The Delta Quadrant - Stardate 497.3874

Captain's Log - Supplemental

Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres has confirmed that the quartz-like crystals discovered in what appears to be abandoned mining caves on the uninhabited planet we've named Sierra Prime are, indeed, the Delta Quadrant's equivalent to dilithium crystals. Experiments she's conducted on a test-sample in Voyager's lab have conclusively proven that the multi-faceted red and green hued crystals are compatible with the ship's warp core. Unfortunately, the crystals have also proven to be highly volatile, rendering harvesting by means of the transporters dangerously impossible. The good news is that only a small amount is required to power Voyager's engines. The sample Seven of Nine and myself are transporting in the cargo section of the Delta-wing flyer will be sufficient enough for our needs.


Captain Janeway's head snapped up as she closed the electronic journal log with an irritated punch of her index finger to the shuttle's console. 


"Yes, Captain?"

"Did you just snicker during my narration?"

Seven of Nine swiveled around in her chair, making even that simplest of movements look at once both elegant and efficient in its execution. "Is that not the correct response to humor?"

"Well, yes, I suppose it certainly is one response." As with most things relating to Seven, the Captain was clearly taken aback. With more than a little trepidation lining her voice, she asked, "Seven, what exactly was it that you found - humorous - about my log entry?"

"The vernacular use of both exaggeration and under-statement in your last sentence. Tuvok has assured me that a 'play-on-words' is considered a most clever form of humor in the human culture."

"Let me get this straight; an ex-Borg drone is taking humor-lessons from a Vulcan in an effort to be more human?" Janeway closed her eyes, pinched the bridge of her nose in an attempt to ward off the supernova-sized migraine she felt coming on. Knowing she shouldn't, but unable to stand the not knowing, she asked, "To what play-on-words are you referring to, Seven?"

"Clearly, the understatement of the descriptive word sample - " To emphasize her point, Seven used a tilt of her chin to indicate a heaping mound of red and green iridescent crystals that encompassed the entire rear section of the craft " - and the gross exaggeration of the cargo section."

Staring at the often-times infuriatingly logical Borg, Janeway wondered how it was that an intonation delivered in such a calm, crisp manner could sound as though it was dripping with sarcasm. 

"Seven, I know that the Delta flyer is considered small by shuttlecraft standards and that you deem it too tiny to have what you term a true cargo section - "

"Hence, your use of exaggeration," Seven clarified.

"Yes," conceded Janeway, dropping her face into her hands in exasperation. Then, realizing Seven wasn't truly trying to be difficult and knowing she couldn't find fault with her for long, she regained her composure. Coming to kneel on the deck beside the pilot's chair, Janeway took both of Seven's hands in hers. Fingers stroking over flesh and mesh alike, she gazed up into Seven's face and admitted, "While my Captain's logs may seem like just a rambling diary of my thoughts right now, Seven, someday; whether we ever reach Earth or not; someday those logs will be an official documentation of our journey. Therefore, I must always try to use proper terminology when recording an official transcript." There was a slight smirk as Janeway added, "I can't very well describe it as the section of the craft where I pushed a gorgeous ex-Borg drone against the wall and performed cunnilingus on her through her skin-tight biosuit."

"It would be accurate. I believe Starfleet Command would appreciate the visual description." Seven's sensors detected the increase in pulse rate and the slight catch in Janeway's breathing. Knowing that any suggestion of impropriety would further elevate her captain's arousal, she followed up with, "Since the cargo section is currently inaccessible, perhaps you should include in your next log how we also copulated in the pilot's chair."

"But we haven't - " Janeway's voice broke off and a sly smile appeared as she fully processed what her astrometrics officer was intimating, "Oh, Seven . . . "

x x x x x 

Kathryn Janeway was in heaven. Not literally, she knew. But, as close as one could possibly come whilst hopelessly lost in the Delta Quadrant.

Come. Also, not the literal definition she was originally thinking of, but enough of a literary allusion that it could bring a lecherous smile to her lips. 

She was being - silly. 

Her command hours were filled with duty and regulations and the responsibility of getting her crew across seventy-thousand light years of uncharted, unexplored space in a quest to once again see home.

These stolen, illicit moments with Seven were the only truly pleasurable ones her guilt-ridden conscience would allow her to enjoy. With her uniform trousers dangling off one ankle, her legs haphazardly tossed over Seven's broad shoulders as she knelt before her captain, her fingers tangled in thick, blonde locks as she guided Seven's tongue to her throbbing clitoris.

Mmmm . . . let's hear it for Borg technology, Janeway thought, as the fingers of Seven's Borg-enhanced mesh hand sustained a mind-numbing, thrusting pace that an ordinary human appendage just wouldn't be able to maintain. 

"Oh, Seven - " Pulsating green and red images danced behind Janeway's closed eyes. She threw her head back, auburn locks brushing against the headrest of the pilot's chair. "Oh, Seven - " The tendons in her neck stood out in stark delineation as she screamed out her lover's name. Her eyes flew open in reaction as she reached the pinnacle - "What the Hell?!?"

It was not the response Seven of Nine, former Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One of the Borg Collective was expecting. Caught off-guard, she removed her mouth from its current position and sat back on her haunches to look up at what she had previously calculated would be an expression of blissful languidness on Kathryn's face. 

Instead, Kathryn's expression revealed a mixture of shock and confusion. Seven realized with some degree of thankfulness that the captain's gaze was leveled not at her, but instead directed at some point over her shoulder. Kathryn's legs still limply dangling over her shoulders, Seven performed a perfunctory swivel on the balls of her feet that enabled her to look over her shoulder and out the ship's viewscreen.

The implant over Seven's left eye arched.

Outside their ship, hovering in the quiet vastness of the Delta Quadrant, there appeared to be a man dressed in a red suit with no visible breathing apparatus sitting in an exposed, open sleigh. The sleigh was also devoid of a warp core engine; Eight furred and antlered animals appearing to be the sleigh's sole mode of propulsion. 

Kathryn hurriedly flung her leg over Seven's shoulder. Disentangling herself from the ex-Borg, she stumbled from the pilot's seat. Standing before the console, her uniform pants still negligently dangling from one ankle, she stared open-mouthed out the viewscreen. 

"It - can't - be?!?"

Seven's meshed fingers flew over the console, her cortical implant processing vast amounts of information at an inhuman rate. 

Looking out the viewscreen, she confirmed, "Scans indicate a 99.79886 percent probability that what we are seeing is the entity humans commonly refer to as Santa Claus."

"Santa?" Janeway's voice went up an octave. "You expect me to believe Santa Claus exists in the Delta Quadrant?"

Seven's fingers rapidly pressed several flashing lights on the ship's console. "Scanners are not malfunctioning." Then, raising what could be characterized as an almost impertinent implant at her captain, she added, "I'm surprised at you, Kathryn. Did you truly think Santa confined his activities solely to the Alpha Quadrant?"

"Alpha - " Janeway's voice climbed another octave. With raised eyebrows, she asked, "Seven, are you telling me the Borg believe in Santa Claus?"

"Captain, I am unaware of the Borg's collective belief about the existence of Santa Claus. However, during the course of assimilation, the Borg have noted more than 10,000 references by different species to an entity possessing the same general characteristics and disposition of your human designation of Kris Kringle."

"Santa . . . " Kathryn stared wide-eyed at the viewscreen " . . . He really does exist."

It was impossible to have seen from this distance, Kathryn's inner voice said, but she could have sworn the pudgy man with the flowing white beard turned and winked at her. Suddenly self-conscious, she bent over and hastily began tugging up her trousers. 

"Captain, sensors indicate a mass energy fluctuation." 

From her bent over position, Kathryn Janeway looked up through thick auburn bangs. Blue and yellow lights began to form in an almost geometrical pattern against the blackness of space. Janeway imagined she felt the ship beneath her feet pulled in the direction of the energy source. Located between the Delta flyer and the anomaly, Santa's sleigh began to visibly slide backwards into the growing phenomenon.

"Seven, what is that thing?" Janeway asked, fingers clutching at the console in front of her as the ship began to lurch.

"Unknown, Captain. Attempting to stabilize."

Santa's sleigh hovered along the edge of the disturbance, the hooves of his reindeer frantically clawing at space as they fought the pull of the yellow and black vortex that steadily grew in size behind them. Santa was pulling hard on the reins and from his desperate expression, Kathryn thought he must be yelling for help. Of course, in the vacuum of space, no one could hear him scream.

"Seven." Despite standing on the deck of a tiny shuttle, her trousers incongruously about her knees, Janeway effected her most authoritative starship captain's voice. "Engage forward thrusters."


"I want us between Santa and that - that - whatever that is."


Captain Janeway stood with her hands on her hips, her chin defiantly jutted as the Delta Flyer sped forward. Her steely-eyed Captain's mask never wavered, even as the ship passed close enough beneath the frantic reindeer that hoof-marks were scratched onto her bow. The bottom rail of the sleigh scraped across the reinforced windshield. 

"Get us out of here," Janeway commanded.

Seven worked desperately at the controls. "Unable to comply. We lack the necessary propulsion to extract ourselves from the gravitational pull of the anomaly."

As the ship's power systems failed, the Delta Flyer's controls became unresponsive. Interior lights and life support failed. A red and green light pulsated from the crystals in mocking taunt of an impotent energy source. As the small ship tumbled end over end towards the yellow-and-black tunnel, the last thing Janeway saw before she lost consciousness was an image of Santa in his sleigh, waving as he drove out of sight.

x x x x x

Babylon 5 - Epsilon Sector - The Year 2258

An uncharacteristic smile adorned the lips of Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova. 

The sardonic Earthforce officer caught more than one startled look on the faces of her subordinates in C & C. Their reaction only made her smile all that much more. 

For once, life was good. Despite the fact that Commander Sinclair had been unexpectedly recalled to Earth, leaving her in charge of a chaotic, floating monstrosity of two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal that called itself home to a countless number of humans and aliens alike. And, despite the fact that diplomatic relations between the humans and most of the aliens were strained, to say the least. And, with the absence of Jeffrey Sinclair, it seemed that all the ambassadors were determined to try to run rough-shod over what they deemed to be a temporary stand-in. Well, with the possible exception of the Minbari -- their ambassador had inexplicably woven herself into a cocoon and had yet to emerge.

With Commander Sinclair's abandonment and the disintegrating cooperation of The League of Non-Aligned Worlds, Susan had been forced to employ the services of a diplomat to help her interact with the alien ambassadors. And, with the cocoonment of DeLenn, the only suitable diplomat Susan could think of was Talia Winters. 

At first, she was loathe to ask. But, desperate times called for desperate measures. And Susan found herself in the unusual position of asking the commercial telepath for help. The cost of that help was, of course, double her normal consulting fees paid for out of Earthforce funds. Susan had anticipated having to pay triple that amount and didn't even bat an eye when she paid Ms. Winters' fee in advance.

The other condition to their agreement was that the brooding commander would have a private, intimate dinner with the commercial telepath at the close of every day they conducted business. At first, Susan had adamantly refused. But then, after the x-ray in Medlab One proved beyond a doubt that the Drazi delegate had actually broken no fewer than four of her ribs during a rather enthusiastically unorthodox greeting, she'd swallowed her pride and her pain-meds and went knocking on the beautiful telepath's door.

Despite her initial misgivings, everything had worked out fine. Ms. Winters was a very talented negotiator and with her by the Lt. Commander's side, the alien races were much more unlikely to try anything dishonest. Even the Centauri Ambassador, Londo Mollari, didn't attempt one of his usual underhanded schemes when Talia was in attendance.

As for dinner? Well, even that wasn't nearly traumatic a series of events as Susan feared it would be. Talia had proven to be witty and charming with a delightfully wicked sense of humor. And, more than once, Susan had felt her thoughts drifting into fantasies of what could be if she'd only allow it. 

Ivanova . . . Lt. Commander . . . Ivanova . . . 

The smile widened to a full-out grin as Talia's whiskey-laden voice echoed in her head. 

"Lt. Commander Ivanova. Lt. Commander?" The ensign seated at the console on the lower level of C & C nervously glanced over his shoulder at the tall Russian. "Lt. Commander, I'm receiving a sharp rise in tachyon emissions.  Jump point firing in Sector Seven."

"Are they insane?!?"  Ivanova's good mood instantly vaporized along with her fantasy. "That's practically in our laps." She jumped up from her chair, her gaze unwaveringly fixating on the blue and yellow lights forming against the blackness of space outside the station  Inexplicably, a small vessel came tumbling end-over-end out of the jumpgate. 

"Open a mike." commanded Ivanova.  "I want a clear channel to whoever's in charge of that wreck." 

"Yes, sir." Ensign Victor cursed beneath his breath. Of all the shifts to trade with Corwin, he had to pick this one - He shook his head, shaking loose the errant thought as he rapidly punched at the buttons on his console. He tried several frequencies, then adjusting his earpiece, advised the Lt. Commander, "No answer on any channel, sir."

"Scramble Zulu-Wing.  I want that wreck scanned, towed and out of my shipping lanes." When no one reacted quickly enough, Ivanova added a sharp, "NOW!"

x x x x x 

Captain Kathryn Janeway was not amused. Not by a long shot. She'd awakened in a strange medical facility under the care of an annoyingly happy individual that was not her own, familiar acerbic doctor. Hell, the man wasn't even a real EMH. 

Worse, she'd been separated from Seven. She'd eventually learned that Seven had been given a clean bill of health and was currently touring the space station they'd nearly crashed into. When they'd finally been reunited in what Janeway presumed was a vacant conference room, Seven told her all that she'd assimilated so far. Including the fact that they were apparently onboard what was designated as a Babylon-station, located in what the inhabitants termed the Epsilon Sector.

"Is that located beyond the Delta Quadrant?" Janeway had questioned her Borg.

"Negative. The Collective is familiar with space as far-reaching as the Gamma Quadrant. The Borg has never encountered an Epsilon Sector."

That had prompted the infamous Janeway pacing. "It has to be a tear in subspace." She paced back again. "Or, a flux in the space-time continuum." Another pace. "Maybe a mirror universe?" she asked, somewhat hopefully. She was a veteran starship captain; she could handle a mirror universe.

"Undetermined. I certainly have not encountered any doppelgangers of ourselves or our fellow Voyager crewmembers during my reconnaissance of the station."

"Well, regardless of the circumstances," Janeway directed, "Starfleet protocol must be maintained. The prime directive is clear; we can not directly interfere in the advancement or history of any civilization."

"Good advice." The doors to the room Seven and Janeway were currently occupying whooshed open. "You might have considered following it before you nearly crashed your ship into my station."

"You had the room bugged? How unprofessional." Janeway leveled her best glare at the tall brunette in the military uniform. "And, as I recall, I was unconscious at the time."

"And, as I recall," Ivanova shot back, "your trousers were also pulled down below your knees when your ship was docked. As a consummate professional, that must've been some kind of turbulence to blow your pants right off your ass."

That had been the rather auspicious first meeting between Captain Kathryn Janeway and Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova. Things had deteriorated into a shouting match from there, with neither the captain nor the commander willing to budge. 

Now, Lt. Commander Ivanova sat across the table from the captain, legs crossed at the ankles and arms folded over her chest. The woman introduced as Talia Winters sat forward in her chair, intently watching the facial expressions of both Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway. The gloved fingers of one hand idly tapped against a tumbler of water. Seven sat petulantly in her chair, having not said another word after her captain had given her a direct order to not snap the rather rude Russian woman's neck after the trousers-comment. Captain Janeway leaned back in her chair, completely at ease. She was a seasoned negotiator; this was her element.

Unlike the clearly inexperienced younger officer seated directly across from her. It was obvious that she was relying heavily upon the advice of her consultant. Sure, the woman had balls. Solid gold ones, Janeway imagined. But, she definitely wasn't trained in the fine art of diplomacy.

"You actually want me to believe that you were kidnapped by an omnipotent being named U?" Ivanova snorted, derisively.


"Q?" One of Ivanova's dark brows arched. "Q as in Quebec?"

"Q as in - " Janeway blatantly licked her lips " - Queer, my dear."

Ivanova squirmed uncomfortably. She risked a glance at Talia. The commercial telepath was watching her with a clearly amused expression on her face.

That only served to make Susan Ivanova even more uncomfortable. Irritated, she snapped at the auburn-haired woman with the bob-hairdo that she deemed to be the cause of her increasing headache. "So," eyes narrowed as she accused Janeway, "you're actually claiming to be from some alternate dimension or different timeline or parallel universe or something like that?" 


For someone lacking in diplomacy, the Earthforce officer was certainly good at her interrogation techniques. She'd asked the same question, albeit in different ways, at least twelve times in the half-hour they'd been sequestered in the meeting room. And, each time, Janeway had responded with the same answer.

The Lt. Commander looked to Ms. Winters. The commercial telepath stared at the starship captain for several long moments. With a resolute nod of her head, she turned back to Ivanova.

"I'm not sensing any duplicity on their part," she informed Susan. "And, their thoughts aren't delusional or schizophrenic. They really are convinced that they are here from another time, another place."

"Interesting." Captain Janeway leaned forward in her chair, her hands gliding across the table until she touched the blonde's hands with her own. "Are you an empath?" She asked, using that tone that she just knew oozed Janeway-charm. "Back home, there's a race called betazoids that can feel what others are feeling." 

To Janeway's surprise, the blonde withdrew, shrinking from her touch despite the fact that her gloves provided a barrier between them.

"I'm a close proximity telepath," the woman advised in clipped tones, "And, we don't like to be touched by normals." 

Janeway was taken aback by the abrupt personality change in the blonde. True, she had seemed cold and distant from the start, but then again, so was Seven of Nine. That in itself wasn't unusual. What she did find disconcerting, however, was despite her claims to not liking contact with others, that didn't prevent her from reaching over and brushing a stray piece of fuzz off the Earthforce officer's uniform. Janeway covertly glanced at Seven, wondering if her Borg lover had also noticed. 

Turning to the brunette seated beside her, Talia divulged, "Don't let her outwardly confident demeanor fool you, Lt. Commander. On the surface, her body language may suggest she's calm and relaxed. Deep down, however, she's experiencing feelings of deep guilt and worry. While she's been superficially honest about not knowing precisely what phenomena brought them here, she's also withholding her speculation that something onboard her ship may have triggered the event. And," Talia paused, unsure of the flash of images she'd picked up in the captain's mind. "she's also afraid that she may have . . . killed Santa?"

"Oh, God." Lt. Commander Ivanova covered her eyes with her hands in the hopes of blocking out the rising insanity she was experiencing. "I need a cup of coffee."

x x x x x

That had been their common ground. After splitting three pots of synthesized coffee between them, the two officers had finally agreed to try working together. In the interest of protecting something Janeway termed the prime directive - and because her Russian upbringing would not allow her to fully trust this short woman - Ivanova had ordered the docking bay cleared. The only individuals she allowed to accompany them were the tall, Ice-Queen blonde that had traveled here with Janeway and her own, slightly shorter, just as frosty blonde. 

Not because I'm so attracted to her I'd crawl across the Russian Steppes in a raging blizzard for her or even unconditionally forgive her if I were to discover she wasn't really Talia, but rather a cruel, sadistic sleeper personality sent here to - Ivanova shook her head - I've asked her here on a strictly professional basis.

"Are you okay?" Janeway asked her counterpart as they struggled to open the Delta Wing Flyer's side door. Despite being on level decking, the rear of the craft carried so much weight that the nose was inclined at an almost forty-five degree angle.

"Gravity's - ugh - a real bitch sometimes." Ivanova felt a tearing sensation along her midsection as the door finally gave. Cradling her aching ribs, she asked the Starfleet captain, "You ever have one of those days when even your hair hurts?"

"Maybe your braid's too tight," Janeway smirked. Then, she happened to look across the bay at the two blondes standing intimately close together, heads tilted towards one another as they conversed. Recalling Seven as all-too-often being the culprit behind her numerous headaches, she suddenly sobered and admitted, "I know exactly what you mean, my friend."

Ivanova was startled by the comradely pat on the back. Curious, she looked back over her shoulder, in the direction Janeway had been looking. She was surprised to see both blondes staring back at her with enigmatic smiles. Disconcerted, she turned and followed Janeway into the small craft.

x x x x x

"Are you aware that her pulse rate and body temperature raises by a quotient of 2.72 percent whenever you make optical contact?" Seven arched her cortical implant. "And, 3.69 when you inadvertently initiate physical contact?"

"Why, Seven - " Talia felt a smile tug at her lips " - It was my understanding that your Borg-persona was not given to sarcasm."

"It is a human trait that I've acquired since being liberated from the collective. The captain says I have a natural talent for it." 

"Still, given what I've learned about you in the short time we've known each other, I'm surprised that you've already guessed the touches I give the Lt. Commander are purely unintentional."

"It is hardly a guess. Merely a summarization of the evidence." There was a small, insecure shuffling of feet before she admitted, "In the early stages of our relationship, Kathryn also found excuses to initiate physical contact as a means of gauging my attraction-responses to her."

"Oh." Talia clasped her gloved hands behind her back as she blatantly stared at the Lt. Commander's rather attractive backside as she entered into the tiny spacecraft. "There's never been any doubt that Lt. Commander Ivanova is attracted to me."

"Then," Seven's implant raised slightly higher as she inquired, "why is it that you and she have not yet engaged in the highly enjoyable act of intercourse?"

"What?" Talia was caught so off-guard, she nearly stumbled.

"It is obvious that you share a chemical, cerebral infarction whenever you are in close proximity to each other. It is only logical that you would derive pleasure from copulating together."

"Yes, well, I'm quite certain of that."

 Talia felt her face flush as she picked up latent images of the tall blonde wearing a strap-on and pressing the diminutive woman she called Captain firmly face-down into a mattress as she repeatedly thrust into her from behind. Seven gave a knowing look as her internal sensors detected a rise in Ms. Winters' body temperature. She gave the air a cursory sniff as she correctly identified the familiar scent of a woman's arousal. 

"It's - it's not quite so simple as mere physical attraction," Talia managed to stammer out. "It's more complicated than that." At the unconvinced look, she elaborated, "Susan has lost everyone she holds dear to her. Her Papa, her brother, Ganya. She blames her mother's suicide on the PsiCorp, a not-so-secret police organization that insists all telepaths be legally registered. And, she resents that she's attracted to me because not only am I a telepath, but I also work for that very same organization that she despises." Talia cast a look at the woman staring at her with what passed for a shiny, metal eyebrow arched as high as it could possibly go. "In short, she has trust issues."

x x x x x 

"Mind you, I'm not saying we don't have our fair share of issues. Not the least of which is a six-foot tall ex-Borg with a stubborn streak a mile wide," Janeway rattled on.

"For the last time," Ivanova snapped, "I don't have issue with you diddling one of your subordinates after marooning your crew in an unknown quadrant of space, 70,000 light years from home. What I have issue with," she gesticulated towards the pulsating red and green mass of crystals haphazardly stacked in a heaping pile at the rear of the spacecraft, "is you bringing more than a kiloton of unstable, potentially radioactive gemstones aboard my station!"

"You act surprised." Janeway nonchalantly buffed her nails against her uniform despite the fact that a highly volatile woman was waving an equally volatile crystal beneath her very nose. "Surely you received a report about our cargo when you had us towed in?"

Janeway distinctly caught the terms "dock workers" and "union guilds" muttered beneath the sardonic Russian's breath. 

"No unionization in Starfleet," Janeway coolly observed. Then, with a smirk, she added, "So, essentially, this station is nothing more than a military-ran trading post used for bartering with the local natives."

Ivanova was just about to offer Captain Janeway a tour of the station - from outside the airlocks - when she heard a squeal from Ms. Winters.

"Oh, Susan! It's so precious; there are tiny hoof prints on the hood!"

Startled by Talia's proof of the reindeer-and-Santa story, the Lt. Commander's grasp on the red and green pulsating crystal slipped. Both her and Janeway scrambled to catch the falling gem, knocking hands away and bumping heads in the process. The stone landed squarely between two sets of military-issue boots, then bounced along the decking to the rear of the craft where it fairly leapt into the heaping pile of glowing crystals.

Ivanova and Janeway looked up at each other, eyes going wide and lips forming dual O's. Susan momentarily envisioned her beautiful station going BOOM!!! before she and Janeway both shouted in the same instant, "RUN!"

x x x x x 

Los Angeles California - Earth - Early 21st Century

A well-dressed blonde came up behind at attractive brunette speaking with a man wearing a fuchsia colored suit and sporting pink-rimmed bifocals on a rainbow colored cord about his neck. She slipped her arms about the brunette's waist and planted a kiss on the back of her neck.

"Bravo, Ms. Porter," she congratulated, "I think it's the best gallery showing I've ever seen."

"I couldn't agree more," stated the man, lifting his glass of champagne in salute.

"Thank you, both of you." Bette lovingly stroked the backs of the blonde's hands. "Mr. Wentworth, I'd like to introduce you to my life-partner, Tina Kennard. Tina, this is Oscar Wentworth. He's from MOMA." 

The man produced a business card, handing it to Tina. "A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Kennard. Bette, I look forward to hearing from you."

"Thank you, Mr. Wentworth. Believe me, the pleasure's been completely mine." 

Bette and Tina stood side by side, clutching each other for support, wide smiles on their faces as they watched Oscar Wentworth walk down the marble steps in the front foyer of the gallery. Midway down, he turned and looked back at them. They both offered little half-waves of acknowledgement. He was barely out the front door when Tina excitedly turned to Bette.

"Oscar Wentworth? THE Oscar Wentworth from THE Museum of Modern Art? THAT Oscar Wentworth?"

"Yes!" Bette pumped the air with her fist. "Can you believe it? He wants to run my 'Traditional Family Christmas Values' exhibit for the next two months, then contract a modern Christmas rendition showing every year for the next four years."

"That is - " Tina's eyes widened, her mouth dropped open " - Oh, Bette, that is so HUGE!" Tina flung herself into Bette's arms, kissing her passionately.

"Um, guys?" Shane appeared behind them, topless beneath a leather vest and wearing low-riding leather pants. Two Goth-looking girls hung off of each arm. She raised both eyebrows towards a disorganized gelled mess of a hairstyle and jerked her head in the direction of the gallery's east wing. "Not to put a damper on your celebration, but we've got a small problem."

"God, Shane," Bette used her thumb to wipe the lipstick from the corner of her mouth. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out two hundred-dollar bills. "If you can't afford the hotel room, just say so."

"Umm, it's not that." Shane still reached out and took the cash before Bette could take it back. "It's your exhibit. It's been stolen."

x x x x x

"No. No. No. No. No." Bette sat on a wooden bench in the middle of the gallery, shaking her head in disbelief, tears forming as she repeated, "No. This can't be happening. It just can't."

In the background, two women were surreptitiously dusting the slightly discolored walls where up until about an hour ago, framed artwork used to hang. 

"Bette, honey." Tina knelt on the floor in front of her lover. Taking both her hands in her own, she lightly kissed the palms. "Listen to me, honey. It's going to be okay."

Bette snatched her hands away from Tina, the tears openly streaming down her cheeks now. "Stop, Tina. You don't know that. You can't know that." She snorted back her sobs. "You don't realize how big that contract with MOMA is. It's enough that you won't have to work for that sleaze of a producer any longer. It's enough for us to buy our dream house and put our baby through the best art schools. We'll be set for life. But, it all falls through if I don't have the entire exhibit shipped and on display in New York by the end of the week."

"I'm sorry," A blonde-haired woman dressed in a conservative, yet stylish business dress and heels approached the couple commiserating on the gallery bench. "I couldn't help but overhear. Perhaps I can help." With a flourish, she presented a handkerchief and a business card to the distraught brunette. "Alexandra Cabot."

Bette dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief. Staring at the card through moisture-laden lashes, she asked, "Not to sound rude, but how can an assistant district attorney possibly help? The exhibition has only just been stolen. An arrest hasn't even been made, yet."

"Ah, but I'm not just any gorgeous run-of-the-mill prosecutor. I'm an Assistant District Attorney from New York. At the very least, I can file a twenty-four hour injunction against the MOMA and one Oscar Wentworth."

"Twenty-four hours?" questioned Bette. "That's not - "

"It'll be plenty of time to recover the stolen goods," Alex flicked a dismissive hand at Bette's protest. Reaching behind her, she grabbed a brunette dressed in tight, faded jeans and a leather jacket by the wrist and tugged her forward. "This is my detective, Olivia Benson, New York's finest. She'll start by canvassing the gallery."

"Ladies," Olivia smiled charmingly at the two women she'd just been forcibly introduced to. "Umm, Alex," she not-so-subtly jerked her head in a come-with-me-now gesture. "Can I talk to you? Privately."

Alexandra Cabot flashed a reassuring smile at Bette and Tina as she followed Liv across the room. They'd barely gotten eight paces distant before Olivia turned and accused, "Have you lost your mind, Cabot?" Acutely aware of several stares her outburst had generated, she lowered her voice and hissed between clenched teeth, "Alex, I work for the SVU division. I deal in sex crimes and arrest porn-perps for a living. I don't canvas for stolen art."

"You saw the same exhibit I did, detective. If that sculpture of what jolly ol' Saint Nick was doing to that elf with that candy cane isn't considered a sex crime, I don't know what is."

"Alex, in case you've forgotten, SVU stands for Special Victims Unit. Forgive me if I don't consider suggestive Christmas artwork to be very special."

"Look around you, detective." Despite her best efforts not to look, Olivia felt her gaze sweeping the gallery and its patrons. "The women attending this exhibit tonight are all lesbians. They're family. If that doesn't make them special victims - " Alex allowed her sentence to trail off, using a finely arched blonde brow to serve as her punctuation.

"But, Alex." Liv reached out, capturing one of Cabot's hands in hers. She batted those sultry, chocolate brown bedroom eyes of hers at the counselor, "I thought this weekend was going to be a romantic getaway for just the two of us," she pouted.

"Olivia. Liv." Alex dropped her voice to a seductive timbre, "I promise. We'll paint the town red. We'll go dancing." At the less-than-enthusiastic look Olivia gave her, she leaned in close, their mouths almost touching, breathing in the same air as she husked into Detective Benson's open mouth, "We'll foxtrot. We'll tango. Then," she clenched the collar of the brunette's leather jacket in her hands and forcibly tugged her closer, promising, "And, then, some horizontal dancing," before planting a searing kiss on her lips.

"Promise?" Olivia breathlessly asked as soon as the kiss ended and she was able to breathe again.

"Promise," confirmed Alex. "But first," a blue-eyed stare pierced Olivia as the district attorney's dark-rimmed glasses of justice were leveled at her, "Go ask some questions. Make an arrest."

x x x x x


Janeway's eyes bugged out as she counted no fewer than five women brandishing an arsenal of firepower level their weapons in her general direction. Frantically, she slapped her open palm against Seven's biosuit as she desperately tried to squirm her way from beneath the unbearable weight of an ex-Borg drone incongruously sprawled atop her on a chilly, marble-tiled floor.

"I said, Don't Move!" shouted an imposing butch figure with her finger indexed along the barrel of her gun.

A blue eye blinked open. Quickly surmising the situation, Seven grabbed Kathryn by the shoulders and rolled them along the marbled floor until they reached the relative safety of a large, potted palm.

"Don't shoot!" Despite laying beneath Seven's sheltering form, Janeway had raised her palms in the air and opened her mouth, about to say the very same phrase when she realized the words had been spoken by someone else. "It's okay; I'm a D.E.B."

Janeway frowned, a clearly puzzled expression marring her features. Seven, too, looked perplexed as she rolled off Kathryn and they took up a crouching position behind the oversized potted palm.

There were two women, one blonde and one brunette, dressed in jeans and jackets with the letters CSI emblazoned on their black caps. Another duo, also a blonde and a brunette, had the letters FBI stenciled across the backs of their jackets. The fifth woman, the butch brunette, had a gold shield attached to the waistband of her low-riding jeans. All five women had their weapons drawn and aimed at some point just past where Janeway and Seven were hiding.

In tandem, the astrometrics officer and the captain volleyed their heads to see a young blonde woman dressed in a tight, white shirt and a plaid skirt standing with her hands in the air, holding a gun that looked to be three sizes too large for her above her head. She appeared to be shielding another young woman with her body; this one a tanned brunette with her hair tied in a ponytail and wearing basic black from head-to-toe.

The blonde with the plaid skirt and tie watched helplessly as the five women rushed past her, tackling her companion to the ground. Arms were roughly pulled behind her back and cuffs were snapped about thin wrists. 

:"Lucy Diamond," Detective Benson growled as she needlessly jammed a kneecap into the master criminal's spine, "You're under arrest."

x x x x x 

"Seven?" asked Janeway in a whisper as she and her Borg continued to hide behind the potted palm. "Where the Hell are we now?"

"Unknown, Captain." The blonde Borg searched her eidetic memory. "The last thing I remember before awakening here on top of you is being on the space station Babylon 5."

"There was an explosion," Kathryn recalled.

"You and the Lt. Commander charged from the Delta Flyer, both shouting something about dropping a crystal."

"This definitely doesn't look like Babylon 5." Kathryn chewed her lip in contemplation. "The blast must have hurtled us through time and space."

Seven looked across the room, taking in the strange modes of dress and dialect. "Agreed."

"Well, one good thing for it, Seven. We seem to have been separated from our Earthforce host. You know, I've been accused of being surly, but that brooding Russian's demeanor was making me look like a jolly elf by comparison." 

Janeway instantly sobered, mentally cringing at her verbal slip. She may have killed Santa; this was no time for levity. "Regardless of where - or when - we are, Seven, we must uphold the prime directive." 

For the first time, she truly looked at their surroundings. They seemed to be in an art gallery of some sort. Although, the section they were in was devoid of any artwork hanging on the walls. And, empty daises stood where she imagined sculptures should be. Against one wall, she spotted a long table covered in a gold cloth. On the tabletop were several fluted champagne glasses and - thank God - a real-life, antique coffeepot. 

"Now, Seven," Janeway directed in hushed tones, "It's imperative that we as discretely as possible work our way over to that coffeepot." 

"Understood, Captain."

x x x x x 

"I promise you, Lucy had nothing to do with this. We just arrived back in the States tonight," protested Amy Bradshaw.

"There was no chatter about you leaving Reykjavik, Diamond."

"Iceland's gotten too hot." Lucy grunted as she was roughly pulled to her feet by the over-eager butch cop with the New York accent. "We've been bouncing back and forth between my hideouts in India and Lima."


"Hey, don't knock Lima. The capital of Peru is a very happening place."

"Let me guess," Catherine Willows interjected, "They also don't believe in criminal extradition?"

"Well," Lucy shrugged, "There is that."

"Will you just listen?" whined Amy Bradshaw. "Lucy's turned good. She didn't pull off this heist. Right?" At her lover's chagrined look, she added, "Right, Lucy? You didn't have anything to do with the gallery theft, did you?" Her tone took on a dangerous edge as she asked again, "Did you?"

"May have thought about it." Lucy shamefully downed her head at the scathing look she caught from her girlfriend and confessed, "Scud's been outside with the ropes and pulleys and gear waiting for my signal."

"That's good enough for me," Olivia decided. "Alex!" she called out, frantically waving over the blonde assistant district attorney. "Case solved!"

"Except, she didn't do it."

"What?" Alexandra Cabot stumbled in her high-heeled tracks as she caught that last bit coming from the lips of an FBI agent.

"She didn't do it," repeated FBI agent Jennifer 'JJ' Jareau. "Em?"

"She's right," Agent Emily Prentiss agreed. "Lucy Diamond is a classic criminal mastermind with narcissistic tendencies clearly suffering from a severe case of Romeo/Juliet syndrome."

"In English?" Sara Sidle asked, her arms folded across her chest as she glared at the FBI agents. Great. Guess I don't get to shoot anyone again this week.

"BAU speak for she's a crook that's fallen in love and turned over a new leaf. Despite the mythical belief that love conquers all, Lucy Diamond has discovered that the D.E.B.S. aren't so quick to forgive past transgressions. And, Amy Bradshaw is just as quickly realizing that she doesn't fit into Lucy's less-than-legal friendship network."

"Star-crossed lovers." JJ nodded. "Just like Romeo and Juliet."

"Detective Benson - " 

"But, Alex - " Olivia felt her fantasy of nearly seeing Alexandra Cabot dressed in high heels and her glasses of justice and nothing else quickly slipping through her fingers. "But, Alex - what about criminal intent? I can always arrest her for intending to break the law, can't I?"

There were snickers from the other law enforcement officers as the ADA waved a dismissive hand in the air at her detective as she turned on her heels and walked away. With a disappointed huff, Olivia took the handcuffs off Lucy Diamond.

x x x x x 

Kathryn held the steaming cup of coffee beneath her nose and closing her eyes, inhaled deeply. A nearly orgasmic moan escaped her lips as the aroma assaulted her olfactory nerves.

"Pardon me." 

Janeway's eyes flew open as her elbow was roughly jostled. She turned around, leveling her Force Ten death-glare at the woman who dared to spill her cup of liquid heaven. 

"Is there something I can help you with?" A brunette with short hair and a pair of black, thick rimmed glasses stood patiently beside the table, holding a stack of papers cradled in her arms. 

"I believe you ran into me." Kathryn reminded the woman as she took one of the papers and proceeded to use it to wipe the coffee from the front of her uniform. 

A glance at the parchment revealed it to be a souvenir guide to an art exhibit opening. In the center of the page was stamped the time, date and location of the event. Janeway's breath hitched as she realized they were on Earth. More precisely, in Earth's historical past. She passed the stained parchment to Seven, nearly pressing the paper into the fabric of Seven's biosuit so forcefully that it became stuck. The ex-Borg peeled the parchment off her chest, her implant above her eye raising as she assimilated the information.

"Oh, so I did." The woman actually snorted as she laughed. "Program?" she asked, offering the diminutive auburn-haired woman a coffee-free pamphlet. She used her middle finger to push her glasses up on her nose and loudly smacked her gum. "Can't tell the players without a program, ya know?"

"No, I don't believe that will be necessary, thank you." With a palpable gleam in her eye, Kathryn turned back to the coffeepot and proceeded to pour herself yet another cup of coffee.

"Are you sure?" The woman asked, pointedly arching a brow and gripping Kathryn's elbow with enough force to prevent her from raising the cup to her lips. 

Janeway shot Seven a questioning look. Seven mumbled sotto voce, "You imbibe in too much caffeine refreshment," before averting her gaze so she wouldn't have to make eye-contact with her coffee-addicted lover.

"It's coffee, Seven," Janeway insisted. "Real, live honest to goodness straight from the bean and not some synthesized or hydroponics grown coffee!"

"Thing is," the brunette interrupted; blew a bubble, loudly popped it. "I've been handing out programs all evening. You didn't get one earlier. And, the doors have been locked ever since the theft occurred. So, that naturally raises the question; just where exactly did you come from, hmm?"

"Look, umm, " Kathryn squinted at the woman's nametag pinned through both the lapels of her sport jacket and the fabric of her turtleneck, "Sabrina, is it?" At the confirming nod, Janeway continued, "My friend and I are just trying to spend as discreet an evening as possible - "

"Undercover?" Sabrina nodded, :"Sure, I get that." She leaned in, confiding in a loud whisper, "If you wanted to keep a low profile, though, maybe you shouldn't have dressed like junkies from a sci-fi convention."

"Junkies?" asked Kelly Garrett as she joined her partner. "Don't tell me a bunch of flakes stole the exhibit for pot money?"

"Um, no." Janeway edged closer to Seven, silently mouthing 'the prime directive' to her Borg as she quickly latched onto a plausible cover story. "It's just like she said; we're here undercover." At the curious look their uniforms were garnishing, she shrugged, "Miscommunication about the wardrobe. Clearly, it was gallery. I understood galaxy."

"Of course." Kelly suspiciously eyed the woman with the long auburn-hued locks. "Could happen to anyone."

"Are these the whack-jobs that stole my exhibit?" Bette had noticed the commotion at the refreshment table and had stormed over, Tina in tow.

"Um - " Sabrina glanced at Janeway, then back to Bette. "No, Ms. Porter."

Bette shot Janeway another look before grabbing Sabrina by the elbow and dragging her a few steps away. "Look, Ms. Duncan, when I hired you, it was with the intent that you prevent my exhibit from being stolen. Quite frankly, I find your results thus far to be far from acceptable."

"I assure you, Ms. Porter, when Charlie sends us to do a job, we get results. Satisfaction guaranteed." She openly winked at Bette and smacked her gum. "Ya know what I'm saying?"

Bette was surprised when her libido gave a little jump in response to the thinly veiled reminder of the sexual encounter they'd had out in the Angels' surveillance van parked in the gallery's lot. She guiltily glanced back at Tina and Kelly, praying neither of their partners ever sleuthed out the sort of undercover work they'd been engaged in.

"Where's the third member of your team?" Bette asked, recalling the platinum blonde with the feathered hair. "Pursuing a lead?" she hoped.

"Undercover as a tennis instructor," informed Sabrina with a wicked grin, "And, I believe it's your friend Dana that's doing the pursuing."

"That doesn't make sense," Tina protested. "Dana Fairbanks is a professional tennis player. She doesn't need an instruct - " Her eyes suddenly went wide "- oh."

Even Seven caught the implication. "Curious. I was given to understand that during this century of Earth's history, most lesbians practiced the sport of golf."

Several sets of eyes turned to appraisingly stare at the the two women garbed in the snazzy sci-fi outfits, complete with green and red sparkling gems glittering the polyester fabric.

"You really aren't from around here, are you?" was asked.

x x x x x 

"What I want to know is," Sara Sidle said around a sip of piping hot coffee, "what are two FBI agents doing down here. Us, I can understand. Las Vegas is just a hop, skip and a jump from Los Angeles. But, come on, Quantico is clear across the country."

"Same can be said for New York," Catherine Willows agreed. "So, come on, fess up, what are you yankees doing here?"

"Counselor Cabot was here for an extradition hearing," Detective Benson supplied, "I'm her escort."

"And, let me guess, after your court date you two just decided to take in a gallery opening?" When Catherine didn't receive a response from the butch cop, she posed the same question to the brunette FBI agent. "And, you; what's your story?"

"We just finished profiling a serial killer terrorizing Hollywood. The rest of our team flew back this morning. We thought we'd - umm - " 

" - take in the sights?" Catherine supplied with a smirk. A knowing look passed between her and CSI Sidle. "You do, of course, realize that the fact you're both omitting is that this is a lesbian-geared art showing, right?"

"Yeah?" Emily Prentiss raised an eyebrow. "Then, what were two CSI's from Vegas doing here before a crime was perpetrated?"

"What are we doing here? You want to know what we're dong here?" Catherine's tone echoed that of her dead mob-boss father. "I'll tell you what we're doing here." Catherine glanced back and forth between the expectant faces of Emily Prentiss and Olivia Benson. Wrapping an arm about Sara Sidle's waist and pulling her in close, Catherine declared, "Sara and I are on a date."

Emily Prentiss desperately searched the room, looking for her partner. God, where's JJ's smooth style when I need her? thought Emily, spying the blonde-haired media spokesperson across the room, seated intimately close to a punkish, waif-looking brunette with disarrayed hair. It looked like they were balancing a portable television set on their laps. 

Feeling Emily's eyes on her, JJ leapt off the bench, motioning for Shane to follow her with the portable television set. "Guys, something big's going on."

"Mondo-big," agreed Shane, balancing the television set on her hip and turning it around so that everyone could see the picture.

"Christmas has disappeared," JJ continued, "Not just from here, from this gallery. But, all over the world. Department store Santas have disappeared, leaving their plush chairs simultaneously empty. Bell-ringing Santas have vanished, leaving only their bells behind. All the dvds with Santa have suddenly been wiped blank. As impossible as it sounds, Santa Claus has simply ceased to exist."

"Oh - my - " came a tiny voice from the back of the room, followed by an equally tiny thump as a woman in a large sweater and a long skirt fainted. 

"W - Willow?" Tara Maclay stammered as she knelt on the floor beside her unconscious friend. 

x x x x x 

"What have you done?" Bette Porter was well into Tara Maclay's personal space, towering over the trembling girl as she quaked with fear. "I want my exhibit back and I want it back now!" she demanded, jabbing an angry finger into Tara's sweater-covered chest.

"Easy, Bette," Tina grabbed her lover by the arm. "She's only a child. You can't blame her."

"You know who I blame, Tina?" Bette asked, turning her finger of wrath upon her life-partner. "I blame you. That's right. You. You're the one that insisted we let your niece and her friend spend their Christmas vacation from college here in Los Angeles with us. It'll be good for them to escape the small-town life of Sunnydale, you said. Let them spend the holidays in the big city. We can open their impressionable minds, expose them to art and culture. The only impression made here today was your niece's impression of an art-thief!" Bette turned back around, latching onto both of Tara's shoulders and squeezing hard. "What have you done?"

"It wasn't her." came a small voice from the vicinity of the floor. "It was me. I did it."

"Sounds like a confession to me." Detective Benson knelt on the floor in front of the redhead in the dowdy dress and snapped her cuffs about her wrists. 

"Olivia - " Alex gritted her teeth.

"Aww, come on, Alex," The butch detective whined, dropping her head in defeat, 
"You told me to make an arrest."

Kathryn Janeway pushed her way through the crowd of women that had surrounded the two college-age girls. She knelt in front of the clearly shaken Willow and looked her in the eyes. Offering her a reassuring hand and a smile, the woman in the sci-fi costume suggested, "I think it's time we talked."

x x x x x 

"It was just all wrong." 

Willow waved off the third proffered cup of coffee. They were all sitting around the empty gallery on benches and on the floor. And, while all the law enforcement butches were being sweet by trying to reassure her with caffeine courage, she wished someone would offer her something to drink other than coffee. 

"What was wrong?" Janeway pressed, sensing that Willow was finally settled enough to offer up an explanation.

"Everything. All of it. All of Christmas." 

Willow looked around the room at all the uncomprehending faces. She felt the tears of frustration welling up inside her again, until she felt Tara's reassuring hand on her shoulder. Reaching about, giving the hand an appreciative squeeze, Willow found herself mellow enough that she could calmly begin again.

"Stores with their Christmas-in-July sales. Radio stations playing Christmas songs 24/7 starting on November 1st. They don't even wait until after Thanksgiving, anymore. They just trample right over the poor Turkey's holiday." Sensing the stares, knowing she was rambling because she was nervous, Willow stopped talking. Gathering her courage, she raised her head, looking Bette Porter squarely in the eye, she finished with, "Controversial artwork depicting a so-called modern family Christmas, depicting Santa in  . . . in icky, sexual positions!"

"Of course it's controversial." Bette crossed her arms over her chest. "That's what makes it good art."

"Waitaminnit." Sabrina Duncan stepped forward, her hand in the air, popping her gum as she spoke. "Willow's last name is Rosenberg." She looked at the other detectives, then back at Willow. "Rosenberg's Jewish. What's a nice, Jewish girl got against Christmas?"

"N - Nothing," stammered Tara, leaping to her girlfriend's defense.

"Yeah," Willow agreed, finding her own voice. "But give me a menorah any day, you know what I'm saying? Anyway, Jewish or not, I know what's right." Looking at Bette Porter again, she said, "And, there's nothing right about what you've done to Christmas."

"Fine, I admit it; I've corrupted the spirit of Christmas." Bette threw her hands up in exasperation. "So, sue me."

"Can we?" Kelly asked, leaning over and stage-whispering to Alexandra Cabot.

"I don't see why not," the counselor shrugged, "lawsuits have been filed for less."

"That's great," Shane interrupted. "Bette's admitted her Scrooge-like vibe when it comes to Christmas. But, that still doesn't explain what you did with her exhibit. And, um, also Santa?"

"I - um - I - " Willow stammered, "That is - I sort of - I guess I - "

"W - We cast a spell," admitted Tara.

x x x x x

"A spell. As in a witch's spell?" 

Even though they were now standing in a vacant storage room in the art gallery, staring at a pentagram drawn on the floor, several of the law enforcement officials were having difficulties believing what they were seeing.

"Sure, why not?" shrugged Catherine Willows, "We have dope fiends in Vegas committing suicide all the time in an effort to catch a starship to the stars." She looked at the short, auburn-haired woman with the crew-cut hairstyle and the tall blonde sporting what looked like aluminum foil above her eye. "Umm, no offense, guys."

"None taken," deadpanned Janeway.

With the revelation that Willow and Tara were practicing witches, Janeway had felt it was reasonably safe to reveal that they were from the future. They were met with more than their fair share of scoffing and ridicule - until Willow noticed Janeway's seemingly ever-changing hairstyles.

"Wasn't your hair down to your waist like half an hour ago?" asked the young witch.

Janeway's response had been a nonchalant shrug. "You should have seen me the first year we were lost in the Delta Quadrant. I changed my hairstyle nine times in one week." At the surprised looks, she defended, "Not much else to do all day when you're lost in space."

After that, the others had more or less begrudgingly taken Janeway and Seven at their word.

"In theory, it makes perfect sense," Janeway explained to the group of women sitting in a semicircle about the pentagram. "Willow and Tara cast a spell in an attempt to restore Christmas to the way she feels it should be. She miscalculates, erroneously pulling Seven and myself through time and space whilst also erasing Santa Claus from existence. Simple."

"Simple," nodded Emily Prentiss. "If it's so simple, bring him back."

"What?" asked Willow.

"If it's so simple, reverse the spell. Bring Christmas back."

"It's okay, Willow," Janeway reassured the young wiccan, "you can do it."

x x x x x

Exhausted, sweat soaking her hair and streaming down her face, Willow dropped the hand-clasp she'd been sharing with Tara. Wearily, she opened her eyes and looked about the room. Shane, positioned at the doorway, leaning against the frame, glanced back into the gallery. Seeing it still empty, she turned back to Willow, shaking her head.

"Something's wrong." Willow let out an exhausted breath. "It's not working."

The other women in the room were sitting with their backs propped up against the walls or laying on the floor in different stages of exhaustion and boredom. 

"Maybe it's your incantation," suggested Agent Prentiss. "Reid theorizes that to this day voodoo doctors can weave their spells based upon the cadence in their voices. They lull their subjects into a semi-hypnotic state, making them susceptible to the conjurer's wishes."

"I've tried ten different dialects and tones," Willow protested.

"Maybe it's not how you're saying it," Kelly suggested, "But, rather, what you're saying."


"Exactly." The brunette Angel gave an enigmatic smile. "Think carefully. What was your exact wording?"

Willow and Tara rejoined their handclasp. Closing their eyes, they chanted together, smiling as the impromptu recitation came back to them.

"Past to present to future. Re-ignite the true flame of Christmas, restore the real Santa Claus. Give us a do-over to make what's gone wrong, once again right."

"Do-over?" Sara Sidle questioned. "Really? That's your secret spell?"

"A spell doesn't have to be perfect in the literary sense," Willow defended her spell-writing abilities. "It only has to come from the heart."

"Well, alright then," Sara nodded, seemingly satisfied by the answer.

"Big picture, people," Emily Prentiss reminded them, "It still didn't work."

"No, wait," interrupted JJ. "It did. I felt - something. Like a wave of energy rippling through the room." She looked around. "Didn't anyone else feel it?"

"I did."

"So did I."

"It just wasn't . . . " Sara shrugged " . . . powerful enough." She eyed Janeway and Seven suspiciously. "You two were pulled through time and space. There had to be a big enough energy source available to do that. Sitting in the same room with the witches that summoned you, seated within the pentagram; the energy level should have been significantly higher."

"That's it!" Janeway jumped to her feet. "The crystals. They're a power source. When we first traveled through the time-space continuum, we were in close-proximity to both Santa and the crystals. The second time was when we were on Babylon 5 and Lt. Commander Ivanova dropped the crystal, igniting the power source." Her face fell as she realized, "The crystals were destroyed in the explosion."

The collective sound of disappointed "Oh's" filled the room. 

"Um, guys - " asked Shane " - would your power crystals by any chance happen to be little green and red sparkly-things?" she pointed at the shiny objects embedded in Janeway's and Seven's uniforms.

x x x x x

"There. That should be enough," Sara Sidle decided, as she pulled one more tweezer-full of crystal residue off of Seven's biosuit and dropped it into a test-tube. 

"Likewise." Catherine shook a capful of gunpowder from a bullet she'd pried open into a vial from her CSI kit. "I suggest only the witches and the babes from outer space attempt this little experiment."

"Agreed," decided Janeway. "We don't want to needlessly jeopardize anymore lives than absolutely necessary." 

Murmuring wishes of good luck, the other women moved out into the main part of the gallery. Tara attempted to go with them, until a Borg enmeshed hand prevented her. At the perfunctory raising of an implant, she meekly turned about and re-entered the storage closet.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye," Janeway said, "It's been - interesting - to say the least."

Amy Bradshaw unexpectedly broke away from Lucy Diamond and rushed forward. Giving the startled Starfleet officer a hug, she said, "I'll miss you, Captain Katie. If you ever come back to the past again, well, you know - "

"I'll be sure to look you up," Kathryn promised. She gave Amy's plaid tie a playful flip then turned and without looking back again, walked into the storage closet.

Seven of Nine shot a speculative look at the D.E.B. before following her captain. Catherine Willows reached out a hand, catching Sara Sidle by the elbow before she could follow the ex-Borg into the room.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked the brunette CSI.

"Following the evidence." Sara gave a last lingering look at Seven's retreating backside.

"Come on," Catherine tugged her away from the door. "The sooner the blonde Barbie goes home, the better."

"I'm not a blonde Barbie," was muffled through the now closed door, "I'm a blonde Borgie."

x x x x x

The pentagram was redrawn on the floor. Everyone was seated in their cross-legged positions. The vials of crystal-bits and gunpowder were in the center of the pentagram, waiting to be combined into one. Eyes were closed, minds were cleared. Willow and Tara took up the chant.

The mounting energy level was suddenly interrupted.


Three sets of eyes flickered open to stare at the tall, lanky woman now standing outside the pentagram. Of all of them, she was the last person they expected to break the chain.

"This will not work."

"Seven." Janeway leapt to her feet, coming to stand before her Borg. Placing both hands upon her biosuit encased shoulders, she looked her in the eyes and reassuringly said, "Seven, honey, I'm scared, too. But, it's the only way home."

"Captain, I am unafraid." And, for whatever reason, everyone in the room believed the ex-Borg's statement. "But, this is not the way. It is what Catherine Willows said in the other room. About going home. We can not go home until we find the true spirit of Christmas."

"You mean - ?"

"Yes," stated Seven, with certainty. "We must find the real Santa."

x x x x x

The chant was completed, the energy levels in the room were palpable. Janeway felt her hair lifted away from her neck as a wind appeared from nowhere.

"Well, here goes nothing, I guess," Willow stated. "Everyone sure about this?" she asked. Never once breaking her dual handclasp with Seven and Janeway, she used her developing powers of levitation to lift both vials in the air and smash them together.

x x x x x

An Unnamed Village in Ancient Greece - Solstice Eve

"Silvas, do you still refuse to mend your selfish ways?"

"I'll not be lectured in my own kingdom. Not by the Fates, not by anyone."

Xena snarled beneath her disguise. She'd had just about enough of the miserly King Silvas. For Zeus' sake, who'd ever heard of anyone banning the Solstice season, anyway?

If it wasn't for those orphans - The warrior princess realized that it wasn't strictly the orphans that had tugged at her heart-strings - Okay, if it wasn't for that cute, little bard I travel with, I would've busted someone's head open long ago!

Xena was just giving serious thought to that very action when there was a blinding flash and a loud explosion. A section of the building's crumbling wall came tumbling down, knocking her to the ground before falling upon her. Battered and bruised, blood oozing from a jagged gash in her forehead, she had just enough strength left to look up. Bleary eyes briefly focused on two women dressed in peasant garb - and two more dressed in sparkly, shiny one piece suits. And then, she passed out.

x x x x x

"Captain," Seven tugged at Janeway's arm, "Must I remind you of Starfleet's prime directive? No altering of the timeline, remember?"

"Seven, our arrival dropped a brick wall upon the woman. I'd say we've not only altered this particular timeline, we've also obliterated it."

"Untrue, Captain." Despite her initial misgivings of doing so, Seven found herself helping to lift the large bricks off of the unconscious woman. "The man who was with her has been moved downstairs into the basement along with the woman who operates the orphanage. Both are unaware of our presence."

Seven moved the last stone off of Xena and carried her to a nearby cot. As she laid her down, the thin material covering her armor and battledress fell away, revealing her to be a warrior.

"Oh, my." Janeway breathed.

Willow and Tara hurried back into the room, carrying a bucket of water between them. They placed their burden upon the cobblestone floor beside the cot. Willow sat down on the straw-mattress beside the unconscious woman. Tearing off the sleeve of her dress, she dipped her freshly made rag into the water. Wringing it out, she gently placed it against the wound on the battered warrior's forehead.

Suddenly, a loud bang echoed inside the building. The walls about them shook. Across the room, they saw a large wooden board stretched across the door bend, a tiny crack appearing in its surface.

"Someone is attempting to break down the door," Seven coolly surmised.

"T - town guards," Xena was able to answer, even in her semi-conscious state, "I kidnapped the king."

"Great," Willow threw her arms up in the air, "She's a kidnapper, an outlaw."

"The - the king - " Xena's brow furrowed as she heard the distress in the young woman's tone. "King outlawed Solstice."


Imperceptibly, Willow felt someone tugging at her shirt sleeve. Turning to look up at Tara, she noticed her girlfriend pointing at a corner of the room. There, in the shadows, was a Christmas tree, decorated in ribbons and bows and with a shiny, round circle-thing poised at the top like a star.

"Solstice - the original name for Christmas."

The room shook again as the battering ram once more connected with the door. Janeway cast a worried glance at the crossbar. Two - maybe three more hits like that and the bar would break.

There was another commotion; this one from above their heads. There was a loud "oof", then a cloud of soot and ash. A man wearing a soot-covered suit stood up and dusted himself off, loudly coughing as the ash got into his lungs. A large burlap sack landed behind him in the chimney, sending up another large cloud of ash. Then, a strawberry blonde landed on the bag with an "Ouch" and an "Ow" and a "Senticles - "

Seven stood with her hands clasped behind her back, watching with typical Borg aloofness. Tara had merely covered her mouth with both hands. Janeway and Willow gaped at each other, then the sight at the chimney, then each other again.

"That was - fun!" shouted the man, continuing to dust himself off. "I'm going to do that every year! And, toys! I'm going to start making toys again! Enough for every child to have one."

"A miserly king that outlawed Solstice," Willow whispered.

"A man with a flowing, white beard that comes down a chimney with a burlap sack full of toys," Janeway whispered back.

"And, a woman -- wearing a little green halter  -- and carrying a big stick?!?" Willow shook her head. "Okay, maybe that part doesn't fit."

"But, the rest of it does," Janeway reminded her. "Willow, that's him. That's the real Santa Claus."

Just then, the woman with the large stick noticed them lingering around a cot where an injured Xena lay moaning.

"Hey," Gabrielle shouted, using a one-handed push to shove Senticles out of her way, "What do you think you're doing with my warrior princess?"

x x x x x

There was no time for a plausible explanation, not with armed soldiers literally beating down their door and a jealous Queen of the Amazons ready to smite them with her staff. So, right or wrong, Janeway did the only thing she could think of; she told the truth. All of it.

And, that seemed to be working out just fine - until she mentioned that it was Willow's and Tara's spell that brought them there.

Janeway was really quite impressed with the speed in which the injured warrior was able to draw her sword, even while laying prone on her backside.

"Witches? I've had enough of witches!" growled Xena through gritted teeth.

"Easy, baby," Gabrielle somehow managed to just stop Xena from lopping off Willow's head with her sword, "Not all witches are evil shamanesses like Alti."

"Evil?" Willow gulped at the size of Xena's sword. "Oh, no. I'm not evil. I'm a good witch."

Xena eyed her suspiciously. "You keep an eye on that. Magic has a way of turning people."

"Umm, this is all well and good," Senticles interrupted, "But the guards are about to break through. What will we do?"

"Fight," answered Gabrielle, hefting her staff.

"We can't." Janeway regretfully shook her head. "We've already interfered enough. To further corrupt the timeline . . . well, we may never get home."

Xena tried to sit up. The room began spinning and she tumbled back onto the bed, her sword falling from her grasp. "Can't."

"Then, Senticles and I will fight them off by ourselves," Gabrielle declared, jutting out her chin in defiance.

Senticles looked less than convinced.

"Too many," Xena protested from the bed. She tried to get up again. This time, the determined warrior even made it to her feet - before falling back down again.

Janeway cast a helpless look at Seven.

The Borg answered with sheer, crisp precision, "Resistance is futile."

Willow rushed to the fireplace and picked up a broom, hefting it like a staff.

"Willow," protested Tara, "you can't fight."

"Why not?!? If Santa Claus and an Amazon Queen can fight to save Christmas, so can I - " Willow cast a dubious look at her weapon before summoning up her most courageous voice, " - with my trusty broom."

"Fine," Tara agreed. "Fight. We'll both fight. But, let's fight with the weapon we're good at."

Willow sensed Tara's meaning. Nodding in agreement, she put down her broom and joined her girlfriend beside Xena's bed. Standing one on each side, they clasped hands and began chanting. At first, Xena instinctively struggled to try to get off the bed, out of the way of the witches' spell. But, then she felt the warmth pouring over her and her strength returning and she let the spell work its magic.

The chant ended. Willow and Tara dropped their arms in exhaustion. Xena's body seemingly glowed, then she stirred, gingerly sitting up in the bed. Then, picking up her sword, she gave a fierce battle-cry and performed a double somersault, landing cat-like on her feet.

"Xena?" Gabrielle tentatively asked.

"Feeling better, Gabrielle." Xena tilted her head from side to side, causing her vertebra to pop. There was a wild gleam in her eyes as she said, "Let's ring some jingle bells."

x x x x x

Delta Quadrant - Starship USS Voyager - Captain's Quarters

"You're looking awfully satisfied, darling,:" said Kathryn Janeway as she looked down at the woman who lay with her head cradled against her lover's shoulder.

"Oh, I am," Seven confirmed, enjoying the languidness of their post-sexual endeavors and the feel of satin sheets against her naked body. "But, not just because of your prowess in bed."

"Oh, really?" Janeway asked in a husky voice, one of her fingers slipping between Seven's legs in an effort to get her Borg to re-evaluate that statement.

"Quite." There was an almost childlike smile as Seven confessed, "I'm also satisfied because I met the real Santa."

x x x x x

Ancient Greece - camped out somewhere beneath the open stars

"You're feeling awfully satisfied, aren't you, warrior o' mine?" Gabrielle asked, while idly cupping one of Xena's bare breasts, her fingers unknowingly once again teasing a sleeping nipple awake. 

"Mm, am I?" Xena nonchalantly shrugged. Then, a broad smile spreading across her lips, she admitted, "Yeah, yeah, I guess I am."

"Because we saved the orphans from eviction, turned King Silvas from his miserly ways and helped Senticles find a new line of work?"

"Well, there's that, I suppose."

"But - "

"But," Xena sat up, unable to hide her excitement any longer. "Don't you see, Gabrielle? Those women - those women from the future, their presence here proved something."

"That the future will be an interesting place?"

"Not exactly."

Gabrielle felt an uneasy feeling creeping up on her, but knew she had to ask anyway. "Then, exactly what, Xena? What did their presence prove?"

"That even in the future, Gabrielle, it's all about us."

"What?" Gabrielle frowned. "Isn't that a little arrogant, even for you, my warrior of many skills?"

"No, no, not at all. Think about it, Gabrielle. They came back in time in search of the real Senticles. Uh, Santa Claus. Who we - " she pointed between herself and Gabrielle " - you and me - are responsible for creating. Don't you see, Gabrielle; you and I are the first. Everything else that comes after is just an imitation of us, of our love."

Xena settled back down on the blanket, pulling Gabrielle down with her. They lay together quietly, curled around each other, staring up at the star-filled sky. Suddenly, Gabrielle giggled as a shooting star reminded her of something.

"You know, Xena, that tall blonde - "

"Yes?" Xena drawled out, not sure she liked where this conversation might be leading.

"She did that thing you do."

Xena's eyebrow slowly rose as she thought of several different things she'd just recently done to her bard. Things that no one else had better ever even think of doing with Gabrielle.

"That," Gabrielle declared, reaching up and stroking the fine, black brow. "She was able to arch that silver-thing over her eye the way out arch your eyebrow."

Xena's arch remained firmly intact as she smugly said, "But, I did it first."


The End


No Christmas myths were harmed during the writing of this story, although Starfleet's prime directive was severely beaten over the head and left for dead in a dark alley somewhere . . . somewhen.



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