Sulu was standing in his stateroom, trying to figure out where to hide Chekov's present, when Captain Kirk came to his door. Yeoman Rand was standing behind him, tapping away on her padd. Captain Kirk was holding a tow-headed, miserable-looking little boy, who hid his face in Kirk's neck.
“Hey, Sulu,” Kirk said breathlessly. “Can you do me a favour? Do you think you can watch David for an hour or two?”
The crew only learned about David a few months ago, when the news had trickled down through the ranks. His mother, Carol Marcus, worked here on Starbase 11, and was much older than Kirk when he did a three-month practicum in her lab as a cadet. Kirk didn't talk about how he learned about David, but everyone knew that the Enterprise spending three days around Christmas docked at Starbase 11 was a very big deal. Kirk only got David for one night, and the last place Sulu expected to see him was at his door.
“I just have to do one last debrief about the whole Lerep IV situation, you know, with brass. It was kind of last minute. It shouldn't take more than half an hour.”
Yeomand Rand glanced up, skeptically, but she didn't say anything.
“Uh, sure, Captain,” Sulu said. He didn't have much experience with children – well, any, really – but he wasn't about to tell Kirk to keep looking. He knew Kirk wouldn't have asked if it wasn't an emergency – he had been full of nervous energy for weeks before they docked at the starbase, and Sulu knew it was hard to have to go away from David after all that.
“Thanks Lieutenant,” Kirk beamed. “Take him to the holiday party, I'll be there as soon as I can.” Kirk gently pulled David's arms from around his neck. “I'm going to be as fast as I can, David. You stay with Mister Sulu. You'll have fun. Okay?”
David didn't say anything, his huge blue eyes dark and brooding.
“I love you,” Kirk said. He kissed David on the forehead. David still said nothing.
Yikes, Sulu thought.
“Well,” Kirk said softly. He handed David off to Sulu, who took him awkwardly. David shifted in his arms and immediately put his face against Sulu's shoulder, ignoring Kirk. “See you guys later,” Kirk said, his voice thinly edged with disappointment.
After Kirk and Rand were gone, Sulu looked at the little boy in his arms. “So, what do you want to do?” He asked tentatively. David remained silent.
He ended up taking David to the observation deck, and trying to tell him about the nebulae this starbase was in a particularly good spot to see. David didn't say a word, only fidgeted now and then. Sulu took him down to the botany lab and showed him a few plants. David looked at each one with large, intelligent eyes, but his frown stayed steady and he didn't respond when Sulu asked anything, except to sigh once in boredom.
Sulu took this as a cue to go find Chekov. He was in the rec room, helping Gaila set up for the holiday party. Sulu hadn't wanted to bother him with David, but Kirk was supposed to be finished his debrief by now anyway.
Even though the party hadn't officially started, Rec Room 1 was still crowded and some people were getting a head start on drinking. The decorations were half up, a tree constructed by shifting beams of bright light arranged in a cone in one corner.
David was a little celebrity on board, and everybody wanted to say hello. Shyly, he just hugged Sulu's neck and buried his face in Sulu's shoulder, ignoring everyone. Sulu felt like a big, awkward failure.
They found Chekov in the little kitchen off the side of the rec room, putting out saucers of milk for the ship's cats, Flicker and Felicity, two skinny little tortoiseshells. David perked up for the first time upon seeing the cats, and Sulu set him down so he could scratch behind their ears.
Chekov knelt down in front of him before Sulu could even introduce them.
“Hello,” he said. “I'm Pavel. You must be David.”
David nodded shyly, ducking his head as Felicity gave his fingers a little lick.
“Well it's very nice to meet you, David,” Chekov went on. “This is Flicker and Felicity, and I think they like you too.”
David smiled, a small, hesitant little smile, for the first time since Sulu met him. Sulu leaned against the doorway, looking down at the scene and wondering when Chekov would stop amazing him.
“Would you like to help me wrap some presents, David?” Chekov asked. David nodded enthusiastically and reached his arms out for Chekov to pick him up. Chekov balanced him on his hip and Sulu had to bite back a little whimper at how impossibly cute the two of them looked. David stuck a thumb in his mouth and leaned his head on Chekov's shoulder.
The ship's Secret Santa exchange, with over 400 participants, was such a big operation that Gaila had divided it between the different departments. She then had volunteers from other departments wrap all the presents to keep everything anonymous and free up time for the more senior officers.
Chekov sat them down at a table covered in shiny blue wrapping paper, David perched on his lap.
Sulu had tried to get Chekov in the Secret Santa draw, but it was impossible. Then he had further embarrassed himself when he mentioned that he was getting Chekov something for Hannukah anyway and Chekov had responded, with a little grin: 'Hannukah was two weeks ago.' Sulu looked down grimly at the stupid anonymous gifts and tried to think of ways he could make David smile, something to impress Chekov, It was coming so easily for him - Chekov never stopped impressing Sulu, and Sulu was terrified of the day he'd stop impressing Chekov.
As they wrapped presents, Chekov kept talking to David, asking him about the starbase, his classes, his favourite foods to eat – but David kept his responses as succinct as possible, nodding his head solemnly when Chekov said something was good or bad. He took his wrapping job very seriously, holding down bits of paper until they self-adhered, carefully positioning boxes into the exact right place. He was enthralled, and not at all what Sulu expected in a Kirk child.
Until he suddenly burst into tears.
Huge, big tears accompanied by loud wails. Sulu started to panic a little. But before he could react, Chekov had scooped David up and started rocking him.
“Oh little one,” Chekov said softly. “What is wrong?”
David kept wailing incomprehensibly for a little bit and Chekov just kept rocking him, while Sulu watched like an idiot. Eventually David whispered up to Chekov:
“I want to go home. Santa won't find me here.”
Chekov made a look of surprise, his mouth dropping open in a little O. “Of course Santa will find you!” he said. “He has very advanced navigational systems.”
David looked at him skeptically.
“Yes, he will,” Chekov insisted. “I grew up on a spaceship, and Santa always found me every year. Do you know how I made sure?”
David narrowed his eyes at Chekov shrewdly and Sulu saw the resemblance to Kirk. “How?” he asked, testing Chekov.
“I always put out the best milk, and mama's best cookies for him. Do you want to help me put out milk and cookies for Santa?”
David nodded, tears dry on his face, his blue eyes wide.
“All right,” Chekov said. “Let's help Mister Sulu put these presents under the tree and then we will get milk and cookies for Santa.”
David basically leaped out of Chekov's arms and grabbed as many presents off the table as he could carry. He scurried over to the light tree and placed each present with very exact precision. Then he ran back to Chekov, tripped and fell, and Sulu, expecting tears, rushed over to him. But David simply got up, brushed himself off, and looked at Sulu to be picked up as insurance against future falls.
They found a ledge on one of the wide viewscreens away from most of the commotion. Chekov ensured David that the light tree, and the milk and cookies, would be viewable from Santa's route to the Enterprise from space.
“Pavel knows everything about space routes,” Sulu said, a little timidly. David looked at him blankly.
David sat in Chekov's lap and very carefully poured the milk into a tall glass. Four classic chocolate chip cookies sat on a plate next to it, and David eyed the cookies covetously.
“You can have one,” Chekov said. “We have plenty more in the kitchen.”
David considered it for a long time, looking like Kirk considering the next move in a battle, and then he declared: “No. These are for Santa.”
There were apple slices for the reindeer on another plate, and Sulu said David could have those if he wanted. David just looked at him like he was crazy.
They sat there in the corner by the viewscreen for quite some time, David sitting in Chekov's lap and wringing his hands. When asked if he wanted to move closer to the party, he shook his head and explained that he had to protect Santa's milk from the cats, even when Chekov told him the cats had been kicked out of the rec room and were probably off hunting space mice.
The holiday party began, and there was still no sign of Kirk. That must be a hell of a debrief, Sulu thought. There was food, a veritable buffet, and Sulu brought back plates of finger food since David refused to leave his post. There was some music, which was too grown up for David to enjoy, and Gaila, wearing an indecently sexy elf outfit, lead a sort of ship-wide recognition thing. She gave out prizes for outstanding work – not medals, but chocolate medallions wrapped in bright foil for “best jokes” and things like that.
Chekov won “best little brother” and his face went red, especially when Gaila pinched his cheek as she gave it to him. He was scowling as he came back to their corner, and Sulu slung an arm around him.
“It's humiliating,” Chekov grumbled.
“It's not meant to be,” Sulu tried to find a way to spin it that wouldn't sound hollow. “Everybody loves you. You brighten the place up.”
“They love me as this little thing to protect. Like a mascot.”
“You know I don't love you like a little brother,” Sulu said, with what he hoped was enough filthiness that it would brighten Chekov's day but not so much that David got curious.
Chekov smiled ever so slightly but he tried to hide it. David crawled into his lap and ate his chocolate medal.
An hour later and there was still no Kirk or Santa. David's face looked like it was set in a permanent frown, and nothing could cheer him up. Uhura came over and visited with them, bringing a small East African board game with bright shiny marbles. David's interest was piqued momentarily, but then he went back to his quiet brooding anticipation.
He was getting tired, resting his head on Chekov's chest and not even fidgeting as Chekov stroked his yellow spiky hair. He looked like he was just about to start crying again, when suddenly the doors to the rec room flung open.
“HO HO HO!” shouted a familiar voice, and David shot up out of Chekov's lap, his eyes suddenly bright and big and wide awake. He tugged on Chekov's sleeves.
“It's Santa!!!” he hissed. “It's Santa!!!”
Chekov smiled, that big bright smile that Sulu loved to see more than anything in the world. “I know! I told you he would make it. You are on the top of his list, he knew exactly where to go!”
Kirk was wearing an ill-fitting Santa suit, with what looked like a pillow stuffed underneath the coat. A big fake white beard was on his face, and unlined, youthful blue eyes twinkled out from behind it. Spock and McCoy had finally joined the party as well, being in the debrief with Kirk, and McCoy was wearing a green elf hat and a hell of a scowl. But his face softened as soon as he saw little David run up to the entrance shouting “Santa!! Santa!!”
“Well! Who is this?” Kirk bent over and made a big show of stroking his beard and studying David's little face seriously, as David more or less shook in his boots and covered his mouth with his hands. “Why if it isn't little David Marcus!” David squealed at the recognition and Kirk scooped him up, tossing him into the air as the little boy laughed. “Have you been a good boy, David?” Kirk asked in his booming fake Santa voice.
“Yes!!” David declared. “Santa, Santa! I put out milk and cookies for you!”
David gestured wildly at where Sulu and Chekov were standing. Chekov wrapped himself in his arms and shrunk a little bit into himself, biting his lip, a gesture Sulu had come to recognize as being overwhelmed – sometimes by fear or realization of an error, but in this case, something much deeper. Sulu pulled Chekov to him and held him close to his side. He caught Kirk's eye as Kirk was walking towards them, a squealing David slung over his shoulder.
'Thank you', Kirk mouthed as comes over. He sat in their corner with David in his lap and they shared the milk and cookies, David chattering excitedly the whole time.
David looked like Kirk, in his face, but Sulu saw a charming, deep and excitable boy that reminded him more of what Chekov must've been like as a child than anything else. His heart tinged, wanting to hold something, some little version of Pavel and maybe even of himself, the way Kirk was holding David now. Kirk looked so happy behind his beard he might actually start crying.
“Come,” Chekov said. “Leave them alone, let's get our gifts.”
They sat at a wide table and got their first drinks of the night. Chekov's Secret Santa gift turned out to be from Lieutenant Traore, the beta-shift pilot, who Sulu had only ever met once but Chekov saw most times Sulu was pulled away for a mission. Sulu mentally kicked himself, having not thought to ask her when he was trying to swap around to get Chekov's gift.
She got him a real book of Russian plays. A nice gift, but not something particularly meaningful to Chekov, and certainly not better than what Sulu got him. Sulu breathed a sigh of relief as Chekov went over to hug her, coming back with more drinks.
Sulu looked at Kirk and David, who was now opening one of several gifts Kirk brought for him in a big sack.
“Don't you think he'll get bummed out anyway, once he realizes Santa was here all night and not his father?”
Chekov shrugged. “He is not stupid. He knows Santa is his father.”
Sulu did a double take, looking at David now pressing himself against Kirk's chest, happily gazing into Kirk's face. “Oh, wow,” he said. Then a moment later. “Is that what it was like for you? Growing up on a starship?”
“Yes,” Chekov nodded. “It was so obviously my papa, he was the largest man of anybody on the ship, it would be unmistakeably him even if he wasn't my papa.” Sulu took a long drink, remembering vids of Chekov's cartoonishly large and muscular father, a very slight tremor of fear running through him. Even though Chekov had assured him it was not his father Sulu should worry about, but his mother. It didn't make Sulu feel any better.
“You're really good with him,” Sulu went on. “You said you didn't have any little siblings or cousins.”
“I suppose,” Chekov said. “When I was little I was very very shy. They actually thought I might be slow. But when I found out about physics they could not shut me up. I'm sure David is the same way. I only spoke to him the way I would like to have been spoken to.” He shrugged and took another pull at his drink. “Aren't you going to open your gift, Hikaru?”
Sulu pulled open the shiny yellow paper, not expecting very much, and was shocked when he found a small, beautiful antique vase. It was ivory and hand carved and it matched the handles on his grandfather's katana. It was way beyond the credit limit for the gift exchange.
Sulu looked at it, flabberghasted.
“It is for your plants,” Chekov said, smiling shyly. “Merry Christmas Hikaru.”
“Oh my god,” Sulu replied. And then after a beat. “You got me for Secret Santa?”
Chekov nodded. “Yes.”
“Well I feel like a dick. I didn't – I mean I got you something, its just, I was going to give it to you tomorrow since I missed Hannukah, but –”
Chekov laughed, a lilting little thing that lit up his face. “You don't have to give me Hannukah gifts. I don't expect those from anyone but my family.”
“But I am your family now, right? I mean...”
Sulu trailed off and there was a short, uncomfortable silence. Chekov's smile faded.
“Yes,” he said. “You are.”
He leaned forward and they kissed, a slow, warm little thing that went right down to Sulu's belly.
“Next year I'll get you Hannukah presents and a Christmas gift,” Sulu declared. “I can't believe you managed to get me for Secret Santa, what are the chances?”
Chekov grinned. “I had to swap eight times to get you. Kevin had you, but he wanted Janice. She's not even in our department! He was a big, what you say, a big jerk about it.”
Sulu shook his head. “I would've swapped, but I couldn't even find out who had you. I can't believe it was Traore this whole time. I mean of course, I never see her.” He raised his glass to his lips.
Chekov nodded. “I should give you my algorithm for Secret Santa selection.”
Sulu choked on his drink, and when he recovered, he squeezed Chekov tight and nibbled on his ears until Chekov laughed and pushed him off.
At the end of the night, Sulu and Chekov were sufficiently buzzed on Christmas cheer and David was fast asleep in Kirk's arms. Kirk had tugged off the beard and lost the pillow and coat, wearing just a sweaty white t-shirt and suspenders holding up his ridiculously large Santa trousers.
“Thanks again Sulu,” he said as they spilled out into the hallway. “I really appreciate it.”
“Not at all, Captain,” Sulu said.
David suddenly stirred in Kirk's arms and looked up at the captain's face.
“Santa!” he said. “I want to see the plants with Mr Sulu again before sleep.”
Kirk raised an eyebrow. “Really? Right now?”
David nodded and sleepily reached out his arms to Sulu. “Please Mister Sulu?” he said. “It was my favourite part before Daddy came back.”
Sulu was startled. David really hadn't seem interested before. “Well if you really want to...” he said, and David clung to his neck.
Kirk and Chekov trailed behind him as he walked with David through the rows of alien plants. David had the same, super serious wide-eyed expression from before as he looked at each plant. He timidly asked permission to touch one, and when he felt the furry, silky leaf of the Andorian Blossom, he drew back in Sulu's arms with a delighted, shocked look on his face, and Sulu couldn't help but chuckle.
“I want to have a bot'ny lab,” David said sleepily as Sulu carried him back over to Kirk.
“Yes,” David nodded. “I want to have real trees, so every year I will have a real tree and milk and cookies for Santa.” He turned his face into Sulu's chest and fell asleep.
Sulu looked up at Chekov, who was pink-cheeked and who had wrapped his arms around himself and was biting his lip, staring at Sulu, overwhelmed.