Author: Bad Faery PM
The events of "Command Crisis" affect Skipper's conscience and his relationship with his second-in-command. Spoilers for that episode and for "Miss Understanding" SlashRated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Skipper & Kowalski - Words: 2,620 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 27 - Published: 02-07-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6725111
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Skipper rarely felt guilty, but at the moment he couldn't shake the unpleasant sensation. The other three penguins were his team, his men, and his responsibility, yet he was plotting to turn his back on them.
He swiveled on his stool to face the sleeping forms of his team, safe in their bunks. It wasn't safe to leave them alone. Private was too naive, too prone to putting his faith in his belief that everyone was basically good. Left to his own devices, the youth would probably try to befriend Doctor Blowhole. Rico, without someone to hold him back and stop him from simply blowing up every obstacle, would lapse into one of his berserker rages, leveling everything around him.
Then there was Kowalski, his right hand. As second in command, it was his job to step up and lead the team if necessary, and with his brains he should be ideal for the job. Yet, Kowalski got stuck in his own head too easily. He saw all the possible options and couldn't isolate just one to execute.
His team needed him to provide direction and to keep them in line. Skipper sighed and shook his head, looking at the props he'd created over the past weeks. The team needed him too much. Theirs was a dangerous life and for all his bluster, Skipper knew he wasn't immortal. One stray laser or wrong fall could put him out of commission, and then where would the men be?
He'd been denying it until the incident with Kowalski's DNA scanner had rendered him temporarily female. The other three had been totally confident about their ability to save the lemurs from the sparking wires, but without their leader, they'd almost immediately become trapped themselves. It had been a pathetic performance from three penguins who knew better. Skipper liked that they obeyed him unquestioningly, but when obedience crossed the line into dependance, it had gone too far.
What he was about to do went against every commander instinct he had. His job was to protect the others, to fight and die to keep them safe, not leave them to fend for themselves.
"It's safe," he assured himself, his voice low in the silent room. He rested his head in his flippers, going over the plan again in his mind. There was an element of risk whenever humans got involved, but they wouldn't even have to leave the zoo in order to accomplish their goal. If worst came to worst, he'd even be with them, and in a pinch he could cast off the Chuck Charles disguise and resume control. Whatever the boys got into, he knew he could get them out of it. Now, what he wanted to know was whether they could get themselves out of trouble.
He stashed the red tie in his bunk and settled in for an uneasy night's rest. For whatever it was worth, in twenty-four hours it would all be over with. They'd sink or swim, and he'd deal with the fallout. That was what a commander did.
0 0 0 0 0
It was harder than he'd imagined to stay in character in the face of Private's pleading eyes and Kowalski's increasing mania. Even as he spouted more pompous nonsense, he silently willed them to pull it together. Rico, faced by a problem that couldn't be solved with dynamite, had withdrawn, leaving the other two to formulate a plan. By all rights, Kowalski should have been stepping up to fill the breech, yet he seemed more focused on curing the "Anchormanisia" than he did in prepping for The Big One.
In the end it was Private who made the decision Kowalski seemed to be avoiding, "Skipper would want us to carry on without him."
Skipper mentally applauded as the youngest penguin took charge of the team, forcing Rico and Kowalski to accept that they had to do this one on their own. He'd always known the lad had it in him, but it was heartening to see him stand up to his elders about doing the right thing. It just proved that he'd been right after all in choosing the youngster for the team despite his lack of training and experience.
Rico seemed to cheer up now that he had a definite goal, but Kowalski was still lagging. As Private led the other two out of headquarters to the location of the plans, Kowalski kept looking back over his shoulder, the unhappiness in his eyes clear.
After what he deemed an adequate head start, Skipper followed the trio, curious to see how they'd do in action, and they didn't let him down. Kowalski hot-wired the bulldozer, and Private and Rico leapt out of the vehicle to finish unearthing the plans. Skipper pretended to admire his reflection in the dozer's window as he watched the pair carefully, pleased by their progress.
"Please come back, Skipper," Kowalski's voice begged him quietly, and he saw the taller penguin looking at him with pleading eyes as he smoothed down his feathers from the shock he'd gotten from hot-wiring the vehicle, "I... we can't do this without you."
He joined the other two in the hole after that, and Skipper jumped down after them, an unsettled feeling curling in his stomach. Kowalski's words didn't make any sense; they were doing fine without him.
At least they were doing fine until the humans proceeded to dump a full load of dirt down on top of them. Thinking fast, Rico and Private braced the roof with their shovels, giving them enough time to open the box and discover just what their 'mission' had been all about.
"It was all a test?" Private exclaimed, torn between relief and anger, and settling on relief as Skipper praised the team. They deserved it. The whole thing had been rocky, but they'd accomplished their goal and even rescued their erstwhile leader a few times when the Anchormanisia led him to do something risky. Even Kowalski snapped back to normal, coming up with a daring plan that freed them from their underground prison and sent them rocketing safely back to their habitat.
"And we're out!" Skipper exclaimed into his microphone, stifling a chuckle when Rico gave him a dirty look and swallowed it out of his flipper, clearly having had enough of the nonstop commentary. Skipper couldn't blame it; it felt good to be himself again.
"You did a fine job today, men," he praised the team, nodding his approval as their spines straightened, "This test wasn't easy, and you passed with flying colors."
He signaled out their youngest member in particular, "I'm proud of you, Private," he told the small penguin, not missing the way Private's beak lifted at the praise, "You really stepped it up today." He patted all three of them on the back before dismissing them. After the day they'd had, they'd earned some R&R.
Private waddled off to tell Marlene about the day's adventure, and Rico invited Miss Perky for an afternoon drive, leaving him and Kowalski alone. "Good work today, Kowalski," he said, as he let himself into headquarters to record his thoughts on the day's mission for his log. Not looking back, he failed to notice the odd look on his second in command's face.
0 0 0 0 0
Late that night, Skipper found himself tossing and turning in his bunk as Private and Rico snored quietly above him. He should be sleeping peacefully, the stress of the past weeks lifted off of him now that The Big One was over and done with. Headquarters was silent, too silent considering that Kowalski had disappeared into his lab shortly after their explosive return. At the least, he should hear the scientist muttering to himself as he worked on a new experiment. The crashing of tools and an occasional panicked screech would fit right in as well. Yet, there was nothing.
With a sigh, he heaved himself out of his bunk, pushing open the door to the lab. "Kowalski?"
The taller penguin sat slumped over his lab table, not even looking up at the sound of his commander's voice. "Kowalski, status," he demanded, his voice gentler than normal.
The taller penguin jerked to attention, looking around the room in confusion. "Status... of what, Skipper?" he asked, clearly seeing no immediate problem.
"Of you, man," Skipper answered, moving to take the seat beside him, "Today, you beat The Big One. You should be celebrating! Or at least... working," he corrected as his brain attempted to align the concept of 'Kowalski' with 'celebrate' and was unable to fit the two together.
"Private was a force to be reckoned with today," Kowalski allowed, returning to his previous slump.
"The kid's going to make a heck of a commander one day," Skipper said proudly, "Not any day soon of course, but one day."
Kowalski turned pained eyes to him, his beak twitching with something that resembled shame. "I'm... not. Am I, Skipper?"
"You think too much," he allowed, "A commander has to make split-second decisions. You need to learn to trust your gut. But buck up. You're still the best ideas man a commander could ask for." He patted the taller penguin companionably on the back. No, Kowalski would never be commander material, but that just meant he'd never have to promote him out of the unit, an idea that didn't appeal in the slightest.
"I let you down," Kowalski said heavily, "As your second, it should have been me holding the team together. I should never have placed that burden on Private."
Skipper considered that for a moment. "You didn't really place it on him. I'd say he took that ball himself and ran with it. But if it bothers you, learn from it. Figure out what went wrong and fix it next time."
"It seems... I don't function well in your absence, Skipper," Kowalski admitted, not quite meeting his eyes. Suddenly he jumped up, stalking the perimeter of the lab and talking quickly, half to himself, half to the room's other occupant, "It's ridiculous, absolutely insane. I know better. There's no reason for it. I've tried and I've tried to overcome it, but nothing works. Doris is no more in love with me than I am with her; I was able to sublimate it for awhile through my work, but lately everything I touch just wants to destroy us all. It's a distraction, but your absence just makes it exponentially worse-"
Skipper's eyes tracked him as he paced the room, unable to follow his rantings. "Kowalski!" he snapped finally, "At ease, solider!"
Kowalski collapsed like a marionette with its strings cut, sitting down directly on the floor, leaning against the wall and breathing hard. Skipper stood over him, flippers on his hips, his brow furrowed with concern. Clearly, something was wrong with his second-in-command, and he was going to fix it. Whatever it was. Of course, it would help to know what it was first. "Kowalski, I order you to explain yourself in words of one syllable."
Kowalski stared up at him helplessly, opening and closing his beak several times without managing to get any sound out. Finally he swallowed hard and blurted, "I'm in love with you, and I'm unable think when you're not around."
Cocking his head to the side, Skipper pondered that statement. "Doesn't 'unable' have three syllables?"
Kowalski's beak fell open and stayed open for a long moment. As he started to babble again, Skipper held up one flipper, "Calm down."
He sat down on the floor next to his second in command, the pair automatically leaning against each other, feathers pressing into feathers. Kowalski's rapid breathing began to slow, gradually coming into sync with his own. The silence stretched out, but after everything they'd been through together, even Kowalski's revelation wasn't enough to make it awkward. After a few minutes of thought, Skipper finally ventured, "I'd be lying if I said I was expecting that."
"I'm sorry, Skipper," Kowalski said miserably.
"You should be," Skipper reflected, "Anything that affects your performance is my business to know. You should have told me this before."
He could feel Kowalski nodding. "Are... are you going to have me transferred to another unit?"
Skipper looked at him in surprise, "Why on earth would I want to do that?"
"You... Me... I thought..." the normally erudite penguin seemed incapable of getting out a single sentence and finally gave up, lapsing back into silence.
After pondering the question for a moment, Skipper responded with one of his own, "Do you want to be transferred?"
"No!" Kowalski exclaimed, the vehemence in his tone making the word echo through the lab.
"What do you want then?" he pressed.
"I... I don't supposed you'd consider... loving me back?" Kowalski asked shyly, and Skipper could feel the body next to him heating with embarrassment.
"I do love you," Skipper said easily, "You're my friend, my brother-in-arms. More than that... I never thought about it." He'd never thought about it before, but he was thinking about it now. That Kowalski in all his genius would fall in love with him was a flattering thought. It would change things, but things had already changed with his declaration.
He placed his flipper over Kowalski's, feeling the way the other penguin was trembling. That was the heart of the matter, he supposed. The question wasn't whether he could love Kowalski- he could and he did. The question was whether he could desire Kowalski.
Skipper was not a penguin given to introspection; he far preferred to gain answers through action. In a sudden movement, he rolled to crouch in front of the other penguin, pressing his beak to the side of Kowalski's as he wrapped his flippers firmly around his second-in-command.
The scientist melted into him with a sigh, and Skipper rubbed his beak softly against him as he cataloged the sensations. The press of Kowalski's feathers against his own tickled slightly, although not in a bad way. The puff of the other penguin's breath against his face was warm and somehow pleasant. He ran his flipper over Kowalski's back and noted the shudder of pleasure that provoked his own shiver. He could do this. More than that, he wanted to do this.
The only thing left to consider was how it would affect the team. "We'll have to keep this quiet," he cautioned Kowalski, "Rico won't care, but Private might not understand."
"Private is used to being your favorite," Kowalski noted, a hint of jealousy in his voice.
"I don't have favorites," Skipper protested automatically, then reconsidered that statement when Kowalski pulled back slightly to give him a meaningful look. "All right, I do, but I try not to be obvious about it."
"We'll be subtle," he agreed.
"Whatever that looks like," Skipper confirmed, a touch of amusement coloring his voice, "Options?"
Kowalski pressed shamelessly back into his embrace, his voice dropping as he murmured a suggestion.
Skipper's eyes widened in amazement at hearing those words coming from his uptight second-in-command. His body responding with interest, he allowed a devilish smile to emerge. "Then by all means, commence Operation: Subtle."