A/N: Happy holidays everyone! I thought I'd finish this up this year. It's just pure Christmas fluff, with about as much substance as a candy cane, but I hope you all like it. I'm such a sucker for fluff, and this is honestly so much fun to write!
December 23, 2011
It was two days before Christmas. Thanks to being blown significantly off-course by the storm, the Hammersley was still far from port. And although the movie fest of the previous night had been a rather unexpected success, but they were still resting in the lee of Bright Island while Charge and his team repaired the engines.
When Mike went down to investigate, he discovered that repair also meant blasting Christmas carols from an ancient boom box and singing along. Normally, he would have told Charge to knock it off, but the chief engineer was looking a little down at the possibility of not seeing Jamie and Jessica over their break, so he didn't want to jeopardize that. Coming up from the engine room, he ran into Kate, who had a sugar cookie in one hand and a coffee in the other.
"Oh, I was just looking for you!" she said. "We need to figure out what we're doing tonight."
"We?" Mike raised an eyebrow and looked vaguely confused.
"The crew," said Kate, as if it should have been obvious.
"Right. The crew." Mike cleared his throat and looked around.
"I had an idea. Bird has about a million cookies lying around. We could decorate them," she suggested. "I know it's a little young, but then we could eat them. Presumably the sugar will keep the night watch awake."
"Can't have them dozing off during watch," Mike agreed, "but some of Bird's fancy drinks will prevent that, easily."
"So you're in?" Kate asked, hope lighting up her blue eyes.
"Of course. Go tell Bird, and I'll spread the news to the crew. I'm sure they'll enjoy it," replied Mike.
"I hope so," she sighed, carding a hand through her hair. "I don't know what we're going to come up with for the next few days."
"Me neither," he replied honestly. "We all just want to get out, but we're going to have to swerve to avoid another that's blown up."
"I hate the rainy season." Kate exhaled roughly, sending a puff of air up to ruffle her blonde bangs. "How are we doing for fuel?"
"Charge and the boys have refueled with the extra we got when we went out, just in case we got blown off course. We're going to be cutting it close, though," Mike said. He didn't look too concerned, but Kate could sense the undertone of tension in his brow.
"How close is 'close?'" she asked, raising an eyebrow and taking a bite of her cookie. It rained sprinkles.
"We'll be okay, but we can't afford to go too far off course. We'll sail on the tide and try to get ahead of the storm," he said, leaning against the wall. "We'll need full watches, so we'll do the cookie decorating in cycles. It'll be a quick break for the crew, and they can be social for a bit."
"That'll be good." Kate's expression lightened briefly and then grew somber again. "When's our ETA in Cairns?"
It was Mike's turn to sigh. They didn't have a lot of fuel left, but it was enough to make it back, if only just barely. However, the newest tropical storm was rampaging across their path, and although it would have lost some power by the time their paths crossed, he knew that they couldn't afford to get too far off their current course. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife, and even though he didn't fear a mutiny, tempers were getting short. He ran his fingers through his thick, short hair, making it stand up. "At the earliest, sometime on the 26th. We really can't afford to still be out late on the 27th."
"Can a ship get some fuel to us?" she asked, ever the practical one.
"I asked Navcom, but there's nobody coming near us during our window."
"This just smells like trouble," Kate grumbled, snapping off a piece of her sugar cookie and eating it. "Well, I'll go spread the word. I'm sure some sugar and sprinkles can't hurt crew morale."
"I hope not," Mike laughed, turning to go to the senior sailor's mess, where he knew the officers not involved in repairs would be hanging out, probably occupied with a game of cards.
Kate headed toward the galley, trying to rally her sinking spirits. "Hi, Bird," she said, mustering the brightest smile she could as she stuck her head around the doorway.
"Hi, X," said the petite chef, looking excited to see her senior officer. "What brings you here?"
"How many cookies do you have?" she asked, looking around the small galley.
"Um, quite a lot, why?" asked Bird, looking slightly confused. "I have lots of spare sprinkles and I could whip up some more icing if we needed it."
"Could you? The CO and I were thinking that maybe we could decorate some cookies tonight," Kate said, smiling more genuinely. "It's a little childish, but we're running out of ideas."
"Sure," Bird said, "I'll get the stuff ready and bring it up to the senior sailors mess later. And X, I don't mean to sound picky, but when are we sailing?"
"I'm glad you asked. We're sailing on the tide, so in about an hour. Charge and the boys are just finishing up. We're heading straight back to Cairns, but we're probably going to run into a storm about midday tomorrow," she said, draining her coffee, and moving into the galley to put rinse her mug.
"Is there any chance we'll be home for Christmas?" asked Bird, her eyes lighting up with a flash of hope.
Kate felt terrible for disappointing the teen, and bit her lip before answering. The hopeful glow died out of Bird's eyes. "No, I'm sorry. Our predicted ETA is the 26th, though."
"Yeah, I figured," Bird replied, trying hard not to look disappointed. She turned briskly away form the stove to place a steaming casserole dish on the counter. "Well, I guess I have some icing to make."
"I'd offer to help, but I've got to go make ready to sail," Kate said, smiling warmly at Bird, and looking wistfully at the tiny galley.
"It's alright, ma'am," Bird said, "maybe some other time. If you see anybody coming off watch, tell them supper's ready."
"Will do, Bird. Thanks a million!" Kate called, as she hurried up the stairs and up to the bridge.
The bridge wasn't exactly bustling. The tacky Christmas lights wrapped around the railing winked at her as she burst through the door. "We're sailing on the tide!" she said loudly, clapping twice to rouse the current watch. "Let's get ready."
"Of course, X. We were just, uh, admiring the sunset," 2Dads said, turning around and removing his feet from his console. "We'll be ready to go in 20."
"Great. Oh, and there'll be cookies to decorate in the senior sailor's mess tonight. Come down after watch to get some cider and cookies," she told the men in the room, feeling a little awkward as they all stared at her uncomprehendingly.
"I love cookies!" 2Dads declared triumphantly, breaking the silence. As if to prove his point, he brushed an abundance of crumbs off the front of his coveralls, and hurried over to the maps, which clearly charted their path from Bright Island straight to Cairns, and the modified path, which accounted for the storm.
Buffer chuckled from his perch at the wheel. "We know, 2Dads. There's icing on your face."
The younger sailor rubbed the corners of his mouth, and Kate rolled her eyes. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"It's entertaining watching you revel in your slovenliness," replied RO drily from behind his computer screen.
"Well, I'll let you boys get ready to sail," Kate said, running her hands down the sides of her coveralls.
It was exactly three minutes after eight, and Kate was off watch. The ship was making good time through the Arafura Sea, and everything was calm. She supposed it was the calm before the storm, but wasn't worried. She made her way to the senior sailor's mess, where everyone not on watch was gathered. She could hear the familiar sounds of Christmas music, and a few voices singing along in not quite perfect harmony. The sound brought a smile tugging to her lips, and she edged into the small room. "I see it's a party down here," she said, folding her arms and flattening herself against the counter. The mess was small to begin with, but with Buffer, Charge, Dutchy, and the CO in the same room, there wasn't a lot of space, but Bird and a few younger sailors had squeezed themselves in.
"Ah, it's the X!" Mike waved a cookie at her, showering sprinkles, and slid her a cup of cold eggnog.
"Hi, everyone," she said, accepting the frothy drink with another smile, and hoisting herself up so she was sitting on the counter. "How are the cookies?"
"Phenomenal!" replied one of the younger sailors enthusiastically, crunching away.
"That's great. How many of you are on watch right now?" she asked, taking a sip of the creamy drink. "Take your cookies and get going."
"Right away, X," said Buffer, squeezing past her. She tucked her legs up to allow him to get by. "We were enjoying ourselves so much we lost track of time."
After the next watch had cleared out, Kate slid off the counter and made her way over to the table and the remaining cookies. She took a reindeer shaped cookie and began to ice it liberally, pressing a red mini gumdrop onto its face to act as its nose.
"Artistic, X," said Mike, looking over her shoulder. Her breath hitched at his proximity, and she shot him a quick back-off look.
"I do my best," she said, nibbling at the back legs. "Where's yours?"
"I ate it." He grinned sheepishly, taking a step back, and rubbed the crumbs off his palms.
"Do I get a cookie?" 2Dads exclaimed, as he bounded into the room and descended on the table. He picked up three cookies, loaded them onto a plate, and headed for the icing and sprinkles station.
"Save some for me!" cried Spider, rushing into the room behind his friend.
"You're pushing it Spider, there aren't going to be many left when 2Dads is done stuffing his face," teased Bird, leaning back against the counter and surveying the happy scene. Despite being so far from home, the crew perked up a lot when plied with copious amounts of sugar.
Just after midnight, the pile of cookies had been decimated, and sprinkles covered the floor. Bird was yawning as she broke out the broom.
"Go to bed, Bird," Kate said gently, reaching out to switch off the stereo. "We'll take it from here. You've done more than enough."
"Are you sure, ma'am?" the gap year student asked, sweeping sprinkles into the dustpan. She stifled another yawn as she dumped the lot into the garbage can.
"Sure. We can clean this up. You too, 2Dads," she said, skewering the blonde with her gaze as he tried to slip out of the room unnoticed. She took the broom from Bird, and handed it to him. She cleared the trays, and stacked them, while Mike gathered up the various containers of sprinkles and the different icings.
When the floor had been swept, the table wiped, and they left the senior sailor's mess, turning off the light with a click.
"So you're off watch?" asked Mike, as he walked Kate down the hall to her cabin.
"For three more hours," she replied, checking her watch. "At this point, I'm not sure I'm even going to bother sleeping. I think I'll watch a movie or write some Christmas cards."
"I should probably check on the current watch," said Mike quietly, looking up the hallway to the stairs leading to the bridge. "I'll see you later. Sleep tight, X."
"You too, sir," she replied with a smile, disappearing into her cabin.
Five minutes later, the sailors on the bridge looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps.
"Wakey, wakey," said Mike, appearing in the doorway with a plate of cookies in one hand and a carton of eggnog tucked under his arm, "and happy Christmas Eve."