A/N: Back! Had an amazing month off but I'm afraid I didn't get an awful lot of writing done, so if you're reading Complications, my other story, and waiting patiently for an update – thank you very very much for not giving up on me just yet, it will be there soon, I promise! But in the meantime, this little one shot, which is based off my own holiday experiences – I mean for real, this happened to me! - is for you!
And I know there are no penguins in the arctic but dammit, if I want penguins in my fictional story then there will be penguins!
It had started off a fairly uneventful day. A storm was brewing for the afternoon so the small team had hurried through the testing of a new anti-explosive gel in the early hours of the morning. Such testing had, naturally, included persuading Schofield at the end – not that he needed all that much persuading – to let them blow a couple of crates sky high with some leftover explosive. It did, after all, serve a scientific purpose he reasoned. They provided a control to ensure that the miraculously unexploded crates were the result of the rather plain looking gooey gel and not just some frozen explosives. Besides, the exploding wooden boxes set against the backdrop of the permanent perfect sunrise made for a beautiful sight. Afterwards, they battened down the hatches of their makeshift camp and huddled inside their tents to ride out the storm, which came with a bang.
They could hear the high-pitched whistle of the wind tearing through their little camp even over the noise from a rather enthusiastic game of snap – a game made all the more amusing when played with a person with abnormally fast reflexes. It quickly morphed from 'snap' into 'who – if anyone – can beat Scarecrow' into 'who can find the most creative way to stop Scarecrow getting a hand on the bloody pile first.' Mother proved the most successful as she crash tackled him, from a seated start, whilst a surprised Zack had celebrated his victory by throwing the cards aloft and scattering them everywhere.
As Bertie whizzed around the room collecting them, Mother rolled her sizeable bulk off Schofield, who remained lying on the floor, half-groaning, half-laughing.
"Well, that was effective," he said good-naturedly as he let Mother haul him back into an upright position, "but I think you broke me."
As if at his words, an ominous moan followed by the hideous shriek of rendering metal filled the air and the six assembled members of the team – Harrington and Chad preferred to wait out the storm in the comfort of their own, private, tents – groaned as one.
They had brought with them a small portable satellite relay dish that allowed the scientists to report in their results to DARPA, the government and various facilities across the country.
Although they had all agreed that it was perhaps in their best interests not to mention the extra exploding crates.
Although the scientists loved the small satellite, it was fast becoming the bane of the marines' existence. So far, it had been knocked out and knocked over in every storm that had hit them over the past month and a bit. Judging by the sounds from outside, it had gone again and, as the team leader, it was Schofield's unfortunate responsibility to retrieve and repair the blasted thing. Standing up reluctantly, he slapped Billy "the Kid" Thompson around the shoulders and motioned for him to give him a hand.
Although technically Mario was the mechanic of the group, the Kid was a good bit more pleasant to work with if he had the choice and besides, they had all become rather proficient at fixing that bloody dish.
Although he was already wearing his military issue thermal t-shirt under his long johns, under his own casual turtle necked shirt and the warmest jumper he owned, Schofield reached for an extra-thick thermal pullover and his arctic issued gear windbreaker – bright red for ease of visibility – both of which he had discarded on the nearest pile of outer layers that tend to accumulate inside arctic camps. He also grabbed a set of fleece lined gloves and a beanie, pulling it down practically to his sunglasses before slapping a layer of sunscreen across the remaining exposed skin around his jaw. If the icy-cold screaming winds didn't kill you, then the reflected sunlight on the ice plains would.
Beside him, the Kid suited up too. Like mirror images, they zipped their outermost layers up past their chins and pulled the hoods tight around their heads to give them some shelter from the wind's bite, before dashing out of the small but pleasantly – at least, compared to the outside – warm tent and into what remained of the storm. Thankfully, the same winds that had blown the storm in so hard had also blown it out quickly and though the wind still swirled fiercely through the camp, it wasn't actually much worse than the normal arctic winds.
As their figures grew smaller in the distance, Mother and Emma began the arduous task of recollecting the cards. Despite multi-functionary capabilities and best intentions, Bertie was sadly lacking in card skills. As he picked one card up, the thin plastic would slide between his claw like fingers when he went for the next one. As such, all he was achieving was an erratic line of cards like breadcrumbs trailing behind him as he scurried around trying to retrieve them all. Zack was distracted by Emma and Mario was a fairly long shot to help, so Mother and Emma took the clean-up upon themselves.
They kept behind Bertie, surreptitiously picking up cards when the little robot wouldn't notice so as to avoid hurting his feelings, feelings which everyone in the team were prepared to swear he had. A right troop of merry fools they probably looked, the hulking Mother following the petite Emma following one small robot and a trail of playing cards; when the Kid burst back into the tent.
"You gotta come now!" He said breathlessly as all eyes flicked to him, except Bertie's.
Mother responded immediately. The Kid returning alone and the urgency in his voice had rung all her alarm bells. It could only mean trouble for her Scarecrow. She already had her parka half way on before the others even reached for their outer layers.
"No, there's no time," the Kid pressed them. Abandoning their many layers, they grabbed various easily accessible parkas, hoping that the windproof factor would at least stop them freezing to death before they reached whatever emergency was going on. The Kid was already out the door with Mother in hot pursuit.
They ran most of the way to the satellite dish before the Kid abruptly stopped them just out of sight and behind another tent on the very edges of the camp – the tent which housed the explosives. They paused for a minute, Mother becoming increasingly jittery with each passing second, to allow the civilians who were straggling behind a little to catch up. When they finally appeared, far too slow for Mother's liking, the Kid brought one finger to his lips, hushing them all, before leading them cautiously around the corner –
Where Mother was confronted with perhaps the most unusual sight she had ever seen, and that was saying a heck of a lot.
Schofield, on his haunches – the thought 'and thankfully in one piece' crossed her mind – practically nose to nose with three small penguins.
"Looks like you found yourself some friends Scarecrow," she said loudly and with a broad smile.
"We were working on the dish," The Kid said quietly, his excitement obvious, "and they just wandered up to us."
"I thought penguins were supposed to be shy," Schofield called to them, his voice soft but clear over the short distance.
He cocked his head to one side.
The penguin standing directly in front of him did the same.
Laughing at their antics, Emma called back, "Normally they are very shy but these are Sphensicus Demersus penguins, see the distinct white band above their eyes and under their wings. They're quite a bold breed to begin with and they see so many scientists and tourists every year that they get very friendly very easily. We call them Jackass penguins."
She had barely finished her sentence when one of them let out a loud braying hoot that sounded remarkable like a donkey.
"I see why," Schofield said when he recovered from a face full of fishy breath. "Or rather, I hear and smell why. What do they want?"
"They're posing," Emma replied with a smile, "I think they expect you to take their photo."
"And dammit, I left my camera in my other pair of combat boots," he tossed back playfully, turning to look at the group. Something in his eyes caught Mother's attention. His smile, it radiated all the way to his eyes and for the first time in a long time, he looked genuinely and utterly happy.
'He's gonna be okay,' she thought to herself, 'but blow me if I ain't gonna catch this moment for him.'
Out loud she said, "Well I guess I'd better go get mine then."
As she jogged back to the tents, she felt her heart lift in a way that she hadn't felt since before Libby died. It was good for them, she realised, being out here with nothing but beautiful scenery and easy moments and friends. It was a timely reminder of why the hell they risked their lives for this often miserable but occasionally perfect world.
When she arrived back at the group, with compact digital camera in hand, she encountered a small problem. Seeing the camera, the leftmost of the penguin trio immediately perked up and waddled over to her. Now if the group of marines and scientists had been thoroughly amused by Schofield pulling faces at the penguins and the penguins' attempts to mimic him, they were positively catatonic with laughter when the one heading for the camera sat itself down on top of Mother's foot. Wearing her steel capped, thermal lined, double-thick, arctic issued combat boots however, she didn't really notice the added weight until after she'd taken the picture and the little fellow was quite comfortably settled atop her toes.
"Hey Mother," Schofield called to her with a mischievous smirk, "looks like you've found yourself a friend."
As he spoke, the two remaining penguins surrounding him had noticed their missing compatriot and had given up on the stupid human that obviously wasn't going to take their photo and so began the long journey – waddling with their wings outstretched – back to whichever icefloe they had emerged from.
Schofield stood up, stretching out his now somewhat sore knees, and headed over to stand beside the group. Zack, beside Emma, beside Mario looking surly as always, beside the Kid with his jaw wide open, beside Mother, complete with penguin. The little one on her foot had obviously decided he was rather happy where he was and he'd stay there for the time being.
"Well ain't that a sight," the Kid said, awestruck, as together, they watched the two little black bodies disappear into the sunrise.
"Yeah," Schofield agreed, not taking his eyes off the horizon, before turning to the kid and clapping him on the shoulder.
"We'd better get back to the tents before you guys all freeze."
"What about the dish?" The Kid piped up.
Schofield was silent for a second, before saying resolutely,
"Fuck the dish, we'll deal with it tomorrow."
They all shot one last rueful look into the distance, after all, how many magical moments like that might a person get in their life, before turning and trudging back to the tents through the wind.
All except Mother that is.
Mother who still had a penguin sitting on her foot.
"Oi," she called to their retreating backs whilst pointing at her foot, "What am I supposed to do about this?"
"He'll get tired eventually and wander off, I wouldn't worry," Emma turned around and called back to her.
"Or he might just decide to sleep there," Zack added, turning around and walking clumsily backwards with a smirk.
"Either way," the Kid said, "We'll bring you some dinner."
Schofield just smiled and waved.