TITLE: Stars Are Beautiful
SUMMARY: One-shot. Today is somehow significant; it has Kate rattled and Mike confused.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Sea Patrol, or the characters, they belong to their original creators. I am simply borrowing them for this literary adventure and will return when finished. The quotes are from Peter Pan, by JM Barrie.
Finally relieved of duty for the day, Mike took the opportunity to search out his second-in-command. Whatever bee she had in her bonnet, it needed to be quashed and fast. He couldn't survive another day of her back talking and tongue lashings. Taking a deep breath, he reluctantly knocked on her cabin door and waited for a response.
There was none.
He tried again, and was greeted by the same response. Risking another throat-ripping debate, this time about invasion of privacy, he proceeded inside, announcing his presence, but was met by an empty cabin. The bathroom door was ajar, the light switched off. If she was hiding out in there, she was doing so in the dark.
Her laptop was on, her screensaver already up and running; she had been absent for some time then. Papers were scattered across her desk as well. Despite his earlier friendly suggestion that she actually take some time for herself this evening, he had clearly been ignored, and her reports had stolen her attention.
He should have made it an order; perhaps then she would have listened to his advice. It seemed pulling rank on her was the only way to get through these days. Her inability to disobey ensured his demands were met. But something was clearly bugging her; he just had no idea what and no idea how to fix it.
'What has got you so rattled, Kate?' he thought to himself, desperate to work out the problem, and fix it with a reasonable solution.
His attempt to locate her was futile, so he turned to leave. He would return to his own cabin to seek solace for himself, and beg an unknown entity for strength and guidance when it came to a particular crew member. But as his attention was drawn to the doorway, he caught sight of the calendar she had hung on the back of the door.
Only it wasn't the adorably cute image of a grey tabby kitten yawning, its paws stretched out in front, claws exposed in an absolutely relaxed position that grabbed his attention, but instead, it was the numbers on the lower half. Today's date had been marked with the smallest of red-penned stars.
There was something familiar and specific about how it had been drawn, but he was damned if he could figure it out. He berated himself for having such a bad memory with dates and times; in his case, that sort of task was clearly a woman's thing. He was lucky if he remembered his own mother's birthday every year, and usually it would follow some none too subtle hints dropped into conversation.
He observed the other social highlights of the month, each event illustrated and fully documented, but not that one. Not today. Today's ink drawing marked something important, but whatever event it highlighted, she clearly didn't want prying eyes to be privileged to the information.
Something niggled in him, the unnerving sensation that he should know the significance. Was that why she had been so narked and snappy with him? Was there something he should have remembered that he had forgotten? Or was it just something private that was affecting her on a personal and emotional level?
He racked his brain for an answer, and drew a blank, so turned his attention the other details that he knew about her. Her mother's birthday was another month away yet, her father's the previous. It was a good six-months until she would be thinking about the day all those years ago when her childhood, and subsequently the rest of her life, was changed for good. He still drew a blank. It appeared to be hopeless.
Kate stood outside on deck, having made the night watchman aware of her intentions. A cool breeze had filtered through the summer night, bringing a blessed relief from the daytime heat. She took a deep breath of the salty air, her lungs revelling in the intoxication.
Nights like this were best spent outside. She had been in her cabin only a short while before the claustrophobic nature of her job caught up with her. Given the emotions she was riding today, wide open spaces were just what she needed. The only trouble was it usually brought plenty of time to stop and think, to evaluate, to analyse.
And remember she did - a revelation that sparked a life-altering chain reaction.
The news that day, seven years ago, had been bittersweet; one moment excitement, the next immeasurable disappointment. An ill-conceived training exercise at Watson's Bay had landed her in hospital with a suspected wrist fracture. The fracture turned out to be a sprain, but it also revealed something she hadn't expected; the tiny life inside her.
Her heart had already failed her, allowing one Mike Flynn into her deepest, darkest recesses that were usually so well guarded. But that afternoon, her body proved just as capable of destroying her carefully orchestrated career plan. She closed her eyes, attempting to block out the memories, but it wasn't going to work tonight.
She was back in that hospital, her stay unexpected as they completed further tests, the results of which shattered the happiness they were just getting used to a few hours later - the pregnancy was no longer viable. The doctor's decision to induce and deliver had angered her; it still did. But it had been necessary to secure her health, and that of any future children. She had been upset and heartbroken, but the thought of having to endure childbirth, only to come away with nothing, had scared her the most.
Mike had refused to leave her side that night; his exercise responsible for her wrist, his personal actions partly responsible for the harrowing trauma they were about to face. He had cast her, unintentionally, into this torment, and refused to let her fight alone. However harrowing, he would be there for each and every agonising moment. He kept them distracted with a copy of Peter Pan, which a ward helper had donated to help pass the time.
Having read through the book once, Mike had flipped to the notes included at the beginning, and it was there he had found strength. He read the words aloud, just as he had with the story. 'Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.' They exchanged a teary glance at that moment, knowing they never wanted to forget.
The sentiment would eventually keep them strong as they worked through their trying ordeal. They had both been scared, neither knowing what to expect or how they would feel. But when their angel entered the world, as still and silent as she would leave, there was a sense of calm.
She may never have opened her eyes, or taken a breath, but she had been. The staff that afternoon had done everything they could, including arranging a blessing from the hospital chaplain. They were given time to love and time to grieve. All cuddled out, they both turned their attention to saying a final 'goodnight' to their precious angel; a 'goodnight' she had muttered each and every night since.
'You just think lovely wonderful thoughts, and they lift you up in the air.' Peter's words to Wendy rang in her ears, and she tried to think good thoughts, but where Faith was concerned, it wasn't possible. All she could thing about was the sadness and the sorrow, all dragging her deeper downwards.
The hospital staff had always insisted that 'time would heal'; they lied. They had said that as the years went on, the gaping hole in her heart would mend, to be replaced eventually by a dull ache; they had lied about that too. Every year, on this day, she would find herself reliving that horrifying experience, and realising once again that none of the pain had lessened, and none of the memories had become less vivid.
The evening would always draw to a close with her convincing herself that things would get better; that next year would not hurt as much. The resolution never came true. Why she insisted on making it each anniversary, she didn't know, but at the same time without that determination to move on, she would be forever trapped in the state of depression she found herself in now.
And then she remembered.
Silent tears ran down her cheeks, crash landing on white knuckles as she clutched desperately to the ship's railings. If the pain would just go away, just hurt a little less, she might be able to make it through the rest of her life.
Somewhere off in the distance storm clouds brewed becoming the monochrome backdrop to a luscious small island. Clumps of ominously shaded grey clouds gathered together, colliding into each other, preparing to explode. It didn't take long. An eruption of blinding-white light flashed through the sky, outlining the various elements that had made up this natural firework display.
A streak of light forked from the clouds, tracing a veiny pattern on the dark night sky. From her current distance, only a faint rumble could be heard as a long drawn out thunder clap dutifully accompanied its meteorological partner. Lightning illuminated the thin mist that had descended across the island's mountain tops, rain unquestionably following.
Kate could empathize; inside she was feeling the same.
Casting her eyes heavenward, she prayed for some relief and that the night sky cover would ease and allow the stars to finally appear. She would stand outside all night if it was required; there was no way she was returning to her loneliness until she had sought what she had come for. A break in the cloud seemed promising, and she held out hope.
Mike retreated to the solitude of his cabin. Had annoyance and frustration not been racing through his mind, he would have contemplated going to bed. But that was the furthest thing from his mind right now; he was unbelievably restless. Deciding a book might be a worthy antidote, he scanned the titles of the shelf-long collection above his desk.
His fingertips traced the paperbacks until he came to rest on a brightly coloured green spine. The words 'Peter Pan' stared back at him. Any outsider would have seen the children's classic as out of place within his collection of ancient classics and crime mysteries; but not to him.
The book was loved and cherished, the pages and cover well-worn, having been read and re-read countless times over the years. It always had and always would take pride of place, but not because of the boyish adventure contained inside, but because of the sentimental value.
He thumbed through the pages, landing on the inside of the front cover, where he was met by Kate's familiar feminine scrawl. The dedication that had decorated the inside page for almost the last decade was engrained on his memory, yet he read the words again.
'Mike, Remember always: "Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever. Second to the right, and straight on till morning. For to have Faith, is to have wings." May this set us free, love always, Kate x'
The carefully chosen quotes were not what shocked him, nor were the sentiments and memories the words conjured; it was what accompanied the inscription and marked the day that clouded his life forever - the date.
"Shit!" He didn't keep his self-disapproval quiet, and was sure anyone in the mess would have heard his outburst. The realisation finally dawning, he had to fight hard against the need to lash out at something for his own stupidity and the nauseous wave that threatened to take him to the bathroom as his heart and mind replayed the very same emotions from all those years ago.
Quelling what he could, there was one person, well two if truth be told, that he needed to find and apologise to - immediately. He raced from his cabin, several crew members casting worried glances in his direction. Not affording anyone an explanation for his outcry, he simply demanded an answer, "Has anyone seen the X?"
"No, sir," Charge replied first.
Mike looked to 2Dads hopeful. "Not recently, sir."
RO stuck his head out from the galley where he had been making those on watch a brew. "Sir, she was heading out on deck about 30-minutes ago."
"Thanks RO," he replied, racing up the stairs. As he disappeared out of sight, his voice was heard instructing the RO to return to the bridge and inform the watch that he too would be heading outside. A faint 'Aye, sir', had been the last thing he heard as he cranked open the steel hatch door.
So lost in her own sad thoughts, she failed to notice she had company until a familiar voice called her name and distracted her. "Kate?" he asked.
She nodded her head in recognition, but refused to turn around, refused to let him see the state she was. "I'm sorry," she heard him announce, his own raw emotions thickening his voice to a husky whisper.
The tears were threatening fall over again. She wouldn't, she was determined. Biting her lower lip, she tried desperately to regain some kind of composure. But when he placed his hand gently on her shoulder and squeezed reassuringly, she couldn't stop the heart-wrenching sob that escaped. Shocked by her own reaction, a hand automatically snapped to her mouth in an attempt to contain the pitiful cry.
Without really comprehending what was happening, she found herself turned 180 degrees and staring into regretful eyes that were full of as many unshed tears as her own. They shared no words, just a look, before Kate found herself securely wrapped in his tight embrace, the tears of their shared heartbreak breaking forth.
"Oh Kate," he muttered as he placed short, sharp kisses on her head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I forgot."
It had been clear all day that he had been oblivious to the date, but to hear him voice his forgetfulness, she felt like she had been punched in the chest. She pushed him away, her own sorrow momentarily forgotten as she glared at him.
How could he just forget? Birthdays you forgot; appointments you forgot. But this kind of life-changing experience? It wasn't something that could be easily overlooked. How had today not been imprinted on his heart and mind? It was so a part of her genetic make-up that as this date approached, any small connection, intentional or otherwise, would set off a myriad of emotions. Why was it not the same for him? Why did she have to hurt so much when he could simply forget and move on? Why couldn't she?
He caught her astonishment, saw the questions scroll through her eyes, each one breaking his heart just a little more. The situation was addressed immediately. "No," he demanded, his voice softening as he continued. "Absolutely no. That's not what I meant, I'm sorry. I can't forget; I can't ever forget what happened." Sympathy replaced the anger that had been simmering. She understood that dilemma, and she found her lips graced with a sad smile of agreement.
"I'm just bad, no terrible, with dates; you know that." His wet laughter prompted her compassion. There was no denying his statement. In fact, she couldn't remember a time when she had ever received a birthday present from him on time.
As much as she was hurting right now, she was reassured to know he was too. Needing physical contact, she reached for his face, her thumb caressing his dampened cheek. He took a moment before speaking, his own hand settling over hers. "I promise you, I always remember. Everywhere I go, she is with me."
The conviction in his voice set off another impending tearful waterfall, but she held back. Kate watched intently as he fiddled with his back pocket and withdrew his wallet. He held it open and lifted a small flap to reveal a hidden transparent photo section.
Kate's puzzlement disappeared seconds later as she took in what that section housed. Her breath caught once more. Her knees went weak and threatened to send her to the ground, but Mike kept his hold on her. A fresh round of tears pricked the backs of her eyes.
Two tiny ink footprints stared back at her.
Footprints that were born five months too early.
"Oh Mike," she sniffled, burying herself in his chest once again, more tears following. Safe arms wrapped tightly around her again, she voiced the one thought that had been so prevalent all day. "I just miss her so much, Mike."
"I know, I know," he murmured, clinging tightly to what he could of his two special girls. And she realised she wasn't the only one crying, a few salty teardrops dripping on her exposed neck. "Hey, Kate," she heard him whisper a good time later. "It looks like the clouds are beginning to break. The stars are coming out."
Her eyes were puffy, and no doubt red, but she pulled away, desperate to see the one sight that would at least bring her a little solace. Kate frantically searched the night sky, her eyes seeking the constellation they could use to mark their star. Mike had clearly been doing the same.
Excitedly, he pointed to a small cluster of stars. "There it is," he murmured.
Kate smiled, her gaze following his finger. "Second star to the right," she amended, counting two stars along.
"And straight on till morning," Mike added, their eyes following an eastwardly path. They reached their final destination, and found their star shining bright against the midnight blue. "There she is, our own little Faith; as beautiful as ever."
They slipped into a comfortable position, a position perhaps not suitable given their current working relationship, but this was too important for them not to share together. With Mike stood behind her, a protective arm on each side, she let herself sink back into his strong frame, her attention drawn to the sky above.
She would always be grateful for his star naming suggestion. No matter where they went on their duties, their Faith would always be nearby, watching over them. The twinkling gem held a calming effect, and soon Kate felt a contented sigh slip past her lips. She smiled harder when her star winked for a second before providing the backdrop for a shooting star.
"Did you see that?" Mike squealed in her ear, the sensation sending a shiver down her spine. She nodded. "Me too. We need to make a wish," he instructed. They were silent for a moment, their hopes, and dreams, a mere wish away. His curiosity finally broke the lull. "What did you wish for?"
"I can't tell you, or it won't come true," she smiled, sadness settling quickly. "I do hope she's happy," Kate breathed, her sentiment barely audible.
"She is, Kate." There was no questioning him, but in case there were any doubts, he rested his chin on her shoulder, and recited a line he knew she would recognise. It would hopefully bring the contentment that she, and he, so desperately sort that evening. As he spoke the words, he was smiling the whole time, and felt her do the same by the end.
"'The older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder.'"