Note: This one is for Liz and all Lee’s Ladies. Just cos I’m a Chipette doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the captain! Thanks to Liz for the wonderful beta. This is not part of my timeline and stands entirely alone. And it basically wrote itself – wish they were all as co-operative. Hope you enjoy and wish all of you and your families – wherever in the world you are – a peaceful, safe and happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year in 2010.
‘Tis the Season – And All That
“Are you ready to go?”
“What? NOW? You’re not serious!” The glare she sent his way had him positively wincing. At least he had the grace to look sheepish! After standing her up twice – twice! – he had a nerve showing up in her office smack in the middle of her Friday afternoon and just expecting her to drop everything to accommodate him at a moment’s notice. She was determined to make him pay!
Then he did that… thing… he did with those gorgeous amber eyes behind dense inky black lashes. She called it his ‘puppy dog look’ and it was almost impossible for any female with a modicum of estrogen and a beating heart not to succumb. He sort of slightly dipped his head to the side, and then slid a sorta shy glance up from under those almost feminine eyelashes. Enough to make a lesser girl swoon. And she was totally committed to another – and the recently appointed Deputy Director of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research to boot! But she wouldn’t be human – and female – if she weren’t at least momentarily tempted. He was a stunning example of good-looking manhood – in uniform, no less. No, she hardened her heart; he had two – TWO – strikes against him.
“Lee Crane! You’ve rescheduled this twice! And now you expect me to just drop everything at your command and row in with your plans? (Like the slightly nautical lingo here, ladies?) What makes you think I’ve got time to go Christmas shopping with you this afternoon? Huh? The fact that the family Christmas party is tomorrow afternoon and you’ve run out of time to procrastinate and now you’re counting on me to take pity on you?”
She tried, she really did.
But as his hangdog expression got progressively more miserable she couldn’t hold back the burst of laughter that eventually erupted.
“Oh, you are a pain in the ass, Crane! You know that, don’t you? I should send you on your way with your tail between your legs and tell you to get your buddy, Chip Morton, to help you out of this mess of your own making. I would too, if it wasn’t for the kids. They don’t deserve whatever weird and totally outlandish gifts you two would for sure come up with! And you do have a reputation to uphold! This has become one of the highlights of the annual staff party. Thanks in no small way to yours truly!”
“I know. And I really appreciate this. I couldn’t do it without your help. I’m really sorry for leaving it so last minute but you know I’ve been swamped.”
The earnest entreaty in those golden eyes had gotten to her after the first sentence. She could almost feel her heart melt into a puddle on the spot.
“You’re always swamped! Especially this time of year. I don’t know why I’m even surprised any more. But you normally don’t re-schedule twice! And you’ve never left it til the day before.” She continued to grouse half-heartedly as she shut down her computer and locked up her desk.
“Totally forgot the party was tomorrow if you must know. Only Chip mentioned it at lunch it would have been panic stations tomorrow morning.” He admitted self-deprecatingly.
“I did offer to go shopping for you. Would’ve been quicker and a heck of a lot cheaper!” This last was muttered as an aside while she dragged her purse from her bottom drawer but she knew he’d heard and had sensed her capitulation by the little snicker he couldn’t quite hide.
“Wouldn’t be the same, though. It wouldn’t be personal if I didn’t have a hand in picking out the gifts and paying for them myself.” Lee shrugged self-consciously, meeting her now twinkling green eyes and knowing instinctively he was forgiven.
“Just let me tell the admiral we’re off and that I’ve switched the phones over to Debbie.”
“Want me to have Chip meet us somewhere for a drink or dinner after we’re done?”
She paused with one hand raised to knock on the connecting door between her office and Nelson’s, casting him a horrified look over her shoulder.
“You’re not serious? Do you honestly think I’ll be fit for
anything but my bed after you’ve dragged me around every toy shop and baby
boutique in the whole of
“Well….” He drawled, the often hidden jade lights in his chameleon eyes coming to the fore as he watched the blush sweep across her cheekbones when she realised what she’d said.
“Alone!” She snapped. “Oh, why do I even bother?”
Angie practically threw herself into the seat on the pub’s covered outdoor deck. She toed off her shoes gratefully; almost whimpering as the release from the pressure of her heels caused an ache to throb through both feet and she flexed them for whatever minute relief could be gained. Although it was December the terrace was warm from the crush of bodies on this final work night before the holiday break and the patio heaters that were working overtime to ward off the night chills. Lee sprawled into the seat opposite hers at the small table he had charmed from the hostess with one of his incredible smiles. He’d changed out of his uniform before leaving NIMR but still looked lethally gorgeous in black jeans, a jade green polo top and a butter soft creamy-beige leather jacket, which he’d hooked over the back of the chair before sitting. He picked up the faux-leather-bound menu their hostess had left and swiftly perused the contents.
“What will you have, Ang?”
“I think I deserve a glass of whatever Chardonnay they’ve got – after putting up with you and your mind changes for the past five hours!” She sniped as she reached down to rub one aching foot.
“Your sacrifice deserves dinner and I’m buying. But we’ll start with the Chardonnay.” He signalled a hovering server and placed the order with a draught beer for himself. He glanced around appreciatively.
It was a nice place and had come recommended but he hadn’t frequented it before. Upmarket but far from stuffy. There was a pleasant hum of conversation and laughter, the occasional clink of raised glasses, the muted clatter of silverware on china and the contented sighs of well-fed patrons. The atmosphere was aided by the fairy lights twinkling from the leaves of miniature, potted trees and strung along the wooden deck railings. A giant Christmas tree, at least fifteen feet tall and decorated in blue and silver with blinking white lights, graced the opposite corner from where they sat. It was all extremely festive and the holiday cheer was evident around them. Already mellow from his successful shopping spree, Lee settled more comfortably into his seat and nodded his thanks as the server deposited their drinks on the table.
He fought a laugh as Angie abandoned her foot rubbing and latched onto the wine glass, taking a healthy slug of the pale gold liquid. He enjoyed her company and her penchant for life but didn’t usually get enough time to savour either. She bossed them all mercilessly in their professional lives – including Admiral Nelson when she could get away with it – but was curiously a little shy in a personal sense. Not that there was anything remotely sexual between them. She was sweet on Chip Morton and his friend was more than smitten with her. It made Lee grin to watch the two of them dance around each other in the courtship game that neither acknowledged they were playing and had led to Lee treating her as a substitute for the little sister he’d never had.
The glare she sent him as she caught his smothered grin indicated she’d overcome much of her shyness today. She took another gulp of the fine Californian Chardonnay he’d picked before setting the glass somewhat defiantly back on the table. “I needed that!” It came out more defensive than she realised.
“Hey, there were only nine kids to buy for this year!” He felt obliged to protest, even as he couldn’t contain the grin that surfaced at her disgruntled expression. It was fun to see her all riled up for once. She was usually so… contained… and, yeah, bossy in their business dealings.
“And I could have shopped for ninety in the amount of time it took you to pick those nine presents.” She bickered as she picked up the menu and shot him a look over the top of the folder. “So be aware that I’m picking the most expensive thing on this menu to compensate for my aching feet!”
He’d already seen the menu selections and concluded that nothing there was going to break the bank – it was mainly pub fare, chosen for its ability to soak up alcohol rather than its fine dining attributes. “Have at it.” He invited mildly, silently chuckling at her bristling demeanour. She was by no means an extravagant person and he recognised that her threats were idle. Hell, after working with her for four years, he knew she’d probably opt for the cheapest thing on the menu; such was her giving nature. And one of the reasons his best and oldest friend was besotted. He signalled to their waitress that they were ready to order.
Angie handed the slim folder back to the server and, looking Lee straight in the eye, declared. “I’ll have the Lobster Thermidor.”
Having just taken a swig of his beer, Lee choked – as much at her sass as at the confused expression on the waitress’s face. “I’m sorry, ma’am. But that’s not on the menu.”
“Oh, very well.” With an entirely staged put-upon expression, she pretended to scan the proffered menu once again. “Better make it the Shepherd’s Pie. And I’ll want an order of fries with that and a green salad.” She snapped the menu shut and returned it to the waitress who had cottoned on to the fact that there was something else going on here.
“And for you, sir?”
“I’ll have the same, thank you. And bring the lady another glass of Chardonnay.” Lee managed to get out, weakly. The waitress gathered up his menu and departed. He forestalled Angie’s protest. “You’re not driving so just enjoy it. You worked hard this afternoon and I appreciate it.”
A smirk curved her lips. “You mean your credit card does. Honestly, Lee, it’s just as well I’m with you! The clerks practically drool when you show up every year.”
“Then they notice you covering my back and sober up.” He admitted with a soft smile of gratitude.
She sighed and put down her glass. “It’s not like I’m trying to be a killjoy. It’s just that… sometimes you try to do too much.” The last came out as a burst and obviously embarrassed her as she pushed back from the table and crossed her arms over her chest.
His brow furrowed. “We have this conversation every year. How can it be too much? They’re only babies.”
“Duh! And who had to stop you buying a double jogging stroller for Seaman Jenkins’ twins? That was for the babies?”
He shifted uncomfortably. They’d almost had a stand up fight in the children’s department over that one! “Emma Jenkins loves to run. With two babies and Ted away at sea so much it just seemed like a nice present.”
She downed the end of her first glass and traded it off to the server who replaced it with a full one. “It was a way too extravagant gift, Lee. And that’s not what this is all about.”
He capitulated as the waitress brought their food. Everything looked good and he was suddenly starving. “I know that. It’s why I need you there. You balance me. And you know what’s appropriate.”
Angie softened as she picked up a french fry and practically inhaled it. “Lee, this is the third year you’ve asked for my help and you know I love doing this with you. And I think it’s really great that you involve yourself so totally in the process of buying the gifts. It’s become a huge part of the annual staff and family party. Everyone looks forward to it.”
“I can’t exactly take credit for that. That’s over to you and Chip.”
She snorted in a most un-ladylike fashion as she dug into her salad. “Oh, come on. You started it that first time! We only pressured you to continue it the next year.”
“Pressured?” He spluttered. “Try harassed and practically downright threatened.”
“So we make a good team.” She shrugged it off at the gleam that came in his beautiful amber eyes – directing her fork at him in a pseudo-threatening manner. “Don’t even go there!”
“I wasn’t! Just pointing out that you and he are the perpetrators of this First Christmas stuff. I’m just the sap that pays for it all!”
“Yeah, right! And the guy who gets the major kudos every year – out trumps Santa! And, as your exec would say, that’s our job – to make the captain look good! Don’t we do it well?” She batted her eyelashes at him and he just had to grin. “You know, I think Harry Evans still takes that stuffed dinosaur to bed with him and he started kindergarten this year.”
Lee stilled, with a forkful of food halfway off his plate. Memories washed over him – unwelcome for the most part – of that ill-fated mission when Seaview had been stranded on the seabed, almost out of air and Chip Morton and the then COB, Curley Jones, had descended in the Diving Bell through a minefield to effect a rescue. *
Good men had died that day and Curley Jones had suffered a major and fatal heart attack a couple of months later. Lee had always wondered if it was due to the strain of that traumatic and stressful rescue. He knew Chip did too and blamed himself in part for the chief’s demise. Jamie hadn’t been around back then and neither of them had since felt like discussing it with him. It hurt too damned much to remember.
“Lee?” Angie reached across and gripped his forearm with concern. She’d seen the happy expression wiped from his face and grief replace merriment in eyes now darkened to bitter chocolate. She felt the shudder that ran through his body and cursed herself for awakening unpleasant memories. It wasn’t often one got Lee in such a relaxed and expansive mood and she was sorry to have spoiled it by dredging up old wounds.
“I’m fine, Angie. Stop worrying.” He picked up his fork and began eating again but the smile he pasted on his face didn’t quite reach his eyes and didn’t fool her. Sipping her wine and continuing with the meal that didn’t taste quite as good as it had before her blunder, she studied him surreptitiously.
She’d worked with Lee Crane for over four years now, ever since he’d joined NIMR as captain of Seaview and if her heart hadn’t already belonged to his best friend she’d probably have been swooning over him along with most of the rest of the Institute’s female staff. He was undoubtedly the best looking guy she had ever seen – who was also totally unaware of his looks. On top of being almost startlingly handsome he was intelligent, hardworking, chivalrous, generous and just a little bit shy. He was additionally one of the kindest men she knew. Take their little foray today.
Angie knew from mission reports that the incident with Seaview’s sinking during Lee’s first year aboard had begun with an altercation between Seaman Evans and Lt. Bishop – the latter having just returned to the regular navy in recent months – over Bishop’s refusal to allow the rating to contact his in-labour wife. After the rescue Lee and Admiral Nelson had personally visited the new mother and son in hospital – the baby having been named after the admiral, which had given Lee a huge kick. At the annual ‘Staff and Family’ Christmas party that year Lee had given the six month old – the only baby born to a crewmember that year – a plush stuffed dinosaur for his First Christmas. The following year several infants had been born to the crew and it had come to Chip’s attention that the men were speculating, as Christmas approached, as to what gifts the newborns would receive from their captain.
He’d spoken to Lee about it and the man had visibly paled, spluttering that he couldn’t possibly shop for baby gifts – he didn’t know a thing about kids, being an only child himself. Chip had volunteered Angie for the mission, knowing that she selected the admiral’s gifts for all the staff’s children each year. But, while Lee had welcomed her help, he’d insisted that paying for the presents each year wasn’t enough and instead had accompanied her to pick them out personally – which was inevitably more of a hindrance than a help!
And thus a tradition had been born.
So each of the last three Decembers she had spent one afternoon shopping with him for the ‘First Christmas’ babies. Angie knew Nelson had wanted Lee to expense the gifts but he’d quietly, but determinedly, refused. She did her bit by steering him away from the more extravagant stuff and suiting the gift to the child by gender and appeal – appeal to the captain that was. Lee was adamant that each gift had to have some ‘wow’ factor.
Which was why it had taken an entire afternoon and a goodly portion of the evening to purchase just nine gifts. Of course she had added the, now traditional, soft hats sporting ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ for each of the infants – five pink and four blue this year.
She’d finished the last of her wine without realising it and set the glass down, picking at her salad although her appetite was more or less gone.
“I’d buy you another but I don’t think Chip would appreciate me dropping you home half sloshed.” She looked up at Lee’s quip and grinned back, recognising the teasing banter for what it was – an attempt to lighten the atmosphere once again.
“You’re probably right. Not that I’m going to see him! But I’ve got a busy day tomorrow putting the finishing touches to the cafeteria for the party. However, don’t think you’re getting off that easily, Captain. I fully intend to have dessert – and coffee!”
“Your wish is my command.” He signalled for their waitress and placed her order, adding black coffee for him, as the table was cleared. “Now, what would it take to have you help with the rest of my Christmas shopping? I have no idea what to buy for my mom or Claire - and Bill is just impossible to buy for.” **
The look of shocked horror on her face and her succinct but unprintable reply had him doubled over laughing and, when she’d calmed down enough to realise that he was teasing, she dissolved into giggles.
“There is nothing on this earth, Lee, that would tempt me to get involved in that shopping list!”
The wicked grin that slashed across his mobile mouth had her pausing, interest engaged. His first words had her backtracking totally.
“Not even if I told you the tale about Chip’s
little misadventure during our first shore leave in
“Lee Crane, surely you are not offering me a bribe?” She tried to sound scandalised but it just didn’t come off as she couldn’t prevent the bubble of laughter from escaping.
“Will it work?”
* Episode ‘Submarine Sunk Here’
** Claire and Bill Morton – Chip’s parents
Merry Christmas everyone!