Author's note: This story takes place just after the episode Long Live the King.
"Man, I'm pissed!" Ski grumbled as he read the duty roster. "First we got stuck with taking that kid king home over Christmas, then I get stuck with the duty when we get back, while everybody else gets to home for New Year's."
"Will you quit your bellyaching?"Patterson asked, as he slung his duffel over his shoulder," I'm sorry I can't switch with you, but you're just going to have to put up with it."
"You don't understand. If it was just me involved it wouldn't matter that much, but my whole family was looking forward to me joining them for a Christmas reunion, first real one we've ever had. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and now that that's all been frizzled, I can't even get home to say Happy New Year tomarrow to my mom and dad and..."
"Look,"Patterson said, "you've been complaining about missing Christmas and that reunion the entire cruise. Well, we all missed Christmas at home. If you're so damn upset about New Years, why not ask for compassionate leave or something. The Admiral's pretty understanding."
"He's already left Santa Barbara and probably halfway to Boston by now."
"How about asking the Skipper?"
"Yeah, sure, I just waltz up to the Skipper and say, 'sorry sir, I can't fulfill my assigned duty schedule.' "
"Something like that."
"I was being sarcastic."
"And I thought you were actually beginning to like him."
"He's okay as a Captain, in fact, he's darn good. But," Ski looked around furtively, "sometimes he's still a pain in the ass. You really think he'd re-arrange the entire duty roster just to help little old me?"
"Well, you won't know unless you ask."
The Christmas tree in Morton's office at NIMR still flickered and cast a festive glow. That it was an ultra modern aluminum tree didn't' seem to make much difference to the XO. He'd been brought up on the modern style of holiday decor, and was still chuckling to himself about Crane's initial reaction when he'd set up the thing. The new Skipper had been brought up with real trees, sharp pine needles and the scent of apple cider for the holidays, while Morton associated the season with plastics and scented candles to whaft away the lingering aromas of cows and horses at his family's ranch in Montana.While the Captain certainly appreciated a stowable artificial non fire- hazard tree, Morton could see he'd been disappointed that it wasn't even green.
"Sir?" a voice interrupted Chip's musings.
"What is it Ski?"
"About the shore duty schedule sir...there's a problem."
"What kind of problem?"
"Its not like I don't have seniority. I think I'm really entitled to be let off. Besides, why can't institute security handle things while the boat's docked. They did before,"Ski pouted.
"In case you haven't noticed, this is not 'before'. Look, Kowalski, I'd like to help, I really would, but the Captain wants some of Seaview's own crew for shore security detail from now on. "
"Well the Captain can just screw it and..."
"I'll forget I heard that, just this once..."
"But it's not fair!" Ski whined.
"Ski, I'd like to accommodate you but even if it's an emergency, I'm afraid only the Captain can authorize a change, especially at this late date,"Morton looked at his watch. "It's New Year's Eve for Pete's sake. He's going to be gone for a few hours, but you can speak to him later."
"He won't bite you know."
It was late and Kowalski strolled the corridors aboard, as he 'guarded' the vessel. What a waste of time, he thought. So what this Skipper wanted, he got apparently. Philips wouldn't have argued with the Admiral about so mundane an issue. But Crane must have. What did this upstart expect anyway? That Seaview would rev up and sail away by herself or something? Well, okay, maybe the skip had a point about that. Ski's jaw still hurt when he thought about how Crane had snuck aboard to test security and found it woefully lacking.
He was hungry and checked his watch. He hadn't been relieved of this shift yet but at least he could stroll down to the crew's mess to see if there were any leftovers he could munch on, but only the coffee pot offered any sustenance.
Muttering to himself about the unfairness of it all, and that Crane was probably enjoying himself ashore with everybody else at some party or something, he morosely continued his rounds toward the observation nose when the minimal lights aboard dimmed to the even lesser red inactive status lights. Checking his watch he saw it was almost midnight. He was right on time as far as this duty walk demanded and descended the spiral steps into the observation nose.
Suddenly the Christmas tree lights came on and a chorus of 'Merry Christmas!" greeted his ears.
"Mom? Dad? What's going on?"Kowalski blinked his eyes, as he saw the whole Kowalski clan crowded in the nose with presents scattered all over the place.
"Ski, you're relieved," Crane checked his watch," At least until next year," he winked and climbed up the steps.
"Oh, honey, "Mrs. Kowalski waylaid and embraced her son," when your Captain first learned you'd miss the family reunion, he arranged for us all to be flown out here for when Seaview got back. It's a late Christmas, honey, but it's Christmas just the same."
It was a starry night as Crane leaned on the conning tower coaming. He smiled to himself as he could hear laughter from below along with Christmas music and fireworks in the Santa Barbara sky. A new year had begun.
"Skipper?" Ski climbed up. "I...I just don't know what to say...."
"You understand now why I had to give you the duty tonight? I couldn't have you flying home to an empty house."
"But...why sir?You don't owe me anything."
"Kowalski," Crane paused, "I never knew my grandparents. And I have no brothers or sisters or cousins...but that doesn't mean I don't know what it's like to want them. You're so very fortunate, even if a lot of your family live all over the country. I didn't like the idea of any of my crew missing Christmas at home, and especially you missing that reunion. Another reunion might not have ever happened again. It's the least I could do for one of my shipmates."
"But Mom said Miss Angie said you had to give up your own flight back home and it must have cost you a bundle and...."
"Bonus pay," Morton explained as he emerged in the tower, " And it's a good thing he did cancel his flight, since the Admiral is, at this very minute meeting Mrs. Crane at LA International."
"Yep, mon Capitan," Morton said, "the Admiral figured that since you sprung for Ski's family, the least he could do would be to spring for yours. He's bringing mine here too. Seems you started something Skipper. Just so it doesn't become a tradition, the Admiral said."
"Why that sneaky..."
"He learned it all from you Captain."
"Hello?" Mrs. Kowalski called up, "is this where you are, come on back down to the party son, it's time for you to open your present."
"I think I already have, mom." Ski turned to Crane, "thank you Skipper, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."
After Ski had left Crane and Morton, Lee turned to Chip, "Bonus pay?"
"Well, you don't think the Admiral's going to let you get away with it, depleting your savings account like that and..."
"How does he know about my savings account?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised at the eyes in the back of his head and invisible radar.... Come on, let's rejoin the party. And Merry Christmas Lee."
Just then a falling star streaked through the heavens.
"And God bless us, everyone," Chip added thoughtfully.
"He has, Chip, He has," Crane replied and rejoined the festivities below.