Captain Florence Nightingale
Chip lay quietly in bed, cold washcloth across his forehead, and listened to the clanking sounds in the kitchen with dread. He fidgeted, wishing he could remove the uncomfortable rag. Lee had gotten it too wet again and water droplets kept running down his face and dampening his pillow. Chip groaned. "Florence Nightingale's" efforts to nurse him back to good health were going to end up killing him instead. He was going to get the Doc for this. Eyeing the door cautiously, Chip gave in to the desire to rid himself of the washcloth. He snuck a hand up to pull it off.
"Chip!" Lee froze in the doorway, tray in hand. The glass of juice spilled over slightly while the aspirin bottle wobbled. "What do you think you're doing? You've got a temperature..."
"Of one degree, Lee. I'm hardly going to die!" Chip edged in, irritated. He was beginning to build a real feeling of resentment against Jamison for leaving him defenseless in Lee's care. The Exec had spent the last three days in Sickbay throwing up everything he had ever eaten in his life, and what felt like everything he'd even thought about eating. His headache had been so extreme that a head transplant hadsounded like a great idea! But by the time Seaview hit port and the crew took off on shore leave, Chip was doing much better. He could actually keep his food down and was able to get up and walk around without too much dizziness. The blond had been looking forward to going home and getting away from the constant fussing he'd had to endure. Unfortunately, Will had cautioned the Exec, in front of the Captain, to take it easy when he got home as overdoing it could cause a relapse with this kind of virus. That was all it took for Lee to decide that Chip should not be left alone. They had been at the Exec's home only one night and Lee was already driving Chip insane.
"Remember what happened the last time you were sick and you ignored it?" Lee was adamant. "Your temperature rose so high you had Jamie worried. Now put that back!" Concerned, Lee set the tray on the bedside table and placed a hand on his friend's forehead. Chip's temperature didn't feel like it was any higher. But it was better to be safe than sorry. He could understand why Chip was protesting so much. The poor guy never did like feeling ill.
"Lee..." The Exec moaned, disheartened; the anxious look on his Skipper's face making him nervous. "I've got the flu, not the black plague."
Lee just looked at him.
"Fine. Fine... Give me the damn aspirin already!" Chip surrendered.
"Boy are you grouchy this morning. I told you that you should have let me put that mustard plaster on your chest last night." Lee held out the painkillers and juice. They were grudgingly accepted by a scowling Chip.
"I told you, Lee, it's not a cold, just an ordinary flu."
"You said your chest hurt." Lee accused.
"So would yours, Lee, if you spent the last few days throwing up! That does not mean I need foul smelling goop rubbed all over it!" This was ridiculous. Didn't Lee have anything better to do? There must be something he could be doing at the Institute or on Seaview. Maybe if he called Admiral Nelson and begged..."Lee, if you have work you need to take care of, don't worry about me. Go ahead." There was a touch of desperation in that voice. "I'm feeling good. I'll be fine here alone. I'll probably just sleep anyway." Chip had a sudden inspiration. "If you leave me the phone, I'll call you if I need anything." He tried to appear robust and healthy as he gazed up at his overzealous caretaker.
"Chip. You're always there when I'm not well. I'm not going to abandon you just because you're sick and grouchy." Lee smiled down warmly. "What kind of friend would I be if I left you to suffer alone?"
'A good one.' Chip thought, but did not dare voice. That engaging expression on Lee's face crept under his defenses. Damn it. This happened every time he got sick. He'd vow that next time he would just tell Lee firmly to quit fussing. To go away and let him recuperate in peace. And each time he got to that point, he caved, unable to be responsible for taking that look of pleased gratification off Lee's face. The man was so eager to aid Chip in any way; to return the comfort and caring usually extended in Lee's direction. Chip couldn't keep from smiling back. The smile was wiped off his face at his friend's next words.
"I've got good news." Lee's grin widened. "I found your mother's special recipe for your favorite soup!"
'No, please, no!' Chip prayed. Lee wasn't going to actually try...
"I thought I'd fix that for lunch."
Cooking... Chip swallowed hard. This called for extreme measures. "Lee, do you mind bringing me the cordless phone? I'd like to talk to my mom." He ignored the sudden concern that crossed Lee's face. Chip rarely called his mom unless it was a holiday or her birthday... or he was dying. He would never say it to Lee, but eating that man's version of his mom's soup would definitely qualify him for the dying part.
Lee was more than happy to oblige. He hovered in the doorway a moment, after. "Are you sure there isn't anything else I can get you? Do you need to go to the head?"
Taking a deep breath, Chip tried hard to maintain control of his temper. " I think I can manage to get to get there unassisted." He struggled to keep in mind that Lee just couldn't help himself. He was a born worrier; obsessing over the safety of those he felt responsibility towards, or for whom he cared deeply.
"All right." Lee paused, studying Chip intently. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need me. Tell mom I love her."
Chip snorted. "Tell her yourself! There's no way you're getting out of talking to her once she knows you're here." Chip had long ago come to terms with the way Lee affected his mom. She had fallen for him the minute the too skinny, shy midshipman with the big eyes had entered her home. His sisters were just as bad. Lee had hardly had time to take off his coat before he was dragged off to the kitchen and plied with cookies and milk. Chip had found some humor in the desperate, floundering look in Lee's eyes as he disappeared through the doorway, surrounded by females. The men in the family had shared rueful glances, knowing that dinner was going to be delayed. They had sighed and retreated to the den to watch ESPN and savor a beer or two. Chip eventually had built up enough energy to get up and rescue his friend.
Lee had been almost shell-shocked; not at all used to this kind of demonstrative treatment. He had never been hugged so much in his life. The only advice Chip had on that was an unfeeling, "Get used to it!" And after the snacks forced on him earlier, Lee had trouble eating enough dinner to placate Chip's mom. Later, in Chip's room, Lee had complained that he would burst if he was supposed to eat that much every day. Thinking of the cookies and milk and unaccustomed mothering, Lee had asked in an aggrieved tone, "How old do they think I am anyway!"
For Chip, those first holidays at home with Lee had been an eye-opener. He was able to see a whole other side to his friend. Lee's fiercely independent nature and reticent formality were no match for the Morton family. Within the week, Lee had transformed into a laughing sprite with a wicked sense of humor. Happily joining Chip's family in tormenting the young blond. The impetuous young middie positively basked in the loving attention of the Mortons. As his friend opened up emotionally, Chip had been so proud of his family. And grateful. Even if he had needed to stifle a brief bout with jealousy. Chip's parents had understood immediately what had taken Chip days to discover. Despite Lee's outer appearance of reserve,he had an extreme inner sensitivity and intensely caring nature. And until Mr. Morton had illegally tackled Lee during the touch football game, when the youth had made a snickering remark about age and its effects on the brain, Chip had never known his friend was that susceptible to tickling. The blond had kept that information in mind as ammunition for future battles where he would need an edge over his crafty opponent.
Now Chip was hoping his mom could do something about Lee before it was too late. Hitting the memory button for home, he prayed that she would be there. Alarmed, he also prayed that none of his
sisters were on the phone! They tended to pick very inconvenient moments to tie up the phone lines. He exhaled in relief as the phone rang and his dad picked up on the other end. "Dad!" Chip almost shouted. "I need mom. Lee's trying to kill me."
"Don't be an ass, son. We know darn well the boy wouldn't harm a hair on your head. What have you been doing to him?" Michael Morton accused, very skeptical.
Chip was offended. Where did his dad get off thinking this was Chip's fault? "Dad. Lee's here at my apartment... He's cooking!"
There was silence on the other end, then, "Sarah! Your son needs you!" The phone was laid on the entry table with a thud. Chip could hear heels clicking rapidly over the wooden floor and his mom's heavy breathing as she grabbed the phone. "Lee?"
Chip was definitely offended. "No, mom. Sorry to disappoint you, but this is your other son. You know, your firstborn... Chip?" he said dryly.
Sarah Morton chuckled. "I knew it was you, sweetheart. I overheard your father telling you not to be an ass. So I knew it wasn't Lee." She laughed again. "What's the matter, baby? You need something? You don't sound too upset about whatever the problem is."
"Mom!" Chip protested for about the millionth time. "Will you stop calling me 'baby'? I'm a grown man for god's sake."
"It's a mother's prerogative. After all," she teased. "Who carried your heavy butt for nine months? Who had to endure 17 hours of painful labor? Who..."
"All right! Enough already. I surrender." Chip grinned. "You said it was worth every second just to see my cute adorable face."
She sighed regretfully. "If only I'd known what that cute adorable face would grow into..."
"Mom..." Chip groaned, then begged for help. "You have to do something. Lee thinks I'm sick and he's going to cook for me!"
"Have you been sick?" Mrs. Morton was uneasy. Chip tended to ignore his illnesses, thinking they'd go away if he waited long enough. That rarely happened. She didn't understand how her son could have so much common sense and level headedness, yet be so foolishly optimistic and neglectful when it came to getting sick. Then the last part of Chip's statement sunk in. "Oh..." If Chip was not currently sick, he would be after Lee got done cooking for him. That never-to-be-forgotten morning Lee decided to fix breakfast for the Morton family (Mrs. Morton was not feeling well) was still a recurring nightmare for them. Not able to purposely hurt Lee's feelings, the family had managed to choke down a good portion of their meal. Smiling somewhat stiffly at the dubious youth and thanking him for the breakfast. Missy, whom the family dog doted on, was lucky enough to feed that mongrel most of hers before excusing herself from the table. She was the recipient of many envious looks for her good fortune. The downtrodden expressions as the mongrel in question followed her from the dining room, instead of staying under the table, were almost ludicrous. Many had hoped to follow her example with Caspar. Unfortunately, the dog was not too interested in eating any more breakfast either. Mrs. Morton was only grateful that she could use her illness as an excuse for not touching her meal. Lee had been very solicitous and concerned, which left her feeling like an ungrateful wretch and extremely guilty. Her attention was jolted back to her son as Chip spoke again.
"It was just a little flu, mom. I'm practically fine." Chip's voice lowered as Lee's footsteps passed his bedroom door for the bathroom. "It's Lee... he's doing that Florence Nightingale impression again. He's hovering, mom... And he found your recipe for tomato pepper soup. I can't stand it! There's no way I can eat his cooking. That goes way above and beyond..." He was pleading. "Mom. You have to talk to him. Please!"
Sarah could see her son was in dire straights. She hadn't been 'mommed' like that in years. "Chip, I don't see what you want me to do? Am I supposed to tell the boy he can't cook?" She was horrified at the thought of hurting Lee's feelings. She could already envision the devastated awkward look on that gorgeous face. Those big eyes confused and troubled. No! She could never do that to Lee. Mrs. Morton was more than willing to leave the discussion about Lee's cooking abilities to his future bride. Whoever she may be.
"I don't know... can't you give him some advice? Feed a fever, starve a cold... no wait, he thinks I have a fever. Starve a fever, feed a cold." Chip ended triumphantly. "If you tell him, he'll believe it. Tell him I need to eat canned chicken soup, or plain tomato from a can... Tell him anything!" The Exec could hear Lee back in the kitchen again. "Mom, please, it has to be now. Let me get Lee for you."
"Wait!" Sarah shrieked. "I don't know..."
Chip growled into the phone. "Remember. I know where dad's favorite jogging suit is buried in the backyard. If I tell him, he'll be sure to dig it up. And you know he would start wearing it again!"
Sarah fumed. That thing had been a ratty disgrace when she was finally able to spirit it away from her husband and bury it. It was too disgusting to pass on to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. After all its years of service the poor thing deserved a decent burial. Thinking of what it would look like on Michael after it was dug up and washed, chilled her bones. "Okay, you fink. Put Lee on." A smile lit up her face, thinking about Chip's attempt at blackmail. It was so sweet. Her blond baby took so much after his mother.
"Lee!" Chip hollered gratefully. "Mom wants to talk to you." He handed the phone off with alacrity as his beaming friend popped into the doorway. The red stained mess on Lee's apron made him shudder. He crossed his fingers under the blanket.
"Mom!" Lee's voice oozed happiness and affection. His brow creased as he listened. Despite his best efforts, Chip couldn't hear a word his mom was saying. He kept an eye on Lee's changing expression.
"Are you sure? I thought that... No. No. I'm sure you're right. I just never thought..." Lee glanced over at Chip. "Okay. I can do that." He sounded determined. "Chip will." Lee stared threateningly down at his friend. "I'll make sure of it. Two tablespoons every four hours? Right. I love you, mom. Do you want to talk to Chip again?" Lee laughed and hung up.
"I'm sorry, Chip. Your mom doesn't think you should be eating anything fancy yet. I'm supposed to make you some canned chicken soup instead." Lee smiled, not noticing Chip almost passing out with relief. "Oh. And you're to take two tablespoons of cod liver oil every four hours to keep your stomach from getting upset." The inflexible gleam in those amber eyes choked off any argument the blond might have made.
As Lee headed for the kitchen and the can opener, Chip thought to himself that trying to blackmail his mom had been a very bad idea.