By R. L. Keller
When I originally started to write Past Imperfect it was supposed to be more on the lines of this one. PI, however, very quickly took on a life of its own and this got put on the back burner. With a lot of support, and a good many of the ideas and ‘cobwebs’ included, from Susan, and also input from both Liz Martin and Cris Smithson, this one finally became a reality. RK
His Captain’s joyous laughter, a sound he so rarely heard – at least at this volume and particularly aboard Seaview - greeted Chip as he opened the upper hatch to FS1, accompanied by an equally loud string of oaths from Chief Sharkey. The Flying Sub had just docked and, while Lee had assured his XO by radio that he was just fine, Chip was anxious to make that determination for himself. It seemed like Lee never made it back from an ONI mission totally unscathed. He hadn’t been gone long this trip, a bit less than three days, but Chip was all too aware of how little time it took his friend of many years to get into trouble. Maybe, just this once… he thought to himself as he tried to decide whether to wait for the two men to come up on their own or go down and see what was causing all the commotion. Another yell from the COB, and some loud bangs, convinced Chip he’d better check this out and he started down the access ladder. But at that point Lee was starting up and Chip backed off. Lee entered the Observation Nose of the great submarine still chuckling heartily, followed shortly by Sharkey gingerly holding Lee’s backpack out to one side.
"I assume one of you is going to explain what that was all about?" Chip said, putting his XO face back in place. It had slipped noticeably as he’d looked at the amusement written all over Lee.
"Apparently I picked up a hitchhiker." Lee was still laughing as he took the backpack from the Chief. "Sharkey went to pick up my pack and a spider ran out. I didn’t realize he had arachnophobia quite that bad," and he gave the Chief a quizzical grin.
"It was huge!" Sharkey blustered in defense.
"All of half an inch across," Lee agreed, and even the corners of Chip’s mouth started to twitch.
"That was just the body," Sharkey continued to complain.
"What kind was it?" Admiral Nelson asked, just coming down the spiral stairs and joining the conversation.
"I didn’t stop for an introduction, Sir," his COB answered, the earlier bluster disappearing rapidly.
"Where is it?" the Admiral continued the questioning, obviously having heard enough of the conversation to know what was going on. He was trying desperately to keep a straight face, but he wasn’t helped at all by the fact that Lee wasn’t even trying to hide his continued amusement.
"Dead!" the Chief answered emphatically. "Got the little sucker before he could get into the electronics."
Nelson shot a glance at Lee. "Haven’t a clue," Lee answered, shrugging his shoulders as he continued to smile broadly. "The Chief turned it into a splat too fast."
"Well, just see that the splat gets cleaned up," Chip said, and Sharkey nodded. "And speaking of cleaning up…" Chip turned to his normally immaculate Captain and gave him an appraising look up and down.
Lee laughed again as he, too, glanced down at himself. His dark jeans and knit top were dust covered, with traces of cobwebs stuck here and there. "Humm," he said, looking back at Chip. "Point taken. I’ll take a quick shower and be right back down."
"Better still," Chip responded firmly, "meet me in the Wardroom in half an hour."
Lee glanced at the clock and saw it was almost 1145 hours. There was a split second of annoyance at his XO for deflecting his intentions of getting back to his job as Seaview’s Captain as fast as possible with the not so subtle reminder that it was lunchtime. Chip was constantly on his case about not eating enough. But the reaction left as rapidly as it came with the realization that he was, actually, very hungry. He gave Chip a quick smile and headed for his cabin.
The ONI mission had been brief and not overly dangerous, but had kept him steadily on the move. He’d not had time for much of anything, including eating and sleeping, for most of the 2½ days he’d been ashore in Australia. But the disk he’d been given to deliver was now safely in the hands of the Underground leader who had agreed to meet him there instead of in his own country, and he was back where he most wanted to be. He practically bounced up the spiral stairs toward his cabin to clean up and change back into his uniform. He realized somewhat belatedly that there were footsteps following him, and stopped at the top to let Admiral Nelson catch up.
"All went well, I take it," Nelson said as the two started down the corridor together.
"Piece of cake," Lee was still chuckling, "Although I am glad I was warned Blakely is a bit on the…" and he hesitated, not quite sure how to finish the thought.
"Overcautious side?" Nelson supplied.
"That will work," and Lee grinned at Nelson. "At the last minute he decided it wasn’t safe to meet in the restaurant – at least that was the excuse he used – so I got sent to three different locations before finally getting to actually meet the man." He indicated his clothes. "Unfortunately, the last stop was the basement of a deserted office building. Apparently the real reason for the runaround was that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t being followed."
"Not surprised," Nelson agreed. By this time they’d arrived at Lee’s cabin. "Looks like ONI owes you a new jersey," and he brushed his hand briefly across the back of Lee’s right shoulder. Lee pulled the stretchy material forward enough to see several small holes in the fabric.
"The basement was unfinished – lots of open beams. I vaguely recall smacking one or two," and Lee grinned sheepishly. "It was a little cramped down there."
"Well, get cleaned up and I’ll see you at lunch," Nelson said, then laughed as Lee just hung his head and entered his cabin.
Obviously banged a couple more beams than I thought I did, Lee acknowledged to himself after pulling off the jersey and inspecting the damage. There were a couple fair sized holes as well as a number of other snagged areas. Damn he muttered, reluctantly tossing the ruined garment in the trash. Something else for Chip to fuss at me about. He grimaced as he pulled off the rest of his clothes and jumped into the shower. The midnight blue, long sleeved pullover had been a gift from his friend while they were still at the Academy. It steamed Chip no end that Lee frequently wore it on ONI assignments since Chip totally disapproved of Lee’s continued connections to the Intelligence agency.
Definitely smacked harder than I remember, he admitted as water hit his shoulders and back. He figured there were probably a few scratches that corresponded to the tears in the jersey. But while shutting off the water, drying off, and getting dressed in a clean uniform, the minor discomfort was quickly forgotten. Leaving his cabin, he’d actually taken several steps toward the Control Room when he stopped, sighed, and switched directions. With Chip, normally he could at least cajole enough time to do a quick systems check before heading for the Wardroom. But this time his XO obviously also had the backing of the Admiral, and Lee surrendered peacefully.
He also ended up enduring a bit of gentle harassment from the CMO as he sat down to eat. "Can’t remember the last time," Jamie said to Nelson, both men already eating, "when the Skipper’s return to the boat didn’t mean I spent the next several hours working." The two older men shared a laugh as Lee just shook his head. Any comeback he might have made, however, was interrupted by Chip’s arrival, and Lee tackled him immediately for a status report. Seaview was on her way to the Indian Ocean to check some equipment left along the underwater mountain range known as the Mascarene Ridge, northeast of Madagascar. They were also going to field test some new hydrophone equipment NIMR and a private company were jointly developing. Her passage close to Australia had made Lee an obvious choice for ONI to call on to deliver the disk, but he was anxious to get back to the business at hand. Seaview had continued her passage west while Lee had been dropped off and picked up by FS1, and Chip quickly caught him up. The two visited amiably as they ate, joined occasionally by Nelson as the purpose of the trip was discussed. No one asked Lee about his time ashore. Other than Nelson’s quick check that all went well, Lee wouldn’t usually discuss his off-boat missions, from purely a security point of view. He’d make a report to ONI using his private codes as soon as he got to the Control Room.
The afternoon went by quietly. Admiral Nelson spent most of it in his lab working on several projects, while Lee and Chip ran his boat. He valued them both for the way they kept things running smoothly on board his submarine, which allowed him to concentrate on his research. There tended to be a bit of annoyance with ONI on his part that they still continued to ‘borrow’ Lee from time to time. But he knew Lee considered it his duty to accept the missions; and while Nelson could order Lee to stand down, he was reluctant to make his Captain – and his friend – stop something he so obviously felt he should do.
Chip, on the other hand, had no such reservations against needling his friend to give up the extracurricular activities. And when Lee injudiciously admitted, partway through the afternoon, that Chip’s gift had been sacrificed for the good of the mission Chip was, as expected, royally ticked. Lee took it all good-naturedly, not trying to change Chip’s mind. And, truth be told, Chip didn’t really expect Lee to change just because he ragged on him. But the bickering had become an old, comfortable game between the two, and gave each a release from the sometimes pressure-cooker atmosphere of Seaview’s missions. Chip also recognized, and suspected Lee did as well although it was never voiced between them, that the familiar banter helped relax the rest of the duty crew. As much as the crew trusted and respected the XO, and he knew they did, there was a definite difference when Lee was back in command. Hard to describe, it was something felt more than seen. Everyone in the Control Room just seemed to breathe easier, stay calmer, relax more, and all this while their attention to their various duties went up – if that was possible for the already highly efficient crew. It was just another indication of how needed Lee was aboard the huge submarine. But it was an argument Chip would never throw in Lee’s face. Though he might nag and needle his friend, he would do nothing to embarrass him. And pointing out that his crew had less confidence in the ever practical, incredibly competent XO would do just that. While it might be an advantage in convincing Lee to quit leaving the boat, it was one Chip would never use.
For his part, Lee privately enjoyed Chip’s gentle haranguing. While it occasionally got on his nerves, for the most part he knew that what triggered it was Chip’s concern for his friend. Lee appreciated Chip’s feelings, and acknowledged his concern.
By dinnertime Lee was willing to admit - if only to himself - that the several days on the go were apparently catching up with him. He’d developed a nagging little headache caused, he knew from past experience, by lack of sleep. Telling Chip he was going to his cabin and would have the Galley send something up, he grabbed the stack of status reports and headed up the spiral stairs. He knew all he needed was a good night’s sleep and he’d be back to normal in the morning.
Chip had just nodded, holding back a smile. He’d already noticed the telltale signs of a headache he knew Lee was unaware he’d displayed – the furrowed brow, the apparent absentminded rubbing of his temple – and while he suspected Lee probably wouldn’t eat anything, figured he needed the rest more. He’d check on his CO about 2200 and if Lee wasn’t already in bed, nag him until he was.
It was actually closer to 2100 when Chip tapped lightly on Lee’s cabin door. There was a light showing though the crack at the bottom but no answer was forthcoming. Grinning softly, Chip peeked inside. The desk light was on, with several pages of reports spread out under it, but Lee was laying face down on his bunk, still in uniform. Momentarily concerned, Chip walked over and gently shook his friend’s arm, and was rewarded with a startled jerk. Not being able to resist, he took a step back, crossed his arms, and said in his most authoritative XO voice, "It’s customary to remove one’s uniform and turn out the lights before one crashes for the night." He then had to duck as Lee took a quick swing at him. They both ended up laughing.
"Guess I was more tired than I thought," Lee said, sitting on the edge of the bunk and running a hand through his dark, curly hair. "Thought I’d just lay down for a bit and rest my eyes."
"You OK?" Chip asked, concern replacing the smile.
"Yeah," Lee sighed heavily. "Just kept on the go most of the time I was gone. Think it’s finally catching up with me."
Chip grinned evilly. "Becoming the ‘Old Man’ of the boat for sure," using a crew’s term for their Captain. "Getting old, can’t keep up with the younger generation any more."
Lee cocked an eyebrow at his friend. "If I’m old, what does that make you?"
Chip just looked smug. "But I have so much less mileage over much smoother roads."
"Out!" Lee growled. The look he gave his XO caused Chip to back up another step, but they both burst out laughing again.
As Chip turned to leave he spotted the damaged jersey poking out of the trashcan where Lee had stuffed it. "I knew you’d eventually damage my gift, wearing it on ONI missions," Chip snapped.
"Excuse me?" Lee snapped right back. "And whose sorry hide was I saving when I damaged the first one you were only replacing?"
The sudden tension was broken as both chuckled, and Chip headed for the door. Once he left Lee, still chuckling, got up and walked into the head. Right now I feel like an old man, he muttered to himself, washing his face and stripping off his uniform. Just the letdown after a mission, he knew. He usually had to stay so pumped up, not letting his guard down for an instant, that sometimes when he was safely back aboard Seaview and the adrenaline rush finally wore off, he came down hard. Nothing a good night’s sleep won’t take care of, he told himself again. Once the lights were out he crawled under the covers on his bed, and fell asleep remembering the incident that had caused Chip to replace the original jersey.
Their second-class year at Annapolis Chip ran afoul of a firstie, Bracken, when he caught him hazing another middie well beyond acceptable limits. He called him on it, embarrassing Bracken in front of his friends. As Chip started to walk away, Bracken caught up and told Chip that he wouldn’t forget what Chip did. Chip just laughed it off, telling Bracken that all he had to do to avoid any more trouble was to stay off the middie’s case. But Lee suspected all along that Bracken wasn’t just going to let it drop – he hadn’t proven to be the type.
Not long after the confrontation Chip, Tim Hughes, and Danny Malinois decided to sneak out one night and go have a beer. Chip had just passed a huge test in French he’d been sweating over for weeks, wanted to celebrate, and didn’t feel like waiting for the weekend. Lee had been invited too, of course, but begged off, citing a huge test of his own in Hydrostatics the following morning. Chip had teased him, saying why bother to study, he knew it all anyway. But Lee just didn’t want to risk it. Turned out to be a good thing.
He was totally amazed when he finally took his nose out of his study pages to find it was almost taps and the guys weren’t back yet. Deciding he’d better go check it out, he changed into dark clothes, snuck out of Bancroft, and headed for the area of the wall that all the middies knew they could get over the safest. Moving silently just seemed to come naturally for Lee. It wasn’t anything he ever consciously thought about. But it came in handy that night. Before they saw him, he spotted several "jimmy legs" standing quietly close by the wall, obviously expecting company. Lee recognized one of the waiting guards as a friend of Bracken’s. Bet Danny couldn’t keep his mouth shut, Lee muttered to himself. Lee really liked the middie but he could never seem to keep his thoughts to himself. No doubt Bracken had gotten wind of the plan and alerted his friend, thereby getting his revenge on Chip.
Lee sat on his heels a bit, trying to decide what to do. But suddenly he heard subtle sounds from outside the wall that the guards didn’t seem to have picked up on and he knew he had to act fast. Grabbing up a handful of small sticks and twigs from under a bush, he launched them toward the guards but away from the wall and took off. He had to be careful to make enough noise that the guards didn’t lose him, and it quickly became an exhilarating game. He nearly laughed out loud at one point, not understanding how three supposedly well-trained men could make that much noise. It was ridiculously easy for Lee to stay ahead of them. He was leading them through the bushes and shrubbery, keeping himself far enough ahead that they didn’t have a clue who they were chasing, and still keeping an eye out for reinforcements, when he realized he was close to the Commandant’s house. Spotting some of the Commandant’s wife’s gardening tools carefully stowed against a small shed he grabbed a shovel and several small hand tools, spread them out where he was fairly sure the guards would come through the shrubs, and dove under the Commandant’s sports car. He intended to roll out the other side into the bushes and head quietly back to Bancroft.
Most of the plan worked beautifully. The men came charging through exactly where Lee thought they would, and ended up in a loud heap of bodies as they stumbled over the tools and each other. Lights immediately went on in the house and yard, and the Commandant rushed out, demanding an explanation. Unfortunately, Lee was still under the car. His pullover had snagged securely on a loose muffler connection and he was still trying to untangle himself when the Commandant arrived. Fortunately, there were enough loud voices to cover the sound of the cloth ripping as Lee extricated himself and finally made his escape. Once back in his room, the three partygoers were relieved to find out what Lee had done. Chip felt so bad, being the cause of all the fuss, that he offered to replace the irreversibly damaged pullover.
Lee woke up still chuckling over the memory, then groaned as he rolled out of his bunk. Damn, he grumbled. What’s going on? I’ve had much harder missions than this one and not felt this bad afterward. Don’t suppose Chip is right… and he ended up chuckling all the way to his shower. His shoulder still hurt, and now the pain had traveled partway down his right arm. Muttering murderous threats about paranoid agents and exposed beams as he shaved and dressed, he swallowed a couple ibuprofen and headed for the Control Room.
Lee spent a relatively quiet day, wandering around doing spot inspections as well as just visiting with his crew. He knew Chip wasn’t the only one who got concerned when he was off boat, no matter how short a time it was. And while he had the utmost confidence in his XO’s ability to handle things in his absence, he just liked to walk through the boat and check for himself that everything was running smoothly. This day, however, he also used this habit as an excuse to avoid the Wardroom at lunchtime. What little he’d eaten for breakfast hadn’t set well and, while he wasn’t really nauseous, he just didn’t feel like eating. He was also still fighting a headache, and that in itself always spoiled his appetite.
Instead, he spent the lunch hour with Seaman Rawn, new on board. Rawn had served a tour in the Navy, then left to work for the company that was helping NIMR develop the new hydrophone equipment. He’d come over to NIMR now that the unit was ready for testing. Lee hadn’t yet had the time he liked to take trying to get to know any new crewman, over and above what he and Chip already knew from the personal interviews they each conducted before anyone was allowed to join Seaview. Lee wanted to see how Rawn, a young man with impressive technical skills but less than tactfully correct social ones, was doing. He’d heard mutterings that the crewman wasn’t making a lot of friends with his brusque manners, and thought maybe the friendly little chat would help him to settle in a bit. He left shaking his head. He knew that Rawn could be an asset to Seaview. He didn’t know if the seaman was willing to make the effort; wasn’t sure that the young man knew how to be anything but a loner. Something to think on… he contemplated as he walked away.
He finally showed up back in the Control Room about 1630, stopping briefly at all the stations to glance at the monitors and say a few words to whoever was on duty. As he finally walked up to the chart table where Chip was working, he noticed a half smile on the blonde’s normally controlled face and cocked an eyebrow at him as he reached for the current status sheets.
The grin broadened. "Old Man, indeed," Chip smirked. "Took you all day just to walk through the boat."
Even Lee had to smile. "Tell you the truth, today I feel like an old man," he admitted, and Chip looked at him seriously. Lee just shook his head. "No big deal. Just the usual comedown after a mission. Can’t seem to get motivated," he finished with a rueful smile.
"I could always send Riley to bring down those ‘marine sample photographs’ he went after a few weeks ago. Remember what happened? That should get you going. You didn’t quit yelling for a week," Chip smirked again.
Lee remembered the incident all too well. They’d had visiting biologists on board, were holding a strategy session in the Observation Nose, and Lee had left some photos they needed on his desk. He’d sent Riley up to get them and, unfortunately, had just dumped out the folder Riley brought back without looking inside first. Instead of marine life, what was scattered all over the table were some shots his friend Tim had taken of Lee and a friend stretched out on the beach below the Bed and Breakfast Tim and his wife ran on the Oregon coast. While there hadn’t been anything going on between Lee and the lady with him, the shots were nonetheless a bit suggestive, and Lee couldn’t get them gathered up fast enough before everyone else started chuckling.
"I wasn’t that bad," Lee complained. "No way," and he gave Chip a shy grin. "Riley stayed far enough away for the rest of the cruise I didn’t get the chance to yell," and both men cracked up.
But Chip’s laughter died abruptly as Lee, clipboard in his right hand, reached around with his left to absentmindedly rub his upper right arm. "You sure you didn’t damage more than my sweater?" he asked.
"Your sweater?" Lee gave him a stern look. But they both smiled at the same time and Lee just shook his head. "No big deal," he muttered, and changed the subject to their current position.
The two continued to kibitz quietly until just before 1800 when the watch was due to change. Chip started talking about the teriyaki chicken dish Cookie was planning for dinner, knowing it was one of Lee’s favorites. He was instantly concerned when Lee just shrugged and said he’d eat later, he wasn’t hungry right now, and continued to study the chart he was working on.
"OK, Lee," and Chip crossed his arms. "What’s wrong?" he asked, glaring at his friend.
Lee just smiled. "Nothing, Chip. Relax. Go have your dinner. We’ve got a tricky piece of navigating coming up and I want to make sure O’Brien’s comfortable with it before I leave."
"Not that tricky," Chip countered, "and Bob was on duty the last time we came through here." Lee just glared at his XO. "I knew this piece was coming up, too, so I checked," Chip answered the silent question smugly, his arms still crossed. "Have you seen Doc since you got back?"
"Several times," Lee answered, amused. "We had lunch with him yesterday, for one. Don’t you remember?" he asked innocently.
"That’s not what I meant," Chip said half under his breath, and continued to stare at his friend. The stalemate lasted several more minutes until Lee, casually reaching toward something with his right hand, dropped the pencil he was holding and again reached over with his left hand to rub his upper right arm. "OK," Chip said firmly. "That does it. Do I have to pull rank on you?" At Lee’s instant glare he added, "especially since I can’t?"
"But I can," and both men jumped as Admiral Nelson walked up from behind them. The gruffness in his voice was overshadowed by the slight smile on his face, and both younger men relaxed slightly. "What’s going on?"
"Nothing," Lee said adamantly, gave his XO a hard look, then added to the Admiral, "Sir."
Nelson cocked an eyebrow at his Captain but just continued to smile. "I don’t recall getting a report that you’d cleared Medical after you returned, Lee. You know its SOP after an ONI mission."
Lee’s "No need, Sir," was drowned out by Chip’s "Finally!" which earned the XO another glare from his Captain.
"Go on, Lee," Nelson continued to smile, but the edge in his voice was not missed by either younger man. Chip wisely turned away. Letting Lee see the smirk that was threatening to appear would not be good.
For his part, Lee just sighed heavily and headed toward the aft hatch. Deep down he knew he should have said something to Jamie, but up until just a while ago he’d still felt it was simply the letdown after a mission. But by now he was beginning to question that assumption. He’d never ached this badly from something that had been so routine. Chiding himself for always refusing to admit that there might – just possibly – be something else wrong, it took him a bit to realize there were footsteps following him. Stopping, he turned to find the Admiral about 10 feet behind. "I do know the way to Sick Bay, Sir," came out grumpily before he was able to stop it.
"Oh, I know you do, Lee," Nelson agreed readily, walking up to him. "But for some reason, for someone who knows every nut, bolt, and rivet, and every shortcut to every location on this boat, you always seem to take the most circuitous routes to get there." He was still smiling. Finally Lee did, too, and continued walking.
Twenty minutes later Jamie laid his stethoscope aside and turned around to grin at Admiral Nelson, leaning against the doorway to the CMO’s office. "I knew it was too good to be true," he said, "that the Skipper could come back from an ONI mission without a layover in Sick Bay."
"I am not staying here, Jamie," Lee muttered adamantly, then grimaced as both older men laughed. He was sitting on the exam table, his shirt off and laying next to him on the gurney.
"Actually," Jamie admitted, turning back to Lee, "I wasn’t going to try to make you. But you’ve definitely picked up a bug of some kind. From what you’ve admitted to, the aching muscles, lack of energy, and I can guess at a headache," and he grinned as Lee lowered his eyes, "as well as the bit of a temperature you’re running, I’d say probably the 24-hour flu variety."
"Terrific," Lee muttered.
"Any nausea or abdominal pain?"
"No," Lee answered firmly.
"Probably haven’t eaten enough to cause any," and it was Jamie’s turn to mutter. Lee lowered his eyes again, but picked up his shirt and started to put it on. "Not so fast, Skipper," Jamie warned. "You don’t get out of here that easily. I don’t know what was on those beams that got you, but general principles says that if it can cause trouble, it will cause trouble when we’re dealing with you."
Nelson chuckled and Lee scowled. "It’s nothing, Jamie."
"Maybe so, but you don’t leave without a wide spectrum antibiotic and something to help the muscle pain," and he turned toward his meds cabinet. Lee watched silently as the CMO shook a couple pills into a small paper cup, and prepared a hypo. He administered the injection in Lee’s left shoulder as Lee downed the pills.
"Now, can I get out of here?" Lee grumbled as he finished dressing.
"By all means – you’ve made me late for dinner," Jamie grumbled right back. Even Lee smiled. "But the only place you’re going is to your cabin." As Lee would have argued, the CMO stopped him with an upraised hand. "The last thing this boat needs is a flu epidemic, even the 24-hour variety."
"Probably too late," Nelson interjected. "He’s been wandering all over the boat since first thing this morning.
"Terrific," the Doctor muttered. He put his hands on his hips and glared at Lee. "Just don’t you come bellyaching to me when half of your crew is confined to their bunks, and the other half is living in the head. Now, out!" and he pointed toward the door. Just as Lee reached to open it, Doc repeated sternly. "Your cabin. Period. I’ll have Cookie send up a tray." Lee hesitated a second but didn’t say anything, and finally opened the door and left. Nelson grinned as Jamie just shook his head, putting away his instruments.
"You don’t really expect him to stay there," the Admiral chuckled softly.
"Stupid, I’m not," Doc grumbled. "I’m just hoping the threat of infecting the rest of the crew will make him stop and think for a change."
"Perhaps," Nelson acknowledged without much enthusiasm. "Well, Jamie, shall we go eat while food still tastes good?" Doc just shook his head again and the two headed toward the Wardroom.
* * * *
"Hey, Chief," Kowalski said, smiling, as he, Sharkey, and Macklin worked to replace some wiring in the Circuitry Room. "What’s this I hear about a run-in with a vicious beast yesterday?"
"Nothing," Sharkey growled.
"Riley sure didn’t seem to think so," Ski continued. "Said he hasn’t heard the Skipper laugh that hard in ages."
The Skipper had to laugh himself silly in front of the whole Control Room crew, Sharkey groused to himself. Now I’ll never live it down. "Just leave it be and hand me that circuit breaker. And get back to work." But even his brusque order couldn’t wipe the grin off the seaman’s face. "And what are you laughing at," the Chief demanded when Macklin chuckled as well.
"Oh, nothing, Chief," the electrician/damage control specialist replied. "Just your comment about handing you a circuit breaker reminded me of something."
"What?" Sharkey promptly asked. Anything to get Ski’s mind off that danged spider incident.
"About, oh, two weeks after I’d been assigned to Seaview from Base maintenance at Pearl… Still don’t quite know how that happened."
"I do," Sharkey replied with a grin. "The Skipper found out how you put in all those extra hours getting Seaview shipshape after that business with the giant man-o-war, and had the Admiral request your transfer."
"Oh," Macklin said, surprised. "I didn’t know he knew about that. He’s never said anything." Ski and Sharkey exchanged grins. "Anyway, we were in port in Santa Barbara. I and another guy were here trying to replace some burned out circuit breakers. I mean, fried big time. Practically glued together."
"Been there," Sharkey commiserated.
"We’d worked until about 1830 hours, but it was Friday night, the other guy had a hot date… I got tired of listening to him complain about having to stand up his girl. Finally told him to shut up or get lost. I could finish it faster myself if all he was going to do was complain. Like, I was too new in town to have anything lined up, and except for Maintenance we were about the only ones on board. Anyway, he left."
"What was the other guy’s name?" Sharkey asked, seemingly offhandedly.
Macklin thought for a second. "You know, I don’t really remember. I was so new at the time, names weren’t sinking in too well yet. And this guy wasn’t around very much longer."
Ski rolled his eyes. "Can’t imagine why," he muttered.
Macklin got thoughtful. "Didn’t think about that at the time," he acknowledged.
"So something happened after he left?" Sharkey prodded again.
"So I’m shoulders deep in that bottom unit over there," and he pointed across the room, "laying on the floor on my stomach, trying to rip out the fried breakers and put in new ones. What a mess! I’m muttering and bitching, saying a few things I shouldn’t be saying…"
"Been there, too," the Chief interjected, not without humor.
"…and I reach back for a screwdriver…had my tools laid out on the floor next to me. I’m fumbling around, trying to find where I laid it, and someone puts it in my hand. Didn’t know who was there…just figured it was one of the Maintenance guys. Anyway, I can tell by the handle it’s not the one I want and I grumble something about ‘no, the Phillips,’ and it is immediately in my hand. I’m still cussing and swearing, prying out the old breakers and putting in new ones, and the guy stays, never says a word, just hands me anything I ask for."
Both Ski and Sharkey started to grin, getting a feeling for where this was headed. Macklin saw it and grinned, too, albeit a bit ruefully.
"Yeah. I finally get the last one in place and crawl backwards out of the access hatch…and there’s the Skipper, sitting cross-legged on the deck next to me. I like to have died," and he cringed as both the others cracked up.
"Did he ever say anything?" Kowalski finally asked.
"Just asked if I was done or did I need any more help. Told him no, that was the last one, and he just smiled, stood up, and said I’d better take off. To have a good weekend and he’d see me on Monday. I mean, now that wouldn’t bother me in the least, finding him on board at all hours, checking up, helping fix things, you know? But back then…" and he joined the other two in laughing.
"That’s the Skipper, all right," Ski said, still chuckling.
"And if we don’t get this fixed," Sharkey added, "he’s likely to be down here again." All three nodded and got back to work.
* * * *
Lee spent a restless evening in his cabin. While not admitting to being nauseous, the tray that appeared shortly after he got there remained almost totally untouched.
It was unfortunate – mostly for Riley – that he was chosen to retrieve the tray. With memories of the picture incident again fresh in his mind, and fighting an ever-increasing headache, Lee was not inclined toward subtlety. When Riley injudiciously pointed out that the Skipper hadn’t touched his meal, Lee told him precisely what he could do about it. Instantly sorry as the poor seaman turned beet red, stammered an apology, and started beating a hasty retreat Lee backed off, apologized himself, and admitted he wasn’t feeling well.
It was unfortunate – this time for Chip as well as Riley – that Lee’s apology left much to be desired. Riley’s brain was still pretty well fried as he hurriedly left Officers’ Country. Headed for the Galley he rounded a corner and ran into, literally, the XO. Most of Lee’s uneaten dinner ended up on the normally immaculate officer. Expecting an instant beheading from the no-nonsense Exec, Riley was practically incoherent as he tried to get as much as possible of the destroyed meal off Chip and back on the tray. For his part, Chip was so momentarily ticked he couldn’t say much of anything as Riley blithered on and on. Finally he couldn’t stand it any longer.
"Stop!" Chip commanded, then very nearly burst out laughing as Riley froze, kneeling next to him on the corridor deck, scraping up bits of stir-fried chicken and vegetables, and fried rice. Wiping a glob of chocolate pudding off his shirt, he got his face back under control and glared at the young seaman. "Explain yourself," he ordered.
"Cookie sent me to get the Skipper’s dinner tray," Riley said meekly, trying desperately to make sense. "All I did was mention to him he hadn’t eaten anything, and he, ah, he…"
"Never mind," Chip took pity on Riley. He could well imagine how Lee would have reacted to having a seaman ‘mother-henning’ him. He was bad enough when the other officers did it, and there were only 13 of them aboard Seaview. The thought that 112 crewmen might take it upon themselves to watch over him was probably enough to give Lee the heebie-jeebies. "Just clean up this mess," and he grimaced as another patch of pudding was transferred from his shirt to the tray. "I’m sure the Skipper didn’t mean it the way it sounded. He’s not feeling too good right now."
"Y-yes, Sir," Riley continued to stammer slightly. "H..he’ll be OK, right?"
"I’ll go check on him – just as soon as I change," and Chip stomped off around the corner.
Entering his cabin, a thought hit him and he buzzed the Galley as he started unbuttoning his shirt, telling Cookie to please not be upset but the Captain wasn’t feeling well and hadn’t touched what the chef had sent up – leaving out an explanation of what the tray was going to look like when it came back. A fitting punishment for Riley – and he asked if just possibly Cookie could come up with two specific items.
"Not a problem, Mr. Morton," Cookie answered immediately. He absolutely hated when the Skipper didn’t eat, and even though he was usually surly to the rest of the crew when asked for favors, would do almost anything for his Captain. "Have some in the freezer – won’t take me 5 minutes to defrost them in the microwave. Take about the same time for the other. Shall I deliver them?"
"Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of picking them up personally in about half an hour. Give him a little time to, ah…" and Chip was hesitant to say ‘calm down’. Riley was going to get an earful already, without Cookie thinking he’d also ticked off Lee.
"Not a problem, Sir. I’ll have it ready."
Noticing a dark spot in his blond hair as he glanced in the mirror, Chip heaved a huge sigh and quickly jumped into the shower, letting his mind wander back to another time two specific items of food had been used to lighten Lee’s mood. He and Lee had been second-classmen at the time. He’d been busy studying when Lee came in from an Honor Board hearing. The ‘ever-loveable’ Bracken had again gotten in trouble, this time accused of stealing another middie’s research notes. Lee had really looked beat, dragging in and collapsing in his chair as he loosened the collar buttons on his uniform.
"Bad?" Chip asked. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Lee quite this down before.
"Bad enough," Lee admitted. "The Board is recommending dismissal."
"Damn," Chip muttered. "But you know, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving middie. That guy’s been a …" but Lee cut him off.
"I know he’s a screw up. I’m the one who put together the Investigative Report. And I tried really hard to not let a few other things we both know he’s pulled but haven’t been called on color the report. But Bracken’s still blaming me." He sighed heavily and leaned forward, putting his head in his hands.
"I still don’t understand why you’re beating yourself up over this? You’ve bent over backwards trying to get him to straighten out, and handling 98% of his foul-ups in-house."
"I just feel like I didn’t do enough. There should have been something I could have done or said before it came to dismissal." He continued to lean forward, resting his head in his hands, and Chip noticed him rubbing absentmindedly at his temples.
"Lee, you’re bumming out over someone who doesn’t deserve it. That guy’s been a loser since the first week he was here."
"I know. But I just don’t understand how someone can go to all the effort it takes to get into Annapolis, and then act like that. I tried my best to get him straightened out," and he looked up with frustration and pain written plainly on his face.
"Wise up, Lee. Some people just don’t want to be helped. They’re much happier being troublemakers. And look at all the ones you have been able to help. I could name at least a dozen. And that includes myself. I’d never be managing French without you."
"I suppose so… " Lee acknowledged, but dropped his head back into his hands. Casting around for something to get Lee’s mind back in the right direction, Chip’s eyes settled on the box from home he’d gotten that day.
"Look, get rid of that tunic and relax. Mom sent brownies and homemade hot chocolate mix. If you’re nice, I might be coaxed into sharing."
Lee looked up, a smile starting to form. "What do you mean, ‘might be’? You know as well as I do she always sends enough for both of us. Hand ‘em over."
"Not this time," and Chip waved a letter in front of Lee. "She was running short of fixings and only made enough for me. Said she’d send a bigger box next week. I was just going to be nice and share."
"Yeah, right…" and Lee launched himself at his roomie. They rolled on the floor, ‘fighting’ for the letter, more laughing than anything, until Lee finally came up with it and started reading. ‘And make sure Lee eats his share, instead of giving most of it away to all his friends. He’s way too skinny’. "All yours?" and then he got a stern look on his face. "And where does she get off, always complaining I’m too skinny?"
But he finally smiled and Chip handed over the box. The two of them ended up sitting on the floor devouring all the brownies, before getting up and heating water for the cocoa mix. As each sat, hands wrapped around a large mug of the dark brew, Chip grinned over at his friend. "Feeling better, now?" At Lee’s nod and shy grin, Chip laughed. "Good. Now, any chance you can help get me through these next French phrases?"
Ah, yes. Brownies and hot cocoa, Chip chuckled to himself as he finished dressing. Got us through all sorts of disasters. He made a swing through the Control Room to check that everything was in order, then stopped in the Galley to pick up the tray Cookie had waiting. On it was a plate of his double fudge ‘Death By Chocolate’ brownies, a thermos full of hot cocoa, and two mugs. With Cookie properly thanked, Chip headed back for Officers’ Country.
The growl he got in answer to his soft knock on Lee’s door wasn’t encouraging, but at sight of what Chip had brought, the frown creasing Lee’s face relaxed slightly. Chip’s announcement of "Instant cure for all evils" as he set the tray on Lee’s desk, behind which Lee sat, even brought a half smile, but it didn’t last long.
"Don’t think that’s going to work this time," he admitted. "Not the way my stomach feels," and he cringed slightly.
"Then you can sit around watching me scarf them down. Telling Cookie they’re for you is the only way the rest of us get any of these," and he picked up a chunk of thick brownie, loaded with walnut pieces and piled high with chocolate cream cheese frosting. He ooh’d and aah’d as he worked on the first huge bite, and filled the two mugs with cocoa. Placing one of the mugs in front of Lee before sitting down in the other chair, he grabbed his mug in one hand and the brownie in the other, leaned back and stretched out his long legs, a look of total contentment on his face. He was very careful not to look smug as Lee finally picked up the mug and took a sip, eventually even reaching out to snag a few crumbs off the edge of one brownie.
He was also careful to keep his expression relaxed and friendly, not allowing any of the concern he was feeling to show as he looked closely at his friend. He could easily understand how Riley had gotten into trouble. Lee didn’t look like he was in the mood to be ‘mother henned’ by anyone tonight. His face was drawn, his movements almost painful to watch; Chip didn’t even want to imagine what Lee was feeling. Even his dark complexion, which normally hid a great deal, was looking feverish. "Doc’s meds not making much of a dent yet?" Chip asked casually. Lee would know a report had been made to the XO, now that the Captain was ‘officially’ ill.
Lee just shook his head as he put both hands on the mug, but there was a quick smile as he said, "Just made things worse, as usual."
Chip gave him the expected grin. But the longer he sat the more worried he became. Lee wasn’t even trying to hide the fact he was feeling lousy. Definitely not a good sign. When Lee put the mug down on the desk after drinking barely half of its contents, and leaned his head back against the chair, Chip couldn’t restrain himself any longer. "Looks like its time to put you to bed." He said it casually, and plastered a smile on his face as Lee glared at him.
"Still have a couple reports I need to finish," Lee said firmly.
"Come on, Lee. It’s obvious you feel lousy," and he got up and started to walk around the desk.
"Still pretending you have a medical license, Morton?" The deadly serious quality of Lee’s voice stopped Chip from taking hold of his friend’s arm and Chip backed off, his smile refusing to soften the hard expression on Lee’s face. Knowing he’d screwed up, Chip silently gathered up the food and left. Once outside Lee’s cabin, he leaned against the bulkhead, his eyes closed.
Overstepped the boundaries again, Morton. You knew he wasn’t in the mood tonight to be coddled. Will you never learn? Tim warned you often enough. And he didn’t hide his opinions when Lee came in that time, either. I could see it on his face. And he stood there, remembering.
Lee Crane’s eyes held a color none of his classmates had ever seen before as he walked oh-so-softly into the room he shared with Chip Morton.
"Lee, what’s up? You look like somebody sunk your ship," Tim Hughes jumped in to fill the suddenly tense silence.
"Could you excuse us, please, Tim? I need to talk to Chip." The voice was different too – seeming to hold a note that could slice through steel.
Hughes was on his feet before he quite knew how he had gotten there. Chip Morton interrupted his flight. "Lee, we’re in the middle of studying here. Can’t it wait?"
"No, Mister Morton. It can’t wait." Two sets of eyes widened at that formal mode of address, none more so than the vivid blue ones belonging to the middie at which it was aimed. "I lost my place on the deep dive equipment team this summer." Tim sent Chip a warning glance at the fleeting look of satisfaction he’d allowed to show on his face at that bald announcement. Unfortunately, Lee saw it as well. "Thought so - just what did you see fit to tell Doctor Cummings that suddenly made me unfit for that internship, Morton?"
Did Tim and I ever have a talk about that scene later, Chip grimaced. Tim had pinned his ears back big time, and told him he’d known Chip was in for it.Turned out he’d always rather envied the friendship that had sprung up between the two young men thrown together by chance and the U.S. Naval Academy. He himself had stronger friendships with both than he had thought possible but he’d suspected they had more. He was right when he said that he figured Chip had become the brother that young Lee had always wanted, and Lee filled a need of Chip’s to be that brother. Chip made no secret of the fact that he missed his rambunctious family, sharing letters and care packages freely. They had had their ups and downs over the past year.... plebe year did that to even the tightest of friends. But this - whatever it was – had sounded serious to Tim. And for good reason, Chip admitted to himself.
Chip raised both hands and made calming motions at his younger roommate. It seemed to have the opposite effect, until Lee drew a deep breath and all but whispered, "Well?"
"Now, Lee, there is always next year for that internship. You’re still recovering from that bout of pneumonia and, let’s face it, kid, you’re only 17. Cummings assured me he will have a place for you next year after…"
"Who gave you the right to interfere in my life that way? I earned that internship. I passed the physical, took the extra diving lessons, wrote that paper, spent all my spare time working with Doctor Cummings on the equipment and suddenly I’m what? Too little? Too young? Too stupid? Or no, I’ve got it, too careless and thoughtless. What’d you do, tell him I attract trouble?" Lee had stalked across the room to stand over Chip, hazel eyes blazing with a green fire. Tim held his breath and pretended he wasn’t there.
Chip pushed his chair back and stood toe to toe with his roommate. In the back of his mind he noted with surprise that Lee had shot up over the last year. Somehow he had managed to add a few inches without Chip really noticing. The hazel eyes were almost on a level with his own. "Lee, I’m just trying to look out for you. That’s what friends do for…"
"Chip, are you or are you not a fourth class midshipman at the United States Naval Academy?"
"Lee, what does that…"
"Are you, damn it?" Now Chip was startled. Lee never used that kind of language. He settled for a simple, "You know I am, Lee, what does that have to…"
"Am I or am I not a fourth class midshipman at the United States Naval Academy?"
"You are." Chip was beginning to get a sick feeling in his stomach. He knew where this was heading.
"Have I done everything you’ve done?"
"Sometimes better." Chip could admit that easily. It was one of the things he admired about the younger boy - he only had one speed, all ahead full, in his approach to everything he tackled.
"So how come you decide, for me, that my choice of internship is too dangerous? You’re not that much older than me, ‘Grandpa’." The normal teasing tone was absent from that sobriquet.
"Lee…" Whatever Chip had figured out to say was lost as Lee went on.
"Next week we do peer evaluations. What are you going to say about me, Chip? Huh? You going to tell the staff that I can’t be trusted to get myself out of trouble? That I need a keeper? They’ll believe you, you know. You’ve already made yourself a rep and they’ll think you know me better than anyone -- although right now I don’t see any sign of that!"
Chip glanced across at Tim, who just shrugged. No help in that direction. Hughes agreed with Lee. Tim had tried to tell him that he was trying to protect Lee too much, that not only did Lee not need or want that protection but that it was actually causing him trouble. Bracken was constantly asking the kid where his ‘keeper’ was. For the first time, Chip was beginning to see what Tim meant. Chip was no dummy. He could see that Lee had all the hallmarks of a natural leader but, dammit, he was just a kid. He didn’t do anything for Lee that he wouldn’t do for any of his younger siblings.... who weren’t trying to be accepted as a peer in one of the toughest environments in the country. He had screwed up - big time!
Before he could say anything, Lee seemed to deflate before his eyes. "Chip... I know you’re trying to help. I know that and ... and... it’s not that I don’t appreciate your friendship. You and your family have made me feel like... well, like I’m one of you. Your Mom.... well, even my own mother doesn’t send cocoa mix and cookies to me. And it’s... well, pretty incredible that you care so much what happens to me. But, Chip, I want to be an officer in the Navy. They don’t issue big brothers in the kit bags. Know what I’m trying to say? I don’t want to lose you but... but... if you can’t let me try on my own, succeed or fail on my own, do the job I have to do whatever the consequences then... well, then..."
Miserable green-tinted eyes locked on blue as Lee struggled to find the right words and then dropped to study the floor. And Chip suddenly had a flashback to a similar conversation he’d had not a full year ago with his own father when he’d announced his intention to accept the appointment to the Academy. Well, he could be as gracious as his father was. It was the least he could do for a friend who had rapidly become more.
"Lee." Chip waited until the hazel eyes again met his and said very deliberately, "I was wrong and I will fix it. But I want you to understand something. This isn’t about you. I know you can take care of yourself - mostly - just like the rest of us. And that’s what is going in the peer eval next week. It’s about me. I’m used to taking care of my younger siblings. And well, you just seemed to fit in that place. Tim tried to tell me that I was overdoing it but it just... well, felt like home to me. I promise I won’t do it again."
As he spoke, Chip watched his friend’s eyes take on their usual golden hue. He could almost see the relief wash through the younger middie. But as he made that promise, he was surprised to hear a suppressed chuckle before Lee snorted and jabbed, "Oh, right, like you could ever do that! They’d have to give you a lobotomy. And even mad as I was... I mean am..." Chip saw Tim grin and give him a ‘thumbs up’ at that slip.... "even I’ll admit that brain surgery is a little excessive as a solution. Could you maybe ... I don't know... just not do it in public? Please?"
"Hmmm, let me think.... that’s asking a lot." Lee grinned. He’d seen Chip’s decision in his eyes even before Chip continued with a decidedly put upon air. "But all right. Just because you asked. But you owe me one."
"Chee-ip! Geez." Lee’s imitation of Chip’s youngest sister was dead on. And resulted in the same response. An arm went around his neck and a hand undid all his efforts to tame his unruly curls. The wrestling match that followed, refereed by Tim, ended with Lee triumphantly pinning Chip to the floor and all three friends weak with laughter.
Chip’s hand was still on Lee’s door handle when he heard footsteps, and looked up to see Jamie walking toward him. Knowing why he was there, and knowing what he needed to do first, he held up his hand. "Doc, can you give me a minute? I need to go have a quick word with Lee. Then he’s all yours."
Jamie nodded, and grinned as Chip handed him the tray. Chip turned back to the door, took a deep breath, knocked softly, and entered without waiting for a reply.
"I’m sorry," he started formally, standing almost at attention after closing the door behind him. "I…" but was stopped by Lee’s upraised hand and bashful expression.
"So am I," Lee said simply, then added quietly, "I was just thinking about the first time we had that argument."
"Me, too," Chip admitted, then grinned. "At least I didn’t do it in public this time." He was relieved when Lee also grinned. It died momentarily when Chip added, "but this time the real Doc is just outside," then changed to almost a pout. Chip figured Lee had no idea just how much younger that particular expression made him look. But right now probably isn’t the best time to point that out, he admitted judiciously to himself.
The pout quickly changed to resignation. "Suppose I might as well get it over with," Lee said with a sigh, and Chip grinned and left. Leaving the door open, he took back the tray and motioned for Jamie to enter. Originally going to take the tray back to the Galley, Chip glanced down, changed his mind, and entered his own cabin.
As Jamie started through Lee’s door, he hesitated just long enough to see where Chip was headed, and he entered with a huge grin on his face. Instantly realizing that Lee was misinterpreting it, he chuckled. "Easy, Skipper. I’m not laughing at you. Just wondering how many of those brownies Chip will get eaten before I have to pump his stomach. I can barely get through one, they’re so rich." He was pleased to see Lee relax.
"Not to worry, Jamie. Ol ‘Cast-iron-stomach’ Morton could handle the whole plate full and never even feel it."
"We may get a chance to test that theory. He just disappeared into his cabin," and both grinned. "How you doing, Skipper?" Jamie changed the subject, sitting down in the chair Chip had so recently vacated, then grinned at the face Lee made. "You eat any of that?" and he pointed toward the door.
Lee just shook his head. "Drank half a mug of cocoa. About all I could handle."
"At least that’s more than you’ve had all day."
"Wouldn’t make any difference," Lee admitted. "The way I feel right now, even that’s not going to stay down."
"What did you have to eat and drink while you were ashore?"
It was an innocent and obvious question, but Lee still looked down before answering. "Nothing that didn’t come out of my pack."
"In three days?" Jamie said incredulously.
"Two and a half," Lee corrected shyly, looking at Jamie practically through his eyelashes.
Jamie just shook his head, but couldn’t keep the smile off his face. "You just about done with those?" and he indicated the files still open on Lee’s desk.
"Do I have a choice?"
"Things are quiet," Jamie assured him with a smile. "I can wait."
It was Lee’s turn to shake his head and give Jamie a wry smile. But he closed the files and tossed them in a drawer, got up, albeit slowly, then gave Jamie a curious look. "No comments?"
"Skipper, shame on you. You know I’d never intentionally hit someone who’s already so obviously down." He thought he heard Lee mutter something under his breath but wisely remained quiet as Lee walked slowly to the head. That the Skipper probably needed to be in Sick Bay on IV fluids was fairly obvious. But whether or not Jamie actually suggested it depended on what he found in the next few minutes. There was no doubt that the man was exhausted. There was also no doubt that he would rest much better in his own cabin, provided Jamie felt it safe to leave him here. Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, while somewhat…inconvenient…was rarely a serious problem for someone as normally strong and healthy as Captain Crane. Monitored, the Skipper would be much happier and easier to deal with if left here. Jamie was a little puzzled that there seemed to be so much muscle pain without the onset of vomiting and/or diarrhea. Although, that could just be the results of a lack of both eating and sleeping, he rationalized, and waited patiently for Lee to reappear.
His patience was rapidly turning into concern before Lee finally reappeared. Jamie tried to remain calm, at least outwardly, as he watched his patient, now wearing only pajama bottoms, walk slowly to the bunk and sit down on the edge. "Sorry to take so long, Jamie," Lee apologized. "Just can’t seem to get moving."
"No reason you need to, Skipper," Jamie said, getting up and walking over. "As far as I know the boat’s not in danger of sinking, the crew isn’t threatening to mutiny, and the Admiral hasn’t blown up anything in his lab." His crack dragged a smile out of his Skipper, as he’d intended. "So you can rest easy and not worry about anything."
"As little energy as I can muster, don’t think I have much choice."
"Here, Skipper," and Jamie pushed the blankets back. "Just lay back and let me check you out." He spent the next several minutes repeating his earlier general exam and drawing a blood sample. During it all Lee laid quietly, his eyes closed. Everything – the muscle pain, abdominal discomfort, headache, low-grade fever – all still pointed to a case of gastroenteritis, although Jamie was still a bit puzzled that Lee was having such a strong reaction. The lymph nodes on the right side of Lee’s neck were somewhat tender, he’d noted, as Lee flinched during the exam, but while a bit unusual it wasn’t particularly significant. It was, however, one of the reasons for the blood sample. Jamie wanted to be a bit more specific as to whether this was viral or bacterial. "Did the cocoa stay down?" he asked as he stood up from where he’d been sitting on the edge of the bunk, and drew the blankets over Lee.
"So far," Lee answered quietly, opening his eyes finally and giving Jamie a curious look.
Jamie grinned down at him. "Wondering why I’m not hauling your tail down to Sick Bay?" As Lee just continued to watch him, he went on. "Decided that as long as you’re not actually in abdominal distress, I’d let tonight be a freebie. However," and his voice got stern, "if you’re still not eating by morning I’ll need to start an IV."
"Not necessary," came out instantly.
"Yes, necessary," Jamie lectured, trying desperately not to laugh at the automatic response from his Skipper. "You’ve eaten and drank next to nothing for too many days. The last thing you need is to get dehydrated."
"I’ll feel better by morning," Lee assured him.
"I hope so, Skipper, but I’m just giving you fair warning. Now," and he reached into his bag, "I’m going to give you a couple acetaminophen. Hopefully they’ll help you rest easier, but they’re gentler on your stomach than a few other things I could use," and he handed them to Lee while he went to the head for a glass of water. Lee gave him a dirty look when he got back, and he grinned. "I know, Skipper, the last thing you feel like doing is swallowing anything. Well, do it anyway," and grinned again as Lee frowned at the lecturing tone Jamie had used. "One swallow," he relented, coaxingly. Lee sat forward just far enough to down the pills, and then eased himself back. "Thank you," Jamie said, taking back the glass. He tucked the blankets in, turned down the lights, and left Lee trying to find a comfortable position to rest.
"Jamie?" The voice stopped Doc as he shut the door to Lee’s cabin behind him. He turned to find Admiral Nelson standing at the corner of the corridor, and walked over to him.
"He’s OK for now, Admiral." Jamie answered the question written plainly on Nelson’s face. "Seems to be worse than he was earlier, but still not bad enough to put up with the arguments I’d get dragging him down to Sick Bay," and was relieved to see Nelson relax. The Admiral was always such a royal pain when his Captain was sick or injured. Not that he meant to be. And Jamie knew he did try to keep his somewhat paternal concern under control. Unfortunately, the worse Crane was, the worse Nelson became. At least this time there should be no major problems. "The Skipper’s feeling pretty lousy," he continued amiably. "Whatever bug got him, got him good. I’ve drawn blood to see if I can narrow it down a bit."
"The rest of the crew?" Nelson asked.
"So far, so good," and Jamie chuckled before getting serious again. "Makes it even more apparent he picked it up, whatever ‘it’ is, ashore. And also that it’s in all likelihood bacterial in origin and not viral. Thankfully," he added emphatically.
Nelson nodded an agreement. "Well, hopefully he’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep."
"He should, Admiral," and the two parted.
* * * *
Cookie hummed softly to himself as he cleaned up the Galley after dinner. He’d taken the time this afternoon to prepare one of the Skipper’s favorite meals, stir-fried teriyaki chicken and vegetables, with chocolate pudding for dessert. Scuttlebutt had it that the Captain hadn’t eaten much but health bars the whole time he’d been off boat on this last ONI mission, and Cookie knew for a fact he’d not eaten much since he’d been back aboard. Of course, that wasn’t so unusual for Capt. Crane, Cookie muttered to himself. He could still remember what a difficult time he’d had getting used to the change after Capt. Phillips had been killed. Phillips had been a big eater, and always very appreciative of Cookie’s culinary efforts. In fact, it had been Phillips who had recognized the nuclear reactor technician’s extracurricular talents during a particularly trying cruise, when so many of the crew had been injured – including the then chef. Phillips had asked for volunteers to man the Galley and Cookie had quickly stepped in. He never was sure exactly what transpired behind the scenes, but apparently everyone had been pleased with the substitution because somehow, after that cruise, the old chef was transferred out and Cookie found himself with the job.
But Capt. Crane had been another matter entirely. First of all, he barely ate enough to keep a bird alive, and just seemed to take it for granted that when he did want to eat, food would miraculously be put before him. He never seemed to appreciate all the hard work that went into making that happen. Now, Cookie was the first to admit that it was the Captain’s right to expect his crew to do their jobs. But Phillips had always appreciated Cookie’s extra efforts and had been very vocal with his praise. Cookie snorted to and at himself. Yeah, yeah. Gave you a swelled head in the process, he admitted ruefully. But still…
Cookie had let it go for awhile but had finally complained to Chief Curley Jones, who had told the Exec, and Mr. Morton had taken Cookie aside for a little talk. He’d told the temperamental chef that in all the years he’d known Crane - and that went back to their first year in Annapolis - that he had always been a light eater and had just sort of always taken food for granted. Eating seemed to be nothing more than a necessary use of time he’d rather spend doing other things. But Mr. Morton had also told him that the new Skipper was well aware of how the food served aboard a boat could affect the crew: good food put the crew in a good mood, and vice versa. Mr. Morton was sure that Capt. Crane would express his appreciation of all of Cookie’s hard work, just as soon as he himself got a bit more settled into his new position as Skipper.
Didn’t believe a word of it, no matter how much respect I had for Mr. Morton, Cookie chided himself. Even after the rest of the crew started turning around their first opinions of the new Skipper, Cookie had continued to grumble. He’d even toyed with the idea of asking for a transfer. As much as he loved Seaview, he just couldn’t see himself continuing to work around a Skipper who didn’t appreciate him.
"Cookie," the com interrupted his musings. It was Mr. Morton, sending down the Captain’s regrets that he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t eat the meal Cookie had prepared for him. Oh, oh. Scuttlebutt was right and the Skipper’s sick. Doc, break out your earplugs, and Cookie had to swallow a chuckle and get back to listening as Mr. Morton continued speaking. But he grinned broadly at what the XO asked for. Ah, yes, and told Mr. Morton he’d have it ready for him. Those two items, along with my beef barley soup, saved my career on this boat.
Capt. Crane had been aboard for almost a month and everybody else was starting to say how well they liked him, that he was good for Seaview, he was great to work under, always thought of Seaview and her crew first and everything else, even himself, last… Cookie was getting sick of hearing it. Oh, he figured Mr. Morton must have said something because Capt. Crane had made a few remarks about how good the food was on board Seaview, much better than a few other boats he’d served on. But Cookie didn’t think he’d said it like he really meant it.
Then one day there had been an explosion in one of the labs and Crane, slightly injured already, had risked further, more serious injury to remove other downed crewmen from the area and make enough temporary repairs to allow Seaview to get to the surface. Cookie found out later Crane had almost died in the process. As it was he spent several days in Sick Bay not totally conscious, and getting nothing but IV fluids for nourishment. Even when he was starting to get better he still didn’t want anything to eat, and Doc had finally threatened him with transfer to the hospital at Pearl if he didn’t start to eat something. Anything!
Cookie was interrupted again as Riley entered the Galley, but the chef was totally unprepared for the disaster the seaman held in his hands. Before Cookie could go ballistic Riley stammered out something that sounded like "the tray got dumped on Mr. Morton," laid it on the counter, and practically ran back out into the corridor. Cookie’s frown changed rapidly to a grin. If Riley had indeed dumped the tray on the XO, the hapless seaman would be cleaning ballast tanks for the foreseeable future. Finding the package of his special double fudge ‘Death By Chocolate’ brownies, Cookie took half a dozen of the 2-inch squares and popped them into the microwave to thaw while he started warming the milk for the cocoa, chuckling again at the old memories.
Cookie hadn’t actually heard the ensuing battle of wills that had erupted between Doc and the Captain, although he’d been told later it was audible halfway to the Admiral’s cabin. Cookie’d been told the tale by Mr. Morton when the XO came to relay the Captain’s request, laughing so hard he could barely get it out. Apparently the Skipper had told Doc he’d only eat if it were Cookie’s homemade cream cheese brownies, and maybe some cocoa. Doc had demanded decent food before dessert, the Skipper had responded the Doctor had said ‘anything’, Doc went off like a loaded cannon, and thus was born the legendary shouting matches that erupted on board the great submarine every time the CMO tried to get the CO to cooperate about his health.
The Skipper had apparently backed down and agreed to Cookie’s beef barley soup with finely chopped vegetables and lots of pearl barley, telling Doc it was as close to ‘Pearl’ as Doc was likely to get him. The XO told Cookie that the Skipper had also finally admitted, but only to Mr. Morton that, considering what he’d been through the last few days, soup was about all he’d probably be able to get down right now anyway, and Cookie’s homemade variety was the best he’d ever tasted. Cookie had still been a bit skeptical but had prepared and delivered it personally. Getting a first-hand look at how really bad the Skipper actually looked he began to change his opinion of the way-too-young-looking Commander. He finally started to believe some of the stories he’d been hearing about the man’s dedication to duty and crew, without ever thinking of himself, and had returned to the Galley to start a batch of the time-consuming brownies. They had to be thoroughly cooled before the super-rich frosting could be put on, so it was several hours before he again entered Sick Bay. From the looks on both Doc’s and the Skipper’s faces the fireworks had been about to erupt once again. Instead, the Skipper’s face had lit up at the sight of what Cookie was bringing, the first real smile Cookie had seen, and he’d inhaled two of the dark, rich brownies almost as fast as Mr. Morton could. Cookie was so surprised he could barely move, and just stood there until the Skipper directed one of his best command glares at the CMO.
"There," he’d said firmly to the Doctor. "Lunch and dessert. I’m leaving," and Cookie scurried out before hearing Doc’s response.
Cookie hadn’t seen the Skipper again until breakfast the next morning, and didn’t like what he saw. That the man was still physically ill was fairly obvious. But he’d winked conspiratorially at Cookie before starting to frown at the breakfast selections. Cookie had no idea later why he said it, but he’d walked over and stood hesitating until the Skipper acknowledged him. "Sir, if you’d prefer, there’s still soup left. Kind of a strange breakfast but won’t take me a second to heat it up." Cookie figured later it was a good thing that the Skipper hadn’t seen the smirk on both Mr. Morton’s and the Doctor’s faces as he’d gratefully accepted Cookie’s offer and turned to pour himself a cup of coffee. When Cookie brought the soup out he also brought another brownie, and received another quick smile. Cookie had gone back to the Galley but kept a watchful eye on the Wardroom. He began to get concerned when he noticed the Skipper had eaten barely half of the soup and only a few nibbles of the brownie before indicating he was finished. But concern turned to amusement as he watched Mr. Morton start teasing, cajoling, and even mildly harassing the Skipper, until the Skipper finished his unorthodox breakfast. He also noted the look that passed between XO and CMO as the Skipper rose and made known his intention to head for the Control Room, and began to understand some of the scuttlebutt that had the CO always thinking about his job before anything else. Right then and there Cookie’s attitude started to change.
Never could stand to see a man not eat well, Cookie chuckled to himself as he tossed out the Skipper’s ruined dinner and finished cleaning up. And from then on it had been Cookie’s personal mission to find out exactly what the Skipper did and didn’t like. When he tried new recipes he paid special attention to the Skipper’s reaction. If it was only so-so – or worse – out went the recipe! He picked Mr. Morton’s brain for foods that the XO might have seen the Skipper eat elsewhere, and scoured all cookbooks he could lay his hands on for variations of foods he already knew the Skipper enjoyed. He kept a supply of beef barley soup in the freezer for emergencies, in case it was needed faster than he could make it, as well as a tray full of the special brownies.
Not, mind you, that I ever let on to the crew that I was catering to the new Skipper. I do have an image to uphold. Can’t have just anyone on the crew asking for special favors. I’d never get anything done around here, and he chuckled to himself. The new Skipper had actually helped in that respect. Cookie had learned early on that the very last thing Capt. Crane would do would be to ask for special anything for himself. But with willing co-conspirators in the XO and CMO, not to mention an occasional assist from the Admiral, Cookie did the best he could to see that there was always something the Skipper liked on the menu while still keeping the selections sufficiently varied. He had a feeling Capt. Crane knew exactly what he was up to. We never can put anything over on the Skipper, Cookie acknowledged. Sometimes I think he’s psychic – always knowing what’s going on around him, and especially on Seaview. Once Mr. Morton picked up the brownies and cocoa Cookie finished in the Galley, left his assistant to handle anything that needed doing during Seaview’s night, and headed off-duty. He was already planning something special for breakfast and hoping the Skipper felt well enough by then to enjoy it.
* * * *
Lee spent a restless night. As exhausted as he felt, he still couldn’t sleep. His whole body ached, and especially his right arm and shoulder. Just when he’d find a comfortable position to lay, Seaview would roll slightly and muscles in one part of his body or another would scream. Normally Lee loved his ‘Lady’s’ easy movements. So much of the time it was like being rocked gently to sleep. Tonight it just frustrated him. He was toying with the idea of getting up and returning to his desk chair when there was a slight tap on his door, and it opened before he could roll over and get off a decent response.
"Oh, sorry, Skipper," said John, the night corpsman. "Figured you were sleeping." Lee’s movement had stopped his entrance and he stayed where he was, standing in the doorway, until Lee answered, waving him in.
"It’s OK, John," and he struggled to sit up. "Doc send you?"
"Asked me to check a couple times during the night," John confirmed, entering and closing the door behind him before walking over. "I don’t think he was too thrilled not having you in Sick Bay." Lee got along with both corpsmen pretty well, and both knew they could get away with a little more teasing than most of the rest of the crew. It was a technique they’d developed over the years to cope with the Skipper’s frustrations at being in Sick Bay, which led to his frequent outbursts at the CMO.
Lee was the first to admit he was a lousy patient, and always worked extra hard not to take it out on the corpsmen. Jamie, on the other hand, was fair game. Now he grinned as he looked up. "Not too sure myself how I managed that one." He glanced over at the clock on his desk. 0015. "Slept more than I thought I did."
"That’s good, Skipper. Feeling any better?"
"Not really," Lee admitted.
"Well, let’s check you out," and he gave Lee a brief exam. "Doc OK’d a stronger pain killer if you wanted it, Skipper," he said as he finished, "as long as your temp or abdominal distress wasn’t any worse."
"That’s mostly the problem," Lee admitted. "Everything aches."
"No problem," and John reached into the bag he’d brought and came up with a small bottle of liquid and a syringe. He grinned as Lee made a face. "Yeah, I know, Skipper. But it will work faster and help you rest better," and he prepared the hypo. "Why don’t you lay back down? It will make this a little easier." He grinned again as Lee gave him a dirty look. Lee’s expression quickly changed to a small smile, then a grimace as he lay down on his side facing the bulkhead and let the corpsman put the injection in his hip. "What’s this, Skipper," John asked as he finished, and touched the scratches on the back of Lee’s right shoulder.
"Bashed a couple beams while I was ashore," Lee said, rolling over on his back. "No big deal."
"Doc didn’t mention it," John said, a little hesitantly.
"No reason why he should."
"Well, one area just seems a bit redder than the rest," John pursued the inquiry. "Why don’t I go get a little antibiotic ointment for it?"
"Don’t bother." Lee yawned, the injection starting to work, and he gave John a hard look as the corpsman just grinned back at him.
"Take care of it later," John agreed, tucking the blankets back in. "Try and get some sleep, Skipper. Best thing for you."
"Doubt I have a choice," Lee grumbled.
* * * *
Jamie didn’t sleep too well that night himself and was up earlier than usual. He knew John would call him if there was the slightest change for the worse in Capt. Crane’s condition. Still… Almost calling down to Sick Bay for an update, he instead took a quick shower, grabbed a cup of coffee in the Wardroom, and headed for his office. The report on the Skipper’s blood work was lying neatly in the center of his desk and he grabbed it up, quickly scanning the results, then swore softly as he sank into his chair at the same time John came through the door.
"What are we missing, John?" he muttered disgustedly, throwing the sheet of paper back on his desk. "Nothing. No infection, viral or bacterial; everything else looks fairly normal. You just come from checking him?"
John nodded. "He let me give him a shot for the muscle pain just after midnight and he’s still asleep." At Jamie’s upraised eyebrows he added, "he was really hurting. Haven’t seen him admit to that much since the trip back from Indonesia," and Jamie cringed. John handed him the clipboard he was carrying and Jamie scanned the notes the corpsman had made on the Skipper’s chart.
"But what’s causing it, as well as the continued fever and nausea?" John just shrugged and shook his head. "Well, at least he’s getting some rest, anyway. You better go get some yourself," and John nodded and headed out.
"Oh, Doc," and Jamie looked at the corpsman. "Did you know the Skipper’s got some scratches on the back of his right shoulder?"
Jamie nodded. "The XO was muttering in the Wardroom the other night about the Skipper ruining a sweater he’d given him, hitting an exposed beam. I glanced at them earlier – they seemed to be no big deal. Gave him a wide spectrum antibiotic just as a precaution and quite honestly forgot all about it. Bad?"
"Not at all. There was one spot that was a little redder than the rest so I took up some ointment this time to put on it. I made a note of it on the chart. Just wanted to mention it as well."
Jamie nodded. "I’ll go up after a bit. Now go have something to eat and crash," and gave the corpsman a small smile. John gave a quick nod and left. Jamie puttered around Sick Bay for a few minutes but couldn’t settle down, and even though John had just come from there, found himself headed for the Captain’s cabin. Not bothering to knock, he entered quietly and walked over to the bunk. Lee lay on his back, his head turned toward the bulkhead. But even in sleep Jamie caught the occasional grimace of pain that crossed the younger man’s face. Damn, Jamie muttered to himself, and sat down carefully on the edge of the bunk. Lee had a tendency to be easily disturbed no matter what kind of drugs he’d been given, and the last thing Jamie wanted to do was disturb his sleep. What have you done to yourself this time, Skipper? I can’t fix it if I don’t know what it is. He let his mind drift back to another time when he’d felt somewhat helpless, not ever quite getting a handle on the total picture. Will you ever tell me what that was all about, or will you bottle it all up inside, like you do with so much of your life.
That had been the trip from hell for the Skipper. Old memories had caused him a great deal of mental anguish, and old enemies a great deal of physical. Chip, the one person Lee depended on the most to keep him grounded, had this time gone ballistic. Jamie had never seen the XO so angry. And while everyone knew it was merely the aftermath of being terribly frightened for his friend’s safety when Lee had gone off by himself to deal with the issues at hand, that didn’t make Chip any less dangerous to anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. Lee’s injuries, when he was finally found, were serious and painful – 5 broken ribs and a bruised kidney, not to mention the remnants of a concussion he was still fighting. He would probably still have been perfectly safe in Sick Bay, so well-equipped did the Admiral keep his boat, but Jamie’s main reason for leaving him in the Indonesian hospital while the Admiral finished his business had been to keep him out of his XO’s line of fire.
Lee had been remarkably quiet and amiable during those three days – very un-Lee-like. At the time, Jamie had chalked it up to the combination of the injuries, the drugs Jamie had him on because of them, and being on his best behavior for the hospital nurses – another reason for leaving him there as long as possible. Jamie sure couldn’t say the same for Lee’s normal behavior in Sick Bay. The Skipper had always been Jamie’s very worst patient, never following orders, always arguing with Jamie about everything.
Jamie grinned to himself. I suppose I should probably take it personally, he mused. The Skipper always tried very hard to get along with the corpsmen, and with any other medical personnel he came in contact with. But Jamie had for some reason always been fair game. Can’t have anything to do with the fact that I dish it right back, and Jamie chuckled softly. He admitted to himself that, given another set of circumstances, a different Skipper, he might have long ago just thrown up his hands and walked away. But Jamie had developed far too great a respect for this particular young man to ever do that. He wasn’t entirely sure how it had happened, but over the time they’d served together CO and CMO had developed – Yes, he admitted, a friendship. Somewhere along the line Jamie had discovered that he could just yell right back at the Skipper, within certain structured boundaries. It made for some interesting scuttlebutt and amusement among the crew. And despite Jamie’s high volume dispensing of medical advice, the Skipper still spent a great deal of time simply ignoring his CMO. But it had become, Jamie was happy to notice, a much more calculated decision on the Skipper’s part. He still openly challenged a lot of the CMO’s instructions. However, frequently the two could, albeit loudly, come to a compromise. But what the hell was going on that trip home, Skipper? Jamie muttered softly yet fervently.
Once Admiral Nelson was ready to leave Indonesia Lee had been transferred to Sick Bay, where Jamie demanded he stay the entire 10 days it would take Seaview to get home. Expecting the usual warfare with his feeling-just-enough-better-not-to-realize-how-sick-he-still-was Skipper, Jamie was unprepared for Lee’s quiet compliance. Also unusual, and a little unsettling, was Lee’s reactions to Jamie himself. Instead of grumbling and belligerently challenging Jamie’s orders, Lee had been almost withdrawn around his CMO. For the first three days he’d quietly followed all of Jamie’s instructions. Even more unsettling was the fact that on several occasions Jamie caught Lee watching him with an expression on his face of – Jamie wasn’t sure – almost shame? Twice he’d walked over to ask Lee what was going on, but both times the Skipper had turned his head away, apparently not wanting to make eye contact with him by pretending to be asleep. Jamie hadn’t pushed the issue.
A little more true to form was Lee’s ‘escape’ three days into the trip. Left unsupervised, however momentarily, he’d simply disappeared from Sick Bay. Yet even then he’d surprised Jamie and been discovered shortly after – by Chip – resting quietly in his cabin. The XO had noticeably calmed down once Lee was back aboard, and the two had visited peaceably each time Chip had been in to see Lee. Unfortunately, that also made his silence around Jamie even more noticeable. Jamie decided not to make an issue of the ‘prison break’ since in actual fact Lee always rested much easier in his own cabin – when Jamie could get him to rest at all! And for once, Lee was actually cooperating fairly well – for him! He was eating, always a plus, and not arguing about the meds Jamie wanted him to take. Not wanting to upset what little control he had over the situation, Jamie left most of the Skipper’s care to the corpsmen.
And even more true to form, after two days of staying in his cabin Lee once again took to prowling his boat. Surprised you behaved yourself that long, Jamie grinned. But even then Lee had continued to take his meds and showed up regularly in the Wardroom for meals. Jamie ran into him there frequently, and while still quiet and hesitant to look at Jamie directly, at least visited amiably.
Seaview shifted subtly and so did her Captain, unfortunately forcing another groan to escape. You certainly see to it that life is never boring, Jamie muttered softly, and laid his hand gently on Lee’s forehead. Still running a fever, though not very high, and Jamie withdrew his hand. But where is all the pain coming from? It can’t still be side effects from Indonesia. You’ve been over that for far too long.
Once Seaview had returned home, Jamie didn’t see Lee for several days. He’d heard that Chip had spent the first night at Lee’s house, unwilling to leave his friend unsupervised for any great length of time. And Admiral Nelson told him that Lee had spent the next several days in his office doing paperwork. Jamie grinned softly again. The Skipper lent new meaning to the term ‘Workaholic’. But it wasn’t until they’d been in port for almost a week that Jamie had requested Lee’s presence in his office. Considering Lee’s previous reactions, Jamie wasn’t sure what to expect. But Lee had been his old, usual, belligerent self – almost. There had still been a momentary look of… Jamie had no idea what, before Lee had settled into his old, argumentative persona. Jamie had actually been relieved. That Lee Crane he could deal with just fine, Thank You. They’d had their usual ‘discussion’ about what Lee should and shouldn’t be doing for the next several weeks while ribs mended and the concussion symptoms subsided – probably audible all over the Institute - and Lee had stalked out. Jamie knew no one else he talked to the rest of the day could understand the huge grin on his face, but that was OK. Whatever had been bothering the Skipper was obviously back under control. But I do still wonder…
"Jamie?" softly interrupted his musings, and he looked up to find Admiral Nelson standing in the doorway.
"Sleeping," he said in answer. "Let John give him a shot about midnight," and grinned at the instantly upraised eyebrows. "My sentiments exactly. He’s being way too cooperative."
"I can take care of that in a hurry," came Lee’s drowsy voice, and Jamie looked down and frowned at the stubborn look Lee was giving him. He looked up at Nelson.
"I swear, Admiral. One of these days…" and then grinned as Nelson chuckled broadly and finished walking the rest of the way over.
"How are you feeling, Lee?" Nelson asked, resting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. Jamie wasn’t the only one to notice the momentary flinch, and the hand was immediately withdrawn.
"Doin’ OK," came the expected response, although the expression on Lee’s face as he sat up was anything but.
"I don’t recall telling you you could get up," Jamie said firmly, but couldn’t hold back another grin at the look of pure stubbornness that crossed Lee’s face. All it did was to make Lee’s expression harder.
"Enough," the Admiral stepped in. "It’s obvious even to me you’re anything but OK. I’ll tell Chip he’s Acting Captain for the foreseeable future, and you," and his voice raised slightly to cut off whatever Lee was about to say, "will behave yourself and follow Doc’s orders."
Lee’s face was still sullen but he answered quietly. "Yes, Sir," and he looked at Jamie.
Jamie carefully kept his own expression under control. There were certain rules to the relationship between Seaview’s CO and CMO, one of which was, ‘Don’t gloat when the Admiral rules in your favor.’ "Feeling up to eating some breakfast?" he asked quietly. Lee said nothing, but Jamie could nonetheless read the answer on his face. "Then let’s get you down to Sick Bay. Dehydration will only make you feel worse than you already do."
"Not sure that’s possible," came out miserably, followed almost instantly by, "why can’t I stay here?"
"Because, Captain," Jamie lectured, and had to hold back another grin at the look Lee gave him, "I’m not hauling half my Sick Bay up here when it’s far easier to haul you down there. And if you don’t think you can walk that far I’ll have a stretcher brought up." Jamie didn’t quite manage to hide the grin at the expression that remark brought to his CO’s face, and finally even Lee produced a small one himself. Jamie stood and let Lee lever himself around to sit on the edge of the bunk, and slowly stand.
"I’ll manage," Lee muttered, and walked into the head.
Jamie just shook his head and looked at Nelson. "It’s actually comforting to know there are some constants in the world," he said with a grin.
"Need any help?" Nelson asked.
"I don’t think so. While he’s obviously stiff and sore, he doesn’t seem a lot worse than he was last night. What bothers me is what’s causing the problem in the first place. I’m beginning to have serious doubts about it being a simple case of gastroenteritis."
"So what else could it be?" Nelson asked with a glance toward the closed head door.
"Too many answers to that one, Admiral. But we’ve ruled out a large percentage with the blood work. At this point about all I can do is give supportive care and hope whatever it is runs its course."
"And in the meantime?"
"I have heavy duty earplugs in my desk drawer." Both chuckled, Nelson left, and Jamie sat on the edge of the desk, waiting for his patient.
* * * *
Lee absolutely hated being sick – a fact the entire boat was all too aware of. Most of the time he just shrugged off illness and injury, refusing to acknowledge the limitations they placed on his body, and got on with the business at hand. Hence his battles with his over-protective – as far as he was concerned – CMO.
Lee grinned to himself despite the pain as he bent over the sink to wash his face. Did manage to get my revenge on Doc that once, and a slight chuckle escaped as he remembered…
Lee had been up to his shoulders in a small access hatch on Seaview late one afternoon – well, early evening, to be honest about it – when he felt a tap on his back. "Almost got it," he responded, thinking it was Chief Sharkey. Seaview was in port and the two of them were trying to get a hydraulic connection replaced. One of the engineers had discovered the problem during some routine maintenance and, rather than call in personnel from shore leave, Lee decided to take care of it himself since he was already on board checking some other things.
But he was momentarily startled when the reply came in Admiral Nelson’s deep, resonant voice. "Finish what you’re doing, Lad. It’s not that urgent." Lee tightened the last nut and backed out of the narrow opening. He remained seated on the deck, wiping his by now grimy hands on a rag when he discovered Nelson had knelt down next to him. At the Admiral’s good-humored expression he cocked an expectant eyebrow, and Nelson chuckled. "Just wondering if there’s any piece of the boat you haven’t had your hands on, personally, at one time or another," and openly laughed as Lee just dropped his eyes.
"Just seemed dumb to call someone in when I could fix it myself," Lee answered, embarrassed that he’d been caught – again!
"Obviously the sign of someone who doesn’t have enough to do," Chip quipped, walking up to them with the inevitable clipboard in his hand, and the other two finally stood. "Since you have so much time on your hands, I have half a dozen chores you can do."
"And deprive you of the joy of checking in a hundred and forty three boxes of supplies for Delta Station?" Lee quipped right back with a snicker. "I’d never be that cruel."
Chip turned to the Admiral. "And on top of everything else, he knows exactly how many boxes are coming," and all three men chuckled before the Admiral got down to the purpose of his visit.
"Lee, I need someone to take FS1 to Florida, and you came to mind instantly."
"Kind of busy," Lee hedged. "Still have a lot to do before we leave next week. And I haven’t even gotten to my office…" but was stopped by the expression of utter amusement that appeared on the Admiral’s face.
"I’m well aware of what still needs to be done, Lee. And I also know that you, personally, don’t have to do half of it." He raised a hand to stop Lee’s response. "But all that aside, I really think you’ll want to make this trip. Someone needs to go retrieve Doc."
"Isn’t he attending some kind of lecture?" Chip asked. "Didn’t think he was due back ‘til just before we sailed."
"That was the plan," Nelson confirmed. "Seems he ran into an old friend and decided to spend a few days with him down in the Keys."
"So what’s the problem?" Lee wanted to know. "He’s certainly got the time. And if he has to come back, why can’t he just take a commercial flight?"
"Because he’s in need of a little extra care this trip," Nelson answered, and grinned at the twin expressions of puzzlement that appeared on the faces of his two young officers. "He is, as we speak, in hospital, recovering from a case of coral poisoning."
"How in blazes did he manage that?" Lee demanded.
"To make a very long story a little shorter," Nelson explained, still grinning, "he was diving."
"No way," Chip exclaimed.
"Are you sure you’re talking about our Dr. Will Jamison?" Lee wanted to know.
"It practically takes an act of congress to get him to do his re-certification dive each year," Chip grumbled, and the other two grinned. It was Chip’s responsibility to see that their CMO was qualified for duty aboard Seaview. It was a long-standing joke that the only way Jamie wanted to be under water was with a submarine around him.
"Anyway," Nelson continued, "I just thought, since he’s had to take care of you so often, you might enjoy retrieving him for a change." Lee didn’t answer but the expression of absolute unholy glee that spread slowly across his face told the other two plainly enough anyway. "Thought as much," Nelson laughed.
"Ah, he is OK?" Lee asked somewhat belatedly.
"Should be released in the morning," Nelson confirmed.
"Perhaps I’d better take Frank along," Lee continued with a grin, "just in case Doc needs any special treatment on the flight back."
"Good idea," Nelson confirmed.
"And I think I should go, too," Chip piped up. As the other two looked at him, he continued. "Obviously he needs some more specialized diving instruction than he’s been getting." All three had just burst out laughing.
Lee chuckled again softly as he tried to stand back up after splashing his face with cold water. That was one very interesting trip home. But his chuckle was abruptly cut off as he turned around. He was starting to admit that whatever had nailed him this time was more stubborn than he was. He’d barely made the short distance to the head before being hit with a wave of dizziness, and had quickly closed the door. I’ll be OK in a minute or two, he reasoned as another one hit him now. Or maybe not, and headed to go admit same to Jamie, as hard as that was going to be.
* * * *
Jamie had been unsettled to hear something falling, and extremely upset when he discovered it was Lee. He was sure most of the crew heard his call to Sick Bay to have a stretcher brought to the Captain’s cabin, whether or not they were anywhere near an intercom. Suddenly Lee was unconscious, sweating profusely, and had developed a rapid heartbeat. Jamie had handled far too many emergencies to panic, but he still started to breathe a bit easier when he finally had Lee on a gurney in Sick Bay, hooked up to monitors and an IV started. Admiral Nelson had hit Sick Bay’s door just seconds after Jamie. When things were relatively stabilized Jamie stepped back and heaved a huge sigh.
"That was fun," he muttered darkly, looking across the gurney into Nelson’s worried face.
"What the hell happened," the Admiral sputtered. "We were just talking to him."
"Trust me, Admiral. I’m well aware of that." Apparently it came out a little more frustrated than Jamie meant it to, because Nelson’s face lost most of its bluster.
"Sorry," he apologized, but Jamie just waved it off. Both stood silently for a bit, watching as Lee grew progressively restless, and finally opened his eyes. "Easy, Lad," and Nelson laid a hand, hesitantly at first, but when there was no adverse reaction a bit more firmly, on Lee’s left shoulder.
"Welcome back," Doc said pleasantly and grinned, albeit with forced good humor, at his Skipper’s glare.
"What happened?" Lee demanded grumpily.
"You tell me," Jamie sniped right back. "All I heard was a loud thump. Found you passed out on the deck."
"Guess I got dizzy," Lee admitted reluctantly.
"Guess you did," Doc agreed. "Not to worry. Just saved you walking this far," and both he and Nelson grinned at the face Lee made. "You just rest, Skipper," and he reached out to give Lee’s arm a pat. Again there was a momentary flinch, seemingly unnoticed by Lee, and again he realized Nelson had caught the slight movement as well. But he just grabbed a blanket and tucked it around his patient. "Try to go back to sleep. And don’t even think about escaping," he added at Lee’s expression. It earned a chuckle from Nelson, and finally a reluctant grin from Lee. "We’ll get you settled in a bunk shortly," and Jamie headed for his office, deep in thought. Something was trying to work its way forward but he just couldn’t quite get a handle on it. Sitting down at his desk, he was staring at Lee’s chart when the Admiral walked in and sat down opposite him.
"Frank’s moving Lee to a bunk," Nelson said, and Jamie just nodded, continuing to scan a chart that so far was only telling him what the Skipper didn’t have. "Jamie?"
Doc finally looked up, disgustedly tossing the chart back on his desk. "I’m missing something. I can feel it. Just can’t put my finger on what it is."
Whatever Nelson was about to say was cut off by the intercom. "Admiral," came Spark’s voice, "you have a call in the Radio Shack."
Nelson grabbed the mic to reply that he’d be right there, then turned briefly back to Jamie. "You’ll figure it out," he said with confidence and a quick smile before leaving.
Wish I could be as sure of that as you are, Jamie muttered darkly and again reached for the chart. Nausea and abdominal pain, he started running through the list of symptoms, but never to the point of vomiting. Of course, he never ate anything, either, and Doc snorted. Headache, general muscle pain, slight fever. A small note caught his eye. Swollen lymph nodes, right side of neck. What the blazes does that have to do with anything? But it triggered another thought. And this morning sweating, slight arrhythmia, right shoulder and arm are tender to the touch, but apparently not the left. He sat staring at the wall across from him a moment. Right side. Right shoulder…what am I forgetting? Suddenly it came to him and he hurried out to the main area. Frank was at one of the drug lockers working on an inventory. A look asked if Doc needed him, but Jamie just shook his head and walked over to Lee. The Skipper’s eyes, closed as he approached, opened when he apparently became aware of Doc’s footsteps.
"Sorry to bother your nap," Jamie said in his usual teasing way. "Just need to roll you over for a second. John mentioned some of the scratches on your shoulder looked a little red, and I forgot to check them."
"Slipping, Doc," Lee grumbled, but slowly rolled over while Jamie kept the IV line from tangling. "No big deal."
"Didn’t I hear Chip grumbling about your having ruined the jersey you were wearing?" By this time Lee had gotten himself turned. Jamie had been hesitant to help simply because the way Lee rolled, Jamie would have automatically reached for his right arm. And even now as he examined the injured area, he tried to keep his touch as gentle as possible.
"Chip just likes to grumble," Lee himself grumbled, and Jamie couldn’t help but grin. Lee caught him and just closed his eyes, but Jamie noticed his mouth twitch slightly.
The scratches didn’t appear to be any worse than they’d been the night before, but Jamie did find the small spot John had mentioned and examined it carefully. There is something… He also rechecked the lymph nodes on that side of Lee’s neck and gently felt all over the shoulder and down the arm before going back to the original site. "Any creepy-crawlies down there in the basement with you?" he asked lightly.
"Not that I noticed," Lee answered, then chuckled softly. "The only one I remember all trip was the one that crawled out of my pack on board FS1 after we got back. Don’t think I’ve seen the Chief move so fast in my life."
"What kind was it?" Jamie asked, more sharply than he meant to, but Lee didn’t seem to notice.
"To coin Sharkey’s phrase, we didn’t stop to make introductions. The Chief squashed it and gave it a quick burial at sea." Jamie noticed Lee’s voice getting slower and more slurred, and started to get a bad feeling. He hoped it was just the effects from all the drugs he’d loaded in the IV.
"No matter, Skipper," he said softly. "I’m going to take a blood sample, to run another test. Then you can go back to sleep." With Frank’s help Jamie quickly ran a neurotoxin screen, something he wouldn’t normally think to do but was needed to confirm his awakening suspicions. Results in hand, he went in search of the Admiral.
* * * *
"I don’t remember," Chief Sharkey said apologetically. "It was just a big spider – big and black," he added emphatically.
Jamie had called the COB to Nelson’s cabin after asking the Admiral for one of his entomology books. Before Nelson could start blustering at his unobservant Chief, as he seemed about ready to do, Jamie pointed to several pictures in the opened book and asked as calmly as he could get his also frustrated voice to respond. "Like any of these?" The book was turned to poisonous spiders of Australia.
The pieces had finally started falling in place for Jamie; the odd assortment of symptoms starting to ring the right alarms in the CMO’s brain. He was disgusted with himself that it had taken this long, although he could take some comfort in the fact that the drugs he’d been using to treat the ‘gastroenteritis’ were for the most part also the ones he’d have used anyway. But what the Skipper really needed was the correct antivenin. To do that, they first had to know what kind of spider had bitten him. And since Sharkey was the only one who had gotten a decent look at the apparent culprit, Doc was prepared to lean heavily.
"Think, Chief," and the impatience in his voice was evident. "The Skipper is much worse." Jamie was not above a bit of dramatics to make his point. And in actual fact, Lee’s dizzy spell and the sudden onset of slurred speech made his comment not that far from the truth. "The only way to know what antivenin to give is to know what kind of spider bit him. Just look at the pictures and try to visualize the one you killed." He pointed to one. "This one’s black," and he indicated the picture labeled ‘Funnel Web Spider’.
"No," Sharkey said instantly. "The legs on that one are too thick. Mine had skinny legs."
"OK," Nelson encouraged, and flipped a page. "How about this one," and Doc noted the name as ‘Wolf Spider’.
"Sorta," the Chief said after a moment. "But that one’s brown. The one I killed was black. Does Australia have Black Widows? That’s kinda what it looked like.
"No," Nelson said, and flipped another page. "But they have one in the same family, called a ‘Redback Spider’."
"That’s it!" Sharkey said, pointing to the picture Nelson found, then waffled slightly. "I think."
"You have to be sure, Chief," Jamie insisted. "The antivenin for one won’t work on another."
Sharkey studied the picture of the black spider with bulbous body and slender legs, and a red streak on its body. "Almost sure I saw that bit of red when I cleaned it up. Just thought it was blood."
"Now what?" Nelson demanded of his CMO.
"Now I call Perth and arrange for someone to pick up the antivenin," Jamie said.
"I’ll go," Sharkey said instantly.
"Good, Chief," Nelson answered, "but Darwin is closer." Then he looked at Jamie. "I’ll make the arrangements and get the Chief off in FS1. But Doc," and his voice held puzzlement as he hesitated slightly. "Spider bites of this type usually show symptoms in a matter of hours, not days. If this is the spider that got Lee, it’s been at least 36 hours, and most probably longer."
"I know," Jamie nodded. "But as I heard the story he took a shower as soon as he was back aboard. Between that washing the site, and the meds I’ve been giving him, it’s been enough to have, until now, held the worst of the symptoms just enough in check that they weren’t recognizable for what they actually were. Add to that our Captain’s propensity to ignore illness or injury…" Jamie shrugged. "It didn’t help at all that the Skipper didn’t realize that he had been bitten."
"Lee?" Nelson asked somewhat plaintively.
"Should be fine," he said, but turned to Sharkey and added, "just hurry."
"I’ll do pre-flight while the Admiral makes the call," and he hurried off. Doc and Nelson nodded to each other, both thinking of what they needed immediately to do, and headed in opposite directions.
* * * *
Admiral Nelson was not encouraged by what he found in Sick Bay when he entered quietly a short time later. It hadn’t taken Sparks long to place a call to the hospital in Darwin, nor for Nelson to bluster his way through the red tape of making sure the antivenin would be ready for transport by the time Chief Sharkey got there. The COB for his part, without sacrificing safety measures, had the Flying Sub ready for take-off in record time. Chip had his flight plotted and he left immediately when Nelson handed him the information about who to see when he got to Darwin. Nelson did have to spend a bit of time fleshing out for his XO Sharkey’s excited, "Have to take FS1 to Darwin ASAP" as he tore down the spiral stairs and toward the access hatch, so he was a bit longer getting back to Sick Bay than he’d planned. He’d tried his best to sound confident as he’d explained what was going on knowing that, besides Chip, every crewman in the Control Room was glued to his explanation. But he could still read the worry in Chip’s eyes as he headed aft, and his thoughts ran to the first time he’d seen it. It will be OK, Chip, he said quietly to himself. Just like it was that time.
But entering Sick Bay, he suddenly wasn’t so positive. Lee had been transferred back to the gurney in the middle of the room, where both Doc and the corpsman were working on him. Nelson stayed just inside the door until Jamie stepped back and noticed him. Apparently he read the worry on Nelson’s face and raised a hand.
"It’s OK, Admiral. Well…not exactly, but under control, at least." Lee appeared to be unconscious, a second IV line had been started, and his nose and mouth were covered by an oxygen mask. "The toxin finally decided to get serious."
"How serious?" Nelson demanded, walking over to stand next to the gurney. Jamie nodded to the corpsman, who smiled briefly and moved away. Both knew they’d have the Admiral to deal with until the Skipper was out of danger.
"Calm down, Admiral," Jamie soothed. "I made a call to Darwin as well. Talked to the doctor who will be preparing the pack Chief Sharkey’s picking up. The only reported deaths from a Redback spider bite since 1956 when the antivenin was introduced have been in small children and recent immigrants, who were already in poor condition. Normal healthy adults usually do just fine, sometimes even without the antivenin. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’d like to do this without it, however."
"Sharkey should be back in about 3 hours."
"Then you might as well pull up a chair and get comfortable," Jamie quipped with a grin.
"That predictable, am I," Nelson grumbled, albeit with a smile of his own.
"I’ll get the coffee," Jamie chuckled, and headed for the Wardroom. Nelson noted somewhat subconsciously that Frank hadn’t left the room, just moved out of the way. But the Admiral’s focus was on the man laying on the gurney. How many times had he stood here in this same position? Too many, he acknowledged. Yet…and he’d had this conversation with himself before, would he want his young Captain to live his life any differently? And the answer had always been No. Oh, he could wish for a bit more caution, a bit less…what, cavalier?…attitude about his own safety. And yet somehow, and in a myriad of ways, things always seemed to work out for this young man. Nelson had had a hand in that a good many times, even once long before Lee came aboard Seaview. He was still thinking about that incident when Jamie walked back in and handed him a mug of strong coffee. He watched as the CMO checked both IVs and studied the monitor measuring heart rate, BP, and respirations before looking at Nelson. He got a curious expression on his face, and Nelson gave it right back.
Jamie chuckled. "Was just wondering what you were thinking. You had a strange look to you."
"Oh," and Nelson shrugged, somewhat embarrassed that he’d been caught, and then more embarrassed that he should feel that way. Jamie of all people knew how close he felt to Lee, how he considered Lee the son he’d never had. "Just remembering the first time I spent any amount of time with Lee. Oh, I’d had him in my class – knew who he was." He chuckled softly. "I suspect there weren’t too many people, instructors or middies, who didn’t know who he was within months of his entry into Annapolis. Chip, too, for that matter." Nelson chuckled again. "Those two. While the U.S. Naval Academy may have been responsible for throwing them together, they certainly made the most of it. I’ve always suspected that a good many of the staff, not to mention a few middies, regretted that particular pairing. I doubt we’ll ever hear everything those two did." He looked at Jamie and laughed. "Every so often a story still surfaces," and both men chuckled at the unintended pun. At least, Jamie thought it was unintended. Nelson looked like he might be settling into his Storyteller mode so it was hard to say.
"Like the one about the cover ending up on the chapel spire," Jamie smiled. "The one that came to light when their friends were on board."
"But this was different?" Jamie prompted, settling back in the chair he’d pulled over. Nelson had always enjoyed, most often in the Wardroom, over dinner or a relaxed evening gathering, telling tales. They were usually about his younger years, his Navy career. He was a natural storyteller and the crew took every opportunity to encourage him. This time, especially, Jamie thought to himself. This had the makings of a young Lee/Chip story.
Quite unlike the gregarious Admiral, the Skipper was a very private man. While he was always very interested in his crew and their lives, much of his remained a mystery. A lot of it had to, of course, because of his ONI assignments. But then, Jamie conjectured silently, maybe that’s part of what makes him valuable to ONI, and such a good agent. He’s so used to keeping everything about himself private, it’s nothing he has to work at. "What happened?" Jamie prompted again.
"It was Lee and Chip’s plebe year, the first part of November. I spent most of that year dividing my time between the Academy and the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., giving lectures." He chuckled, remembering. "Could have used FS1 in those days. Took me 8-10 hours to drive it, each way. Anyway," and he paused to swallow some coffee and glance at Lee. "Was just wrapping up a session one Friday at the Academy, trying to make up my mind if I wanted to make the trip north that night, get in about 2400, or wait and leave the next morning."
"Seems like a no-brainer, as Riley would say," Jamie commented. "Stay over and get a good night’s sleep."
"Except that there was a storm expected the next day and I was hoping to beat it north." Both men looked at Lee as he suddenly got restless. Jamie rose instantly, looked at the monitors, adjusted one of the IV’s, and settled the mask a bit more securely before returning to his chair.
"He’s doing fine, Admiral. Right now, sleep is the best thing for him."
Nelson still kept a close eye on Lee, but continued his story. "Anyway, I was gathering up my notes after the last lecture when I noticed a midshipman requesting recognition.
"The Skipper?" Jamie guessed.
"No," Nelson smiled. "Chip. Nervous as I’ve ever seen him," and he chuckled softly.
"Our XO has nerves?" Jamie asked incredulously. "A temper, definitely, but…"
Nelson laughed. "Had a temper back then, too. And like now, it occasionally got directed at Lee. You know, of course, that Lee entered early," and Jamie nodded. "He was barely 17. Chip had a tendency to treat him like a little brother."
"Still does," Jamie muttered into his cup, but laughed along with Nelson.
"Well, seems Lee had gotten a call that his mother was involved in a car accident, pretty seriously injured, and Lee had been granted emergency leave to go home."
"Isn’t his hometown Newport?"
"That’s right. He told Chip he was going to hitch home – didn’t have the money for the train – and his temperamental roomie went ballistic. Now, mind you, I heard that part later." Nelson smiled and took a swallow of coffee. "Anyway, Chip decided he’d take matters into his own hands and ask me if I’d give Lee a ride."
"Which of course you did," Jamie said.
"Have to admit I thought about it, though," Nelson said somewhat reluctantly. "What little I knew of Lee, besides the fact that he was an excellent student, very dedicated, was that he was also the quietest student I’d ever taught. Barely said three words at one time and that was only when he had to. Wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with that for eight hours straight."
"Sounds like the perfect passenger to me," Jamie teased.
"Yeah, well…" and Nelson shrugged. "But I could also feel for a young boy, away from home, his only surviving parent injured who knew how badly."
"I gather it was an interesting trip."
"I think Lee said six words. ‘Thank you, Sir’ when he got in the car, and ‘thank you, Sir’ when he got out. There were a couple mumbled somethings when I tried to ask questions, like did he want to stop for something to eat. But that was about it. Oh," Nelson added, "he did give me directions to the hospital."
"Obviously Mrs. Crane was OK."
"But even as long as it took us to get there, the doctors still weren’t sure. Head injury. She was still unconscious."
"And they would have no idea of how bad the injuries really were until she awakened," Jamie translated. "Lee must have been beside himself."
"Actually, he handled himself with the aplomb and dignity of someone twice his age. If that had been my sister lying there I’m not sure I’d have handled it half as well. Oh, if you looked close you could see the tension underneath. See what it was costing him to maintain his outward calm. Maybe that’s why I did what I did…" His voice trailed off, remembering. Jamie didn’t press.
"The storm had caught up with us about an hour out of Newport. High winds, and rain that rapidly turned to sleet. Getting across the bridge was a nightmare. Once we discovered what was going on and I got Lee settled in the waiting room – back then hospitals were a royal pain about letting anyone stay in the room with a patient," and Jamie nodded, "I called the VOQ to tell them I’d be there in a few hours. Decided I’d stay with Lee at least until morning. Wasn’t going to sleep anyway, not until we heard something about Mrs. Crane." His face turned hard a moment. "Stupid clerk in charge of bookings didn’t have any reservation for me, and they were all full up with attendees to my lecture," and he drained the last of his coffee in a huff. Almost instantly a fresh mug appeared, brought by Frank. Neither Jamie nor Nelson had noticed the corpsman moving quietly around Sick Bay, just keeping an eye on things. Jamie now nodded to him with a slight smile. They’d been through this kind of thing before – minus, of course, the story Nelson was relating. The Admiral’s hard expression softened perceptibly as he thanked Frank, and turned positively sheepish as he grinned at Jamie. "Turned out to be the best thing that could ever have happened.
"When I went back to the waiting room I was still ticked. Lee just looked at me, so under control but with eyes filled with such pain, and I realized I really wasn’t the one with the problems." The look of embarrassment on his face caused Jamie to smile. "Anyway, I got us both a cup of coffee and sat down with him to wait it out. We didn’t either of us say much."
"But I rather suspect Lee took a great deal of comfort in the fact that you were there," Jamie said quietly, and Nelson smiled.
"That came out later, too," Nelson confirmed. "Anyway, thankfully, about 0145, Mrs. Crane woke up. Was coherent, remembered everything that had happened. She’d have to be in hospital for a few days but the doctors were very encouraged that there seemed to be no lasting damage. They were nice enough to let Lee see her for a bit," and from the tone of Nelson’s voice, Jamie guessed that they’d have been very sorry if they hadn’t, "then I told Lee I’d drive him to his house before finding a hotel. Lee told me – you know that shy little smile he still uses once in awhile…"
"Very well," Jamie groused. "Usually when I’ve just caught him in an outright lie about the state of his health."
Nelson laughed. "Looked even more shy and innocent on his 17-year-old face. Anyway, he said to please not do that, there was a spare room at his place, and could he try to repay me for my driving him up by accepting its use."
"Gracious young man. Obviously already had you pegged as being not quite the ogre some of the crew think you are," and Jamie laughed at Nelson’s scowl.
"Whatever," Nelson grumbled, then belatedly gave Jamie a small grin. "I don’t think Lee slept at all that night. Of course, by the time we got to his place and he showed me where things were at, it was almost 0400. I remember I got up again about 0800 and found him where I’d left him, sitting on the floor in the living room, staring into the fireplace flames. Said he’d already called the hospital and his Mom was doing fine, and he got up and made us breakfast.
"The storm had been a doozy – there was a layer of ice over everything. Drove Lee to the hospital, but just getting those few blocks was an adventure. I was still going to try to find a hotel, but Lee was adamant that I stay at least another night."
"And you didn’t argue all that hard," Jamie guessed.
Nelson grinned. "Actually, no," he admitted. "Spent most of the day working on lecture notes and watching Lee putter around straightening up the house, dealing with neighbors, making sure there would be someone around to help when his Mom got home."
"And bouncing some of your ideas for a sub design off him?" Jamie smiled.
"Came later that evening," Nelson admitted. "Once I finally got him slowed down. Jamie, I have never considered myself an inactive man," and the CMO snorted. "But I swear, it made me tired just watching everything he did that day."
"Nervous energy," Jamie nodded.
"Not entirely," Nelson disagreed. "I got the feeling it had been his job to do a fair amount of the housekeeping. At least, he must have grown up with a set routine of chores. He seemed to just naturally see what needed to be done, and do it."
"Now where have I heard that before?" Jamie grinned.
Nelson nodded. "Does tend to explain some of his Captaincy methods. Anyway, I took him out to dinner before we went again to the hospital…"
"Did he actually eat back then?" Jamie interrupted, and Nelson laughed.
"Pretty much like now," he answered, and laughed again as the Doctor just shook his head.
"By the time we got back to the house I was beginning to wonder what was keeping Lee on his feet. To the best of my knowledge he’d not slept since Reveille the morning before, and with all the emotional stress he’d been under…"
"Heard that one before, too," Jamie grumbled, and they both grinned.
"I finally got him to sit down in front of the fireplace," Nelson continued, "as I’d found him that morning. He’d been a bit more communicative as the day progressed – still cautious, but more willing to express opinions as we discussed things: the Navy in general, life at the Academy."
"Where Lee was going with his career," Jamie interjected.
"Friendships, family," Nelson added, then chuckled. "That’s when the true story of what Chip had done came out." Jamie just cocked an eyebrow at him. "Seems Lee thought all along that I had somehow heard about his problem, and had volunteered to drive him since I was headed in that direction anyway."
"Took it badly, did he?"
"I thought he was going to die of embarrassment. Covered it with grumbling that Chip had no right to interfere. That he, Lee, had everything under control, and could have managed just fine."
"Hitching how many miles in the middle of a storm," Jamie snorted, then added, "but that’s just him, too, I guess."
Nelson nodded. "While he didn’t say it in so many words that night, you could read between the lines. Lee had had to grow up fast, and had learned early to be very self-sufficient. To just deal with whatever life put in his way." Nelson chuckled. "He just couldn’t understand why Chip had gotten so upset with him."
"Something else that hasn’t changed," Jamie said with a smile.
Nelson grinned. "I could understand where he was coming from. And yet, because of Edith, I could also see Chip’s point of view. I tried to explain that Chip was just trying to look out for him, as he would have his own younger siblings."
"And yet, he’s all the time thinking about the people around him before thinking about himself."
"I think it just frustrated him to see it directed at him."
"I’ve heard stories about Chip taking Lee home for holidays and such."
Nelson nodded. "Mrs. Crane was gone a lot."
"You’d think he’d have eventually gotten used to Chip looking after him."
"From what I’ve heard, he had to get used to the whole Morton clan looking after him," and Nelson smiled.
Both men glanced at Lee, once again restless, and Doc checked to make sure the readings on the monitor were steady. "So," he said, standing by the gurney, "how long did he go without sleep that time?"
Nelson smiled. "Eventually he just curled up where he was by the hearth. I don’t really remember how long we sat there visiting. At some point he’d brought out a bottle of scotch that had belonged to his dad." Jamie looked hard at Nelson. "For me, not him," Nelson chuckled, and Jamie relaxed. "He’d already learned to survive on coffee and sodas. Chip hadn’t yet taught him the pleasures of cocoa. When I finally convinced him that what Chip had done wasn’t a problem, at least for me, he relaxed a good deal."
Satisfied that Lee was no worse, Jamie returned to his chair. "What all did you talk about, besides ragging on Chip?’ he asked with a smile.
Nelson returned it. "A little bit of everything. That was when I discovered that, while shy around strangers – and especially ‘authority’ types," and he grinned at the look Jamie gave him, "he really was quite articulate. He reminded me that we were supposed to have met a year or so earlier. I’d gotten suckered into judging a science essay contest at his high school."
"And he won?"
"Wrote an incredible paper on technical problems inherent in the use of SSN’s as inshore support platforms."
"Good grief," Jamie muttered. "At 16?"
"If that," Nelson confirmed.
"I barely know what that means now," and Jamie cringed as Nelson chuckled.
"Anyway, as it turned out, he was ill the day I made the presentations. Did you know that Lee’s Dad was Navy?"
"That’s about all I’ve ever heard," Jamie admitted.
"Killed when Lee was five. Lee barely remembers him. But it gave him and his Mom access to Base facilities. That’s how he ended up entering Annapolis early. You know about the ‘Sea Cadets’ program?"
"A little," Jamie said.
"Good program. Aims ‘Through organization and cooperation with the Department of the Navy’," Nelson quoted, " ‘to encourage and aid young people to develop an interest and skill in basic seamanship and in its naval adaptations, to train them in seagoing skills and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues’."
"That’s our Skipper."
"Somehow I don’t think they had to teach him too much of the latter parts. Anyway, because his dad had died on active duty, Lee was considered a military dependent, and with that came eligibility for membership in the Coaster’s Harbor Navy Yacht Club at the Newport Naval Station. The Sailing Center – that’s what they call the marina – ran a Sea Cadet program, staffed mostly by qualified volunteers. Seems Lee was involved in a few ‘incidents’ that convinced the Admiral at the War College to grab him for the Navy before he could get away."
"Lee actually told you all this?" Jamie asked incredulously.
"Well," Nelson hedged, "not exactly. Just alluded to a few things. I tracked down the full story after my lecture when the Admiral hosted a reception for the attendees. He’d heard Mrs. Crane was injured and asked after her. Anyway, Lee ended up doing both junior and senior years of high school together, and entered Annapolis with an age waiver."
"I always hated brainy kids," Jamie muttered.
"Graduated first in your class at med school, as I recall," Nelson commented lightly.
"And had to work my backside off to do it," Jamie groused, but he gave Nelson a grin. "So, what were the incidents, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
Lee moved slightly, not enough to cause Jamie to get up, but it made Nelson pause. "You know, Jamie," he finally said, "I don’t think I should be telling you all this. He’s going to hate it," and he nodded at Lee.
"Just consider it medical background," the CMO assured him. "The more I know about the Skipper, the better I can treat him." Nelson just shook his head. "So?" Jamie prodded.
"To begin with," Nelson began, still somewhat hesitantly, "he impressed the hell out of the people running the Sea Cadets program."
"Seems to have that effect on people," Jamie nodded, and Nelson grinned.
"Didn’t hurt that he saved the lives of the War College President’s daughter and granddaughter."
"Good grief. How?"
" ‘Just doing his job’ was how he phrased it."
"One of these days when he says that," Jamie grumbled, "I’m going to take that line and shove it…"
"Tsk, tsk," Nelson interrupted, and they both grinned.
"So, what did you find out later?"
"Lee was out on one of the sailboats the Center keeps available, with a small group of younger Cadets. Lee was, as I recall, all of 15 at the time."
"And trusted out without a supervisor? That’s our over-achiever."
"They were coming up on a motorboat, and the woman piloting it screamed that it was sinking. Lee dropped the jib and placed his boat in the safety position." Jamison’s questioning look had him explaining. "Keeps the sailboat in a flat and controlled state, which would allow the motorboat to safely come alongside. But while Lee was setting that up the woman’s motherly instincts got the better of her and she tossed her daughter – I understand the girl was about six – into the water, wearing a life jacket, of course, and told her to swim toward Lee’s sailboat."
"Good grief," Jamie repeated. "Lee’s obviously not the one in this story that shouldn’t have been out without a keeper."
"Yeah, well, anyway, since a sailboat doesn’t just stop on a dime, and the child couldn’t swim very fast, Lee wasn’t able to grab her. He did a QTR – Quick Turn Recovery," he translated for his again puzzled CMO, "and safely tacked the boat back, all the while keeping his young crew calm, cool and focused on following instructions. I guess by this time the little girl was pretty scared. Lee slipped over the side into the water, got her calmed down, and handed her up to the other boys, climbed back in, and brought the sailboat to where he could rescue the mother."
"Yes," Jamie agreed, "that would have impressed the Admiral."
"Oh, there’s more," Nelson said with a grin.
"And why doesn’t that surprise me?" Jamie groused. "What else did our intrepid young Sea Cadet get himself into, or do I want to know?"
"Don’t suppose you’d like the one about the day one of the units caught fire from some improperly stored paint cans?" Jamie groaned, and Nelson continued with another grin. "Seems he was initially sent out of the building with the rest of the Cadets he was with, but went back in when it was discovered that one of the staff wasn’t accounted for."
"They say God loves an idiot," Jamie muttered.
"Somebody loved the staffer. He’d been overcome by smoke, and Lee found him and dragged him out just before a wall would have collapsed on him."
Jamie just shook his head. "Let me guess. ‘Just doing what anyone would have done’," and he snorted. "And I always thought that his thinking about others first before himself came from a combination of Academy Command Training, and a strong Chip influence."
"Whatever you do, don’t tell Chip that," Nelson said firmly.
"Don’t tell me what?" came from the doorway, and both men turned to see the XO quietly entering Sick Bay.
"That’s strictly NTK, Mr. Morton," Doc groused. "And you don’t ‘Need To Know’ – Sir," he added sternly.
Nelson broke in before Chip could retort back. "We’re stopped," he said, making it a statement as opposed to a question, and Chip’s expression turned sheepish.
"Aye, Sir. Chris said I was driving him nuts with my pacing so I ordered all stop and left Sparks with the watch. Figured we could just wait here until Sharkey gets back. It won’t put us that far behind schedule," and he waited nervously for Nelson to countermand the order.
But Nelson just nodded. "Good plan. I suspect everyone on board’s a bit edgy," and grinned as there was a muttered ‘and who should know better than the head worrier himself’ coming from the CMO’s direction.
"He’s a lot worse?" Chip asked, walking the rest of the way over.
"But stable, Chip," Jamie said with confidence. "This way he’s getting much needed fluids and a more steady supply of meds than he was."
"But he’s unconscious," Chip insisted.
Jamie grinned. "Sort of," he admitted. Chip gave him a speculative look but visibly relaxed.
Nelson understood Chip’s need to check on his friend. And while reluctant to leave himself, nevertheless made a show of glancing at his watch. "I’d better get back to the lab," he said casually. "Have some experiments that need checking," and he rose to leave.
Jamie worked hard to control his own expression, knowing exactly what the Admiral was up to, and rose also. "Suppose you can keep an eye on him for a bit?" he said to Chip, and indicated Lee. "While things are quiet I’d better go get something to eat." When Chip nodded, Jamie added quietly, "Frank will be close by if anything happens, but the Skipper should stay fairly quiet."
"Not a problem," Chip readily acknowledged. Finding both Jamie and Nelson hovering around Lee had been a bit unsettling to him but, as much as he wanted to stay, he wouldn’t have butted in if the other two hadn’t made a show of leaving. He suspected he knew what they were up to, but was grateful nonetheless.
* * * *
"Hey, Chris," O’Brien said, looking up from his meal and glancing at his watch. "What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on duty. Or is my watch slow?" he added nervously and looked at the clock on the wall.
"Relax, Bob," Lt. James answered, grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down across from him. "Mr. Morton ordered ‘All Stop’ to wait for the Chief, and told me to go veg for a bit. Guess we were driving each other a little crazy. He left Sparks with the watch while he went down to check on the Skipper."
"Anything new?" O’Brien asked anxiously.
"Not since all hell broke loose."
"Spiders," O’Brien cringed, then gave himself a shake. "That’s one thing I didn’t think I’d ever have to deal with, going into sub service."
"Know what you mean," James agreed. They were both silent for a bit, before James continued quietly. "Do you know why he does it? The Skipper, I mean. Continue to work for ONI. It’s never made any sense to me, but you’ve been aboard longer."
"Since before Capt. Phillips was killed," O’Brien agreed. "And besides the fact that it ticks off the XO, you mean," and they both smiled.
"It does do that," James agreed. "But I sometimes get the feeling that Mr. Morton grouses because he can." O’Brien gave him a curious look, and he continued. "I’ve noticed that the whole crew gets a little uptight when the Skipper’s off boat. But nobody ever says anything."
"We wouldn’t dare."
"Agreed. So I think, just maybe, Mr. Morton fusses just that much more, because he knows he can and we can’t."
"Never thought about it that way," O’Brien said softly. "But you’re right. The Exec rags on the Skipper, everybody just sort of goes ‘OK, everything’s back to normal’. Also explains why the Skipper lets him get away with it, especially in front of others," and they both nodded.
"It was sure a surprise, transferring over from the Navy to Seaview," James went on. "I mean, I’d heard things were different here, heard stories about Capt. Crane."
O’Brien snorted. "Think about us, getting him for the first time. Now, mind you, Phillips was a great Skipper. Not saying he wasn’t. And that first cruise, Crane had most of the crew so ticked off at him we weren’t thinking about much of anything except getting home and getting rid of him," and he just looked at James when the other man chuckled. "Hey, you weren’t here. It was crazy. But…" and he hesitated.
"What?" James prodded.
"I’m not sure I know how to describe it. Like I said, Phillips was great to work under. Knew what he was doing, understood Seaview. But Crane – once we calmed down – wanted to know us. While he was busy learning everything he could about Seaview, talking to everyone about their jobs and, I swear, crawling in, over, and through every square inch of this boat, he was also learning everything he could about the crew. Not just how we related to Seaview, but to each other. What we thought, how we felt, how we came to be on Seaview in the first place, what our future plans were. Seemed like he wanted to know as much about his new crew as he did his new boat – and that was everything. As he got a feel for our strengths and weaknesses he made suggestions – never orders, mind you, just asked would we be interested in learning this, doing that." He smiled. "Found out I was an engineer at heart and gradually gave me more duties in that area. Not that he let up on my duties in the Control Room, mind you."
"I hear you. It’s really weird. I swear I have more to do here than I would in the regular Navy. Work my tail off, sometimes. And just last week he suggested I might be interested in taking some advanced classes in statics."
"Yep," O’Brien nodded. "Did the same thing to Keeter about a month after he came aboard. Just like, out of the blue, suggested he might look into some courses in naval architecture. Keeter said, at the time, he thought the Skipper was some sort of mind reader. Said he’d enjoyed those courses at the Academy, but since he’d majored in marine engineering just never gave it another thought. Has no idea how the Skipper knew to suggest it, that he’d certainly never said anything."
"Funny," James nodded. "I thought the same thing when he talked to me. I can’t remember ever saying anything to anyone, at least here, about being interested in the design of underwater structures; how to balance out all the stresses so that things won’t collapse. But that imploded dome we studied in Ocean Engineering back at the Academy made an impression on me, I can tell you. I sure don’t need anything more to do, but yet…I really think I’d be good at it."
"I think that might be a little bit behind the Skipper’s continued work for ONI. Even though he has more than enough to do here, he’s good at it. Knows others depend on him, and hates to let them down."
"But we depend on him, too," James insisted.
"So the XO has been known to remind him – loudly," and they both chuckled, then were silent for a bit.
"So," James finally said, "do you think he’ll ever give it up? The Skipper. Doing work for ONI."
O’Brien just shrugged. "As hard as we work here, do you ever think about giving up Seaview?" They both just looked at each other, knowing the answer was a resounding "NO!"
* * * *
Chip paced a bit in Sick Bay after the others left. He knew Frank wasn’t far away, but he’d left Chip alone with Lee. Chip finally took the chair the Admiral had vacated and watched his friend for a bit. "Damn, Lee," he muttered. "I swear I’m going to chain you to the periscope island. Maybe that will keep you from taking off every time ONI ‘volunteers’ you." But his frown slowly turned sheepish. "Nope. That wouldn’t work, either. With all your training you’d just slip the handcuffs," and he chuckled mirthlessly. "Don’t suppose you have any suggestions about what might work," and watched as Lee shifted slightly, then settled back. "Didn’t think so," Chip said resignedly, tucking in the blanket a little more securely. "You always have been your own worst enemy." He got up and went back to pacing. "Mr. Invincible," he grumbled. "Mr. I-can-do-anything-I-need-to-and-I’ll-be-just-fine. One of these days…" and Chip grabbed the gurney railing with both hands. "One of these days," he continued a bit softer, "there’s not going to be anyone around to pick up the pieces, Humpty Dumpty. Then what? The ‘scrambled eggs’ are supposed to go on your cover." Chip suddenly closed his eyes, a look of exasperation on his face. "You and your scrambled eggs," he groused, not without humor, and a smile appeared. "Thank heavens you don’t remember any of that incident, Capt. Crane. I’d never get you out of the hole you’d dig for yourself, you’d be so embarrassed. Although, it might be kind of fun…" and Chip grinned at the old memory.
Chip was sitting at his office desk at NIMR, starring at his computer screen. He’d been doing it for almost an hour, battling to make the figures in the computer match the ones on the papers in front of him. So far, the figures were winning the war and he had absolutely no idea why. When the phone rang it was a welcome distraction.
"Morton," he nonetheless grumbled, still glaring at the computer, but switched gears when he heard Doc’s voice.
"Chip," the CMO said, his voice full of humor. "Hate to bother you."
"No problem, Jamie, believe me. I’m in definite need of a break. What’s up?"
"Could you come over to Med Bay? We have a small problem."
"What’s wrong with Lee?" Chip immediately demanded. His CO and friend had been complaining all week about a sore tooth and had finally been convinced to go have it looked at. Given Lee’s aversion to doctors of any kind, and his penchant for ending up in trouble, it was the first thing that came to Chip’s mind.
"Down, Chip," the CMO chuckled. "He’s fine. I just need your help."
"On my way," and he rang off.
He wasted little time getting there. Jamie met him at the front door and headed toward the elevator, and Chip relaxed a bit as he noted the amused expression on the CMO’s face. But nothing was said until the elevator doors closed.
"Jamie?" Chip asked hesitantly.
The Doctor chuckled softly before answering. "I realize, Chip, that one of the main jobs of an XO is to take care of his Captain," he started, smiling broadly. "However…" and he laughed again.
Chip gave him a puzzled look. "Out with it, Doc," he commanded.
"You know the Skipper had a dentist appointment this morning."
"Of course. The Admiral couldn’t take his groans any longer," and Chip finally smiled.
"Well, turns out he’s in need of a root canal. And since Brian, Dr. Lesley, had the time, they went ahead and did the initial procedure, deadening the tooth and making a temporary crown."
"Lee must have loved that," Chip commiserated.
Doc chuckled again. "Oh, Brian’s had to deal with Lee before. Enough nitrous oxide makes even our short-tempered Captain a pussycat to deal with."
"So what’s the problem?"
"Brian has a temporary assistant – his regular nurse is on vacation. There was a slight communications problem over one of the drugs used to deaden the area around the tooth." Jamie was still smiling so Chip didn’t panic too badly. By this time they’d arrived at the third floor where the dentists’ offices were located, and Jamie didn’t say any more until he’d led Chip down a private hallway and through the back door into Dr. Lesley’s office, ending up in one of his treatment rooms. As soon as they’d entered the back door Chip had started hearing a voice, strangely familiar, but in that sing-song cadence a small child often uses. Two sights, equally unusual and therefore equally upsetting, greeted Chip in the inner room. Amiable, laid back Dr. Lesley, handpicked by Jamie specifically to treat uncooperative Command types, was standing next to the patients’ chair, an extremely harassed expression on his face. And in the chair, which was reclined as far as it would go, was Lee, giddy grin on his face, playing with a toy submarine. He started floating it through the air, making soft little motor noises, and when it got over his head he took a look behind him, saw Chip and Jamie, and started to get up. Dr. Lesley immediately reached out to restrain him and Lee, thankfully, didn’t fight back. Lee’s grin just increased as he said in the child’s voice Chip had heard, "Hiiiiiii ya, Chip Dip," and just lay there smiling.
Chip’s instant frown wasn’t helped as Jamie burst out laughing, and he glared at the CMO. "Jamie?" he groused.
"Drunk as a skunk," Jamie confirmed, still chuckling.
"Trust me, Doc," Chip grumbled. "I’ve seen Lee drunk. This ain’t it," and he walked over to stand next to the chair. Lee again started to rise but Chip laid a hand firmly on his shoulder. "Sit!" he ordered his senior officer, but continued to glare at Jamie.
"He’ll be fine," the CMO tried to control his mirth, with only partial success. "He’ll be like this for probably an hour, maybe two," and his grin increased as Lee went back to playing with his 6-inch Seaview. "Eventually he’ll just fall asleep."
"And when he wakes up and realizes what happened?" Chip demanded.
"Actually," Doc sobered slightly, "he’ll probably wake up with a splitting headache, and not remember anything after vegging out on the nitrous."
"You hope," Chip said emphatically, taking both doctors into his glare. "How many others know about this?" Chip was only too aware, and Jamie as well, of how totally mortified Lee would be to find out others knew he’d been this far out of control. He was still feeling his way as Seaview’s new CO.
"As soon as I realized what had happened I called Jamie," Dr. Lesley said quickly, "and sent both nurses off to an early lunch. Sally knows she messed up a bit, but that’s all. Nobody but the three of us has seen Commander Crane," and he gestured to the chair, "like this."
Suddenly the sing-song voice was back, but this time Chip could understand the words. "Row, row, row you boat, underneath the stream. Hah, hah, fooled you all, I’m a submarine", Lee sang softly to himself – and his toy.
Chip sighed, shaking his head ruefully. "My nephew," he explained to the other two. "Lee and I spent the weekend at my sister’s place about a month ago. I took along one of these," and he pointed to the toy Seaview, "for Degan." He looked down again at his friend. The silly grin on Lee’s face, while comical, was actually a bit painful for Chip to watch, knowing how much his very private Captain would hate finding out about this. They’d never get him in a dentist’s chair again! "Suggestions?" he asked, looking at the other two.
"Brian and I can get him down to the back door," Jamie assured his XO. "Hopefully we won’t run into anyone if we’re careful."
"I’ll go get my car, then," Chip said.
"Goin’ for a ride?" Lee spoke up hopefully. "Wanna go to the beach."
"The only place you’re going is home for a nap," Chip lectured, but it was getting harder not to smile.
"Your car?" Dr. Lesley questioned. "Not his?"
"No way am I going to try to get him off base in a convertible. My SUV at least has tinted glass." He sighed again. "But we do need to get his car home at some point."
"If you’ll tell me where he keeps his keys," Jamie offered, "I’ll have Kowalski drive it over late this afternoon. I’ll plan on arriving half an hour or so before that, to check on him, and I can bring Ski back."
"Actually," Chip replied, nodding, "he should have them on him," and he reached into Lee’s pants pocket. Lee’s ticklish giggling finally broke through Chip’s scowl and he chuckled as he tossed Jamie the key ring. "I’ll meet you by the back door in 5 minutes," and he took off.
The real fun started when they put Lee in the car. Oh, he got in just fine, still playing with the toy Dr. Lesley had given him to keep him occupied while he and Jamie had waited for Chip. But he was bound and determined that they weren’t going to fasten him into the seatbelt. While the adult Lee Crane thought nothing of buckling himself into anything from his car to FS1, the drug-induced child wanted nothing to do with the straps, preferring instead to twist around and try to watch out the back window.
"Come on, Dodo bird," groaned an increasingly exasperated Chip. "Only something that dumb insists on watching where they’ve been instead of where they’re going, and look where it got them – extinct! Let that be a lesson. Although I swear…" and he helped turn Lee back into his seat while Jamie quickly clicked the seatbelt latch. "Isn’t there something you can give him, Doc?" Chip implored.
"Don’t dare, Chip," Jamie apologized. "Not until some of this stuff wears off."
Lee started to reach down to release the latch and Chip shouted, "NO!" Lee pouted but he left the waist belt alone. Not so the shoulder part, pulling it out and letting it snap back. Chip just shook his head, hit the master control for the door and window locks, and started the vehicle. Rank having its privileges, he barely slowed down going out the gate. He just gave his horn a quick beep coming up to it and waved to Charlie, the guard. Luckily Lee was busy playing with the radio.
It was only about a 20-minute drive to Lee’s place, which was located on a fairly private stretch of beach. Not finding anything he deemed worth listening to on the radio, Lee had spent the last 10 minutes trying to get Chip to stop for something to eat after spotting one of the several fast food places they had to pass. Chip was gaining a whole new respect for his sister’s patience with her 4-year-old son. No way was he going to make any stops. He just kept insisting, through tighter and tighter clenched teeth, that he’d fix something to eat when they got home. At which point Lee demanded to know what but Chip could only say he’d have to see what there was in the fridge, and kept his fingers crossed that Lee had gone shopping recently.
By the time they pulled into Lee’s happily secluded driveway, Chip was strongly considering locking his friend in the closet until he came out from under the effects of the meds, then getting drunk himself. On top of everything else, when Lee had spotted the beach he’d immediately demanded to go play with his submarine in the water. Stopping himself just short of telling Lee what he could do with the toy, Chip reminded Lee that just two minutes ago Lee was demanding he was starving, and why didn’t he go play with the boat in the bathtub while Chip fixed lunch. While child Lee failed to grasp the logic of the compromise, apparently the combination of Chip’s expression and tone of voice got through because Lee sullenly stomped into the house and towards the bathroom. Waiting until he heard water running, Chip headed for the kitchen.
The pickings were pretty lean, unfortunately, but he wandered back to the bathroom several minutes later with a couple options. What he found caused him to just lean against the doorframe, shaking his head. Not being content to just lean over the edge of the tub and play with his toy, Lee had stripped and was kneeling in the water, making waves, splashing water everywhere and, from his gleeful squeals, having a wonderful time.
Chip watched quietly for a couple minutes but, finally unable to control himself any longer, burst out laughing. Lee looked up immediately and asked if lunch was ready. Chip told him no, not yet, and did he want tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, or scrambled eggs with bacon in it, and toast.
"Scrambled eggs," Lee shouted excitedly, and another pint of water splashed across the bathroom floor. Chip rapidly shut the door and laughed all the way back to the kitchen.
He wasn’t laughing 10 minutes later. He just happened to glance out the kitchen window as the bacon was sizzling in the frying pan and he was breaking several eggs into a bowl, and got a glimpse of Lee’s backside running across the beach and entering the water. He wasn’t sure later how he had the presence of mind to take the frying pan off the burner and grab Lee’s bathrobe. He only knew that he made it to the water’s edge in record time.
"What are you doing, you idiot?" he screamed, sending a silent prayer of thanks that there didn’t seem to be anyone else on the beach. He could only hope anyone in the closer houses were otherwise occupied.
"Bathtub wasn’t big enough," Lee shouted back happily, standing waist deep in the water.
"Get back here," Chip demanded.
Lee just giggled. "Come in and get me," he challenged.
"Here! Now!" Chip used his best command voice and posture.
"Why?" Lee questioned, totally innocently.
Because if you don’t I’m going to kill you, Chip muttered to himself, then said loud enough for Lee to hear, "Because your lunch is ready."
"Oh," Lee brightened and returned to the beach, where he was quickly wrapped in his robe and escorted back to the house. Chip sat him down at the kitchen table with little argument and poured him glasses of milk and orange juice to go along with his unorthodox lunch, and to keep him occupied while Chip finished fixing the eggs.
Chip’s good humor returned as he watched Lee cheerfully scarf down 3 eggs cooked with 4 strips of crumbled bacon, 2 pieces of toast piled high with peanut butter – he’d let Lee fix his own – and several cookies Chip found in the cupboard. Obviously the temporary crown is working, Chip thought. And also, it was too bad the mis-prescribed drug had caused such unacceptable side effects. Chip couldn’t remember seeing Lee ever enjoy a meal more.
Thankfully for Chip’s sanity, by the time Lee had worked his way through the meal he was starting to yawn, and gave Chip very little trouble exchanging the robe for pj’s and tucking him into bed, although the whole time Chip kept expecting Lee to ask for a bedtime story.
Have a feeling you might not have liked the one I’d picked out, Chip muttered, softened by the half-grin on his face. If you’d even have understood it, in the condition you were in. You never have liked being teased about mermaids, and he chuckled. You sure weren’t in any mood for teasing when you woke up. Doc’s prediction of a splitting headache didn’t even come close. Don’t think it helped much that I couldn’t help joshing you about the toy Seaview you still had clutched in your hand, either, and Chip snickered. "But at least Jamie was right that you didn’t remember anything that happened that afternoon," he added softly.
Apparently not softly enough. "Everything OK?" Frank asked, coming partway into the main room from Doc’s office. "Is the Skipper awake? Thought I head voices."
"Just ‘voice’, Frank," Chip said. "Mine. Was giving the Skipper a bad time. Nothing new," and he grinned softly as the corpsman chuckled, too. Frank walked over and checked the monitors and IV lines, and laid his hand briefly on Lee’s forehead.
"He seems to be doing fine, Mr. Morton. Hopefully he’ll respond fairly quickly once he gets the antivenin."
"Sharkey should be back in under an hour. We’d have heard by now if he ran into any problems. It’s just…"
"I know, Sir. It’s hard to see him like this. But Doc was sure he’d be OK."
"Doc lies," Chip grumbled, practically under his breath, but Frank just smiled.
"Only to you and the Skipper about your own health, Sir. To try and keep the two of you from going back on duty before you should," and he grinned at the look Chip gave him. "Never to one of you about the other."
Chip finally smiled sheepishly. "I’ll give you that one, Frank." As the corpsman headed back toward Doc’s office, Chip stopped him. "Frank?" he asked hesitantly. "Do you know what Doc and the Admiral were talking about when I came in?"
"Sorry, Sir," Frank hedged. "I wasn’t really close enough to hear much. As far as I know they were just visiting." Chip did wonder at the enigmatic little grin the corpsman gave him before returning to Jamie’s office, but finally just shrugged his shoulders and settled back into the chair next to the gurney.
Frank snickered softly to himself, amazed that he’d been able to keep a straight face – almost – at the Exec’s question. No way was he going to repeat any of that story to the no-nonsense Mr. Morton. At least, no-nonsense on duty, Frank grinned. There was plenty of evidence, from personal observations at company beach parties as well as occasional comments by the Skipper, that the XO was a totally different, fun-loving person away from work. But Frank still wasn’t willing to admit what he’d heard of the future XO’s part in Nelson’s story. Frank had also seen a few too many examples of Mr. Morton’s forms of retaliation.
His thoughts were interrupted as John poked his head through the office door from the corridor. "Spider bite?" John said questioningly, coming the rest of the way in, with a glance through the connecting door into Sick Bay.
Frank quickly caught him up. "Great catch, by the way," he added. "Thanks to you Doc remembered to check the scratches, and finally put all the pieces together."
John waved off the compliment. "Mostly, it was just the Skipper rolling the right way at the right time," he admitted.
"Whatever," Frank replied. "Where’s Mr. Morton?" he asked very quietly.
"Sitting next to the gurney. Surprised the Admiral’s not here."
"He was until just a little while ago. Have a seat. I just checked and the Skipper’s doing fine so we’ve got a few minutes. Have I got a story for you…" and he leaned forward with a snicker.
* * * *
Kowalski, not known as the calmest seaman aboard Seaview, was about to blow his stack. He was one of half a dozen crewmembers running safety checks on all the diving gear stored in the missile room. A seemingly redundant task, since everything had been checked before leaving port, it was still routine for all the old hands. New crewman Rawn, however, had spent most of the last 20 minutes complaining that it was a total waste of time.
"Listen, you dunderhead," Ski finally blustered. "You don’t dive that often – your life doesn’t depend on this stuff working properly."
"But it’s all been checked." Rawn wasn’t ready to give it up. "Why do we have to waste time doing it again?"
"Because that’s our job," Patterson broke in, trying to get everyone to calm down. "We’ve got a great safety record here on Seaview…"
"And we’d like to keep it that way," Kowalski finished emphatically.
"Dumb," Rawn muttered not totally under his breath. "I thought working on Seaview would be great – exciting, you know? So far all its been is boring," and he tossed the tank harness he was supposed to be checking carelessly back into the storage bin.
"You’re going to think boring," Riley said, picking up the harness and stowing it carefully where it belonged, "if any of the officers or Chief Sharkey catch you being that careless." He grinned at the other crewmen. "You’ll be assigned so many extra duties you’ll barely have time to eat and sleep," and there were affirmative nods and grimaces from the others.
Rawn just snorted. "Hah. Fat chance any of them will be down here. I hear everyone’s all hovering around Crane. Spider bite!" he spit out derisively. "I’ve always heard the great Capt. Crane was some kind of ‘Wunderkind’. Sounds to me like he’s just a klutz."
"Why, you…" and Kowalski turned on Rawn. Patterson got between them just in time to stop anything physical, but not vocal. "You’re cruisin’ to get a fist bite," Ski growled, barely under control, "if you don’t shut up. Everybody aboard…except the ones too stupid to figure it out… knows we owe our lives to Capt. Crane."
"And not just once or twice," Riley said quietly.
"That’s right," and "You tell him," and "Amen," came from multiple directions at once.
"The Skipper’s no klutz," Patterson said to the very outnumbered Rawn, turning his back to the still royally ticked Kowalski. "If he was, ONI wouldn’t continue to ‘borrow’ him for secret assignments," and again there were affirmative nods and quiet comments from the other crewmen. "Not only that, but how could he have been the youngest man to ever command a sub. Or graduate first in his class at Annapolis. Just doesn’t happen!" Rawn tried to wave Patterson off, suddenly looking uncomfortable at being the center of attention. But Pat had no intention of giving up. "If the Skipper gets hurt more often than some of the rest of us, its because he chooses to put himself in the line of fire rather than ask someone else to. Does it constantly, from the very first cruise he was aboard."
"Nobody looks after anybody but themselves," Rawn growled.
"Damn," Kowalski yelled. "Why don’t you get it? I’d have thought that anyone who would stay behind in a flooding compartment and chase everyone else out wouldn’t be this dense."
"Didn’t trust anyone else to do it right," Rawn yelled right back. "Sure didn’t want to end up on the bottom with the no-loads I had for shipmates. And how the hell do you know about that anyway?"
Patterson answered him as Ski just glared. "The Exec always posts brief bios of new crew members. It helps to know who we’re working with if we want a smooth sail."
"Yeah? Why didn’t I know about this? And what did it say?"
"Probably because you didn’t bother to look at the Day Board," Ski muttered.
"It just listed your military background and areas of expertise," Patterson continued.
"Yeah, right," Rawn said derisively. "You’d have me believe that was all that was in it?"
"Don’t know what your problem is, but when we’re done here you can go read it. Chief Sharkey will have a copy."
"If you’re worried about anything private," Riley spoke up, "the senior staff considers personal info just that – personal."
Rawn just snorted. "That’s why Crane comes around, ‘just wanting to talk, just wanting to know how things are going’." And the last was said with a sneer in his voice.
"He just wants to know you’re settling in; everything’s going OK," Riley said.
Pat continued. "If we care a lot about him, he cares even more about us. You, too, for that matter…"
"Although why makes no sense," Ski muttered darkly.
Patterson took a deep breath before continuing. "The Skipper does everything he can to see that everyone around him stays as safe as possible. He doesn’t care what everyone else thinks of him. He proved that – to all of us – that first cruise. But that’s also why we do so many safety checks. The Skipper doesn’t like to take any chances, or take anything for granted. He takes it real personal when anyone around him gets hurt, no matter the reason. None of us wants him to feel bad if there was some way it could have been avoided.
"Bunch of do-gooders and suck-ups," Rawn mumbled, and even Patterson’s calming presence, itself tested to the limit, wasn’t enough to stop the violence that erupted. In fact, when he thought about it later, Patterson was forced to admit he’d struck the first blow. Unfortunately for Rawn, Pat had lots of help.
* * * *
STOP! Right now. As much as you’d like to emulate the Skipper’s style of command, pacing the Control Room when you’re under tension is not one of the ways to go about it. Lt. Ted "Sparks" Sines stopped what he was doing and walked, seemingly with purpose, back to the chart table and grabbed the first clipboard he saw. Besides, he continued to chide himself, that’s why you have the command now in the first place. Mr. Morton and Chris were getting on each other’s nerves so bad the XO decided they both needed a break, and Sparks shuddered slightly. It was so unusual to fluster the Exec. Tick him off, now that was a piece of cake. Just let him catch you being lax with your duties. But he wasn’t ticked today, just very worried, and the sight of him prowling the Control Room like a caged tiger hadn’t done much good for the entire duty crew. But then, how often did a stupid little spider cause more than a small irritation, let alone fell the Skipper, a man the entire crew looked up to, depended on, and respected? Not surprising if the whole boat’s unnerved.
He took a quick look around the room. Even though Seaview was at dead stop there was still work for the men on duty, and Sparks was pleased that all eyes were focused on the equipment in front of each one. He enjoyed the infrequent opportunities he had to command the giant submarine, even when things were quiet. He worked hard to keep up-to-date with the various manuals and reports necessary to understand everything going on around him, in addition to everything related to his own specialty – communications. But admit it, you never really thought about any of this until Capt. Crane came aboard. Capt. Phillips had been so appreciative of your skills you just worked to make yourself the best Communications Officer you could be. But Crane had been aboard, what? About 2 months? Sparks thought back to the incident. Crane had started a casual conversation in the Wardroom one day over coffee about the basic similarities of the electronics involved in radio and hydrophones. And once Sparks had started thinking along those lines, he’d been encouraged to learn more about sonar, the Inertial Guidance System, and Satellite Positioning equipment. Not that Crane let him back off on his own job. The Skipper had made a point of keeping Sparks advised of the reasons behind as many of the more classified messages Sparks sent and received as he could, so that Sparks had more of an idea of what was going on. And with that came more opportunities as O.O.D. And I discovered I was good at it, he half-smiled. Surprised the heck out of me. But Crane hadn’t acted surprised at all. Sparks had found himself trying to study the Skipper’s command style as much as the various manuals, just because of his growing respect for the man.
Like I could ever be half the leader he is, Sparks muttered to himself, pretending to study the status report he’d picked up. You don’t learn that from a book, or just by watching it unfold in front of you. But I’m sure I could be a perfectly competent CO, given the chance.
Glancing seemingly casually around the Control Room again, his last thought ran through his mind and he cringed. Think what you’re saying, you idiot, he chided himself. You wouldn’t have his job on a bet! And its got nothing to do with the strange things that sometimes happen on board Seaview. Just think about what he, as CO, has to handle. Do you really want that responsibility? As much as you want to emulate him, do you really want that anguish?
That had been another surprise for Sparks. As good a commanding officer as Capt. Phillips had been – and Sparks could readily agree that Phillips had been one of the best technical officers Sparks had ever served under – he tended to distance himself from the personal lives of his crew almost to the point of aloofness, and concentrate almost entirely on the job at hand. The crew had responded to his professionalism, had appreciated his compliments, and the submarine had done extremely well under his leadership.
But it thrives under Crane, Sparks admitted. There’s more cohesiveness among the crew, more willingness to act in a crisis without waiting to be told what to do. And act correctly, because everyone is so thoroughly cross-trained, thanks to the Skipper’s encouragement. Crane had come to Seaview under extremely adverse conditions, but from the very first had thrown his entire being into the position. He was all over the boat, learning as much about her as he could, and at the same time learning as much about the men who ran her. And the crew had responded – once they got over their initial dislike for the ridiculously young Commander.
But the changes had not come without cost to Crane. He had reveled in the personal joys and triumphs of the men who served under him: Keeter’s promotion from jg to full Lieutenant; the ceremonies involved in the ‘Crossing the Equator’ celebrations; the birth of Michelson’s twin sons. That was a blast! Sparks chuckled. Knowing that the birth was imminent, the Skipper had had Cookie make a batch of cupcakes and set two aside, one with blue icing and one with pink, since the Mickelsons had decided they didn’t want to know the sex of the child beforehand. No one was expecting twins, and when the message came in and Sparks handed it to the Skipper, there was some mad scrambling to turn the second cupcake blue as well. It was all over the boat within minutes, everyone carefully keeping the news from Michelson until the Skipper could make the traditional presentation. The Crew’s Mess was packed when Crane tracked the crewman down there and handed him one of the cupcakes. Then while Michelson was accepting his congratulations, Crane had produced the second cupcake from behind his back, turning the crewman almost speechless. The whole crew had been in a festive mood for days, one of the most brilliant grins belonging to the Skipper.
But the Skipper despaired just as deeply, or even more so, at the problems: having to kill the visiting scientist, Dr. Illyanova, when she proved to be an enemy agent; the Benson affair, when the crewman had blamed Crane for the unfortunate death of Benson’s friend, Grady. But even as bad as that one was, Sparks admitted, they were all unavoidable for the safety of Seaview and her crew. I don’t think I’ve seen him take something as hard as when Yager died.
Yager was just a kid – not that that had made any difference, although he might not have acted as he did, instinctively and without thinking, if he had been a bit older and wiser. But he was just so excited to be on his first cruise aboard. His enthusiasm had been infectious and the whole crew was in good spirits, even though it was to be a fairly long trip to Antarctica and the men would be away from their families for well over a month. Several times Sparks had overheard the Skipper and XO chuckling about something Yager had done or said. Not that I was eavesdropping, but voices do carry in the Control Room unless one is very careful. It was good to see the Skipper in such a good mood and Sparks thought that that, as much as Yager himself, was why the boat was so relaxed.
They’d reached the Antarctic coast without incident – unless you wanted to count the time we spent cleaning up the Crew’s Mess after the ‘Crossing the Equator’ celebration for Yager and a couple others, Sparks mused. Besides the regular crew, Seaview had several scientists aboard, doing research on penguin populations. Counting penguins ranks right up there with counting seals, as far as any of us was concerned. But hey, any job where Seaview was hired out helped pay the bills. Sparks did hear the XO teasing the Skipper one day in the Wardroom about "at least we shouldn’t run into any mermaids this trip," and the Skipper answering back dryly, "the only thing of any interest we’re likely to find is, maybe, the Abominable Snowman." Sparks chuckled at the memory. Mr. Morton had replied sternly that he was far too good a navigator to have taken Seaview so far off course as to wind up in Tibet. Sparks hadn’t heard the Skipper’s answer to that, it was said too quietly. But Mr. Morton had turned bright red and the Skipper had walked out chuckling heartily.
It was an inhospitable time to be visiting Antarctica. June, the beginning of Summer at home, was the beginning of winter down under, with temperatures that could easily drop to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or even lower. But the scientists aboard were studying specifically the Emperor Penguins. Standing four feet tall and weighing up to 90 pounds, they are the largest species of flightless birds, and the only bird in the world that lays their eggs during winter. The rest of the year they spent on the pack ice. Seaview went where the birds were so she was headed to the Ross Ice Shelf, on the Pacific Ocean side of the continent, to where the largest of the Emperor Penguin rookeries could be found. A permanent site had already been established and Seaview was taking in the scientists, and enough supplies, to let them stay through the harsh winter months. Because of the Antarctic Treaty, the colonies were protected from too close motorized contact. A previously delivered Snowcat would pick up the scientists, as well as several of Seaview’s crew, and deliver them to a Base camp. While only about 4 miles from the actual colony observation camp, it was still a good day’s journey by foot over some very dangerous terrain. Seaview’s men would help get everything delivered safely then return, and Seaview would continue on around Antarctica, allowing Admiral Nelson to do some research of his own.
Yager was one of seven Seaview crewmen to accompany the scientists, as well as Admiral Nelson and the Skipper. Everything went fine on the way in. All the equipment was off-loaded without incident, and they spent the first night at the base camp. ‘Night’, of course, being a relative term, since it was dark almost all the time, that time of year. They spent almost 10 hours the next day covering the distance to the observation hut, helped get things stowed and made sure everything was working correctly, caught a few hours’ sleep, and headed back.
Along with normal Seaview radio traffic, Sparks had also been keeping track of the mini-expedition. The first he knew that there might be a problem was a slightly garbled message from Nelson to the base camp about an accident, and Nelson asking if they could send the Snowcat in a ways to meet them, that they had injuries. Sparks immediately reported to Mr. Morton, and he demanded Sparks reach the base camp. But personnel there were of no help, having themselves only Nelson’s original message and a location.
It was several worry-filled hours before Nelson himself called in. On the journey back from the observation hut the Skipper had stumbled on a particularly treacherous section of the landscape and fallen into a shallow crevasse. He wasn’t injured, just momentarily stunned. But what no one realized until it was too late was that, hidden from view by a shelf of snow, was a much deeper section of the same crevasse. In Yager’s eagerness to pull the Skipper to safety he stepped on the shelf and plunged almost 50 feet to his death. Of course, the rest of the party didn’t know that immediately, and Sparks heard there had been fireworks between Nelson and the Skipper about who was going down, on ropes, into the crevasse to reach Yager. Heaven knows, the Admiral’s got a stubborn streak, matched only by the Skipper’s, and Sparks was glad he hadn’t been there to hear the argument. In the end it was the Skipper who had gone down, but Yager had broken his neck in the fall and all the men could do was retrieve the body and bring it back.
Crane had been devastated. The Admiral tried to tell him it was in no way his fault. But he was inconsolable, and had just kept insisting that if he hadn’t stumbled in the first place none of the rest would have happened. Arrangements were made to fly Yager’s body stateside. The Skipper had Sparks patch through a personal call to Yager’s parents, which he’d taken in his cabin. It was a very subdued Seaview that continued on with the cruise.
Didn’t realize how bad it was until, what? Two days later? Sparks reminisced silently. Oh, there were mutterings about the Skipper being seen at all hours of the day and night, wandering around the boat, just checking this and that and talking quietly with the crew – about everything except what had happened. And I never once in all that time saw him in the wardroom eating. But then, none of that was all that unusual. The Skipper frequently ate at other than normal mealtimes, or had food sent to his cabin. And one of the things that had endeared Crane to Seaview’s crew was his interest in each of them as individuals.
But by the third day it was becoming obvious that the Skipper was in what Mr. Morton always referred to as his ‘self-destruct mode’. Crane didn’t do it often, thankfully, but he did tend to occasionally get caught up in his personal problems. The Admiral or Mr. Morton could usually roust him out of it in fairly short order. The Exec was especially good at it, telling the Skipper sternly on at least one occasion that Sparks could remember, "Lee, you brood over the problem long enough, it’s going to hatch." Seems like he just needs to be reminded what he’s doing, and it kick starts him back into feeling better.
But apparently it hadn’t worked this time. It was obvious that the Skipper was blaming himself bigtime for Yager’s death, and by the end of the week Crane’s lack of food and sleep had everyone worried. Sparks smiled without humor. The Skipper sure hates what he calls being ‘Mother henned’. The whole crew was trying to figure out some way to get the Skipper past this. Some guys thought that the Skipper should have accompanied the body home and gone to the funeral service. That maybe meeting the family, talking to them, would have given him closure. Some just said give him time, he’d work through this like he always had before – on his own terms. Sparks heard Mr. Morton mutter to Admiral Nelson one day something about a sledgehammer.
And in the end, that may have been close to what happened, Sparks acknowledged, with a genuine smile this time. At least figuratively. While Sparks was sure the Admiral, Mr. Morton, and Doc knew the whole story, all the rest of the crew knew was that the Skipper wasn’t seen for almost 48 hours. Chief Sharkey just reported that the Skipper was working on something in his cabin. But when he finally reappeared it was obvious that he’d finally gotten some sleep, and he started showing up again in the wardroom. He was still pretty quiet, not smiling very much for the next week or so. But at least he was acting more normal, and we could all breathe a bit easier.
Sparks took in a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and glanced casually around the Control Room. Admit it, Sparks ol’ boy, as much as you admire the Skipper, no way could you devote your total being to the job the way he does. You’re far better off being a perfectly competent Communications officer, enjoying your occasional opportunities as O.O.D., but leaving the leadership workload, with its highs and lows, to the Skipper. He’s got what it takes.
* * * *
Chris James finished his coffee with Bob O’Brien, heaved a sigh, and decided he’d better go accomplish something constructive while everyone waited for Chief Sharkey to get back. As Weapons Officer it was part of his duty to see that all small arms were stowed safely and maintained in top condition, so he decided to wander aft and check the lockers. He was just passing the hatch to the Missile Room when he heard something fall, and hurried in to investigate.
"What the hell…" he blustered, then drew himself up and demanded, "What’s going on?" Before him were the members of the work party assigned to check the diving gear, looking decidedly mussed and ruffled. All except Rawn, the new guy. He was on the floor in the middle of the bunch, appearing to be out cold. Also, if Chris was any judge, appearing to have been placed in that condition by a few too many well-aimed fists. "Well?" he commanded again, as the men standing drew themselves to attention.
"Ah…" Riley started, "we, ah… sort of had a little accident." As everyone else stayed quiet Chris reached for the mic close at hand, double-clicked and said, still staring hard at the crewmen, "Sick Bay. Send a corpsman to the Missile Room. We’ve got a man down." He reclipped the mic and took a deep breath. "Safety check finished?" he asked sternly.
"Almost, Sir," Patterson answered quietly. He, like all the rest of the men, knew they were in deep trouble. They knew how much with the Lieutenant’s next words.
"Finish up, then confine yourselves to quarters. I’m sure Mr. Morton will have something to say to each of you after he gets Doc’s report," and he turned to leave just as both John and Frank hurried in. But as soon as he was safely out into the corridor a small grin broke through. He’d already had one run-in with the opinionated Rawn. And while he didn’t approve of Dungaree Justice, there were times when it seemed to work better than any other kind of discipline.
* * * *
"What the hell…" Chip unintentionally mimicked Lt. James as the two corpsmen returned with the starting-to-come-around Seaman Rawn. Doc had returned to Sick Bay as soon as he’d heard Lt. James’ call. Not surprised to find both corpsmen present, he’d sent them to the Missile Room while he gave the still sleeping Skipper a quick once over. Chris himself entered Sick Bay right behind the corpsmen, and quickly explained what he’d found and said. Chip just closed his eyes, slowly shaking his head, as Doc questioned Frank.
"A little the worse for wear," the corpsman said in answer, "but nothing too seriously damaged."
Jamie, trusting his two assistants completely, just nodded. "In that case, put him in the farthest bunk and keep an eye on him."
"Doc?" Chip said softly, and nodded toward Lee.
Jamie smiled. "Relax, Mr. Morton. He’s no worse. And as soon as the Chief gets back I can start cutting down on the pain meds. The Skipper will be his old impossible self in no time," and dragged a grin out of the worried XO, as he’d intended. "Now go away and yell at someone for awhile. If nothing else you’ll release some of that built-up tension, and feel much better yourself."
"I know a few crewmen who won’t, though," came softly, and slightly slurred, from the gurney they were standing next to. Chip’s grin spread as Doc’s changed to a frown.
"Skipper…" Jamie started in, and both Chip and Chris headed off, one to finish his inspection, the other to restore some order to his suddenly unruly boat.
* * * *
Lee wasn’t sure what all was going on, but he’d heard enough of Mr. James’ explanation to get a pretty good idea. He’d had a feeling all along that Rawn might have trouble fitting in to the close-knit crew. But the seaman was also a first rate electrical engineer’s assistant. Lee had hoped that the extremely talented but socially abrupt young man could be integrated fairly painlessly into Seaview’s ‘family’. But while he’d not meant ‘painless’ in the physical sense, he’d apparently been wrong on all counts.
At least, that’s what he thought he’d heard. Everything was pretty fuzzy. The oxygen mask covering his mouth and nose bothered him as he made his comment to Chip, and he tried to reach up to take it off. Not quite awake enough to be aware of the double IVs, he was instantly frustrated when he felt his wrists restrained, and opened his eyes to find Doc standing next to him, looking down.
"Skipper," Jamie said quietly, "just relax. I told you earlier you’re stuck here for awhile, no matter how much that ticks you off."
"Why?" Lee complained.
"Why does it tick you off?" Jamie snickered. "Been trying to figure that out since the first time I treated you," and he grinned down at Lee’s frown.
"Why am I stuck here?" Lee grumbled, with as good a command glare as he could manufacture. Then another realization demanded his attention. "We’re stopped. What’s wrong with the boat? Did Chip leave?" Jamie’s indulgent smile only increased his frustration.
"Will you stop? I swear, Skipper. I’ve never understood how you can have sufficient drugs in your system to put a horse to sleep, and you still know what’s happening on your boat," and he chuckled softly at Lee’s scowl. "Nothing’s wrong with Seaview. The Admiral sent Sharkey off on an errand in FS1 and we’re just waiting for him to get back. Now close your eyes and go back to sleep," and he reached up to adjust the drip on one of the IVs.
"What errand?" Lee still fought against the fuzziness. "I want to talk to Chip."
"You can’t. At least not right now. Mr. Morton is busy dining on crewmen," Jamie explained patiently.
"Dinner with the crew?" Lee misunderstood, the increased meds starting to affect his thought processes. "What’s wrong in the Wardroom? Jamie," he implored, "I have to know what’s going on."
"No, you don’t," the CMO said firmly. "Trust me, Skipper, it can wait. I could explain but I’d just as soon not have to do it twice, and you’re going to be asleep long before I could get it all out." His grin broadened as Lee slowly lost his fight with the combination of painkillers and a light sedative, his eyes gradually closing and his body again relaxing on the gurney. "Rest easy, Skipper," Jamie smiled and patted Lee’s arm, although he was fairly sure Lee was no longer aware of either gesture. He continued speaking anyway, as much to himself as to the sleeping man. "I promise you, you’ll feel much better by morning."
* * * *
"What do you think Mr. Morton will do to us?" Riley asked. He, along with his cohorts in crime, was sitting dejectedly in their section of Crew’s Quarters. For the most part they’d been quiet, each buried in their own thoughts.
"What do you think, you numbskull," Kowalski snapped. "He’s already worried about the Skipper and we go and do something this stupid." He slowly shook his head. "Sorry, guys. This is mostly my fault."
"You didn’t see the rest of us holding back," Patterson corrected him
"Rawn had it coming," Carlson grouched.
"Doesn’t excuse what we did, thought," Pat responded. "And as mad as Mr. Morton is going to be, I’m more worried about what the Skipper’s going to think."
"But we were just defending him," Mickelson spoke up.
"And you know perfectly well how he feels about that," Patterson said emphatically, and there were reluctant nods from around the room. They all knew how the Skipper felt about asking for help – for any reason. Or personal favors. Mind you, he’d be the first one to give any and all assistance to any member of his crew.
"The Skipper won’t say a thing," Ski said, his head down. "He’ll just take it personally that we screwed up – think it was all his fault. Like, if he hadn’t been laying in Sick Bay, none of this would have happened," and there were again affirmative, and this time absolutely gloomy, nods from the rest.
The resulting silence greeted Chip a few minutes later, and everyone jumped to attention. The crewmen all looked so miserable, the Exec almost didn’t have the heart to reprimand them. Almost. He really wasn’t surprised something like this had happened. He’d had serious doubts about the abrasive, brash Seaman Rawn. But Lee had cited his impressive credentials, and insisted he be given a chance. Just like Lee, always has to see the good in people, until they shove their foot in his face. "Well?" he demanded, glaring at the seamen standing before him. "What do you have to say for yourselves?"
As Senior Rating, Kowalski took it upon himself to speak for everyone. "Sorry, Sir. No excuses, Sir," he said quietly, staring straight ahead."
Chip’s usually reliable poker face nearly betrayed him as he looked at all the dejected expressions. But he quickly gave himself a mental shake and got back under control. "Of all the stupid stunts you guys have pulled, this one has got to take the prize. You can all consider yourselves on report. And starting tomorrow there will be a revised Duty Roster posted. Don’t plan on getting much time off until the end of this cruise – at the very least!"
"Aye, Sir," came individual responses from all the men.
* * * *
Chief Sharkey swept a practiced eye across the Flying Sub’s instrumentation. The last thing he wanted was any delay in the delivery of the antivenin that might spell the difference between Doc flying off the handle at the Skipper’s antics in Sickbay and Admiral Nelson’s flying Seaview’s flag at half-mast. Sharkey shook his head. No matter what Doc said about the antivenin not being absolutely vital, he had not liked his last glimpse of Crane, being carried to Sick Bay on a stretcher after collapsing in his cabin.
Unconsciously, he coaxed a bit more speed from the FS1. Funny, thinking about the Skipper and trying to not think about what his loss to a … a *damn bug* would mean to the crew reminded him of his initial skepticism regarding Seaview’s ridiculously young Commanding Officer. Only Sharkey’s respect for and long friendship with the Admiral had kept that reaction mostly hidden.
Although he suspected that Crane had read something in his manner - Sharkey had early on realized that not much got past those hazel eyes. But the Captain had let it go. He never was one to mess with a man’s feelings so long as he got the performance Seaview needed. Skepticism had turned early and easily to respect - a few missions had seen to that. Liking had come later. A man not given to introspection, Sharkey could still pinpoint when that had happened. It wasn’t a mission a man could forget. The entire crew had been put up in barracks at Pearl Harbor while Seaview was thoroughly fumigated after her run in with more slime than a man should have to face. While the Exec rode herd on the shipyard workers, the crew was supposed to be enjoying a well-deserved liberty, only…
Sharkey cursed the weather, mutant slime, treacherous rental agents and most of all the expletive-not-deleted piece of junk masquerading as a car! He aimed one more kick at the Mini’s tire and cast a jaundiced eye at the traffic whizzing by and not stopping to lend a hand. The only thing that could make it worse would be ‘Ski and company happening by - the rating had tried to warn Sharkey that the pretty girl behind the car rental counter was sticking him with a lemon. But the promise of a little after-hours company had overcome not only Ski’s warning but also his own misgivings. Well, after hours never arrived and the hunkajunk quit in the middle of a heavy downpour that made a flooded compartment look like the Sahara. Dammit - he could fix anything amiss on a nuclear submarine but a stupid Limey import had him boggled. He swung around at the sound of a car pulling up behind the Mini. His original welcoming smile turned into an involuntary scowl at his first sight of the tall, lean figure stepping out into the downpour. Even the heavy rain and poor lighting couldn’t mask the familiar awkward grace of his unlikely savior’s movement. All he needed - the Captain finding him in this fix.
Sharkey anxiously checked his watch. Should raise Seaview in an hour. He could imagine just how long that hour would be back aboard the sub. He had to hold onto the thought that the Skipper had come through worse fixes in the past two years. Fixes. Despite his worry, Sharkey smiled remembering. The Captain had hesitated briefly at sight of his COB’s scowl but with the tenacity (scuttlebutt had it that the XO called it stubbornness and to the Captain’s face) that the Chief already recognized as one of his CO’s chief character traits, had proceeded nonetheless.
Crane shut his door and sloshed through the puddles until he was standing with Sharkey and peering under the hood. A shy smile made him look even younger than Sharkey knew him to be, and that was plenty young enough, Sharkey thought sourly, as he offered tentatively "Want me to take a look, Chief? I drove one of these when I was stationed in Holy Lock as a j.g. They’re neat cars but they have their…idiosyncrasies." Sharkey couldn’t help it. His gaze swept his CO’s tall frame and compared it to the tiny car, and he felt a grin cross his face.
Crane apparently read his mind. Did that kind of thing a bit too easily, the thought came unbidden to the older man.
"Well, yeah, Chief, but it was what I could borrow from Amy. May I?"
"Be my guest, Captain." He wondered who Amy was.
If Crane thought the permission a trifle discourteous he seemed willing to chalk it up to too much wet. He bent over the fender and poked around a while and then did ~something~. "Try it now, Chief." Sharkey got behind the wheel and turned the key, and smiled as the engine caught on the first try.
"That's got it, Skipper." A delighted grin crossed the Captain’s face at his first use of that mode of address and Sharkey realized something had shifted between them.
Man, had it shifted. Sharkey could easily remember the rest of that rainy night. Crane had followed Sharkey back to the rental agency and waited while he dropped off the car and had words with the manager, then had given him a lift back to the base. Only instead of dropping him off where the crew was quartered he had brought him to the Visiting Officers’ Quarters and arranged with the duty petty officer for a hot shower and a pair of sweats for the drenched CPO while his uniform was dried. Crane had never so much as alluded to it but Sharkey figured that the Skipper was saving him from the questions of the crew. After all, he’d been there when Sharkey had made the deal, had heard Ski’s warnings.
It had been obvious that Crane was a well known and respected visitor to the ‘Q.’ The Filipino second class petty officer who was on duty at the desk when they checked in had hailed the Captain with obvious respect and liking. There had been no mistaking the delight on the young Captain’s face as he pumped the sailor’s hand and offered his congratulations on his advancement. While he was changing into dry clothes, Ancheta had told Sharkey that when Crane had been Educational Services Officer as collateral duty aboard his sub, he’d encouraged him to study for the rate change from Mess Specialist to Electronics Technician. Then-Lieutenant Crane had helped him get the Personnel Qualification Standards done for the field and had written him a walks-on-water evaluation that had nailed the conversion for him. But Crane had been pulled for - Ancheta had grimaced - a mission and he had never been able to thank him for all he’d done. Sharkey had realized then that the helping hand Crane offered aboard Seaview was not for show but was an integral part of the man’s character. He had begun to really see what Nelson saw in the young officer - and to like what he saw. A hot coffee and a cold brew in the officers’ day room had cemented Sharkey’s newfound liking for Seaview’s Captain. That liking had grown over time until Sharkey was willing to admit to himself - if to no one else - that he had a strong affection for and pride in his headstrong young commanding officer.
And thank God he was picking up Seaview’s homing signal loud and clear. Sharkey keyed the mic. "FS1 to Seaview, do you read, over?"
"Seaview to Sharkey. Read you loud and clear. All went well picking up the antivenin?"
"Roger that, Seaview. ETA 15 minutes."
"Copy 15 minutes."
As he signed off, Sharkey carefully did not dwell on how bad off the Skipper must be for that amount of relief to be in Spark’s normally calm voice.
* * * *
After landing on the ‘Wrecking Crew’, Chip returned to the Control Room and relieved Sparks. He figured Chris would be back before long as well. And maybe even O’Brien, Chip acknowledged. Surprised the Admiral isn’t in the Observation Nose waiting for Sharkey to get back, too. Although he may have gone back to Sick Bay by now. Chip glanced over the current status report, walked through the room giving each station a quick check, as well as an encouraging nod to each operator. All would know that he’d been down checking on Lee. It took him a few moments to realize he was hanging around next to the radio shack, grimaced, and walked back to the chart table. This is what caused all the trouble with Chris in the first place, you dummy, he chided himself. Sharkey will get here when he gets here. Doc seems to have everything under control. Now Chill! He’d just taken a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and picked up his slide rule to double check the next section of navigation when two sets of footsteps caught his attention – Lt. James entering from the aft hatch and Admiral Nelson coming down the spiral staircase. Chip, his back to both, allowed a very small smile to touch his face, quickly composed himself, and turned toward the Admiral.
"Anything?" Nelson asked hopefully, yet already knowing the answer.
"Should be any time, now," Chip confirmed. Nelson just nodded and went to stand looking out the large front windows.
Chip did allow the quick smile to reappear as Chris walked up, and was rewarded with an answering one from the young Lieutenant. "Such a large amount of trouble from one little bug," Chip admitted quietly.
"Doesn’t seem possible," James agreed.
Chip started to say something else, but was interrupted as he heard Sparks respond to an incoming call.
* * * *
Frank moved quietly around Sick Bay, restocking supplies that had been used in the last day but keeping an eye on an again restless Capt. Crane. It took only a soft groan and Doc hurried over from his office.
"Now what?" Jamie muttered, walking up to the central gurney.
"The monitors are all steady," Frank replied. "Just looks like he’s fighting the sedation again."
Jamie shook his head as he glanced at the monitors for himself, and laid a hand on the gurney railing. "Frank, I swear. The next time the Admiral gets bored I’m going to suggest he think about inventing a new, more powerful sedative. We have the perfect guinea pig. If Admiral Nelson can come up with something strong enough to keep even the Skipper from pulling himself out from under its effects, he’s got himself another Nobel prize for sure." Frank laughed, and finally Jamie grinned as well.
Movement from the far bunk caught Frank’s eye, and as Doc wondered back toward his office the corpsman went to check on Rawn. "How you doing?" he asked. The seaman sported a butterfly bandage closing a small split just over his left eyebrow, and the beginnings of two black eyes. Most of his upper torso was also going to spend the next week turning a rainbow of colors from purple to green and yellow.
Rawn ignored the question, his eyes on the center gurney. "How come Jamison’s keeping Crane sedated?" he demanded instead.
Frank hesitated, reacting to the tone of Rawn’s voice, but answered amiably enough. "The spider toxin is causing the Skipper a lot of pain. He’ll recover faster, the less he has to go through."
"One stupid little spider?"
"Same family as our own Black Widow," Frank continued to answer quietly as he checked pulse and respirations, and felt down each side, rechecking bruised ribs. "If he’d been bitten on a limb instead of his shoulder, or if he’d realized he’d been bitten and been treated faster, Doc figures it wouldn’t have hit him so hard."
"What did Jamison mean about the sedative?"
Frank was beginning to get a little tired of the ‘20 questions’ routine, and started to get a feel for what had landed Rawn in Sick Bay in the first place. But he clamped a neutral expression on his face and answered. "The Skipper hates Sick Bay. Cares so much about what’s happening on the boat, has to know that she and the crew are OK, he won’t let himself rest. Drives Doc a little crazy."
"Control freak," Rawn muttered.
"I suppose you could put it that way," Frank muttered himself through clenched teeth. "But that ‘control freak’ has saved our bacon more times than any of us cares to think about. A lot of it because he knows the boat so well, knows what she can do, what she’s capable of. Same with the crew. He spends a lot of time getting to know everyone, wants to know their strengths, helps them work out any weaknesses. He depends on us to do our jobs the very best we can."
"Sure doesn’t act like it," Rawn snorted derisively. "Spends half his time walking around checking up on us."
Frank was beginning to wonder what the penalty would be for tossing Rawn overboard. "You just don’t get it, do you? He’s checking to make sure Seaview’s in top-notch shape, so she can handle anything Admiral Nelson’s projects throw at us. And there have been some real crazies once in awhile. And yeah, if he finds things he doesn’t like he’ll point them out. But better he finds them than Mr. Morton," and Frank shuddered visibly.
"That’s twice someone has said Morton’s worse than Crane. Just don’t see it that way."
If he uses an officer’s last name again without a rank or a Mr. in front of it… and Frank shook himself. "You just haven’t been aboard long enough."
"He sure seems buddy-buddy with Crane."
Frank counted to ten quietly before answering. "That’s because they go way back, to their first year at Annapolis. That’s also when Admiral Nelson originally met them. Mr. Morton’s been aboard since Seaview was built. The Skipper came a few years later, after Capt. Phillips was killed."
"How come Morton wasn’t promoted – Nelson didn’t think he’d be a good enough Captain?"
I will not punch his lights out for that sneer. "Mr. Morton’s an excellent Acting Captain when he has to be, like now while the Skipper’s down. He just likes being the XO better." How about I give Rawn a nice big dose of ipecac?
"He gets lots of practice, from what I’ve seen and heard."
Ipecac and a strong laxative!!! The Skipper’s returning restlessness kept Frank from doing something he knew he’d eventually regret…but at the moment greatly enjoy. Doc once again walked over from his office, but it was an excuse to get away from the abrasive seaman and Frank quickly joined him.
"How’s Rawn?" Jamie asked, manually checking the Skipper’s pulse even though the monitors did it for him.
"About to become fish food," Frank muttered darkly, not quite under his breath, and Jamie cocked an eyebrow at him. "He’s fine," the corpsman amended. "He could be released to his quarters any time…"
"But," Frank continued to grumble, "if he doesn’t learn to keep his trap shut, there isn’t going to be a safe place for him on this boat."
Since it took a lot to get under the skin of the usually unflappable corpsman, Jamie stopped what he was doing and glanced at the apparently resting seaman than back at Frank, again raising an eyebrow. "Care to explain that?" he asked softly.
"Actually, Sir. No, I wouldn’t," Frank replied, causing Jamie to grin at the formality. "If you don’t need me for a bit, I’d better go grab something to eat. John’s around somewhere."
"Getting some extra supplies from storage. You go on. There’s not much to do until Sharkey gets back."
Jamie had no idea what had gone on between his corpsman and Rawn, but continued to smile at Frank’s stiff posture as the man walked out. Never a dull moment around here, Skipper, he thought, smiling softly at the unhearing man lying in front of him. And it doesn’t even always have to be because of you. He paused, glanced at Rawn again, and thought back to what little he knew of the causes for the man’s injuries. On the other hand, he chuckled, you do tend to instill a strong sense of loyalty in your crew. Well…at least most of them, anyway.
* * * *
Admiral Nelson was fairly sure that even Seaview herself heaved a sigh of relief when Chief Sharkey called to report he was 15 minutes out. He himself had been threatening to wear a hole in the deck in his lab from pacing back and forth, and had finally gone down to the Observation Nose – his ‘front porch’ – to wait. He’d forced himself to stand quietly, staring out the herculite windows that distinguished his pride and joy from any other submarine in the world. Occasionally he also glanced at the reflections from the Control Room behind him. Chip had returned and everything was in order, as always. Nelson allowed himself a small grin. Where there’s Chip, there’s Order, he chuckled to himself. That had been a defining characteristic of Charles P. Morton since his first days at the Academy. Nelson’s smile widened, and the crew working in the control room relaxed just a bit as each man decided that the Skipper couldn’t be that bad off if the Old Old Man was grinning like that. Figured it was Chip and Lee behind Herndon their Plebe year but it was nice to have Levin confirm my guess. Jerry’s quite the storyteller. Felt as if I had been there for the entire evolution, starting with Lee’s brainstorm.
"You know, guys, I’ve been thinking." Lee Crane’s voice was pensive.
Jerry Levin looked up from his French text and grinned. "Someone grab the fire extinguisher from the passageway, quick. I think I smell smoke."
"Well, at least a thought won’t die of loneliness in my skull, unlike some people I could name, Jer." The placid good humor of the comeback belied the astringent words.
"Chip, did you hear what junior said about us?" Levin threw a balled up piece of notebook paper at the blond midshipman who had been chanting vocabulary words under his breath. Chip Morton finished his prayerful litany before looking up and allowing a slow smile to cross his face.
"Why, no, Jerry. I didn’t recognize myself in Lee’s description. I’m surprised you’re admitting that you…"
Another wadded up ball of paper landed right in the blonde’s face. "So what do you guys do? Lay awake nights working on the comedy act?"
"You don’t have to work at it when you’re fully armed for the battle of wits, Jerry." Chip tossed the wadded paper back and Levin dodged it only to get the second missile full in the mouth.
"Ptht. Okay, okay. I surrender. What have you been thinking, Lee, and how is it going to get us all into trouble?"
A scathing glare at the implied assumption sent both Levin and Morton into fits of laughter, which they quickly replaced with overdone looks of innocent interest. Lee held the glare a moment longer, then shrugged and went on. "Well, I’m thinking it might get us out of trouble a little. Maybe." Lee busied himself with folding a scrap of paper into an airplane as he spoke.
"Well, don’t keep us in suspense, buddy. We’ve got French finals tomorrow and I do not want to bucket at this late date." Chip was only half-kidding.
Lee shook his head. "You’ll do fine, Chip. You know that stuff cold. Not even worth a penny at the two-oh god’s shrine."
Chip shrugged. "It sure doesn’t feel like I know it cold."
"That’s ‘cause you have to use it to talk to people instead of a hunk of metal and circuits. Honestly, Chip, for someone who can handle computer programming as if it was his native language, you really let French throw you. I think you just need to practice it, conversationally. Maybe you should look up Captain Duchard’s daughter and take a stroll. Aren’t they still staying with the ‘Dant?" Lee peered up from under dark eyelashes as he scored a direct hit on his roommate. The statuesque dark-haired daughter of a French naval attaché, Angelique had shown a decided preference for the blond midshipman when he escorted her father’s party on a tour of the Academy. And rumor had it that she and her family were staying with the Commandant for at least another week. "Didn’t seem to have any problems communicating with her."
Chip assumed an air of great dignity despite the blush. "When you’re a little older, son, you’ll understand that men and women can communicate without benefit of a common language... a spoken language, that is to say."
Lee assumed a respectful air. "Say on, Granpa, I yearn to learn at the master’s feet. Got my gas mask handy and everything. Being close to the master’s feet and all."
Levin interrupted whatever retaliation Chip would have come up with - somewhat reluctantly to be sure since a Morton-Crane verbal sparring match was well worth the price of admission. "Guys... time’s wasting here."
Chip looked down at his French book and grimaced. "Yeah. I’ve got to eventually get back to the books or I’ll need to offer Tecumseh a penny tomorrow for sure. What have you been thinking, Lee?"
Lee smiled at the older midshipman’s tone of voice. When the chips were down - and his smile grew wider at that mental pun - he could always count on Chip to take him seriously.
"Well, some of the upperclassmen...pretty many actually...have been grumbling that giving our class carry-on after the chapel got ‘covered’ wasn’t such a good idea. They seem to think that we aren’t developing the same kind of esprit de corps because our ‘common enemy’ secured the come-arounds early."
Chip sat back in his chair and propped his feet up on the closest rack. "Yeah, I’ve been hearing that too. BATCOM said not to worry about it; he doesn’t see that happening in our battalion. But still...."
Levin nodded. "Yeah, and most of the talk does seem aimed at us since our REGCOM got the recognition started in earnest. You got a solution, Lee?"
Lee shrugged. "Not so much for the rest of this year as for next. So that there wouldn’t be any question that we can and will work together."
"Idea, Lee. Get to the idea." Chip was patiently impatient.
"I think we should get the cover off Herndon faster than it’s ever been done before. Under five minutes if Chip thinks it possible."
"If I think it’s possible? Uh, uh, buddy, this is your idea. So you..."
"No, Chip, listen. I’ll go ‘round and talk to everybody if you’ll just figure out the best way to make it happen. There’s 932 of us, and we need to figure out a way to get all of us involved in this thing. Instead of just charging, we should have a plan."
Earnest honey amber eyes pleaded for his help and Chip folded. Never could resist that look regardless of which sibling used it on him ... and Lee had somehow taken up residence in that category. "Okay, I’ll think on it. But only if you let me get back to ‘parlay vouing’."
"Thanks, Chip. This will be so great!"
They did it, too, Nelson mused. Lee talked the plebes into cooperating and got Chip copies of the Brigade’s physical fitness records. How, Levin didn’t say and I didn’t ask. Chip had all 932 plebes categorized by weight and speed, and assigned to phalanxes. They left the field at a run but sorted themselves out along the way so the faster and stronger got to the monument first with the lighter weight middies following behind. Built a ramp of midshipmen up to the top of the monument in under two minutes. Probably would have broken the minute mark if Lee and Chip hadn’t balked at going last and getting the cover. Nelson gazed unseeing through the herculite windows. He had watched that run and known that something special was happening. Something more than the usual mass stampede of plebes anxious to be the first to reach the top of the greased obelisk and capture the cover that would signal the class’ new status as youngsters.
"Go, go, go, go." Lee was flushed with excitement as he waved the midshipmen from 5th Bat over toward the waiting laundry carts. Jackets and covers were flying everywhere to be collected and tossed into color-coordinated carts by midshipmen assigned to that duty. Lee grinned at the laundry detail. For once getting the uniforms back to their owners would be a snap. The laundry workers had really cooperated once he’d told them what they wanted to do, and had brought the laundry carts out and lined them up along the path while the ceremonies were going on. The midshipmen had stripped to battle condition with scarcely a break in stride. 5th Bat gave way to 6th and they were only - Lee checked his watch - 37 seconds into the run. Lee checked to see that the carts were being wheeled away by the laundry workers and the last of the midshipmen were streaming toward Herndon and then took off after them, long legs eating up the distance. He spotted Chip and his selected group of "pushers" directing the last of the arrivals into position and dashed over to exchange celebratory ‘high fives’ with his co-conspirators.
"Would you look at the ‘Dant’s face, Lee!" Chip chortled gleefully. "He looks like he stuck a finger in a light socket."
"Captain Nelson looks pretty pleased, too, Chip. I saw him elbow Colonel Marston in the ribs. Got him dead center." Lee tried, but failed, to keep the satisfaction from his voice. Marston had not approved of the carry-on granted them, sure that it would detract from their esprit as a class. "See Mick and Doll and their team aren’t in the pile-up."
"Yeah, they backed off to be safety. Pulled a couple guys out of the bottom when it looked like they were getting into trouble. It really is working."
"Told you so. 77 seconds. We’re gonna do ... hey! What’s...."
Lee’s protest was echoed by Chip as the "safeties" grabbed the two middies and shoved them in the direction of the Monument. Doll thundered at them. "Okay, boys, you two get to do the honors. First one to the top grabs that cover."
"No, wait. I’m not...."
Chip grabbed his friend and hustled him over. "We’re burning time, buddy. Climb. It’s for the class, remember?" Many hands gave them a boost up the pile of bodies.
Lee beat out Chip by a hair. Grabbed the cover and stopped the clock at one minute 39 seconds. Record still stands. But what I remember most is Lee slamming the cover down on Chip’s head the minute he came into sight. Chip was wearing it when they reached ground and then tried to hand it back. Lee was good at dodging credit even then. Probably would have tried to leave it all to Chip. And vice versa. Fortunately, Joe was up to the challenge. Enjoyed it too.
"You know, Harry, I suspect it will be a long time before we see this record broken. This took some real planning. Did you see the laundry carts lined up? Wonder how they managed to talk the skivvy washers into cooperating? See the way the mids forced Morton and Crane up there? Think they were our masterminds, Harry?" Admiral Josiah Johnstone, Superintendent of the USNA, was beaming as he watched his midshipmen.
"Wouldn’t surprise me, Joe. Wouldn’t surprise me a’tall."
Johnstone smiled as he watched Lee and Chip toss the cover back and forth and then Crane sailed it to another middie. Soon the cap was being passed from hand to hand until everyone had a chance to add a greasy fingerprint or two. "And we were worried that this class wouldn’t work together. They did it themselves, too, and kept it quiet. I haven’t heard even a whisper that this was coming. You know, Harry. I’ve always wanted to start an Academy tradition; get my name in the history book. Think I know how. Gunny!"
Gunnery Master Sergeant Benjamin Zitka somehow heard the Superintendent even over the former plebes’ celebration. "Sir!"
"I need the attention of our new Third Classmen, Gunny."
"Yessir." Zitka had managed to make himself heard in the midst of artillery barrages; 932 wildly celebrating midshipmen were no challenge. "Attention on deck!" So there was no deck.... it got the job done. 932 men stopped what they were doing and assumed the position. As the Superintendent made his way over to the obelisk a Marine met him with a ladder. Johnstone climbed to the top and turned to face the crowd.
"At ease, men. What can I say but ‘Well done?’ You’ve managed to set quite a benchmark for those who come after you. I strongly suspect that, considering the planning and leadership that lay behind this success, I’ll be seeing some flag officers from this year someday. So... if the Third Classman who captured the cover will step forward...."
Nelson wasn’t at all surprised to see Lee shove Chip forward, who shoved right back. Doll slammed the cover into Lee’s hands and pushed both Lee and Morton forward. Crane assumed his most ferocious glare at the big middie while Morton’s features went positively glacial. Johnstone hid a smile as he reached up and unbuttoned his shoulder boards. When Morton and Crane were finally standing at attention before him he handed one board to each midshipman. "Well done, men."
"Thank you, Sir," Morton was perfectly correct. Crane was scowling. Nelson shook his head and mentally cautioned, Leave well enough alone, lad. Fat chance.
"Admiral, Sir. The class got the cover down, Sir. The class should get the credit."
Johnstone managed to not laugh at the very serious youngster. Didn’t stop him from putting the boy on the spot. "So, Midshipman Crane, you’re thinking I should hand out shoulder boards to all hands? Don’t think I have that many." Many of the assembled officers laughed at the Admiral’s witticism.
A tide of red swept over the young features but Crane held his ground. "Sir, I think the shoulder boards should go to the museum until the first midshipman from our class makes flag rank, Sir."
Johnstone studied both midshipmen. "You agree, Mister Morton?"
The blond midshipman’s approval could be read in the clear blue eyes even before his firm, "Yes, Sir. That would seem to be the most equitable disposition of your kind gift, Sir."
"Granted. Turn them in tomorrow. Tonight you two contemplate them and what they stand for. Dismissed."
Joe referred to those shoulder boards often over the next few years. Especially whenever we suspected but couldn’t prove that "The Four Horsemen of Annapolis" were behind some hijink or another. He is still of the opinion that when Lee or Chip puts on his first star the museum should send one board out and save the second for the other. I think he’s right. Chip and Lee will both need them. We’ll need them as flag officers someday. Always assuming they survive long enough.
Chip hadn’t changed much in the intervening years. Oh, matured, of course, Nelson conceded. Although there’s still a bit of mischief behind that business-like façade. He was a wise choice for Seaview, and had been an excellent XO for Phillips. But he’s an even better balance for Lee. Nelson grinned. ‘His boys’, as Jiggs called them, and not always fondly. He’d come to depend on them a lot. Too much, Jiggs thought. But even that bastion of Old Navy guard had come to realize – grudgingly at best, but still acknowledge – that Lee and Chip were a formidable team to go up against. And because of them, Seaview became a formidable opponent to all challengers. So different in so many ways, his two bright stars, yet so strong. Both individually, and especially together. They had developed an even stronger bond aboard Seaview than they’d had at Annapolis. What would one do without the other? Please, God, may I never have to find out.
* * * *
Chip barely let FS1’s docking clamps lock in place before he was undogging the hatch. In his haste he and Nelson almost collided, each headed down the access stairs. Barely in time Chip stopped, smiled sheepishly, and realized Nelson was doing the same. That brief pause allowed Sharkey’s head to appear in the hatch opening.
"Ah, how’s the Skipper?" he asked hesitantly.
"About the same, Chief," Nelson answered. "Is that the antivenin?" he added, pointing to the cool pack in Sharkey’s hand.
"Yes, Sir," Sharkey affirmed and handed it up, then looked at Chip. "I’ll finish shutting down the Flying Sub before I come up."
"Very well," Chip said distractedly, watching Nelson hurry aft. He wanted badly to follow, but held himself in check. "Mr. James," he said firmly instead.
"Aye, Sir," came the instant response.
"Resume heading and course, ahead standard," he ordered, waited for the ‘Aye, Sir’, and returned to the Chart Table, gripping the edge firmly to keep his hands steady, and sending up a silent prayer.
* * * *
Jamie barely let Admiral Nelson in Sick Bay’s door before he was grabbing for the cool pack and reading the attached instructions. Thankfully the hospital personnel in Darwin had been very specific. It took the CMO only a few moments to prepare and administer the injection.
"How long, Jamie?" Nelson asked when the Doctor stepped back from his patient.
Jamie took a deep breath before answering, and re-read, a bit more slowly this time, the instructions. "Not sure," he said finally, continuing to read. "The doctor I spoke with was very helpful, and sent even more detailed information. But she says that she’s seen varying reactions, and to just continue the supportive care we’ve been doing. She says that even when the antivenin is given at later stages than this its been quite useful in alleviating symptoms, but that each patient she’s seen or heard about has reacted differently. Does say, however, that the longest she knows about that its taken is 18 hours." That announcement was greeted with a soft ‘Damn,’ and Jamie smiled. "He’ll be fine, Admiral. Actually, I kind of like him like this. Before you know it he’ll be grousing he wants out of here, and I’ll have my hands full trying to keep him here long enough for him to get his strength back." The grumbled tone of Jamie’s voice caused Nelson to grin, as the Doctor had planned, and Jamie returned it. "Why don’t you go get something to eat? You can’t live on coffee any more than he can," and he indicated the Skipper.
Nelson frowned briefly, not wanting to leave, and a little annoyed that Jamie would suggest it. But logic finally took over, and with a promise from the CMO to call him the instant there was any change, he eventually walked out.
Jamie watched the monitors attached to the Skipper for several minutes, noting that everything seemed OK, and left John to keep an eye on things while he went into his office to update Lee’s medical file. But he’d barely sat down when the corpsman yelled and Jamie went flying back in.
"The Skipper’s temp just skyrocketed," John said urgently. "It’s been holding steady at 101.2. All of a sudden it’s almost 104."
"Ice packs, stat," Jamie demanded, and grabbed up the instructions again that had come with the antivenin. "Yes, here it is," he muttered, mostly to himself, then continued more loudly. "She mentions that this is an unusual but possible side-effect. Leave it to the Skipper…" and he took several of the chemical packs John came back with and crushed them between his hands to start them reacting, as John was doing the same to the rest of them. Together they packed them around the Skipper’s neck, armpits, behind his knees, and in his groin area – those places where veins were closest to the surface and were the most helpful in bringing down a fever. He shared a small grin with John at that last place.
"The Skipper’s not going to like that," John said quietly.
"Not a problem, John," Doc answered amiably. "When he’s aware enough to start yelling, I’ll know he’s on the mend." He took a deep breath and contemplated calling the Admiral. He had promised to notify Nelson of any change, even if this wasn’t the one he’d preferred. He held off, however. Nelson would in all likelihood have his head for it, but in the meantime would be getting some much-needed nourishment.
As it turned out, Chip was the first to poke his head in Sick Bay’s door, but just barely. He’d only taken a couple steps in when Admiral Nelson appeared behind him. Jamie just shrugged his shoulders. At least he’d only have to explain once what was happening, and maybe Chip’s presence would keep the Admiral from yelling quite so loudly about not being called sooner.
No such luck. Jamie figured there were only two things that kept Nelson from keelhauling him on the spot: one, Nelson was perfectly aware that Dr. Will Jamison had so far proven to be the only medical-type that even stood a chance of successfully treating an injured or ill Captain Crane; and two, the reason he stood a chance was that he was not afraid to stand up to the Captain. Or Admiral, either, for that matter, which he proved – all too loudly!
When they both finally calmed down it was to find Chip standing next to Lee, a hand lying gently on his friend’s shoulder.
"And when was the last time you ate anything halfway substantial," Jamie challenged his XO. "I hope you’re taking more than just a short break. You need your rest, too."
"I’m fine, Jamie," Chip waved him off.
"Chip," Nelson said warningly. "If I have to put up with our over-zealous CMO, so do you. Mr. O’Brien’s got the Con?"
"Yes, Sir," Chip replied reluctantly.
"Go eat. Then Jamie won’t have any excuse to keep either of us out."
The look of happy surprise on the Exec’s face was matched only by the frown on the Doctor’s. Outsmarted again, Jamie grumbled to himself, and went to call the Galley for a large carafe of coffee. It looked like it was going to be a long night.
* * * *
Lee couldn’t quite get a handle on where he was or what was happening. Images and sensations kept assailing him but they were all jumbled. Giant spider webs kept changing places with mermaids, only to turn into green dragons walking on the beach. Then the mermaids were back, this time with little blue merle dogs sitting in their laps. Lee found himself swimming in an almost boiling lobster pot but surrounded by icebergs, then saw Chip sitting down to eat, his plate filled with little red- and blue-clad toy men. Lee finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort and just tried to ignore them all, hoping everything would make sense in the morning.
* * * *
Jamie wasn’t having a very good evening. Even with the ice packs, the Skipper’s temperature refused to drop lower than 103.5. With both the Admiral and XO requesting answers – well, demanding was more like it – Jamie had Sparks place another call to Darwin. He was actually lucky enough to find the same doctor still on duty, and was able to confirm that the high fever was actually not all that bad after all. The Australian said that in the cases she’d seen and heard about where this had happened, while it did tend to leave the victim fairly weak for several days, it seemed to ‘burn’ the toxins out of the body that much faster. While neither Nelson nor Chip was particularly placated by this information, they at least stopped pestering Jamie.
About 2130, in a moment of double revenge, both other senior officers ganged up on him and made him go get something to eat. Not totally trusting either after what he’d done to them, he threatened John with absolute mayhem if he wasn’t notified immediately of any change in the Skipper’s condition and went reluctantly to the Wardroom. As he stepped in the door, his nose was hit with the wonderful smell of Cookie’s fresh made bread. Not at all unusual aboard Seaview, this night it instantly brought back memories of a conversation that had gone on only a few months previous. He’d not totally understood at the time some of the looks that had passed between the men present, especially between Captain and XO. But Nelson had been able to fill in the blanks later.
He, Admiral Nelson, and Chip were in the Wardroom, and the XO was complaining about Lee trying to cook for him over the weekend. Chip was laying the blame for what he described as the ‘resulting disaster’ at Jamie’s door.
"Excuse me, Chip? What’s wrong with the Skipper’s cooking? Lu Tsi and I have eaten over at Lee’s and there’s been nothing wrong with the food. The last time, he served us this grilled fish and julienned potato dish that was as good as anything I’ve ever had in a four star restaurant."
"Healthy," Chip said moodily, stirring his eggs.
Jamison’s eyebrows shot up. "What does that mean?"
"It means that Lee can cook anything, just as long as it doesn’t have anything in it to make it taste good. Like butter. Or cream. Or salt. Baked, broiled, scaly, and plants are his forte. But ask the man to follow a recipe and turn out something, like cookies or Mom’s special pancakes or soups, and it’s disaster city."
"I just can’t believe that," Jamie uttered.
Chip continued plaintively as if Jamison hadn’t spoken. "You tell me how a nuclear trained officer can screw up a recipe. It’s just following a checklist, for Pete’s sake! Something a nuke can do in his sleep!"
Nelson shrugged. "I’ve often wondered if early training doesn’t kick in and he subconsciously tries to ‘improve’ it by removing all the, as you would say, good stuff from the recipe."
"Early training?" Jamison loved it when he got glimpses of his superior officers’ off duty lives and histories. Considered it his duty to do so as often as possible, especially when it came to his oh-so-reserved-and-reticent Captain. Jamison prided himself on being an old fashioned physician who treated the whole patient, not just the injury or illness.
"Mother…Mrs. Crane… was pretty much a vegan," Chip went on, "with some fish thrown in as brain food, I guess. For sure, they’re both brainy enough. Heck, the first time Lee ever even tasted hot cocoa was when Mom sent some to me at the Academy! At Christmas when he was a kid, Lee got some exotic fruits I can’t even pronounce instead of cookies for treats." Chip’s face eloquently expressed his opinion of that ‘treat’. "No wonder Lee doesn’t ever eat much. I’d eat even less if that was what Mom cooked when I was growing up. I’d starve on what Lee keeps in his fridge and pantry."
"It wouldn’t hurt you to emulate the Skipper’s diet every now and then, Chip," Jamison shot his own firm look at the Exec. "Man cannot live on salt, grease, caffeine and sugar only!" Wouldn’t hurt to put Chip a little on the defensive, considering.
Chip colored up nicely, although his expression never changed. "Man cannot live on greens alone, either, Doc. Not if he’s normal."
Jamison offered a truce with one lifted brow as Captain Crane wandered in with Bobby O’Brien. A truce accepted with an almost imperceptible nod. The arriving officers were deep in a discussion of distance learning opportunities offered by the Navy Post-graduate School and Chip shook his head. "Why I even bother assigning an Educational Services Officer with Lee on board…" Nelson chuckled at that plaintive comment.
The Doctor aborted his move to stand at Lee’s casual wave off, seeing out of the corner of his eye that Chip did the same. It always amazed Jamie how easily Chip and Lee moved between acting as friends, where Chip seemed to hold the upper hand, and superior and subordinate officers, where Captain Crane was firmly in charge. A thought occurred to him, related to the interrupted conversation, and he said out loud without thinking, "Bread."
Lee smiled at Winston, thanking him for the coffee and trying unsuccessfully to convince the man that he ‘really just wanted some toast.’ However, he reluctantly decided he’d better appease Cookie’s temper by accepting the omelet the volatile chef had made ‘just for you, Skipper.’ Lee gave in with a long-suffering sigh and was turning away, contemplating whether he really should just follow Starke’s advice and tighten up on his crew, when Jamie’s comment registered. He passed over the basket of breakfast rolls Winston, with an encouraging look, had set down by his plate.
"Skipper?" Jamison accepted the basket with a puzzled look.
"Didn’t you just ask for the bread?" Now Lee was confused.
"Oh, no, Skipper. I was just wondering where you learned to bake bread." Morton, Jamison, and O’Brien all avoided looking at one another. Mrs. Jamison and Mrs. O’Brien, along with Chip’s current lady friend, had all been present on one occasion when Lee had been making bread. Lu Tsi had needed to ‘just drop something off before going to lunch’. They wound up staying until the loaves were out of the oven. Collective opinion had it that "just watching those wonderful hands kneading the dough was enough to…well…" All three men had benefited from that bread-baking session, and not just by the crusty, toothsome loaves their ladies brought home. And all knew their Skipper would be horrified and embarrassed to find out. He’d probably retreat to his cabin and never come out except for crises if he had any inkling of the ladies' reaction – or that they had told anyone else.
Sometimes Lee wondered what sent Jamison off on one of his tangents. But he shrugged and answered. "One of the neighbors taught me. I used to stay with his wife and him when Mother went on trips."
"Captain Mac," Chip said with assurance.
"Yeah. You remember him?"
"Who could forget? He was a character."
"Yeah." Lee seemed to withdraw inward a little, and Chip mentally kicked himself. The MacDonalds had recently been killed in a car crash and Lee was still brooding. Chip suspected that the retired commercial fisherman and his warm-hearted wife had been far more important in his friend’s young life than even Lee realized. But Lee finally gave himself a small shake and continued. "I remember we made two dozen loaves of sourdough once when Mother’s plane was overdue. It was just some mix-up in the schedule. She walked in and started telling us all about the article she was going to write as if nothing had happened. Then she saw the kitchen. Really saw it. I can still remember her face when she took in the mess we’d made, and the number of loaves we had cluttering her counters. She went out and bought a freezer the next day." Lee grinned at Chip, knowing his friend would understand. Helen Lee Crane kept a tidy house - a definite contrast to the chaos that was her usual life on the prowl for stories.
Chip returned the smile, inwardly seething. He loved his friend’s mother, really he did. She had accepted him as a second son almost as fast as his own mother had adopted Lee. And had taught him more about writing in one long weekend than all his teachers up to that point, and after. But Helen Crane was nowhere near the quintessential ‘Mom’ that was Sarah Morton. He knew Lee’s mother loved her son as much as Sarah Morton loved any of her children, but Chip often felt that she treated Lee more as a prized student than her own son. Chip had heard this particular story from Captain Mac.
Helen had not even considered how upset her eleven-year-old son might have been when she dropped off the face of the earth for three long days with no word. Especially since Lee’s grandfather had passed away three months previously, leaving the young boy virtually alone in the world but for his mother and neighbors. Lee had kneaded a lot of bread until she showed up as if she’d just stepped next door for a minute. According to Captain Mac, Lee had given her a careful hug, carried her small duffle to her room, and brought her a cup of coffee before listening to her tale of adventure while they cleaned up the kitchen together. That story of Mac’s had gone a long way to explaining his friend’s shocked delight at the Morton clan’s rowdy affection. Lee still tended to mix up a batch of bread dough when he was ashore and stressed. The Exec sometimes wondered if he shouldn’t chivvy the Captain into the Galley after a particularly difficult mission. Although he had a feeling he could predict Lee’s horrified reaction to that particular suggestion. Chip noted Bobby’s wide-eyed interest in the conversation and smiled at him. He wondered if the young officer realized how honored he should be that Lee would talk about even so innocuous a personal matter in his presence. The Captain obviously thought highly of one Bobby O’Brien.
Bobby ventured a question. "Your mother’s a writer, Skipper?"
"For as long as I can remember, although she didn’t really start traveling until I was older."
Chip stared into his coffee cup and smothered a snort. What Lee thinks of as ‘older’ certainly isn’t my idea of same, he grumbled silently.
"What does she write?" Bobby continued, since the Skipper seemed in the mood to answer.
Lee grinned at him. "A little of this and a little of that, Bobby. Whatever catches her eye."
Seeing Lee’s grin, Jamison pushed for a little more. "Where does she publish, Skipper? I don’t think I’ve run across her work."
Nelson shook his head and exchanged a glance with Chip. Neither of the Cranes, mother or son, thought that what they did was anything special. If left to Lee, Jamison would probably be left with the impression that Helen Crane wrote for community news circulars or ‘little’ women’s magazines. The Admiral took the opportunity to comment off-handedly, "She writes under her maiden name, doesn’t she, Lee?"
"Yes, Sir. Helen Graham Lee."
Bobby choked on a piece of toast. Chip managed to dislodge it with a hard slap between the shoulder blades and Bobby gasped, "Your mother is Helen Graham Lee? Geez, Skipper, she won a Pulitzer for that piece on artifact smuggling."
Lee shrugged, but you could tell that he was proud of his mother. "She really loves her work, Bobby, and I guess it shows."
Nelson muttered, not quite totally under his breath, "Like mother, like son." Lee blushed and changed the subject.
Jamison studied his Captain covertly, adding this new data to his understanding of the young man who was too often in his care. He was aware of Helen Graham Lee’s writing. One would have to live in a cave not to be aware of the woman’s work – she was prolific and high profile, having covered everything from wars to women’s wear, although the latter topic came with insightful and sometimes cutting commentary on the social and cultural significance of attire. She was well traveled, and Jamie had to wonder how often Lee was dragged along instead of left at home. He suspected that Lee’s adaptability and reticence might have something to do with his upbringing – and maybe even his gift for languages. Jamie made a mental note to pump the Admiral for more information later. Morton was a lost cause – he guarded Lee’s privacy almost as zealously as the Captain himself. But Jamison needed to understand his Captain if he was to do his best for his patient. Later, he silently promised himself…and Lee.
Jamie grinned as he grabbed a plate and hurriedly selected several items from what Cookie or his assistant always kept available. That was a very interesting conversion I had later with the Admiral. Nearly as interesting as his story today. It never ceases to amaze me, the myriad of little details, so telling about the Skipper’s personality, that he just doesn’t think are important enough to bother mentioning. He took his sparse meal and sat down to quickly eat. Let your friends in, Skipper. Please? We only want to help.
* * * *
It took Lee a bit to remember why he was in Sick Bay. Well, to be honest, it took him a bit to realize he was in Sick Bay. Once that had been firmly established – by sound and smell – he worked at trying to pry his eyes open. Disconcerted by the effort it took, he was still trying to get all the pieces sorted out when a voice interrupted.
"Are you back?" Lee looked to his left, following the sound, and Admiral Nelson’s face finally took form through the haze.
"From where?" Lee mumbled, and started to rise.
"Not so fast, Skipper," a second voice said sternly, and what felt like several hands interrupted his attempted movements. He let them ease his head back down, beginning to realize he might not have been very successful at getting up anyway. He looked further and discovered he was laying on a gurney in the middle of Sick Bay, with Admiral Nelson standing on one side and Doc on the other. A third figure, next to Jamie, turned finally into Chip.
"What happened?" he demanded. Or, at least, that’s how he tried to say it. Somehow it didn’t come out that way, even to his ears.
"What’s the last thing you remember?" Jamie asked softly, at the same time checking pulse and respirations, and laying a hand briefly on Lee’s forehead.
"Not sure," Lee admitted. "Everything’s a little scrambled." He looked at Chip. "We’re moving," came out, followed by a quizzical, "We were stopped?" The look turned even more puzzled as three soft chuckles greeted the comment.
Chip’s "He’s fine," was drowned out by Jamie’s "Good grief," and Lee turned to the Admiral for answers.
Nelson was still chuckling. "Yes, Lee, we were stopped for a bit. Do you remember the ONI mission?"
"To deliver the computer disk," Lee answered immediately.
"You remember feeling lousy afterward?"
Lee turned to Jamie. "You said it was the flu," he said accusingly.
"So I lied," Jamie quipped with a slight smile. "Remember the scratches on the back of your shoulder?" Lee nodded. "Well, one of them wasn’t from bashing a beam, as you put it. John became suspicious of the way part of it looked…"
"I remember that," Lee interrupted.
"…and we ran a neurotoxin screen. You were bitten by an Australian Redback spider. Nasty little things. Once we figured it out we sent Sharkey off in FS1 to Darwin for the antivenin, and stopped until he got back."
"So I’m OK now?" Lee asked hopefully. "I can go back to work?"
Jamie just rolled his eyes. "Admiral?" he pleaded.
"Not so fast, Lee," Nelson answered, still smiling. "You’re going to be fine, but the toxin made you pretty sick. And while the antivenin did its job, it did give you a high fever for several hours. I’m afraid you’re stuck in Doc’s clutches for a few days, yet."
"STOP!" Jamie demanded loudly. "So help me, Skipper, if you say ‘I’m fine’ I’ll have you dumped on board the Flying Sub and shipped home so fast your head will spin – even more than I suspect its doing now. You can recuperate in Med Bay at the Institute and the rest of us will have a nice, peaceful cruise. Actually, now that I think about it…"
"No way, Doc," Lee interrupted firmly, and again was surrounded by chuckles.
"Then we do this my way, Skipper," Jamie got serious. "Because the toxin went basically untreated for so long, and because you reacted strangely to the antivenin, you’re going to have to take it easy for a few days." Lee started to say something but Jamie cut him off. "Before you ask, I don’t know how long. I suspect you’re going to be very weak for the next 24 hours or so, at the very least. We’re just going to have to play this one by ear. OK?"
Lee started to answer, glanced at the expression on Admiral Nelson’s face, and surrendered quietly. Sort of. "24 hours, Jamie. Then I want out of here."
* * * *
John walked silently through the not-quite-dark Sick Bay. It was nearly 0200 and things had finally settled down.
Once the Skipper’s fever broke about 2330 and he’d awakened briefly, Doc threw both the Admiral and XO out, albeit not without an argument. John smiled. Doc’s got more guts than I’ll ever have, tackling the senior officers on this boat. And winning, more often than not. Just goes to show the kind of respect they have for him, I guess. After they’d left, John had helped the CMO get Captain Crane settled in a bunk, then he’d somehow talked the Doctor into also getting some much-needed rest. John had just checked the quietly sleeping Skipper and was on his way to give the supposedly sleeping Rawn a quick check, but instead found the seaman wide awake.
"Guess we sort of bothered your rest, what with everything that’s been going on tonight," John said quietly. "But it should stay quiet now."
"Crane’s OK?" Rawn asked, jerking a thumb in the Skipper’s direction.
"Will be, in a few days," John confirmed. "Doc says he’ll be a little weak for awhile, because of the fever." John did a quick check and tucked the blankets in again. "Try to get some sleep," he advised the seaman, who was looking across the room at the Skipper’s bunk. He brought his eyes back to the corpsman as John continued. "You’ll probably be released to light duty in the morning, depending on what Doc says."
"You’ve got to be kidding," Rawn sputtered. "Ribs this sore have to be good for three, maybe four, days’ rest."
"Doubt it," John answered philosophically. "But you can try, I suppose."
"You mean I’m expected to go right back to work, but a little spider bite and Crane will be down for a week?" Rawn grumbled.
John snorted. "Fat chance. Knowing the Skipper, he’ll be trying to get out of here the instant he wakes up. And even if Doc and the Admiral can get him to stay he’ll make sure Mr. Morton brings him the status reports, and any other paperwork he can talk the XO out of."
"Why?" Rawn asked, suddenly thoughtful. "You’d think he’d enjoy the chance to veg."
"Not the Skipper," John said adamantly. He shrugged his shoulders. "That’s just not his way. Word of advice?"
"What?" The belligerence was back.
"You wouldn’t be aboard if the Skipper and XO didn’t think you had the qualifications to be an asset. Try to live up to their opinions. It’ll be a lot less painful." The last was delivered a bit stiffly, and John headed back for Doc’s office, hesitating just a moment at the Skipper’s bunk but without a backward glance at Rawn.
The seaman glared at John’s departing back, then glanced back at Crane. Nelson’s golden boys – Crane and Morton, he thought derisively. Heard lots about them. Probably never had to work for anything in their lives – handed anything they wanted on a silver platter. He rolled over and faced the bulkhead, groaning as his ribs protested the too quick movement, remembering another time he’d been given similar advice.
Rawn’s childhood had been less than ideal, and he’d spent almost three years, until he was 18, in a Juvenile Detention Center. Not making friends easily, and fighting authority the whole time, he nonetheless earned his GED. He also discovered an interest in, and a talent for, electronics. As he was nearing age 18 and release from the Center, the counselors ‘encouraged’ him into a stint in the military. Originally Rawn wasn’t too thrilled at the suggestion, to say the least. But it was pointed out, rather strongly, that career opportunities for someone with his background were extremely limited, and this would be a way to start rebuilding his life. He was also beginning to realize that there might be something better out there than a bad death in a dark alley. He received a waiver because of his decent record at the Detention Center, despite the numerous misdemeanors in his past, and entered the Navy. He hadn’t much liked the way his recruiter let him know in no uncertain terms that it was only the willingness of his teachers to go to bat for him and his, the recruiter’s, own need to make his recruiting goal, that made him send his package up the chain of command for a waiver. Rawn left for boot camp with PO1 Ballard’s threats still ringing in his ears to "not make a fool of me." Only a bone deep determination to not give Ballard the chance to say "I told you so" got him through basic training.
The next six years weren’t a whole lot different from the last three – he was still in a situation of too many regulations and too little freedom. But he gutted it out and continued his training in electronics, now focusing on hydrophone equipment. His evaluations all said pretty much the same thing. While getting good marks for intelligence and technical skills, he was downgraded on attitude and tagged as a loner. Rawn didn’t care, and made no effort to change. Even the one bright spot on his entire service record he chose to ignore, telling anyone who brought it up he was just saving his own neck.
During the last year of his tour Rawn spent several weeks working with a civilian technician, suggesting upgrades to the current hydrophone equipment. As re-enlistment time approached, the company the tech worked for actively recruited Rawn to come work for them. Rawn jumped at the chance to get out from under so many years of restricted freedom, refusing to acknowledge that he was actually excited to be working on the new hydrograph project the company was developing.
What he did acknowledge as he settled into his new life in Santa Barbara was that, surprising as it seemed, he was actually somewhat uncomfortable with all his new found freedom. He’d lived so long in a structured society, he realized fairly quickly he worked better under a more disciplined regimen. The components he was specifically working on were part of a larger project the company was developing in conjunction with NIMR, and when it came time for the program to be tested, Rawn decided to apply to the Institute. He figured he was a shoe-in. NIMR would jump at the chance to get a technician already familiar with the project.
That’s not exactly how it went – to put it mildly! Rawn almost withdrew the application after realizing everything that was involved, even with his boss’ recommendation to NIMR on his behalf. Not only were there any number of interviews, up to and including with Morton, but he had to agree to a complete opening up of his juvenile records. Right there he figured he was doomed. But somehow he’d been called in for one more interview, this time with Crane himself.
That had been interesting, to say the least. Expecting to be grilled about his past, Rawn instead spent over half an hour answering questions about what he wanted to do with his future. Oh, Crane had made it plain he’d read the records and security reports. But other than that, didn’t mention them again the whole time Rawn spent with him. Didn’t like Crane from the get-go. Didn’t trust him. Didn’t understand why he didn’t want to talk about the project, only about me. Figured it was either a cover-up to hide the fact he didn’t have a clue how a hydrograph worked, or he was trying to figure out a way to sandbag my application, or get inside my head and mess me up so bad I’d sandbag myself.
It was therefore a great surprise when, a few days later, he received notice to report to NIMR for two weeks’ indoctrination, then a probationary period that would include a cruise aboard the Institute’s research submarine and testing of the new equipment.
He’d decided early on the NIMR people were a bunch of idiots. The first week all they did was assign him simple projects. ‘Evaluating his technical skills’, they’d called it. Bunch of morons. Any simpleton could do that stuff. The second week had been a little better. He was supervised constantly and almost quit, but he was beginning to get an inkling that there was more to the Institute than fish. He surprised himself by wanting in. Maybe. Enough to give it a try, anyway.
Towards the end of the second week Rawn spotted Crane in conversation with Rawn’s supervisor. Neither looked in his direction but Rawn knew they were talking about him. Crane had a folder in his hands, and the two were going over several of the pages inside. Later, the super called Rawn into his office. Here’s where they get rid of me, Rawn figured, but was wrong again. He was told that Seaview was preparing to leave ahead of schedule and that Rawn would be sailing with her. The new equipment he was working on would be given an open ocean test when Seaview reached her destination off Madagascar Island.
"I was told it would be another month…" Rawn had started to complain, but the super had just held up a hand.
"Apparently there’s some problems with the sensors Admiral Nelson left out there and the trip’s been pushed up a couple weeks. Captain Crane was here awhile ago and I assured him both you and the hydrograph were as ready as you’re likely to be. The Skipper’s already gone to bat for you once. Try not to let him down."
Rawn didn’t understand what the man had meant but he’d found out, at least partially, soon enough. The first time he’d put down a tool where Sharkey didn’t like, he’d been told in no uncertain terms that the only reason he was aboard was that Crane had overridden others’ objections and was giving him a chance to prove himself. Rawn had wanted to ask what he meant but Sharkey had just handed him the tool, told him to stow it properly, and walked off.
Rawn still couldn’t figure out what Crane’s game was. He’d actually tried to follow all the regs but there were so damned many of them! More even than in the regular Navy. And Rawn swore Sharkey spied on him, just waiting for him to make one little mistake. He even saw Crane watching him – came by one day and talked to him awhile, trying to be friendly. But Rawn had been wary. Whatever Crane’s motives were, Rawn just knew he was going to be the one headed for a fall.
Rawn tried to get more comfortable, and groaned again. Geez, all I did was bitch a little. Everyone does that. And that bunch of suck-ups tries to turn me into hamburger. Ought to press charges. Rawn rolled over and glanced at the sleeping Crane. Surprised no one’s charged me yet, by saying I started it. He lay quietly but not sleeping, trying to figure out what these people were up to, and how he was likely to end up the worse for it.
* * * *
It was much easier to open his eyes this time, and Lee looked around the softly lit Sick Bay. The wall clock read 0520. He vaguely recalled it being after 2300 the last time he’d looked at it, and from what he remembered of the faces surrounding him at the time, hoped all were sleeping in this morning. Although he was still somewhat surprised to not see at least one of the three parked in a chair close to his bunk. Even Doc’s office was partially darkened, and Lee figured that whichever of the two corpsmen were on duty – probably John – was working with just the desk light on.
Another realization hit Lee as he moved slightly, awakening further, and demanded some immediate attention. Rather than disturb the corpsman, Lee figured he could deal with it himself. It really wasn’t all that far to the head. Cautiously, he levered himself up and turned to sit on the edge of the bunk. While noting that Doc was right about him being a bit weak, at least the muscle pain he’d been fighting appeared to be gone, and he used the upper bunk to pull himself to his feet. No sweat, he grinned. Be there and back before anyone notices, and he started to walk to the end of the room. But suddenly legs used to swimming for hours, or running for miles, turned into jelly and he felt himself slowly collapsing in a heap on the deck. His next sensation was of hands on his body, and he opened eyes he hadn’t realized he’d closed to find Jamie softly smiling down on him.
"For as intelligent a man as I know you to be, Skipper, you can be so incredibly dumb on occasion," the CMO chided quietly, his smile totally unaffected by the glare Lee shot at him. "We won’t even mention the fact that, not six hours ago, you promised no escape attempts for at least today."
Lee’s glare turned sheepish. "Wasn’t leaving," he mumbled. "Needed to use the head."
Hearing Rawn snore softly, Jamie decided a bit of retaliation was in order. "Still need to, or should I have John grab a mop?" From the look Lee turned on him, Jamie knew one wrong move on his part and all bets were off with getting the Skipper to co-operate. But it had been just too good an opportunity to pass up. He counseled his face to remain passive as the thunderstorm on Lee’s finally calmed down.
"Still need to go," Lee finally mumbled.
"John," Doc called out, more strongly than he’d been speaking, and the corpsman appeared in the office doorway, instantly panicking when he realized what had happened and hurrying over.
"Skipper!" he squeaked out, filled with concern.
"Relax, John," Doc soothed. "The Skipper just forgot what I told him about being weak, and tried to take himself to the head. No damage done," and knew he didn’t dare smile at that little pun. "Let’s get him up and you can walk with him the rest of the way."
"Of course," John said, relief flooding into his voice. The two easily lifted Lee, and Doc finally let the grin out at Lee’s back. Giving his head a soft shake, Doc continued on to Rawn’s bunk, found the seaman still sleeping soundly, and walked back to his office. He made notes on his two patients’ charts until he finally heard the Skipper and John return to the main room about 25 minutes later. It had taken so long he’d begun to wonder if there was a problem. But since John hadn’t yelled for assistance, figured all was well. At the same time John escorted the Skipper back to his rack, the corridor door opened and Chip walked in, his expression instantly brightening.
"Hey, good to see you on your feet – sort of," the XO grinned. Doc walked as far as his office doorway and watched John and Chip settle the Skipper back into his bunk. The glare Lee sent him defied Doc to explain to the volatile XO what had happened. They both knew Chip would begin a tirade at his friend for being so irresponsible, one neither Lee nor Jamie would be likely to stem, as worried as Chip had been. Jamie actually considered it briefly, thinking Chip might be able to shame his friend into behaving himself. But another thought interjected itself and he sent John off to bring back a breakfast tray for the Skipper. They both knew Chip would pester Lee into eating as much as possible of it before polishing off any leftovers. Then John went off to his own breakfast, then bed, and Jamie returned to his office. Admiral Nelson also made a brief appearance to check on Lee before heading to his lab. Jamie waited until both Admiral and XO had left, the latter carrying the now empty tray, before wandering back into the main room. He noticed John had seen to it that the trip to the head had included a quick shower and shave, explaining why they had been gone so long and was again, as on many previous occasions, grateful that the Skipper allowed the corpsmen to help him as much as he did. It was a measure of how much he trusted them, something Jamie was sure both John and Frank understood. The snores continuing to emanate from across the room told Jamie that his other patient was still sleeping and he walked over, sat down on the edge of the Skipper’s bunk, and grinned at the expression on Lee’s face.
"Wondering why I didn’t tell the Admiral and Chip about this morning’s little escapade?" he asked. Lee just nodded and Jamie continued. "Decided I’d make you a deal," and he started to smile at the look of pure stubbornness that instantly appeared. "I’ll keep quiet if you’ll talk." Lee raised an eyebrow. "Tell me why you would barely speak to me the whole way back from that last trip to Indonesia." Concern replaced amusement as Lee’s expression instantly became troubled, and Lee turned his head away and closed his eyes. Jamie was now totally perplexed. "Easy, Skipper." When Lee still wouldn’t look at him, he backed down. "Never mind. Its not that important," and he started to get up. But Lee reached out a hand to stop him, and turned his head back in Jamie’s direction, his eyes open, but just barely.
"No, Jamie. Don’t go. You have a right to know." But he stopped and glanced towards Rawn’s bunk.
"Dead to the world," Jamie confirmed, and put a small smile back on his face.
Lee didn’t say anything for a bit, looking everywhere but directly at Jamie. The Doctor just sat quietly. Whatever had bothered the Skipper would come out at its own pace. Jamie just felt honored that it was going to come out at all, and knew deep down it had nothing to do with the so-called blackmail. Lee was perfectly capable of dealing with both OOM and XO quite nicely - there had been far too many examples in the past. Jamie had a feeling that whatever the Skipper had been holding in was in need of coming out, but until now he hadn’t known how to bring it up. Jamie had just inadvertently given him the opportunity.
"Chip said you didn’t care – that I just over-reacted," finally came out, so softly Jamie almost didn’t hear it. Not knowing how to respond, he kept quiet. "He said I worried for nothing."
Jamie very carefully kept his expression under control. Chances were, if Chip said that much, he’d said it at enough decibels to rattle pictures on walls. Jamie couldn’t for the life of him think of anything the Skipper had done – to him, personally – that would cause that much anguish. But then, the Skipper does tend to take personally far too much for his own good, he thought. Way too personally, way too much. Jamie felt himself start to frown and had to get himself quickly back under control as the Skipper spoke again.
"Sorry," Lee said.
Trying desperately to maintain some measure of self-control, Jamie said almost as softly, "Skipper, if you’re going to apologize, you need to give me a clue why."
"Sorry," came out again even more softly, and Lee looked at Jamie directly for the first time, but shyly, nearly through his eyelashes. "I just figured…I mean, I thought, well, that you’d be angry…" Lee closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
The only thing this is accomplishing is causing him more grief, Jamie all but muttered out loud. He considered several responses and finally settled on continued silence, but he was watching Lee closely. Jamie was all too aware of how terribly Lee could beat himself up over things. If that’s where this was going, Jamie needed to head it off quickly. Especially since he’d been the one to bring it up – whatever ‘it’ was.
"Couldn’t stay in Sick Bay," Lee said finally, almost to himself, his eyes still closed.
Jamie decided a little good-natured teasing might be useful. "You never can," he commented lightly, and was rewarded when Lee looked at him again.
"I was ashamed."
"Of what?" came out stronger than Jamie meant it to.
Another deep breath and Lee finally got it out. "Because I got hurt on a personal mission – a vendetta if you will – not from something that was work related."
Jamie was still confused. "Chip was right. I don’t understand why you would think that was something to be ashamed of. Or that I’d be angry about it."
Jamie was almost made uncomfortable by the long, piercing look Lee gave him before answering. But when Lee spoke, it was again with lowered eyes. "I just figured I cause you so much work-related trouble, you’d be ticked when I did it for no good reason."
It was Jamie’s turn to close his eyes. Only the Skipper would think that whole fiasco had been for no good reason. When he opened them again, Lee was back to watching him intently, and he smiled. "No, Skipper. I wasn’t angry," he answered honestly. "I was very worried, as everyone was, when you disappeared. You have the most incredible knack for ignoring your own health issues, and I do tend to take that a little personally." Lee had the good graces to look ashamed, and Jamie smiled softly at him. "But I wasn’t angry."
"Sure?" Lee asked, and Jamie almost laughed at the little boy quality in his voice.
"Positive," he responded sincerely instead. "However," he continued, thinking he might use this to his advantage, "if you feel you need to make amends, you can do so by going back to sleep now, and staying here until I tell you its OK to leave."
Lee’s expression immediately went stubborn again, and Jamie grinned. He knew he’d been pushing that one. But it was worth a shot. He was surprised when Lee seemed to back off.
"Promised you 24 hours," he hedged.
"And I told you it would be at least that long. Best guess is, you’re going to continue to feel lousy a good bit longer than that."
"We’ll see," Lee said firmly.
"Yes, we will," Jamie said just as firmly but was still grinning, and reached to tuck the blankets up a little higher around the Skipper’s shoulders. "And the more you rest now, the faster you’ll feel better. OK?"
"OK," Lee answered grudgingly. But he finally gave Jamie a quick grin before rolling over and closing his eyes.
Only the Skipper… Jamie muttered to himself as he walked away. Ten minutes later, when Frank came in, he headed for the Wardroom. What he would have preferred was a good stiff drink. But he’d settle for coffee.
He was still mulling over his conversation with his CO when Admiral Nelson wandered in. At the question on the OOM’s face he responded quietly, "Sleeping," then grinned at the two upraised eyebrows he got back. "Remember? He promised 24 hours."
"He always promises," Nelson grumbled, but poured a cup of coffee for himself and settled down opposite the CMO with a smile.
"Ah, but this time he has a little added incentive to behave himself," and Jamie grinned as one raised eyebrow made another appearance.
When Jamie didn’t take the bait, Nelson asked softly, "Care to explain that?"
"Actually, no," Jamie responded. "He and I came to a little understanding. So far, he’s kept up his end, and therefore I’m obliged to hold up mine."
Both eyebrows went back up. "Doctor, this is my boat. I don’t like secrets," he said sternly.
"And Capt. Crane is my patient, ensconced in my Sick Bay. I’ll decide what’s best for him," Jamie answered just as sternly, then grinned. "Besides, I didn’t exactly play fair this morning and I’d just as soon not admit it." When Nelson’s response to that was puzzlement, Jamie continued very softly. "Blackmailed him." Nelson nearly choked on a swallow of coffee, and Jamie grinned more broadly. "Just a little bit," he added in self-defense. "But if it will keep him under control until he’s feeling better…" and he let the thought trail off.
Nelson shook his head slowly. "I sure would like to know why he refuses to accept his own infirmities," then frowned as there came a muttered Ever try looking at yourself sometime? "But I’ll be eternally grateful to the day I hired you. For whatever reason, you’ve managed to gain his trust and cooperation better than any medical personnel he’s ever been around."
"And when that doesn’t work I feed him to either you or Chip," Jamie snickered.
Nelson chuckled. "Don’t sell yourself short, Doc. Having watched his career since he entered the Academy, you’ve been able to work miracles with him."
"Thanks," Jamie acknowledged. "Although, there have been times when its been nothing short of a miracle he’s survived…" and they were quiet as each thought back, shuddering slightly.
"Well," Nelson finally broke the uneasy silence, "you’ve still always been willing to take the extra step to make it work instead of just walking away, no matter how impossible he gets. Although," and he frowned again, "I’m not quite sure I approve of blackmail."
Jamie grinned. "Why? Afraid I’ll try it on you next?" The grin broadened as Nelson harrumphed and stood up.
"You wouldn’t dare," the Admiral growled. Jamie shrugged his shoulders in answer and Nelson turned to stalk out. But the look he gave Jamie over his shoulder as he went through the door was more speculative than grumpy, and Jamie chuckled.
Guess I’d better be careful around him, Jamie acknowledged silently. At least, for a little while. He finished his coffee and wandered back to Sick Bay just in time to find Frank arguing quietly with Rawn.
"There’s no reason for you to stay here," Frank was saying, his voice slightly frustrated.
Before Rawn could respond, Jamie interrupted. "What’s wrong?" he demanded, then added, with a glance at Lee, "and keep it down."
"Aye, Sir," Frank said immediately.
"This guy," Rawn replied as if he hadn’t heard, "told me to go back to work. No way! I’m too sore to work."
Jamie barely gave him a glance. "Frank?"
"There’s a fair amount of bruising but it’s widespread, with nothing too serious," Frank defended his decision. "No reason he shouldn’t be released to light duty."
"Jamie," came softly from across the room, and the CMO frowned.
"Frank," he said, "why don’t you call the Crew’s Mess and have breakfast sent up for Rawn, then check with Chief Sharkey to see what Rawn’s Duty assignment is. Once I get the Skipper settled back down," he added a bit louder than he needed to, and watched Frank grin, "we’ll give Rawn another look. And you," he cut off whatever Rawn was about to say, "will do as you’re told, whether it’s by me or either of my corpsmen, or you’ll be doing the rest of your recuperating in the brig. Understand?"
"Yes," the seaman grumbled.
"Yes, what?" Jamie demanded.
"Yes, Sir," Rawn spit out, but with lowered eyes, and he rolled over so his back was to the Doctor.
"Good," Jamie said firmly, not allowing the quick grin he gave Frank to reach his voice. As the corpsman moved off, Jamie walked over to Lee. "Sorry we woke you," he said softly. Lee was facing the bulkhead and didn’t roll over, but did turn his head far enough to see Jamie.
"Didn’t," he admitted, and grinned at Doc’s frown. "Let Rawn stay here a little longer."
Jamie lowered his voice even more. "Why?" he asked, confused.
"Chip explained what happened. Said it seems to have been something that just got momentarily out of hand, and that Rawn hasn’t said anything about pressing charges."
"He wouldn’t dare," Jamie growled. "Not from what I’ve heard."
"Let me deal with it. Please? And since you don’t seem inclined to turn me loose…"
"Got that right," Jamie interrupted firmly.
"…then leave him here. At least for today."
"What are you plotting, Skipper?" Jamie asked softly.
"Not sure yet," Lee admitted. "Something will present itself. I just need a little time."
Jamie remained silent for a moment, but finally gave a nod. "Although, I’m not overly thrilled at countermanding my corpsman."
"Have Frank come over when he gets back. I’ll explain."
"Explain something to me first. Why bother?" But Lee just gave him a small smile and turned his head back toward the bulkhead, closing his eyes. Jamie resettled the blankets and said loudly, mostly for Rawn’s benefit, "Now go to sleep, and that’s an order." He noticed Lee’s smile broaden, but his eyes stayed shut and he snuggled deeper into his pillow. Jamie just shook his head and walked back to his office. On a small note pad he wrote "the Skipper wants to talk to you when it’s quiet", and folded it over, handing it to Frank when he came back with the Duty assignments. After reading it the corpsman gave Jamie a curious look. Jamie just shrugged, took the Duty sheets, and headed back into the main room.
* * * *
The next couple hours were quiet in Sick Bay. Jamie had given Rawn a thorough exam, finding absolutely no reason why the man couldn’t be released from Sick Bay and placed on light duty. But he acquiesced to the Skipper’s wishes and made up an excuse about wanting to re-do a couple tests later in the day, and told Rawn that if he behaved himself and didn’t disturb the Skipper, he’d OK his remaining on the binnacle list. Jamie definitely didn’t like the triumphant sneer Rawn gave Frank later as he moved around checking supplies, but the corpsman had already had a chance to have a few words with the Captain and didn’t pay any attention.
For his part, Lee was trying to behave. While his little miscalculation that morning had convinced him only of the need to wait a few more hours before trying it again, he was mostly concentrating on trying to figure out what to do with Rawn. In one way, Doc was right – why bother? The man had been a troublemaker his whole life, and didn’t seem willing to change. Seaview’s crew needed to know they could count on each other. Sometimes it was the only thing that kept them alive. Chip had argued long and hard with Lee after his initial interview with Rawn, and again the night before Lee’s latest ONI mission. Lee shuddered, and recognized it had little to do with Rawn. That evening Chief Sharkey had had the latest in what was apparently a string of minor run-ins with the newest seaman, and had complained to the XO. Chip had taken time out from his litany of complaints about Lee once again running off for no good reason, to pass on the list of problems. But as he had done after Chip’s interview, he once again defended his decision to proceed…
"Why do you keep defending this jerk," Chip demanded.
"Give the man a chance, Chip," Lee said quietly. "He’s been on board less than a week. He just needs time to settle in."
"He’s had time, Lee. I’m aware of his history. So he never knew his father, and his mother died when he was eight. So he grew up mostly in foster homes, when he wasn’t running away from them. If he really wanted to change, there’s been plenty of opportunities. There were counselors at the Reformatory to start with. Rawn could have asked for help at any time during the six years he served in the Navy. Or during the what, 18 months, he’s worked at Bryan Technologies. He just doesn’t give a rip. And that kind of attitude doesn’t cut it on a sub. Especially this one."
"He handled himself with honors on board the Sturgeon, when they were rammed. Dug in and probably saved the boat from sinking," Lee pointed out calmly.
"Yeah, and even he doesn’t take credit for doing anything special – just says he was saving his own hide. What makes you think anything you say or do now is going to change that? I’d have thought that failing after all the work you put into trying to change Bracken would have convinced you some people are just hopeless."
"I don’t know, really," Lee confessed. "Just, when I read his file I thought, that could have been me."
"No way, Lee," Chip said adamantly. "Huh, uh. Not a chance. Don’t even know how you could think that."
"Easy. No dad. Mom gone a lot. I could have easily ended up on the streets."
"But you had your Granddad, at least until you were eleven. And after that, Capt. Mac."
"That’s my point. I had people around me who made me care."
"Hah!" Chip grunted. "Nobody’s ever made you do anything you didn’t want to do anyway. Too blasted stubborn."
"You’re stubborn. I’m determined." Chip’s response not being repeatable in polite company, they both ended up grinning. They’d had this part of the discussion before.
But Chip had persisted. Like I’d said, stubborn, Lee snickered softly to himself. "What’s this really about, Lee?" he continued, sitting down in Lee’s desk chair. Lee had been standing across the cabin, putting the few things he’d need for the mission into his backpack and changing clothes. Now he sat down on the edge of the bunk as Chip argued. "A lot of kids come from less than perfect homes and still come out just fine. Like you said, your own childhood wasn’t all sunshine and sandboxes, and you didn’t turn out too warped." Lee started to grin evilly and Chip said quickly, "Ah, maybe I’d better clarify that…" and they both chuckled again.
"You know, Chip, Mom blames you for leading me astray," Lee grinned. "Up until I met you, she thought she’d raised a logical, self-sufficient, well-mannered son. Once I started hanging out with you…"
"Excuse me?" Chip blurted, and both hands hit Lee’s desk. "I did what?" But by then he was grinning as well. They’d had this discussion before, too. On numerous occasions.
Lee knew that Chip wasn’t overly impressed with how Lee had been raised. That he thought Lee’s mother wasn’t as demonstrative as she should have been – as Chip’s own family was. But Lee had his own insight into his mother’s parental guidance. He never for a moment doubted that she loved him. Deeply. But she’d been hurt, just as deeply, when Lee’s father had been killed in action when Lee was five. Lee always figured that was why she’d buried herself in her work. That had been her defense against the pain of losing the great love of her life. She didn’t so much push Lee away as she wanted to protect him from ever having to go through something as heart rending, and raised him to be more independent than she had been. She hadn’t been overly thrilled when he’d chosen to follow his father into the Navy. But she’d openly supported his decision because she knew it was what he wanted to do.
Lee also knew that in at least one way she was very grateful that Lee had entered the Naval Academy. It had meant Lee had met Chip. Many years after the fact she’d told Lee how thrilled she’d been when Lee had made friends with Chip, and been included in so many of the Morton family’s activities. She’d told him that one year, when the Mortons had hosted both Cranes at Thanksgiving, she’d gotten a bit teary eyed as she watched Lee and his ‘adopted siblings’ carrying on. She even admitted to confiding in Mrs. Morton that she and William had wanted lots of kids, and that she regretted that Lee had no siblings; that he could have used one. Mrs. Morton had just chuckled and told her that he had one now – just took him 17 years.
"But none of this explains," Chip continued, serious again, "why you feel you have to inflict Rawn on the rest of us."
Lee sighed heavily. "I just know that things could have turned out a lot differently for me if I hadn’t had people around who cared what happened to me."
"You can’t ‘take care’ of everyone, Lee."
"I know," Lee admitted. "Just, oh, I don’t know, try not to keelhaul Rawn until I get back. I just feel like I need to give him one more chance. And there’s something there, Chip. There’s more to him than he lets on…" Hazel eyes held blue until the Exec nodded.
"But you’d better come back in one piece," Chip got in one last threat, "if you want him to have that chance, Skipper."
Lee still couldn’t come up with a convincing reason for why he felt the way he did. But he knew he wanted to give Rawn another opportunity to get his act together. Unfortunately, he still wasn’t sure how when he fell into a restless sleep.
* * * *
With both his patients resting quietly Jamie walked down to the Wardroom, grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down next to the already seated XO.
"No crises in the Control Room, I take it," he grinned.
"The only crisis would have been if I fell asleep standing up," Chip admitted guiltily. "Decided I’d better grab some caffeine."
They were interrupted by Cookie. "Doc, how’s the Skipper? I mean, I know he ate breakfast, but…"
"He’s doing quite well, Cookie," Jamie assured the man.
"I was wondering. Some of the guys have been worried. Said you haven’t been allowing him visitors. Well," he amended with a glance at Chip, "except for the Admiral and Mr. Morton."
"They’re not visitors, Cookie," Jamie grumbled. "More like necessary evils." But he grinned as he finished, matching the one on Chip’s face, and watched the chef relax.
"Then I can fix him a regular lunch?" Cookie continued, causing XO and CMO to exchange glances. Everyone on the boat knew how the man reacted when his Captain wasn’t eating well. "I thought, maybe, he might only want soup."
"The more he eats the better I’ll like it," Jamie answered. "And since we can assume Mr. Morton will be along to press the issue…"
"Not a problem," Chip finished. "What’s for lunch, Cookie?"
The chef smiled for the first time. "Lasagna, Caesar salad, green beans, apple bread, and coconut cream pie." The smile broadened at the expression of pure delight on the XO’s face, and Cookie headed back to the Galley. Jamie just shook his head, then got serious as Chip asked a question.
"I understand you’re keeping Rawn in Sick Bay. How come? I thought you were releasing him this morning."
"I thought I was, too," Jamie muttered into his coffee cup, then looked at the XO. "The Skipper asked me to keep him a little longer."
"Something about giving him time to maybe straighten Rawn out."
"Did he say how?"
"Nope. Just that ‘hopefully something will come to him’," and Doc shook his head. "I just don’t understand why he bothers."
"Did you ask him?" Doc just shrugged his shoulders. "Obviously he didn’t give you the answer he gave me," Chip said darkly.
Chip didn’t immediately respond, just stared into his coffee cup for so long Jamie was beginning to think he wouldn’t. Not all that surprising. Chip was not in the habit of repeating conversations, especially when they involved Lee. Jamie was therefore startled that Chip said anything at all.
"He and I got into it the other night, just before Lee left the boat for Australia. He just has this feeling…" and the XO’s voice trailed off.
"Considering the Skipper’s ‘feelings’ in the past, Chip," Jamie broke into the sudden silence, "it’s a little hard to argue with him." The Doctor was glad to see the return of a smile on the XO’s face.
"He does have an uncanny knack for reading people. I suppose that’s worth granting him a little leeway…" and Chip realized what he’d said as Jamie nearly choked on a swallow of coffee. "Sorry, Doc. Guess I’m not tracking too well."
"Nice chip shot, Mr. Morton," Jamie quipped back. "You’re not usually that out of it on a little sleep deprivation. Maybe I need to recommend to the Admiral he order you to some down time." But he grinned as Chip just glared at him.
They were interrupted as Admiral Nelson walked in. "Who’s watching Lee," he asked, grabbing himself some coffee.
"Resting quietly at the moment," Jamie answered. Nelson raised an eyebrow. "But Frank’s got the exits blocked."
Nelson chuckled as he sat down. "I take it we’re all functioning on coffee today."
"Trying to, at least," Chip mumbled.
"Chip’s down to telling bad jokes," Jamie translated.
"Hey, Doc, that was totally unintentional."
"Which makes it even worse," Doc said firmly, then turned to Nelson. "I was just suggesting that maybe I’d ask you to order some down time, now that things are getting back to normal."
"I’m fine," Chip growled, then brightened. "Besides, you want the task of making sure Lee eats lunch?" Doc frowned and Nelson grinned.
"How’s the crewman that was injured?" the Admiral asked innocently, and raised an eyebrow at the looks he got from both officers. Jamie finally answered.
"He’s fine, Admiral. Should have been released to light duty this morning…"
"Should have?" Nelson pressed.
"The Skipper…" Jamie started, and didn’t quite know how to explain.
"The man’s a blivet," Chip complained. "Tried to tell Lee that, on several occasions."
"One of them being the night before Lee left for Australia?" Nelson asked, and grinned as Chip looked up, surprised. "Ran into Chief Sharkey later that evening."
"Come again?" Doc asked, confused.
Nelson explained. "The Chief had just had the latest in a string of run-ins with our newest crew member."
"He came to me, and I went to Lee – again!" Chip continued. "Tried to tell him after the initial interview Rawn wasn’t right for Seaview, despite his familiarity with the new equipment. Lee just said to give him time, that he was sure Rawn would settle in. Lee always did have to be kicked in the…"
"Chip?" Nelson warned.
"…before he’d recognize a major screw-up. Man, you’d think he’d have learned that lesson with Bracken, and didn’t realize he’d said that last out loud until Doc spoke.
"That’s not a name I recognize."
Nelson answered before Chip could. "Goes back to the Academy, if I’m not mistaken," and smiled as Chip startled. "That Bracken?"
"Yes, Sir. Surprised you knew about that." Nelson just looked smug. Damn, Chip muttered to himself. Lee always did suspect Admiral – then Captain – Nelson knew more about some of the things that happened at the Academy then he ever let on. If he knows about… but was interrupted by Doc.
"Since you two seem to know what you’re talking about, could one of you explain it to me?"
"Sorry," Chip shook himself back to the present. "Royal pain. Lee spent a lot of time trying to get him squared away."
"I gather it didn’t work."
"Nope. Bracken got tossed out his fourth year."
"Skipper didn’t take it well?" Jamie guessed.
"Major bummer," Chip acknowledged. "Just kept saying there must have been something else he could have done. He never seems to figure out that some people just don’t want to be helped."
"Which, knowing Chip," Nelson said with a small grin, "was pointed out rather…shall we say…strongly?" The grin broadened at Chip’s sheepish expression. "Started in about Rawn the same way?"
"With about as much success," Chip admitted, then sighed. "The thing of it is, Lee’s always had this sixth sense about people. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t still get screwed occasionally, but…"
"He does tend to be right much more often then not," Nelson finished for his XO.
"Yes, Sir." But Chip was still visibly unhappy.
"And he sees something in Rawn?"
"Yes, Sir." No way am I going to try to explain what! I’m not even sure Lee knows.
"And you still don’t like it," Nelson pressed gently.
Chip smiled wryly. "No, Sir."
"Well," Nelson said, finishing his coffee, "I guess we let him try."
"Don’t think we have a choice," Chip grumbled softly into his cup, and Nelson grinned.
"Cookie," the Admiral called, and the chef appeared instantly. "Better keep the coffee coming, strong and black. I have a feeling this is going to be a very long day."
"Aye, aye, Sir," Cookie acknowledged the order. Doc and Chip just nodded wearily.
* * * *
"Jamie," Lee’s strained voice startled the CMO and he hurried over from his office. The last time he’d checked, his young Captain was sleeping peacefully. Need to take a video of this, he’d thought at the time, and play it back for him when he gets argumentative about leaving. Show him his body wants to relax even if his brain refuses to admit it. But all of a sudden Lee was tossing restlessly, his expression tortured and confused. Jamie put one hand on his patient’s chest and the other on his forehead. Are we going to go through another bout of fever? he muttered softly. But Lee’s skin was cool, and Jamie was puzzled.
"Skipper," he spoke softly, "what’s wrong?"
"Rawn’s still in Sick Bay. You told me he was OK. What’s wrong? Is he worse?"
Jamie relaxed when he realized, somewhat belatedly, that Lee was only half awake. His eyes were opening and closing, but even when open weren’t totally focusing.
"No, Skipper, he’s fine. I just kept him a bit longer to run a couple more tests later today. Remember? We talked about that earlier."
"My responsibility," Lee continued to mutter and refused to relax, trying to screw his shoulder into the mattress beneath him.
"Skipper, I know you think you’re responsible for every last thing that happens on this boat…"
"My job…" Lee interrupted, still not focusing on Jamie’s face. "Have to know he’s OK. My fault he got hurt."
Jamie just shook his head. "And just how do you figure that, Skipper? You were already in Sick Bay."
"Should have been there," Lee mumbled. "Have to take care of my crew. Seaview’s the best. Has to have the best crew. Up to me to see to it…"
"Skipper, either finish waking up or go back to sleep. Preferably the latter."
"Have to take care of Rawn. Seaview depends on him to do his job. Can’t do it in Sick Bay…" Lee continued to mutter, turning his head back and forth, his eyes still unfocused.
"He’ll be fine," Jamie tried to convince his Captain, but he wasn’t having any success. Lee just kept getting more agitated. "Please, Skipper, just go back to sleep."
"What?" Doc asked, now totally confused, not sure he’d understood the soft muttering.
"On my shoulder. Itches," came more mumblings. Lee wasn’t awake enough to see the grin that appeared on the CMO’s face.
"Frank," Jamie said quietly to the corpsman standing nearby. "Grab me a tube of cortisone cream. Skipper, roll back over so I can see."
"No, Skipper. Just settle down. A little medication on that spider bite and it will feel better." Frank helped him turn Lee, and held the progressively restless man still while Jamie rubbed the ointment over all the scratches, and especially the bite mark. "There, Skipper. That should feel a lot better. Now go back to sleep."
Gradually Lee settled quietly back, his eyes staying closed. He managed one more mumbled "Seaview depends on her crew being prepared. If one man isn’t fit, it affects the others. Have to take care of everyone."
Jamie just shook his head. "The only one you have to look after right now is yourself, Skipper," Jamie answered. He checked Lee’s forehead once more, chalked the whole conversation up to a mind that refused to relax no matter how exhausted the body was, and watched until the body finally won the argument. He was about to head back for his office when he noticed Rawn had been listening intently. "Need something?" he asked sternly.
"No," Rawn replied, adding a belated, "Sir." He rolled back to face the bulkhead.
"Good," Jamie groused, and walked back to his office. Frank went into the x-ray room to run an equipment check. Rawn stared at the bulkhead, thinking about the conversation he’d just overheard.
* * * *
Rawn was still trying to get his thoughts in order a couple hours later, when the Doctor came back out of his office. "Skipper, looks like its time for me to put more salve on the bite mark," Doc commented lightly. Lee had shortly before awakened, had Frank bring him a couple extra pillows, and was half-sitting up, restlessly rubbing the back of his shoulder.
"It’s time to let me out of here, Jamie," he complained, with the best command glare he could muster while still screwing his shoulder back into the pillows. "I can put my own salve on."
Jamie hesitated, frowning. He ducked into his office for just a second and came back carrying a medium-sized 3-ring binder. Grabbing the tube of cortisone cream on the way over, he told Lee to sit up straight and hold his right arm out at shoulder level. Lee continued to glare but did as bidden, and Jamie put the binder in his hand. "Just hold it there while I work on your shoulder," he ordered, and started rubbing in the salve, purposely taking his time.
Two minutes later he grabbed the binder a split second before Lee would have dropped it. Lee’s glare had if anything worsened. "My point being, Skipper," Jamie glared right back, "that if you can’t hold up a notebook, how do you expect to hold up yourself. Don’t even start," he cut off whatever Lee was about to retort. "Just lay there and behave yourself. Besides," and he allowed a small smile to appear, "I still have a good twelve hours left on your promise."
"Eleven and a half," Lee replied grumpily, but he also smiled briefly and sat back against the pillows. Almost immediately the smile broadened and before Doc could ask why, Chip’s voice came from behind him.
"Hey, it’s alive," the XO grinned, walking over.
"Status reports," Lee demanded, but with still a trace of a smile.
"Sorry, Lee. The Admiral has them," and Lee’s eyebrows went up. "Grabbed them a few minutes ago, just as I was leaving for lunch. Mentioned something about stashing them out of your reach." They were interrupted as Cookie’s assistant came in with two lunch trays. Frank appeared with a small table he placed next to Lee’s bunk, and Chip snagged a chair.
"Doc?" Lee changed his demand.
Both Chip and Jamie grinned at him. "Had nothing to do with it, Skipper." Jamie answered innocently.
"Right," Lee muttered. But once again he started rubbing his shoulder furiously, and Chip got serious.
"Lee, what’s wrong? Jamie?"
"Relax, Mr. Morton. The bite is starting to heal and is going to be…irritating…for a few days."
"Days?" growled Lee, and Chip laughed as he turned back.
"Bad?" he asked.
"He referred to it as ants awhile ago," Jamie interjected.
"What?" Lee demanded. "I don’t remember that?"
"Not surprised, Skipper," Jamie chuckled. "You weren’t really awake at the time," then noticed the pained expression on Chip’s face and looked at him quizzically. "Something you’d like to add?"
"Never mind," Chip grumbled and stuffed a forkful of lasagna into his mouth.
Suddenly, Lee brightened perceptibly. "I’d forgotten all about that," he chuckled.
"And I’d greatly appreciate you continuing to forget it," Chip snapped. "Eat your lunch."
But Lee grinned mischievously and asked Jamie, "It’s not in Chip’s Medfile? About…"
"Drop it, Lee," Chip said softly but threateningly. "You know all I have to do is think about it and I start itching all over."
"…the time Chip laid in an ant nest?" Lee continued as if Chip hadn’t spoken, still grinning up at Doc.
"No, it isn’t," Jamie grinned back and leaned against the upper bunk railing, waiting expectantly.
"Earned Chip a Navy Commendation," Lee said proudly.
"For sitting in an ant colony?" Doc asked, puzzled. "This I’ve got to hear."
"Not exactly," Lee admitted. "We were…"
"STOP!" Chip thundered, and glared at both men. "Lee, eat your lunch. I’ll tell the story. You always mess it up." Lee’s eyes sparkled at his friend, but he started in on his meal as between bites Chip reluctantly acknowledged he was sunk, and stuck repeating the painful – to put it mildly – story.
"Happened before we were aboard Seaview," he started.
"Before she was even built," Lee added, then took another bite of lunch as Chip glared at him.
"We were both lieutenants, our boats ended up in Norfolk at the same time, we each had several days’ leave, and I had to make the dumb comment," his voice changed to a growl and he glared at Lee, "about spending it together. You’d think I’d have learned by then." His grousing only caused Lee’s grin to increase.
"You’re the one who chose the destination, Chip," Lee said innocently.
Chip turned to Doc. "You’d think the man would be safe in Mickey Mouse land," he complained. "NOT!"
"You went to Disneyland?" Doc asked incredulously.
"Disney World," Chip corrected.
"Epcot, to be exact," Lee further corrected. Doc nodded. Chip just continued to glare.
"Anyway," Chip took back control of the conversation, "we drive in and park, and we’re all set to enjoy the day at the ‘Innovations’ area…"
"Chip wanted to play the newest computer games," Lee interrupted softly, and Chip’s fist hit the small table with a force that nearly knocked the tray off. The look he gave Lee was positively murderous. Lee lowered his eyes but was struggling to control his laughter…before once again getting a pained expression on his face and rubbing his shoulder into the pillows behind him.
"Hah," Chip muttered. "Serves you right!"
Jamie, barely able to suppress his own laughter at the two senior officers and their ‘little boy’ antics, said quietly, "Skipper, you’ll only make it worse. Try not to scratch."
"Easier said than done," Lee admitted.
"I could give you a mild sedative. Then you wouldn’t notice it so much," Doc said helpfully. The look he got in return almost matched Chip’s earlier one for ferocity. But it mellowed quickly in the face of both Chip’s and Jamie’s grins, and Chip continued with his narrative.
"Yo-yo here had us there before the park even opened."
"Good thing, too," Lee offered carefully, "since the car was right at the entrance when we needed it…" His voice trailed off at Chip’s warning glare, and he lowered his eyes back to his meal.
"We barely get inside," Chip continued with an almost growl, "and Mr. Knows-everybody-and-what-they’re-doing," and he jabbed a thumb towards Lee, "spots the something-or-other from…"
"Chip." There was no mistaking the warning note in the Captain’s voice.
"Still? It’s been years," Chip protested.
"And it has never gotten out. We want to keep it that way. No one needs to know how close they came."
Chip shrugged. "Well, all right. Not that the details are all that important."
"Was to them," Lee said quietly.
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, some big shot was being forced to leave by a couple of thugs."
"Minister of Defense," Lee added carefully, "from somewhere." He grinned at Jamison’s quizzical expression before continuing. "Met him a couple months previously at a reception…"
"Whatever," Chip cut him off.
"How did you know he wasn’t just walking out with his own group?" Jamie asked.
"Your own security personnel don’t usually stick guns in your side."
"And leave it to him to notice," Chip continued. "Well, Lee grabs me, points out the problem, and we tail them back to the parking lot. They were in a hurry, no time for us to try to find a phone to call anyone – before the days of carrying a cell phone. They had a car stashed in the lot, we collected ours, and take off after them." Chip turned to Jamie. "Have you ever driven with him," and again a thumb pointed toward Lee, "when he’s totally focused on something other than the steering wheel?"
"Had to keep the other car in sight, and they weren’t making it easy," Lee defended himself.
"Nearly got us killed – twice – and that was before all the other ‘fun’ started." Lee just gave Jamie a grin and turned his attention back to his meal – with another rub of his shoulder into the pillow. "We finally track them to this secluded estate out in the boondocks, and watch as they drag the guy inside the house."
"Were you armed?" Jamie asked.
"Of course not!" Chip blustered. "Why would that make any difference? Mr. Invincible doesn’t need weapons."
"Chip," Lee broke in, "give me a break here. What was I supposed to do? If we’d stopped to call for help they’d have gotten away, and nobody would have known where they were. And once they stopped, I did point out that you should go for help while I kept an eye on things."
"And leave you unsupervised?" Chip snapped. "I don’t think so. Besides, if we’d argued about it much longer we’d have missed the helicopter."
"Excuse me?" Jamie broke in. Lee opened his mouth to explain, closed it again after glancing at the expression on Chip’s face, and took another bite of his lunch.
"We left the car," Chip continued, "concealed in some bushes. Easy enough to do, the whole place was surrounded by tall hedges and shrubs. Except right around the house. And in the back there was an area large enough for a swimming pool and a heliport. So we’re scoping out the place, crawling around through all this brush, and suddenly we run into a guard patrolling the grounds. He doesn’t see us, but he stops for a smoke about 10 feet away from me. Lee was ahead a ways and stopped, too. Unfortunately…" and Chip hesitated.
Lee took up the story. "Chip ended up laying on an ant nest. We must have been stuck there for…"
"Way too long!" Chip growled.
"But he didn’t make a sound. I had no idea there was even a problem until everything was over and done with. He was terrific."
"So that’s why you tried to drown me, ‘cause I was terrific," Chip blurted out.
"All I did was shove you in the pool. Figured it was the fastest way to kill the ants."
"Good thinking, Skipper," Jamie commented lightly, much to Chip’s annoyance. "However, could we get back to Chip’s commendation?"
Another glare from Chip stopped whatever Lee was going to say, and Chip continued. "Once the guard moved off I headed for where Lee was, but by then we could hear the helicopter coming and figured they were cutting out. Lee," and he sent a particularly murderous glare his friend’s way, "muttered something about creating a diversion, told me to try to disable the chopper, and took off."
"Which he did with ease," Lee said proudly.
"How?" Jamie asked.
"Luckily the pilot stopped with his tail toward the hedges. When all hell broke loose around front," and he sent another glare Lee’s way, "I crept out and wrapped my belt through the tail rotor. When they tried to take off, the whole thing blew apart. The mechanics who looked at it later said the buckle did most of the damage."
"Quick thinking, Mr. Morton," Jamie said. "I’m impressed.
"So was the JAG investigating officer and the awards board," Lee put in.
"And where were you when all this was going on?" Jamie asked.
"Nearly getting his head blown off," Chip groused.
"Not a chance," Lee corrected.
Lee glanced at Chip but the XO apparently decided to let Lee explain. Although, the expression that stayed on his face was dark.
"When I left Chip I worked my way around to the front. When the coast was clear I tossed a handful of stones at the front windows to get everyone’s attention there, then snuck around to the other side and crawled in through an open window. Got really lucky, there was a phone in the room, and I called the authorities."
"But was he content to wait until they arrived?" Chip muttered
"All I did was scout around, staying out of sight," Lee said to Jamie.
"And tried to get yourself killed." Chip looked at Jamie. "I should have let them blow his head off. We all would be putting up with a lot less grief in our lives." But his glare softened a bit as both Jamie and Lee grinned.
"So?" Jamie egged him on.
"So I’m keeping a low profile. Four guys come out of the house and walk to the chopper. The pilot, the Minister, one of the guys that grabbed him, now armed with a semi-automatic in plain view, and a newcomer to the party."
"Major Big Shot," Lee offered. "Head of the…well, let’s just call it the armed opposition party."
"Yeah," Chip continued. "Even I recognized him, although I didn’t put a name to him immediately. They all piled in the chopper, but when they started up and the tail blew, all hell broke loose. Everyone except the pilot piled back out, and two more guards came screaming out of the house. And birdbrain here," he pointed to Lee, "comes flying out right behind them."
"Figured if I could grab one of their weapons…" Lee said with lowered eyes, and hesitated in the face of Chip’s glare.
Chip looked at Jamie. "What he got was a gun butt to the head."
"Slight miscalculation," Lee admitted sheepishly. "But the distraction gave Chip the opportunity to overpower the guard closest to him. When the cavalry arrived he had the whole place secured."
"Chip?" Jamie questioned.
"No big deal. Flattened the guard and took his weapon. The other two guards dropped their weapons and the MOD grabbed one and helped keep an eye on them. Only took a second to decide Lee’s hard head had saved him again," and Chip sent a dark look, albeit tempered with a small grin, Lee’s way. "Gave him the third weapon and searched everyone, then the house, but that was the lot of them. Tied up the baddies, and that’s when Lee shoved me in the pool."
"The ants were really starting to get to you, Chip," Lee defended himself.
"The adrenaline rush was wearing off," Jamie agreed.
"Figured the water and chlorine were the fastest way to get rid of them."
"It really was the quickest way to give you some relief," Jamie told the XO.
Chip gave them both a disgruntled look. "Fine. But he’s not the one," and he pointed to Lee, "who spent the next six hours sitting around in wet clothes and soggy shoes being debriefed. Probably would have been longer than that if Lee hadn’t passed out."
"I did not pass out," Lee argued.
"Let’s take inventory," Chip snapped right back. "Eyes unfocused, unresponsive, fell off your chair…"
"That didn’t happen," Lee cut in.
"Only because I grabbed you and eased you down onto the floor."
"I was getting a headache from all the constant questioning. Just sort of spaced for a second," Lee defended himself.
"Which is why they called an ambulance for you."
"I don’t know what you’re fussing about. You got a chance to change clothes and get lotion on all the bug bites. By a fine looking nurse, as I recall," and Lee grinned.
Jamie had been looking at Lee speculatively. "Skipper?" he finally broke in, and Lee looked up. "There’s also nothing in your file about this whole affair. Trust me," he added when Lee frowned, "as often as I’ve had to look at it, I’d remember." The comment earned a snicker from Chip. "How long were you in hospital?"
"Probably all got caught up in Security," Lee answered, at least the first part of Jamie’s inquiry. "The whole incident was kept pretty hush-hush."
"OK," Jamie replied, but refused to let him off that easily. "Now answer the part of the question you’re trying to avoid." Chip snickered again.
"Just overnight, Jamie. The headache didn’t want to go away."
"Didn’t help that you wouldn’t let them give you anything that would have made it go away," Chip grumbled. Jamie just shook his head. "And on top of that, I spent the rest of that leave keeping an eye on you, tolerating an almost endless string of debriefings, and scratching myself raw. Which," and he stared at Lee, "you just had to bring up, didn’t you? I’m going to be sympathy itching for the rest of the day!" Lee just looked at him through lowered eyelashes. But a grin slowly spread across his face, replaced almost immediately by a frown as once again he tried to screw his shoulder into the pillow behind him.
Chip laughed, then glanced at his watch. "Better be getting back to the Conn." Somehow through all the talking both he and Lee had finished their lunch, and he grabbed the trays.
"Jamie?" Lee asked hopefully. The CMO just crossed his arms and stared at his Captain, and Lee had the sense to refrain from saying anything else, closing his eyes instead. He listened as Chip left, missing the grins that XO and CMO shared. He thought he must have missed Jamie’s footsteps leaving, but as his shoulder again burned and he rubbed it into the pillow he also re-opened his eyes, and started when he realized Jamie hadn’t moved. The Doctor was just standing there, looking speculatively down at him. "What?" Lee demanded.
"Answer a question for me, Skipper?"
"What?" Lee repeated.
"Did you really have a headache, or was that just a ploy to get Chip some help for his problems?"
"Jamie," Lee grumbled, "you of all people know how much I hate hospitals and doctors – and especially ambulances," and he shuddered visibly. "Would I lie about something like that?"
"To help a friend or a crewmember," Jamie said assuredly, "yes, you would." I also think you’d have worked it out so that someone else, in this case Chip, got all the credit, he thought but didn’t say out loud. He just grinned when Lee put an expression on his face that was a combination of frustration and guilt, and closed his eyes again.
* * * *
Rawn was getting restless. For all his talk about staying in Sick Bay, suddenly he was no longer comfortable there. For one thing, even though Jamison had sided with him that morning, the corpsman continued to look at him with amusement any time their eyes chanced to meet, instead of the resentment Rawn expected. And that whole conversation between Crane, Morton and Jamison. None of them seemed to care – hell, they didn’t even notice – that he could hear everything they said while he ate his own lunch the corpsman had brought shortly after Morton arrived. Morton had a right to be ticked. If I was off duty I sure wouldn’t want anybody dragging me off, getting me involved in something that wasn’t any of my business, he grumbled to himself. Yet, for all the man’s crabbing, Morton hadn’t seemed all that upset. Rawn had seen the grins that passed between he and Jamison before the Exec left. Maybe the fact that he apparently took all the credit for what Crane had gotten him into tempered his anger.
And even that was cockeyed. From what Rawn had been able to pick up, Crane was the one who always went off on secret assignments for ONI and Morton made no bones about not liking it. How come Crane let someone else take credit when it was he who initiated the whole thing? And Jamison’s crack about Crane faking injuries to get Morton help. If Crane was such a hot shot, why let himself be made a fool of instead of just ordering Morton taken care of. The whole thing was just plain screwy.
Yet…what was it Kowalski and the others had been saying before they beat the hell out of him? Rawn had to admit that something about this boat was different. Even the fight didn’t go down the way he expected it to. The guys didn’t really gang up on me the way they could have. No one tried to hold me down while the others pounded on me. Even let me take my best shots. And that’s as screwy as what they’d been trying to tell me before the fight broke out. What was it? Something about Crane caring more about the crew than himself? Yeah, right!
But…Rawn thought back on Crane’s somewhat incoherent ramblings that morning. He really had seemed more concerned about the boat and crew than he had himself. Even seemed to care that he, Rawn, was OK. The guy’s just plain weird, Rawn thought. Nobody cares about anything or anyone more than they do themselves. Just don’t happen! However…
* * * *
Seaview had just passed over the Ninety East Ridge into the lower part of the Mid-Indian Basin, with an average depth of 16,000 feet, when the turbulence hit without warning. Automatic stabilizers usually dealt quite adequately with the eddys and currents the huge submarine encountered regularly. But the sheer force of this one, coupled with no forewarning whatsoever, caused Seaview to tip nearly 60 degrees to starboard, then rock violently side to side for what to the crew seemed an eternity before they could regain control. Those sitting down in firmly fastened chairs faired the best. Many of the men assigned to Delta watch were thrown unceremoniously from their bunks where they’d been sleeping, helpless to stop themselves. And crewmembers unfortunate enough to be walking in open areas had little or no control of where they ended up.
Jamie was just returning from another hit on the coffee pot in the Wardroom. Cookie had taken the Admiral’s directive to heart and the brew was nearly strong enough to hold a spoon upright without other assistance. But nobody was arguing, after the previous 24 hours’ unsettledness. He was almost to his office door when he was abruptly thrown into the bulkhead, and rolled back and forth until Seaview began to settle down. Almost immediately the boat-wide intercom was filled with calls for and responses to damage reports. Jamie recognized Chip’s calm, firm voice, and released a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. In the Skipper’s absence, the Exec would have order restored as fast as possible. Jamie, as soon as he could pick himself up, was headed for Sick Bay when he heard a frantic call that sounded like Riley. "Doc to the Marine Lab. The Admiral’s been hurt." Jamie hurried in his office door, grabbed his bag with one hand as he grabbed the mic to answer the call with his other, and glanced into the main area. He’d already heard Rawn swearing, and saw him sprawled on the deck. Frank was close by, picking himself up. But Jamie’s main focus was Lee. He, too, had been thrown from his bunk but was already struggling to get up. Knowing the Skipper’s one-track objective when there was an emergency, Jamie yelled at Frank to use restraints if he had to, but keep the Captain in his bunk. The last thing anybody needed was a very weak, unfit Skipper in their way. He saw Frank wave a hand at him, and headed for the lab just as there was another call, this time from the Missile Room. But at the same time he spotted John, headed him in that direction, and he continued on to the lab. He prayed the Admiral hadn’t been hurt too seriously. If anything, he was more of a royal pain when stuck in Sick Bay than the Skipper!
* * * *
Rawn was still ruminating the weird goings on aboard Seaview - he still couldn’t make head nor tails of that fight. They’d given him a chance to fight back; in Rawn’s experience that just didn’t happen - when she dumped him on the deck. He barely had time to grab a bunk support before she rolled again, but was able to keep himself in pretty much one place until the motion settled down. He heard Jamison’s yell to the corpsman but was too busy casting insults at everyone and everything from Neptune on up to pay much attention.
Frank was taking inventory in the bandage locker when he was thrown forward, striking his head on the edge of the cabinet before landing on the deck. Although a little fuzzy around the edges he heard Doc’s call and raised a hand to acknowledge it, listening to Rawn’s epithets. One glance showed the seaman laying on his back, and figuring anyone yelling that loudly couldn’t be hurt too bad, he rose unsteadily to head in the Skipper’s direction. The Captain, from what Frank could tell, hadn’t fared so well. He’d been thrown out of his bunk onto his face, and his movements to right himself were sluggish and disjointed. He was also mumbling something, but was being drowned out by Rawn’s cursing.
Lee had absolutely no idea what was happening. The last thing he remembered was lying peacefully on his bunk, propped up on the extra pillows Frank had brought him before lunch. All of a sudden he found himself face down on the deck. Seaview was moving unnaturally beneath him and he struggled to get to his feet so that he could find out why.
Rawn’s continued profanities finally broke through Frank’s usual cool and he yelled at the seaman to shut up. Unfortunately, the effort nearly took the top of his head off. Not good, Frank, he thought to himself. Blurred vision, headache. Sure signs of concussion. Just take it easy and move slowly. You need to get to the Skipper before he hurts himself, and he crawled in that direction. Unfortunately, before he made it that far, the fuzzy edges migrated all the way in.
Rawn was still glaring at the corpsman for yelling at him when the man collapsed while headed in Crane’s direction. His first thought was, Hah, serves you right. Seaview had shuddered slightly at the same time and Rawn just thought Frank had lost his balance. But the corpsman made no effort to get up – in fact, wasn’t moving at all. Rawn surprised himself by suddenly realizing he actually cared.
He was momentarily distracted as Crane made an effort to stand up and reach for the nearest mic. He’d almost made it when it felt like Seaview hit something on her port side, then bottomed out and lay still. Rawn was still holding on to the bunk support; the corpsman rolled flaccidly a couple of feet, then once again lay still. Crane was thrown against a supply locker, bounced off, and collapsed back on the deck. But in trying to stop himself he’d grabbed the locker’s door handle, and when he fell back the locker opened, spilling out many of its contents. Rawn heard glass shatter, then something else as well. Or rather, realized he didn’t hear something – the intercom, which had been carrying non-stop traffic, was suddenly quiet. That last jolt must have knocked out communications, he thought offhandedly, not caring. It sure was a lot quieter. Quiet enough, in fact, to hear wires sizzling, and Rawn finally sat up. Whatever had been in the bottles that broke had run back under the cabinet. While Rawn watched, the sizzle turned to pops, and smoke started to appear.
Lee was still having trouble putting all the pieces together. Frustration caused by a body that refused to do what he told it to hadn’t been helped at all by being slammed against the cabinet and thrown back onto the deck. One part of his brain had been listening to the constant chatter over the intercom, grateful for Chip’s skills as a sub driver and steadying influence on the rest of the crew. It did not, however, take away any of Lee’s determination to get to where he thought he should be – the Control Room. He knew it just meant a combination of concentration and tenacity. But through the fog brought on by the additional battering he became aware of two things: the absence of the chatter, and the presence of smoke. He wasn’t totally sure he knew where it was coming from, but he did know he wasn’t the only one in the room. He had to get Frank and Rawn out, then grab an extinguisher and put out the fire before the damage got any worse. First things first, he muttered, and forced himself to crawl toward the still unmoving corpsman.
Rawn was rapidly getting unnerved. The smoke was getting heavier, and was between him and the only two exits out of Sick Bay. He started for the corridor door, only to be stopped by Crane’s voice.
"Rawn, are you OK?" The seaman at first ignored the question, and was just going to step around the two men on the floor. He’d get himself out, and send someone else back for these two. "Answer me, are you OK?" Crane implored, and Rawn stopped.
"Yeah, I’m OK. Just lie still. I’ll get you some help."
"No," Crane ordered. "Something’s wrong with Frank. Help me get him…" Lee’s voice wandered off for a bit as he fought to remain conscious. "I need to get him further away…get…fire extinguisher…"
"Its just a little smoke," Rawn grumbled, but stopped next to the fallen corpsman, noticing for the first time the blood and swelling on the man’s right temple. Reaching behind him into the bandage locker, he grabbed a compress and laid it against the abrasion, then glanced at Crane. But the Captain was lying unmoving and Rawn again headed for the door, now beginning to cough as the smoke became heavier. He could also hear Crane begin to cough, and wondered for the first time what the bottles that broke had in them.
Recalculating his priorities, Rawn headed for the other corner where an extinguisher hung on the wall. He was glad it was the dry chemical type most useful on electrical fires, and snatched it up. His ribs protested the sharp movement and weight of the unit, but Rawn just ignored them. He quickly broke the seal and aimed the nozzle under the cabinet. Unfortunately it just seemed to make matters worse. Whatever the liquid was in the bottles combined with the chemicals in the extinguisher to make the smoke heavier and more irritating. By now even the unconscious corpsman was faintly coughing, and Rawn’s eyes and throat were becoming increasingly irritated. Not seeing a foam unit anywhere Rawn again headed for the corridor, accidentally kicking Crane slightly as he stepped over him, and heard the man mutter, "Have to get them out. Have to…" before the voice trailed off again.
"Man, you are something else," Rawn muttered out loud, and found the door through the worsening smoke just as the first flames appeared. "Damn," he growled, and scooted out the door. Thankfully he found what he was looking for around the first corner, and hurried back with the unit. Luckily, the foam did the job, smothering the flames and stopping any further spread of the fire. But the damage had already been done and the room was filled with the extremely irritating smoke. He knew there should be oxygen units in Sick Bay, but having no idea where they were, he instead moved to Crane and attempted to help him out into the corridor where the smoke was much less concentrated. But Crane wasn’t having any of it. Barely conscious, he nonetheless insisted Rawn get Frank out first. When Rawn tried to just ignore him and help him up, the Skipper shoved his hands away as best as he could.
"No," the Captain demanded between coughs. "You get Frank. I can get myself to the door." By this time barely able to breathe himself in the acrid confines of the room, Rawn stumbled over to the corpsman, grabbed him by the shoulders of his lab jacket and dragged him out into the corridor, laying him on his side. While he was still unconscious, Rawn knew from the ragged cough that he was at least still breathing. Rawn desperately wanted to shut the door, keeping the smoke confined to Sick Bay, but Crane hadn’t yet gotten out. He knew the Skipper had begun to crawl in that direction – had seen him as he’d left with Frank.
"Damn," Rawn growled again and reentered the smoky room. While it wasn’t getting any worse, the smoke itself seemed to be causing more and more irritation. Rawn was finding it hard to see, his eyes were burning and watering so badly. He stumbled in the direction of where Crane had been laying, and tripped over him almost where he had been originally. As quickly as he could, and with his own senses starting to shut down, he grabbed Crane’s arms and began dragging him toward the door.
"No," Crane demanded, although too weak to offer any physical resistance. "Don’t worry about me. Get Frank out."
"He’s out already," Rawn yelled. "Just shut up, will you?" Geez. Doesn’t he ever give up with the responsibility #$&% he seems so full of? But Crane was still muttering when Rawn got him out into the corridor, closed Sick Bay’s door, and collapsed in a heap next to him.
* * * *
"Mr. Morton," the CMO started firmly, "I’m officially informing you that I’m putting in for a vacation. A very long one. Just as soon as we get home." He paused for a breath, then demanded, "What are you grinning about?"
"Everything must be under control. You’re only asking for a vacation, not threatening to turn in your resignation." The XO came the rest of the way into the Doctor’s office and sat down heavily in the extra chair.
"Don’t tempt me," Jamie muttered, but relaxed back into his chair behind the desk. "It got a little too…interesting…there for awhile, as far as I’m concerned."
"I hear you," Chip sighed wearily.
"Seaview? I assume everything’s back in working order or you wouldn’t be here. You’re nearly as hard to drag out of the Control Room as your CO."
Chip’s initial frown turned positively sheepish. "Yeah. The turbulence caused problems with navigation just long enough to bounce us off that sea mound. Thank heavens for a handy plateau. The bottom in this area is just a tad past our crush depth," and Chip raised his eyes momentarily upward. "The communications blackout didn’t help a whole lot, but luckily it was just a simple matter of putting a few circuits back together and cleaning up. We were up and running in about half an hour."
"That was almost three hours ago," Jamie said, surprised. "What kept you?"
Chip’s sheepish grin was back. "Came down once but I could hear both Lee and the Admiral yelling two corners away. Went quietly back to the Conn."
"Coward," Doc accused, but grinned at the XO.
"Guilty as charged. So? What’s the final count?"
"We were lucky. Eleven sprains, either wrists or ankles. One person has one of each. Six more have bruised ribs. Lots of bumps and abrasions, but nothing broken. A couple concussions – neither serious, just need to be watched. Unfortunately, the worse of those is Frank. He also took a fairly good dose of the toxic smoke but seems to be coming out of that just fine, as are both the Skipper and Rawn. It was more irritating than dangerous."
"Thank goodness," Chip breathed sincerely.
"Actually, the Skipper and Frank got very little of it compared to Rawn because they were both on the deck. Since the smoke rose, Rawn got the worst of it simply because he was up and walking around."
"How many still in Sick Bay?"
"Actually, just those three."
"What? Where’s the Admiral? From the sound of Riley’s voice, and the fact that the Admiral never showed up in the Control Room, I just figured…"
"Mr. Morton, give me credit for a little sanity. The very last thing I want is more than one of the Command team in my Sick Bay at the same time." They both grinned, and Jamie continued. "Riley just got a little excited. He was right outside the lab when we hit the turbulence, and heard a lot of crashing. Happily it was mostly just equipment. The Admiral was a little dazed and therefore unable immediately to make Riley realize he wasn’t badly hurt. Does have a sprained ankle and a bit of a headache. Once Air Revitalization got Sick Bay cleared and I started to get everyone sorted out I wrapped his ankle, gave him some ibuprofen, and sent him to his cabin with Sharkey as an escort. Threatened them both with dull needles their next physicals if the Admiral didn’t rest at least until morning, and preferably longer."
"Fat chance," but Chip grinned again.
"One step at a time. At least it got them both out of my hair – what’s left of it."
"You heard what happened down here?"
Chip nodded. "Kowalski told me, once you let him go."
"First one on the scene. Between knowing how to get the blowers going and his first aid training – not to mention he’s one of the few people on this boat who can get the Skipper to co-operate – I was really glad he chose that particular moment to come for a visit." Doc chuckled, and Chip looked at him curiously. Jamie just shook his head. "Sorry. Poor Ski. He wanted so badly to be ticked at Rawn, and when it became clear what happened, had to come up with a ‘Well done’ instead. Very nearly choked on it."
Chip grinned. "Surprised he managed it at all."
"Let’s just say, he’d do pretty much anything to keep from disappointing the Skipper."
"Ah. Yeah, that would make the difference."
"Chip?" came from the other room, and both men rose and headed in that direction. Lee was once again propped up in his bunk.
"Relax, Lee," Chip grinned. He noticed Rawn was back in his bunk as well. The seaman was awake, coughing off and on, but not too badly. Chip was surprised to see the scowl, which he thought to be a permanent fixture on Rawn’s face, was for once missing, and Chip gave him an encouraging smile. Couldn’t hurt. Frank was in a bunk closer to Lee, and appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
"Seaview?" Lee demanded, starting to sit up. The effort brought on an instant cough, but it was fairly mild. Jamie frowned at Lee and started to say something, but Chip just laid a hand on the CMO’s arm and said quietly, "I’ll watch him for awhile." He then added, loud enough for Lee to hear, "he’s not going to be happy until he gets a status report anyway. Why don’t you go grab a little sleep? Looks like things are quiet here at the moment."
"John will be back shortly. I’ll wait ‘til then," Jamie answered tiredly, but gave the XO a quick smile and returned to his office.
Chip snagged a chair and brought it over by Lee’s bunk. "Down, Lee. He needs to rest, and he won’t get it unless he knows you all are behaving." He grinned as Lee frowned but lay back against the pillows. "Seaview’s fine, although we may need to replace a little paint."
"That’s what I get for leaving you in charge," Lee grumbled.
"If you’d quit running off on ONI errands…" Chip grumbled right back. But he didn’t finish the thought as Lee grinned sheepishly, and Chip returned it.
But almost immediately Lee got serious. "So?"
"Status report! What the blazes happened?"
"Geez, Lee. Can’t you relax for even a minute?" He quickly held up a hand as Lee started to answer. "Never mind. Forget I asked," he growled, and Lee had the good graces to look sheepish again – but only for a split second. Then he waited, semi-patiently, for Chip to answer.
Which Chip spent the next half hour doing, between continuous questions from his CO. They were interrupted several times. John walked in at one point, glanced around, and walked into Jamie’s office. The CMO couldn’t bring himself to leave without a quick check of all three patients. And shortly after he finally left, Cookie appeared with dinner trays for Lee, Chip, and Rawn, and some soup for Frank that John coaxed his fellow medic to eat.
As Chip was finally preparing to leave, he caught Lee glancing around surreptitiously. "Don’t even think about it," he growled, and pointed a finger at Lee, then almost laughed at the look of pure innocence that Lee had on his face. "Stay put!" he ordered, then added a little more quietly, "please, Skipper? It’s been one hell of a couple days. The whole boat needs time to take a deep breath. Nobody needs to be worried about where you are."
"I’m fine," came out sullenly, but with a half grin at the expression on Chip’s face.
"Shall I get Doc’s notebook so we can test that theory?"
Lee glanced down briefly, then looked at Chip shyly. "Jamie told you about that?"
"Very proud of himself that he actually found a way to get his point across," Chip answered sternly, but ruined the effect with a broad smile.
Finally, Lee smiled, too, and relaxed back into the pillows. "I just feel so damned useless," he nonetheless grumbled.
"I know, Lee," his friend took pity on him. "But right now the best thing you can do for the whole boat is rest and get well. Jamie says the more you fight it, the longer the weakness will last. And the crew needs to see you up and functioning normally."
"Not half as bad as I need to be up and functioning," Lee muttered, then had to rub his shoulder against the pillows. "Damn," came out more loudly than he meant it to, bringing a laugh from Chip, and John from Doc’s office.
"Skipper?" the corpsman questioned, relaxing a bit as he heard Chip.
"Nothing, John," Lee tried to wave him off.
"His shoulder’s itching again," Chip grinned.
"You – Out!" Lee threatened his Exec. "If I have to stay here, the least you can do is leave me alone in my misery and go crash, too."
"Aye, Sir," Chip answered meekly, but the grin he gave Lee as he walked out left no doubt about who was enjoying this victory.
* * * *
Rawn watched quietly as Sick Bay once again settled down. He’d returned to consciousness in the corridor, his eyes so badly irritated that he at first didn’t realize the person helping him was Kowalski. When he did, he was instantly defensive, but coughing so hard he was actually grateful for the small breathing unit that was shoved onto his face. He lost track of time in all the chaos that followed. At some point his eyes were flushed out and some ointment put in. He was aware of a flurry of activity around him in the corridor before eventually being helped back to his bunk in Sick Bay. Not only had the air scrubbers cleared the room of smoke, all the bedding had been stripped from the bunks, with only three having been made back up. He and Crane were returned to their former places and Frank was settled into the third. There was still a lot going on as Jamison, the other corpsman, and – he was very surprised to note – Kowalski, continued to treat the rest of the injuries. He had to bury a laugh as Jamison dealt with a very irate Admiral, not to mention an equally ticked off Crane, both demanding that the Doctor get out of their faces and let them see to the boat. Jamison had been just as demanding. He’d dealt with Crane the same way he had earlier, with making him hold out the notebook. Or try to, as it turned out. Crane hadn’t been a whole lot more successful than he’d been earlier and had collapsed, muttering, back against the pillows.
With the Admiral, Jamison had enlisted the aid of Chief Sharkey, once Doc got Nelson’s ankle taped. Rawn had known COB’s in the past that one walked around carefully no matter what your rank. He hadn’t thought Sharkey was one of them. Still didn’t, actually. But for whatever reason, once Jamison threatened both Chief and Admiral with bodily harm during their upcoming physicals, Nelson calmed down and allowed Sharkey to assist him to his cabin. The look that the Admiral finally gave the Chief was one of, what? Almost friendship? Not possible! Or was it? Captain and Exec were obviously friends. Rawn’s ribs still reminded him that the crew thought of their Captain with respect, if not friendship. Rawn wasn’t dumb enough not to realize that one frequently came with the other. Rawn himself had just never found anyone he thought of with either.
But he was beginning to wonder if that was changing. He still fought against calling it respect, but he was definitely thinking about Crane differently. And Kowalski, as much as he hated to admit it. As he lay there letting things run through a brain too full of thoughts to rest, he realized something else. Since he’d first come to NIMR, and especially on board Seaview, the only one he’d actually heard seriously bitching about anything was him. Rawn had never been anywhere that wasn’t, if not full of goof-offs and complainers, at least had their share. Oh, there’d been the usual grumbles about this and that. But people here did their jobs without having to be nagged, didn’t sit around doing nothing unless they were on a break, and were quick to dig in and help someone else if circumstances warranted.
Nor was it the good ship lollipop filled with a bunch of little mary sunshines. As much as I tried to call it that, he admitted ruefully. These were strong-willed people, dedicated to their jobs, and more than ready to meet any challenge that appeared in their way. Especially idiots, and he realized, probably for the first time in his life, he was actually ashamed. Maybe I don’t belong here, he wondered. Could I wise up enough to fit in? Would I be allowed to, even if I could? Rawn didn’t have an answer for that one and rolled over to face the bulkhead. At some point he fell asleep, never finding answers to his growing list of questions.
* * * *
Compared to the last few mornings this one was downright tame, and Jamie was taking advantage of it to update all the patient charts from yesterday’s incident. Sitting at his desk he listened to the sounds filtering in from the main area, and was contemplating wandering in to check on things when the door opened from the corridor and Admiral Nelson walked in. Well, hobbled in would be more accurate. "What kept you?" the CMO said amiably, glancing at his watch. "It’s almost 1100. I expected you a good two hours ago." At Nelson’s frown he reached to one side and pushed a small stool toward the other chair, leaning back and smiling when the OOM took the hint, sat down, and put his injured ankle up on the stool.
Nelson’s frown slowly softened. "Been sitting in the nose getting caught up on everything with Chip," he admitted. "He said he was down here first thing this morning…"
"Barely 0630," Jamie confirmed. "Not that I’m complaining. I can always count on him to pester the Skipper into eating a decent meal." They both chuckled. "How’s the ankle?"
"Sore," Nelson admitted grumpily, then held up a hand as Jamie would have commented. "I know. I shouldn’t be walking on it. But I needed to make sure everything was OK in the conn, and I wasn’t about to go back to my cabin until I checked down here as well."
"All of which could have been accomplished in one five minute conversation with Chief Sharkey," Jamie pointed out quietly, then grinned more broadly as Nelson frowned at him again. But whatever he was about to say was interrupted by laughter from the other room and Nelson glanced through the connecting doorway for the first time, raising his eyebrows as he looked back at Jamie. "Not exactly sure how that got started, either," the CMO admitted. "I was expecting all out war with the Skipper this morning. He’s still too weak for me to be happy letting him out of here, but enough better that he’s really getting restless. If I could trust him to stay in his cabin and just do paperwork…"
"You have got to be kidding."
"Which is why I’m keeping him here. He rested quietly for awhile after Chip left, but was just starting to cast some fairly serious glances at the door when Kowalski and Patterson showed up. Ostensibly to visit but I wouldn’t put it past our XO to have put them up to it, to give the Skipper a bit of a distraction."
"That would explain a crack he made to me a little while ago," Nelson admitted. Jamie looked at him expectantly but the Admiral just gave him an enigmatic little smile.
"Anyway, by that time Frank was getting restless as well." At Nelson’s questioning expression he added, "bit of a headache and a little dizziness. He’ll be fine in a couple days." Nelson just nodded. "Not exactly sure who said what, but before I knew it John had set up the table, grabbed a deck of cards, and apparently raided the Wardroom for the poker chips the j.o.’s keep there. The game’s been going steady ever since."
Nelson glanced into the other room again. "Even Rawn?" he asked, incredulously.
Jamie just shook his head. "Leave it to the Skipper," and both men smiled. "I’ll have to break it up eventually. Both he and Frank should be resting."
"I think both Ski and Pat go on duty at 1200 hours."
"And Chip will show up with lunch about then. In the meantime…"
"Everyone’s behaving," Nelson finished. He watched through the open doorway for a bit, then chuckled softly to himself, causing a raised eyebrow on the CMO’s face. Nelson chuckled again and shook a finger gently in the general direction of the poker game. "That man has the damnedest luck at poker," he said softly, still grinning. "Lee," he continued, answering Jamie’s raised eyebrows.
"I’ve noticed," Jamie complained moodily. "Sits there like he doesn’t have a worry in the world, chatting easily about everything but the cards, then just as casually cleans your clock," and he looked at Nelson suspiciously.
"He doesn’t cheat," the Admiral said quickly, and watched Jamie once again relax.
"Didn’t really think he did," Jamie admitted. "However…" He gave Nelson another curious glance as the Admiral again seemed to chuckle at a private joke. Nelson finally saw it, gave a quick glance into the main room, and asked casually, "Any chance I can get a cup of coffee?"
Sensing another story, Jamie was only too happy to hurry down to the Wardroom, returning in moments with two mugs and a carafe of Cookie’s potent brew. Once more settled behind his desk, he waited patiently.
"Must have been about March, April, somewhere along then, Chip and Lee’s plebe year at the Academy," Nelson started, settling more comfortably in the chair and re-adjusting his ankle on the small stool. "A Friday night. I was actually in town for the weekend, didn’t have to run up to Newport to the Naval War College for a change. Ended up at one of the local pubs with Gunny Zitka. We were sitting in the back, having dinner and a couple of beers. Don’t even think the boys saw us when they came in."
"Wouldn’t be too sure about that," Jamie offered. "At least in the Skipper’s case. I don’t think there’s much he ever misses," and they both laughed.
"True," Nelson admitted before continuing. "That night it was the usual four: Lee, Chip, Tim Hughes, and Jerry Levin. The other three were razzing Lee, teasing him because he was only having cola – wasn’t old enough to drink yet." Both Nelson and Jamie grinned. "Wasn’t really paying much attention so I don’t know quite how it started, but the next thing I knew they were all sitting down at a large table with a bunch of other guys – not middies – and playing poker."
He was interrupted by some friendly teasing coming from the next room, and he grinned before continuing. "Like now," and he nodded his head toward the group in the other room, "Lee started winning. It was all pretty good-natured, at least at the beginning. Levin and Hughes finally left to go back to Mother B. They tried to get Chip and Lee to go as well but the other bunch kept insisting that they needed more time to try and get their money back. I could see Chip getting antsy and even he eventually left, but not before saying something quietly to Lee. Lee just nodded and waved him off."
"Sounds familiar," Jamie observed dryly, and they both chuckled. "He’s still winning?"
Nelson nodded, taking another swallow of coffee. "Well, to make a long story a little shorter, Lee glances at his watch a couple times and tries to leave, but the other bunch keeps insisting he stay. Lee apparently finally says something about needing to use the head and they reluctantly let him get up. But I can see them keeping an eye on the door both to there, and the rear exit. When Lee isn’t back in a couple minutes one of the guys goes to check, then he comes back and they all go piling out the back door."
"Oh, oh," Jamie muttered.
"Out the window," Nelson confirmed. "Into the alley. Zitka and I decide we’d better go take a look-see, and hit the end of the alley just about the same time as Chip and Lee are about to be set upon by the others."
"Chip waited for him outside," Jamie said, not a question.
Nelson nodded. "Gunny and I both yell, the other bunch suddenly don’t like the odds, and head out. I’m there with two middies standing in front of me, at attention. Although," Nelson grinned, "the expression on Chip’s face as he kept casting sideways glances at Lee wasn’t exactly what I would call correct protocol." Both chuckled again. "I figured there was no reason to say anything further – Lee was going to get an ear full from Chip unless I was totally off base. But I couldn’t resist one little bit of advice. Told him, ‘If you have to win so outrageously, make sure you’re playing with friends’." Nelson grinned. "Lee drew himself up even straighter and said - you know how indignant he can get?"
"All too well!"
"He sputtered, ‘I wasn’t cheating’. I just smiled at him. Told him I knew that. If he had been, he’d have had the sense not to be so obvious about it, and Lee stomps off, Chip right behind. They don’t even get around the corner before I hear Chip start in." He laughed and Jamie grinned. "But that’s not the end of it."
Nelson shook his head. "I’d totally forgotten the incident, until one day on board the Nautilus. Lee was a brand new Lieutenant, been aboard maybe a month or so, and I walk into the Wardroom one day and catch him playing poker with some of the other officers – for cookies."
"Him and his cookies!"
"Yeah. Anyway, everyone jumped up when I walked in…"
"Ran a tighter boat back then, I see," Jamie interrupted with a grin.
Nelson’s scowl almost immediately changed to a small grin before he continued. "For whatever reason, seeing the cards, and Lee standing at attention, I was reminded of the earlier incident. I waved them all down and grabbed the coffee I’d come in for. But before I left, I said something to Lee along the lines of ‘I see you no longer play for money, Mister. I’m glad you decided to listen to advice’. Lee answered back earnestly, ‘I always listen, Sir’. He went back to his game and I left." Nelson chuckled and looked at Jamie. "You know, I was halfway back to the Control Room before it occurred to me, he hadn’t said a blasted thing about following the advice, only listening to it." The two men’s resulting laughter was drowned out by a sudden explosion of same from the other room, and they both got up and headed in that direction.
While everyone around the table was laughing and joshing each other, Jamie immediately started evaluating his patients. Rawn was looking practically embarrassed, apparently the brunt of whatever had just occurred. But Jamie noted the coughing spells he was hit with off and on were fairly controlled, and not nearly as bad as they’d been even a few hours earlier. Frank’s features were a bit paler than Jamie liked, and he decided he’d better break up the fun and get his corpsman back to bed. The Skipper was sitting, seemingly totally relaxed, laughing easily with his crew. But Jamie’s practiced eye noted a tenseness, as if he were willing himself to remain upright. Before he could say anything, however, Chip entered from the corridor. Kowalski and Patterson both glanced nervously at their watches and bounced up.
"Relax, men," Lee said casually. "Chip, didn’t mean to keep these men from duty. We’ve just been involved in a very serious strategy session."
"So I can see," Chip answered dryly, as cards and chips were quickly gathered up.
"Headed for the Conn now," Kowalski added, still nervous no matter his Skipper’s relaxed attitude. He was stuck in Sick Bay – Kowalski still had to deal with the XO in the Control Room.
"Rawn," Jamie broke in, "if I release you to your quarters, think you can stay out of trouble for another 24 hours? I’ll want to check you in the morning but I don’t see a need to make you stay here ‘til then."
"No problem, Sir," Rawn answered immediately. Through Jamie’s own surprise at the respectful response, he still noticed Chip’s upraised eyebrows. And the Skipper’s quickly masked smirk, before he entered the conversation.
"Ski, I think Mr. Morton will allow you two minutes to walk that far with Rawn and make sure he’s settled before reporting for duty."
"Aye, aye, Sir," came the answer, albeit with just a moment of hesitation as the seaman glanced at the Exec.
Before Chip could say anything, Jamie added, "And make sure he gets lunch. Sometimes the smoke residue leaves a person not wanting food. I don’t want to find I have another finicky eater on board." He stared purposely at the Skipper as there were several soft chuckles, and a snort from the Admiral.
"Aye, Sir," Kowalski said again. "Come on, Rawn. Think I heard Cookie was fixing a new dish. You can let us know later, when we get off, if its worth trying," and the three seamen left in an amiable group.
As the corridor door closed behind them, Chip shook his head. "I’m not even going to ask," he muttered, and received more chuckles. Lee just looked smug.
But Jamie also noticed he looked very tired. "Frank," he tried an end-around instead of tackling the Skipper head on, "I think you’d better lay down for awhile. You look a little pale."
"Doing OK," the corpsman responded, but didn’t argue when John gave him a hand back to his bunk.
Chip took the hint. "Come on, Lee. Time to park your backside in bed as well. Cookie will be here in a few with lunch, then its nap time for you."
Expecting a verbal blast at that bit of flippancy from the XO, what Jamie saw instead was a look of almost gratitude, and he just shook his head as he noted both Nelson and Chip caught it as well. "Skipper…" he started, but was cut off.
"Jamie, let it go. Please?" Lee pleaded as he let Chip help him back to his bunk. "I knew I was pushing it, but…" and he didn’t finish, just looked toward the corridor door.
"And just how much cooperation do I get for not yelling – loudly?" But he ended up laughing at the look of pure stubbornness that came instantly to the Skipper’s face.
"Lee," Nelson warned, "I’d suggest you quit while you’re ahead."
"I wouldn’t be so quick to get him off the hook, Admiral," Jamie said sternly. "Just as soon as he’s settled I’m coming after you. That ankle needs to be elevated, not walked on." Both Lee and Chip grinned as Nelson frowned, but he took the hint as well and hobbled out. Cookie arrived at the same time with two lunch trays, and Jamie used the opportunity to ask him to please take another one to the Admiral’s cabin, knowing John would bring one for Frank. Deciding he’d pushed his own luck as much as he’d better, Jamie went back to his office.
* * * *
Lee gave the cuffs of his uniform shirt one final tug before he started down the spiral stairs into the Control Room. Oh, it feels good… he breathed. This was the first he’d been allowed back on duty, restricted or otherwise, since being incarcerated in Sick Bay. He’d actually been released – finally – the afternoon before, but threatened with severe bodily harm if he didn’t stay in his cabin until this morning. He had no misconceptions about how his day would go. Everyone would pretty much stay off his case this morning. But he figured Chip, Jamie and the Admiral would gang up on him after lunch and make him return to his cabin. No matter. At least, for now, he was back where he most wanted to be. And even confined to quarters he’d be able to do paperwork. Chip had cheerfully arrived yesterday evening with a whole armload of status reports. Lee had looked at them longingly, but except for going over the most current with his XO, he’d left them alone. However unwilling he was to admit it, he still wasn’t 100%. He had even let Chip talk him into hitting the rack earlier than he’d originally planned, although he wasn’t sure he’d have had much choice in the matter anyway. He had a feeling that the hot cocoa Chip had brought was one of Doc’s special blends. But all that didn’t matter now. He was home!
The smile on his face as he hit the bottom of the stairs was mirrored back to him by the entire duty crew, and he spent a few minutes walking through the room chatting before returning to the chart table and getting a status report from O’Brien. He was surprised he’d beaten Chip down, but he and Bob had barely started when more footsteps were heard on the stairs and the XO appeared.
The morning went by rapidly. Seaview was only a bit over a day’s journey from her destination, and while the details of the mission had all been worked out well ahead of time, there were still a far amount of last minute odds and ends to be taken care off. Lee tried not to push himself, although it was hard. He had very little patience for a body that was still not completely keeping up with what his mind told it to do. Chip was watching him closely, and Lee knew all it would take would be one dropped pencil and his XO, and friend, would be harassing him to go rest.
They both kept an eye on Rawn, working with Patterson giving the new hydrograph equipment a final tweaking before they field-tested it the next day. Lee knew all had not been rosy around the defensive new crewman the last two days. At least no one’s punched his lights out again. And Lee knew of at least one instance, reported to him the previous evening by Chief Sharkey, of Rawn looking like he was going to blow up and just walking away instead. Maybe there’s hope, Lee had thought at the time, and was figuratively keeping his fingers crossed. He was also aware that the crew seemed to be keeping a wary eye on Rawn as well, willing to give him a second chance, but not if he fell back into old, bad habits.
Both Lee and Chip were keeping an eye on Admiral Nelson hobbling around, risking Jamie’s wrath by not staying off the still swollen ankle. And they knew Sharkey was doing the same. Chip figured he’d scored a small victory about 1000 hours when he got both Admiral and Captain to sit down in the nose while they went over preliminary reports for the mission. Unfortunately the meeting didn’t last nearly as long as the XO would have liked, and both men were off again on separate agendas.
Shortly before lunch Lee was working on a chart, doing some mental calculations, and found himself staring absentmindedly at the periscope island. Suddenly a totally random thought flitted through his mind, and he looked questioningly at Chip.
The XO caught the look and raised an eyebrow. "What’s wrong?" he asked, slightly concerned.
"Is there something I’m supposed to be remembering about you, me and a pair of handcuffs connected to the periscope railing?"
Chip’s normally inscrutable expression abandoned him and he could feel himself turn red. "Nothing that I know of," he muttered, lying through his teeth and turning his attention back to his navigation chart. Damn! Lee would have to be aware enough to have heard that remark. Lee started to press the issue but was interrupted by Admiral Nelson calling from his lab, wanting some papers he’d left in the nose. Lee took them aft, still smiling curiously as Chip refused to look him in the face. Going to have to find out what that’s all about, he grinned as he left.
"Lee, what’s wrong?" Nelson demanded a few minutes later. After Lee delivered the reports the two had spent some time visiting, and Lee didn’t realize until the Admiral’s question he’d once again sort of spaced out, seeing unexpected images in his mind.
"Sorry, Sir," he answered immediately. "Nothing, actually. I just keep getting these little mental images of things. Weird."
"How weird?" Nelson asked, more gently.
"Oh, like now. For some reason I was seeing that trip when you drove me home. You know, when Mom was hurt. But it was all sort of mixed up with being at the Naval War College marina, when I was still a kid."
"Well, don’t worry about it, lad." Nelson said, trying to cover a guilty smile. He had a feeling he was going to regret telling Jamie that story, no matter that Lee was so ill at the time he shouldn’t have been able to hear. "You were pretty sick there for a while. High fever and all. Hard telling what your mind was going through, what memories it will dredge up."
"I guess so, Sir," Lee said although a bit unconvincingly, and returned to the Control Room.
As it was nearing lunch time anyway, Nelson wandered down to the Wardroom, in need of coffee more than anything. He was standing with a cup in his hand when Jamie walked in, a frown appearing instantly when he caught sight of the Admiral. To try and defuse what he was expecting to be a chewing out for not resting his ankle, Nelson said casually, "You know, Jamie, I told you I was going to regret telling you that story the other day."
"Which one?" Jamie asked, still frowning, but knowing in his heart nothing he said was going to make much of a difference anyway. He sat down, hoping the Admiral would take the hint.
"That first day in Sick Bay, after the spider venom finally kicked in big time," Nelson said, sitting down across from the CMO and not understanding the quick smile he got. "Remember those times when Lee got restless?"
"Uh huh," Jamie responded, then added, "Oh, thanks, Cookie," as the chef appeared, unrequested, with lunch trays for both men. "The Skipper been down yet?"
"No, Sir," Cookie answered. "But Mr. Morton just called. Said not to worry. They have a course correction to plot, then he’d make sure the Skipper came down. Be about half an hour." He went back to the Galley, missing the smiles on the two faces behind him.
"So, Admiral," Jamie finally got back to the previous conversation, "why are you going to regret telling me? I’ve been thinking I kind of enjoyed having the Skipper in Sick Bay this time. I’ve learned more about that man in the last five days than I have in all the previous time I’ve known him. Was kind of thinking we needed to do this more often."
"Because, Jamie," Nelson continued, somewhat embarrassed, "he’s remembering things. Bits and pieces of the conversation. If he eventually remembers why he’s remembering them…" and he didn’t finish the thought. Both had had to deal with a ticked off Captain in the past, and neither looked forward to doing it again. Which was just what would happen if Lee figured out they’d all been delving into his private life behind his back. "And besides," Nelson added, "the very last thing Seaview needs is her Skipper spending more time in Sick Bay. I’m not sure who missed Lee the most – the crew, the XO, or the boat herself." Jamie just smiled. The gleam in Nelson’s eye left no doubt who was also included on that list.