I think everyone who writes Voyage fiction is tempted at some point to tackle the events surrounding the Phantom episodes. There are so many wonderful ‘what happens next’ stories it’s hard to imagine a direction that hasn’t been explored yet. Not sure if I even do the topic justice in this piece.
Thank to my hapless beta for letting me spring tales of randomness upon her.
Edith Louise Nelson glanced up from her book and listened. She’d heard a bump down the hall and the light click of a door opening. Since there was only one other person staying at Ard na Mara, the mystery of who was wandering around at night was already solved. However, she didn’t know why. She sat the book aside, not bothering to save her place, and pulled the belt of the burgundy bathrobe tighter. She shoved her small feet into a pair of matching house slippers and got off the small couch she was curled on.
Stepping quietly over the squeaky spot in front of her bedroom door, Edith picked her way down the hall and peaked into the room that had always belonged to her brother. It was empty, the bed rumpled as if the sleeper had thrown the covers aside in frustration. Edith frowned and tucked a stray strand of strawberry blond hair behind one ear. He must be downstairs.
Edith moved to the head of the stairs and slowly began to descend. She was thinking about what had brought her brother home this time. Well, home was a term she used loosely. Harriman’s home was wherever that submarine of his was berthed. If it was a desert island in the middle of the south Pacific, then that was home. Ard na Mara—the Boston home of the Nelsons for generations—was just a place to give Harry shelter until he saw the dream of building Seaview realized.
Edith stopped at the landing, seeing a shadow drift across the doorway of the study. The study had been their father’s in the years before his death. Now Edith used it for her various charity organizations. Much of the furniture, like the house, traced their roots back to the earliest days of the Nelson family, some even tracing back to the ancestors who came over from Ireland. Harriman always did love the study, drawn to the sense of history, Edith assumed.
Quietly she descended the remaining stairs and paused at the edge of the doorway, listening. She didn’t expect to hear anything and the silence that greeted her was no surprise. She slowly entered the study, watching her brother standing before the large windows that faced the east and the ocean beyond. “Harry?” she asked quietly.
Her brother didn’t answer. Something was troubling him and Edith was determined now to draw it out of him. He’d shown up early in the morning a few days ago, quiet and withdrawn. It wasn’t the man Edith was used to seeing. Over the course of the next few days, he’d speak when spoken to, answered when asked a direct question. But the stories he usually indulged in were absent and Edith could only wonder why.
In the dim light of the study, the elder Nelson looked like death warmed over. His eyes, normally so vibrant and brilliant blue, were dull and cloudy with emotions that Edith could only guess at. There was definitely sadness in those blue orbs. Sadness and grief maybe? Edith wasn’t sure but she was positive something was seriously wrong with her brother.
“Harry, what’s wrong?” she asked. Harriman still didn’t answer, only turned away to stare once more into the ocean. Edith moved closer and dropped a hand on her brother’s arm, hoping to reassure him and let him know she was there for him. “You know you can always talk to me, big brother,” she added.
“Have you ever done something you hated?” Harriman asked.
Edith smiled lightly. “Hosted the luncheon for the Historical Society this last fall. You’ve never known impossible till you’ve had to work with the Wickwire sisters,” she quipped, hoping to earn a smile.
“I can imagine,” her brother said drily. “No, this isn’t like that. I mean it’s something, that when you look back, you truly hate yourself for doing,” Harriman said.
“We’re all given choices,” Edith said, unsure of what her brother was hinting at.
“But not in this case. I was forced to do this. I knew exactly what was happening and I couldn’t stop myself. It was like watching a movie. Knowing what was coming and being powerless to stop it. You should have seen the look in his eyes when he realized it was me,” Nelson replied. “I still see it,” he added in a whisper.
Edith frowned. “Harry, you’re not making any sense. Does this have something to do with Lee?” Edith guessed, knowing that the bond between the two men went beyond employer and employee.
“It has everything to do with Lee,” Harriman whispered hoarsely. “He has to hate me for what I’ve done.”
“No,” Edith interjected, “no, Harry. I’m sure Lee doesn’t hate you. He…I don’t think he could ever hate you. Why on earth would you think that?”
“How could he not? I…I’ve betrayed every trust, everything he ever saw in me.”
Edith stood, completely at a loss for words. She’d never seen Harry like this. He’d been despondent when their parents had died but not like this. “Harry, what happened?”
“I can’t. Not…not now. I don’t know if ever…I don’t even know if I can go back and face him.”
Edith sighed. “Harry, you need to get some sleep. You don’t look well at all. I noticed it when you arrived but I didn’t want to say anything. I know how you hate to be fussed over.”
Harriman only continued to stare into the blackness beyond the window. “I can’t. I see him, that look of shock and disbelief… and pain. Pain that I caused him. You go on back to bed. I’ll…I promise not to do anything rash,” he urged.
Reluctantly, Edith moved back toward the door of the study. She paused to glance back at her brother but Harry was still standing in front of the huge windows. The ancestor who had designed the house was said to have incorporated the large windows at the behest of his wife, who wanted to watch the bay for his ship when he was out to sea. As a boy and a young man, Harry had always been drawn to the room. Edith realized now it was for the same reason, to watch the seas. In times of stress, Harry always looked to the sea for comfort. Edith knew there was nothing more she could do for him now. Maybe later, if he decided to confide in her, but for now this was something he had to deal with on his own. Quietly she made her way back to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
The phone sitting on the edge of the bedside table got her attention. She reached out then drew her hand back, rethinking the decision. Harry would be furious if she got involved. But he was her brother, the last of her real family. Oh, there was a scattering of cousins, but she and Harry were the last of the Nelsons, one of Boston’s oldest families. She felt a duty to him and was determined to help him if she could.
Edith sat down on the edge of the bed and opened the top drawer of the nightstand. She pulled out a small address book and flipped though it to one of the newer entries. She picked up the receiver and quickly dialed a number.
Lee heard the movement downstairs but he didn’t bother getting up. He knew who was invading his home and while he could argue and complain all he wanted, deep inside it was nice to know they cared. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be here. One absence was painfully noted and Lee tried not to dwell on it. To say it didn’t bother him would be lying.
“You gonna get up today?” Chip Morton’s voice asked from the doorway. Lee rolled over in bed, wincing as he put pressure on the wound in his midsection. He found his friend leaning against the doorframe, a cup of coffee in one hand. The aroma seemed to reach out and tug at Lee’s senses.
Fighting back the soreness and the stiffness, Lee heaved himself out of bed, swung his long legs over the edge of the mattress and settled both bare feet on the floor. It took him a few more minutes to find the strength to actually get up. He was aware of Chip’s eyes on him, watching his moves, each one of which would be duly reported back to Jamie. Lee didn’t mind really, it just saved him from the fate of being poked and prodded by the doctor.
Lee made a false start for the door, a little wobbly at first. He stopped, took a deep shaky breath and started again.
“You gonna spend the day in your pajamas?” Chip asked curiously.
Lee shrugged as he made for the stairs. He hugged the railing on the way down, moving slowly. He had to stop, set both feet on the step before stepping to the next. Chip keep a respectable distance behind him, giving him room to maneuver, but close enough to offer support if Lee needed it.
Lee was determined to do this on his own. He hated to ask for help, even though he knew Chip would never complain. He just felt that as a grown man, he should be able to do something as simple as maneuver down a flight of stairs. Never mind that he was still healing from a gunshot to the gut.
“Maybe you should have stayed in Med Bay a little longer,” Chip suggested.
Lee snorted. “And do what? Lay around? I can do that well enough here.”
“Well, at least in Med Bay somebody could keep an eye on you.”
“And you’re hanging around because of my winning personality?” Lee wheezed as the pain grew almost too much to bear. Instantly there was an arm around his waist—careful of the wound—steadying him, guiding him, leading him to the living room and the waiting couch. Lee gratefully sank down into the cushions, lying down to ease the pain. “Thanks,” he hissed.
“No problem,” Chip replied, fetching the coffee cup he’d sat down and came back to sit in one of the chairs. He propped his feet up on the coffee table.
Lee closed his eyes, trying to get his ragged breathing under control. “Jamie sent some pain killers over,” he heard Chip say, but he shook his head. Jamie’s drugs tended to come with twelve hours of sleep and Lee felt he’d already slept enough.
“You gonna sit there and stare at me all day?” Lee asked.
“Just trying to figure out what all the women see in you. Kinda skinny, if you ask me. No meat on your bones,” Chip teased.
Lee laughed softly. “But I didn’t ask you. We make a good pair. You eat and I don’t.”
The two men sat in silence for a while longer before Lee finally got up the courage to ask the question that had been on his mind since he woke up from surgery days ago. “Chip, where is he?”
The silence grew thicker, so thick and heavy Lee wished he hadn’t asked. But he couldn’t help it. He’d expected the admiral to be there and when he finally came around, the admiral was nowhere to be seen. He was gone, Jamie had told him, but he didn’t know where. Lee felt like he had to know.
“He left when we hit port. Caught a plane back east.”
“Boston?” Lee asked. The admiral’s family hailed from Boston. His ancestors had settled there after immigrating from Ireland generations ago. Lee had been to the house a few times. It was an enormous structure that a succession of generations had added to over the years. Some distant relation had named the place Ard na Mara—meaning Top of the Sea. “Did…did he tell you where he was going?”
“Nope. He was just gone. Angie said he caught a flight to Massachusetts, so it wasn’t hard to figure he’d gone home. Plus I got a call last night.”
Lee waited for Chip to add to the comment but Chip knew just how to drag a conversation on. Lee wasn’t in the mood to play guessing games. “Well?” he urged.
“It was Edith.”
Lee opened his eyes. Edith Louise Nelson was the admiral’s younger—and only—sister. She was a rare soul, one of those people who would do anything for anyone. Lee didn’t think she had a mean bone in her body. She and her brother were as different as night and day but the admiral adored her and would do anything for her. She was known in east coast social circles for her charity work. If you were invited to the Nelson Charity Christmas Dinner, you had achieved something in high society. Both he and Chip had been invited for several years in a row and always attended if they were in port.
“Chip, you’re driving me crazy. What did she want?” Lee growled, contemplating trying to sit up but decided against it, opting instead to curl up in his side, taking the pressure off the healing wound.
“The admiral isn’t doing very well. She’s worried about him.”
Lee’s eyes snapped open, torn between concern and indifference. He hadn’t bothered to even find out if he was going to live or die. He’d left as soon as Seaview made port. Why should he give a damn about what the admiral was going through? He hadn’t been shot by someone he trusted...
“Lee…” Chip began but Lee shook his head and interrupted.
“What am I supposed to think, Chip? He shoots me and then takes off. He didn’t give a damn if I lived or died.”
“Lee, you don’t have any idea what he’s been through? This whole damn mess has been a nightmare from start to finish. The man is terrified of you right now, and frankly I can’t blame him,” Chip snapped out.
Lee shot up, ignoring that pain. “What he’s been through? He wasn’t the one who was shot!” Lee exclaimed.
Chip leaned forward, setting the cup on the table. “You aren’t the only one suffering here! Lee, I was there. I saw the man shoot you. I saw you drop. I sat by your side, trying to stop the blood. My hands were covered in your blood. I was just as ready to condemn the admiral as you are now, but he asked me to believe in him. I had a choice to make. I could listen to him and try to understand or I’d have the blood of two men on my hands. I know why he shot you. You’ve never asked.”
“Krueger,” Lee whispered. It was as if he feared speaking the name of that long dead soul, as if the name would conjure the very spirit who had already tormented him once. “Krueger made him do it.” Lee’s voice was rough and hoarse, course with emotions.
Chip drew back. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. “That’s what he told me. That Krueger took him over and made him…made the admiral shoot you. Edith says that the admiral thinks you hate him.”
“No.” Lee’s whisper of denial was a painful thing for Chip to hear. “Chip, I don’t hate him. I don’t understand why he’s not here. Is that why? Because he thinks I hate him for what happened?”
Chip nodded. “That’s what I figure. You and he need to talk this out.”
Lee eased back into the embrace of the couch. “How the hell am I going to do that? He’s in Boston, I’m here. Not like I can walk to his office.”
Chip grinned. “You can go to him.”
Lee stared at his oldest friend. “You’re out of your gourd, Morton. Jamie didn’t want me to leave Med Bay. No way in hell is he going to allow me to fly across country.”
The grin did not go away, but if possible, grew sly. “What if I told you I’d already arranged it?”
“You got Jamie to agree to let me go to Boston, with a hole in my gut, when he didn’t even want me to go home? You didn’t even ask me if I wanted to go!” Lee nearly wailed.
“Calm down, would you? Yes. I got Jamie to agree. With restrictions, of course. You’re not going alone. You’re not flying commercial.”
Lee sat back once again. “Let me guess: you’re flying me in FS1.”
Chip nodded and he also leaned back in the chair and propped his feet up again. “If you want to go. I think you should. I won’t pretend to know what you went through, Lee. But I know the admiral did everything he could think of to track you down when Krueger hijacked your body and went joyriding. I don’t think he slept until he found where you’d gone aground. When you were in Sickbay, Jamie couldn’t keep him out.”
Lee couldn’t find his voice. The idea that the admiral, a man who he’d follow into Hell itself, a man who commanded more respect than Lee was willing to grant anyone except for his own father, was afraid of him, was afraid that Lee hated him for something that he had no control over….Lee couldn’t wrap his head around it. “What do you think?”
Chip blinked. Lee asking him for his opinion? The man who was legendary for not asking for help? “I think you should go. Edith has the room. She wants to put us up for a few weeks. Jamie isn’t going to release you for some time yet. If you stay here you’ll just brood about it.”
“I do not brood,” Lee argued.
Chip just chuckled. “Whatever. I think you should go. I’ll help you pack. Jamie has friends in Boston, he can offer a referral if you need one.”
“So I’m going to Boston?” Lee asked.
“You need each other, Lee. He needs you. He’s the closest thing you have to a father. I know that. I’ve always known that, even back in the academy and Cpt. Nelson would stare at us then focus on you. ‘Midshipmen Crane. Do you have anything of value to add?’, he’d ask.”
“I hated it when he called on me,” Lee muttered, remembering those days all too well.
“And he knew it, too. Nothing got by him. You two had some kind of bond, even then, I think. You need this. He needs you.”
“I don’t know.”
Chip wasn’t ready to give up. “Lee. He’s the closest thing you have to a father,” he repeated.
“You’re saying that the admiral is some kind of father figure?”
Chip smiled. Hook, line and sinker. “You said it, not me.”
“Are you expecting someone, kitten?” Harriman asked, as he slowly descended the grand stair case. Edith was coming out of the library and she glanced upward at her brother on the first landing.
“Not really. Why?”
“A taxi just pulled up. I was coming down to see who it was and it dawned on me it might be some of your friends. The Wickwire sisters, maybe?” Harry asked slyly.
Edith snorted, sounding suspiciously like her brother. “Once a year is all can I can handle from those two. You do know that Estelle Wickwire has decided you’re the catch of the century?” she teased.
Harriman smiled and Edith realized it was the first time she’d seen a real smile since he’d arrived. “She’s right, you know,” he replied and descended the stairs as the doorbell rang. Edith didn’t keep a large staff, just a housekeeper, a groundskeeper, and a handful of staff. Edith preferred to accept her own guests so there was no doorman to see to visitors.
Harriman passed his sister and headed for the door. He opened it wide and stood there, speechless
Lee Crane stood before him, pale and slightly unsteady but he was here. All the way from California. “Lee…” Nelson’s voice trailed off, unable to find a suitable greeting. He hadn’t expected Lee to hunt him down. Lee’s hands were jammed in his jacket pockets and he glanced up at the older man through dark lashes. Glancing up, Nelson noticed that Chip was standing by the taxi, waiting.
“Admiral,” Lee said by way of greeting. “I think we should talk,” he said, unable to completely meet Nelson’s soul-piecing gaze.
I wanted to pay homage to Nelson’s roots. Special thanks to Fidelma for her help in picking out the right phrase.