By CJ Hansen
Without any regret or hesitation, Chip abandoned the trail that led to Lee and the cabin. Shifting his backpack with a shrug, the robust blond stepped off the path and headed down the gully. It was difficult to squeeze through the brush and trees without losing his balance. At least he was sure of his way. Those ear-piercing sobs worked for him like sonar. Sticker bushes snagged at his heavy jeans in vain, scratching hands and forearms instead. Chip stood still for a moment. He tried to narrow in on the voice. He was getting closer. Shoving aside an annoying pine branch that was determined to block his way, Chip stepped out into a small clearing.
Carey Hollis balanced precariously on her tree branch, hugging the trunk of the tree desperately. Her hair caught on the branch above, the pull hurting her more than the scrapes on skinny arms and knees. Tears flowed as she screamed for the bear to go away. She wanted her mommy. The bear jumped up growling at her, tongue lolling. His long black tail whipped back and forth as he barked. Carey closed her eyes in terror, hoping when she opened them again the bear would be gone. He wasn’t. Carey began to cry hysterically. Remembering what her grandma used to tell her she began to pray silently even as she continued to howl in terror.
Mouth caught in mid-scream, Carey’s gray eyes opened widely. A man stepped out from the bushes. Sunlight flooded the clearing from an opening in the clouds above. It radiated off the blond hair and strong body, lending added clarity and depth to the blue eyes. She couldn’t move; paralyzed by the feeling of calm serenity and assuredness that shone from his face. She had never seen an angel before…
Chip shouted at Boozer to ‘go home’, the dog yapped sharply, tail wagging, and disappeared in the trees. The scared little girl seemed frozen in place. This must be the Hollis girl. Chip had heard the neighbor’s cabin had been rented out to a family with a 4 year old girl and a little boy. He would have her home in hardly any time at all.
"Hello, sweetheart. Are you okay?" Chip smiled reassuringly. He hoped she wouldn’t be afraid of him. He was a stranger. He reached up towards her.
Carey took one look at those outstretched arms and instantly threw herself into the comfort and safety of their embrace. She closed her eyes, her tired body lying limply against her angel. Overwhelmed with relief, she clutched weakly to his shirt and closed her eyes.
Angie was at her wits end. Admiral Nelson was on the warpath again and this day was not going well at all. Everything that could go wrong was. She was tired of having to give her boss bad news. The next person who came in to say a shipment, person, or folder, was misplaced, was going to be explaining that to the Admiral himself. Last time she had almost burst into tears at Admiral Nelson’s response. It was so rare for him to lose his temper with office staff that she took it too much to heart when he did yell. She wasn’t Lee Crane who took such treatment in stride. Usually doing a fair amount of yelling himself. Staring in horror at her suddenly black computer screen, Angie lost it completely.
Chip quickly pulled the door shut in front of him. The stapler thudding dully as it bounced off the other side. He carefully edged the door back open, poking his head cautiously inside.
"Oh, Chip! I am so sorry." Angie hurried over checking the blond over for damage. "Are you alright? I am so sorry." She apologized again.
Chip caught her hands in his, worried gaze taking in the nervous tension on Angie’s face. "I’m fine. But you’re evidently not." He led her back to her desk, sitting on the edge while she sat down heavily in her chair. "What’s wrong?" His soft blue eyes looked down sympathetically.
"Oh, Chip. What’s not?" Looking in dismay at her blank screen, Angie felt like screaming… or crying. This was just not her week! Staring up into Chip’s calm blue eyes, his capable ‘whatever it is we can handle it’ demeanor, she poured her heart out. Ranting about missing scientists, shipments that were supposed to be at Seaview’s dock that apparently had disappeared into the ether, folders with important updates that had gone who knows where, and important research she was tabulating that just got eaten by her computer.
"Chip, without that shipment Seaview won’t be able to depart on time. The Conroy meeting that Nelson has been looking forward to so much can’t take place without Doctors Malloy and Perry. I need to go round up copies of the missing updates, and Nelson wants the file I just lost, yesterday!"
Clasping Angie on the shoulder for a second, Chip then checked all the connections on the computer. "You haven’t lost that file, Angie. The power cord for the monitor is just loose." He pushed it in, smiling as the monitor powered up, revealing the missing file still open and waiting. "Tish was complaining last week that the monitor kept turning off on her."
Angie laughed almost tearfully. "I can’t believe I didn’t check that."
"Sounds like you had other things on your mind." Chip regarded her earnestly. "Why don’t you let me drop off that report for the Admiral. You go round up those updates while I see what else I can do."
Angie hesitated. She knew Chip had a large workload already, getting things coordinated and ready for Seaview’s imminent departure. He held her shoulders gently, grinning confidently down at her. She melted. Murmuring her thanks, she left the office. Feeling much calmer, even if she was a bit dizzy for some reason.
When she returned Chip was nowhere in sight. There was a note in the Exec’s handwriting explaining the location of both scientists and stating that the lost shipment would be arriving at Seaview’s dock within the hour. There was an added notation from Nelson telling her to take an extra hour for her lunch break.
Angie relaxed in her desk chair, not realizing how tense her shoulders had been until now. She made a mental note to offer Chip a hug and kiss at her earliest opportunity. What an angel.
Lee was in torment. If only he could lock his cabin door. He wiggled trying to loosen the restraining cloth. It didn’t do any good. Attempting to grip the edge of a sleeve and pull it down further, Lee bit his lip in pain. His fingers barely able to even grip the material. Jamie was going to kill him if he dislodged the bandages and further injured his hands. After he got done laughing. Lee realized he was hardly being fair to the Doc. It was Chip who was going to die laughing. Jamie was just going to kill him, if the Admiral didn’t beat him to it. Lee still couldn’t believe that his pajama shirt had slid off his shoulders just enough to trap his arms. He hadn’t realized it wasn’t completely undone. The Captain’s numb fingers had fumbled, unable to keep a hold on the buttons to undo them. Lee wished passionately that those fingers were still numb.
He looked longingly at his uniform laid out on the unmade bunk. He had to get dressed before anyone came to check on him for breakfast. He was much later than usual for the morning meal in the wardroom. The last thing he wanted was for Cookie or any of the crew to see their Skipper like this. Lee licked his lips, staring blearily at the knob on his closet door. Maybe if he snagged the pajamas on something he could get them off!
Two minutes later, Lee was even more disheartened. Now he was stuck to the damn closet door. And he hurt, badly. Leaning back, Lee closed his eyes in exhaustion. He no longer cared about anyone walking in. Just please, if there was a god above, let it be the Admiral or Jamie, not Chip. His Exec would never let him live this down.
As if his prayers had been heard and laughed at, Lee heard the light tap on the door. He held his breath. "Lee?" The door opened. Oh, hell. Lee exhaled dejectedly.
Chip couldn’t believe his eyes. He wandered over to peer behind Lee’s back in disbelief. Lee could get himself into some pretty ridiculous messes. But this… He shook his head. "Lee what are you doing. I should say what are you trying to do." He gently untangled the pajama top from the knob on the closet door. The Captain actually pouted up at him.
"I’m getting dressed." Lee glared adamantly at Chip. Now freed, Lee moved awkwardly towards the bunk. Told by his friend in no uncertain terms to ‘stand still will you’, Lee reluctantly stood quietly as his pajama top was pulled back over his shoulders. When the blond started buttoning the top up again Lee added, "For breakfast!" He made an effort to pull away and fumbled at his buttons, miffed. It had taken him ages to unbutton them in the first place. Now Chip was ruining all that work. He frowned.
"Lee…" Chip stared at his best friend and couldn’t help but smile affectionately. Lee looked like a sullen four year old in those oversized pajamas and glowering in that childish manner. He spoke gently. "Lee it’s 9:00… at night…" Chip felt a pang at the suddenly confused look on his friend’s face.
Pain filled Lee’s dark eyes as he hunched over, one hand defensively clutching his uniform shirt to his chest "Night? I…" He looked helplessly up at his Exec.
Chip carefully took the shirt from Lee, placing the uniform back on a hanger and in the closet. "Come on. Let’s get you to bed." He gently steered his friend to the bunk and helped him sit. He frowned down at the exhausted pain filled eyes. Stroking the back of his hand over Lee’s forehead and brushing back damp curls, he was relieved to find no signs of a fever.
Lee quietly allowed Chip to talk him into a glass of water and a pain pill from the bottle Jamison had left. He peered closely at his bandaged hands, noticing Chip’s interest in them. They didn’t look different to him.
"Lee, get your head out of the way." Chip held the man’s hands lightly, examining them carefully. It didn’t’ look like Lee had caused any more damage or messed the bandages up too severely. He’d just get Jamie to look at them tomorrow. For now, what Lee needed most was sleep.
"Come on. Lie down." Chip coaxed, pulling the covers up and tucking them around his friend and Captain. For a moment the Exec continued to sit on the side of the bunk watching Lee.
Sleepy hazel eyes stared back solemnly. Dark hair mussed and sticking up. Chip grinned, ruffling those dark curls. "Go to sleep, Lee."
Lee blinked up at him and snuggled deeper into the blankets. Leaning closer as Lee closed his eyes and mumbled softly, Chip heard him say something about ‘not his idea of… angel of mercy’…and then nothing more. Lee slept.