This story is a group effort. It was written from an idea offered by Fidelma, with suggestions from Lillian as I went along, and serious advise from Redwood before it could be called ready for public consumption. It first appeared on the Sub Pen List.
This story was written for Liz.
C. Lyn Barrow
The Sick Bay was quiet, the intensity of the lighting lowered to a subdued level that would not disturb the sleeping man should he awaken, not that Jamieson expected that to happen any time soon. But it was Commander Lee Crane who lay in the bunk and he had a new appreciation for the man’s abilities, even if those abilities were what had brought him to this condition. A week ago he would have sedated Crane, more or less confident that the medication would be enough to keep him immobile for hours, but that was then, before the brief mission on which the doctor had been obliged to accompany him. Brief.... Thankfully so. And it had been thanks to Crane, alone, that it had been completed to the satisfaction of the officials at ONI and the Pentagon.
Dr. Will Jamieson leaned back in the molded chair that had been drawn over to the injured man’s bedside. The chair had seldom been empty that afternoon, occupied either by the Admiral or the XO. At one point he knew that even Kowalski had stationed himself there, keeping vigil over his captain with the devotion of a faithful hound. The comparison brought a weak smile to the physician’s mouth. Seaman Kowalski held an admiration for the young captain that few could equal, even the Skipper’s long-time friend, and executive officer Chip Morton. Perhaps it was the difference in their ranks, perhaps it was just the difference in the men, but where Morton railed against his friend’s involvement in ONI missions, sought to dissuade him from the dangerous assignments, Kowalski never questioned his decisions, or if he did, he never allowed anyone to know. And he wasn’t the only one of the crew to hold the Skipper in high esteem. They had proven their devotion to him, as he had proven his own to them time and again.
Time and again.
Too many times, and there was no reason to believe that it would not happen again.
From Dr. William Jamieson’s first moment aboard Seaview he had felt the difference in the atmosphere on this boat from others he had served aboard. There was an electricity, a confidence exuded by every member of the crew, not just the command staff. There was a sense of cooperation on Seaview he had quickly realized, the kind of teamwork that other vessels could only aspire to, and it could all be tracked back to the dark-haired young captain and his inherent knack of bringing out the best in each of his men.
All his men... except for the Chief Medical Officer who had allowed only his worst side to show, Jamieson berated himself. All he ever did was nag at the Captain to take better care of himself, to eat, to get some sleep; and when he did get himself hurt, and that was all too frequently in the CMO’s opinion, he berated him for carelessness, or for unnecessary bravado. My God, the man was fully grown! He had managed to survive long enough to become one of the youngest submarine captains on record, and had successfully completed who knew how many ONI missions on his own, without a supercilious physician hovering over him and acting like a mother hen.
Until this last mission.
It was Jamieson’s own actions that had brought the captain to this point of near death. He could no longer divorce himself from the responsibility, no matter what reassurances Nelson had offered, no matter what absolution Crane himself had given him at the time. The captain had been hurt because of Jamieson’s well-meant meddling, his interference in something he was completely unprepared to deal with at a time when he should have only been following orders and keeping his opinions to himself, just as Crane had requested. The younger man had proven himself once again, demonstrating the qualities the ONI valued so highly by managing to lead them through unfriendly territory to safety, and in order to complete the mission, even concealing the severity of his wound from the man who had been trained to see the signs when no one else did.
Will Jamieson hunched forward, elbows on his knees, his head bowed and cupped in his suddenly trembling hands.
Crane had made it obvious from the first that he did not want to take the doctor along on this mission despite the strongly worded communiqué from the Joint Chiefs of Staff he had received at the outset. Jamieson was untrained, and, although Crane had phrased it as kindly as possible, the doctor was not in adequate physical condition to undertake the kind of mission Crane’s experience told him it would be, and his concern for Jamieson’s safety was nearly palpable. But the Commander’s record of success in ONI missions and the fact that Seaview’s location put him physically the nearest to the objective, a defecting senior Chinese naval officer, had also put him at the top of the list as far as the Joint Chiefs were concerned. That the Seaview’s CMO was a physician renowned in his field in many different areas from emergency medicine to advanced oncology had sealed both their fates.
Until a few months ago
Captain Giang Kwan-Yin had commanded one of
Strapped into a tandem
parachute harness, Dr. William Jamieson had accompanied Crane, a man he
considered trouble-prone, if not an outright risk-taker, out of the belly hatch
of FS1 to plummet 10,000 feet through the darkness above the jungles of
It was while Crane scouted out the area surrounding the hut for anyone following the defector that Jamieson had first defied his admonitions to maintain a low profile. His examination of Giang was hampered by a lack of light and almost without a thought he had turned up the wick on the kerosene lantern. The Commander had appeared almost instantly, it had seemed to him then, lunging through the gaping doorway into the yellow circle of light just as gunfire erupted from the jungle surrounding the hut. Jamieson remembered Crane stumbling as he reached the table and extinguished the lantern, growling out orders even as the bullets whistled past their heads. Had that been the moment Crane was hit by the bullet?
Jamieson shook his head sorrowfully. He had been too frightened to notice, he admitted.
Once more Crane had left them alone in the hut and this time the doctor had followed his orders to remain on the floor in the darkness while the gunfire had dwindled and ceased. His watch had told him that the Skipper was gone less than twenty minutes, and when he returned they had departed quickly to Crane’s muttered assurances that opposition had been neutralized. Jamieson had attempted to apologize then but, completely focused on the mission at hand, the younger man had simply told him that no harm had been done and that they would discuss it later. Eagerly, foolishly, Will had accepted his words as the comfort Crane surely intended.
In retrospect Jamieson was not at all proud of his behavior on the mission. Lee had virtually carried Giang who was, fortunately, not a large man, the seven miles from the hut to bluff overlooking the cove where FS1 was submerged, waiting for them. Older and admittedly not in the fighting trim that Lee maintained, it had proven all Jamieson could do to just keep up with him, just as Crane had feared. Their passage had taken longer than they had anticipated, with Crane’s own progress slowed by the defector’s weight and the constant need for evasion of search parties looking for their defecting officer. But Jamieson had not realized that at the time. In fact, the doctor could still hear his own voice nagging at Seaview’s captain to stop, to rest, or at least to allow him to check on Giang’s condition. That plea was the only one Crane ever responded to, for the welfare of the man who had given himself into the Americans’ safekeeping was of paramount importance to him.
Crane’s only comments in response to Jamieson’s appeals had been words of caution, urging him to silence, warning him repeatedly that they were likely under surveillance, and could be located at any time. But to Jamieson the jungle had been silent, empty of danger and threat and he had not appreciated Lee’s skills or experience.
Will knew he was not a
man accustomed to following orders. He
was a ship’s doctor and his position on Seaview
was unique in that it was seldom necessary for him to respond to the CO’s
commands to the crew. His station was in
A soft moan returned his gaze to Seaview’s restless captain. Crane’s dark hair had curled with perspiration. His face was still pale, bloodless, and his mouth was drawn in a bitter line of agony. Even sedated the pain had penetrated the higher levels of his mind and broken his stubborn silence.
Jamieson shivered violently. It had been silent atop the knoll above the beach too. He could still remember how exhausted he had been, his leg muscles trembling from the unaccustomed effort as he had stumbled to a halt among the scraggly bushes. For a moment, as Crane eased the Chinese officer from his shoulders to the ground, Will had merely stood frozen in place. He had asked the Skipper something, he couldn’t remember what it was now but probably something concerning Giang’s condition, but Crane had hissed at him, demanding his silence, ordering him down beside him. But he was slow to respond. He had caught sight of the zodiac approaching the shore and once more he merely questioned him, suggesting that they move on to the beach.
There had been a clicking sound, something vaguely familiar but unidentifiable to his non-military mind, then Crane was lunging upward from his spot on the ground, bowling him over and into the bushes as thunderous reports echoed through the darkness. They rolled to the ground, Crane’s arms holding him in place for a long moment, then the Captain had struggled to his knees, his sidearm appearing in his hand though Jamieson had not seen him reach for it.
The doctor hated weapons of any kind. Perhaps it was the consideration of his profession, his calling that spawned the aversion. Perhaps it was because the young man with him had suffered so many times from wounds from such weapons. But at that moment, as the staccato clatter of automatic weapons’ fire shattered the stillness of the Asian night, Jamieson was more than happy to see the gun in Crane’s hand begin to belch out answering fire.
Somehow they had made it to the beach. The men in the shore party, Kowalski, Donnegan, and Wheeler, had put up covering fire and the doctor and the captain, supporting Giang between them, had made it to the zodiac and away safely.
Or so he had thought at the time.
Commander Morton was
waiting anxiously in the pilot chair, FS1’s engines humming in readiness, his
blue gaze following the trio as they climbed down the ladder from the top
hatch, abandoning the unmarked zodiac to the tides. Kowalski stood aside for Crane to drop into
the co-pilot’s seat but the Captain had merely waved him off as he sagged to
the floor of the Flying Sub, pleading exhaustion and issuing a request to be
left alone. Jamieson had been too
engrossed in caring for his official patient to notice the concerned glances
exchanged between the four men who had come for them. Nor had he given Crane’s quietness a single
thought as Morton sent the Flying Sub away through the depths then flung her
into the air to puddle jump to the coordinates where they were to transfer
Giang to the USNS Mercy off the Indonesian
The Flying Sub had landed on the surface of the ocean, rocking gently as the corpsmen from the Mercy evacuated Giang through the top hatch, which Donnegan scrambled swiftly to secure as they departed. Relieved of his own responsibilities Jamieson had stood staring woodenly through the view screen at the huge white ship with its vivid red crosses on bow, side and stern. The Flying Sub launched precipitously into the air and Jamieson had staggered to keep his feet, grabbing Donnegan’s arm to steady himself, and he had sworn vehemently, not caring who heard. He was weary beyond imagining, frustrated, even irritated, and felt pushed beyond his limits. In the past sixteen hours he had done things he had never expected to do. He had parachuted into territory that would be considered enemy-held by any sane person, he had treated a dying man with little more than first aid supplies and he had blundered for miles through a dark, unforgiving jungle with an equally unforgiving young ONI agent. And to be almost knocked from his feet by a Sailor overly eager to return to his own boat was nearly more than his nerves could tolerate.
He whirled, his fierce glare seeking out the Exec.
At some point in the flight Morton had turned the controls over to Kowalski, Jamieson had realized belatedly, and gone to kneel at his friend’s side. There had been virtually no conversation between the two men and if he had considered his behavior at all, Jamieson had just thought the XO was indulging his typical solicitousness for his exhausted Captain’s welfare. But as Morton cleared his throat and rose, Jamieson sighed slowly, his own exhaustion manifesting itself in his sharp expression shared between captain and exec.
“I think you’d better have a look at your other patient now, Doctor,” Morton had told him, his voice flat but the accusation there, nonetheless.
Jamieson could remember dropping to the deck plating beside the captain, the raised-diamond pattern in the steel cutting into his knees brutally. He vaguely recalled pulling aside the leather jacket that Crane wore, the soft leather slippery in his fingers, the coppery odor of blood now all too obvious. The captain’s cotton shirt was black and the blood did not show the way it would on one of the khaki uniform blouses he usually wore, but the blood glistened wetly in the dawn light as the Flying Sub headed eastward toward the Seaview. He remembered screaming at Kowalski to turn the small craft about and return to the Mercy but Crane had grumbled out a definite negative and Morton had repeated the command as he always did.
They were headed for the Seaview. They were taking the Captain home.
At the time it did not occur to Jamieson that Morton believed his friend’s death was inevitable. The fact that the exec had not requested, no, had not demanded help for the wounded captain the moment he suspected injury should have made it obvious to the CMO but Jamieson was too tired, too distracted to make the connection. He berated himself for his failure. If Crane considered both himself and Giang as his responsibility, Jamieson knew he should have remembered the Captain’s propensity for damage and been more aware of the younger man’s condition.
Actually, he realized
now that it may have been Morton’s reluctance to move him that had saved
Crane’s life, for at the moment Jamieson had laid him out on the deck the blood
had gushed from the double wound, saturating the captain’s clothing and pooling
beneath him on the plating. Somehow he
had managed to put aside his regret and succeeded in curbing the blood flow
long enough for them to reach the Seaview
and get the Skipper aboard. Kowalski
must have notified Nelson, he realized now, for his corpsmen were waiting to
carry the unconscious captain to
That had been nine hours ago.
He had slept fitfully despite the certainty that, once again, the captain would survive. He was equally confident that Crane would not be left unattended for a single second, knowing that his senior corpsman was conscientious and reliable and nearly as experienced at dealing with a wounded Lee Crane as himself.
Jamie had awakened to
The chair, when Jamieson had settled into it, was still warm from the last occupant. Morton had left only moments before, Frank told him, bound for his watch in the control room, and the corpsman was sure that Nelson would be there soon. As soon as Frank had filled him in on Crane’s stats, the CMO had dismissed the diligent corpsman and assumed the watch himself.
That had been nearly thirty minutes ago. Thirty minutes of silence and self-castigation over his own inadequacies on that ill-fated mission. Lee had taken a bullet meant for him he was certain, though there was no way of proving just which one of the pieces of flying lead had actually struck the captain and at which location. There had blood on Jamieson’s own clothing, as there would have been if Lee had been hit the moment before he crashed into him and bore him to the ground on the hilltop. But there had been blood on Morton’s uniform, as well, just from assisting in easing his friend down onto the floor of FS1. And he remembered the uncharacteristic stumble as the captain had returned to the hut; but that would mean that Crane had carried Giang all that way with a hole clear through him. Jamieson shook his head, knowing it should have been impossible but, knowing too, that it was something Lee had probably done more than once in the past.
The doctor lurched to his feet, nearly upsetting the chair in his haste. He stood above the silent man on the bed and glowered his frustration and his fear and his own very real guilt.
“Damn you, Lee Crane! Damn you!” he swore softly, his anger not really directed at the unconscious man, but at the situations into which Crane insisted upon placing himself.
Jamieson wheeled then and strode into his small office area where he picked up a clipboard and studied the notations on the sheet of paper fastened there. He didn’t need to look at the man’s records to know, intimately, the location of every scar, of every wound on the young man’s body. And there was the damage that left no outward scars, the broken bones, the concussions, the internal injuries incurred over the years. Lee had come too close to this one being the very last, and it frightened him. As a doctor Jamieson had lost patients before, to be sure, but he had discovered that he was no different from the crewmen aboard this submarine, or the officers, for that matter. He valued this young man. Valued him highly. And he would do everything in his power to keep him from dying.
He whirled guiltily, leaping back toward the bed where Crane lay. He reached up and snapped on the light above the bunk and automatically placed the buds of the stethoscope in his ears, pressing the disk against the captain’s chest where it wasn’t swathed in bandages. Crane’s heart rate was elevated and there were lines of pain around his eyes and mouth but the dark eyes were clear and lucid as he met Jamieson’s gaze.
“I’ll get you something for the pain, Captain.”
“Not yet.... It’ll put me out again.”
For the first time in his memory Jamieson found he was unwilling to argue with this particular patient.
“Any word on Giang?”
Jamieson gulped back a gasp of denial. “I haven’t heard anything,” he answered truthfully, “but they would have notified us if Giang had not survived the journey to the States, I’m sure.” He inhaled slowly, needing to say the words that plagued him but finding them bitter in his mouth. “I’m sorry, Lee.”
Crane frowned, apparently confused.
“You wouldn’t have gotten shot if I had done what you told me to do.”
“You can’t know that, Jamie. They should never have insisted you go with me.” Lee’s voice was faint but no less fervent for its weakness.
“I put you in danger... you and Giang both.”
“And then you saved both our lives. I knew what I was getting into. You didn’t have a clue.” Crane’s voice caught in his throat, but whether from emotion or pain Jamieson couldn’t guess. “Any time I go out for the ONI I know my own life is secondary to the success of the mission. I came to grips with that a long time ago. What....” He inhaled slowly, deeply, his breath catching again as it was obvious, this time, that the pain of his wound knifed through him. “What I can’t accept is someone... like you... not a trained agent... dying on a mission I’m in charge of. I... I couldn’t live with... that.”
Lee’s eyes closed briefly and the pain in the golden-brown depths when he opened them again was more than Jamieson could tolerate. He hurried to the drug locker and filled a hypodermic needle, then returned to the Captain’s side.
“Don’t argue with me,
Lee,” Jamieson ordered as Crane lifted his hand in protest. “I’m not going to let you suffer just because
you’re too damned stubborn to know what’s good for you. In this
A slow smile softened the captain’s drawn lips. “So... we have an understanding... of sorts?”
“Of sorts,” Jamieson admitted reluctantly, realizing what he had acknowledged to the captain. “We’ll just have to see how long it lasts. All right?”
The smile widened and was answered by the doctor’s own.
“So, your patient’s finally awake?”
personality announced his presence as definitively as his voice and Lee shifted
his attention beyond the doctor toward the
“Not for long, I’m afraid, Admiral,” the captain admitted for himself.
“He already trying to convince you to let him out of here, Will?”
“Not me, Adm’ril,” Crane put in, his words already beginning to slur from the drug. “I’m jus’ fine right where I am.”
Nelson forced an honest smile as he settled easily into the chair he had been responsible for placing at Crane’s bedside hours before. Those were words he had not believed he would ever hear the younger man speak. He studied his captain’s haggard features critically, knowing that this time Jamieson had truly pulled off a miracle.
“You’re going to have some explaining to do to a certain fair-haired exec, you know. He was convinced you were dying, and now he’s feeling pretty bad because he didn’t try to help you himself.”
The weak, fond smile returned but it was becoming more difficult for him to control even the muscles of his mouth, Jamieson realized. “He did... more than he knows....” A ragged, pained sigh racked the slender body on the bunk. “I’ll think of something....”
“You could turn down a few of these ONI missions for a starter. I’m sure we’d all be a lot happier if that was a possibility.”
“Doubt... I’m gonna... be in any shape for a... while....” he conceded, his dark gaze flicking briefly toward the doctor as the physician nodded wisely.
“And if the Admiral, here, doesn’t let you get some rest....” Jamieson said with more gentleness than such a warning usually contained.
With equally uncommon acquiescence Nelson merely grinned. “I can see you’re in good hands, son, but... I’ll be back later,” he promised. “Right now I’m going to go relieve Commander Morton’s mind a bit. I’m sure the control room crew will be delighted to have his temper eased some too.”
Lee chuckled softly but his words were barely audible. “I’d appreciate that, Sir.”
Nelson pushed himself to his feet and returned slowly to the door. Jamieson glanced back over his shoulder, reclaiming his place in the chair beside Lee’s bed, and nodded his own reassurances to the Admiral. As Nelson stepped out into the corridor Jamieson could hear his quiet voice speaking encouragement to the crewmen on station there. He would do exactly as he promised, Jamieson knew, the brisk sound of leather soles on the decking diminishing as he started toward the control room with news Jamieson was certain would be well received.
Jamieson dimmed the light over the bunk once more and yet he could tell that Crane’s eyes were closed, his dark lashes motionless against his pale skin. His breathing was deep and steady, the sedative relaxing the pain-tension in his muscles. Jamieson took the Captain’s wrist in his fingers to check his pulse, and afterwards he was reluctant to move, even long after he was satisfied. He sat quietly for a very long while, reassured by the steady throb of life.