This story takes place after the events of the fourth season episode “Journey With Fear.” It ended far to neatly to make me happy.
The watch hands were nearing the midnight mark as Lee Crane made a final walk through his Seaview. For once he was looking forward to his cabin and his bunk. Maybe, just maybe he could sleep tonight. In the week since their encounter with the aliens and his unorthodox trip to the planet Venus, Lee had found sleep elusive. Troubled by strange dreams and snatches of memories, the sleepless nights were beginning to wear on the skipper. He was close to going to Jamie and asking for something to help him sleep but Lee knew Jamie would corner him and demand to know what was bothering him.
This was something that Lee wasn't ready to talk about yet. He figured time would get him through this. He had never needed to talk about anything before. He somehow always managed to work things out on his own. He certainly didn't need Jamie rooting around in his head, trying to uncover what he was suddenly afraid off.
Opening the door of his cabin, Lee slipped in and shut the door behind him, his hand lingering on the knob, fighting back the urge to lock the door. He had never locked his cabin door before and he wasn't going to start now. Lee sat down on the edge of his bunk and heeled out of his shoes, not bothering to untie them. For a long few seconds, Lee just sat there, hands covering his eyes, trying to block out the images that were already filtering through his head.
Lee Crane wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight.
Harriman Nelson ran a tired hand through his auburn hair and studied his report, still unfiled, the pages scattered haphazardly on his desk. Unbelievable. That's what he should have written. Let the S.E.A. chew on that. Damn their regulations and rules. He should have launched the second capsule the second they lost contact with Chip, to hell with what their standard operating procedures. Instead he had waited, and as a result, the same forces that had kidnapped Bob Wilson and Chip snatched Lee right out from under their very noses.
The whole incident had left a sour taste in Harry's mouth. Somehow he felt he had let his officers down by not acting sooner. Logically Harry knew there was nothing he could have done. No one could have anticipated aliens kidnapping his officers, practically right off Seaview. Were those same aliens finished with them? Were they a threat to Earth? Wouldn't be the first time an otherworldly force has threatened his home world.
A knock on the door pulled Harry's attention from the unfiled report. “Yes?” Nelson said and the door swung open. William Jamison's lanky form entered, shut the door behind him then leaned against the doorframe. For a long stretch of seconds Jamie just stood there, taking in the hazy blue-gray cloud of cigarette smoke, the tray of ashes and crushed remains of a dozen or more cigarettes, the half eaten sandwich, long since mummified, and the empty coffee cup.
“House call, Will, or just bored?” Nelson asked tiredly. A weak smile crossed Will's lips.
“Little of both, actually. Have you really paid much attention to what's going on?” the doctor asked.
Nelson's sapphire-blue eyes clouded with confusion. “Going on where? Is it something Lee can't handle?”
“That's just it. Concerning Lee. And Chip. Have you really worked with them, talked with them since they got back from their little interplanetary field trip?”
“No more than usual. I've had a ton of work to catch up on and there hasn't been a lot of time for a social gathering. Are you leading to something, Will?”
“Neither one of those men have had a decent night's sleep since you got back. Lee's hiding it rather well but then that’s what he's good at. Chip's is not coping well at all. He’s distracted, disjointed and off center. I'm afraid he might crack soon.”
Nelson stared the ship's CMO. “Chip?” he asked in disbelief. Not possible. Chip Morton was one of the most together, calm and collected people Nelson had ever met. It was one of the traits that made Morton an excellent XO. The idea that Chip was under enough stress to crack was disturbing to Nelson.
“And Lee?” Nelson asked with trepidation. Will nodded
“Like I said, hiding it well, Lee's got a gift for this sort you thing, you know how he is. They need to talk about this. Have you any idea what happened to them up there?”
“Nothing specific, just what I saw and what I read in their reports. Are you sure this isn't something they can't work out on their own? Neither own is likely to want to sit down and open up about this.”
Will crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes dark with concern and worry. “Admiral, what ever happened to those two is affecting them in ways that can't be fixed by pills or an I.V.”
Chip Morton sat up in his bunk, knees drawn up to his chin, his head lowered to his chest as another tremor shook him like a leaf in the wind. What was wrong with him? He had faced monsters and spies and ghosts, why was he acting like this? What was it about the dark that bothered him so much?
Unable to handle it any longer, he reached up and flipped on the reading light over his bunk. The small light filled the cabin with enough of a glow that the young officer could finally stop trembling. He hadn't wanted to admit it, but the darkness closed in around him and touched off a fear in him that he had never experienced before. Never since Venus. Never since being blinding by a pack of marauding aliens from Centaur.
Blind. At the time, he had been more angry than scared. He and Lee had done what they had to do to survive and come back in one piece. But now, when the lights were out, those memories clawed their way to the surface of his mind. How he had felt so helpless. When they asked him about their space program, he'd been unable to stop himself—he'd spilled his guts to the aliens. What if they had asked him classified information about Seaview or Earth's other defenses? He would have told them what ever they had wanted. If it hadn't been for Lee…
Chip lay back down, pulling the blankets up over his shoulders. He closed his eyes, hoping that tonight he could sleep with remembering the darkness, the fear that he and Lee weren't going to make it back home. Die here, or on their planet… the words he had spoken to Lee echoed back to him in the night. Chip closed his eyes and tried to block out the images of Bob being vaporized.
Lee was yanked out of his light sleep by a thud on the bulkhead. The first was followed by a second and this time Lee tracked the sound to Chip's cabin.
Throwing on his robe and shoving his bare feet into a pair of slippers, Lee slipped out of his room and the three steps over to Chip's cabin door. Lee knocked twice and called Morton's name but he got no answer.
Griping the handle, Lee turned the knob and was stopped short. The cabin door was locked. Chip never locked his door. Never.
“Chip? Chip, buddy, are you okay?” Lee called through the closed door, but again got no answer. Pressing his ear to the door, Lee tried to listen for something, anything that could help him figure out what was going on with Chip.
Suddenly a sound began to rise from the other side of the door. It started out low then began to build. A deep, long, drawn out 'no' began to repeat itself, growing louder and longer with each repetition. Feeling his heart hammering, Lee threw himself against the door, ramming his shoulder against it, desperation fueling the need to get in to help his friend. Lee wasn't even aware he was calling out Chip's name over the mantra of 'no' being screamed from the cabin.
The doorframe splintered and Lee blundered into the exec's cabin. The reading light over Chip's bunk was on, illuminating the pale, shaking figure of the XO. Chip was setting up in his bunk, wedged in the corner of the bunk, his eyes closed, his arms wrapped around himself, screaming 'No' over and over again, as fast as he could draw breath in to scream.
Lee crawled up onto the edge of the bed, grabbed Chip by his shoulders. “CHIP! Snap out of it, Chip! Come on, buddy, wake up for me!”
Eyes the color of a cloudless winter sky snapped open, wide and staring, seeing nothing. For a long few seconds there was absolutely no recondition in those eyes and Lee felt his heart contract and skip a beat. Gradually the shadows cleared from Chip's eyes and comprehension slowly leaked through, like moonlight streaming through storm clouds. He glanced around familiar surroundings and finally focused on Lee. “Lee? Is that you, Lee?”
“Chip, what's wrong? You can talk to me, you can tell me anything, you know that,” Lee said softly, tightening his grip on his friend. Under Lee's touch, Chip's trembling subsided some.
Chip couldn't stop himself. He was the Seaview's executive office, he was Lee's XO, hand picked by Harriman Nelson before the keel was even laid. He had faced death in the face more time than he could count. Why was this bothering him, why couldn't he move past this? Why couldn't he just move on with his life and put what happened on Venus behind him? The shaking started again.
“I couldn't stop myself. Everything they asked, I answered. I could have betrayed everything I believe in. I couldn't stop myself. I was blind, Lee, I couldn't see a damn thing! Do you know how terrifying that feeling is? How was I going to get away? Where was I going to go? I was on another damn planet! Until I heard your voice, I thought I was going to die.”
Lee tried to break though Chip's apparent terror. “But you didn't die, you made it back in one piece. What ever they did to you wore off and your sight came completely back. Doc said you shouldn't even have any after effects. Everything is fine now.”
“THEN WHY CAN’T I TURN OFF THE LIGHT AND SLEEP? Tell me, Lee, why can't I? Why can't I walk into a dark room, why can't I close my eyes? Every time I do, I'm afraid when I open my eyes, all I'm going to see is the dark. Why am I afraid? Why?” Chip's voice dropped of to a whisper, full of despair. Chip looked so lost, he didn't look like a man in his thirties, who had stood by Lee's side through some of the worst situations Lee had ever known. Morton looked like a frightened young child, haunted by nightmares he couldn't explain.
But Lee understood. He was haunted by his own nightmares, past missions gone wrong, the faces of crewmen who had died under his watch. Failed ONI missions. Interrogation. Torture. Facing death. He knew all too well what was eating at Chip. It was something he fought within himself but never admitted.
Fear. Grown men weren't supposed to admit to fear. Chip was no coward but what they faced on Venus defied logic and rational explanation. Only someone who had been there could understand. Lee's brotherly instincts kicked in and he reached forward and wrapped his arms around Chip's broad shoulders in a protective embrace.
Chip didn't protest. Lee was his friend, his comrade in arms, his brother. He could confess fears to him that he couldn't admit to anyone, including his own father. Something deep inside Chip opened up and the unthinkable happened.
Charles Phillip Morton lost control. Lost his center, lost his grip, just simply lost. Watching Wilson being vaporized, the memory of being blinded with nothing but the darkness surrounding him, and the nightmare of trapped on a strange planet light years away from Earth, not knowing if rescue was possible, all that came rushing back and Chip choked back a half sob and clung to Lee Crane as only a brother can.
“Let it go. I understand. But it's over now. You have to let this go, we both have to move past this,” Lee urged, holding his trembling friend and brother while Morton desperately tried to get his emotions under control. Lee wasn't sure what was more frightening—Chip being so affected or watching Chip’s grip on his tightly control emotions slip. Lee had never seen Chip lose control like this. He'd seen him furious, mad enough to kill but never so broken. Lee tightened his grip on his friend as Chip took a deep shuddering breath.
There was a light 'click' and Lee turned his head slightly to see Harriman Nelson standing in the doorway. On the desk was a bottle of scotch, three-quarters full. Nelson sat two shot glasses down by the bottle and took two steps back.
“Lad?” Nelson asked quietly, his eyes shifting from Lee to Chip.
“We'll be fine, Admiral,” Lee replied. He wasn't even sure if Chip was aware of Nelson's presence. The exec continued to shake as his nerves gave out under the strain.
“We're on our way home. I see no reason for either of you have to report to duty tomorrow. I need my officers in one piece. If you two won't talk to Jamie, than at least work it out between yourselves. The scotch is on the house.”
“Yes, sir. A day would clear the air,” Lee replied, with a guarded glance at his brother.
Nelson silently drifted away, pulling the door to, leaving Lee and Chip alone.
“Chip, buddy, let me up a second,” Lee pulled himself away from Morton and got up. He went to the desk and poured two stiff measures and took them back to the bunk. He handed one to Chip, the pulled over the desk chair and dropped down into it. Lee tossed back the contents and sat the glass on the desk.
“You don't have to hang around, Lee,” Chip said, contemplating the amber liquid in the small glass between his long fingers. Mirroring Lee, he tossed back the glass in one swallow, feeling the alcohol burn the whole way down.
“Chip, we both have to move through this. Let's move over to my cabin. We can close the door and follow orders.”
“What orders, Lee?”
“Permission granted to get sloshed. We need to work this out and I can't to that sober. Come on, Mister Morton, up off your six.”
Crane and Morton moved into the next cabin, Lee pushing Chip's chair, Chip holding the gifted scotch bottle and his glass. Once in Lee's cabin, Crane surrendered the chair to its owner and he dropped bonelessly into his own while Chip shut the door and flipped the reading lamp over the bunk on. Lee sat the glass on the table. Chip dropped into his chair, uncapped the bottle and poured them both another round.
“The admiral gave us permission to get drunk?” Chip asked, tossing back half the shot. Lee nodded, realizing that Chip hadn’t even noticed the admiral’s appearance.
“Not in so many words, but he said he didn't expect either of us to be on duty tomorrow. Sounds like an invitation to get drunk.”
“Starke would have our stripes.” Another shot tossed back.
“Then it's a good thing Starke ain't here. Drink up, buddy. This is the good stuff. The admiral wouldn't turn loose of his family label without good reason. Talk to me, big brother.”
It was nearing 0530 when Harry made his way to the Ward Room. The door to Chip's cabin still swung open a few inches. As Harry tapped lightly on the frame, then touched the door. It swung open to reveal an empty cabin. The desk chair was gone.
Nelson moved to Crane's cabin and gently eased the door open. Harry felt the smile tug at his lips as he looked into the semi gloom of the skipper's cabin.
Lee and Chip were both asleep, kicked back in separate chairs, their feet propped up on the desk. The scotch bottle on the desk was empty. Both men sat with arms crossed over flat stomachs, breathing slow and easy. No tossing, no turning. Quiet snores from both men told Harry all he needed to know.
With a smirk, Nelson pulled the door shut. Whatever had happened up there on that planet, Lee and Chip had needed time to work this out and talk it over. From the looks of things, that journey had finally ended.