This little story follows Mud... a bit of a different perspective
It wasn't so much a beach as a mud flat, running parallel for several miles by high cliffs. Seaview had surfaced just off shore for a few minor repairs. It wasn't a big deal, the repairs in questions were just easier to make on the surface. Admiral Nelson thought it would be a good chance for a few hours liberty and check out the fossil deposits that ran along the cliff face. Tagging along were his daughter Serena and Serena's best friend Wendy Morton. Nelson was trying to get to know his daughter better. He had only learned about her existence six months ago. Despite the fact that she was currently employed as the Institute's only Marine Archaeologist, he had seen very little of her in the past few weeks. She had been working first at a wreck site off the coast of Spain then she was invited to one of the many ongoing sites along the coast of the Black Sea. Just two weeks ago Serena was asked to oversee the moving of a centuries old mummy to a new exhibit hall in Cairo, Egypt. By the time that project was complete, Wendy was screaming for Serena to take a break. Nelson had offered the two girls a ride back to States on Seaview. They were two days out and still cruising the Mediterranean when this minor little problem popped up. Since they were in no real hurry, they were taking their time with repairs while those not immediately needed with the repairs enjoyed a few hours off. Lee Crane and Chip Moron had come along for the chance to stretch their legs and see what had Nelson so excited about.
Lee Crane stopped at the top of the cliff and looked out over the ocean. It seemed that no matter where he was, what part of the world his was in, the sea always seemed to call to him. It was in his blood, in his soul. He was never calmer than when he was at sea. Bobbing quietly in the bay, his elegant gray lady waited patiently for his return. Something touched him on the shoulder and Lee turned, to find Chip Morton standing behind him. Chip had a slightly amused look on his face as they shared the view.
"She'll be there when you get back to her," Chip said quietly.
"I know. She always waits for me," Lee answered. He turned his focus to gaze down the beach. He could just barely make out the tiny figures of the admiral and Serena as they walked along the cliff face.
"What are they doing?" he asked Chip. Chip shrugged, his blue eyes also following the far off figures.
"Fossil hunting. The admiral said she's never been on this stretch before and he wanted to show her the fossil deposits."
"Whatever makes them happy, I suppose," replied Lee, as he started walking along the cliff's edge. Below them, walking along the water's edge was the slender blond figure of Chip's sister Wendy.
Chip also noticed his sister moving slowly along the beach, taking her time. "Lee, I need to ask you something."
Lee turned his head to look at Chip. "Okay."
"How serious are you about Wendy?"
Lee stopped and shoved his hands in his pockets, so he wouldn't be tempted to twist the Naval Academy ring he wore. The question had caught him off guard. His feelings for Wendy were running deeper than he wanted to admit and he wasn't sure he wanted to discuss them with Chip. The blond officer noticed his friend's hesitation.
"It's important, Lee. You and I aren't exactly getting any younger. You know she's had a crush on you since she first met you. I just want to be sure this isn't a short fling or something. I don't want to see her get hurt."
"Chip, I'm not going to hurt your sister. I guess you could say we're fairly serious. Why the sudden interest in my love life? You never used to care who I dated."
Chip snorted, letting his eyes wander over the horizon. "That's because you never dated my sister before. I gotta watch out for her. How serious are you?"
"We're not getting married tomorrow if that's what you’re asking. We get along, we have fun when we're together, and she even understands about Seaview. We've talked about it and with her job she's gone as much as I am. She doesn't want me to think about getting a desk job."
Lee watched as Chip rubbed absently at the fast fading circle where he once wore a wedding ring. "What about ONI? She know about that yet?"
"Not until she needs to. One Morton worry wart is enough," Lee said with a grin.
"She's got to know sometime. What happens the next time you come back all broke up and bruised? I know Wendy. She's as curious as a dozen cats."
"I know," Lee replied mournfully. "Curious is putting it mildly. Persistent might be a better word. When the time is right, I'll tell her, but not before then." Lee grinned seeing his opening. Chip wanted to talk about feelings, did he? Be careful what you wish for, old buddy. "What about you?"
Chip drew back in surprise. "What about me? What are you talking about?"
"You and Serena. We're not getting any younger, remember?"
"There is no me and Serena." Chip said quickly. Without realizing it, Chip was following the two tiny figures on the far end of the beach.
"Don't hand me that line. I know you better than that. Beside, you've already admitted you like her. Why don't you just ask her out and get it over with?"
"Lee, in case you missed the newsflash, she's the admiral's daughter. His only daughter. His only child. An offspring he didn't even know he had until just a few months ago. I screw this up and he'll yank every stripe I've got."
"Ha!" Lee exclaimed. "So you have considered asking her out." It was a statement, not a question.
"Oh course I have. I wanted to before all this came out, but I never really had the chance. I don’t know if it’s because I’m attracted to her or if it’s because she reminds me of someone I can’t remember. And what if…I mean, we get along well enough professionally, but what if we don't click, what if she gets hung up on me and I can't break it off? Or what if the admiral doesn't think I'm good enough for her?"
"Whoa, back up there, pal. After all this time serving with the admiral and you think he doesn't consider you good enough? What's wrong with you?" Lee asked incredulously.
"Lee, you know how he is, he hand-picked the crew for Seaview practically before her keel was laid. He'll accept absolutely nothing but the best for the boat, and I would be an idiot to think he'd want anything least then that for Serena. What if she doesn’t understand, like Vanessa didn’t. I'm not sure I'm ready for another disappointment." Chip had taken to pacing along the cliff's edge as he poured out his concerns to his best friend. This was not the conversation he had planned on but he felt better now for telling somebody what had been praying on his mind the last few weeks. His marriage to Vanessa had been nothing short of a disaster. The kind, sweet woman he had met turned into a vindictive, manipulative creature that had expected him to give up his position as Seaview's exec so he could be at her beck and call. When he found out she was cheating on him that was it. He demanded a divorce and with some of the best divorce lawyers the admiral could recommend backing him, it was done quickly and quietly. The whole thing had left a bitter taste in his mouth and the felling that maybe he just wasn't cut out for a steady relationship.
Lee waited for Chip to continue. He walked right up the cliff's edge. Wendy, from her position on the beach below, looked up as saw the two men perched atop the hill. She waved and started moving in their direction, up along the rising path from the beach that Lee and Chip had climbed. Lee watched her move, waving back. Watching her move, he felt lucky to have her in his life. Chip was his brother and Nelson his mentor but Wendy filled a void in him he hadn't known until she came along. Lee shifted his attention back to Chip, trying to think of something his friend would believe. "Chip, you said it yourself. He picked nothing but the best. I've had this discussion with the admiral. He never wanted anybody but you. You're not giving yourself enough credit."
Chip eyed Lee standing on the edge of the cliff. "And you're not giving yourself enough room. You might want to move away from there."
Lee looked down at the steep slope of the hill, and decided Chip might be right. He shifted his foot to take that step backwards a second too late. The edge of the cliff crumbled, and Lee lost his footing. With a yelp of surprise Lee fell off the cliff.
Chip surged forward, snatching at the air, trying to grab onto Lee before he fell, and managed to grab onto Crane's right hand. For a long, breathtaking moment, Lee hung in mid-air, his only lifeline being Chip Morton, on his knees, clinging with both hands to Lee's right.
"Lee, I can't pull, the angle's not right, I need your other hand," Chip gasped, trying to hold onto Crane. Lee swung his free arm around. The sudden movement, coupled with the extra weight was too much for the edge to bear. Chip could only watch in horror as the ground under his knees crumbled then completely collapsed.
Both men tumbled, head over heels, down the steep hillside, the sound of their yelps and exclamations lost in the breaking surf. After what seemed like an eternity they landed with a wet plop on the beach, Lee coming to rest on his stomach, face down in the black sticky mud, Chip landing with a splat on his backside. They lay like that for a long second, evaluating whether or not they were actually hurt.
"You okay?" Lee asked weakly, spitting out mud, and wiping it out of his eyes.
"I'm good. Gonna be sore in the morning but I'm okay. You?"
"Fine, I think."
Chip gathered himself up, and pushed himself off the ground. The mud squelched under his feet, caked on the back of his trousers, and as Chip wiggled his toes, like it felt like it was even in his shoes. He glanced over at Lee and felt a giggle rise up. Lee was blinking at him, white eyes in a sea of mud, like a raccoon. Chip couldn't hold it back. The giggle erupted with a snort, then he broke out in wild, almost hysterical laughter.
"What?" Lee demanded, as Chip collapsed, setting back down with a splat in the mud.
"You! You look like a raccoon!"
"Chip, this stuff is nasty and it stinks. It's not funny!" Lee growled, trying to wipe the rest of the mud from his face. But Chip couldn't stop laughing, caught up in the adrenalin rush from the fall, and the look on his best friend's face. Lee scowled, hefting a hand full of mud.
"Chip . . . Mister Morton . . .Commander . . ." Lee said, the warning clear in his voice.
Chip held up one hand, gasping for air as he tried to stop laughing. “Gimme a minute, oh man, you should see yourself!"
The first mud ball caught Chip dead center in the chest. The laughter stopped, as Chip looked down, and realization dawned on him. He looked up at Lee, who was hefting a second mud ball.
"That's for laughing at a man while he's down," Lee said and took aim. The second mud ball went wild as Chip ducked and rolled. Lee didn't waste time. He scooped up another handful and threw. This one caught Chip in the shoulder. "That's for the wet sock.”
"Oh yea? Well, this . . ." Chip shoveled up a handful of mud, and tossing it at Crane, "is for dragging Serena into my cabin when I was half dressed!"
"Oh, yea, well, I didn't hear her complaining! Maybe you just need bigger towels!" Lee shot back, ducking.
By now the mud and the insults were flying as each man tried to top the other. Chip finally gave up and launched himself at Lee, catching him around the waist. Both men went down, and rolled a good ten feet on the muddy beach. Lee had a double handful of mud and rubbed it liberally into Morton's wheat blond hair.
"Try being a brunet for a little while!" he declared. The two rolled and Chip ended up on top of Lee. The leaner man tried pulling himself out from under Morton, but Chip outweighed him by a few pounds and Lee couldn't get any purchase in the slippery mud. That’s when Chip dropped a mud ball down the back of Lee's shirt. The two men rolled, and separated while Lee tried to shake the cold slimy stuff out of his shirt. Abruptly they realized they had an audience.
Wendy Morton stood, just off the beach's edge, her arms crossed, watching her brother and boyfriend rolling like a couple of two year olds in the mud.
"Hi, Wen," Chip said brightly, hefting a mud ball and gauging the distance between himself and his squeaky clean sister.
"Don't even think about, bro," the younger Morton warned. Chip decided not to chance it. Wendy had an evil streak than manifested itself it weird ways.
"Don't suppose you could help us up?" Lee asked.
Wendy raised an elegant blond eyebrow. "You got yourself in this mess. You don't need me to get you out."
Chip hefted himself out of the mud and looked down at himself, then over at Lee, also straightening up. "It's gonna take forever to get this stuff off. These uniforms are ruined."
Wendy felt a smile creep over her lips. Serena had to see this. It would be good for her to see Mister Pressed and Crisp covered in filth and mud. She’s see him as a little more human and not something unattainable. "Come on, guys. Let's get you back to the sub and get you cleaned up," she said, and made her way around the edge of the mud flat. Behind her she could hear Lee and Chip squelching as they followed. "Of course, we're gonna make one little stop first," she said under her breath, and headed off in the same direction she had seen the admiral and the archaeologist go. This was gonna be good.