1. This is a sequel to “The Christmas Gift” posted on Seaview Stories.
2. The flashback is defined by *’s and italic type.
3. Those of you in the medical and engineering professions, please forgive me. This is, after all, fiction.
This Night Begins to Change Who We Are ….
(“Only Love,” from the Broadway musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel)
Dr. Meg Tan paused just outside the door to the Institute’s Rehab Center and watched Lee Crane finish his exercise regime with a furious session on the stationary bike. As usual, Lee was the last patient to leave for the day. His t-shirt was damp with perspiration, his face flushed, exertion reverting his hair to a mass of curls. His eyes were fiery with determination as he pushed his body to its limits.
Meg remembered the day they brought Lee to the MedCenter …..
*The EMT’s burst into the Emergency Room with Lee’s gurney. Lee was dazed, barely lucid, falling in and out of consciousness.
“Captain? Captain Crane?” Meg gave Lee a moment to focus on her face and voice before continuing. “Captain? I’m Dr. Meg Tan. I’ll be taking care of you today.”
“H–Hi ….. Lee ….. C-Crane,” he said weakly, his voice trembling from pain and medication.
“Yes, I know,” Meg said warmly, smiling. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
Lee tried to raise his arm to shake her hand but couldn’t gather the strength. Meg saw the effort, reached for his hand and grasped it firmly. She was surprised at the strength of his grip in return.
“Me too ….. but under slightly different …..” Suddenly, Lee gasped, grimaced and arched his back in agony. His grip on Meg’s hand became like a vise, but she didn’t flinch, wordlessly lending him strength. The spasm gradually subsided and Lee’s body relaxed.
Still holding Meg’s hand, fighting to remain conscious, Lee stared up at her ….. and saw clear, bright aquamarine eyes ….. flawless skin ….. a warm, beautiful smile ….. long, black hair pulled back into a ponytail for surgery. She looked more like a college coed than an eminent orthopedic surgeon.
“You have the most beautiful eyes,” Lee said guilelessly, medication having broken down all inhibitions.
Their eyes locked for just a moment. But in those few seconds, Meg felt a bond forged ….. something stirring, something unexplainable ….. something unbreakable.”*
“Hey, sailor, don’t overdo it!” Meg scolded as she approached him.
Lee flashed a dazzling smile and laughed. “Yes, ma’am!” He eased back on the pedals, gradually coming to a stop.
“Working late?” he asked, breathless from his workout.
“Nope. Just came by to see those crazy legs in gym shorts!” she teased, casually throwing her arm around his shoulder.
“Oh, you did, did you?” he countered seductively.
“Uh-huh,” she purred, inching closer.
“Meg, I’m hot and sweaty …..”
“Uh-huh,” she murmured, inching even closer.
“Did we just violate the doctor/patient relationship?” Lee asked, looking furtively around the room.
“Oh, probably.” They kissed again.
In the months since the accident, Lee and Meg’s relationship had quickly evolved from doctor/patient to one of deep affection and respect. In fact, unknown even to their closest friends, Lee and Meg had fallen in love.
“Mmm ….. that kiss …..” Meg lamented, smoothing her thumb over Lee’s pliant lips, “is going to make what I have to tell you even harder.”
“What is it?” he frowned, suddenly concerned.
Meg hesitated a moment, then, “I’ve been asked to establish a trauma center in a small town up north …..”
“Meg, that’s wonderful!” Lee interrupted, hugging her enthusiastically. “This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for!”
“I know …. it is exciting!” she said breathlessly as Lee released her from his embrace. “Developing new protocols, incorporating the newest technologies, hiring top-notch staff ….. literally building from the ground up. But ….. there is a cloud in this silver lining …..”
Lee looked at her, questioningly.
“I’ll be gone 10-12 weeks.”
“Ugh. I don’t like the sound of that. But ….. you’ve earned this ….. you’ve worked so hard. It’s exactly what you want.”
“Professionally? Yes. Personally? What I want?” She lovingly caressed his cheek. “Is right here.”
It was well past midnight. The construction crew was working around the clock, refitting the Control Room with bulkheads and structural beams made of new composite materials. The molded composite modules were much lighter and stronger than steel and eventually, the entire inner hull would be replaced.
Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane entered the Control Room from the aft hatch, weaving their way through men and equipment, making an informal inspection of the day’s work before retreating to their quarters. Commander Morton was at the plot table, reviewing the next day’s construction schedule.
Then, suddenly …..
Lee reacted instantly, pushing the Admiral out of the path of a falling beam. But, in doing so, was unable to protect himself, taking a jarring blow to the left side of his face. He dropped like a stone, unconscious before he even hit the deck.
Chip scrambled for the closest intercom.
“Sickbay! Emergency in the Control Room! The Captain is down!”
A rustic inn in a small northern California town …..
From out of a sound sleep, Meg bolted upright in bed, eyes wide with fear, pulse racing.
“Lee!” she whispered.
In an instant, she flew out of bed, threw on some clothes, ran to her car and raced toward Santa Barbara.
Meg unlocked the front door to Lee’s seaside home and stepped inside.
“Lee?” she called quietly. “Lee …..?” She gently closed the door behind here, tossed her purse and car keys on a table in the foyer and walked into the great room.
“Lee ….. are you here?”
Then, a voice from the other side of the house …..
“Meg!” Admiral Nelson emerged from the hallway leading to the bedrooms in the rear of the house. “This is a surprise. We weren’t expecting you for another …..”
“Admiral, is Lee all right?” Meg interrupted impatiently, urgently.
“Well, he’s a bit battered ….. and will be flat on his back for a week or so ….. but Doc says he’ll be …..” Harry paused, puzzled. “How did you know that …..?”
Meg brushed past Harry toward Lee’s bedroom.
“Admiral, I’ll explain later. I must see Lee.”
Lee lay on his right side, his right arm tucked under the pillow, his left cradled against his chest. He wore crisp, white pajamas and was covered with soft, light summer bedding. His breathing was slow and regular, his hair ruffled from sleep.
“Oh, Lee,” Meg moaned as she gingerly sat down on the edge of the bed. Lee’s seemingly sound sleep belied the trauma of the previous day’s accident. Meg smoothed the back of her hand over dark, mottled bruises on Lee’s forehead, temple and cheek. A deep gash above his cheekbone had been sealed with tiny, delicate stitches. His left eye was badly swollen.
“Admiral, what happened?” she asked as Nelson sat down in a chair by the bed. The Admiral told her about the accident on board Seaview.
Nelson nodded. “A moderate one, according to Jamie. He was very lucky.”
Meg gently palpated Lee’s cheek with her fingertips. “Fractures?”
“A small, hairline fracture of the suborbital bone beneath the eye.”
“Any damage to the eye itself?”
“Some minor hemorrhaging behind the eye ….. and his vision will be a bit blurred for a few days ….. but no permanent damage, thank God.”
“Is he in much pain?”
Nelson shook his head. “Jamie has him on a pain management regime that seems to be working well.”
“Has he been lucid?”
“Have you been waking him …..?”
“Meg,” Nelson interrupted.
“….. every few hours …..”
“Meg!” Harry said firmly. “He’s going to be fine!”
Meg stared at Nelson for a few seconds, then sighed and shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Admiral. I guess the doctor in me got carried away. But …..” She hesitated, unconsciously rubbing Lee’s back, forming small circles with her hand. “You’re going to think I’m crazy ….. but I sensed the accident ….. I felt something had happened to Lee. It was frightening, not knowing. I had to be here.”
Suddenly, Lee began to stir under her hand. “Mmm,” he sighed deeply, rolling over onto his back. After several attempts, he slowly opened his eyes.
“Hey, sailor,” Meg said affectionately, brushing a few stray curls from Lee’s forehead.
“Meg ….. what ….. what are you doing here?” Lee asked drowsily. “When …..?”
“I came as soon as I learned about the accident.”
Lee turned to Harry. “Did the Admiral call you?”
“Not ….. exactly,” Meg chuckled.
“It is so good to see you,” Lee said, his voice hoarse from sleep. “I’ve missed you …..”
Harry rose from his chair and discreetly left the room, soundlessly closing the door behind him.
“And I’ve missed you – so very much.” Meg leaned forward and kissed him, savoring Lee’s warm, soft lips.
“Mmm ….. missed that, too,” Lee sighed. He lifted his hand to caress her cheek. “You are so beautiful.”
“After driving all night? And no sleep? I must look frightful!” Meg pressed her hand on Lee’s forehead, frowning, feigning concern. “I knew it – you’re delirious!”
“I’ll show you delirious,” he teased, reaching for her.
“I don’t believe it!” she responded in mock horror. “You’re flat on your back ….. with a serious concussion and skull fracture ….. you’re unable to stand ….. barely able to keep your eyes open …. and you’re trying to seduce me!”
“Is it working?” he asked wickedly.
“It always does!” They laughed softly as he drew her to him and cradled her against his chest, her head resting on his shoulder. They lay quietly for a few minutes before Meg reluctantly pulled away from him.
“But ….. before we get too adventurous,” she teased, “you need to rest.”
“Mmm ….. don’t go,” Lee pleaded sleepily, already starting to drift.
”I’ll be here,” Meg reassured him, arranging the bedding up and around his shoulders.
“OK,” he murmured, fighting to keep his eyes open.
As Meg rose from the bed, Lee rallied.
“The Admiral …… he hasn’t eaten or slept …..”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of him.”
“Thanks ….. “ And Lee was asleep.
Meg walked into the great room and fell heavily into one of the overstuffed chairs by the fireplace. The Admiral was sitting on the couch, papers and folders spread haphazardly on the coffee table in front of him.
“Admiral Nelson,” she said wearily, “would you mind so very much if I told you, you look terrible!”
Assuming Meg’s tone of voice and demeanor, Harry countered, “Dr. Tan, would you mind – so very much! – if I told you, you look terrible!”
They both broke into hearty laughter, enjoying the release of some of the anxiety of the last twenty-four hours.
“Seriously, Admiral, you’re exhausted. I’ll watch Lee this afternoon. You need to get some sleep.”
Harry scowled. “Did Lee put you up to this?”
Meg smiled, shrugging helplessly.
“Umm. I thought so.”
“Admiral, he’s worried about you …..”
The Admiral nodded, slumping against the back of the couch. “Dr. Tan, you are an angel of mercy,” he sighed. “I concur with your diagnosis and prescription.” And with that, Nelson arranged several pillows at one end of the couch and stretched out.
“If you need anything, just holler,” he murmured.
Meg returned to Lee’s room, carefully sat down on the other side of the bed, crossed her legs Indian style and propped her back against the headboard. Thinking she would rest for just a few minutes, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
Sometime that afternoon Meg had slid down on the bed, stretched out beside Lee and fallen asleep, her face nestled in the crook of his neck and shoulder, sharing his pillow, one arm thrown protectively over his chest. Someone – the Admiral? – had draped a soft, Afghan throw over her and opened the windows to the sea.
Meg woke to the late afternoon sun streaming through the windows. She propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Lee. He was still deeply asleep. Not wanting to disturb him, she carefully slipped off the bed and stepped into the hallway. The house was cool and quiet. She heard soft music coming from the great room and knew the Admiral was already up and about. Tantalizing aromas of freshly brewed coffee and sizzling bacon drew her to the kitchen.
“Admiral, everything smells wonderful!”
Nelson turned as she walked into the kitchen. “Meg! ….. please ….. sit down. You must be famished. Help yourself to coffee and juice ….. eggs and bacon will be done in a minute. Oh ….. can you get the bagels out of the toaster?” He turned back to the stove. “You know, there is nothing more luxurious than breakfast for dinner!”
“Admiral ….. this house ….. it’s ….. Lee. I feel at peace here ….. safe and protected.”
Harry nodded. “It’s the haven - the retreat - Lee wanted and needed it to be. He can shed his ‘command face’ here and be himself. That’s a side of him we don’t see often enough.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
“So ….. how long were you going to keep it a secret?” Harry asked between sips of coffee.
“Keep what a secret?”
“You and Lee,” Harry said casually.
Meg blushed and looked down at her breakfast. “Is it that obvious?” she asked shyly.
“Uh-huh,” Harry said, grinning, his eyes sparkling.
Meg took a moment to collect her thoughts. “Admiral, we were ….. afraid. Afraid of the intensity of our feelings ….. afraid because it happened so fast ….. afraid that this - bond - between us could be a result of a …..” she struggled for the right words, “a ….. false intimacy ….. a result of the doctor/patient relationship.
“Actually, we saw these few months apart as a chance to pull back, slow down and put things into perspective.” She paused. “But honestly? In our hearts? We know this is real ….. that we have found something wonderful!”
“Meg, I think you know how I feel about Lee. He is very important to me. His happiness is very important to me. And I believe he has found – in you – the love he has been searching for. The love of his life.”
Several weeks later …..
The party at the Admiral’s house was winding down. A few guests still lingered in the house and around the bonfire on the beach.
The party was an impromptu get-together to celebrate Lee’s return to Seaview and Meg’s to the Institute MedCenter. But, in truth, by the end of the evening, it had become a celebration of Lee and Meg’s blossoming romance.
They were wonderfully at ease and comfortable with each other, constantly teasing, always laughing. Though they were together most of the evening – Lee occasionally taking her hand, Meg sometimes rubbing his back – they were never cloying or clinging, never exclusive. Unconsciously, effortlessly, they drew others into their circle of happiness.
It was getting late. As Meg and Lee bid everyone good night, Harry embraced Lee affectionately and kissed Meg on the cheek.
“Welcome to the family!” he whispered.
The night was sultry, the beach deserted. They walked back to Lee’s house, slowly, silently, holding hands ….. enjoying the warm breeze against their skin, the cool sand beneath their bare feet, the soft sounds of the ocean ….. the quiet of a world asleep.
Their clothes lay scattered at their feet.
“You are so beautiful,” they said in unison, softly, in awe of each other. He reached for her ….. and she folded into his arms. Lee shivered as he felt Meg’s body against his.
“You’re shaking,” Meg whispered.
“I know ….. I can’t …..”
Meg pulled away from Lee, took his hand and drew him to the bed.
With little preamble, they merged ….. lovingly, easily, naturally. Their bodies began to move ……….
………. they clung to each other, bodies intertwined, breathless, as waves of pleasure and joy flowed through them, between them ……….
………. they lay side by side, face to face, eyes wide with wonder.
“I’ve ….. never felt …..” Lee gasped, his voice quaking with emotion. “I have ….. ached ….. to touch you ….. to be with you …..”
Meg smiled, her eyes glowing, her cheeks flushed. “I have loved you since the day they brought you to the MedCenter. So badly hurt, in such pain ….. yet so gentle and kind.”
Meg leaned forward and kissed the golden skin in the hollow of Lee’s throat, reveling in the feel and smell of him. Lee shivered from the softness of her lips.
“I love that you tremble when I touch you,” Meg whispered.
“You are so soft ….. and warm ….. and beautiful,” Lee sighed as he kissed her, barely brushing her lips with his. Meg started to cry, softly, overcome with Lee’s tenderness and passion.
The night was theirs ……….