By R. L. Keller
A light tap interrupted Jamie’s thoughts, and he looked up to see Kowalski poking his head through the partially open door from the corridor into his office.
“Any change Doc?” the seaman asked quietly, cautiously.
“Not yet, Ski. Hopefully it will be soon.” Jamie sighed heavily, and leaned back in his chair. “Asked you to stop by for a slightly different reason.”
nodded. “John told me.” The senior rating walked the rest of the way
into the CMO’s office and tipped his head slightly toward the main room of
“Nooo,” Jamie drawled with another sigh. “Still needs doing.”
“I’ll help as much as I can, Doc. You know that.”
Jamie nodded, and stood up slowly and stiffly. “Going to be a long night for us all, I’m afraid.” The two shared a grimace. “Wait here. With any luck I can finally get him to see some reason, and this will go a little more peacefully.”
“All things considered, Doc, I ain’t holding my breath.” The two were finally able to chuckle, however briefly, and Jamie headed into the other area.
“Skipper?” he said softly. There was no immediate response, and Jamie laid his hand on the younger man’s right shoulder, doing a quick visual evaluation. Here there had been change, and not for the better. Oh, outwardly he seemed much the same as the last time Jamie had been by. Or, for that matter, much of the last 30 or so hours. The short curly hair was untamed and unruly, very unusual for this fastidious man. The uniform blouse was unbuttoned, the left sleeve hanging empty because that arm was bound tightly across the man’s chest. But Jamie thought he detected a slightly more noticeable slump to the shoulders, and the man’s eyes were definitely more hollow. Jamie forced a slight smile on his face as he squatted down close to the chair. “Skipper?” he repeated, and gave the shoulder a little shake.
Lee Crane finally turned toward his CMO and friend. “He’s too quiet.” The voice matched his eyes – devoid of the usual excitement and energy that so filled this man. Jamie cringed inwardly but kept the smile in place.
“The Admiral’s no worse than he was, Skipper. If things were deteriorating we’d see signs by now. That in itself is a good thing.” Jamie forced the smile to widen. “Most likely he’ll wake up yelling what all the fuss is about, and why can’t he go back to his lab immediately and finish whatever it was he was last working on.” The grumble in his voice during that last sentence finally caused Lee to focus totally, and Jamie noticed a slight twitch to the corners of his mouth. “For right now,” Jamie continued, “I’m more concerned about my other patient.”
Seaview’s Captain asked, and glanced around
“You,” Jamie said quietly.
“I’m fine,” came the instant response, and Lee’s eyes returned to the man in the bunk. His boss, his friend, his… So many different things to Lee, sometimes he couldn’t keep them all straight.
Wanting desperately to scream but knowing it would, particularly in this case, be counter-productive, Jamie just continued to smile and speak softly. “No, Skipper, you’re not. You need to rest. Your collarbone is broken, and that’s not a bump of knowledge on the back of your skull.”
Unfortunately the jab didn’t have the effect on his CO that Jamie had wished. Lee just went back to staring at Nelson. “In a little while,” he said flatly.
Resisting the urge to strangle the man, Jamie put a hand under Lee’s chin and turned his head gently back in the doctor’s direction. “I’ve already let you stay ‘a little while’ three times.” Standing up, he gently took hold of Lee’s good arm and pulled him to his feet. “Kowalski is in my office, Skipper. He’s going to walk with you. You can go to the Control Room, to make sure Chip has everything in order. Then he’s going to go with you to your cabin and help you settle in for the night. Is that clear?” The last was said a bit more forcefully.
“No, Skipper.” His voice softened. “I’ll come get you if there’s any change. Okay?”
Lee’s eyes went back to the Admiral, lying so still. But reluctantly he allowed Jamie to lead him toward the door. Ski had been listening covertly at the office door and now stepped into view.
“Come on, Skip,” he matched Doc’s quiet voice. Unlike Doc, he didn’t take hold of the CO’s arm. While he had a few special privileges with Seaview’s Captain, he knew better than to push the issue.
“I don’t need a nursemaid.” Lee suddenly got stubborn.
“Of course not,” the seaman agreed instantly. “But with that arm strapped down the way it is, it would be easier for you if I helped a bit, don’t you think?”
Lee was so buried in his own thoughts he didn’t notice the other two men physically hold their breaths. With a heavy sigh, he finally said softly, “Guess so. But, Jamie… Couldn’t I just lie down here, in one of the other bunks?”
told you before, Skipper. No more than
one senior officer at a time in my
“Aye, Sir.” Jamie was pleased to note another small twitch at the corners of Lee’s mouth, and Commander and seaman finally left.
“Hallelujah,” Jamie breathed, and walked back over to where Admiral Nelson lay. “Now, Sir, if it’s not too much trouble, would you kindly wake up? Soon? It’s been a long two days.”
* * * *
had started innocently enough. Seaview
was on a charting mission, working an area of narrow canyons north of the
turned to concern less than two hours later when Seaview lost radio contact
with FS1, although not immediately. It
had been evident right from the start that something in the makeup of the area
– some mineral deposits or such – was interfering with radio transmissions from
canyon to canyon. But at that point no
one worried too much about it as neither vessel was actually that far from the
other. By 1300 hours, however, when
Admiral and Lee were having their own problems.
No sooner had they started scouting the narrow passage than they lost
contact with Seaview. For awhile they
Unfortunately for everyone, they found the problem. Or rather, the problem found them.
* * * *
Acknowledging, however reluctantly, Doc’s logic, Lee walked slowly forward to the Control Room, Kowalski a silent shadow close behind. Even through his own pain he could feel Seaview’s tortured movements, and hear the decidedly not normal sounds her screws were making. Belay that – screw, singular! he muttered under his breath, and that caused him almost as much pain as his own injuries. He was just grateful that there had been no crew injuries on the submarine beyond a few bumps and bruises.
Chip gave him a decidedly stern look as he came through the aft hatch but said nothing as Lee slowly made his way forward, glancing at all the instrumentation and saying a few words to each crewman. As he approached his XO and friend, he raised his good hand to stop whatever was about to come out of the blond’s mouth. “I’m not staying,” he said quietly.
“No, you’re not,” Chip replied firmly. “Doc already called and told me in no uncertain terms what would happen if I let you stay longer than ten minutes.”
Lee glanced at the chronometer on the bulkhead. “Still got six left,” he tried to lighten the glum mood, and was relieved to hear a soft chuckle or two behind him. “Status report.”
Chip didn’t think there was a crewman on board who’d rat on him if he smacked his Captain up side the head about now, but decided not to test the theory. He was fairly sure they all saw it as their Skipper’s way to help ease the tension. Chip knew, however, that there was a deeper meaning, but surrendered peaceably. “We’re limping home at one quarter speed. The undamaged screw is holding up – no signs of stress. I’ve notified SAR. With FS1 dead they’ll send out a Sea King with HIRF capabilities in the morning to evacuate the Admiral if he’s still not showing signs of improvement. You, too,” Chip added cautiously, “if you want to go.”
Lee didn’t immediately answer. His duty was to stay aboard, get Seaview and her crew home safe and sound. But the thought of watching Admiral Nelson airlifted out… “We’ll see how things stand in the morning,” he finally said, relieved when Chip just nodded.
Chip did react when Lee reached toward the chart table, intent on picking up one of the clipboards lying there. “Huh uh,” he said, and lay his own hand on Lee’s arm.
“Huh uh?” Lee sent a glare his XO’s way.
“Huh uh, Sir,” Chip amended firmly. “Your time’s almost up, and Doc will kill you if you stay here any longer. Since one of my main jobs is looking after my Skipper…” He was gratified to see a small smile appear on Lee’s face. “I will do whatever’s necessary to avoid being caught in the middle.” He took a step back and crossed his arms.
“Whatever?” Lee asked innocently, the grin broadening.
Chip was glad to see a little lightening of his friend’s spirits, for whatever the ulterior motive. But he wasn’t about to let it go too far, and took a slightly underhanded route. “Lee, I know perfectly well you won’t do anything to make Doc land on Kowalski.”
Lee sent the senior rating, looking decidedly uncomfortable all of a sudden, a quick smile. “Got me, there,” he conceded. “Come on, Ski. Guess it’s time to put me to bed.”
“Aye, aye, Sir,” came immediately, and Lee headed tiredly toward the spiral staircase that led up to Officers’ Country.
* * * *
there had been no immediate panic when Seaview lost contact with FS1, it still
somewhat bothered both Chip and
* * * *
Lee silently acknowledged his exhaustion as he entered his cabin. Both mental and physical. Not that he was about to admit it out loud. But he knew Kowalski had heard the heavy sigh he’d let escape as he sat on the edge of his bunk. As he started to swing his feet up, in preparation for lying back, there was a clearing of the seaman’s throat loud enough to stop the movement.
“You’ll be a lot more comfortable, Sir, and rest better,” Ski offered carefully, “if you’d let me help you out of your uniform.”
“Someone will just have to help me back into it.”
“Not a problem, Sir. And that one’s a little overdue for Laundry, anyway.”
Lee finally took the time to look down at himself, and cringed. “Point taken, Ski.” Somewhere along the line someone – and Lee was ashamed to admit he didn’t have a clue who – had brought him a fresh shirt. The one he’d been wearing had not only been badly stained by the Admiral’s blood, Frank had cut it away from the injured shoulder to keep from having to move the broken bone any more than was absolutely necessary. The slacks were the ones, however, that he’d put on the morning before, and were wrinkled and smudged. Lee also noticed flecks of blood here and there, now dried brown. With another heavy sigh he kicked off his shoes and let Kowalski help him out of the rest of his clothes and into a pair of pajama bottoms. As he returned from a quick trip to the head, Ski ducked in just a second, returning with a glass of water and pulling a small packet out of his shirt pocket. Lee scowled at him.
“Just something for the pain, Skipper. Doc gave them to me to give to you.”
“Forget it, Ski. I’ve locked horns with Doc’s so-called ‘painkillers’ before. I’ll be just fine without them.”
The seaman grinned despite the seriousness of the last two days. It was a long-standing joke on the boat among the crew that Mr. Morton was always yelling that the Skipper would still be insisting at his own funeral that he was ‘just fine’. “It’s only Ibuprofen, Sir. See?” He showed Lee the pills he’d taken from the envelope. “You should recognize these.” He realized too late how that had come out, and looked at Lee sheepishly.
“You mean, because I’ve had to take them often enough,” Lee admitted, and let Ski off the hook with a quick grin. “Hand ‘em over.” Downing the pills, he let Kowalski push back the blankets and gently eased himself onto his back. Ski settled the blankets, turned down the cabin lighting, and left quietly. Lee knew he needed to rest, no matter how badly he wanted to be elsewhere on the boat. Knew he should sleep. But also knew he wouldn’t be able to close his eyes. Every time he did yesterday’s images flooded back in, threatening to overwhelm him.
* * * *
The turbulence came without warning, neither he nor the Admiral realizing the danger they were in. Both were mildly concerned about the problems with radio transmissions. But Nelson was concentrating on trying to figure out from where and from what the interference was coming. It had gotten so strong that it was beginning to affect some of the other instruments as well, and Nelson decided he’d suit up and dive out to get some samples – they weren’t actually all that deep. Lee had set the autopilot to hover in position and had just stood up to help Nelson on with his wetsuit when, seemingly from nowhere, the small craft was hit broadside with turbulence strong enough to tumble her end over end. The underwater wave disappeared as rapidly as it had appeared, but in its wake the Flying Sub was left tipped 90 degrees on her side against a huge boulder. No lights showed through her front windows. Not even the emergency beacon had survived.
* * * *
2300, O’Brien’s quiet jabs about senior officers who had worked together so
long they started to forget their own training and take on the characteristics
of each other were hitting pretty close to home. Chip, grudgingly but still fairly
good-naturedly, took the hint. He walked
the Control Room one more time, checking instruments and Seaview’s status, then told O’Brien he’d just check in with Doc about the
Admiral before crashing for a few hours.
The lieutenant tried to smother a grin, not totally successfully, but
just nodded as Chip gave him the
thoughts were on the previous afternoon as he headed toward
were answered. With the controls being
engaged as smoothly and gently as anyone on board had ever seen or managed
before, the little yellow machine was pulled from her resting spot, slowly
righted, and pulled into her berth under Seaview’s nose. And none too soon. The docking clamps had barely settled into
place, Sharkey instantly undogging the hatch and Doc and both corpsmen dropping
down into the smaller craft, when another rogue underwater wave slammed without
warning into Seaview. As desperately as
he’d wanted to go down himself, Chip was glad he’d followed protocol and stayed
where he was. The giant submarine was
much better able to handle the turbulence than FS1, but she was still rocked
about badly, and everyone felt her aft section slam into something. Even though so much attention was focused on
what Doc was finding in FS1, Chip’s calm, confident leadership had order
restored quickly. Doc rapidly had his
two patients stabilized enough to have them transported to
least this time when he walked into
“So far, no change,” the CMO answered the unvoiced question. “Warned you it could be awhile. But at least his vital signs haven’t deteriorated, so that in itself is good news.” He gave the XO a measured look. “You, on the other hand, look like hell. Do I have to order you to stand down?”
Chip finally grinned. “Bobby already beat you to it. I’m just doing a final systems check before I crash. I’ll look in on Lee as well.”
Doc nodded. “Good. I’ve been tempted to go check on him, but figured I’d be pushing my luck. I pried him out of here with a whole lot less trouble than I was expecting.”
“Ski filled me in after he got Lee settled. That was smart thinking.”
“Had to learn to get devious, dealing with the Command staff around here,” Doc deadpanned, with a meaningful stare.
Chip chuckled, ran a hand through his short blond hair, and nodded toward where the Admiral lay. “You’ll let me know…”
“If there’s any change at all,” Doc finished the sentence. “Now scram.”
“Aye, Sir,” Chip said meekly, grinned again, and headed to finish his check.
* * * *
Lee had awakened totally disoriented, not helped at all by senses that were fuzzy at best, surrounded by darkness. Slowly his last few conscious moments aboard FS1 filtered back. “Admiral?” he called softly. No answer. “Admiral,” he tried a little louder, and reached out with both hands, trying to orient himself. Or rather, made the attempt. The instant he tried to move his left arm there was severe pain in his shoulder and a grating sensation in his collarbone. Busted for sure, Lee thought, taking a deep breath to help get himself back under control. Carefully reaching up with his right hand he found the telltale hump over the fracture site. “Admiral!” Still no response. Damn! Slowly, using his right hand, he brought his left arm down to his side and laid his forearm across his stomach, securing the hand under his belt. That was the best he could do at the moment to keep it immobile. Sitting up slowly, and fending off waves of dizziness, he went back to trying to figure out what had happened and just where in the little sub he was. And why the Admiral wouldn’t answer.
He finally realized he wasn’t totally in the dark. Almost. But there was a strangely shaped band of darkness not quite as deep as the rest to the front of where he was. The windows? But vertical, not horizontal. That would mean… Slowly Lee realized he was sitting on instrumentation, not decking. Feeling around him, he established that the craft had landed on her starboard edge. The good news was that he hadn’t been electrocuted by lying across the power control panels. Unfortunately, that meant everything was dead by the time he came to rest there. That also meant that the radio controls were at this point on the ‘ceiling’ of his dark chamber. Not that that makes a whole lot of difference at this point, since they weren’t working anyway. “Admiral,” he tried once more, but there was still no answer. At least we’re not buried. Or not totally. The windows are free. Seaview can at least see part of us.
With that thought he went back to searching around him. He had to find Nelson. He must be close. Loose objects, and Lee cringed a little to realize that’s what his and the Admiral’s bodies had become, should fall fairly close together. Any movement at all was painful, both from the broken collarbone and an increasing ache on the back of his head. Reaching up, Lee found a fair-sized knot to go with the pain but fortunately no sticky sensation of blood. Chip always says my head’s too hard to hurt. He almost giggled before realizing that the last thing he needed right now was to lose touch with reality. A deep breath, a moment to clear his mind as best as he could, and he continued his search.
The first thing Lee found was a shoe, but shaking the foot inside of it brought no response. Feeling around the ankle, Lee heaved a huge sigh when he found a pulse. Alive, he breathed, and sent upward a silent ‘Thank You’. He forced himself to work his way up the Admiral’s body slowly, checking as best he could for injuries. There didn’t seem to be any broken bones. He continued to call Nelson’s name but was met with only continued silence.
The floor decking was to Lee’s right, standing almost vertically as he worked his way up the Admiral’s body. Nelson was lying across the bottom of the instrument panels starboard of the back hatch. Think, Crane. Back hatch. Storage units. There should be a flashlight about right… Lee almost wished he hadn’t found it when he got his first look at Nelson – the Admiral’s head was a blood mess. A strangled cry escaped Lee before he once again got himself under control.
In the same storage unit was the first aid kit, and Lee did what he could to find and bandage the injury, still bleeding badly. The main impact point turned out to be fairly small, a spot over Nelson’s left ear. But there were several other smaller scratches that were still weeping. Lee had a brief memory of one of Jamie’s lectures, about not panicking over how badly most head injuries bled. It didn’t help his anxiety much. Working primarily one-handed, the bandage was not a thing of beauty. But it was helping staunch the blood flow, and Lee felt sure it would hold for now. Flashing the light up, Lee found FS1’s small bunk was right overhead. But the blankets were still snugged in firmly, and there was no way Lee could reach far enough to pull one down – the craft was just too wide, putting the bunk several feet out of his reach. He wasn’t even sure at that point if he’d be able to stand up to make the effort – the black edges closing in on his vision had nothing to do with the flashlight being the only available illumination. His ears were ringing as well. He made do with edging over to a slightly different position, where he could lay down a bit himself, and put Nelson’s head on his chest. “Everything’s going to be just fine, Admiral,” he told the still unmoving form. “Seaview will come looking if we’re out of contact for very long.”
Lee had no idea how much, or even if any, time had passed when he felt FS1 start to shift. “NO!” he screamed, thinking that the rogue turbulence that had landed them in this mess in the first place had returned and he was helpless to do anything about it. “No,” he whimpered a little quieter, wrapped his good arm around Nelson and held him against his own body, protecting the unconscious man’s head as much as he could, and prayed.
* * * *
Jamie threw Chip out of
“There’s been a bit of movement, like maybe he’s starting to come out of it.”
“Excellent. Hopefully we won’t have to med-evac him after all. I wasn’t looking forward to the jarring he’d take, no matter how careful we were.”
“Why don’t you crash, Doc? Even if it’s just in one of the bunks. You’ve been up as long as Mr. Morton and had just as much, if not more, to worry about. You really look beat.”
Jamie sent a glare his corpsman’s way, but it didn’t last long. With a sheepish grin he handed back the chart and settled into the next bunk over.
right, of course, he sighed as his head hit the pillow.
While he’d been blissfully unaware of the original communication
problems the previous day,
Jamie shuddered and rolled over to face the bulkhead. He’d grabbed the lantern and flown down the access ladder the instant Sharkey opened the hatch. As quickly as his eyes registered that both chairs were empty they started scanning the rest of the small cabin, and found what he was looking for huddled on the deck by the back hatch. There was blood drying on the side of the storage unit and it took Jamie an instant to remember FS1’s position when she’d been spotted. There was also a large bloodstain on the front of Lee’s shirt. Someone’s hurt bad, was his next thought, even as he reached the two men and heard his corpsmen charging down the ladder right behind him.
had barely had time to reach the two injured men when the deck under him rocked
and he was thrown onto his backside. He
thought he’d felt a thud from somewhere aft but, mechanical engineering not
being his specialty, he concentrated on the human kind. The next few minutes had gone by in a
blur. Jamie quickly sorted out the
injuries, assigned Frank to dealing with the Skipper, and focused his attention
on Nelson. Within minutes the aft hatch
was opened, stretchers appeared, and both casualties were on their way to
Jamie sighed heavily again. It had been a long night, and an even longer day. But at least they’d been quiet. When Nelson hadn’t shown much sign of improvement, and with Seaview limping homeward, Jamie had brought up the possibility of SAR transport. Mr. Morton had immediately set it up for the following morning. However, it was beginning to look like, just maybe, it would be safe to keep Nelson aboard. It sure would make life a lot easier for everyone, Jamie silently acknowledged, his eyes beginning to get heavy. Not to mention relieving the layer of tension that’s being felt over the entire sub. Especially the Skipper’s!
Crane had spent the night, and the first part of the
following day, dividing his time between the
* * * *
“No.” Lee struggled to keep Nelson firmly against him, trying to protect the older man from further injury. But he wasn’t having any success. In fact, suddenly he couldn’t feel Nelson’s head against his chest and he reached to find where the man had been thrown. “No,” came out again. This can’t be happening. How could I have let him go? Please? Why won’t my arms work? I can’t get either one of them to work…
“Lee. Wake up. It’s just a dream.”
“Open your eyes.”
Lee finally complied, and found himself looking up at the worried expression on Chip’s face. The blond didn’t say anything else for a bit, just let Lee focus. When he did, he discovered that Chip was sitting on the edge of his bunk, a firm grip on Lee’s right wrist with one hand, the other one pinning Lee’s right shoulder to the bunk. Lee finally sighed and gave his friend a little smile. “Don’t think I could throw you into my desk, even if I wanted to,” he said softly, in reference to another time Chip had awakened Lee from a nightmare.
“Wasn’t about to take any chances,” Chip quipped firmly, but finally smiled as well. “Okay, now?”
“Yeah.” Lee let his head relax back against the pillow, and Chip released him. “Sorry I woke you up.” Chip was dressed only in his skivvies.
“I’ll survive. Want to talk about it?”
Lee closed his eyes for a second. “The last thing I could remember was having the Admiral safe against me. Then all of a sudden FS1 was moving and I couldn’t find him…”
“Just a dream,” Chip quickly reassured his friend. “Take it easy. You’re both safe.”
“Jamie…?” Lee quickly asked, looking at Chip hopefully.
“No news so far. Means the Admiral’s not getting any worse, too, you know.” He watched as Lee closed his eyes again, not saying anything for a bit. “Lee?”
“I think…” Lee didn’t finish the thought, just opened his eyes and looked at Chip.
“What?” When Lee still didn’t answer, Chip laid a hand gently on his friend’s arm. “Talk to me, buddy.”
“Not sure. Just an impression I have. Everything happened so fast.”
“Come on, spit it out, boy,” Chip teased with a grin.
Lee looked at him seriously. “I think, part of the reason I’m safe…”
“Yeah, yeah…” Chip goaded gently.
“When we were hit by the turbulence, I’d just gotten up and was headed back to help the Admiral.”
“So you told me.”
“So, I was facing away from the window. Never saw or felt a thing until it was too late. He was facing me – facing toward the window. I have this feeling…not sure…that the Admiral grabbed me just as the turbulence hit…made sure he fell under me, cushioning me.” Lee shook his head. “I don’t know…”
Chip grinned down at him. “Give the two of you something to talk about once he wakes up,” he said lightly.
Lee shook his head again. “He’d never admit it. Even if he did do it. He’d just say…”
Chip chuckled. “So? If your positions had been reversed, would you admit to him you’d thrown yourself in the path of danger to protect him?”
Lee cringed. “Been there, done that. He’d have my head – again!”
Chip chuckled at his friend. He could think of a number of occasions when Nelson had reamed out his impetuous young Captain for ignoring his own safety to save others. No sense beating that dead horse. You about ready to go back to sleep?”
“Good.” Chip pulled the blankets up that Lee finally realized he’d kicked away, and settled them in place. “Need anything else?”
“Will let us know immediately if there’s the slightest change. You know that.”
“Guess so,” Lee admitted.
Chip smiled indulgently. “I know. I’m worried, too. Doesn’t help the Admiral.”
“Go to sleep,” Chip ordered. They both grinned, and Chip left.
But Lee couldn’t settle back enough to close his
eyes. He tried. But it was no use, and he finally eased
himself up and off the bunk, trying hard to be quiet enough not to again
disturb Chip next door. Noting it was
just after 0230 he sat at his desk for awhile, hoping he could get the uneasy
feeling that had suddenly gripped him to go away. But instead it only got worse, and Lee
finally grabbed his bathrobe and headed for
“Yes,” the corpsman confirmed quietly, “the coma seems to be lightening.”
“To let you know about any change,” John cut off the complaint gently. “This is nothing more than wishful thinking.”
Lee frowned but returned his gaze to his fallen boss and friend, and worked on the coffee as John checked the monitors before returning to the office.
Over the next hour Lee noticed several more of the little twitches, almost as if the Admiral were having a pleasant dream. John came out to check every ten minutes or so, and Lee got so used to his silent monitoring of the Admiral’s condition that when steps came again he didn’t look up until a hand settled on his good shoulder.
“Thought I got rid of you for a few hours,” Jamie said softly.
“It’s been a few hours,” Lee defended himself, but gave the doctor a sheepish grin.
“Figured I’d find you here,” came a grumble from the doorway to the corridor, and both men looked up to find Chip standing there, like Lee in his robe. He looked at Jamie. “Sorry, Doc. Got up to check on him and he’d flown the coop.”
The CMO just shrugged. “I’m a little surprised he stayed away this long,” came the philosophical reply.
“I’m fine,” Lee growled.
“Yeah, right,” Chip continued to grumble, and walked over. “Come on, Houdini.”
“Look, Lee,” Chip cut him off. “While you might be fine, and I could debate that ‘til we’re both blue in the face, I’m perfectly willing to admit that I need a few more hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get it unless I know you’re getting some as well. Okay?”
Whatever Lee would have said was interrupted by a slurred mutter from the bunk. “You still sniping…damn poker game.”
“Admiral!” Lee almost yelled, whipping his head around and practically falling forward off the chair. Jamie immediately started checking his bedridden patient, and Lee felt Chip’s hand gripping his shoulder so hard it hurt. Lee decided he didn’t care.
“Welcome back,” Jamie told the Admiral with a grin. “Finally decided to rejoin us, did you? And no, they’ve found other topics to natter at each other about besides the poker game.”
“About time,” Nelson muttered. Lee noticed his eyes still didn’t totally want to stay open, but he was apparently coherent enough to pick up on what Jamie had said. “I went somewhere?”
There was a snort from Chip, and Lee and Jamie just grinned. “Doesn’t matter for right now,” Jamie told Nelson. “How about I send them both to their rooms, and you go back to sleep for awhile.”
Nelson grunted, and half-turned toward the bulkhead. “Good officers…little boys…”
Jamie grinned at the sheepish expressions on both younger men’s faces. “Have my eye on them, Admiral,” he said in mock seriousness.
“Someone has too…” Whatever else Nelson might have said was lost in a mumble, and the others watched as he fell into a peaceful sleep.
Jamie tucked the blankets in a bit more snuggly, then turned to face the other two men, crossing his arms over his chest.
“What?” Lee asked innocently.
“Cone on, junior,” Chip told Lee. “We make a liar out of Doc after he promised the Admiral we’d crash, you ain’t going to like the consequences.”
“Got that right,” Jamie said with a glare. He was actually able to hold it until the younger men were out the door before it burst with a snort, and he chuckled easily. “Never a dull moment around here,” he said lightly to John, who’d been watching the whole thing from the doorway into Jamie’s office. “Nice to have things back to normal.” He and the corpsman shared a grin. John turned back into the office, and Jamie gave Nelson a glance before lying back down on the adjacent rack. Yep. Nice to have everyone back.
SAR – Search and Rescue
HIRF – Helicopter-in-flight-refueling