"...Of All The Times Of The Year..."
"Címon, Lee, Momíll have my hide if she doesnít see for herself that youíre okay..." Chip Morton whined at his friend and Captain, whilst grabbing a hold of an arm and dragging Lee forward.
Lee Crane simply arched an eyebrow at his friend.
Chip frowned. "What?" he indignantly asked.
"Are you whining, Chip?" Lee asked and then immediately laughed out loud at the blustered, coughing and spluttering reply he received from his exec. "I... I guess you are..." he managed to splutter himself between each guffaw of laughter.
Chip stood stock-still and thrust his hands onto his hips. "I... am... not!" he stated emphatically. But then his shoulders sagged a little and he added, "Itís just, you donít know what Iíve had to go through Lee. I mean, sometimes I think Mom loves you, more than she does her own son."
Lee chuckled a little more when the whine intensified, but the serious look, behind the frown that was coming from Chip, stopped him. "Youíre serious, arenít you?" he eventually asked.
Chip just shrugged his shoulders.
Lee felt the heat of ire suffuse his cheeks, which caused him to straighten and adopt his own stance of annoyance. "Do you know just how ridiculous that sounds, Chip?" he remonstrated at his friend.
Again Chip shrugged his shoulders, "Not so ridiculous Lee," he muttered, "You donít remember the last but one ONI mission you went on. Well, some of it you do, but I remember all of it and I remember Momís reaction when you came back from it." He internally winced, hurt at the image that came to him.
Lee shook his head with a frown of puzzlement.
Chip sighed and then started to explain... the whine completely gone, unlike the hurt he felt. "There I was, her only son, standing in front of her, with my arm in a sling and a cut above my eye and a bruise there as well, telling her not to worry, that I was okay. Well... she was okay with that, but the moment I told her about you and about what had happened, we were packing and getting ready to visit before I even had a chance to finish the story."
Lee started to chuckle again.
Chip turned away from Lee, but stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. He looked at Lee, though was still unable to keep the hurt from showing.
Lee immediately apologized but quickly added, "And you donít remember the last mission Seaview had to go on. There I stood in front of your Mom, telling her not to worry, that I was okay. Oh, she was okay with that, but as soon as I told her about you and what had happened, she was packing before I had even had the chance to finish the story."
Chip blinked at Lee, but a lazy smile of embarrassment had already moved the edges of his lips upwards. He slowly shook his head as he looked to his feet and then mumbled an apology.
Lee placed a hand to his ear, with a smirk on his lips, and said, "Sorry, Chip, but I guess the flack that I constantly get from you has finally rendered me deaf. Couldnít hear a word you said just then, buddy."
Chip looked him directly in the eye, a steely blue look of annoyance, and succinctly said, "I said that I was sorry, Lee..."
Lee clapped a hand on Chipís shoulder and started to laugh again. "Hey," he said, "is it my fault your Mom has adopted me as her other son?"
Chip chuckled with him and replied, "I guess not, but I get first dibs on being her son."
Which caused Lee to laugh even louder. As the spurts of laughter began to dissipate, Lee finally squeezed his friendís shoulder and said, "Donít you think itís time to get inside, Chip? You did say that your Mom was anxious to see me."
"Sheesh, Lee, you were the one dragging your heels in the first place," Chip indignantly replied.
Lee shrugged and said, "Well Iím not now."
Chip sighed, but nevertheless raised a hand and knocked on the door in front of them. He felt a soothing flush of heat caress his face and the aroma of turkey and all the dressings assault his nose the moment the door opened. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath of appreciation.
"Well," a female voice suddenly announced, "itís about time you two made your presence be known to us. Weíre the ones that had to patiently sit inside listening to you two argue over something or other."
Chipís eyes flew open, and when he saw his mother standing there in front of him and Lee, his cheeks immediately reddened at the subject of what he and Lee had been discussing.
"And you might well look embarrassed, Charles Philip Morton," his mother exclaimed. She then turned away from her son and looked Lee up and down. Her face lit up with a grin that grew and she said on an exhalation of breath, "Well, Lee, my adoptive son, you look far better than what I had been led to believe."
"I told you he was fine, Mom," Chip suddenly spluttered in response to the accusation.
"And how many times have you said the same, Chip, only to have Lee turn up with God knows how many differing injuries? Hmm?" Chipís mother immediately countered with as she adopted a stance that was very much the same as Chipís when he was trying to make a point.
"Are you lot going to spend the Christmas break chin-wagging out on the doorstep, or are you actually coming inside for a while?" a deep resonant male voice called from inside. "Cos," it continued in a slightly admonishing tone, "if youíre gonna spend it outside, would you mind closing the door? Youíre letting the cold in."
Chipís mother chuckled, then half turned in the doorway and held out an arm of invitation to both Chip and Lee.
Lee and Chip looked at each other, also chuckled and then took a step in at the same time, only stopping when each of their shoulders banged against the doorjamb. They looked at each other, trying very hard to stop the smiles that were forcing themselves to the surface, took a step back and held out an arm of invitation in front of them.
"After you, Lee," Chip muttered.
Lee shook his head and said, "No, after you, Chip."
Chip started to chuckle, but still managed to say, "No... after you Lee."
Lee joined in with the chuckle and replied, "No, no, by all means, you should go first, Chip. First dibs and all that."
Suddenly they shot forward as Chipís mother grabbed each one of their arms and pulled.
Chip just managed to shift sideways before his shoulder could painfully make contact with the doorjamb. Lee did the same until they bumped chests and then the walls either side of them. Both, however, then bent a little forward and started to laugh.
Chipís mother shook her head and closed the door behind them. "Boys," she muttered reproachfully, but not without a grin of her own and a twinkle in her eye.
As he reached the threshold of the front living room, Chip took another breath in. It wasnít just for the appreciation of the aromas that surrounded him, but also in appreciation of the family that he had and the love they did not find too awkward to express. This time, of all the times throughout the year, was his favorite and it meant even more to him when Lee could spend it with him and his family. Even though there was Thanksgiving, this time of year was like all those holidays rolled into one. To be thankful, to be happy, to have Peace and to spread Goodwill to others. All of it rolled into one.
He looked at Lee and was thankful for their friendship. Heíd never admitted this to anyone before and wouldnít ever do so, but he missed his family when he was on a mission with Seaview. Lee somehow alleviated that sense of loss. He was a Brother he had never had and a friend that he knew he could never do without.
He looked to his father and mother and instantly felt his love for them both grow. They were, at this precise moment in time, hugging each other and laughing together over something. He grinned and felt something of a wanting the same love he saw for each other come and find him. It wasnít a painful longing, for he believed that such a lady existed and was also waiting for him to come and discover her. It would just take time... that was all.
All of a sudden a squeal intruded his thoughts and he instantly looked to the stairs from where it had come. There, standing on the last but one stair was his sister, another adoptee, though in the real sense, fourteen, hair in bunches and braces on her teeth with a wide grin on her face. "Maggie!" he exclaimed and took the required steps towards her.
She jumped from the step straight into his arms.
He caught her and severely staggered with the momentum of her bodyweight, but he firmly planted his feet and hugged her back. "Howís my little sweet-pea then?" he asked as he planted a kiss on the tip of her nose.
"Sweet-pea?" Maggie exclaimed with obvious disgust, "Iím much too old for such a childish name," she added with an indignant air.
Chip chuckled and said, "Says the one that still gets a hug and a carry from her big Brother."
Maggie giggled at that, then squirmed until her feet were firmly planted back on the ground. She looked around Chip and suddenly exclaimed, "Lee!" She ran around Chip and made a beeline for her brotherís friend.
Chip shook his head at first and sighed, but at the sudden surprised look on his friendís face, he began to chuckle. Then the thought of Leeís injury to his side suddenly had him shouting, "No jumping, Maggie!"
This stopped Maggie in her tracks and had her turning towards him. It also brought a severe look of suspicion from his mother. He sighed and rubbed at his forehead. "Damn!" he muttered. He looked up at Lee and wasnít surprised to see the look of consternation coming from him. "Damn!" he muttered again. However, before he had the chance to apologize to his friend, he watched as his mother left his dadís side and gently shepherded Lee to the couch. The look of consternation grew in intensity from Lee.
"Mom," Chip sighed and whined at the same time, "Leeís fine. He just canít carry anything, thatís all," he protested on behalf of his friend.
"Let me be the judge of that, Charles Philip Morton," Chipís mother growled back at him. She then turned her attention back to Lee and followed him down to sit on the couch. "I want to hear all about it, Lee."
Lee diverted his look from Chip and shrugged at his friendís mother. "Thereís not a lot to tell, to be truthful, Mrs. Morton," he quietly admitted.
"Two things, Lee Crane," Chipís mother stated, whilst holding up a ĎVí sign with her fingers. "First thing is that you can call me either ĎMomí or ĎGwení, but please, please donít call me ĎMrs. Mortoní.
Lee chuckled and replied, "Okay, Mom..."
"Good..." Gwen stated with a smile and then added, "And the second thing is... something is better than nothing. So spill, my boy."
Lee looked to Chip, but found himself forced to look back at Gwen when her hand went to his chin and pulled.
"I could always ask Chip," she said, "but at least this way you can leave out what you want."
Chip sighed and moved to a chair opposite his mother and Lee on the couch. He was not looking forward to this. He thought he caused his mother enough worry, without her having to hear the gory details. He hoped with where he was positioned that he could silently caution his friend, if he was getting to something he thought would cause more worry in his mother.
Lee sighed and began to tell.
Chip stood in front of Lee Crane, blocking his only escape from his cabin. "You are not leaving without me!" he stated unequivocally.
"Chip, keep your voice down will you. The whole crewíll hear you." Lee admonished his friend.
"Do you know what, Lee Crane, I donít give a damn if the crew *can* hear me. You are *not* leaving here without me!"
Lee Crane looked at his friend. The anger he was obviously displaying was fused in the red of his cheeks and the deep breaths he was taking. He sighed. He could *try* and force his way past his friend, but heíd felt on more than one occasion just how bruising that attempt can be. He sighed again as another pointless thought entered his brain. He could try and *talk* Chip around. He sighed again with finality this time, as he realized that nothing on earth was going to move his friend from his cabin door. Nothing, other than agreeing to let his friend come along with him. Still, he knew the dangers of this mission and did not what to put his friend in the firing line without some sort of resistance.
It was this thought that had him saying, "Look Chip, Seaview needs her exec."
"What Seaview *needs* Lee," Chip hotly interrupted, "is her *Captain*, but her *Captain* is more adamant to go and get himself *hurt* again."
Lee started to chuckle and he turned to face Gwen. "Your son, who happens to be my best friend, can be pretty persuasive at times, Mom."
Gwen nodded, but also said, "Heís also very good at delaying the inevitable. I wonder who he learnt that from?"
Lee had the good grace to look embarrassed... then he looked at Chip.
Chip shrugged his shoulders and though he too was regretting this, he added, "Might as well get it over with, Lee. Mom wonít let you alone until you do," he warned.
Lee frowned, mouthed word Ďthanksí, though he was far from grateful, then turned back to Gwen and continued on.
"All right, Chip," Lee growled, "but this is an ONI mission, not Seaviewís. It is an ONI mission that I am fully acquainted with, so any dangers that come our way, you let *me* deal with them. Okay?"
"Weíll deal with them together." Chip obstinately replied.
"Uh-uh, sorry Chip, but the only way you get to come along is by coming on *my* terms," Lee stated. He heard his friend sigh and knew there and then that he had won... sort of. He hadnít completely won because Chip was still coming along, but heíd won to some degree because he knew that his friend wouldnít be in the firing line.
Gwen started to laugh, which halted Leeís telling of the tale. He looked at her with a frown of puzzlement.
Gwen first smiled at Lee, then turned to her son and said, "I bet you didnít keep to it, did you son?"
It was Chipís turn to look embarrassed and he did to the full effect of a reddening in his cheeks and a short sharp burst of a cough. "Well, no..." he finally admitted, "but it was all right, Mom."
"Mm-hmm," Gwen hummed with disbelief, "Iíll believe that when I hear it." And with that said, she pointedly looked at Lee.
Lee actually gulped at the look. Now heíd done it. Piggy-in-the-middle from the wrath of his of his best friend, to the wrath of the mother of his best friend. He feared the wrath of his best friendís mother more, but he didnít want to scare her or make her worry when Chip was away on a mission with Seaview, so he watered down the rest of the tale.
Chip was in the middle of telling him all about the latest care-package heíd received from his Mom, when someone moving behind them caught his eye. His attention was immediately drawn away from Chip and onto the man that suddenly nodded to his left, towards a door that led to the back of the bar both he and Chip were seated in. Lee interrupted Chip with a nudge on the arm. He leant a little forward and whispered, "Okay, Chip, our man has arrived. Any trouble and you take his package and get the hell out of here. Okay?"
"Donít you dare disobey me, mister," Lee warned Chip through gritted teeth, "or Iíll have your hide and your hands cleaning the deck with a toothbrush for as long as you stay aboard Seaview."
"All right, Lee," Chip whispered through his own gritted teeth, "but you gotta get *back* first before you can do that to me."
"Oh Iíll get back, Chip," Lee quietly promised, "and if youíve put yourself in any sort of danger before such a time, you *will* be scrubbing the deck. Do I make myself clear?"
Chip simply harrumphed at that, then made to stand. He stopped when a hand went to his arm. He looked at Lee with a frown of puzzlement.
"I mean it, Chip..."
Chip sighed, "I know, Lee, I know..." He then looked to the door and said, "Can we just get this over with?"
Lee followed his gaze and nodded. "Címon then..."
They both then stood and made their way to the door where the man had disappeared behind. Chip went to go first, but Lee pulled him back, placed a finger to his lips and then pointed to his chest and then Chipís. He accompanied this with a mouthed, ĎMe first, then you.í
Chip sighed, but reluctantly nodded.
Lee smiled at his friend, patted his arm and then slowly opened the door. He immediately saw their contact on the other side of the courtyard, pacing left to right in a quick two-step. He briefly looked back into the room and nodded at Chip, before he took a step outside. Lee suddenly felt himself flying sideways and landing on a hard cement ground.
He heard Chip yell his name and then a flurry of movement in the doorway. He heard several grunts before the pain of a punch to his stomach took all his attention. Still, above the pain was the thought of how he was going to make Chip pay for disobeying his orders. He felt another punch make contact. He blindly raised his hands in protection and then threw a punch of his own. Despite the sudden shock of pain that accompanied his fist making contact, Lee also felt the pleasure of actually making contact. Then he was free of whoever had taken him to the ground. He quickly stood and looked to the doorway.
Chip was amongst two of them, but was holding his own. He saw his friend kick the man in front of him away and then throw the other over his shoulder. Lee silently cheered his friend, then turned his attention to the man who had jumped him. He threw a punch before he had thought about it, but missed. He threw another, this time landing solidly on the manís chin.
A sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and when he looked, their contact was trying to find his way through the fighting that was occurring. He yelled to Chip and indicated with his head their contact. He briefly had the chance to watch his friend knock one of his attackerís unconscious and then make his way to their contact, before his own attacker grabbed him roughly around the shoulders.
Lee wriggled a moment before he bent slightly forward. The moment he felt his attackers body fall forward with his movement, he threw him over his shoulder. He watched the man stand, shaking his head; the fall didnít appear to have had any affect on his attacker. Lee started to circle the man, his hands raised in front of him. He suddenly heard Chip call his name, full of fear and panic, that sent a tendril of fear shooting up his own spine. He turned in time to see a fleeting glimpse of someone lunging at him. He sidestepped the lunge but not without feeling something slice into him.
He fell away and clutched his side. He looked up to see Chip lunging after the man then punch him unconscious. He then saw his friend turn to him triumphant with a grin and hold up the package that they had come for. Lee chuckled and then started to make his way out of the courtyard. He accepted Chipís help and soon they were back on the flying sub and on their way back to Seaview.
"So," Lee concluded with a chuckle, "not much to tell, Mom, other than the embarrassment of having Chip save my bacon... again..." At that point he looked at Chip and smiled.
Chip looked back at his friend, his heart full to the brim with gratefulness. What Lee had omitted from the tale was that when heíd been attacked by two of the men, it had been Lee who had saved him and not the way Lee had described. And when heíd held up the package, heíd been attacked from behind and knocked unconscious. His hand automatically went to the bump that still adorned the back of his head and he briefly winced. ĎOne dayí, he silently vowed, Ďwhen there are no more missions for me aboard Seaview or any other sub, no more times for Mom to worry, Iím gonna tell her the truth of these stories that Lee tells.í
But for now, Chip rose from the chair and disappeared in the kitchen. His Mom soon joined him. He turned to her and smiled, "You checking I donít scoff any of these treats youíve got cooking, Mom?" he chuckled at her.
Gwen looked up at her son and chuckled along with him. "Well," she admitted, "it would be as good-a reason as any, but itís not why Iím here, son."
"Oh?" Chip frowned.
"Is Lee really all right, Chip?" she asked a little tentatively.
Chip placed an arm around her shoulders, gave her a quick hug and said, "Heís fine, Mom... really..." he doubly assured her.
"And you, son?" she quickly added, "Are you okay?"
"Iím fine too, Mom," he quickly added, but the way his mother was looking at him, he thought that maybe heíd answered a little too quickly.
Gwen frowned at her son, then raised a hand and tentatively touched the back of his head. The moment it shot forward a little, she knew. She sighed and dropped her hand. She again looked up at her son and said, "I understand why Lee didnít tell the whole story, Chip, and Iím very grateful, but regardless of what he does or doesnít tell me I am still going to worry."
Chip sighed with regret.
Gwen continued on, "I would feel a whole lot happier if you simply told me the truth. I donít think I would worry as much."
Chip shrugged and gave her a half-hearted smile in return. "Iím sorry, Mom," he eventually whispered.
Gwen frowned this time, "For what?" she asked.
"For making you go through this," Chip quietly admitted and just as quietly added, "I wish that I had some other job where it wouldnít cause you to worry so much."
"Now you listen here, Charles Philip Morton," Gwen softly admonished, "I wouldnít have it any other way."
"No buts, son..." Gwen interrupted him and quickly added, "You are doing a job that you love. You are doing good with the job that you love to do and..." she added with certainty, "Iíll survive the worry."
Chip looked down at his Mother and smiled. His heart bloomed with the love he felt for her and he gave her a heartfelt hug. "Thanks," he whispered, his voice catching a little with emotion.
Gwen returned the ferocity of his hug, chuckled and whispered back, "You are more than welcome, son. And as for my loving Lee, more than you? He will never take the place of you, son. No one could."
Gwen chuckled at him and added, "Itís just that Lee Crane needs looking after and whilst you can do that for him on Seaview, I can do it here when he comes home from horrible things such as an ONI mission."
Chip looked at his Mother, took a deep breath in and exhaled with contentment. "Shall we rejoin the group?" he asked on the exhalation.
Gwen nodded and started to move off.
Chip quickly turned away from her and snagged a Chocolate Chip Cookie that was lying to rest on the side. He snatched his hand back when his motherís slapped his, but still managed to keep a hold of the cookie. He stuffed it whole in his mouth, before it could be snatched from his hand, and then grinned and chuckled at his mother around it.
Gwen sighed, "I knew it," she admonished her son, but quickly joined in with his laughter. She shook her head, linked arms with him and led her son into the front living room.
Chip chomped on the cookie; his eyes half-closed in rapture with the glorious taste. He was still chewing when his father asked him to make a toast. He quickly finished whatever was left in his mouth and took a sip of the drink to wash away the remains of the cookie, then turned to his family and best friend and started to make the requested toast.
He coughed once, in a good imitation of Admiral Nelson, which caused a chuckle from Lee, then he began. "Another year gone by. Another year fraught with power driven struggles. But itís this, family and friends that are with me that keep alive the hope of something better. It is family and friends and others, like the Admiral, that keep alive all the hopes and wishes that make me who I am." He held his glass a little higher and with a smile he finished with, "God bless you all..."
As a cheer filled the room, along with merriment and the clinking of glasses, outside a crisp white snow softly fluttered to the ground and gently settled on this earth.