Why did it feel like there was a midget in my head with a hammer trying to bang his way out? Maybe if I just lay perfectly still it would go away and leave me in peace. The way I felt, maybe that should have been pieces? I could tell just by the angle I was laying that I wasn't in my cabin. Since I wasn't in my cabin, I could only be in Sickbay. Oh joy.
I knew Lee was waiting for me to come to. Kinda like I knew the sun would rise in the east and set in the west. I could almost see in him the chair on my right hand side, his arms crossed over his chest, those long legs stretched out in front of him. I prized open one eye and rolled it over in his direction. There he was, arms folded over his chest and those long legs stretched out in front of him. He saw me looking up at him and grinned.
"About time. I thought you were gonna sleep all day," Lee replied with his usual cheerfulness. I would have frowned but the drummer in my head picked up the pace.
"Oh, yeah? Next time you get to crash head first into the periscope island," I said, none too sourly. I reached up to the left side of my head, feeling of the thick gauze taped there. That explained the headache.
"Before or after colliding with the plot table?" Lee asked with a raised eyebrow.
"That explains why my ribs feel so sore. Any thing broken?" I asked.
Lee shook his head. "You're sporting some nice bruises. Not as impressive as some of mine, but colorful."
"We're comparing injuries now? How about you crawl into a bunk and show me how it's done then?" I closed my eyes against the glare of the Sickbay lights.
"No thanks. I've done my share of time in here. Don't want to be a hog, now do I?" Lee replied, way too smugly to suit me.
"That's Lee Crane for you, always being generous." I cracked one eye to watch Lee's reaction.
"A little gratitude is in order, I practically carried you down here." Lee stopped, and I saw a shadow cross over his golden eyes. Something was bothering him.
"Lee, what is it?" I asked. He was either going to ignore me and change the subject or he might actually tell me what was going on under that curly black head of his. I was surprised when he closed his eyes, leaned back in the chair, and heaved a deep long breath.
"Chip, you scared the crap out of me. Seaview finally settled down and when I looked around, you were under the stairwell, of all places. The whole left side of your head was covered in blood. Chip, I thought you were dead. For crying out loud, don't ever do that to me again."
I saw Lee suppress a shiver and something occurred to me that I had never considered before. I sat by Lee's side far more times than he had sat by mine. Yet he was always there, waiting for me to claw my way back to the land of the living. What was it like for him, to watch and wait for me? Did he ever have that fear that his best friend would never open his eyes, never stand by his side again?
I've known Lee Crane for nearly fifteen years. I thought I knew him as well as a friend could know another. But now, watching the shadows cross over my brother-in-spirit's eyes, I had to wonder if I really knew Lee. "Now you're standing in my shoes," I said softly. Lee turned that golden gaze on me and we locked eyes for a few long seconds.
"I don't like the view very much. How do you deal with it?" Lee asked in a voice barely above a whisper, those eyes taking on a lost look.
How do I answer that? That sometimes I don't handle it very well. That sometimes I lay wake at night when he's missed the check in time or when he's lying in Sickbay, drugged to the gills because the pain factor had to be off the scale, wondering if he's going to pull through. "By watching and waiting, and hoping you know I'm there. I'm your friend. I'm there when you need me."
Then Lee did something not even I counted on. He opened up and spilled his worries to me. I must have really scared him. "Chip, I need you. By my side, watching my back. You're the reason I can leave the boat. I know she'll be in good hands. I don't think I can face the day when I turn around and you're not there. Loosing your or the admiral, it would be like loosing my right arm. Something about seeing you, on the deck, bleeding like that, it just ripped something up inside of me. I've been sitting here for the past forty-five minutes, just counting each breath until you came to."
See? Just when you think you know a guy... I reached out a hand and Lee, out of reflex, took mine in his.
"I don't plan on checking out anytime soon. Who's gonna loan you ten dollars on a Saturday night?" I asked, falling back on that tired old joke.
Lee smiled at me, and I saw the shadows and some of the worry fade. Something still flickered behind his eyes. But that was Lee for you. He never stopped worrying about his crew and his boat. His grip tightened on my hand. “I'm holding you to that, pal," he replied lightly.
"You watch my back, I watch yours?" I suggested.
"Sounds like a plan, Mr. Morton. Now, go back to sleep before Jamie comes back in and tans my hide for keeping you from getting some rest. I'll check back when the watch is up. That's an order."
I closed my eyes, and let out a deep breath, feeling my injuries catching up with me. "Aye aye, skipper," I said quietly. I felt Lee's hand on my shoulder and heard him say very quietly as his footsteps rounded the corner.
"You watch my back, and I'll watch yours."