This is a stand-alone story that follows the events of “The Saboteur.”
Where Hope Lies
Lee Crane sat on the back deck, a half empty beer dangling from his right hand as he stared into the sea. The sun was slowly setting, casting the sky in shades of red, yellow and purple. He drew the bottle up to his lips and took another short swig, ignoring the twinge of stiff and sore muscles. He was still recovering from a gunshot wound - the end result of having been brainwashed and trying to kill his friend and commanding officer, Admiral Harriman Nelson.
Lee still carried a load of guilt over that incident. Nearly four weeks ago he had tried shoot the man he most looked up to, a man he respected above all others. Nelson didn't seem to hold anything against him but Lee still felt responsible. He should have been able to resist the conditioning. He had been broken, despite his training by ONI. He had tried to shoot Nelson and had tried to set his best friend up as a spy.
Lee took another swig, swirling the contents of the bottle around as he focused on nothing. Jamie had him on medical leave with orders to simply rest until he declared Lee fit for duty. That didn’t sit well with Seaview’s very active skipper. He liked to be out and doing things, but Jamie was adamant. If the doctor even caught a whiff of Lee's aftershave around either Lee's office or Seaview, then Jamieson had promised he'd stick him in Med Bay so fast, the young skipper wouldn’t know what hit him. Not willing to test the validity of Jamie's threat, Lee had acquiesced and promised to relax at home.
So Lee was self-exiled to his condo, watching the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Better home than Sickbay, at least here he had his own bed and he didn't have to answer the phone if he didn't want to. But with nothing to occupy his mind, Lee kept brooding about the last mission and the secret orders he kept getting, that last order to kill Nelson.
Kill Nelson. That’s what the message had said. If it hadn't been for Forrester…Lee suppressed a shudder, trying to block the image in his head, the memory of trying to fight the orders he was compelled to follow, even as he took aim at the admiral. He could still hear the sound of the gunshot, the searing white-hot fire as the bullet slammed into his shoulder, knocking him to the deck. The next few days after that were just a jumble of confusing sounds and images. When he came to with all his senses, it was Nelson sitting by his side.
Unable to stand still, Crane rose to his feet and crossed the expanse on the deck to lean against the banister. Nelson said he didn't blame him—that he wasn't in control of himself. If that was the case, then why hadn't the admiral called or checked up on him? It wasn't like Nelson to not stop by. It was like the admiral was avoiding him. Maybe this whole thing had finally made Nelson see what a liability Crane was.
That was how Lee felt. That he was a liability, untrustworthy, damaged goods somehow. Broken and warped. Was he fit for command? Was he still worthy of the admiral's trust? Unable to stop the chain of thoughts in his head, Lee simply stared out over the expanse of beach below his condo.
That's when Lee saw her.
A woman dressed in a full-length black dress with long sleeves and a fringed shawl was walking along the water's edge. The wind caught the tendrils of her long dark hair, blowing it wildly as she walked toward the surf. Lee watched with growing apprehension as she walked closer and closer to the incoming waves. The seawater rushed around her feet but oddly it didn’t seem to faze her. She walked assuredly into the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Lee dropped the bottle and bolted over the banister, half running, half sliding down the hillside. He hit the beach, his thin-soled shoes digging into the sand as he sprinted after the strange woman. She was up to her waist in the surf now and walking deeper into the water. Lee plowed in after her and when he was far enough out, arched his lean body and dove into the waves.
Lee knew it was a mistake when he came up for air for the first time. His shoulder spasmed against the sudden demands placed on it and in his already weakened state it was difficult to fight the current. He glanced around, trying to keep his head above water, looking for the women he was trying to rescue, but there was no sign of her.
The current snatched at Lee like a living thing, pulling him out to sea. He was hopelessly caught up in a riptide. He floundered in the surf, trying to make his way back to shore but the current had him and wasn't giving him up. Lee felt his head dip below the waves and the darkness closed in on him.
Harriman Nelson ground out the spent cigarette and stood, the better to pace the length of his spacious office. The events of the last four weeks still weighed heavily on his mind. He should have seen Lee wasn't himself, he should have noticed something wasn't quite right. Instead of being supportive and trying to ferret out what was going on with his captain, what had he done? Slapped Lee across the face like he was some adolescent child who'd been caught mouthing back to his elders. Told him to get a hold of himself. Lee hadn't even been in command of his own senses, having been brainwashed by a foreign power, and Harry had been too caught up in the project to realize something was wrong with his friend.
It had been a week since Nelson had seen or spoken to Lee. Harry was trying to give Lee some space, thinking that maybe Lee needed time to work through the residual effects of the brainwashing. Will had suggested that it might be hard for Lee to face Nelson right now. He would be feeling a lot of guilt that he needed to work through before he would be able to go back to active duty.
But how much longer could Nelson stay away from the one person he had felt such a connection with? Lee was more than his captain. Lee was more than just his friend. Lee Crane was the son Harry never expected to have. Lee was only human, there were limits what the human mind and body were capable of tolerating under torture. Lee needed to know for certain that Nelson didn't blame him for what happened. With that final thought, Nelson grabbed up his jacket and shrugged into it, heading for the door. He had to see Lee. He couldn't sit back and let his friend fight through this alone.
Nelson parked his car in the drive and got out, eyes searching the house for any sign of life. Forgoing the front door that no one ever used, Nelson walked around back to the deck. He spared a quick peek through the garage windows as he passed, spying Lee’s red Cobra inside. At least he was home. Harry climbed the back steps onto the wide deck, only to find it empty. He had expected to find Lee there, watching the sea. The sliding back door was opened and Nelson slowly moved inside.
“Lee? Lee, it’s Nelson,” he called out, but got no answer. He went though all the rooms downstairs and when that search produced nothing he moved upstairs. Lee's guest bedroom was empty as was Lee's own room. Still puzzled, Nelson dug his cell phone out from his jacket pocket and dialed a number.
“Yes, Chip. Ah, have you seen Lee? I came over to talk with him and he's not home. His car's still in the garage, but there's no sign of him in the house,” Nelson said, walking across the floor of Lee's bedroom to the big bay windows that looked out over the back of the house, down to the beach and the sea itself. A dark figure struggled against the current and Harry felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.
“Wait, I think I've found him! Call Will and get him up here as soon as possible! No, I haven't got time for that now!”
Nelson dropped the phone on the dresser and ran out of the bedroom, flying down the stairs. He threw himself out the back door and off the deck, racing toward the beach. He peeled out of his jacket, dropped it to the sand and then Nelson dove into the ocean.
Nelson was horrified when Lee's head disappeared under the waves and did not resurface. Harry jackknifed down after Crane, searching franticly for him in the murky surf, finally spotting a weakly struggling form. Nelson made a grab for him, his fingers closing around the collar of Lee’s shirt and he tugged. With arm around Lee's narrow waist, Nelson kicked hard, parallel against the pull of the current and swam for the shore, pulling Lee's now limp body along with him, making for the beach.
Harry dragged Lee's unresponsive form up onto the shore, his heart pounding at Crane's lack of color and lack of reaction. Nelson laid Crane's body down on the sand and began pounding on Lee's chest, pleading with the younger man. “Come on, son, breathe for me. I need you to breathe for me.”
Crane suddenly coughed and gagged, seawater spewing from his lips. Lee gasped for air and Nelson held him up as the younger man coughed and shook, gasping for badly needed oxygen. Glazed, golden eyes looked up into Harry's as Lee struggled for breath.
“Admiral?” Lee rasped, reaching out for Nelson's shoulder. Nelson grabbed Lee's hand in a tight grip of his own.
“Easy lad, you've had a busy day. Just take it easy,” Nelson said calmly, hoping Lee trusted him enough to listen.
Lee seemed to relax but he was still shaking badly. “Did you see her?” Lee managed. Nelson pulled the young man closer, hooking an arm under Lee's shoulders to lift him off the sand. Harry spied his forgotten jacket, just within arm’s reach. With a free hand, he snagged the jacket and draped it around Lee’s shoulders, trying to will some warmth into the younger man’s shivering form. The water wasn’t that cold, why was Lee shivering so badly?
“See who? Lee, there was no one out there but you. What the devil were you doing out there? You know the currents off this beach are tricky at best,” said Nelson. He didn’t mention that this stretch of beach was also deadly. Six men had drowned off shore in the last ten years before he bought up the property for the Institute. Lee had come within a hair breath of being the seventh. Nelson choked back his own shudder of fear.
“There was a lady, in black, she walked into the sea and I went after her. I thought she was doing to drown. I had to do something,” Lee pleaded.
Nelson glanced down at his friend, unable to hide the concern in his eyes. “Lee, there wasn't any lady. The only person I saw was you,”
“No, there was a women, I swear, she was in long black dress and I saw her walk into the sea. I'm not making this up, you have to believe me,” Lee said, growing frantic with his explanation. Nelson rested a hand on Lee's shoulder.
“Easy, calm down, we can talk about this later. I need to get you dry before you catch pneumonia or something.”
Lee let Nelson help him to his feet. His shoulder was starting to ache, his chest hurt and his throat was raw and sore. He couldn't help the dejected feeling that came over him as Nelson guided him up the hill. The admiral didn't believe him; any fool could see that. It was just what Lee had feared. First he tries to kill Nelson and now the admiral thinks he's crazy.
Before Lee realized it, Nelson had guided him into his house and they were upstairs in the master bathroom. Lee felt Nelson's hands helping him out of out of the borrowed coat and fumbling with the buttons of his drenched shirt. Once the sopping shirt was off and in a heap on the floor, Nelson went over and started the shower. Within seconds, steam began to fog the mirror.
“You don't have to stay, admiral,” Lee tried, hoping to salvage what was left of his dignity.
“I know that, Lee. Get the salt washed off and get warmed up. I'll bring you some dry clothes and then we can talk about you getting some badly needed rack time.” Nelson left Lee alone in the bathroom, his tone clearly broking no argument.
With a sigh, Lee shut the bathroom door. Leaning against the wall, he began to work his wet jeans off. The seawater soaked denim wasn't giving up without a fight. The material clung to Lee's hips and lean thighs with the tenacity of a squid. It seemed as though the harder he pulled and tugged, the tighter the material stuck. Finally with a wet slurp, Lee managed to free himself from the soaked denim and he dropped the jeans with a splat onto the floor. He'd pick them up later. The rest of his wet clothes joined his jeans then he got into the shower.
The spray was warm and muscles cramped from the cold seawater began loosening. Lee braced his arms against the wall of the shower, letting the water pound against his bare back, and lean shoulders and neck muscles. The warm cascade poured over narrow hips and down his long legs, washing away some of the tension and stress. Some, but not all.
The admiral thought he was crazy. By now even Lee was beginning to question just what he had seen. But he knew what he saw - there was no doubt in his mind. He saw a woman walk into the surf. When he went in after her, he had somehow lost track of her. It was the only explanation Lee could come up with. He had let a woman drown. An innocent life had been lost because he hadn’t been strong enough to help her. Crane let his head hang, unable to stop the feelings of hopelessness. He was a failure. He’s been unable to resist being brainwashed and he’d been unable to save a stranger’s life. No wonder the admiral had been avoiding him. Lee turned his attention to the shower, washing all the salt and sand out of his hair and off his skin, then turned off the water and peered cautiously around the shower door.
Draped over the edge of the sink were his solid blue flannel robe and a clean pair of pajamas. Lee toweled off and redressed in the warm, dry clothes. He was still thinking about Nelson's reaction to his story when he heard a set of familiar voices. Jamie and Chip. Gathering his courage, knowing that Seaview's doctor was going to be furious with him, Lee left the safety of the bathroom to face the wrath of the CMO.
One look at Lee and William Jamieson went into battle-mode.
Lee was pale and obviously exhausted, staying on his feet by the shear force his formidable will alone. His short dark hair, in its current damp and curly state, seemed to take ten years off Lee's features. He was leaning against the door and glanced up at Will though his dark eyelashes. For a brief second, Will caught a glimpse of a shy young man in his early teens, devastated by the loss of his father. Then he remembered Lee had played this game before and knew exactly how to get out of a lecture.
“That might work with my nursing staff, skipper, but not me,” Will stated flatly. Lee batted his eyes and tried his best to look defenseless. Will Jamieson knew better.
“Come on, Lee. I want to look over that bullet wound and I need to make sure you didn't aspirate any seawater.” Will took a hold of Lee's arm and gently tugged. With a deep sigh - knowing he was outnumbered three to one - Lee relented.
Despite his exhausted state, it took the combined forces of all three to bully Lee into going to bed. Will listened to Crane's lungs and heart, made mental notes on his pulse and heart rate. Lee didn't protest as Will worked. Chip leaned against the tall dresser in the corner, absently chewing in a thumbnail, watching as Will worked.
“Skipper, I think you'll live. I want you to rest and I do mean rest. You keep this up and it will be all that much longer till I release you back to duty,” Will said, tucking his accouterments back into his doctor's bag.
“Wasn't m' fault. 'saw someone and thought she needed help. S’why I went after her,” Lee said. His speak slurred with exhaustion. It was obvious to everyone that Crane was having hard time keeping his eyes open. He raised his head up one last time to look up at Nelson. “Did you call the police? We . . . I have t’ report . . . “
Nelson leaned forward, resting one hand on Lee’s shoulder. Harry had changed out of his own wet clothes, scrounging a black tee shirt and a pair of gray sweat pants from Lee’s closet. His hair, still damp from the beachside plunge, was curled and disheveled, mirroring his own state of mind. A damp towel was still draped around his shoulders.
“Lee, there wasn’t anybody else. There was only you. Son, I’m telling you the truth.” Nelson pulled up the blankets up over Lee's shoulders, feeling a fierce protective streak flare up. Lee always pushed himself too far and didn't always use the best judgment when it came to his own health and safety. At Lee's comment, Nelson cast a glance back to Chip, who was now hovering around the window that looked out over the sea.
“He said he saw a woman walk into the sea. That's the reason he went for this little swim,” Nelson confirmed.
Chip moved toward the bed and glanced down at his friend, who was slowly losing the battle with the sandman. “But you didn't see anyone else?”
Nelson shook his head. Clearly he wanted to say more but he knew how sensitive Lee was right now. He didn't want to give Crane any hint of the concern he was feeling and he didn't want to voice his suspicions when Lee might pick up on them. Will seemed to pick up on Nelson's unspoken cue and stood up. He glanced back at Chip, who was dragging the recliner that sat in the corner closer to Lee's bedside.
“You go talk to the admiral, don't worry about me. I'll find out everything soon enough. I'll stay with Lee in case he needs anything.”
Will gave the blond man's shoulder a quick squeeze. “I knew I could count on you, Chip.” With that bit of encouragement, Will followed Nelson out.
Chip focused on his friend, trying to understand what had driven Lee to brave the oftentimes-dangerous waters off the beach. It wasn't like Lee to take a risk like that lightly. Had he really seen a woman walk into the sea? It would explain why Lee was as far out as he had been. It was Lee’s nature. He wouldn’t stand idly by if someone needed help. Crane stirred and opened one unfocused, golden eye.
“Chip?” came the softly spoken question.
“Right here, buddy. Just go back to sleep, Lee. I'll be here if you need anything.”
“I need you to believe me. I really did see her. She walked into the surf,” Lee pleaded, almost begging.
Chip was at a loss at what to say to his friend. He wanted to believe Lee, but the admiral hadn't seen anyone else but Lee. “Lee, you're exhausted. Don't worry about it now. We can talk about it later. Just relax and go back to sleep.” Chip watched as Lee closed his eyes. Morton registered the slow rise and fall of Lee's chest as the brunet drifted off into an exhausted slumber. Leaning back in the chair, Chip could not help but wonder had Lee really seen some woman walk into the surf? The stretch of beach was privately owned and protected by the Institute. If Lee had really seen someone, who was she and where had she gone? More importantly, where had she come from?
Downstairs, Nelson was pacing again. “That's what he said, Will. He saw a woman walk into the surf, a lady in a long dark dress. He says he went after her to keep her from drowning. Will, I didn't see any woman out there. All I saw was Lee and if I hadn't gone after him when I did, we wouldn't be having this conversation. This isn't like him, he usually so grounded.” The concern in Nelson's voice was clear as he wandered around the room, trying to understand what had gotten into Lee.
“I don't know, admiral. He seemed pretty convinced that he saw someone. I’ve never known Lee to lie about something like that.”
“Will, you don't suppose there could be some kind of side affects from his brainwashing? Hallucinations?”
Will shook his head at Nelson's suggestion. “Anything is possible, I suppose, though I can't see Lee as hallucinating something like that.”
Nelson whirled and pointed a finger at the doctor. “My point exactly. I know Lee. He's not given to this kind of behavior. What if this is some kind of residual conditioning, sort of a plan B, so to speak. Since he had been unable to carry out his original orders, maybe there was some kind of subliminal back up plan, designed to make him have hallucinations that might drive Lee to take his own life?”
Will gapped at Nelson. “Admiral, you can't be serious. Lee, kill himself? I'd no more believe that of Lee than I would of you.”
“Will, you said so yourself, if he's still suffering from the effect of that brainwashing, anything is possible. We need to be ready to tackle any eventuality. Lee can't be left alone. I don't know what he’s liable to do if he believes he saw something, or someone, walk out into the ocean again.”
Harry found Chip still at Lee's bedside, long legs curled up in the chair. The exec seemed half asleep, watching Lee through half closed lids. Nelson considered suggesting Chip bunk down in the spare bedroom, but he knew Chip wouldn't budge from Lee's side.
"Are you staying the night, lad?" Nelson asked quietly. Chip nodded.
"It seems the best thing to do. I don't think it's a good idea to leave him alone."
Nelson nodded, but his eyes had taken on a far away gaze. "No, he shouldn't be alone. I should have foreseen this. I could have stopped this before it got to this point."
Chip jerked his head up sharply to stare at his employer. Nelson didn't often confess his shortcomings and Chip was caught off guard by the admission.
"I should have seen something was wrong with Lee. His behavior was off center and he just wasn’t himself. I should have seen this. Do I get so caught up in my own little world that I can't see what's going on under my nose? After the way I treated him, I surprised he can even tolerate my presence."
"Sir, we all thought Lee was under stress because of his mother. That’s what Lee said and we had no reason to disbelieve him. I know I'd probably be a mess if I'd spent the weekend at the hospital. You can't be expected to anticipate everything. You're human. Sir."
"That still doesn't excuse the fact that one of my top officers was kidnapped, brainwashed and now is having delusions of seeing people walk into the sea. It happened once, could it happen again? What am I suppose to do, get armed guards for the two of you whenever you leave the grounds?"
Chip carefully considered his answer. Obviously the admiral was having trouble coming to grips with this. “We accepted that there would be those opposed to what we do when we signed on with you. It was a risk I was willing to take and I know Lee. He accepts the risks and he doesn't blame you for being human. Like I said, sir, you can't anticipate everything."
Nelson grew quiet, watching Lee as he slept. He said nothing further. Finally he turned his attention back to Chip.
"I have about a million things to do tomorrow. You stay with Lee. I'll be by when I can. If at all possible and if it's necessary, I'll sit with him tomorrow. I have too many damn meetings I can’t beg out of, heaven only know what time I’ll wrap things up."
"Yes, sir. I'll keep an eye on things."
Nelson nodded. "Let me know if anything changes. If nothing else, call Will. I don't know what's going on in Lee's head, but I think we should be prepared for anything."
The two men bid each other a good night and Chip was left alone. Lee was still asleep and never registered the conversation between the two men.
That was the state of things as midnight came and went.
Chip was awakened by soft mutterings as Crane tossed restlessly in his sleep. He had fallen asleep in the chair by Lee's bed and his stiff neck and back muscles protested as he leaned forward, trying to make out what Lee was saying.
The dark haired young man tossed his head back and forth, fingers clawing at the blankets and sheets as he squirmed in the bed. In the weak moonlight that filled the bedroom, Chip could see tiny bead of sweat forming across Lee’s forehead and face. As Chip reached out, he could feel the heat radiating from Crane's body. He was running a fever. Damn.
Chip got up and staggered to the bathroom, stiff leg muscles not at all pleased with the sudden demands of being asked to move. By touch, he found a washrag and ran it through some cold water from the tap. He then headed back to Lee's room. Crane was still muttering incoherently and tossing. Chip pulled the big chair closer to the bed and carefully washed the sweat from Lee's face. He laid the cool cloth across Lee's forehead, hoping to bring his fever down. If the fever wouldn't come down, he’d have to call Jamie.
“Hope. Were hope lies. Find . . . hope, please, I have . . .have to find hope.” Lee muttered as he tossed. His damp, dark hair curled against the pillow. Chip leaned forward, listening.
“Lee, calm down, Lee. I'm right here, pal” Chip said, keeping his voice low and soothing. Lee seemed to gentle as Chip spoke, easing his tossing. He still muttered words that Chip couldn't understand. Morton gathered the now warm washcloth and went back to the bathroom, soaking it in cold water again. Back in Lee's room, Chip repeated his earlier actions, wiping the sweat away from Lee's face and neck. Leaning back in the chair, Chip kept close watch over his soul brother.
Roses. Chip was aware of the smell of roses, now heavy in the air. He was reminded of his grandmother's farm and the hundreds of rose bushes that grew along the back of the old farmhouse. Only there were no roses anywhere near Lee's house. Chip rose out of the chair and with one last look at Lee, he wandered downstairs trying to locate the source. The living room was dark and empty. Chip moved toward the kitchen and out onto the back deck.
The moonlight washed over the sand and water with a pale silvery light. Chip leaned against the banister, the events of the day still on his mind. Lee wasn't one given to hallucinations. He was convinced he saw someone very deliberately walk into the surf and if Crane could be believed, she vanished. People just don't vanish. Unless she was never there to begin with. This led back to the question of whether or not Lee was seeing things.
Nelson hadn’t seen anyone else. This put Chip at odds, stuck in the middle between a rock and a hard place. He had to choose to believe the word of his best friend or his employer, both men he trusted without a shadow of a doubt. It wasn’t a choice Chip was ready to make lightly until he knew more about what was going on.
Chip rubbed at his head, feeling a headache coming on. It was way too late to be chasing shadows like this. He was just considering going back upstairs when movement on the beach below him caught his attention.
He wasn't sure where she came from - she was suddenly just there; a woman, with long dark hair that fluttered in the breeze coming off the sea. She wore what looked like a long black dress with long sleeves and she seemed to clutch a shawl around her shoulders. In the pale wash of the moon, Chip noticed that her long dress left no trace as the hem brushed against the sand and she left no tracks along the beach. As Chip watched, she continued to walk toward the sea. He held his breath, instincts screaming that he do something, but his mind was replaying a memory, something he had seen or read about the number of people who had mysteriously drowned of this stretch of beach. The woman walked further and further out to sea and as she did, she grew fainter and fainter until finally she completely winked out.
A long, low moan snatched Chip back to reality. Turning away from the beach, Morton ran back inside and up the stairs. He found Lee tossing and turning, calling out once more in his sleep.
“Lee, buddy, calm down, I'm right here.” Chip leaned forward, resting his hand on Lee's fevered skin, his forehead damp and clammy with sweat.
But this time Lee could not be gentled. He tossed feverishly against the covers, clawing at the blankets, still muttering. No amount of shaking or prodding could rouse Lee from the deep coma-like sleep he had fallen into.
Lee tossed his sweat soaked head back and forth and his breath came in short ragged gasps. Chip picked up the washcloth that had been tossed aside and went downstairs to the kitchen. His eyes strayed to the back doors, but he focused on the task he came down for. He found a medium sized mixing bowl and from the freezer he grabbed two trays of ice and dumped them in the bowl. He ran cool water in the bowl, just enough to cover the ice and dropped the washcloth in. Tucking the whole thing in the crook of his arm, Chip headed back upstairs.
After setting the bowl on the nightstand, Chip pulled the chair closer and draped the cool cloth over Lee's forehead and face, washing the sweat away, over his neck and back across his exposed chest. The cool touch did seem to help, calming Lee and helping him settle down. Chip was reluctant to call Jamie. He'd want to stick Lee back in Med Bay and Chip just couldn't find it in his heart to do that to his friend. The last few weeks had been hard enough on him. Additional time in the hospital was the last thing he figured Crane would want. The best thing Chip could think of was to sit with Lee and see he if couldn’t keep the fever down.
So Chip sat up with his friend for the rest of the night, wiping the sweat from his face and neck, managing to keep Lee’s temperature down and watching over his friend until the fever finally broke some two hours later. Crane settled into a deep, quiet sleep, and Chip was able to lean back in the chair. He crossed his arms over his chest and dropped his head down, planning on resting his eyes.
It was near dawn when Chip woke to the sound of his name being called, softly.
“Chip? Chip, you okay?” Lee was asking, pushing himself up weakly to sit up in bed. Chip blinked a few times and ran a knuckle over sleep-clogged eyes.
“Me? I'm fine. What about you?'
Lee leaned back against the headboard. “Exhausted. Why am I so tired? Didn't I sleep?”
“A little after midnight you started running a fever. It broke somewhere around 0300 and you finally went back to sleep.”
Lee scrutinized his best friend, noticing the dark circles under his eyes and the tired lines around his mouth. “You sat up with me? Why didn't you call Jamie?”
“Cause you and I both know Jamie's subscribes to the 'if your best friend is ill, drug ‘em' theory and he'd have installed you in your suite in Med Bay. I know you'd wake up howling mad if you came to in there.”
Lee fidgeted with the blanket, not meeting Chip's gaze. “You didn't have to stay. I'd have been alright,” he said quietly.
“Lee, I couldn't leave you here to deal with this on your own. The admiral wanted to stay, but he had some meetings this morning and he had to leave. He hung around till almost midnight before he finally left. He wants to help you, Lee. We both do.”
“By hanging around and making sure the crazy Commander Crane doesn’t do something stupid, like try to rescue somebody no one else sees? Poor insane captain, lock him away for his own good, before he hurts himself.”
Chip exploded out of the chair and began pacing the floor, balling his hands into tight fists as he stalked through the room. “Damn it Lee, it’s not like that and you know it! You’re not crazy! I won’t let them lock you away! There’s a perfectly logical explanation for all this, we just have to find it.”
Lee leaned back against the headboard and closed his eyes. “And what might that be? That I’m defective, that I’m broken? When they brainwashed me, maybe they did something to me that’s only just now coming to the surface. What if the admiral can’t trust me with Seaview anymore? What then? What if I have to give up Seaview?”
Chip settled back down on the edge of the chair, resting both hands on the edge of the mattress. “It’s not going to come to that, Lee. You’re not defective and you’re not broken. I swear to you, I won’t let them lock you up. This is just a bump in the road. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
“The admiral doesn't believe me, Chip. I could see it. He thinks I'm off my rocker. He didn't see her and he thinks I'm either making this whole thing up or I'm seeing things. Maybe I am seeing things. I don't remember seeing her after I went under. It's like she vanished, completely disappeared.
You don’t believe me either,” came Lee’s quiet statement.
Chip rubbed the back of his head, trying to find the words to talk to Lee. Finally, he quit trying to be tactful and just spat out what he was trying to say. “You're not seeing things, Lee. I saw her too.”
Lee stared at his oldest friend. “When? When did you see her?” he breathed.
“Last night, you were running a fever and muttering in your sleep. You kept saying you had to find hope. I could smell roses, Lee. I swear to you, I could smell roses. I went downstairs, trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, and was standing on the deck when she just sort of appeared. I watched her walk into the surf and she simply winked out, like you turned of a light switch or something.”
Lee closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the headboard, relief oozing from every pore. He wasn't losing his mind. He had seen something out there. When he finally opened his eyes back up, Chip was watching him closely.
“Is Hope her name?” the blond asked quietly.
“I don't know. Something keeps telling me I have to find Hope. How am I going to do that if she's a ghost? I don't know how deal with ghosts. Give me a spy or even an alien from another planet. We've dealt with those before. I can cope with that. How do you deal with a ghost?”
Chip shook his head. “I don't know. I’m not going to leave you to deal with this on your own.”
Lee rolled his eyes. Big brother was getting protective again. “Chip, you don’t have to stay with me. I do not need a babysitter.”
“Of course you don't. But you ran a fever for two hours last night and this morning you look like death warmed over. I doubt you could put one foot in front of the other to make it down the hall, much less function here on your own today. I can run back to my place, grab some clothes and be back here before you even miss me.”
But Lee was determined to prove he could manage fine on his own. He tossed the covers aside, planted both feet on the floor and stood. He immediately found that was the wrong idea as his vision tunneled and everything grayed out. The blood pounded in his head like water pouring through a ruptured hull. With a moan, Lee lost his hold on consciousness and he collapsed.
“Damn it, Lee, do you have to prove me right, every time?” Chip snarled, surging up out of the chair and grabbing Lee under his shoulders before he hit the floor. He then heaved the man's lighter frame up into the bed. He draped his legs back up on the mattress and paused long enough to lay the back of his hand across Lee's forehead. He was warm, but not so much to think Crane was running another fever. Chip tapped the side of Lee's face, trying to bring him around. Those long dark lashes fluttered and once more Lee moaned softly.
“Lee, come on pal. You just proved yourself wrong. Give up gracefully and I won't tell anyone.”
“That's blackmail, Mister Morton,” Lee said weakly as he opened both eyes. Chip dropped back into the chair.
“So it is. I'm serious, Lee. You stay in bed, let me run home and grab a few things. Promise me or I'll call Kowalski.”
“No thank you”
Lee growled low, “The last thing I need is for the crew to see me like this. Go get your crap, I promise not to move until you get back.”
Chip stood. “You swear? On Cookie's chocolate cherry cheesecake?”
Lee arched one dark eyebrow. “You are serious. Cookie doesn't break that recipe out for just anybody. Okay, stop looking at me like that. I swear. Happy?”
“Delirious. Sit. Stay. Good skipper. I'll be right back and you had better still be in that bed when I get back.” Chip spun around and was halfway out the door when he heard Lee's disgruntled reply.
“Serves you right if I moved to the other bedroom.”
“I heard that!” Chip shot back.
“You were supposed to. Get moving,” Lee drawled. He eased back under the covers, pulling the blankets up over his shoulders, suddenly feeling cold. He closed his eyes and settled in to wait for Chip to get back. He would never have admitted it, but Chip was right. He felt as weak as a two-day-old kitten and he had just proven he couldn’t make it across the floor without help. He lost track of time as he dozed lightly. A sudden shiver ran up his spine. Lee burrowed deeper under the covers, but could not seem to get warm. Why was it so cold in here?
Lee rose up, considering getting another blanket from the closet. It was so cold in the room that Lee could see his breath fogging out in front of him. His eyes locked on the figure that stood at the foot of the bed and for a split second, Lee forgot how to breathe.
Long dark hair fell in loose curls around her colorless face. She wore a black dress, long sleeved and nigh necked and she clutched a black, fringed shawl around her. Every detail about her was crystal clear, including the fact that Lee could see right through her. He face was a mask of sorrow and loss, with a look of utter grief and despair in her eyes. She watched him, never blinking, no sign that she was even breathing. Lee found himself drawn to her eyes. Golden brown eyes, the color of caramel, were watching him. They called to him, pleaded with him. A voice whispered in Lee's head and everything narrowed down to that sad, grief-filled voice.
Help me. Please. Help me. Find me. I am lost. Please help me.
Slowly she turned and glided out of the room, her dark skirts making no sound on the carpet.
His promise to Chip forgotten, everything forgotten, Lee climbed out of bed and followed the apparition.
Chip tossed the hastily packed bag onto the couch in Lee's living room and took the stairs two at a time. A quick check in the master bedroom and Chip’s heart climbed into the back of his throat. Lee was gone. The air stopped circulating in his lungs as he took in the rumpled bed. He laid one hand palm down on the mattress. It was still warm. Lee hadn’t been gone long. Glancing up, the first thing Chip saw was the big bay window. He didn’t even remember moving, but he was looking down at the beach. Down at the tall, lanky figure now staggering across the sand, heading for the sea.
Chip bolted for the door, half sliding down the banister of the stairs. He flew through the kitchen and cleared the railing of the porch without bothering to take the side steps. He plowed through the sand, his eyes locked on Lee’s retreating figure.
Crane was already ankle deep in the waves and slowly making his way deeper.
“LEE!” Chip bellowed, his voice getting lost in the roll of the surf. Lee never registered that he even heard Chip; he just continued to wade into the sea. By the time Chip reached him, the dark haired young man was ankle deep in the waves.
Chip grabbed on to Lee’s arm and pulled the man to a stop. “Lee, what’s wrong with you?”
There was no recognition in Crane’s eyes as the looked into Chip’s. The golden amber orbs were empty and lifeless, like a pair of dolls eyes. Lee could have been a doll, or a mannequin, as he stood frozen and stiff as the Pacific rushed in around them. Slowly, as if watching the water drain away from the sand, Lee’s eyes cleared and the light of recognition flared bright.
“Chip? What happened? How did I get out here?” Lee asked, his voice a hoarse whisper. He wavered unsteadily on his feet and reached out for Chip’s arm with one hand for balance and support.
Morton tightened his grip on Lee’s arm. “Don’t you remember?”
Glancing around him, Lee finally shook his head. “No. The last thing I remember is you leaving. It was cold. So cold. I…I couldn’t get warm.”
Chip felt Lee’s muscles go slack seconds before those amber eyes rolled into the back of his head. Chip managed to catch Lee before he collapsed. With a sigh, Morton draped one of Lee’s arms across his own shoulders and with an arm around his friend’s waist, Chip guided Lee up to the deck and into the house.
Chip settled Lee down on the couch. Lee was completely out of it, unmoving as Chip tapped the side of his face, trying to bring him around. His pulse was steady, but his temperature seemed elevated again. Already there was a thin veneer of moisture across his forehead.
Swearing under his breath, Chip snatched up the phone. He had Jamie’s number memorized at this point and he waited impatiently as the phone rang and rang. Finally the doctor picked up.
“Chip, something wrong?”
“Jamie, you’d better get over here. Lee’s starting to run another fever.”
“Another? He ran one before? When?”
“Last night. He started after midnight and it took nearly two hours for it to break. I thought he’d pull out of it, but he’s starting to backslide.”
There was a pause before Jamie spoke. “If this is the second time in twenty four hours, he needs to be in Med Bay.”
Chip’s answer was immediate. “No, not if I can help it. Just get over here and take a look at him. Please?”
“Alright, against my better judgment. You work on getting his temperature down. I’ll be over as soon as I can.”
Chip hung up the phone and turned his attention back to Lee. Crane was still out of it and unresponsive. Chip hooked one arm under Lee’s knees with the other arm under his back and bracing himself, Chip lifted Lee off the couch. Always on the lean side, Lee seemed to have lost a good twenty pounds. Chip carried him upstairs, back into the bedroom, and settled the leaner man on the bed. It took some doing, but Chip managed to strip Lee of the sweat and seawater dampened clothes. After some searching, he found a clean pair of pajamas and got Lee redressed and settled in.
What on earth had gotten into Lee? Chip wondered. Had the spirit, or whatever she was, appeared to Lee again? Was she after Lee for some strange supernatural reason? Would she come back? Didn’t ghosts have some kind of unfinished business? Did she want something from the living or specifically Lee? Chip couldn’t let Lee out of his sight. Until he puzzled this out, he would have to stay and make sure that Lee didn’t wander off again.
Jamie found Lee’s house quiet as he entered through the back door. “Chip? Lee?” he called out as he walked through the seemingly empty house. He heard footsteps overhead, the upper floors creaking in respond. Seconds later Chip appeared at the base of the stairs.
“Jamie, his temperature is hovering around 100 degrees or so. I don’t want to move him if I can help it,” Chip said without preamble.
“I’m the one with the medical degree. Let me determine what’s best for Lee.”
“I don’t think it’s more time in Med Bay,” muttered the blond as he led the way back up stairs.
Jamieson wasn’t sure what he should be expecting, but it wasn’t what he found. He knew Lee was running a fever, according to Chip, the second fever in twenty-four hours. Lee’s eyes were closed, his face damp with sweat. He tossed restlessly, caught up in some dream. On the bedside table sat a bowl of ice water and a damp rag, draped over the edge of the bowl, testimony to Chip’s efforts to battle Lee’s unexplainable fever.
“Chip, you should have called me last night. He really needs to be in Med Bay for observation,” Jamie said, holding one of Lee’s wrists between his fingers, counting the beats. He wasn’t entirely happy with either the skipper or the exec right now and it was an effort to focus on the health and the well being of the man in the bed and not chew out the blond officer.
“Jamie, he’s spent enough time in Med Bay. Between the therapy, the shrinks, and everything else, time in Med Bay’s just going to make things worse. I can stay with him as long as it takes. Please, Jamie, don’t put Lee back in the hospital.”
Jamieson tucked the instruments away. All his training, all his years of practice was screaming at him to put this young man in a hospital bed. Something was wrong and he couldn’t put his finger on it. He glanced over to Chip, hovering around Lee on the other side of the bed. Will had known Chip for years now and despite Chip’s prize-winning poker face, he could tell there was something Chip was hiding.
“What happened, Chip? There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Chip didn’t answer. Instead he walked toward the bay windows and stared down into the sea. He wasn't sure he could tell Jamie what he had seen. Everybody might think Lee was fruity and if he started telling people he'd seen the same thing, they’d think him just as crazy. He needed to be able to protect Lee. He couldn't tell Jamie about the ghostly figure.
“Chip, what happened to him?” Jamieson urged gently. “This could be a direct result of his brainwashing. If Lee’s hallucinating, he can’t stay here.”
Chip spun around, but was unable to met Jamison’s gaze. He couldn't lie to the doctor. Like him and Lee, they had too much history between them. However, he didn't have to tell Jamie all the truth.
“I should never have left him alone. If I hadn’t left him, this would never have happened. I went home to grab a few things and when I came back Lee was gone. I found him knee deep in the surf, in some kind of daze. When he snapped out of it, he didn’t know how he got out there. He passed out before I could ask him anything else. He never came back around and when I got him to the house, I noticed he was running another fever.”
“Chip, the admiral and I have talked about this. When Lee was brainwashed, he failed to follow through on the orders given to him. This could be some kind of subliminal suggestion. He needs to be some place where we can keep a close eye on him. Get him some additional therapy if he needs it.”
Lee’s fears that he would be locked away, labeled crazy and insane echoed in Chip’s head. He couldn’t let that happen to Lee. They had been through too much for him to back out on his friend now. Chip took a deep breath and directed a cool gaze at the doctor.
“You can’t lock him away. I won’t let you. I’ll take him away myself if you try,” came Chip’s defiant reply.
Jamie started then spun around to face the younger man, surprised at the note of defiance in his voice. “Now wait a second, Chip. Nobody’s locking Lee away. Where did you get that idea?” he demanded.
“From Lee. He’s afraid we don’t believe him. He thinks we’re going to lock him away if he’s seeing things. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but Lee’s not crazy.”
“Chip, nobody’s saying Lee’s crazy.” Will rubbed one hand over his face and eyes, reeling from the implication that Lee questioned his own sanity. “We just need to keep an eye on him so we can determine the severity of his symptoms. He can’t be left alone obviously. We can monitor him better in Med Bay.”
Chip shook his head. “Jamie, I promised him he could stay here. He’ll hate me if I break that promise and he wakes up in a hospital bed.”
The doctor shut the black bag up with an angry ‘snap’. He pulled himself up to his full height, crossed his arms over his chest, and aimed a disapproving glare at Chip. Chip never flinched, but met the doctor’s gaze with a calm demeanor. For a long time the two stared at each other, neither man backing down. Jamie was the first to give.
“Against my better judgment, I’ll let him stay here, on the condition you stay with him.”
“Well, I’m not going to leave him. What the hell kind of friend would I be if I walked out on him?”
“You’d be a better friend if you’d let me admit him. Swear to me, if he runs another fever, you’ll call me.”
Chip was nodding his assent. “If I need you, I’ll call.”
Jamie hefted the black bag off the bed and took two steps toward the door. He hadn’t missed Chip’s choice of phrasing but he chose to ignore it. He could always make an unscheduled house call if he got concerned enough. That didn’t change his feelings about his commanding officer.
“I’m serious, Chip. Lee needs to be in Med Bay. This fever could be a precursor to something more serious. He needs observation.”
Chip would not back down, watching as Lee slept uneasily. “And I’ll watch him, Jamie. I can’t let you stick him in Med Bay again. It’s just going to play into this circle of self-doubt and I can’t let that happen. I’ll stay with him as long as it takes to get him through this.”
Will sighed. There was no winning. Chip had his head set on this and it would take an atomic bomb at this point to steer him off course. “Just look after him then. That’s all I ask.”
With that Will made his exist. Chip resettled in the chair, his thoughts with his friend. “Look after Lee,” he repeated, as an idea blossomed in his head. “Don’t I always? What are brothers for?”
Lee awoke several hours later feeling like Chip had described him earlier: death warmed over. He just lay still for a long time, trying to remember what had happened in the last few hours, He remembered Chip saying he was going back to his place. He remembered curling back up in bed and being cold. But there was something else, something Lee couldn’t put his finger on.
He was aware of a soft rapid clicking, like fingers on a keyboard. He concentrated and forced open one eye. Chip was firmly ensconced in the over-stuffed chair, one leg thrown over the arm, his laptop earning its name. His long fingers tangoed across the keyboard even as he registered movement on Lee’s part.
“Welcome back, pal. I was getting worried.”
“What happened? After you left? I can’t seem to remember . . .” Lee asked, his voice trailing off in confusion.
Chip closed up the laptop and set the unit on the bedside table. “Seriously, you don’t remember?”
Lee shook his head. “I dreamed, I think.”
Chip leaned forward. “About what? Think, Lee. This could be important. What do you remember?”
“Somebody was calling to me. I’m supposed to do something, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe I am losing my mind.”
“Stop that. You’re not losing your mind. You’re not crazy. You’re not going to lose Seaview. Nobody is going to lock you up. I don’t want to hear another word about it. You’re not crazy.”
Lee remained silent as he watched the expressions run across Chip’s face. He had always known Morton was loyal, but the depth of that loyalty was frightening at times. Too bad the admiral didn’t feel the same way. If he had any faith at all in him, wouldn’t he be here? He had always been here before. Nelson had come after him when Zaraf had taken him. Nelson had led a team to rescue him, Ski and Patterson when D'Alverez had them prisoner. After Gamal had him beaten and he had gotten back to Seaview, it had been Nelson who first greeted him in Sickbay after Jamie finished stitching him up. The fact that he wasn’t here now spoke volumes to the young captain.
“He’s worried about you, Lee. I think maybe he feels he let you down. He feels he should have noticed something was wrong with you from the start. I think he’s afraid you don’t want to see him,” Chip said softly.
Lee started. “What?”
“You’re wondering where the admiral is. I can see it in your eyes. I think he feels like you don’t want anything to do with him.”
Lee struggled to rise up, even as the blood pounded in his head. He felt Chip’s restraining hand on his chest pushing him back down. Le gave in, feeling too weak to put up much of a fight.
“No, that’s not it at all, Chip. I just don’t understand. He’s always here. He’s believed in me before, but that was before I tried to kill him. How can you trust someone who tried to kill you?”
“Lee you’ve had a long, rough time since all that happened. You need to talk this over with him. All this needs to get out in the open before it gets out of hand. Right now we need to find some food.”
“Chip, how can you think of your stomach when your best friend’s teetering on the edge of insanity?”
Chip snorted. “For one, you’re not insane. Like I said, this is just a bump in the road. Second, I can’t think on an empty stomach and I’ve been doing some serious research into this stretch of beach. You stay, I’ll cook.”
“I don’t really have a lot to work with. I told housekeeping not to make their stops here.”
Chip shrugged. “I’m sure you have something. Stay. Here. Do. Not. Move. An. Inch.”
With that announcement, Chip hopped up and vanished out the door. Lee heard his steps echo down the steps and the distant sound of cabinet doors opening. Lee pulled the blankets up over his shoulders. He was thinking about Nelson, wondering if this was a turning point in their friendship. Since joining the Institute and taking on the challenge of being Seaview’s skipper, Lee had always turned to the admiral for advice and guidance.
Somehow he had let Harriman Nelson into that place in his heart that was ripped asunder when his father had died. At fourteen, Lee had tried to act like it hadn’t bothered him. He never let his mother see him cry. But he had missed his father everyday, wishing he had been there for his graduation, to see him accepted into the Academy. He would have been proud, at least Lee hoped so. Somehow, Lee wasn’t sure when it happened, Nelson had become his surrogate father.
Sure they fought sometimes. Nelson was so brilliant, sometimes he couldn’t see that this experiment or that this dive was maybe just a bit too dangerous, too much of a risk. As Seaview’s skipper, Lee felt he was responsible for the safety and well being of a hundred and twenty-five souls. Their arguments were legendary. But there was no one else alive that Lee respected more. He wanted the admiral to be proud of him. More than that, he wanted the respect and the trust of the admiral.
But how can you respect and trust a man who tried to kill you?
Lee closed his eyes, trying to shut out the image that replayed in his head. He had tried to kill his friend. How do you move past that?
Slowly Lee drifted into a half slumber. His thoughts gradually slowed and replaced by a vaguely familiar sad whispering. The beach. He had to go to the beach. There was something he had to do. What was it? He couldn’t remember, but he was unable to resist the voice that called to him. Slowly, Lee slid out from under the covers and drifted toward the door of his bedroom.
Chip glared at the sad state of Lee’s kitchen. Crackers. Some blocks of cheese. A half a bag of corn chips. A questionable tub of what might be onion dip, Chip wasn’t sure. To be on the safe side, he tossed the tub into the trash. He wasn’t willing to risk food poisoning on top of everything else. A half carton of eggs. Some lunch meat. Lee had been right. There wasn’t a whole lot to work with.
A few bottles of beer sat on the bottom of the fridge. Lee shouldn’t be drinking alcohol with some of those meds he was on. He’d worry about that latter. Chip continued the hunt for something to fill the rumbling in this stomach. Surely Lee had some soups stashed here someplace?
Chip continued to search the cabinets, the situation at hand still running through his head. Nelson was feeling guilty because he should have seen something was wrong before things got out of hand. Lee was feeling like he had lost Nelson’s trust because he had tried to shoot him after being brainwashed. What a mess. How in the hell could two grown men get into this kind of fix? Well, Chip was determined that those two would talk this out the first chance they got. In Lee’s condition, hearing that Nelson still trusted and valued him would do wonders
He was still rummaging through the cabinets when he heard a familiar, solid, sure step on the boards of the deck. Glancing up from his search, Chip saw Admiral Nelson in the door a brown grocery sack tucked firmly in one arm. With a smile, Chip waved his employer in. Nelson slid the door open and stepped into Lee’s kitchen
“Trying to find something edible in this kitchen?” queried Nelson noticing the open cabinet doors. “Knowing Lee, I figured he’d have little in the way of groceries. He tends to eat out or buy day to day. I had Cookie put together a few things that Lee might be able to tolerate.”
“Hope springs eternal. Lee’s upstairs, if you would like to see him.”
“But does he want to see me, that’s the question,” Nelson said quietly, glancing toward the door leading into the living room.
Chip got to his feet and leaned against the counter. If there was ever a time to make the suggestion, now was it.
“I think you should go up. He thinks you don’t trust him any more. He tried to shoot you and now he thinks you don’t believe him about this woman he saw. He needs to know otherwise.”
“Don’t trust him? Lee told you that? Of all the cockamamie notions, where did he get such an idea?” Nelson said, running a hand through his short hair and exhaling sharply. “If anything it’s my behavior that should be at question here. I was too blind to see what was going on under my nose.”
“Could be part of what he went through. I don’t know, sir. Just please, go up and talk with him? Make him understand.”
Nelson was nodding even as he headed for the door. “You can bet I’ll do just that. That’s what brought me over here to start with.”
Half way through the living room, Nelson glanced to the top of the staircase to see Lee staggering down the steps, one shaky step at a time.
“Lee?” Nelson called out tentatively, but Lee acted like he didn’t hear. His eyes were focused on something only he could see, staring off into the distance with an unblinking gaze. Crane continued to descend the stairs and when he reached the bottom, he stopped as if trying to get his bearings.
“Lee, what’s wrong?” Nelson tried again as he wrapped fingers around Lee’s upper right arm. Slowly, Lee focused on Nelson’s hand then drew his eyes up to look into Harry’s.
There was no life in Lee’s eyes. Hazel eyes shadowed with a touch of jade stared up into Harry with no comprehension and no recognition. Nelson felt his gut twist with concern at Lee’s lifeless gaze. Lee blinked and Nelson saw the confusion and near panic wash through hazel eyes.
“Admiral?” Lee’s voice was a far cry from the voice that could make crewman snap to attention.
“Lee, what ‘s wrong? I don’t think you should be out of bed.”
Lee blinked and glanced around the room in confusion. “Sir, I…I don’t know…how did I get here?”
Nelson drew back in concern. “Lee, you came down the stairs. Don’t you remember?”
Lee took two steps away from Nelson. It was as if Crane had completely lost his center of balance and he took a sharp tilt to starboard. Nelson surged forward and managed to catch Lee before he hit the ground.
“CHIP!” Harry shouted as cradled Lee’s unconscious form close to him. He pressed two fingers against a point on Lee’s neck, feeling the rapid pulse as he held on tightly. Chip appeared in the doorway and Harry heard the breathless swearing as Morton dashed forward.
“I told him to stay in bed. Am I going to have to restrain him?” Chip growled, lifting one of Lee’s arms and draping it over his shoulder. With Lee supported between them, Harry and Chip carried the skipper upstairs. After settling Lee back in bed, Nelson sank into the chair his face in his hands as he contemplated what had just happened.
“Chip, what’s wrong with him?” Nelson breathed, not really expecting an answer.
Chip leaned against the dresser, absently chewing a thumbnail. “I don’t know. He’s been running a fever. Jamie can’t figure out why.”
“Why isn’t he in Sickbay?”
“Because I begged Jamie not to admit him. Lee has enough problems without waking up in Sickbay. He hates it there and everybody knows it. He’ll never recover if he’s stuck in there with no prospect of getting out.”
Nelson turned that soul-piercing gaze on the blond. Chip squirmed uncomfortably, unable to meet the admiral’s gaze. “This isn’t the first time Lee’s gone wandering when he should be in bed. Am I right?”
Chip couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t lie to the admiral. “No, sir. It’s not. It’s actually the second time he’s gotten up. I went home earlier to get some things and when I came back, Lee was back on the beach, heading for the sea. He didn’t remember how he got there. He passed out on me before I could get anything else out of him.”
“And just now he makes his way downstairs, I can only assume to head for the beach. He didn’t remember coming down the stairs. Chip, he needs help. He needs to be in Med Bay.”
“Sir, Lee’s already convinced you think he’s lost his marbles. He’s not crazy. If we put him in Sickbay, it’s just going to play into the trauma of his brainwashing and make things worse.”
Nelson got to his feet, driven by the need to pace. “Chip, I understand your loyalty and devotion to Lee, honestly I do. But if Lee is seeing things, he can’t be left alone. I can’t ask you to live here with him until we figure out what’s going on. Lee needs help. He can’t get that here.”
“Admiral, I don’t know how to explain this, but Lee’s not seeing things. He saw a woman walk into the ocean. I know, because I saw her too.”
Nelson spun around to stare at the blond officer. “Chip, what are you saying?”
Chip took a deep breath. “Lee saw a ghost. She’s haunting this stretch of beach for some reason and she’s focused on Lee. She wants something and for some reason she thinks only Lee can help her.”
Nelson only shook his head as he wandered the floor. “So you’re telling me that Lee is being haunted by the ghost of some random woman? Why? This makes about as much sense as snake feet. You realize that, don’t you?
“Yes sir. I know it’s hard to believe. I wasn’t sure what to think myself until I saw her. Something on that beach pulls to Lee. Last night he was mumbling something about how he had to find Hope. He says he’s having dreams, that there is something he has to do. We just have to find out what it is.”
“I assume you have a plan?” Nelson asked, knowing that the exec probably had several ideas in mind. Chip was meticulous and would leave nothing to chance, especially when it came to Lee.
“I need to do some research. I’ve tracked a few leads down, but not everything can be found online. Somebody has to stay with Lee while I chase down a few ideas.”
“You’re asking me to stay here with Lee.” It was a statement, not a question. Nelson cast a worried look over at his friend, tossing occasionally as he slept, his dreams haunted perhaps, by the woman he and Chip claimed to have seen.
Did Lee even want him here? As blind as he had been to Lee’s deteriorating condition, how could Crane even tolerate his presence?
“I can’t think of anyone else Lee would rather have sitting with him. Sir.” Chip said softly.
“Chip,” Nelson began only to have the exec uncharacteristically cut him off.
“Sir, Lee is terrified you don’t believe him. He’s under the impression you think he’s crazy. He’s scared he’s going to lose command of Seaview. He’s afraid that Jamie’s gonna wanna lock him away. If you sat with him, talked with him and made him see…” Chip trailed off as understand and sympathy flooded Nelson’s sapphire eyes.
Dropping into the chair, Nelson threaded a hand through his hair, letting out a long slow breath. Lee was afraid. He had never seen Lee afraid, through all they had been though. Cautious, certainly, but never the kind of fear Chip was describing. Was Lee’s opinion of him that high? In what sort of light did Lee actually see him? When Chip next spoke, it was almost as if he were reading Harry’s mind and supplying the answer.
“Lee lost his father when he was fourteen. Did you know that?”
“I know about Lee’s father. Ambrose Crane was a good man.”
“He respects you like no other. When he served under you on the Nautilus, you were all he could talk about. He talks about you like he talks about his father. You and Lee have some kind of bond. It’s different than my friendship with him. He’s my brother. I respect you and I’ll do anything for you, but I still have my father. Lee hasn’t had one when he needed it. He sees you as a father. Your opinion of him could make the difference in just how Lee recovers from this.”
A father. Nelson never considered himself father material. He had no idea Lee felt like this. He was aware of Lee’s loyalty, but not the fact that Lee had put him on the same level as Ambrose. It was humbling. Nelson wasn’t sure if he was ready for this.
But didn’t he see Lee as a son? Lee’s spirit, his drive, his passions, they all called to Nelson. In Lee, Nelson saw himself twenty, thirty years ago. In Lee-and Chip-he saw hope for the future of what he had built here at the Institute. Whatever forces teamed him up with Morton could only be guessed at, but Harry was thankful for the assignment that put the blond and brunet together. They tested each other and backed one another. They were competition and brother. You didn’t tackle one without the other hunting you down for revenge. They were like two halves of one soul-the bright optimistic side and the dark, sometimes moody side. Not that they couldn’t function independently from one another, far from it. Chip’s style of leadership was simply different from Lee’s. Someday Nelson knew Chip was going to want his own command. He had plans in the works that would take into account Chip’s special talents. He didn’t want to loose Chip if he ever felt stifled or under challenged. He certainly wasn’t ready to lose Lee.
“Without children of my own, I don’t have anyone to pass my legacy onto. I accept that. But in Lee, and you, I have hope that my work will carry on. You two are the next generation. I need you both. I’ll do anything to keep the both of you. I want you to know that. You and I have already had this talk. There’s no one I trust more than you and Lee.”
“Then Lee needs to hear that, from you. He needs to hear that you still believe in him.”
Nelson stopped by Lee’s side, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest as he slept. Nelson wasn’t sure what was going on with his friend, but he was willing to try anything to get him back. If Chip had some kind of plan, whatever it might be, he was willing to take a gamble. For Lee’s sake he could do little else.
“Sir?” Chip’s voice pulled Nelson away from his thoughts.
“Sorry Chip. Go ahead and follow up on your theory. You have all the resources of the Institute should you need them. I’ll stay with Lee.”
Chip relaxed taut muscles, unclenching his hands he hadn’t realized he had closed into tight fists. This would work. They would talk this out and Lee would see that nobody thought he was crazy. He would see that Nelson never lost that bond the two had forged since Lee became Seaview’s skipper.
Chip gathered up his laptop and tucked everything under one arm. “Sir…”
“Thank you. This is the best thing you could have done for Lee.”
“I want him back, Chip. As badly as you do. I’ll do what ever it takes.”
Lee came back to his senses, feeling the quiet of the room surrounding him. He could tell by the angle of the sun that it was getting later in the day. How long had he slept? Thinking back, Lee realized he had another blank spot in his memory. He had dreamed again. Something was calling him to do something, but the harder Lee tried to remember what it was, the further the memory slipped away from him.
The chair by the bed was empty and Chip’s laptop was gone. It had been there when he last drifted off. Had Chip actually left? Struggling with his Swiss cheese memory, Lee tried to think if Chip had said he was leaving. He remembered waking up briefly, he remembered Chip telling him not to worry, they’d figure out what was going on. He remembered their conversation about the admiral.
With a catch in his throat, Lee pushed himself out of bed, planting both feet on the floor. So far, so good. He pulled himself to his feet and swayed with the effort of keeping his balance. His vision swam and the blood pounded in his ears. Lee grabbed for the chair arm and held on, riding out the wave of dizziness. In a few seconds it was over. Lee straightened and turned toward the door.
“Chip?” he called out. He got no answer. He moved toward the door and ever so slowly, Lee made his way down the hall to the top of the stairs. For a few seconds he stared down at the steps then made his careful way down. Half way down he had to stop as his vision swam again. What was causing this? He wasn’t prone to vertigo, at least not until he had tried to rescue someone who hadn’t even been there. Another sign of his growing weaknesses.
Lee finally made the bottom of the steps and there he stopped, listening. There were a few sounds coming from the kitchen and Lee grinned. He remembered Chip saying something about needed food. Typical. Bottomless Pit Morton. Lee made his way to the kitchen, fully expecting to find Chip cooking some random concoction.
Instead he found Admiral Harriman Nelson, out of uniform, dressed in jeans and a faded denim shirt over a white tee shirt, the sleeves cuffed back to his elbows. He was standing in front of his stove, stirring a pot of something emanating wonderful aroma.
“Admiral? What…what are you doing?” Lee stammered through his surprise. Finding Nelson bent over a Bunsen burner in the lab wasn’t uncommon, but finding Nelson acting domestic wasn’t a sight you saw everyday.
A short bark of amused laughter escaped Nelson as he glanced up at the dark-haired young man. “Cooking, Lee. I would think that would be obvious.”
Lee grabbed at the doorframe as another wave of dizziness washed over him. He clutched at it as his blood pounded in his head. The gray ate at the edges of his vision and he found himself slipping. A distant voice was calling his name and he tried to answer but he couldn’t make his voice work, all he could do was slide into the gray nothingness.
Nelson swore as he grabbed at Lee before he hit the floor. Harriman half carried Lee into the living room and settled him down on the couch. His pulse was racing, and his temperature was on the rise. Again Nelson swore and reached for the phone.
He stopped with his fingers wrapped around the cordless. Chip’s words echoed in his mind as he stood there, just a few numbers away from calling Jamieson.
Sir, Lee is terrified you don’t believe him. He’s under the impression you think he’s crazy. He’s scared he’s going to lose command of Seaview. He’s afraid that Jamie’s gonna wanna lock him away. If you sat with him, talked with him and made him see…”.
Nelson replaced the phone in the cradle. Chip was right. Lee did not need more time in Med Bay.
Harry glanced at the stairs then back at Lee. He didn’t want to move Lee unless he had to, so Nelson opted to just make him as comfortable as possible. Chip had said that he wasn’t sure when Lee has last eaten. Low blood sugar could be part of the problem.
Minutes later Nelson carried a cup of soup broth in and settled down next to Lee. Raising Crane’s head up, he brought the cup to his lips and tilted it slightly. Lee got a few swallows in and Nelson pulled the cup away. He waited a few seconds then tried again.
It took some work, but Nelson got the whole cup down Lee. That victory accomplished, Nelson set out to find something to work on the fever. It wasn’t very high yet, but the slight flush to Lee’s cheeks told the admiral that it was definitely on the rise. He wondered how much trouble he would have getting some ibuprofen down Lee.
A half an hour later, Nelson had settled in with a bowl of ice water and a washrag, working to keep Lee’s fever down. Lee’s restless tossing disturbed the admiral. He remembered Lee’s agitated state of mind after Forrester had shot him. He’d been unable to calm down, his disconcerted words and troubled tossing another reminder to Nelson of just how blind he had been.
“Son, I’m right here. You’re not alone in this. I’ll do anything to help you through this,” Nelson tried as he draped the cool, damp cloth across Lee’s forehead. He was prepared to stay all night if he had to. He had to do something to prove to Lee that he still valued him as a person, as Seaview’s captain, and closer yet, his friend. After all that had happened, it was the least he could do.
The day was coming to a close. Twenty-four hours since the admiral had rescued Lee from the sea. Chip stood on the beach where it had all started, watching the waves roll in and out, watching as the sun continued it’s never ending cycle.
For any other person, the idea that a ghost had singled out his best friend for some supernatural agenda might seem far-fetched. But Chip grew up on stories of Resurrection Mary, Robinson Woods, even the S.S. Eastland. Ghosts stories were simply another part of life. How many time had he and his buddies driven by Bachelor’s Grove as part of a Saturday night dare? He had seen enough to know that sometimes the dead came back. So who was this restless spirit?
There was a stack of papers in his truck that told exactly who she was. Hope McMillan. She came west with her husband from Boston in 1862. But that was just about all he could find out. There was no mention of her death, not mention of what happened to her.
The sun was dipping closer to the sea. He had come back here to check on Lee, trying to find the words to explain to the admiral that while he had learned who she was, he was no closer to learning why she was haunting Crane. His fear that Lee would be sent off to some psychiatric center was an all too real possibility. He couldn’t let that happened, not when he knew that Lee wasn’t crazy. He had told Jamie he’d take Lee away himself if it came down to that.
Where would they go? How would Lee be without Seaview? How could he convince the others that what Lee had seen was real and not some figment of his imagination?
Out of nowhere a cold breeze sprang up and seemed to surround Chip. Goosebumps popped up over his bare arms and a shiver crawled up his backbone. Wrapping his arms around him and puzzling at the uncharacteristic cold wind, Chip glanced around and jerked back in surprise as he came face to face with the spirit of the ethereal young woman.
She was dressed in black, from head to toe: a long black dress with full shirts, long sleeves and a black, fringed shawl clutched around her thin shoulders. Her long dark hair fluttered in the breeze, and her caramel eyes stared ahead to the sea, drawn to the horizon. She was as transparent as a shadow. Chip could see right through her. A feeling of utter sadness and grief surrounded the hazy figure, so thick Chip could nearly touch it. In slow motion the apparition turned and locked eyes with Chip.
She never moved her lips to speak but Chip heard a voice as clear as if she had spoke.
You believe, so you shall see.
Chip’s world narrowed down to her eyes. A wave of dizziness washed over him and Morton closed his eyes as nausea ballooned up and threatened to overtake him. Everything spun wildly and he couldn’t stay on his feet. He dropped to his knees, fists digging into the sand, desperately trying to keep his nausea under control as everything waffled in and out. When Chip opened his eyes, he found himself on the beach; only it wasn’t the same beach. The landmarks were different and the house that sat at the top of the hill wasn’t Lee’s house. Slowly he got to his feet, heart pounding in his chest as he stared at the house.
The woman, Hope, still stood before him, but now she was solid and real, not an ethereal visage. She pulled the shawl closer around her narrow shoulders. A flash of gold around the third finger of her left hand glinted in the evening sun. Chip watched a second figure approached the sad woman.
My sister, Eliza. Said the quiet voice in Chip’s head. Chip found his muscles locked as Eliza walked toward Chip, then right through him. As if he wasn’t even there!
“You should come to the house. It’s cold out here and you’re not doing yourself any good,” Eliza said to Hope. She rested a hand on her sister’s shoulder.
“He’s not dead you know. I can feel it. I’ll wait right here for him. He’s always come back to me. Always,” the sad young woman said. She took a step forward pulling away from the woman’s touch, never taking her eyes off the sea.
“Hope, I know you want to believe that, but face facts. His ship hasn’t been seen in three months. Even if he had to dock in Boston, you’d have gotten a letter or something. Hope, sister of mine, Tobias isn’t coming back.”
“Just leave me alone. Please. Leave me with the sea. At least I can feel close to him,” Hope said. She never looked back at her sister.
Eliza pulled her own shawl tighter around her shoulders. She seemed to study her sister for a long moment before she shook her head sadly,
“Just don’t stay out here all night.” With that, Eliza turned and walked up the hill back to the house.
Chip was frozen to the spot, unable to act as Hope walked toward the sea. He was here as a witness, to be shown the answer, to be given the final piece to the puzzle. He watched as she stopped short of were the waves washed ashore.
“Tobias, where are you?” she asked out loud. “I never thought to come between you and the ocean. I’ve always known that I might be your wife, but I was still just a mistress to you when the sea calls your name. If you won’t come home to me, I will go to you.”
There was nothing Chip could do as Hope simply walked into the sea. Within minutes the waves closed over her head and she vanished.
As soon as it had started, the vision, or what ever it was, was gone. He was back in his time, the sun inching closer to the sea. He whirled the transparent figure of Hope standing knee deep in the surf, the incoming waves rolling right trough her. They stared at each for an eternity, then she turned and as Chip had seen her last night and just now, she walked into the ocean, and vanished.
Chip began backing away from the sea’s edge, understanding slowly dawning on him. He knew what she wanted now. He understood why she was appearing to Lee. Chip understood what he had to do.
Harry could not sit still. He paced the length of the living room, uneasy, fidgety, and flighty. Lee’s fever had broken and the young man had settled down once more, sleeping peacefully. Harriman Nelson was far from peaceful. Troubled by his own actions, actions that he felt had brought them to this place. The image of Lee standing in the nose, the look in his eyes after Nelson open-handedly slapped him haunted him. Lee wasn’t a teenager but a grown man. Harry should have had better sense than that.
A low moan snatched Harry’s attention to the here and now. Lee was trying to claw back to wakefulness. Harry settled into the chair by the side of the couch, resting a hand on Lee’s shoulder to anchor the young man as he fought to come to his senses. A few minutes later Nelson was rewarded as Lee’s eyes fluttered open. For a second he feared what he might see in those eyes. Distrust and condemnation, maybe?
But there was only welcome and relief in those familiar hazel eyes. Lee struggled to push himself up. Nelson helped him into a sitting position.
“Admiral, what are you doing here?”
“Visiting. Friends visit from time to time, don’t they?”
“I don’t think I’m very good company right now. What happened to Chip?” Lee asked.
“Chip had a few things he wanted to check on, so I said I’d hang around for a while. As sick as you’ve been I didn’t think it was a good idea to leave you alone.”
“Afraid I’ll take a long walk off a short pier? Afraid I’ll go diving after the invisible woman?” Lee asked bitterly.
Nelson took a step back then eased into the recliner across from Lee. The bitterness surprised Nelson, unsure if the anger was directed at him or at Lee himself. “Lee, I’m worried about you. You scared the devil out of me when I pulled you out of the surf. I thought…I thought you were dead. This isn’t like you at all. I want you to know I’ll do anything it takes to help you through this.”
Lee closed his eyes and leaned his head forward into his hands, fingers moving through his dark curly hair. “Sir, I want you to believe me. I’m not crazy. I know what I saw.”
Nelson wasn’t sure what to say. He hadn’t seen anyone. All he saw was Lee, struggling in the wild surf off shore. There was no one else out there.
But Chip had seen her. Two of the most grounded men he knew both could not be hallucinating. This was a leap of faith for Nelson. Crane needed to heal, in more ways than just physical. If Chip was right, and Nelson had never known the man to outright lie, especially when it came to Lee, then Crane needed assurance that he had faith in him.
Nelson took a deep mental breath then plowed forward. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. “Lee, if you say you saw a woman walk into the sea, then I believe you. Chip says he saw her. I can’t discount the both of you. I believe you. You’re not one to make up things. At first I thought you were hallucinating, that what ever they did to you might have lasting repercussions. But I know you, better than I know myself at times. You’re one of the most honest men I know. If you saw her, then I believe you.”
Lee looked up and locked eyes with Nelson. His employer and friend believed him. There was hope for him yet, hope that he hadn’t lost the admiral’s trust. “You don’t think I’m losing my mind? Admiral, I tried to shot you. If Forrester hadn’t been there you might well be dead. How can you trust me after something like that? How can I trust myself? What if they did do something to me? What if this is all one nightmare, another hallucination, one that I can’t wake up from?”
“Lee, it’s time you believed in me. This is real. I’m real. You’re only human, there are limits to what the human mind and body can tolerate. Even with your ONI training, there is only so much you could have withstood. It could have happened to anyone. It could have been Chip, hell, next time it could be me. If anyone is to blame in this, it’s me.”
“Admiral, how can you say that? I could have killed you.”
Nelson got to his feet. He wasn’t good with these sorts of things. Emotions and feeling, guilt and blame were things that he was used to pushing to the side. He couldn’t push this to the side any longer. Ignoring it and hoping it would clear up on its own wasn’t working. This wasn’t the weather that would change from dark and cloudy to bright and sunny. He had to face this head on.
“I should have noticed you weren’t yourself. I saw you were off center, but I was so wrapped up in the project, all I could see was the final result. To hell with how we got that result. I didn’t give a damn what I had to do to accomplish that. I was willing to sacrifice everything for that goal. If I had taken two minutes to evaluate your condition, I’d have noticed you weren’t yourself. I could have taken steps to neutralize you and gotten you the help you needed. You wouldn’t have gotten shot and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“You had to do what you had to do. You had orders and there was no reason to think I was lying about my mother. I don’t blame you for anything.”
“Just as you can’t be held responsible for your actions. You were brainwashed. You weren’t yourself. I understand that. I do not blame you. I don’t know how much clearer I can make that.”
“You believe me when I say I saw someone?”
“Chip says he saw her. Like I said, two of the most honest men I know can’t be wrong. You’re not going to lose Seaview. Son, I would never let that happen. Have some faith in us, lad. With any luck Chip can ferret out what is haunting you and this stretch of beach.
Chip hit the quick release on the air tanks and they dropped off his shoulders. He caught the straps in one arm and swung them to the ground and propped them against a large rock then pulled the flippers off. Next he dropped the mask atop the rock and for a long moment, he just leaned against the solid stone, catching his breath. He just rested that way for a few moments, feeling the sand under his feet, the sun-warmed rock against his bare back, the trickle of water dripping from his short blond hair to run down his neck and bare chest.
The surf and the shadows cast by the setting sun made the seafloor and the cliff face a study of light and shadow. But he persevered and he didn’t give up. He had been shown something for a reason and he wasn’t going to give up. To find the answers, he’d borrowed diving gear from the institute, changed into his swim trunks and gone diving.
Finally what he had been looking for presented itself. A cave, in the cliff face, half hidden in the shadows of the surrounding rock. There had been more than plenty of room for Chip to swim up, and in a few minutes, Morton had found himself in a small underwater cavern, just big enough for him to stand up in. Tidal marks on the cave wall bore witness to the rising and falling water level and the sloping cave floor was littered with various pieces of garbage and driftwood. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for.
On the highest point of the cave floor, just above the high water mark, were the tattered and rotten remains of a mass of black material. A small skull, minus the jaw, stared up at him with empty sockets.
Chip Morton had found where Hope lies. Her last resting place.
Pushing off from the boulder, Chip started for the house, his hand still fisted tight around a single recovered object.
As Chip entered though the back door, he heard voices from the living room. He detoured long enough to stop by the laundry room just off the kitchen for a towel dry off then he walked back to the living room.
Two pair of curious eyes, sapphire blue and amber-hazel, greeted him.
“Doing a bit of diving, Mr. Morton?” came Nelson’s question.
“I guess you could call it part of my research. Lee, this might answer a few questions.” Chip walked up to his friend and held out his fist. Curious, Lee extended his own hand and Chip dropped an object into his hand.
It was a tarnished ring, green and black from age and wear.
Lee looked up at Chip, more than puzzled. “I don’t get it.”
“It belongs to her. Her name is Hope. She drowned off this beach and her body was never recovered.”
Nelson rubbed absently at his right ear. “So where did the ring come from, if her body was never recovered?”
“I found an underwater cave. Her body got washed in. Not much was left except a few bones, and that ring. Everything else was too fragile to move, but I wanted to bring that back. She was real. All she wanted was to be found. She just wanted closure.”
The three men were quiet, each lost in their thoughts as Lee toyed with the aged band of gold. Chip recognized that the uneasiness Nelson had displayed earlier concerning Lee seemed gone. Had the two been talking things out? Morton got to his feet.
“Lee, do you need me to stay?” he asked. Oddly it was the admiral who spoke up.
“Chip, why don’t you go on home? You’ve sat with him for the last twenty-four hours. I can take over from here. Beside, I think Lee and I have a few more things to talk about.”
About time. Chip thought to himself, doing his best to hide the smirk that threatened to break loose.
“Yes sir, I could use a shower and something decent to eat. Some people just don’t appreciation the value of a well-stocked kitchen,” Chip replied. Lee tossed a throw pillow at the blond, who caught it and deftly tossed it back. Morton made a quick grab for the bag he had brought in earlier in the day and headed for the back door.
“You need me, give me a call,” he called out.
“I think Lee and I have everything under control,” came Nelson’s assuring answer. This time Chip really did grin as he let himself out the back door. His house was just down the hill, in easy walking distance. He set out, thankful that the admiral and Lee were finally getting past this.
It was several hours later and Nelson was restless. He and Lee had talked about everything that Lee could remember about the day he had been taken, his conditioning by the Peoples Republic, and the orders he had been secretly receiving. Lee had said he hated talking to the doctors about this, and for the most part, he had avoided the memories.
Exhausted from the constant fevers and the simple stress, Lee had finally drifted off to sleep on the couch. Nelson had taken a moment to drape the blue woven blanket from the back of the couch over Lee’s quiet form, then Nelson pushed himself to his feet, driven to pace. The tarnished gold band on the table by the couch got his attention and Nelson picked up the ring, rolling it between his fingers as he let his mind wander.
Harry found himself on the deck, leaning against the railing. The moon overhead washed the beach with a dusting of silvery light. The wave washed in and out, the roar of the surf a soft murmur. He played the ring Chip had found over and over between his fingers, wondering if it was over. The sounds of a car pulling up into Lee’s drive pulled Nelson’s attention back to the present.
Will Jamieson walked up into the back deck, doctor’s bag in one hand.
“Admiral,” he said by way of greeting. “I was in the neighborhood, since I live down the street, and I thought I would stop by for a quick house call on one of my most frequent patients. I think I’m missing something, and if he’ll let me, I’d like to confirm my theory.”
“I see. Must be the day for theories. He’s in the living room, asleep.”
“I’ll try not to wake him. Shouldn’t take long.”
Jamieson followed Nelson into the house. Lee was curled up in the couch, quiet in his slumber. Will fished out an instrument from the bag and gently turned Lee’s head to look inside his ear. He made a satisfied snort then gently checked the other ear. Lee’s eyes fluttered open.
“Doc? You could wake a body before you start sticking stuff into people’s ears.” Lee grumbled sleepily.
“I thought I could check without waking you up. But since you’re awake, I can give you some good news. You, skipper, have an inner ear infection.”
“An inner ear infection?” Nelson and Lee asked in concert. Will Jamieson dropped the small instrument back into the bag and grinned.
“You two spend entirely too much time together. You’re starting to sound like each other. And yes. I said inner ear infection. The technical term is Labyrinthitis. Simply put, you have an infection of the inner ear, which affects your balance and causes extreme vertigo. In very rare cases there may be some hearing loss. I simply did not think of it earlier. If I had, I could have started you on an antibiotic and maybe saved everybody a lot of worry.”
“An inner ear infection? What caused it?” Nelson asked. He and Lee exchanged incredulous looks.
“There are a number of possible factors. Stress does strange things to a person. I don’t doubt that Lee’s unscheduled dip in the ocean played no small part in that either. All he has to do is make sure he gets this,” Will set a small white bottle on the table, “twice a day in both ears. That should clear up the infection in a day or two and the vertigo will disappear.”
Lee picked up the small bottle, holding it up to the light to read the label. “Jamie, I don’t even know what to say.”
Jamie snorted as he closed up the bag. “How about, ‘why thank you doctor. I don’t listen to you near enough’,” Will said with a grin.
Lee rolled his eyes. “You never give up, do you?”
“Part of my oath. Twice a day. Don’t forget. Admiral…”
“I’ll make sure he follows doctor’s orders,” Nelson replied. Meanwhile, Lee had gotten to his feet and was making his slow way upstairs, the ear drops clutched in one hand. Nelson watched him go, ready to help him up the stairs if it looked like Lee was going to falter.
Jamie got to his feet. “Well, one mystery successfully accomplished. Admiral, about the woman Lee saw…”
Nelson walked with Will to the back of the house, out onto the deck.
“We’ll worry about that if he sees her again. We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it. Will, thanks for coming by.”
“No problem. He might be stubborn, but that’s part of what keeps him going. If he follows my instructions, the infection should clear up in a day or two. I might consider releasing him to light duty then. It might be good for him to keep busy and not brooding about in this big old house.”
“He might at that. Thanks again.”
Jamieson parted way with the admiral, leaving Nelson once more alone on the deck with his thoughts. He pulled the ring out of his pocket where he dropped it when Will arrived. Chip’s story replayed in his head. He still wasn’t sure he was ready to believe a story about a restless ghost. Ghosts were stories for Halloween, not four-star admirals. Ghosts don’t exist.
A cold wind blew in and it took a moment for Harry to realize the breeze wasn’t coming in off the beach. The hairs on the back of his neck jumped to attention as that inner sixth sense started screaming he was no longer alone. He turned to see a woman standing directly behind him.
She wore a black dress, like the one Lee had described to him. She was watching him intently, her caramel eyes drawn to the ring he held in his hands. Nelson noticed that she wore a similar, if not the same, ring on her hand.
“Is this yours?” he asked. The woman nodded once.
“Are you Hope?”
Again she nodded once and looked into his eyes.
“Do you have family still living? I can see to it they know about you.”
Again, she inclined her head. As Nelson watched, she slowly faded away. It was as if she had never been there.
Harriman Nelson swallowed done every bit of doubt he ever harbored. Lee had been right. Harry rolled the ring around his fingers one last time before dropping it into his pocket.
He had a promise to keep, to find any of her decedents and tell them what had happened their ancestors. He might even go as far as to try and recover her remains for a proper burial.
He heard Lee rummaging around in the kitchen. With one last look at the beach, Nelson considered the last twenty-four hours and fervently hoped this was the last spirit any of them would have to deal with.
One restless spirit was plenty for a lifetime.
 See short story “Trust Issue”-SRH