Diane F. Kachmar
The whispers in the morning
of lovers sleeping tight
are rolling by like thunder now,
as I look in your eyes.
I hold on to your body
and feel each move you make.
Your voice is warm and tender,
a love that I could not forsake.
'Cause I'm your lady
and you are my man.
Whenever you reach for me,
I'll do all that I can.
Even though there may be times,
it seems I'm far away.
Never wonder where I am
'cause I'm always by your side.
The sound of your heart beating
made it clear suddenly.
The feeling I can't go on
is light years away.
We're heading for something,
somewhere I've never been.
Sometimes I'm frightened,
but I'm ready to learn. . .
the power of love.
Mary Susan Applegate and Jennifer Rush
Authors Note: This is Story #4. It follows A Song for Linda. (February 1982 - December 1982) This is both an alternate Universe and a crossover story featuring characters from too many TV shows to name here. If you have seen any TV in the last 20 years, you should know who these people are. If not, email me and I will explain. This story was first published in 1995. Revised May 2005. DFK
The intercom buzzed. Linda Allen reached over to answer it.
"Would you come to my office?" Lee Crane's voice came out of the speaker.
"Be right there." Linda put her pen down on the grant report she was editing. She rose and walked out of her office into the inner corridor. She turned left, going down the hallway.
Lee gestured toward the visitor chair as she came in. Linda sat down. He handed her a closed folder.
Linda flipped it open, expecting more grant work. She stopped in surprise. A higher level security badge was inside. She raised an eyebrow at her fiancé.
Linda picked up the pale lilac plasticard. "What's this for?"
Lee spread his hands. "The Admiral and I both feel it's time. That is, if you still want to marry me after the cruise."
"What does our getting married have to do with my security--” Linda stopped. "Why do I need this?"
He pressed the intercom button. "Marion."
"I'm meeting with Linda. Close the door and see that we're not disturbed."
Lee waited until he heard the door to the inner corridor shut. Then he leaned forward. "You've always cooperated when we had to exclude you from classified information. I appreciate that. Now we're getting married, there are a few details you need to know." His phrasing was deliberate.
"Then tell me."
Lee rose from his chair. “This isn't easy.” He came around the desk and sat down on the corner, facing her. He reached out for her hand.
She gave it to him. He began lightly stroking the top of her hand. "Remember when I went to Washington last December. That consulting job?"
"That was my cover."
"A mission for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Everyone on active duty with the sub receives some intelligence training, as part of their security clearance. ONI sometimes gives Seaview missions. And I--" Lee tightened his grip. "When I get called for a mission after we're married, I want to be able tell you that. Not the cover story."
She squeezed his hand back. "So I'm marrying Derek Flint?"
"It's not that glamorous, trust me." Crane shrugged. "You need to know what you are getting into."
"I don't recall any other consulting jobs."
"The flying sub crash extended my inactive status. I was reinstated last November. Jamie almost didn't sign off. He doesn't like the missions I get. He wants me to retire."
"Only you don't want to."
"Not while I can still help, love." Lee raised her hand to his lips, kissing her palm gently. "You won't mind being married to an ONI agent?"
"Not if he's you." Linda tilted her head sideways. "I've always felt something was going on here."
"There only one problem with knowing."
"What's that, love?"
"You can't tell anyone." He squeezed her hand and then released it. "You'll sign for the badge?"
Linda flipped open the folder. In it was the standard form she had signed for her first security clearance, only this release had several added clauses. She paused in her reading. "Official Secrets Act?"
Lee shrugged again. "The government."
"That figures." Linda picked up her pen and signed the paper.
She looked him up and down.
"You don't look like a spy."
Crane smirked. "That's what makes me such an effective agent. They're only called spies in the movies. Let that be your first level five briefing.”
"Aye, sir." She placed the folder on his desk and rose. "Will there be anything else?"
Lee opened his arms wide and she went into them.
"Is it May yet?" she asked softly, as he held her close.
"No," he replied, “but it is getting closer." Lee bent down, kissing her softly once and then once again.
She kissed him back. "I have a grant report that needs editing."
He released her. "Then go edit."
"Your place or mine for dinner?"
"It's my turn to cook," Crane replied.
"Good. Editing makes me hungry."
Lee laughed. "Only you get enthusiastic about my cooking."
Linda grinned. "You're better than you think. Tonight, I'll let you prove it."
"I look forward to that."
Linda crossed to the door, the lilac badge in her hand. Level five. If this was a taste of what she was in for, it would be a very interesting spring.
* * * * * *
Linda looked up from her reading as the cabin door opened. She smiled as Lee came in. "Everyone tucked in?"
"The crew would not appreciate that remark. They like me to drop by."
"I never said they didn’t."
Lee bent his head to read the log entry. "You're still in 1975?"
"You had a busy year."
"Yes, the shakedown after the first refit took longer than we expected. I never want to go through that again."
"It is a better design."
"Yes, it proved worthy of all the time and trouble, but it wasn't much fun at the time."
"I noticed. They get a little terse when there are problems. I find myself wondering what they aren't saying."
"Swear words." Lee grinned.
"Your officers and gentlemen?" Linda teased.
"The log is mostly course headings and repairs. It must get dull after a while."
"It's the only history you have. I have some catching up to do."
"A few missing pieces."
Linda closed the log. She gazed up at her fiancé, choosing her words carefully. "I wanted see how my predecessor handled being aboard." She always told Lee the truth, even when it hurt. Especially about his deceased wife.
"I was wondering when we would get to that." Lee sat down on the end of his bunk. "I'm a little surprised you didn't ask me sooner."
Linda shrugged, pulling her legs back to give him more room. "I wasn't sure you'd want to talk to me about Cathy."
"What's your impression from the logs?" Lee gestured at the closed book.
"She wasn't one to sit on the sidelines."
Lee smiled, a little wistfully. "No, she wasn't."
Linda took his arm gently. "You don't have to tell me if it's too painful."
Lee reached over and took up her hand. "No, it’s all right. Jamie said I should remember and talk about our time together."
"The Crew liked her, didn't they?"
Lee nodded. "Cathy came closest to being one of them." He tilted his head, suddenly appraising her. "You're doing well on the popularity meter."
Linda fought to keep from blushing. "They got used to her being aboard. I've been elected to fill that vacancy."
"Goes with the position."
"And the proposal," Linda added, laughing.
Lee’s eyes danced mischievously. "I found myself in love. It was the only honorable thing to do."
Linda settled a little lower on her pillow. "How did you two meet?"
"I left New London before the Admiral hired her. It was right before he retired to Santa Barbara. I came aboard Seaview four years later, a year after her launch."
Linda nodded. "I saw where you replaced Captain Phillips."
"Yes, I wasn't planning to stay, but the Admiral had other ideas. Cathy didn't like me, at first. She was a plank owner, here for the keel laying. I was pegged as a rival, particularly after she found out how far back I went with the Admiral. She thought she knew everyone close to him."
"What caused her to change her mind?"
Lee shrugged. "I saved the Admiral's life. There was an unexpected explosion during one of his tests. Cathy came to pay me a duty visit while I was stuck in the Infirmary." Lee smiled ruefully. "I wasn't the least bit civil, but her continued visits did help. I became a challenge. The Admiral thought we were great together. He did all he could to encourage her." Lee paused. "It became inevitable, something I learned not to fight. We clicked. She loved everything; the position, the traveling . . . and me. No one had ever loved me that passionately before. She was very intense. Everyone who knew Cathy loved that about her."
"Sounds like she went after whatever it was she wanted."
"Cathy did," Lee acknowledged softly. "Until she died. End of story."
Linda reached out and took his hand. "No, Cathy is still very much alive in the memories of the people who loved her best."
Lee tightened his hand around Linda's and squeezed it. "You always know the right words."
Linda squeezed back. "Because I love you." She released his hand and picked up the log, handing it back to him. "That's enough for one night. I'd better head back to my cabin before the neighbors start talking about us."
"This is officer country. Chip told them to keep their eyes in the boat."
"And that means?"
"You come in and out as often as you like and no one keeps track."
"Neat system. Will it work?"
"It should. All the junior officers like you."
"I thought we'd have to hang a do not disturb sign."
"I did. His name is Chip Morton."
"Useful chap, isn't he?"
"He's the best. Are you sure there's not another one at home like you, for him?"
"Nope. But never fear; we will find him someone."
"Mister I'm not the marrying kind. I doubt it."
"The longer they wait, the harder they fall."
"Got anyone in mind?"
"Not yet. I'll work on it. So, do I stay?"
"If you like." Lee leaned forward.
Linda moved to where he could put his arms around her. She felt safe there.
"Sparks took a call from Marion for you. Problems with the wedding plans?"
"No, she was checking before going back to the caterer. She really loves being director. There won't anything left to do by the time we get home."
"Good. I'll keep you all to myself." Lee leaned down and kissed her.
Linda lifted her lips to his, smiling to herself. Not going back to her cabin suited her fine.
* * * * * *
Linda was glad to pull into the parking lot of the Institute Chapel. The Rehearsal Dinner had gone well. Molinaro's was fitting, being their first date. She hadn't expected Alphonse to be so exuberant. The private dining room. The head waiter. Plate after plate of special dishes. It was enough to make a girl's head spin and she hadn't even had champagne. Linda looked across at her cousin, Amy Amanda Allen. "Well, are you ready for round two?"
"I am," Margaret Harrison piped up from the back seat. "If this is a party around this joint, sign me up for the next ten years!"
"You'll have to talk Johnny into that one," Linda replied, laughing. "I take it you like us."
"What's not to like," Margaret replied. "That blond best man, for starters."
"Chip is single," Linda replied, teasing their newest computer programmer. "Why don't you ask him out?"
"No way. He has a reputation."
"Maggie, every one of them has a reputation, including mine. Anyone interest you, Amy?"
"Gil Foley. He's single, too."
"Two for two," Maggie replied. "Vegas would love those odds."
Amy smiled suddenly. "Want to swap escorts after the ceremony?"
"Let me think about it." Maggie looked out the window.
"We'd better get inside, Linda."
"They won't start without me," she replied.
The members of the wedding party were milling around inside the Chapel. Linda saw her mother sitting in a front pew, talking with Admiral Nelson. They had really taken to each other. Lee had jokingly suggested that was because her mother hadn't heard any of the Admiral's stories before. Nelson was a gifted storyteller. Linda had seen many others captivated by him, but words had never impressed her mother. The gleam in Harry's eye as he spoke, the rapt way her mother listened to him. They weren't flirting, but they had connected.
Lee's mother sat across from them, alone in her pew. Linda sighed. Lillian Crane always managed to stay aloof, even in a group this large. Lee walked over to his mother's pew. He leaned down, saying something to her. Lillian smiled and then lifted her head. Lee leaned down to kiss her cheek. She seemed happy about their marriage. Lillian had come all the way from the French Riviera to attend. Nothing like marrying into the jet set.
The Chaplain came out of the Sacristy. He saw Lee first and went over to him. Linda moved up several pews, knowing he wanted to talk to both of them. Lee spotted her and extended his hand. She took it.
"Are you ready to begin?"
Lee nodded. "They're briefed."
Linda gave him a nudge.
"I mean, they know what to do."
Chaplain Reynolds smiled. "Never quite lose the braid, do we?" He indicated the Naval Reserve unit flag behind the altar. "It's a good tradition." He raised his hands for silence. "Ladies. Gentlemen. Your places please."
The groomsmen fell in easily, too many years of service not to. Their shiny saber scabbards looked somewhat odd against civilian dress pants. When the time came, Linda knew they would perform their drill flawlessly. She had become used to the fact that Navy ran deep here.
Amy and her bridesmaids quickly matched up. Maggie with Gil, Maureen and her husband Dave, Katie and Randy Miller, Bobby O'Brien and his girlfriend Karen. At the end of the line came Amy and Chip, the Maid of Honor and the Best Man. Morton looked serious as he offered her cousin his arm, but Linda saw the gleam in his eyes. Luckily, her cousin had already fixed on someone else.
Linda left Lee's side as Johnny Robinson extended his hand. Giving her away to one of his best friends had him beaming. If anyone had told Linda three years ago she would be here, she would have taken that job offer from Berkeley. Why had she decided to stay here? Linda shook her head. She had never believed in fate. The organ began to play as she took her place at the end of the line. Tomorrow couldn't come fast enough.
* * * * * *
Chip Morton poked his head into the sacristy door. "Hey, bridegroom. Time to get launched."
Lee gave his blue tunic another tug. "I thought today would never get here. Do I pass inspection?"
Morton stepped inside. He gave Crane's service blues a practiced eye. He reached up, tugging Lee's right epaulet slightly. "There. You're a little lopsided."
Crane raised an eyebrow.
"Nothing a few more ribbons wouldn't even out."
"Don't start, Chip. You know better."
"You earned them."
"Doesn't mean I have to wear them."
"You probably told Linda that work khaki was perfectly acceptable to get married in, too."
Lee's hand went to his black necktie. "She knows the difference now. Would have been more comfortable. I've almost forgotten what blues feel like."
"Yeah. The girls like blues, though. Wait until the dancing starts."
"I only have eyes for one girl today."
"We noticed," Chip replied, laughing.
Crane grinned. "I'm ready."
"I'm not sure I like this. You get the girl and all I get is a couple of rings that I can't keep."
"If you had your own boat, you'd be beating them off with a stick."
"Fat chance of that, now." Chip cocked his head as the organ began. "That's our song, bud."
Lee rested his hand on his saber hilt. "Let's do it."
He followed Chip through the side door into the chapel. The pews were full. His side was a sea of naval uniforms, mostly the sub crew. The Institute filled the back of Linda's side. Lee smiled to himself. Neither he nor Linda had many relatives. His mother, her mother, and a few special friends. Yet, here in Santa Barbara, they had one huge family.
The organ music swelled as the bridesmaids came down the aisle one by one. Then Linda came on John Robinson's arm, all in white. She had never looked lovelier.
Their vows were simple. He meant every word. The ring went on easily. Then it was time to kiss the bride. Lee leaned down, seeking her lips. She raised her lips to his.
The organ began again. Chip ordered, "Sabers." The clang of steel as the arch formed made it official. Lee released Linda and then offered his arm. She smiled delightedly, letting him take her down the aisle. He heard the others fall in behind him. He led Linda out the door, giving her a quick kiss before all the others arrived. The wedding party quickly fell into receiving line order. Linda tightened her hand around his arm.
The Admiral and Johnny came out with their mothers and quickly joined the line. Nelson threw him a wink. The Admiral was enjoying his self-appointed role as escort to Barbara Allen. Linda hugged her Mom as she took her place in front of her.
Lee reached out with his other arm to encircle his mother's shoulder lightly. Lillian looked up at him. "Very nicely done," she murmured. "Almost Boston."
Lee shrugged slightly as he removed his arm. "We try, mother."
He spent the next half hour introducing the wedding guests to his mother. He could hear Linda doing the same for her mother. It was old home week for the Admiral and Chip. Lee wondered who the Admiral hadn't invited. It was great seeing old friends and so many former shipmates. The church finally emptied.
It was time to leave for the reception. Dodging rice, he bundled Linda into his red sports car for the short ride to the commissary. Chip would be right behind him in his black Trans Am.
Linda stopped short in the Commissary door, taken back by all the crepe paper that festooned the room. Mary Sharkey was waiting by the door.
"Come on in, dear." She reached for Linda's arm. "This is all for you."
Linda smiled. "It's gorgeous."
"Then you enjoy it. Francis says that's an order."
Linda turned to him. "You tell the crew I know how hard they worked to do this for us."
"I will, love," Lee assured her.
Mary touched Lee's arm. "I have some chairs set aside, out of the traffic flow. Let them come to you."
Linda willingly took Chip's saber to cut the wedding cake. Lee covered her hand, moving it on the hilt to give her a better grip. It went through the cake cleanly, thanks to Chip's finely honed edge and Mary Sharkey's strategically placed hot towel. It tasted even better, as he gently fed Linda her half of the piece.
Lee smiled as the flash bulbs went off. They would talk about this reception for months. He moved back so Maggie Harrison could finish cutting the cake. She took the saber from Linda, eyeing it doubtfully. Chip moved quickly to her side.
"Like this." He put his hand over hers, guiding the blade. "Then another one here." Maggie looked over at him, surprised and then relaxed. They had the layer cut and passed out in no time.
"Okay, partner." Maggie lifted the saber. "How do you want to do the next layer?"
Chip smiled at her, a devastating grin. Lee could see Morton was well on his way to another dance partner before this reception was over. Crane shook his head.
* * * * * *
It was good to leave the hubbub of the reception behind, if only for a little while. It gave Linda a chance to take it in, while the photographer posed various members of the wedding party. It would be her turn soon enough. She fingered her new wedding band. It felt heavy on her finger, but she'd get used to the feel. Their day was finally here.
The photographer finally got all the shots he wanted. Lee looked so handsome in his blue uniform. The Caterers served dinner as soon as they returned from having the pictures taken. Linda looked around for her mother. Barbara Allen was sitting next to the Admiral. Apparently, Jiggs Starke had gallantly given up his seat. Linda smiled. Nelson had a way. She doubted Lillian Crane would feel the least bit slighted with the other Admiral paying attention to her since Jiggs was even older money. On Lillian's other side sat the Grande dame of Santa Barbara society, Minx Lockridge. Another old and dear friend of Nelson's. The Admiral knew how to please her mother-in-law.
Linda settled into her chair. Lee sat on one side and Chip on the other. She saw Amy and Maggie had switched. Amy was in deep conversation with Gil Foley. Amy was insisting as Gil laughingly disagreed with whatever she was saying. Chip was talking computers with Maggie. At least it was a start.
Linda turned to Lee. "So, when do we blow this joint?" she whispered teasingly.
Lee glanced at his watch. "I told Gil to be ready for takeoff by 11:00, which will put us into Hawaii for sunrise. You have to see the sunrise on Robin's beach."
"That means four more hours of this."
Lee smiled. "Cheer up, we leave at ten. Chip will be stuck here rolling people home until the wee hours."
"Nah." Morton turned to her. "Sharkey drew that detail. He'll make sure everyone gets home, too. I have other plans."
"Such as?" Linda asked, laughing.
"Did I ask you about the honeymoon? Never you mind. You think about that beach."
The dinner was delicious. Linda didn't get to eat much of it. Her friends wanted to talk. Lee's friends talked to him. Chip and the Admiral had their share of visitors. Linda tried to remember their names from the receiving line.
"James." Lee reached out to snag a naval officer going by.
There was a different cut to his blue uniform. When he spoke, Linda pegged it. British.
"Steve wants to talk to you, since you're here." Lee gestured toward a dark haired naval officer talking with Nelson.
"All right," the officer nodded. "I'll make a point of it later."
"How's business at Universal Exports?"
James shrugged. "Quiet, at the moment. I landed a big contract in Greece, so they gave me this holiday. Which I fully intend to enjoy."
Lee grinned. "I'm glad you made it."
"I like California girls. I might even get lucky a second time, like you did."
"I hope so, James."
The naval officer extended his hand to her. "May you always be happy together." Linda took his hand. She was a little surprised when he raised it to his lips.
"Thank you, Commander."
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to teach your Chief Petty Officer the right way to make to a vodka martini."
"What's wrong with Sharkey's martinis?" Linda asked.
"Nothing," Lee replied. "James likes them-- Thomas!" Crane rose half out of his chair. "Thomas, get over here!"
A younger naval officer, dressed in whites, came over at Lee's summons. He had an easy grin, very much like Chip's.
"What?" he replied. "Can't a guy sit back and watch the scenery around here. Rick would love this party."
"We invited you, not Orville."
"Yeah. Did you have to put me on the same plane as McGarrett? He stared a hole in the back of my head the whole way over."
"They operated differently during Steve's Korean stint. He treats all of us from the Mekong era that way. Stop taking it personal."
"Then you sit in front of him on the way back."
Thomas cocked his head at her. "Why would you want to marry this guy anyway?"
Linda smiled, reaching out for Lee's hand. "He's a great kisser."
"That's Morton's reputation."
"True," Lee replied, then leaned over to kiss her lightly.
Thomas shook his head. "I give up with you two. Have you seen Michael?"
"Try the bar. He was talking stock options with Jonathan Hart last time I saw him. Don't miss the plane."
Thomas waved an acknowledgement as he walked off.
Marion came up behind them. "It's time for you two to get the dancing started."
Lee stood up, extending his hand. "Come, love. Duty calls."
Linda gathered up her dress, letting him lead her out onto the dance floor. As they slowly revolved around the dance floor, she could see the lights glinting off the green flecks in Lee's hazel eyes. She was vaguely aware of the flash bulbs, but for a few moments he was hers alone. It felt so good to be in his arms.
It was several dances later before they came back together. She had to dance with Chip, then the Admiral, Jiggs Starke and several of Lee's friends. Steve McGarrett offered his hand. Nelson winked at her. They were all fine dancers, but she was still glad to return to Lee.
"Duty's over," she whispered.
"Duty has nothing to do with it. You look gorgeous. Enjoy being belle of the ball. We'll have our time alone soon."
"Not soon enough," Linda replied. She did not object when Chip cut in on their dance. Chip was always fun and Maggie needed a tall partner, like Lee.
She looked up at Morton. "Chip, tell me something."
"Lee's friend, Michael." She gestured to a sandy haired man in a white suit. He was seated near the edge of the dance floor, his polished cane tapping in time with the music. "Is that what a bad mission looks like?"
"No, Michael's injuries are the result of a chopper crash. Don't you worry about Michael. Women think his eye patch is sexy."
"Of course, they do. Why are you thinking about bad missions on your wedding day?"
"Lee's friends, a lot of them work in intelligence, don’t they?"
"What makes you think that?"
"They have a look in their eyes. Lee gets it sometimes."
"Linda." Chip cupped her chin lightly with his hand. "You have to be less observant."
"Meaning I shouldn't be asking you this."
Linda looked up into his blue eyes. "All right, Chip."
"Now, repeat after me, there are no spooks in the bushes."
"Is the XO giving orders?" She laughed.
Linda managed to beg off dancing for a short while to talk to her mother once more, before she left. Lee was dancing with his mother Lillian, until Jiggs Starke cut in. Linda saw Nelson was watching Lee, a pleased grin on his face. Then the Admiral headed toward them. He asked her mother to dance and Barbara Allen went willingly.
Lee was beside her. "It's almost time to go," he said, as she went into his arms. "One last dance for the road?"
* * * * * *
"It's about time you two decided to come back." Chip Morton leaned into Lee's office door. "How was Hawaii?"
"Robin Masters has a beautiful estate." Linda smiled slyly, fully enjoying her first chance to tease Chip as her brother-in-law.
"Yeah. Did you two ever come out to enjoy it?"
"I'll never tell." Lee picked up her teasing tone.
Chip grinned. "Then you had fun."
"Yes, we definitely had fun." Linda raised an eyebrow at Lee.
A wonderfully wicked smile crossed Crane's face.
"How did your date with Maggie go?" Linda asked.
"What makes you think I asked her out?"
"Didn't you?" Lee replied.
"Yes, I did. She turned me down."
"She did?" Linda was surprised and quickly glanced over at Lee.
Crane shrugged, spreading his hands.
"She said she couldn't risk my reputation, whatever that means."
"Some girls feel that way," Linda answered quietly.
Chip looked at her. "Yes, I remember one, about four years ago."
Linda smiled. "So do I, Chip."
"Well, roll up your sleeves. There are papers on both your desks that need attention."
"Back to the real world." Linda lifted her hands. "What do we do first?"
"You can work out your own priorities. Most everyone understood and were content to wait until you got back. Marion and I handled anyone who couldn't. I suspect your phones will start ringing very soon.
Lee moved toward his desk. "Better start sorting."
"I'll go see my damage." Linda started down the inner corridor to her office.
"Call Senator Michaels first."
"Problem, Chip?" She stopped.
"No. He feels his new grant should be a wedding present, so he wants you to accept it."
"Lee, Allan Crenshaw called."
Linda stopped again. "What did he want?"
Chip shrugged. "He wanted Lee. He said you picked a rotten time to go on a honeymoon."
Linda turned around. "Like it's any business of his."
Chip raised a warning hand. "I told him that. He wasn't very happy."
"Do I need to call him?" Lee asked.
"No, Admiral King called the next day. They found someone else to go."
"Why does that man always have to call here? I thought he had his own people!"
"It's a very long story." Lee moved toward her.
"I've got time." Linda folded her arms.
"No, you don't. You have to call Washington."
Linda let Lee take her arm and pull her into an embrace. "You're not off the hook, mister," she said, as he released her.
Lee grinned down at her. "I know. I promise, one day I will tell you why."
"Only, not today."
"Especially, not today. Honeymoon's not over yet."
Chip laughed. "Knowing you two, it will last six months!"
"Plan on it." Linda threw the words over her shoulder as she left the office. What little she knew about Allan Crenshaw, she already didn't like. Now she had level five clearance, there was no going back.
* * * * * *
Linda heard voices as she came into the office. The dive has taken longer than scheduled. She figured Lee would have caught another ride home by now. He was talking to Admiral Nelson. After listening for a moment, she stopped short of Lee's door when she realized what the discussion was about.
"You don't have to go, Lee. I'll call Admiral King. He’ll find someone else for Crenshaw to borrow."
"No, Allan's people can't get to Kelly. There's something Agency rotten messing this up."
"All the more reason not to go, son. Let them clean up after their own."
"No, I won't leave Kelly stuck. I owe him."
"I don't like it, Lee."
"Neither do I. Kelly should have been able to escape."
"Allan tends not to tell us the truth in these matters."
"It's the Firm that makes Allan that way. I know I can handle this."
"All right, son. I trust your judgment. When do you leave?"
"They'll send a plane for me in the morning. That will give me time to tell Linda --”
"Tell Linda, what?" She walked into the room.
Lee stood up from behind his desk, coming over to greet her with a kiss. "Hi, love. How was the dive?"
"Fine." She returned his kiss automatically. "You were going to tell me something?" She looked up at him expectantly.
"Allan Crenshaw called," he ventured.
"And you said yes."
Lee blinked, surprised. "Yes, I did."
"Are you ready to go home?"
"Almost." Lee went back to his desk. "I've briefed Chip." He handed a slim folder over to Nelson. "This is everything else."
The Admiral took the folder. "Be careful, son."
Linda could feel Nelson eyeing her, but she wasn't about to get into it in front of him. Time enough for that when they got home.
* * * * * *
"You were very quiet during dinner," Lee observed as she came into his den. There was an odd smell in the air, as she came closer. Lee had several metal pieces laid out on a towel in front of him. Abruptly, she realized he was cleaning his pistol. The smell was gun oil. She watched him pick up the barrel and work the oil soaked cloth through it. There was the same professional sureness to his fingers that he had with diving equipment. He had done this many times before.
"What's on your mind?" he asked, starting on the chamber of the gun.
"Does it matter?" she answered.
"Of course, it matters." Lee looked up. "What kind of answer is that?"
"It didn't this afternoon."
"Why should it?" Lee's expression turned puzzled.
Linda leaned down on the desk. "I'm your wife, now. We should make important decisions together."
"This has nothing to do with that."
"Yes, it does."
"I decide which missions I take." Lee snapped the chamber shut.
"I've seen how happy that makes the Admiral," Linda retorted, stung by his flat tone. Lee did not want to discuss this with her.
Crane glanced up at her. "You had a briefing. You knew this would happen."
"I thought we'd discuss it first. Talk about the risks involved and weigh them, before you decided to go."
"I’ve made my decision!" Lee began reassembling the gun, snapping the gun parts back together with loud clicks.
"Oh, no. Don't ask me to be 'dutiful wife'. I can't do that."
"Why must you make this difficult? Do you think I want to go?" Lee put his gun down on the desk and then abruptly pushed away from it. He began to pace. "I need you behind me, so I can concentrate on the mission. You'll get used to it."
"I don't want to get used to it! You aren't listening to me! Fine, go! Get yourself killed! Don't let me stand in your way!" Linda stormed out of the room without looking back. She hated it when Lee shut her out like that.
She went into the kitchen and began washing the dishes. Linda half expected Lee to follow her into the kitchen and it surprised her a little when he didn’t. Let him stew a while longer. Linda scrubbed a few plates harder than necessary. Most of the time, Lee would hear her side, but there had been arguments she had lost. This issue was too important not to resolve tonight. It was clear he was going on the mission.
Linda turned off the water. The house was too quiet. She came out into the foyer, listening for him. She couldn't hear anything upstairs or in the den. Linda walked over to the den door. The room was empty. His gun lay in the center of his desk, abandoned. A quick trip up the stairs found their bedroom empty as well. She had apparently given Lee something to think about. Linda came slowly down the stairs again. Now she had to figure out where he had gone to do it.
Linda walked down the beach dune behind the house, picking her way carefully in the early evening dusk. Her first guess was right, he hadn't gone far. Lee sat, chin on knees, staring out at the surf. She walked up to him, dropping to her knees in the sand beside him. "I didn't hear you leave."
"Shouting at each other wasn't getting us anywhere." Lee shrugged. "They teach us to move quietly. It's the next class after gun cleaning."
"I shouldn't have yelled at you. I do that when I'm scared."
"This mission frightens you?"
Linda nodded. She drew a deep breath. "I'm afraid you'll die, like Rob did."
Lee turned toward her. "I don't intend to get killed."
"Rob didn't, either," Linda replied. "I couldn't take it a second time." Linda ducked her head as sudden tears burned her eyes and her voice choked.
She felt Lee's arms close around her. "Don't cry, love." He tightened his grip, pulling her close, kissing her hair lightly. "I promise you I will come back." Lee tilted her chin up, looking deep into her eyes. "You have to understand. It's my duty to go."
"Can't they find someone else?"
Crane laughed softly. "Duty isn't something you can choose to do."
"So you go."
"And I stay home and worry."
Lee stroked her hair gently. "I'd spare you that if I could."
She snuggled close to him. "You could retire."
Lee pulled back. "That would be running away. Don't ever ask me to do that." His tone was serious.
Looking up at his set expression, Linda realized she had crossed some line. She sighed. "All right. You're going. Do I have to like it?"
To her relief he relaxed, pulling her close again. "No, you don't have to like it."
She hugged him back. "I probably never will."
Crane sighed. "It's what I am."
"I know. I'll find a way to accept that, only I meant what I said. We have to decide this together, love."
Lee nodded. "Next time." He extended his hand. "I still have to pack. Want to help?"
"No. If you're flying out in the morning, I can think of a much better sendoff."
Lee grinned. "Count me in on that."
* * * * * *
Lee slid out from under the bed covers quietly. Linda slept lightly. He bent down, tucking the sheet and blanket back into place. If he let his side cool, she'd wake up even faster.
Crane took the black tee shirt and folded jeans from the chair and quickly put them on. Picking up his key ring, Lee returned to the bed. He gingerly pulled opened the bottom drawer of his bedside table, carefully drawing out the metal box inside. Inserting the key in the lock, he removed his forty five from the lock box. Lee threaded his belt through the gun holster and then put the belt on. He quietly placed the box back into the drawer.
"I always wondered what the well dressed spy wore."
His wife of two months sat up in their bed. "Come here so I can say goodbye." She patted the bed lightly beside her.
Lee walked around the bed, easing down next to her. Linda twined her hand in his hair, pulling him down lightly to kiss her. Her lips were soft under his, reawakening the passion of the night before. He kissed her deeply three times, before gently pulling away.
She let him go. "You will be careful?" she asked quietly, her eyes roving over his clothes again.
"I'm always careful."
Linda smiled wryly.
Lee knew she didn't believe him. "Al's going with me, as backup," he offered, hoping that would help.
"He'd better!" she replied. "If you come back in pieces, so help me---"
Crane leaned over and kissed her again.
She pressed against him suddenly, her arms going around his waist, holding him tight. "Why do you have to go?" Linda’s voice came out muffled from being buried in his chest.
"Kelly knows he can trust me."
She raised her head. "You do have that effect on people. Sometimes, I wish you didn't."
"No, you don't."
Linda smiled. "Okay, so I don't."
"I love you."
"I love you, too. It's this part of your job I don't care for."
"It's only for a few days."
She released him. "You'd better finish dressing and be on your way, Derek!"
"I told you. It's not like that." Lee shook his head.
Linda watched him tie his black sneakers and then smiled up at him. "You're ready now."
Crane leaned over again to kiss her once more. "I'll tell Jake to call you, so you'll know when to expect me."
"Come home safe." She returned his kiss.
"I will," Lee replied with confidence. He had someone to come home to now. He stood up.
Linda pushed the covers aside. "I'll walk you downstairs."
* * * * * *
Lee stood in the shadows of the warehouse, waiting for Kelly's lone guard to disappear around the corner. He had to move fast. Allan had been right about the opposition thinking they had a trade. Lee hoped Allan could keep negotiations going until he got Kelly out and to the airport. Crane shook his head. It was rarely that easy. They needed some luck. One guard on Kelly was a break. The real action must be across town. Lee flattened against the wall as he heard the guard's measured footsteps. The guy should be getting tired. Crane found himself wishing it was over.
The guard walked around the corner of the building. Lee rose cautiously, returning to the warehouse door. A quick yank of his crowbar finished his careful pry job on the padlock hasp. Lee paused inside the door, letting his eyes adjust to the warehouse's dimness. Crane used the intermittent security lighting to find his way to the office where they were holding Kelly. There wasn't much time. The guard would be back around and would find the jimmied door.
Lee sidled up to the office door. Looking in, he could see someone sprawled face down on the office sofa. Lee tried the door. Locked. Lee palmed his crowbar and brought the pry edge against the glass, knocking a hole in it. The crack and tinkle of the glass woke the person inside.
Robinson sat up awkwardly. His hands were circled by handcuffs. Kelly had a black eye and several other bruises on his face. His expression went from wary to relief when he saw Lee reach in to unlock the door. Robinson pushed off the sofa, meeting him, as Crane opened the door.
"I had given up on rescue," he said, as he followed Lee out the door. "No one left to trust."
"Allan doesn't want to give up Goreshenko. He worked too hard to get him. He doesn't want to leave you here, either and let them have what you know. So he called the Navy."
"Isn't this a job for the Marines?"
"Bite your tongue, Robinson. Are you all right? Can you run?"
"Handcuffs are a little awkward, but I'll manage. Show me the way, sailor."
"I have backup by the south fence. We didn't want to be conspicuous. We fake out your guard and you're out of here."
"He's only hired muscle, why don't we take him."
"I don't want to risk the attention gunshots will bring. I'd rather we melted away."
They were almost out the door when a flashlight blazed on.
"Tanner!" Kelly made the name a curse.
Lee was already moving. He shoved Kelly out the door, as he whirled and pitched his crowbar at the flashlight. Lee heard two gunshots as he dropped, rolling toward the door. One thudded into the door beside him. The other whistled across his ribs, leaving a burning trail of pain in its wake.
Lee continued rolling toward the door. He heard a dull thunk and a scream of pain, followed by swearing. The flashlight dropped. Lee gathered himself, sprang to his feet and ran out the door.
"Lee." Kelly was beside him suddenly. "Which way?"
"Over here." Crane ran around the corner of the building, with Kelly hard on his heels. The pain in his ribs worsened with each step, but Lee knew if he stopped, he would not make it out.
"Gate's open," he gasped, as Kelly started to pass him. "Look for . . . a blue taxi."
Kelly closed a manacled hand around his arm. "What's the matter? You hit?"
"Yes. Run, damn it! They will after us any moment."
"No, I won't lose a third partner." Kelly reached down for his hand. "Stay on your feet. I'll find the taxi."
There was shouting and more gunshots behind them.
Lee was staggering by the time they went out the gate.
"Quick, over here." Al Bronowski's voice came out of the dark. Lee felt another hand close around his other arm, dragging him left.
"Drive! Take the alternate route." Al ordered as Lee felt himself being shoved through the back door of the taxi. Kelly piled in after him. The doors slammed. Olsen gunned the engine, taking off in a squeal of rubber.
"Compromised again!" Bronowski's angry voice came from the front seat. "Will they know about the airport?"
"Probably," Kelly replied. "Can you radio in?"
"Not really, they'll pick up on that," Olsen replied. "I'll have to stash you three, then work my way back alone."
"Fine. Don't let them follow you. Are you all ONI?" Robinson asked.
"He's the Marine," Lee offered, sagging against the back seat of the taxi, trying to catch his breath. His side was on fire, yet he felt cold.
"Skipper?" Bronowski's concerned voice hovered above him.
“Got an aid kit in this jalopy?" Kelly asked.
"Under my seat," Olsen answered.
Kelly brushed past him, clumsily hauling the box out. "Change of clothes?"
"On the floor."
Lee felt himself sliding down as the taxi careened around a corner.
Kelly looked up into the rear view mirror. "Any tail yet?"
"Not yet," Bronowski answered.
"Good." Kelly fumbled in the kit. "I've got to ditch these handcuffs."
"Try one of the needles," Al suggested. "I can probably pick it, if you can't. . ."
Crane closed his eyes. He needed to rest for a moment in order to stay conscious.
Lee came awake with a jolt, coughing. The acrid smell of ammonia hung in the air above the back seat. His side began throbbing as he moved.
Lee looked up into Kelly's concerned eyes.
"We need you conscious. You went into shock before I could get a dressing slapped on."
Lee shook his head. Gauze, tightly taped, now covered his side. "Where are we?"
"Mazuko's Tavern. Olsen bought us a room upstairs. He thinks we'll be safe here until he can get new instructions. Now, can you convince me you're so drunk, Al has to help you up the stairs?"
Lee rubbed a hand through his hair. "I certainly feel rocky enough to pull it off."
"Bullet crease, Skipper. Kelly had to compress it with both our belts before it would stop bleeding. You keep my jacket on to hide the bloodstain until we're out of sight."
Kelly put a hand on his shoulder. "Can you sit up?"
Lee forced himself upright, ignoring the throbbing in his side. Kelly caught him before he could topple over. Crane fought to make his breathing less harsh. "Some rescue," he gasped.
Robinson smiled. "We could be lying dead on that warehouse floor. Tanner's a traitor and I know it. He had nothing to lose. You'll have to teach me that crowbar toss."
"Only if you promise to teach me to drop faster."
* * * * * *
Linda rose as she heard a car in the driveway. Finally. She wanted to run out the door and into his arms. Linda made herself wait as she heard male voices and slamming doors. Then there was a flash of lights as the car pulled out again. She stood beside the door, as she heard Lee’s key in the lock. He came in, carrying his duffle. Linda was in his arms before he had a chance to call her name.
"Well, hello," he murmured between kisses.
She pulled back gently. "Did you get the bad guys?"
"Yes," he replied tiredly. There was weariness in his eyes as she looked up at him.
Lee dropped his duffle to the floor. "No. It was . . . messy. Never mind. It's over."
"I'm so glad you're home." She pressed close to him and felt him wince. She dropped her arms quickly, looking up at him. "What is it?"
Crane sighed. "I'm sore. Jamie says--”
"You saw Jamieson?"
"He said I'd be fine," Crane insisted.
“--in a few days."
Lee looked down at her sternly. "He released me."
"You refused to stay," she countered.
"I'll heal here. Faster, with you taking care of me."
"Sweet talk won't get you anywhere. Did Jamie send instructions?"
"In the duffle." Crane pulled her close again. "Not now, love." He kissed the top of her head. "Now, I want to hold you and be glad I’m home."
"Have you eaten?"
"I had something at the Infirmary. Maybe later."
"Then let's get you into bed."
Crane grinned. "All ready?"
Linda resisted an urge to smack his arm. "Real sure of yourself, aren't you?"
Lee tightened his arm around her shoulder on his left side, shifting her to lean against him there. "I missed you. More than I thought I would."
"Tell me about it upstairs. C'mon." She bent down to snag the duffle. "Then we'll see what Jamie has to say."
Crane sighed. "You won't like it."
"What else is new? You're home. The rest, we'll deal with."
"I love you."
"I love you, too. I'll love you even more after you lie down."
"Jamie never quite put it that way."
She reached over to lightly smack his arm.
"Ow." He feigned being hurt.
"Serves you right,” she replied. “Now move it, mister."
Together they went up the stairs.
* * * * * *
"Love?" Lee poked his head around the open cabin door. "Mind going to the movie without me?
"No." Linda closed her notebook of grant notes. "What's up?"
"Chip wants me to back him up on a recruit drill."
"At this hour?"
Crane grinned. "We like to mix it up, keep them off balance. It's a night dive repair drill. We've rigged tank 3 for blackout conditions."
“Only you get excited about groping around the bottom of a pitch dark pool."
"Of course," Lee replied, his eyes dancing.
Linda made a waving motion with her hand. "Go. Have your fun. I'll start writing the grant report."
She shook her head. "They'll only talk about the drill and I'm still learning your lingo. It's annoying when I can't follow what they are saying."
"You have probably learned more than you should have after three cruises."
Linda arched an eyebrow. "Like staying out of corridors when the alarm claxon sounds."
"You have a point there," Lee replied, still grinning.
She looked up at his tone. "Come, kiss me and then get out of my hair."
"Yes, ma’am." Lee quickly crossed to the bunk.
Linda lifted her lips to his. "Anyone ever tell you, you're a smartass?" she asked, between kisses.
"No. It's insubordinate."
"Keep the bunk warm, I'll be back."
* * * * * *
Lee entered the tank area on the heels of the claxon. The recruits were in a scraggly, but complete line by the edge of the pool. Sharkey and a detail were flaking out their gear, while Chip paced down the line with his clipboard, looking grim. He was tough on recruits, but Lee always found his uncharacteristic scowl hard to take seriously. Crane hid his smile, assuming his command face as Sharkey noticed his arrival.
"Captain on deck," the Chief bellowed. The recruits stiffened to attention.
Lee waited while Chip adjusted his line, leaving red faced recruits in his wake. Then he nodded to the Exec. "Very good, Mr. Morton."
"Considering what I have to work with," Chip growled.
"Let's get started."
Lee didn't rush, but the trainers all finished well before the trainees. The recruits hadn't handled neoprene as long. Lee hid his smile again, as Sharkey and Kowalski proceeded to stuff the more awkward ones into their gear. Lee pulled on his rubber hood, patching into the radio frequency. Chip was pairing each of his recruits to an experienced diver.
"Everyone into the pool," Morton ordered.
Lee walked to the end of the line. He wasn't involved in the actual repair. As backup monitor, he would keep tabs on the drill's progress, while Chip worked the detail. They caught more mistakes that way.
Lee adjusted his mask, biting down on his mouthpiece. Crane slid into the water. He swam several yards out, then jackknifed down to settle into place at the bottom of the tank.
"Listen up. When you are outside the sub at depth there may not be any light to work by. So we are getting you used to darkness. Turn your torches on."
Chip's voice sounded loud in his ear as several glows appeared in the water in front of Lee. Lee thumbed the volume down a notch.
"Okay, Sharkey, kill the lights."
The pool turned inky black, lit only by the ghostly glow of the torches. The recruits would get used to it.
"Stay in line. Keep your buddy in sight."
The lights fanned out. One of them went the wrong way.
"Diver Five," Lee said quietly into his mouthpiece.
"Nichols, follow your buddy. He's in red."
"Yes, sir," came the shaky reply.
The wayward torch veered back in line.
"There's a hatch on the bottom of the pool. Find it."
The drill went well, except for hapless Nichols who continued to be disoriented by the lack of light. Lee shook his head. There was usually one they couldn't make a deep diver out of. The hatch repair was slow going by touch, but good training for the recruits.
A panicked voice came over the wire. "My mask is filling."
"Then clear it!" Chip replied calmly.
"I can't!" Nichols was becoming hysterical. Lee could hear him starting to hyperventilate.
"Of course, you can," Morton said, gruffly. "Do it!"
There was no reply. Lee saw a torch swing out, trying to pin diver five with light. He wasn't in his place in line.
Lee swore. He clicked on his mic as he heard panicked thrashing near him. The torches were coming his way. "Lights, Sharkey!" he growled. "Kowalski, buddy up with Mr. Morton and find Nichols! Chip, location check!"
This time, Chip did not answer him. As the lights blazed on Lee saw Morton fighting for his life in front of him. Air bubbled out of Chip's torn air hoses. In his panic, the recruit had grabbed the first contact that he made. Chip was trying to break free, which only panicked the recruit more.
"Kowalski, get Nichols to the surface. Now!" Lee released his weight belt, and pushed hard off the bottom, striking out quickly to come to Morton's aid.
A red wetsuit swam in from behind Chip and grabbed Nichols. Startled, the recruit let go.
Lee pried the hoses out of Nichol's hand. Then Ski kicked hard, pulling the man away from the Exec. Lee caught Chip as he came free. Crane forced his mouthpiece firmly into Morton's mouth. Chip started to pull away and then realized he was getting air. He took a deep pull, as Lee kicked for the surface.
The rest of the training party surrounded them immediately. Several willing hands pushed Chip to the side. Lee hit his tank release and handed his tank up, so they could lift Chip out of the pool. The recruits lay sprawled in an untidy huddle in a corner of the deck, watching Kowalski work on Nichols. The recruit's rosy color confirmed hyperventilation.
"Need a hand out, sir?" Sharkey stood over him.
Lee took hold of the chief's arm, hoisting himself over the edge. "Did you call Doc?"
Lee dragged off his mask. Patterson was divesting Morton of his useless tanks. Half aware of the crewman behind him, Chip removed his scuba mouthpiece. He raised his head and endeavored to straighten. Morton got half way up, and then began coughing. Patterson grabbed Chip's shoulders, bracing him against the spasms.
"Easy, sir," Pat said quietly.
"Couldn't have said it better myself." Lee added, as he sidled across the slick, wet deck to Chip's side.
Jamie came through the hatch and went to Nichols. He worked with Kowalski until Nichol's harsh gasping finally eased. Then he came over and kneeled beside Chip.
Morton swallowed hard, raising a hand. "I swallowed some water. I'm all right," he said hoarsely.
"I'll want to check you out anyway, to be sure." Doc looked at Patterson and Lee. "Can you bring him?"
"Sure, Doc," Pat replied. "'Ski and I can handle it, Skipper."
"I'll tag along, anyway," Crane replied.
"Thought you had a date." Chip turned his head.
Lee closed his hand around his friend's arm. "Later. Let's get you squared away, first."
"I'm still going with you. Ski, Pat, let's go."
* * * * * *
"He's fine." Jamie stepped back from the exam table. "He'll sleep here tonight, but there's no reason he can't be his grumpy self in the morning. If he lays off scuba drills for a week."
"Thanks." Chip pulled the sickbay shirt back on. "I shouldn't have let him grab me like that."
"It happens." Lee shrugged. He had been watching Will's examination from the other table since changing out of his wetsuit. "That's why you have backup."
"Did I say thanks?"
"No, but you're welcome."
"Why don't you call it a night, Lee? There's someone waiting for you," Chip urged.
Lee grinned. "I wonder who."
"Scram," Jamie added.
"Okay, I'm going." Lee hopped off the table and suddenly his legs would not hold him up. The room tilted and he slid to the floor. Crane closed his eyes against the sudden vertigo. "Jamie?" he forced out, feeling the Doctor's hard grip on his arm.
"Will?" Chip's concerned voice sounded above his head.
"Lee, draw your knees up and then bend forward. Take slow, deep breaths."
The room finally stopped whirling a few minutes later.
"That's it,” Jamie encouraged. “Slow and easy.”
Lee took several more breaths. He began to feel better. He raised his head cautiously. The room stayed still. Lee didn't realize he was sweat soaked until Jamieson handed him a towel. Crane wiped his face with it.
"Do I dare get up?" Lee asked.
"Go ahead and try,” Jamieson answered.
Lee stood cautiously, leaning on the table. The room stayed still. "What brought that on?"
"Chip's close call affected you more than you realized."
Lee rubbed the towel through his damp hair.
"Getting too old for this, buddy?" Chip asked quietly.
"That will be the day," Crane shot back.
"You may think no way, Lee, but your body said otherwise. Here, drink this."
Lee took the plastic cup from the Doctor and downed the contents.
"Now, go to your cabin and lay down. No stops. You should be all right by morning."
"I'll hold you to that, Jamie." Lee slung the towel around his neck.
"Provided he sleeps. . ." Chip cracked.
"Would you?" Lee responded quickly.
"No way." Chip winked. "Except Will is going to make sure I do, right?
"Right." Jamieson threatened good-naturally.
"See you in the morning, Chip."
* * * * * *
Linda shifted uncomfortably in Lee's bunk. She felt cold. As Linda reached out for the cover her hand hit cool flesh. The contact jolted her awake. She pulled her hand back and then realized she was now sharing the bunk with Lee.
She had fallen asleep waiting for him. Linda rubbed her eyes and looked at the chronometer set into the bulkhead above her. Twenty-three hundred. She hadn't been asleep that long.
Linda moved closer to the bulkhead and tried to reach past Crane for the cover. She shouldn't be this cold. She brought the cover up over the two of them, half expecting her movement to rouse Lee, but he remained asleep. Burrowing under the cover, she snuggled next to Lee to get warm. Pressing against his back, she realized her shirt was damp as it touched her. And Lee wasn't warm, like he should have been.
Linda pushed the cover back, sitting up. She reached out and nudged Crane's shoulder. He didn't stir. Puzzled, Linda reached up to stroke his hair. He usually responded to that. Her fingertips brushed rough curls. She suddenly knew how her shirt had gotten damp. Only, she couldn't do anything about it, pinned against the bulkhead by her sleeping husband.
She shook his shoulder hard. Lee still did not rouse. Worried, Linda slid down the bunk, until she could awkwardly scramble out over his legs. She half hopped off the bunk onto the deck. Crossing the room to the small cupboard where Lee's sink was, she lifted out the towels stored there.
A damp towel lay over the back of Lee's desk chair. Linda flipped it to check the laundry mark. SB. The laundry mark relieved yet worried her. Lee was here, not sick bay, which meant Jamie had released him. She suddenly regretted not being awake when Lee returned. His uniform was in the usual place for the steward to collect. Nothing looked out of the ordinary.
Linda laid the towels on the desk, then pulled open Lee's wardrobe. She quickly removed her damp night shirt, donning one of Lee's t-shirts. A little rummaging found a pair of white pajamas that looked unused. She took the towels and pajamas over to the bunk, and then hoisted herself back into the bunk, crawling over his legs again. Linda flopped into the narrow space behind him and then moved up to dry his still damp hair with her towel.
She was on the verge of tossing the towel to the floor, when Lee finally stirred. "Mmmm - Linda?" His voice was very low and weary.
She kissed him very gently along his hairline. "You're late tonight."
Lee's eyes fluttered open. They were hazy with sleep. "Had a problem . . . with the recruit drill."
"The one you ran with Chip?"
Lee nodded, his eyes closing, but not before Linda saw pain in them.
Lee swallowed hard and then suddenly shuddered. Linda felt the tremor as she dropped the towel to the floor. She reached behind her for the pajama top. "Here, love." Linda brushed the top across his shoulder. "You need to get warm."
Lee rose up on one elbow, and then sat up with an effort, his legs sliding over the edge. He lifted one arm wearily, as she put the top on him. Linda quickly buttoned it closed from the side. Then she handed him the bottoms. He pulled them on. She quickly flipped his pillow over and laid the other towel on it, then moved back.
"Now lay down."
He rolled into the bunk and she put her arm over his shoulder. Lee still felt cold, but after a few moments of holding him, he finally began to warm up. "You feel good," he muttered. "Jamie should hire you out."
"That's not my job. Besides, he needs to look after Chip."
"Chip's okay now," Lee replied sleepily, snuggling closer.
Thanks to you, Linda answered silently. She'd find out what happened from Jamieson in the morning. "You always find trouble," she whispered quietly, after Lee had fallen asleep again. She settled down next to him and let herself drift off to sleep.
* * * * * *
Linda's intercom buzzed. She picked it up.
Marion's exasperated voice came on the line. "It's that Crenshaw fellow, again. He's insisting I transfer him out to the sub so he can talk to the Captain."
Linda glanced at her watch. "The tour is almost over, Marion. Assure him the Captain will return his call as soon as he gets back into the office. I know you can convince him."
Marion laughed. "I doubt it. I'll try."
Linda saw the light go out a few seconds later. It was four days to Christmas. What a time for that man to call. She was definitely going to talk to Lee before he did.
She didn't have long to wait. She came out of her office as soon as she heard his voice asking Marion for messages. Their secretary stopped in mid irate explanation when she came out.
Linda folded her arms. "Don't stop on my account," she said quietly.
"Oh, I'm done. I don't like rude callers. I don't care who they work for. Man thinks the Captain has nothing better to do than drop everything when he calls."
Lee smiled down at Marion. "I'll set him straight."
"You'd better," Marion growled.
"Yes, ma'am." Crane's eyes twinkled.
"Go make your call. Get that man out of my hair."
"How did the senators like the tour?" Linda followed him into his office.
"We impressed them. You didn't expect otherwise, did you?"
"No, not really. Seaview has that effect."
Lee shrugged. "You want to talk about Allan, don't you?"
"His timing stinks."
"Missions never happen at convenient times." Lee reached out for her hand. "Let me find out what he wants."
Linda took his hand in hers. "He wants you."
Lee squeezed her hand. "That doesn't mean he'll get me."
Linda slid into the visitor chair. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No." Lee sat down in his chair, wheeling it close to the desk. He quickly dialed the number.
It was a one sided conversation, with Allan doing most of the talking. Lee listened for about five minutes, giving an occasional yes or no reply. Finally, Crenshaw wound down.
"I'm sorry, Allan," Lee replied. "I can't help you."
Linda sat up in the chair.
Lee listened as Crenshaw went off again. Crane let him talk for a few minutes and then interrupted. "I'm not getting into this, Allan. Give it to Michael or I’ll bring Zeus and Admiral King in." Crane gripped the phone tighter. "Fine. I knew you'd see it my way. Merry Christmas, Allan." Lee hung up the phone.
"You said no," Linda blurted.
"Of course, I said no. It's Michael's operation all the way. He doesn't need me underfoot. Politics!" Lee threw up his hands. "Besides, I promised to spend Christmas with you."
Linda shrugged. "I keep expecting something to ruin it."
"No way." Lee stood up and came around the desk to stand behind her chair. "It will be our best Christmas yet."
Linda stood up and went into his arms. "Thanks to you."
Lee leaned down to kiss her. "I have my priorities in order. You."
"And the Admiral and Chip."
"Someone has to keep them out of trouble."
Linda laughed. "We'll put them in charge of the turkey."
"Now you're really asking for it."
She kissed him passionately. Christmas was going to happen after all.
* * * * * *
Linda stepped lightly as she walked down the stairs. She didn't want to wake Lee. She needed to put his present out. She knew Lee had been busy adding presents after she went up to bed. Any other night than Christmas Eve, she might believe it was important he look at the sketches the Admiral had brought over. That project was nowhere near completion and the design was only one of several under consideration. She had contented herself with a deep, long, tantalizing kiss and left him to do whatever it was.
The package was snug in the pocket of her robe. She had a little time. Lee usually didn't wake until seven. Unless she ran into something. Unexpected noise roused him immediately. There was no general quarter’s alarm the morning Linda stumbled over the vanity stool. Lee was beside her before she could pick herself up. His sudden touch startled her worse than the fall. She hadn't seen that side of him until her first cruise. The carefree Friday party gang became a command team once they were aboard Seaview. Linda knew she would never completely fit in, but she had a place as grant coordinator. The eight months since their marriage had not been easy. Lee loved her, but he was stubborn. She had made a few inroads. Lee was delegating more, but he still did way too much himself.
Linda could see several new presents under the tree, in addition to the ones Chip and the Admiral brought over. She walked up to the tree. Linda placed her gift in the branches at Lee's eye level, next to his favorite ornament. It had taken a bit of planning to get the cufflinks made. Linda had seen Lee's dolphins innumerable times, pinned to his blue uniform coat. She couldn't remove them for the jeweler to copy without Lee noticing their absence. Her husband dismissed all his ribbons and medals as 'fruit salad'. Except, Lee always knew where they were, what uniform they went on and which uniform to wear. There was a pattern in what he wore when, but Linda was thankful she didn't have to keep track. She finally 'liberated' one of his manuals from the study and made a copy of the insignia for the jeweler. Lee hadn't said anything about his missing book, but she doubted he hadn't noticed it was AWOL.
Linda sat down on the lowest stair step, letting her gaze travel over the tree. She wanted to remember it with all the wrapped presents. It was so beautiful. Once the presents were open that disappeared. She hadn't bothered with a full sized live tree since leaving home. That crazy Saturday, he had bundled her into the car and taken her into Santa Barbara. There were so many on the lot to choose from. At last, she found one worth the money they were charging. All Lee cared about was the size. There were times she was sure he'd buy her the moon. If she let him.
Linda tried to keep the decorating simple. Lee only encouraged her to buy more tinsel and ornaments. They had a wonderful evening decorating. She felt so close to him that night, the pain of past empty Christmases without Rob almost forgotten. Lee went upstairs right in the middle of the decorating. He came back carrying a taped box. Linda recognized it from when he had moved back in. She thought they had opened them all.
Lee put the box down on the coffee table. "I thought about giving these away. I found I couldn't."
"What's in there?" Linda asked quietly.
"Ghosts of Christmas Past."
She looked up at him. "Do we let them out?" Linda slid her arm around his waist in silent support.
Lee nodded, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and giving her a light squeeze. "It's time."
Yet she saw his hesitation as he broke the tape. There was a small part of him that still grieved for his first wife, although Lee rarely let it show now. Those times, Linda was there for him. The box was a trove of painted glass balls from every country bounded by the sea. There was also one very old wooden soldier with hinged arms and legs. Lee took it gently from her hands, a soft smile coming to his face. He traced the outlines of the faded paint with his fingertips.
"That's very old..."
"The Admiral's mother gave it to me. When I was 17. He . . . adopted me my first year at Annapolis."
"Let's give it the place of honor."
Linda's eyes went to the soldier now, guarding her present to Lee. This Christmas was much better than last years. She didn't mind going home to Long Beach, except she missed Lee the entire vacation. Bringing Mom up here had been a wonderful solution. Her in-laws still fascinated Barbara Allen. She'd listen to the Admiral’s stories for hours. Chip's teasing hadn't gotten out of hand yet. She told Morton to cool it until her Mom left.
Linda felt footsteps on the stairs above her. "What are you doing up so early, love?" Lee eased down next to her, his arms going around her.
"Painting a memory," she replied, leaning back into him.
"Did a great job on the tree."
"I had help, remember."
He kissed her gently on the cheek. "A little, maybe."
Linda kissed him back. "Where did all those presents come from?"
Lee shrugged. "Santa?"
"Or his elf?"
"Haven't you been a good girl?" She could see green glints in his dark hazel eyes sparkle.
"Depends on what you mean by good." Linda turned in his arms, kissing him passionately on the lips.
Lee shifted, returning her kiss hungrily. They kissed several times before he gently released her. "Merry Christmas, love."
"Shall we see what Santa left?"
"Okay." She followed him down the stairs. Four days ago, he had given her the best present she could ever receive.
* * * * * *
End of Story 4
To be continued in Transitions. (Story #5)