BEGINNINGS

By

Cris Smithson

'...beginnings are such delicate times...' Frank Herbert

 

William George Jamieson paused in the entrance to the dimly lit observation nose. Partly to let his eyes adjust but mainly to study the young man huddled into one of the comfortable armchairs provided for visiting dignitaries. What am I going to do with you? How best to tackle the problem? Especially when the man in question was the commanding officer of a boat you had only just joined and really, really wanted to stay with.

As the CMO of the boat, his first instinct was to issue a flat order and demand compliance.

As a psychiatrist, he wanted to adopt a subtle, non-confrontational approach.

As the man whose jaw still hurt, he wanted to storm over there and punch him on the nose.

And as a friend? As a friend he wanted to reach out and help.

His first few weeks aboard Seaview had been tricky. Every attempt at conversation with Crane had been stonewalled. Oh, the Captain had been polite enough, but it was a distant politeness; a cool, controlled response as if he did not want to be bothered with a mere medic. Originally Jamieson put it down to an over-young commander being very conscious of his rank and wanting to put an older man in his place. Then he saw more of the crewís interaction with their Skipper and realised Crane didnít care two hoots about rank. Rank was acknowledged, as was the work needed to earn it, but respect - respect went to the man.

Determined to establish some sort of relationship with his Captain, Will had ignored all attempts to dissuade him and persisted in his attempts to draw Crane into conversation, no matter how briefly. Slowly the young officer began to thaw, even smiling occasionally at Willís stock of bad jokes and even offering one or two of his own. To the rest of the wardroomís dismay, they proved to have similar tastes in both jazz and atrocious puns. It was only if talk turned to his own health that he would freeze up again, sometimes walking out without a word. Last time it had been four days before Crane would speak to him again.

When he heard that the Nelson Institute was re-organising its medical facilities and there would be both sea- and shore-based openings, Will had decided it was time to move outside the Navy. Staying with the Navy meant moving into a more administrative post and Will had no desire to take his career in that direction. He hadnít spent nine years training to give up being a doctor yet. Applying for a senior position in the Infirmary, he had been surprised to discover that the coveted post of CMO aboard Seaview was to be offered on rotation to all candidates for an initial period. Only at the end of that time would permanent appointments be made. None of the candidates knew what the criteria for acceptance were. That the successful man would be supremely well qualified was a given; the Institute had a reputation for employing only the best. All were experienced in trauma; all had served in the Navy; all had an interest in research. Will had been daunted to discover that he was the oldest applicant to make it to the final stages.

When he was offered the permanent post aboard Seaview instead of one of the shore-based positions he had been expecting, he had hesitated for all of 30 seconds before accepting. Busy organising his new domain he had ignored the scuttlebutt which claimed the job went to whichever doctor coped with the Captain of the Seaview. Now he thought he had been a little too quick to dismiss the rumours.

If he had done the best, Will hated to think what had happened with the others. Hell, it had taken him two weeks of solid nagging and a threat to perform the exam in the Control Room to get Crane to submit to his routine three month medical! He had been appalled to learn from the Exec that that was the deciding factor in his getting the job - none of the others had managed it. Thinking back, he realised there had been a change in attitude from men reporting for Sicklist after that. Even the junior officers had treated him with increased respect.

After a hourís close scrutiny of his patientís medical file it was no longer a mystery. Once he knew what to look for he was stunned by his own blindness. All those routine medicals, all with identical results, and all signed off with suspiciously illegible signatures. How long had this been going on? Crane must have spent more time and effort intimidating and out-stubborning the medics than he would have taking the tests. Difficult enough to pull off for long in the Navy where rank counted; impossible with the Instituteís smaller, even closer-knit civilian medical team.

Perhaps this was the answer to Nelsonís sudden re-organisation of the Infirmary. Maybe the scuttlebutt was right; maybe they had been looking for a doctor who could handle the Skipper. Now all he had to do was prove, to himself as well as to them, that their faith was justified. Will just wished he knew how he was going to pull it off.

Will wondered if the Exec knew how serious todayís incident could be. If he did, it might explain Mortonís sudden willingness to assist the medical team. If it got out that Lee had assaulted a member of his crew (intentionally or not) it wouldnít do Craneís career much good. More importantly, it showed how dangerous Craneís avoidance of medical treatment could be. If they didnít do something now, one day Crane might refuse treatment that would save his life. Until today, Morton had cheerfully connived with most of Craneís attempts to run rings around the medics. Will smiled as he realised that on the only occasions that Crane had needed treatment, the Exec had been close at hand. Now he wondered if Chip had been offering support or preventing escape.

Earlier it had taken some fast talking on Mortonís part to calm him down enough to listen to the Execís advice. Now he was glad he had. Crane needed someone to talk to; someone who would listen with no expectations of perfection. Someone he didnít have to be strong for.

"Can I join you, Skipper?"

Crane shrugged indifferently, continuing to stare out beyond his reflection into the blackness beyond the windows. "I expected you sooner."

It was Willís turn to shrug. "I thought Iíd give us both a chance to cool off."

There was a strained silence before Crane spoke again. "Iím sorry. About hitting you. I should have had more self-control."

"These things happen."

Crane jumped as if jabbed and finally faced the doctor. "No they donít. Not if you donít let them."

"Are you telling me you could have stopped what happened earlier?" It was important to maintain the air of mild curiosity.

There was another long pause before Crane whispered, "No. When I woke up and saw...all I could think about was getting out." There was a small, half ashamed, half rueful, smile. "I was partway down the aft passageway before I even realised I was home."

"Care to talk about it?"

"No." There was a hint of steel in Craneís voice.

Time to play Chipís recommended card. "If itís me youíre not happy with, if youíd rather have another doctor..,"

"No!"

Will ignored the interruption. "I can tell Admiral Nelson I changed my mind; that Iíd rather have the shore posting after all."

"No - I donít want you to go. Youíre the best CMO weíve had. The men trust you."

"But you donít."

Crane turned away again, hugging his knees even tighter. "Itís not you," he confessed, "itís me."

"I guess weíd better talk about it then."

"Iím not good at talking to doctors."

"I had noticed."

Crane continued to stare out of the window, denial in every inch of the slim body.

"Captain, you do realise you donít have to call me ĎDocí? Thereís nothing in the regs to say you canít use my name." Taking the muffled sound as a chuckle, he continued, "You could call me Will. Or Jamie." The last was offered as he remembered that Craneís father had been a William.

"Why Jamie?" Crane sounded puzzled.

"When youíre the last of three brothers to attend the same medical school and they were all W G Jamieson the nurses were bound to do something to the name. I reckon I got off lightly."

"Three of you?"

Will nodded confirmation. He didnít know if Crane was more fascinated by the concept of brothers or by the fact that the Jamieson parents were clearly short on imagination.

Silence stretched out again.

"Captain, we do have to deal with this." There was another silence. Will fought the temptation to fill it. Crane could not be rushed or bullied into this. It was go at his pace or not at all. When the reply came, it was a resigned acceptance of a distasteful necessity.

"I suppose so." Crane continued, "Doctor Jamieson - Jamie - I am sorry. Not just today, about everything. And my friends call me Lee."

"Thank you," Will wasnít sure if he was offering thanks for the apology or for the gift of admittance into those few privileged to use the Skipperís first name. "Iíll get us some fresh coffee. Joe always helps lubricate the throat when thereís talking to be done."

"You want to talk here?"

"Why not?" When there were no objections to his unorthodox consulting room, Will

headed off to the galley. He could only hope that Crane would still be there when he returned.

Surprised by the speed of the doc...Jamieís return with coffee, mugs and a plate of cookies, Crane realised someone must have warned the galley to expect the call. Crane had a feeling he knew who that someone was. Sometimes Chip forgot they were Exec and Captain now and only remembered the painfully young roomie he had adopted their first week at Annapolis.

"Youíve been talking to Chip," he said through a mouthful of chewy cookie.

"Would you mind if I had?"

"I guess not," he added around another bite. Lee smiled slightly. "Heís been doing it since the Academy. Elected himself my big brother the first week and nothingís changed."

"Besides, heís not the only one whoís noticed youíd live on these things if we let you." Jamieson contemplated his own cookie thoughtfully. "Did you know that we donít get these when youíre away?"

Jamieson struggled to control his building grin as Lee blushed and buried his nose in his coffee mug to try and hide. Watching his Captain squirm, Will was struck anew by how young he was. With his hair mussed and curly like that he looked barely old enough to enter Annapolis let alone be in command of the most advanced submarine afloat. Even if he did have two-days worth of stubble and a black eye. Will had never before had a commanding officer he was practically old enough to have fathered.

There was a companionable silence as another cookie found itís way into Leeís suddenly empty stomach. Hunger appeased, Lee sipped his coffee slowly, trying to put off the inevitable moment when he would have to find some kind of explanation for his appalling treatment of the doc...of Jamie. It was odd how thinking of him as ĎJamieí helped.

"I suppose youíve read my file?"

"Thereís nothing there to explain this," Will said quietly.

"Thatís not what the others said."

And that could be part of the problem, Will realised. Happy with what seemed like an acceptable reason for Craneís behaviour, previous doctors who had had trouble with him had not bothered to follow up. Or maybe he hadnít socked them when they tried to give him a shot. While his fatherís early death and his motherís subsequent over-protectiveness were probably the cause of his dislike of hospitals and his almost instinctive hiding or minimising of any injury or illness, there was no way they could explain todayís reaction. Or his previous skittishness around Jamieson.

Realising Jamie wasnít going to let him off, Lee returned to staring into his coffee. The silence was no longer friendly. It was filled with memories and feelings he had tried for years to bury. The mission itself had been a success, had even made him some good friends, but afterwards...afterwards had been bad. He shouldnít let it get to him, he told himself angrily. It was a long time ago and Jamie was nothing like the other one. But a small scared voice in the back of his mind whispered Ďdonít trust himí; whispered of waking in another bed to find another doctor watching him.

Crane acknowledged that the last mission hadnít helped. While things had worked out in the end, it had been close. Too close. Waiting in that cave complex, wondering if Abdul Azziz would return with help or simply turn them in to General Kemal, he had far too much time to remember past betrayal.

"I donít know where to start, Jamie," he confessed.

"Try the beginning," Will quietly suggested.

"The beginning? That would take a long time."

What was the beginning? The official mission? The one that came after? Or later, when it should have been all over? When they should have been safe.

Lee tried to push aside the bitterness. It wasnít ONIís fault. Even the best make mistakes; he was just unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of that one.

Attempting to ignore the patiently waiting Jamieson, he stared into the depths of his mug, concentrating on the faint ripples generated by the constant, almost imperceptible, vibration from the engines. That background, different for every boat, was such a part of life that an experienced crewman could recognise his own boat blindfold.

"Howís Kowalski?" He asked abruptly.

"Heís fine. Iíll let him up tomorrow; a couple of days rest to start that shoulder healing and then he can be released from Sickbay. Given some intensive physical therapy he should be back to his normal boisterous self in a few weeks." Will fought the urge to add Ďand quit stallingí. Getting Lee to even admit there was a problem was a major breakthrough and there was no way he was going to jeopardise their fragile relationship by impatience. If Lee could force himself to talk about it, no matter how briefly, it would lay the foundations for healing.

Will didnít need the details; that could come later. Right now, what they both needed was for Lee to talk to him. Once that barrier was breached the rest would be, if not easy, at least possible.

Abruptly Lee spoke; slowly at first, picking his words with obvious care, then more quickly in his hurry to get it over and done with. "It was another ONI mission. A tricky one but we made it out. A bit banged up, but all more-or-less in one piece. They went back to their safe house and I headed for mine." Craneís tone was flat and unemotional. Almost as if he was reading a boring report written by someone else.

"I never knew his name.

"He was a doctor; ran a free clinic with aid from some American charity - all perfectly legitimate, with every penny traceable and accountable. And all a cover for running our spy network in that country.

"Not that it was much of a network. Or much of a country. But they had oil and no way to exploit it themselves so all the players were jockeying for position."

Lee was slightly shocked by his own cynicism. Had he felt that way at the time? He couldnít remember. He remembered the desert; how it felt, riding across the moonlit sands; how at home heíd felt with Amyís people. Most of all he remembered his delight (and Ewanís relief) when she had officially adopted him as her brother in front of the elders.

"I had a cut on my leg, not too bad but it needed a few stitches. He gave me shot, a local so he could take care of it. When I woke up I was gagged and strapped to a bed, with a drip up and him sitting there, smiling."

It was a pleasant enough room, for a hospital. Lace curtains blowing in the breeze, pictures on the wall, even a comfy looking chair. One of the private rooms at the clinic for those few who could pay for treatment. Still smelled like a hospital though. The only problem was that he couldnít move. He couldnít even twitch a finger. Only his eyes responded to his desperate efforts at control, finally focussing on the man sitting by his side. Smiling. Always smiling.

The doctor at the Naval Base had smiled too. Continuously. Even when he said he didnít know if the paralysis would wear off.

At least Jamieson never smiled; not the sickening, oh-so-sincere doctor smile. He was more likely to frown or scowl when he caught Lee ducking check-ups or ignoring his advice. Crane took a gulp of his cooling coffee. "He and his wife had decided to go freelance. We found," he hesitated, "something in the desert. Something dangerous. Something we hadnít mentioned in our reports.

"Something others would be interested in." They had never spoken of it again. Once the three of them had decided to bury Markhamís research along with the base it was as if it had never happened.

"Heíd heard rumours. Enough to guess weíd found more than was in our reports. Enough to realise he had a valuable commodity. Me."

"Heíd given me something that paralysed me. The straps were just insurance; he didnít need them. He was very proud of his little cocktail. Told me all about its effects and exactly what it was doing to me. All part of the softening up process to make my interrogation easier when he handed me over. Far more civilised than getting his own hands dirty."

Lying there, unable to move, watching the drip slowly feeding death and destruction into his arm, unable even to stop listening as the doctor described in loving detail what the drug was doing to him. The panic as he realised that there was nothing he could do to stop it. Imagining the slow destruction of nerve cells as the drugs circulated. Temporary paralysis to begin with but if the dose increased ...and, of course, the special quality of this particular mix. It attacked the motor functions but left the speech centre and receptors - pain receptors - unaffected.

Lying there, screaming for help in his own head and knowing no-one could hear.

He licked dry lips, staring down at the mug in his hands and realised he was shaking. Suddenly Jamie was there, offering a glass of water and resting a warm hand on his shoulder. Amazing how much comfort could be found in a simple touch.

"You must have been scared," Jamieson said quietly.

Lee managed a shaky laugh. "Scared? Jamie, I was terrified!"

"How did you get out?" Still quiet, still calm; an antidote to raging emotions.

"I didnít."

And that must have been tough. Trapped. Alone. Helpless. No wonder you canít stand being confined or not being in control. Will wondered at the strength shown by his young commander; to go through that and still take on ONI missions.

"My friends decided to check up on me and came to the rescue." He had never managed to find out why. All they said was that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Good friends to have."

"The best." Even though they had ended up working against each other a couple of times somehow they had always stayed friends. When Ewan died Lee had been nearly as hard hit as he imagined he would be if (heaven forbid) something happened to Chip.

"What happened to the doctor?"

Crane was glad that Jamie stayed close, knowing that he needed a friendly presence even if he could never have asked.

"Something messy and probably permanent. She never was big on forgiveness or second chances.

"By the time I recovered enough to ask questions, they were gone and I was back in Norfolk."

Lee allowed Jamieson to trade his glass of water for a fresh mug of coffee. He cradled the warmth gratefully despite the knot his stomach was in. There was no way he could drink the bitter brew right now. Not until he calmed down and forced the memories back into their box.

Sinking back into his own chair, Will gazed thoughtfully at his Captain. It explained a lot, though he had a feeling he had been given a heavily edited version. He wondered if Crane had been any more forthcoming with the Exec. Probably not. Probably only enough to get Chip off his back and enlist his help in obfuscating his way around the medical staff.

"All right, now I know we can do something about it."

"We can?"

"Lee, I didnít get those letters after my name from the college bowling team," Will chided.

Lee hung his head, once again hugging his knees to sit curled in the armchair. Jamieson wondered if he realised how young and vulnerable it made him look. At least heíd had sense enough to change into something warmer than Sickbay issue jammies. Or maybe not, he amended as he spotted some familiar material poking out of the jogging pants. Clearly the Exec had been practising his role of big brother. That probably explained the absence of the officer normally stationed in the nose.

Watching the way Crane avoided meeting his eyes, Will realised he was hoping that he had parted with enough detail to placate his doctor. It would be hard to get him to open up further but it had to be done. Later would do for that; they had made a beginning, that was the important thing. There was no way Will could allow such a potentially dangerous situation to continue. Not only was it bad for Lee, it was very bad for Sickbay morale. Nobody liked treating a patient who was likely to sock them one!

" Are you listening to me?" He waited for Crane to nod before continuing firmly, "Lee, we have to deal with this."

"Why? Now you know, why canít we just forget it?"

"Because you havenít forgotten it. My jaw knows that even if you donít.

"Lee - the more you try to bury something like this, the more likely it is to rear up and bite you in the butt. Usually when you least expect it."

Will gave him a few minutes to think about it.

"Why donít we make a start right now?

"Come back down to Sickbay with me." He headed off the budding rejection, "You donít have to stay. Take a shower, eat some breakfast and let me check out those ribs again. No shots. No drip. No arguments. And you can go back to your cabin afterwards. Deal?" Will decided it was time to play his ace. "While youíre there you can apologise to King for tossing him across the deck. Canít you?"

Gotcha! Will thought triumphantly. Lee was too good a captain to try ducking out of his responsibilities to his men. Even if he was desperately embarrassed by the whole incident.

Easing slowly out of his chair, Lee was suddenly aware of all the aches and pains from yesterdayís beating. Stiffened muscles protested as he moved, making a hot shower an appealing prospect. Pain shot up his arm as he levered himself upright. Jamie was there, pushing up his sleeve before he could even think to hide the pain. He couldnít stop his trembling when Jamie probed gently around the still seeping wound. It took a real effort of will not to pull away.

Will frowned but pulled the sweatshirt sleeve down, easing it over the wound left when Crane had torn out the IV in his haste to escape. Lee must have been in quite a state for Chip to let him get away with leaving that untreated. "Iíll put a patch on that so you can shower and shave. Then Iíll clean it up properly.

"Coming?"

Heading out into the corridor Will wondered if Crane would follow. He hoped so. He doubted if he would ever rid Lee of his deeply established fear of doctors but, with luck and hard work on both sides, they should be able to ease that terror enough to get him to accept treatment when he needed it. Will doubted if anything could be done about his hatred of confinement and loss of control.

Standing in the nose Lee felt lost. It had felt comfortable, talking to Jamie. Having him turn and leave like that had left him feeling more alone than he had before. Perhaps it was time for him to start trusting at least one doctor again. Resolutely he took a deep breath, "Wait for me, please, Jamie. Iíll walk back to Sickbay with you."

 

 This is for Susan - because she asked why.

 

Cris Smithson

February 2002