The wardroom was almost empty by the time Chip Morton finally arrived. Will Jamieson pushed his plate aside, giving the Exec a once over. Chip looked like he hadn't slept. Doc picked up his coffee mug and took a long sip. He raised his eyes as Morton slid into a chair across from him.
"Long night?" Will asked softly.
"The usual." Chip shrugged. "Not much we could do until daybreak." Morton began rapidly eating his breakfast.
"Did you send something to Nick?"
"No, Cookie took care of him before he went up."
Will raised an eyebrow. "The men always know."
Chip almost smiled. "They want to help."
"What happens if the planes don't find them?"
Morton laid down his fork. "It's too early for gloom. Give the search a chance."
"Think they're in one piece?" Will put his cup back on the table.
"I hope so. If not, you'll have your star patient back."
Jamieson frowned. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"Worry about that when we find them." Chip shrugged, and then pushed back his chair. "I'll tell Nick to notify you."
Will watched him leave. Morton was right. There wasn't anything he could do until they found them. Will shook his head. Another serious injury to Crane could set back all their hard work the past five months. Lee was better, much less depressed than he had been last winter and Will wanted his improvement to continue. Jamieson smiled to himself. From the first day their paths crossed, Lee seemed destined to be his most difficult patient...
New London was a big base. There were always scheduled exams and minor ills to deal with. The near collision of the training sub and the destroyer was his first real emergency.
The young commander was out of it when they brought him in. Floating in freezing water hadn't helped. Yet Lee had regained consciousness. Will had given up trying to understand medically how Crane did that. Lee had a tremendous will to live and that was probably the reason he was still with them, given the number of serious injuries he'd had.
Will pushed away from the table. He could only hope that determination would keep Lee and Harry alive until Seaview found them.
Harry turned the circuit board over his hand. There wasn't much he could salvage from it, even if he had a power source. His time would be better spent making Lee more comfortable. He put the board down and reached for the aid kit. "Time for more aspirin, son."
Crane glanced up from the panel he was gutting. "Four hours all ready?"
Nelson lifted his wrist. "Unless it's on the blink."
Lee laughed. "It wouldn't dare, not after that last improvement."
Nelson smiled as he flipped open the aid kit. "I like modifications. What's the harm?"
"It voids the warranty." Lee put the panel aside. The few separated components lay on the silk beside him. Too much work for so little gain. Crane leaned back against the palm tree, closing his eyes.
Nelson scanned the instruction sheet from the aid kit again, to see if he needed to give Lee more antihistamine. Harry flipped the sheet over, rereading the entry for fever. It was frustrating, not knowing. He tried to remember what Will had done. The Doctor asked questions, looked at the injuries and then decided. It looked easier than it was and Will wasn't here to help. Harry had to do his own evaluation and hope he was right. "Let's check your dressings again."
Crane reached down to flip the silk off his lower legs.
There were no fresh bloodstains. He had staunched the coral cuts Lee had opened by his walk down to the beach by wrapping more gauze around the dressings. It finished off the roll, leaving him with nothing left in the kit to change Crane's dressings. He decided to leave them as is. It would keep the sand out. Nelson laid a light hand on Lee's leg to gauge the swelling and then ran his finger along the newer gauze looking for slack. There was none. Harry removed his hand. "How do you feel, son?"
Crane shrugged. "About the same. Hot. The hydrocortisone knocked the itching down to where it's bearable. For the last hour or so, I can't seem to concentrate on anything. I keep drifting. Its fever, but knowing that doesn't seem to help any."
"I-- I don't like the dreams I have sometimes." Lee ducked his head.
Harry leaned forward, curling his hand around Crane's shoulder. "I understand, son." He smiled gently.
Lee raised his head at his touch and returned the smile.
Nelson dropped his hand. He lifted the aspirin container from the aid kit. He shook out two and passed them to Crane. Lee took the pills, washing them down with a few swallows from the water bottle Harry opened for him and then handed the bottle back.
Nelson took two quick gulps. Lee would only insist if he didn't. He recapped the water bottle and placed it back in the pack.
Crane picked up his panel again.
Nelson flipped the silk over Lee's wrapped legs. "Are you comfortable?"
Lee shifted slightly. "As much as I'm going to be. Are you comfortable?"
"Not really," Harry admitted. "Too much sand."
Crane grinned suddenly. "I know the feeling."
Nelson put the aid kit back in the pack. "It's time to shift the beacon. Then I'll go see what's up the beach."
"One more crack like that and you'll fix lunch."
"Fine. You can have the Spam."
Harry laughed. "Remind me to change the emergency rations to something you dolike when we get back to Santa Barbara." Nelson stood up. "I won't be long."
Lee nodded, his fingers already tracing wires. "See you for lunch."
The morning passed slowly in Santa Barbara. There was no news from the search planes. Linda tried to stay busy, help where she could, but between the incoming radio messages she had only her thoughts. They might not find them. Linda did not want to think about that. She knew only too well how long grief could last. He had been making progress. May had been a turning point for the Captain, though no one realized it at the time. That Friday Lee did not come in to work...
At first, Linda thought Crane had been called out of town on a TDY, but there was no note or message for her and there would have been. She called Chip and he didn't know anything, either.
She had barely replaced the phone when Morton came striding into her office.
"Come with me."
She followed him out. "Marion, I'll be with Commander Morton."
In the parking lot, Chip opened the passenger door of a Black Trans Am. She slid inside. Chip started the car and backed out. "Where are we going?"
"To find Lee."
His sudden, uncharacteristic grimness stopped her from asking him any more questions. Leaving the main administration area, Morton turned north on the loop road toward the beach. Morton reached for his radio, flipping it on. He raised the mike to his lips. "Front Gate."
"Front gate, aye."
"Morton, here. Check the departure Log. Any listing for Crane this morning?"
"Roger. Thanks. Morton out."
She could smell the sea. Chip turned off onto a side road. She saw a row of houses widely spaced along the bluff. Morton pulled into the last driveway.
He was out of the car before she could even open her door. She had never seen him like this. Morton rang the bell as she came up the walk. No one came to the door.
As she stood beside him, Chip raised his hand to knock. He stopped short and dug into his pocket for his keys. Morton selected one, inserting it into the lock. He turned it and then pushed the door open. She followed him in, waiting by the door as he called the Captain's name. No answer.
"Try the den," Morton pointed to the room off the foyer. "I'll check upstairs."
She heard him climb the stairs as she walked in the direction he indicated. She stopped halfway there when he came clattering back down.
"He's up here. We need to call Will right away. Lee has a really high fever. Must have caught whatever's going around. Use the phone in the kitchen."
Linda grimaced. "It's bad, all right. I don't want it. Sue's been out with it nearly two weeks now."
"Yeah, Randy caught it and he's not back, either. I need another blanket for Lee." Morton went back upstairs.
Linda found the phone, quickly dialing the Infirmary number. Jamieson was paged immediately. She explained the situation to him when he came on the line. Will promised to come right over. She hung up.
Chip was at the sink, filling a glass with water. He carried it up the stairs.
Linda slid onto one the bar stools, waiting for his return. She found her eyes traveling over the kitchen. Someone had placed the appliances and cabinets in a rather unique configuration that looked very convenient.
Chip came down. He rinsed out the now empty tumbler, upending it into the top dishwasher rack. Wiping his hands on a small kitchen towel, Morton turned to her. "Want some coffee?"
"I guess so."
Chip smiled at her uncertainty. "Lee won't mind. It's better to keep busy. Makes the time go faster."
She smiled back. "Waiting gets to you, too?"
He grinned. "Always has, except most of the time I can't show it."
She watched him fill the pot and measure the coffee. Morton's grim mood had vanished. As they talked, she wondered if she had imagined it. No, something had happened she didn't know about to make him react like that.
They had almost finished their coffee by the time Jamieson arrived with his paramedics. She remained in the kitchen while they all clumped up the stairs.
It didn't take long for the Doctor to decide. A stretcher went up. Linda was standing behind the sofa as they wheeled Crane out. She almost jumped when Chip touched her arm.
"Let's head back to the Office. We're finished here."
"What did the Doctor say?"
"Not much. He has to run some tests first."
Linda almost smiled. "He always says that."
"Let's take that as a good sign." Morton grinned at her.
Back in the office, her mind refused to stay on work. By the end of the day, Linda had decided to pay her own visit to the Infirmary.
"Doctor?" Linda came into the office hesitantly, not knowing if her inquiry was acceptable. "How's he doing?"
Jamieson turned in his chair, looking up from his clipboard. "I'm working on reducing his fever. I'll keep Lee overnight; see how he responds."
"It's that bad?"
Jamieson gave her a long look, measuring. She returned his gaze steadily. He shrugged. "Left untreated, a fever this high can kill. He's damn lucky you called Chip when you did."
"The Captain's never late and he'd tell me if he had business off the grounds. He's very considerate that way."
"Yes, Lee always thinks of other people, never himself." The Doctor's voice turned bitter. Jamieson ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry. I'm taking my frustration out on you and you don't deserve that."
Linda smiled softly. "You care about him."
Will lifted his hands. "Does it show?"
She nodded. "I've seen it, with the others. Something about him--"
"Yes." The Doctor matched her inflection.
Crane's fever had finally broken after three very long days. She was surprised when Jamieson continued to let her visit. Morton, Nelson and the Doctor were all worried, though they tried not to show it.
Jamieson had told the two men to go eat dinner or risk banishment for the rest of the evening. She had remained, sitting in a chair across from Crane's bed, watching him sleep, after Jamieson had taken his latest blood test to the lab down the hall.
Asleep, the Captain looked different: younger, less careworn. Linda had a sudden urge to push the damp, tangled hair off his forehead. No, she couldn't do that.
He moved restlessly, the blanket falling off his shoulder. She rose from the chair. Crane shifted again as she tried to tuck the blanket back around him and her hand bounced off his shoulder. Crane rolled over onto his back, his eyes fluttering open. Moving his eyes from side to side, he finally focused on her.
"Linda." It was little more than a whisper.
She laid her hand tentatively on his shoulder. "You're ill. You caught the flu."
"Remember... hot." Crane tried to sit up, but couldn't. He fell back on his pillow.
"That's not a good idea." She pressed down on his shoulder to keep him lying down.
He resisted a moment before going limp. "Where's Jamie?"
"In the lab. He definitely doesn't like what you have."
Crane almost smiled. "He never does." His voice strengthened as he continued to talk. "Why are you here?"
"I came to see how you were." Linda glanced at her watch. "I have go." She removed her hand and found it intercepted. She didn't think he had the strength.
"Don't." His grip wasn't strong, but it checked her.
"You have to rest, Captain."
"How long have I been here?"
He gazed up at her with hazy green flecked eyes. "Who called Jamie?"
"You were burning up when we found you."
"Commander Morton took me to your house."
It wasn't her place to worry about him, or care what happened to him. Only she did. "Why not?"
Crane dropped his eyes. "No reason."
She withdrew her hand as he let go. "I'll go tell the Doctor you're awake."
"He'll tell me to go back to sleep."
"You got that right." Jamieson's voice made them both start. Linda turned to find him behind her.
"He woke up."
"I know. I heard you talking to him." Jamieson reached for Crane's wrist, checking his pulse. "Actually, I'd let you stay awake, if you could, but that won't happen. Not in your present condition."
The Captain rolled his eyes, too weak to do anything else.
Linda stepped back. She would be in the way...
The radio blared suddenly, bringing her back to the present. San Diego again, relaying results from the Nimitz. The operations chatter was interesting, once she understood their lingo.
"We appreciate the photos, Santa Barbara. Helps to know who you're looking for."
Johnny picked up the mic. "Glad to help."
"You know, your Captain Crane looks like a fellow I knew in the CIA. He ever work for the government?"
Robinson clicked the mic. "Not lately. Keep us posted on any progress, San Diego. NIMR Out."
Linda looked at her watch. It was almost lunch time. She got to her feet. Picking up lunch for the radio room would give her something to do. Anything was better than waiting around for bad news.
Chip walked into the radio room. Nick handed him a set of headphones and plugged him into the three way patch without comment.
Listening to the radio chatter, Chip could tell there was no progress. It was the same routine of coordinates, searching and no sightings. Yet he continued to listen. At least they were doing something.
Nick looked up at him. They both grinned as one the pilots told a really bad joke to the air boss on the Nimitz. It was almost comforting to hear San Diego chime in with a retort, then Santa Barbara comment on that. They had a good team assembled. The search was going by the numbers. They would find them. If only there was less ocean to search. This was going to take more time and patience than Chip felt he had.
A familiar voice came on to report his position. Chip reached down and signaled Nick that he wanted to break in when Foley finished.
Nick flipped a switch and handed Chip the microphone. When Foley signed off, he pressed down the mic button.
"Seaview calling CVX 934."
Foley came back on the radio. "CVX 934."
"Switch to channel 24 and report."
Chip clicked off and removed his headphones. He waited for Nick to switch him over to the clear channel.
"CVX 934 to Seaview." Gil's voice came clearly out the speaker in front of Nick.
Chip pressed his mic button. "Read you loud and clear, Gil." "Hi, Chip. Where are you guys now?"
"About 500 miles out. How's it going?"
"Haven't you been monitoring?"
"Of course, but I want your impressions as the on-site observer. What do you think?"
"Everybody's in one hundred percent. What did you say to CINCPACFLT yesterday?
"Would you believe, please?"
Foley laughed. "No, I wouldn't."
Chip smiled. "Why ask me then?"
"Nimitz has parts of three different squadrons up and in rotation. San Diego rolled out a Hawkeye for me when I arrived. Phil got one, too."
"Good. Now tell me what you've seen."
"Too much ocean. I wish the grid was smaller. It will take all day to cover it completely."
"I know, Gil. We'll get there as soon as we can. I appreciate you and Philip flying down to San Diego."
"Beats sitting around in Santa Barbara, listening to everybody else searching."
"You're on your second pattern now?"
"Yeah. I'm hoping to do a third before the sun sets. Listen Chip, if they're out here, we'll find them."
"I'll count on that, Gil. Good hunting."
"Thanks. We'll hold the fort 'til you get here. Talk to you later. Foley out."
Morton signaled Nick to switch him back to the search frequency as he donned the headset once more. He listened to the search chatter for a few minutes. No sighting yet. He pulled the headphones off, handing them back to Nick.
Peatty uncovered one ear and turned to him for instructions. "Have you taken relief?" Chip asked.
"I gave Les the set at mid-morning and sacked out until lunch. Then I came back," Nick replied. "I knew you didn't want me on solid."
Morton gave him a smile of approval. "Good. Put the search on the intercom again. Bring the men up to date, say fifteen minutes worth and then go back to monitoring. Same notification schedule, if they find anything. Take another relief this afternoon."
"Aye, sir." Nick smiled. "Looks better that way."
"You got it. I'll be back later."
"See you then. Unless, I'm relieved," Nick kidded. Peatty flipped another switch, clicking his mic twice. "All hands, standby for patch to Nimitz."
The search chatter came over the general intercom as Chip walked back to the chart table. He sat down on the stool, pretending to study the grid tacked there. He had already looked at it so many times he had it memorized. The crew was looking to him to lead them. Until they found Nelson and Crane, he was the only one who could.
Nelson sat down in the sand and picked up his discarded circuit board. Dismantling it would give him something to do until dusk. He had turned the beacon for the last time to keep up with the west moving sun.
Not one rescue plane had flown over. Air-Sea had to be searching, working out from their last position report. Each degree they went increased the search area. At best, it was a process of elimination, so it could take a while to find this atoll.
Harry didn't want to feel discouraged, so he kept finding chores to do. His walk down the beach yielded nothing but sand, coral and palm trees. He had decided after lunch to cut some palm fronds and weave together a screen for more shade.
He finally persuaded Lee to lay down. Despite a third dose of aspirin, Crane's fever had increased. Harry adjusted the screen so Crane was in the deepest shade and gave him more water.
Lee had become more and more listless. Harry had removed the salvaged panels away from Crane's silk, restacking them on one side of the camp. He made a pile of scrap palm fronds for a fire, if he decided to have one later.
Harry had hoped he wouldn't need plans like that, but there were only two hours of sunlight left and no planes in sight. He had to be ready as they probably would not be rescued today.
Nelson hadn't decided whether or not he should try to catch a fish for dinner. He had repacked their supplies. Another day and a half, before the water ran out. Crane had no appetite for lunch and only half-heartedly ate a few crackers. With his fever, Harry doubted Lee would want dinner.
Harry hadn't seen any sign of a fresh water spring during his walk, but he hadn't covered the entire island yet. He'd do that tomorrow. His hands hurt from the skinning and weaving of the palm fronds. Nelson put the circuit board aside. He would sit in the shade and not do anything for a while, except listen for a plane.
It had been a long day. Linda knew she should go home. They were calling the search planes in. It was too dark for them to search any more.
She could see discouragement in the droop of Mike's shoulders and in the worried frown on Johnny's face. The planes should have found something. No one would voice what they all feared. The flying sub had crashed into the sea and sank with both men still on board.
Not a good day, Johnny had said and exchanged a knowing look with Mike. October 18th. She started working here on November 5th. What had happened here three weeks before that? The plane crash-- the one that killed Captain Crane's wife. Suddenly several awkward moments of the day clicked for her. No wonder Johnny was on edge.
Linda didn't want the Captain to be dead. Crane had a way that brought out talent in people. He respected her experience, always encouraging her to speak up, particularly if she didn't like something. She could hear his soft, pleasant baritone in her mind. Linda shook her head, feeling a sudden flash of despair. Why did this have to happen now? Everyone was finally treating Crane normally, and not like he would break at the first reminder of his dead wife. It wasn't fair. She got up, going over to where Johnny was peering at the map.
"It doesn't make sense. Why haven't we found them?" Johnny looked over at her. "Unless they are--"
"Don't even think that. It's only been twenty-four hours. It took that long to cover the search grid."
"Do you know how cold the Pacific is? After 24 hours, they could be dead of hypothermia, not to mention sharks or drowning. That is, if they survived the crash."
"We don't know they crashed into the water." Linda rubbed her tired eyes.
"Linda," Johnny's tone went gentle. "There's not much out there but ocean."
"So we give up?" She turned on him, eyes flashing.
"No, we'll keep searching. We also have to plan for bad news, too, if it comes."
"Are you trying to convince me they're dead?"
"It's a possibility we'll have to deal with, eventually."
"What if you don't want to--?" Linda's voice went soft as she turned away.
The radio blared suddenly. It was Gil Foley.
"CVX 934 calling Santa Barbara. Come in, Santa Barbara."
"Santa Barbara. We read you, CVX 934."
"The second pattern is negative, I repeat, negative. Heading back for a refuel."
"Roger, CVX 934."
Johnny signaled Mike that he wanted to speak. The radio man moved aside from the mic.
"CVX 934, this is Robinson."
"Hi Johnny, how's everyone at home."
"About the same, Gil. Now, that you've done two sweeps, do you have any recommendations."
"None that I can see. Navy's been doing this a lot longer than I have. It looks like they are covering all the options."
"I'll contact Nimitz and tell them we appreciate all their help today. It can't hurt."
Linda touched Johnny on the arm. "Ask him if he found any islands while he was searching."
Robinson shook his head. "No, the nearest chain isn't even in the grid."
"What about atolls?"
"Not big enough to bother with." Johnny pressed the mic button. "Continue the standard pattern, CVX 934. NIMR out."
"CVX 934 out."
"You didn't even ask him."
"Because it's not a factor." Johnny pulled the grid map closer. "Look, this is the search area. Ninety five percent of it is ocean. That's where we need to concentrate."
"What if they found an atoll to land on?"
"Not likely, given the area they went down. They'd ditch in the sea to lessen the impact. You're thinking like a landsman. Let the professionals handle it. They know what they are doing."
Johnny folded up the grid map. Linda could see he wasn't going to pursue her idea at all. Yet it seemed so logical to her. Head for the nearest land. Apparently, there were different rules at sea.
Linda shook her head. She usually didn't have such strong feelings. What was it about this plane crash? Plane crash. Then she knew. All this was reminding her of Rob. Linda slid into a chair. After ten years, she should have resolved her bitterness and pain. Only it was still there. Rob had promised to come home. They would marry after his Vietnam combat tour was over. They had such plans. Plans that ended when enemy fire blasted Rob's jet out of the sky.
Linda rubbed her eyes quickly as the tears started. She got up. She needed to get out of here. Take a walk. Get herself back together. She snagged an empty coffee pot on her way out the door. The long walk to the Commissary and back to refill it would take care of that.
Chip knew the juniors didn't expect him to eat with them. He had come anyway, knowing the lack of results from the search was discouraging. He had told the crew earlier not to give up hope. It was only day one. Morton wished believing those words were as easy as saying them.
Listening to the conversations, Morton wondered if he should have come. They'd be talking about the search if he wasn't there. It was better for them to talk shop. The search was too much on everyone's mind. They knew what failure meant to this boat.
Randy and Craig were talking about the reactor. Nick, Rod and Gary were discussing the fire control system, while Steve and Bobby were working out new angles and dangles to try. And Larry and Les were talking supplies. Chip looked over the group. Business as usual, except he'd be eating with Lee.
Chip pushed that thought aside. Hard as he tried to lose himself in looking after the boat, he was worried about his missing friends. He could not let the men see the search had him so discouraged.
Morton glanced up as Randy invited him to join the reactor discussion. Down the table he saw Doc Jamieson smile. It really helped having Will to talk to. Chip pushed his worry aside. They were doing all they could. That would have to be enough for tonight.
Lee was half aware he was dreaming, but he did not want to wake up. There was someone who came and went. The man's presence was comforting. Sometimes he spoke, but Lee couldn't remember what he said. He felt too hot. It was far easier to drift-- and dream...
Lee lay sprawled in a lounge chair, contemplating an almost empty vodka bottle, hating himself for wanting it. He tried to blot out the voice in his mind as it whispered: Coward. You can't face it.
Lee rubbed the back of hand slowly across his forehead. If he drank enough, the pain went away. He tried to push the hair off his forehead and missed. The vodka was kicking in. That last bit would insure he wouldn't feel anything else that night.
Crane wanted those few hours of oblivion; though he knew he'd pay for them in the morning. The pain never stayed drowned long. Why was it always there?
Lee remained in the chair for several minutes. The bottle sat also, with the silent challenge. Go on, finish it! You know you want to.
No, he had responsibilities. The Admiral had given him back his job. Lee tried to find satisfaction in his work, but it was as empty as the rest of his life. Something he made himself do.
Crane wished he could talk to someone about his pain. No. They would only pity him. Pat his hand, tell him it was all right, he'd be over it soon. Almost eight months now and he still wasn't "over it."
Lee clenched his hand around his empty shot glass, fighting down the impulse to smash it against the brick fireplace. He had gone through the other seven like that. The broken glass remained until he cleaned it up. It didn't help.
Nothing worked for him anymore. He wanted to stay busy, but often struggled to get up and into work. Get through the week and hate the lonely weekend. He wanted to be with people, but that meant going out and he couldn't face that. Not now.
Crane sat up, emptying the last of the vodka into his glass and tossing it down. The room was suddenly too small. Lee pushed out of the chair. He stood for a moment, swaying slightly, until he found his balance.
He went over to the sliding glass doors. The sea at the bottom of the bluff glistened blackly, beckoning. There was a strong breeze tonight. The wind and the surf was all the company he needed.
The breeze hit him on the stairs, making him stagger. Fresh with the smell of oncoming rain, thunder rumbled distantly. Lee turned toward the northern boundary of the Institute.
Crane ignored the cold water washing over his sneakers and jeans, the tide swirling to his knees at times. The rhythmic crash of the water was soothing. It enveloped him, drawing him in. The undertow pulled at his legs. Inviting him out to join his lady of the emerald green eyes.
The air was thick with spray. Crane was soaking wet long before the rain caught him. A loud clap of thunder brought his head up. A breaker smashed into his thighs, cascading over and around him. Distant flashes of lighting lit up the roiling, heaving sea. He stood enthralled by the luminescence, until an incoming wave broke over him.
Lee fell to his knees, the undertow pulling him. He felt himself sliding. Another breaker struck his shoulder, knocking him over, pushing him under the bubbling water. The undertow was much stronger, dragging him out further from shore.
Crane staggered upright in the now waist deep water. Another breaker was coming. He took a deep breath and dove through it, coming up again on the other side. Ha, got you first that time. Lee shook his hair back out of his eyes. The undertow was back, dragging him, pulling him under.
Somehow, Lee knew he should fight. That he had fought and won his way free. He made a promise to Chip that he couldn't break.
"Lee?" The voice was very far away. He almost couldn't hear it above the thunder and the roaring of the surf. The undertow was pulling him deeper. He could feel the pressure. Soon he would have to breathe. That was when he would join her...
"Stay with me, son."
Lee forced his eyes open, expecting the sting of salt water against them, but instead there was a blurry face above him. He drew in a startled breath. The man lifted his shoulders until he was half-sitting up.
"Time for more aspirin, Lee. Can you swallow?"
The out-of-focus hand held pills. Crane dragged himself out his dream and back to reality. He was too hot, sweat had dripped down into his eyes and he itched all over. He opened his mouth.
"That's it." The pills were dropped into his mouth.
"Wash them down with this." The water bottle appeared. Lee took a few painful swallows from it and the bitter pills slid down his throat.
"Good." The man laid him down again.
Crane tried to stay fixed on the blurry face, but it was no use. The beautiful, dark-haired woman of his dreams was calling him again. If he dreamed long enough, he would find her.
Chip came into sickbay, carrying a clipboard. Will smiled to himself. Despite the failure of the air search to find Nelson and Crane, there were still some routines that remained.
He gestured Morton to take the empty place across from him.
"Want a cup of coffee?"
"No, thanks." Chip dropped into the chair gratefully.
"How's it going?" Will gestured at the clipboard.
"Like I expected. Everyone's busy. Keeps them from thinking too much."
"Can you blame them?"
"I wish we had found something today, even wreckage. I think not knowing is harder on the men."
"What about the Exec?"
Chip smiled tiredly. "I'm okay, Will. A little discouraged we didn't find them. Maybe tomorrow, when we get to their coordinates, we'll turn up something."
"And if we don't?"
Chip laid his clipboard down on Will's desk. "Do you want to talk about that now, or give the search another day?"
Jamieson spread his hands. "What do you think their chances are?"
"Frankly, I don't know. I want to believe they are still alive."
"So do I, but the fact the planes didn't find anything today is not good."
"This could be the one, couldn't it?"
Will shrugged. "It had to happen sooner or later. They both keep pushing the odds. You know it has to even out one day."
Chip left his chair and began to pace. "It's been a hell of a year."
"Tell me about it."
"Do you remember when we moved Lee out of his house and back into the townhouse next to me?"
"That was standard therapy. It worked, didn't it?"
"Yes. At first, when you wanted me to check on him, I felt he'd see right through me. Past the excuses of the boat and the made up activities. Then after a while--" Chip grasped the back of his chair. "I knew when to go over or there'd be a knock on my door and I knew it was him. For years I had always envied Lee's rapport with the Admiral, how they could look at each other and know." Morton raised his hand, running it through his hair. "But these past few months, I could look at Lee-- and know if he needed me--" Chip slid back into the chair. "Sounds crazy, doesn't it?
"No." Jamieson met Morton's questioning gaze squarely. "He's your best friend. You care about him."
"They aren't dead, Will. I would know-- somehow."
Jamieson reached over and grasped Chip's hand. "Then give the search another day. Deal with the other when we have to."
Chip stood up, picking up his clipboard. "I'd best be on my way. The word's out, they're expecting me. Thanks for listening."
Will remained at his desk, Chip's parting words stirring up memories. It had been a long uphill fight to find the right therapy for Lee's depression after Cathy's death. Catching the flu wasn't a cure Will would have prescribed, but it had opened a door...
Jamieson laid a light hand on Lee's forehead. Crane moved under his hand, burying his head further into the pillow. Will smiled. Lee always knew when someone was beside him. He lifted Crane's wrist to check his pulse. The readout from the pulse oximeter was finally showing a number that indicated recovery.
Lee rolled onto his back. His eyes fluttered open. "Huh?" he questioned sleepily. "Whadizit?" He raised his hand, rubbing it across his forehead. "Oh hi, Jamie."
"Just checking." Will released Lee's wrist.
"Again?" Lee blinked. He brought his arm down, scowling when he found no watch. His frown deepened as he turned, seeking the Infirmary clock. "Little late for lunch, isn't it?"
"I've taken care of that." Will gestured upward.
Lee's eyes followed his hand, finding the empty plastipak suspended upside down from the IV stand.
"Got it all figured out, haven't you?"
Will tried not to smile. Lee sounded much better. Too soon, he'd want to leave.
"The fever took a lot out of you."
"I can't sleep all the time."
Will was glad to hear Crane start in with their standard argument. He had been afraid more than once these past three days that he'd never hear it again. "It only feels that way," the Doctor replied. Unable to hide his amusement any longer, Jamieson smiled down at Crane.
Lee's mouth twitched, then he grinned. "All right, we do it your way. Like I have a choice." Crane leaned back on the pillow. "When do I get a decent meal?"
"That IV's got everything you need at the moment."
"Of course, it does. I meant food, like a steak."
"Maybe tomorrow, if you can keep it down. Do you like soup?" Lee grimaced. "That's not food, either."
"It takes time to heal."
"Could I have something to drink?"
Will gazed at his patient a moment before answering. Lee had put himself right in the middle of the problem. Crane was still very weak and he might not have a better time. Jamieson had spent the last several hours thinking about what he should do. The test results he had showed Nelson and Morton last night had helped all three of them decide. This incident had almost taken Crane's life. They would not allow another one.
"I'll see what I have."
"Thanks, Jamie." Crane pushed up on the pillows.
Will walked into his small office. From the shelves behind his desk, he took down the half empty vodka bottle and heavy shot glass. Going to Lee's house had been a revelation.
The Doctor poured an inch of vodka into the glass, setting it on the tray with the bottle. Alcohol withdrawal was the last complication he needed. If he had started the antibiotics for the lung infection any later-- Will shook his head. Lee's resistance was way down; he had not been taking care of himself. Alone at home over the weekend, this combination of complications the influenza laid Crane wide open for would have killed him, had they not been alerted to his illness.
Will carried the tray out, placing it down in front of Lee. "Here, you want this, don't you?"
Crane's eyes widened, panic flashing across his face for a moment as he recognized the bottle and glass as his. "So you know," Lee answered, resigned. His eyes dropped to the blanket. "Does it make a difference?"
"Yes," Will replied firmly, determined to get whatever the problem was out in the open so they could deal with it.
Lee raised his head, an angry golden glow growing in his brown eyes. "Then I want it!" he cried, snatching up the glass.
"It damn near killed you." Will's soft statement stopped the glass short of Lee's lips.
Crane glared at him over the rim over the glass. "Why didn't you let it? It would have solved everyone's problem."
"Especially yours!" Will retorted, stung by Lee's bitter words. He didn't understand Crane's resentment. "Liquor doesn't solve anything! You have to face your loss and accept it, before you can move on."
Will ducked unconsciously as Crane heaved the shot glass at the north wall. It shattered against it, the shards crashing to the floor. Lee fell back on the pillows. "What do you know about it? Do you sit alone night after night?" Crane's left hand started to shake, betraying him. Lee twisted his fingers around the cover to stop the trembling. "Have you ever hurt so much that you'd do anything to blot out the pain?" Crane's voice abruptly dropped to a whisper. "The vodka makes it go away."
Will tried to make his voice calm and reassuring. "You don't want that kind of help."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Yes!" Lee snatched up the open bottle, his eyes daring Will to take it from him.
Jamieson reached out and gripped Crane's left shoulder, instead. "Let me help." Will's concern flooded into his voice and he let it, knowing that was what Lee needed to hear.
Crane jerked out of his grip violently, cradling the bottle. "For God's sake, Jamie! I can't stand it when you all pity me!" Lee curled up tightly against the headboard as far away from him as he could get.
"It's not pity--" Will reached out again.
Crane's baleful eyes stopped him. He had never seen Lee this angry. "Then you tell me why when I walk into a room, the conversations suddenly stop. Then everyone starts babbling nervously, watching me out of the corners of their eyes. They whisper, but I hear them, Jamie. Poor Captain Crane."
Lee mimicked the sincerity, his bitterness making the words echo hollowly. "Everybody wants to help me. I'm incapable of doing anything myself! I need an assistant. Let Chip handle it. Take it to the Admiral." Crane's voice started to shake, as he turned his face away. "You should have let me die!"
Will moved up to where Lee could not evade his touch and took hold of Crane's trembling shoulder again. "That would be tantamount to you sinking Seaview. I can't help unless you let me."
"I'm not worth saving."
"You're wrong. We need you here."
"Need me!" Lee raised his head in disbelief. "There's nothing I do that somebody else can't do for me!" Crane pulled the bottle closer. "This is all I'm good for."
Will eased himself down onto the mattress, so they were on eye level. "Why do you think that?"
"I--" Crane searched Will's face intently.
Lee swallowed hard and then dropped his eyes. "It hurts. All the time. No matter what I do," he answered in a voice barely audible. "Why?"
"I don't know, Lee." Will tightened his grip on Crane's shoulder. "When Ellen died, I left the hospital in Richmond and went to sea. I made three tours before I could come back to land. New London was a place I felt I could make a difference." Will felt the old ache stirring inside him. That part of his life had ended so many years ago. He closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head, forcing away the memory. He opened his eyes and found Lee staring at him.
"Jamie, who was Ellen?"
"My wife. She died of leukemia. It was long before we met at New London."
"Your service record says you were never married."
"Yes. I wanted to leave the pity behind, too," Will admitted, dropping his hand from Lee's shoulder.
Crane uncurled slightly. "What was she like?"
Jamieson had to think a minute. "Quiet, most of the time," he began hesitantly. "Loved cats and little children. She was crazy about movies." Will smiled wryly. "She had plenty of time for them when I had night duty during my internship. You're lucky in a way. After the diagnosis, all I could do was watch her fade away for three years. There was nothing I could do to stop it." His voice tightened with remembered pain and Jamieson felt a hard grip on his hand.
"It hurts no matter how it happens." Crane pushed away from the headboard and placed the vodka bottle back onto the tray. He tightened the fingers of his other hand around Will's.
"I know." Jamieson twisted his hand into Lee's, returning the pressure and smiled. "Sometimes, it helps to talk."
Lee withdrew his hand, his gaze going to the vodka bottle. "I--" Crane began tugging on his blanket distractedly. "I should be able to handle it!" His hand suddenly clenched, but Lee forced it to relax. "Only, I'm not!"
"You've been running away ever since Cathy's accident. Why?"
Lee didn't answer. He gave Will a look filled with misery, before dropping his eyes back to the blanket.
Jamieson tried again. "Drinking won't solve your problem. It only helps you run away."
"Is it wrong to want the pain to end, Jamie?" Lee finally raised his head.
"No, but until you face it, you can't put it behind you."
Crane shook his head slowly. "I've tried so hard. It won't go away." Torment crept into his low voice.
"What have you tried?"
"I have the sub and the grant. I can't let her death affect my work."
"Do you want to go on?"
"Jamie, I--" Lee bowed his head again. "I don't know." Crane struggled to get the words out. "I'm too afraid-- not to. I tried-- to end it. I failed."
Will didn't like the implication of those halting words. "Lee, you didn't--" He grabbed both shoulders, forcing Crane to look at him.
A wry smile was his answer. "That's easy, Jamie. Walk out the back door and keep on walking."
A cold chill went through Jamieson as an explanation for Crane's mysterious lung infection presented itself. "No, Lee!" Will shook him roughly, without meaning to. "That's no answer."
"Only if you succeed, Jamie." Crane's hand twisted into the blanket again. "I'm still here, in everybody's way."
"Who said that?" Jamieson demanded roughly.
"They don't have to say it. I'm not blind or deaf. Ever since the mission--" Misery once again flashed across Lee's face as he turned away.
"Look that was a mistake. No one blames you--"
Lee laughed derisively. "Is that what you call it?"
"It's the truth."
"I botched that attempt, too." Crane wouldn't look up. "I'm too damn chicken!" Lee pulled out of his grip, huddling down into the blanket. "I keep failing! The old man should have kicked me out. He can't stand failures."
"Harry doesn't think you are one!" Will answered emphatically. "You are allowed to ask for help, if you need it. Captains are human, too." He rested his hand lightly on Lee's arm. "You're my friend as well as my CO. I care about you. Let me help."
"I don't deserve another--"
Will swiftly interrupted Lee. "Look, when will you understand you're not a bother? That I genuinely care about what happens to you!"
"We all care. All one hundred and twenty-five of us."
"The crew would follow Morton."
"Is Chip 'The Skipper'?" Will challenged quietly.
Lee gave him a surprised look. "No."
"Let me help. For their sake. The crew wants you as their Captain, no one else."
"Jamie..." Lee looked up at him, the familiar exasperation at last coming into his voice.
Will smiled. "You know that inflection always gets you in trouble."
A small smile came to Crane's mouth in response to their standing joke. Lee had to confide in him.
"You didn't answer my question," Will said quietly. "Why do you keep running away?"
Lee gazed at him for a long moment. "I don't know why," he finally admitted. "I never deserved her. She was coming to see me when she--"
Jamieson broke in again. "The plane crash wasn't your fault."
"She didn't belong on that flight."
"She wanted to be with you. Let her go, Lee," Will urged.
"No, I was responsible. If she hadn't loved me, she wouldn't have died!"
"Don't, Lee," Jamieson said firmly, letting go of Crane's arm. "Cathy loved you very much. Remember that, instead of wishing it never happened." Will looked at him sharply. "Surely there were good times?"
"Yes." Lee's eyes went soft in remembrance and he laughed. "Chip never did figure out who would dare put a baby octopus in his sink."
Will grinned. "I had never heard him yell quite like that."
"Why did she have to die, Jamie?"
"It was her time."
"It should have been me. Cathy didn't--"
"It happened." Will reached out to grip Lee's shoulder once again. "Accept it. Stop blaming yourself."
Lee gave him a startled glance. "How did you know that?"
Jamieson smiled. "You keep saying no one needs you. Cathy would, but she's dead. Let me assure you, we still need you."
"I want to do my job."
"Nobody else can."
"It's better when there's work to do, or someone to talk to."
"We're here. Ask us."
"That's the hard part."
Will smiled gently. "You may find it easier than you think."
"I let them down."
"Did they say that?"
Crane looked up. "What if I fail again?"
"Offer your love, Lee. There are people here who need that." Will stood up slowly. "Think about it." He lifted the bottle from the bedside tray. "Let me get rid of this for you." He reached back down, pulling the cover up over Crane's shoulder. "You sleep and we'll talk again after supper. I'll even let you smear me at chess."
"Jamie." Lee's low voice halted him three steps from the bed. "Pour it down the sink."
The Doctor turned back. "Are you sure that's what you want?"
Lee raised an eyebrow. "You said you'd help me."
Will grinned. "Count on it."
Jamieson had asked the Admiral to give Lee real work to do during his recovery. They set it up that Chip would sneak in with it and then he'd throw Morton out. It was the first genuine laugh Will had heard from Crane in months.
"Lee?" Chip's voice was low, only enough to bring Crane's head up out of the book Will knew he was half asleep over. Morton made a quick show of scanning the hallway where he was standing. "Jamieson around?"
"No, he went to the Commissary for something," Lee answered.
Will heard the book fall closed and smiled at that remark.
"Good." Chip entered the room. "We have a problem." Morton began rolling the spec sheet out on Crane's bed.
"We do?" Jamieson heard Lee hitch himself up higher in the bed.
"Yes. The gaskets for the new Mark eight missiles are too wide for the Mark Seven tracks."
"Then make the gaskets thinner."
"Won't work. NRC wouldn't pass us. They have new guidelines."
"What are our options?"
"Make new tracks. Or worse case, reset the silos in a brand new hull."
"No, that's too much work. What have you got on the tracks?"
"The boys in the machine shop need a schematic to work from. Could you draw us one?"
"I doubt it. Jamie's not going to let me use my board. You know how he is about the boat interfering with recovery time."
"This can't wait. Could I bring your tools here?"
"If you brought me some graph paper and a clipboard, I could probably do a master. Then Donnelly could enlarge that to full size on the table."
"You could. That'd be great! I really appreciate--"
"And I'd appreciate you following instructions. Out!" Jamieson came around the door, giving Morton his best glower.
Chip turned to face him, as Will heard a quick rustle of paper. Morton winked. "A guy's gotta make sure his buddy's okay." Chip made his voice chagrined.
"Satisfied?" Jamieson pushed past him, but not before he returned the wink.
"Yeah, I think he'll make it."
Jamieson turned toward the bed. He didn't see Morton's spec sheet anywhere. Step One complete. He saw Chip catch Lee's eye and grin. Crane grinned back. A sudden, mischievous glint too long missing appeared in the green flecks of his hazel eyes. It was working better than they'd hoped.
"I'll be back later, Lee."
"Make sure it's during visiting hours."
Chip turned at the door, once again meeting Crane's eyes.
Lee began to laugh. "You act like he committed a crime, Jamie. He didn't wake me up."
"Lucky for him." Jamieson glared at Morton. "I told you to scram."
"Okay, I'm going. Bye, Lee."
Will leaned over to check Crane's temperature.
Lee sighed. "I don't have a fever."
"You could relapse if you do too much too soon."
"I've done nothing but sleep." Lee reached down for his book. "And read dull books."
Jamieson glanced at the cover. "New York Times doesn't think that's dull."
"It is if you'd rather be someplace else." Crane's gaze went to the south window, where the sub pen was.
"Maybe we can do something about that. I want you to sleep now." He squeezed Crane's shoulder. "I know it's hard, but you are better. I'm proud of you."
Lee's gaze fell to the covers. "I'm trying."
"You won't be here much longer."
"Then I can go bother someone else."
"No, then you can go do your job."
Crane glanced up at his emphasis and slowly smiled. "Deal." "I'll wake you for dinner."
Chip had come back after Lee was asleep, leaving the promised graph paper, clipboard, pencils and drafting tools on Crane's bedside table. Lee would find them when he woke up.
When Will came back with Lee's dinner, he found Crane sitting up in bed, the clipboard braced by his raised knees. Jamieson stood quietly in the doorway, watching Lee move his template around on the page easily. Will watched the lines of the blueprint coming together under sure fingers. No sign of shaking now. He stood there almost five minutes before Lee became aware of his presence and glanced at the door. Crane lifted the pencil, putting the clipboard aside. "You could say something, instead of sneaking up on me."
Jamieson came into the room, leaving the dinner cart by the door. "Didn't want to disturb your concentration. Are you hungry?" Will reached out. "May I look at it?"
Lee surrendered the clipboard. "I've only started the outline."
"It looks good to me."
Crane looked up at him intently. "Do we really need to install new tracks?"
"Yes, we do. They decided it was a job for you. Don't you want it?"
"Of course, I want it. Why are you letting me work on it?"
"You told me that's what you need."
Crane relaxed. "So, what's for dinner?"
"Soup, jello, applesauce..." Jamieson smiled. "And I think someone slipped up and put some steak in there, too." Will handed back the clipboard. "You'll want to work on this later."
Lee laid it on his bedside table. "Thanks, Jamie."
Will shook his head, stirring his now cold coffee. Lee had been doing so well. Jamieson pushed up from his desk. He probably should sack out for a while. It would be that much closer to morning when he woke up.
Nelson lay stretched out on his parachute silk, watching the stars above him. They should have heard or seen at least one plane cross over them by now. He had lost Lee to fevered dreaming. Crane moved restlessly under his blanket from time to time, mumbling. It made little sense, until Lee mentioned Cathy.
After all this time, Harry was a little surprised she was still so much in Lee's thoughts. He thought Crane had worked through his grief. Then it hit Nelson that today was October 18th. One year ago today, Cathy Crane had died.
A sudden cold chill ran through Harry. They could die here. Their water wouldn't last forever. They had already gone through one water bottle. He'd look for a spring in the morning, but on an atoll this size it wasn't likely. Nelson could continue treating Lee's coral poisoning and keep his fever down with the aspirin, but once the water ran out--
Harry shook his head. It was still early in the search. He shouldn't get discouraged. He had been hoping to get rescued today, before Crane's condition worsened beyond Nelson's limited ability to help him.
Normally, he would count on Lee's will to live to pull Crane through, but this past year, Lee had lost that. Harry had seen it die-- exactly one year ago in Washington...
"I could have sworn you told me we wouldn't be back here until Christmas." Crane tossed his copy of the report onto Nelson's desk.
Harry smiled. "We're almost wrapped. Once the information from Santa Barbara gets here, we'll finish testifying and be on our way."
"Why call us?"
Nelson laughed. "Somehow, we acquired a reputation for getting the job done."
Crane grinned sheepishly at his teasing. "Touché, sir. There's something about this town that gets to me."
"You never liked playing politics, son."
"I keep hoping one day we'll be where they can't find us."
"No, they'll call on the radio."
Lee laughed. "You're right. There's no escape if they decide they must have us."
Harry closed his report. "At least you get to skip the state dinner."
"Being a lowly Captain has advantages."
"Careful," Nelson raised a warning finger. "I could send you in my place."
Crane laughed again. "Right. I'd love to see you trying to explain to Cathy why I'm not there to meet the plane."
"On second thought--" Harry replied, chuckling. While he never had the desire to get married, it had been a good match between Lee and Cathy. The phone on his desk began ringing. Harry picked up the receiver. "Nelson."
At first the excited words that poured into his ear made no sense. "What was that?" he said sharply into the receiver.
The voice on the other end took a deep breath and started over. This time, each word twisted like a knife in Harry's gut. Suddenly, he was aware the voice had stopped talking. "Thank you." Nelson hung up the phone, dazed. No, it couldn't happen.
"Trouble?" Crane's concerned voice reached him through his shock. Harry looked up to find Lee standing beside him. Nelson's misery flared suddenly. How was he going to tell Lee?
"What is it?" Lee's voice rose, as he reached down and gripped Harry's arm. "Are you all right?"
Nelson nodded and Crane relaxed his grip. His worried concern made it even harder to say the words that would tear Lee's world apart. Harry took a deep breath and rose. He closed his hand around Crane's arm, pushing him back toward his chair.
Lee resisted. "What happened?"
"Lee-- " Nelson tried to push him down in the chair.
Crane sat, confusion in his eyes.
"It's the plane--" Harry ground out. "They hit turbulence over the Rockies, lost an engine and crashed. They reached the wreckage about an hour ago. There were no survivors."
Crane stared at him and then began shaking his head as the words registered. "No-- it's not possible."
Nelson laid his hand lightly on Lee's shoulder. "I'm sorry, son."
"I spoke with her this morning. She was going to--"
The phone rang. Lee stiffened at the insistent ringing.
"I'll get it." Nelson pressed Crane into the chair. He walked around the desk and picked the phone.
"Yes. That's right." Harry answered each query automatically, not wanting to give into a sudden numbness. "Yes. That would be a great help. No, I'll handle that." The mention of Seaview made him turn and look at Crane.
Lee sat staring at nothing. Then his features crumpled as Crane buried his head in his hands.
"Yes." Nelson tore his attention away, back to the phone as the voice demanded an answer. "Can I get back to you later?" Harry hung up without waiting for a reply.
Harry came around the desk again. "I'm here, son." Nelson put his arm around Lee's shaking shoulders.
He let Nelson hold him for a few moments. Then Crane lifted his head and gently pushed his hand away. Lee took several deep breaths, bringing himself back under control, hastily wiping the tears away with the back of his hand. "I'm all right," he said quietly. "Give me a minute."
The phone rang again. Harry didn't move.
After six rings, Lee turned in the chair. "Aren't you going to answer that?"
The phone quit after the eighth ring. Lee straightened, his composure regained. "I'd like to go back to Seaview."
"I'll go with you."
"What about the-- "
"Never mind that."
He drove Lee to the dock in silence, figuring anything he said would only sound stupid. Harry followed Lee across the gangplank and into the hatch.
"Captain on deck."
Nelson came down the ladder after Lee to see Chip Morton approaching. The Exec froze when he caught sight of Lee's face. Crane walked past him, striding quickly through the control room. He looked neither right nor left, until he reached the spiral stairs and took them up to the next deck and his cabin.
Morton turned to him. "What happened?"
Nelson took Chip by the arm. "Not here, come forward with me."
Morton followed him into the nose.
"Chip," Nelson forced himself to say the words again. "There's been an accident. Our plane from Santa Barbara crashed and there weren't any--"
"Oh my God, Cathy's dead."
"Yes. They verified the crash about an hour ago." The sudden hollow ache hit Harry again. It sounded so final. "Lee asked me to bring him back here."
Chip ran a hand through his hair. "That's probably best. What can I do to help?"
"The crew will have to know, but don't make a general announcement. I don't want Lee to hear."
"I understand. I'll take care of it."
"Good. I'll go tell Will, in case Lee needs anything later..."
It had been a struggle since that night to help Lee, but at last they were making progress. Nelson closed his eyes. He felt drained and tired. He was getting too old for this.
Harry set the alarm on his watch. He'd try to sleep for a few hours. Then he'd check on Lee and give him more aspirin. After that, he would wait for the sun to rise.
"CVX 934 calling NIMR, come in NIMR." Gil Foley voice's came over the receiver loudly.
Linda picked up the mic. "This is NIMR. Go ahead, CVX 934." Everyone should have been in by now, or else Dan wouldn't have let her relieve him.
"Well, hey there! Who gave you the watch?"
Linda smiled. She liked Gil. "Even radiomen have to eat sometime."
"I've finished my last grid. I'm flying back to San Diego. Does Johnny have any instructions for tomorrow?"
"Move on to the next grid. Maintain standard pattern."
"You don't sound happy about that."
Linda sighed. "You're way too perceptive for your own good."
Foley laughed. "C'mon, you can tell me."
"I lost the argument. Johnny's running the show. You need to do what he says."
"So, what did you ask him?"
"I don't want to say, Gil. It was a stupid idea."
"Who are you trying to convince? I've seen some of your ideas. Stupid isn't a word I'd use."
"Flatterer." Linda smiled in spite of herself.
"All the time." Foley shot back. "Now, talk to me. It will get me home sooner."
Linda pulled one of the grid maps closer to the mic. "What sector are you searching tomorrow?"
She looked for his number on the map. "Did you pass over any coral islands today?"
Linda heard paper rustling on the other end. "There aren't any where I was searching, but some of the others may have. You're usually over them before you realize they are there."
"Would you make for one if you were going down?"
"I don't like to crash."
"Me, either," Linda replied. "Spin me a simulator scenario. You have to ditch. What would you do?"
"Depends on what's wrong. Sometimes it's better to ditch in the water. Lessens the impact."
"When is it not better?"
"Most of the time, you don't have a choice. Most guys I know don't like bobbing around in a life raft, so they might look for an island."
"Then you wouldn't think I was crazy if I asked you check the atolls in your search grid?"
"Not at all. I doubt they had time to find one, but it can't hurt to look while I'm there."
"You mean it?"
"Sure. I'll do anything a beautiful woman asks me to."
"You're hopeless, Gil."
"We'd better sign off."
"Will you be back in the morning?"
"Yes. I want to be here when you find-- I mean if we hear--"
"Yes." Gil echoed her uncertainty. "Think positive, at least until we finish the grid. Sometimes searches take a few days."
"Talk you in the morning."
"I look forward to it."
"You would," she teased back.
Foley laughed. "CVX 934, clear."
Linda reached for the log, and recorded Gil's number under the other entries, matching it to what Mike had written. Dan would be in shortly to relieve her. Then she could go home and try to sleep. At least, Gil thought her idea had some merit. She'd have to wait until tomorrow to see if her feeling was right. They had to find them. Any way that they could.
Chip rolled over in his bunk. Sleep continued to elude him. His thoughts kept coming back to his missing friends. The planes should have found something today.
Morton twisted onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. He would be useless to continue searching if he didn't sleep. Chip placed an arm over his eyes and sighed. Morton knew they were still alive somewhere out there. Before this year, he might have doubted his feeling, but since Cathy's death--
He had never felt so deeply before; somehow the tragedy had brought him closer to Crane. Chip remembered the first time he had felt driven to find Lee after his return from the mission. That night haunted him still...
Morton braked his black Trans Am to a stop in front of Lee's house, feeling very uneasy. Maybe, once he'd checked on Lee, he could stop worrying. Something about today's date was important, but it kept eluding him. Morton killed his headlights.
Light blazed from the house, but there was no sound from within. No music, TV, nothing. Morton's worry doubled. There should at least be music. Chip pulled the door handle, getting out of the car. How would he explain himself to Lee?
He walked to the front door, knocking loudly. No answer. Chip debated for a moment and then twisted the knob. The door swung open before him. He's home. Morton could not shake his feeling that Lee needed him.
He'd leave, if Lee asked him to, but he wanted Crane to know he cared. It had not been easy these last two months watching his friend grieve for Cathy. "Lee?" Morton walked into the living room, announcing himself. Crane did not come out of the den or appear on the stairs, but a fire burned in the living room fireplace. Glass crunched under his feet as Chip crossed the room. It lay scattered on the carpet. What the--
Morton bent, carefully lifting a piece. The sweet smell of vodka rose from it. Chip frowned. The carpet was dry, so the bottle had to be empty when it was smashed.
He looked swiftly around the room and came back to the broken glass. Several pieces were trodden into the carpet. He followed the line, his eyes traveling over the bar, coming to rest on the wide open back door.
Morton walked over to it, dropping his car keys onto the bar. He looked outside, down the sandy bluff to the surf line. Nothing. No, wait. Chip strained his eyes into the early evening gloom. There. "Lee!" he yelled, leaping down the stairs to the sand. "Wait up!"
Crane kept going, ignoring his call. Chip yelled again, breaking into a jog.
Lee walked into the water, wading out further and further. When it reached Crane's waist Chip realized what his best friend intended.
"No!" Morton cried, making a full out run for the surf. The water rose to Lee's shoulders. Crane put his hands out in front of him, swimming even further out.
Chip dove into the breakers, striking out with savage strokes. He saw Lee disappear beneath the dark water. He jackknifed down after him. He grabbed Crane's right arm, kicking upward.
He wrapped his other arm around Lee in a chest carry as soon as they surfaced. Morton managed two strokes before Lee began struggling. Crane pushed away hard, trying to get loose. They went under again. Chip tightened his hold.
Morton kicked upward, fighting to drag Lee with him once again. Crane resisted. They broke surface, Lee shoving viciously, twisting. Morton's hand slipped on Crane's wet shirt. A moment later Lee was free. Crane thrashed away as Chip lunged for him. A wave came rolling toward them. Lee dove beneath it.
Chip followed, totally confused. Morton kicked hard to drive his body forward. He closed his hand around Lee's belt, pulling him up. They came up together, Lee's face twisting in fury. Crane lashed out with his foot.
The kick caught Chip unaware, driving him beneath the water. He again lost his grip on Lee, as Crane wrenched away. Morton fought his way back to the surface, trying not to choke on the salt water in his mouth. He spat the water out, drawing in a deep breath. Chip looked wildly around for Lee. He wasn't there. Panic welled up as Morton dove down again. Christ, Lee, don't do this!
Chip pulled himself deeper, his hand striking sand, then denim. Thank God. His searching fingers found leather. Morton grabbed the belt a second time, kicking upward. This time, Lee did not resist. It was heaven to breathe in the cool night air.
Morton swiftly yanked Lee's face clear of the water. Crane was completely limp as Chip tilted his head back. Lee couldn't have swallowed that much water. Not down long enough. One minute he's fighting, then--
A cold chill overlaid Morton. He put his arm over Lee's chest, towing him, as he swam for the beach. They grounded out in the shallows a few moments later. He dragged Lee out of the surf, falling beside him in the damp sand.
He lifted Crane's head, tilting it back. Lee's chest rose in response. He was still breathing. Chip withdrew his hand from Lee's neck, suddenly realizing he was shaking all over. Chip clasped his hands tightly together. Get a hold of yourself, man.
He needs you.
Morton drew several breaths to steady himself and then he slid his arms around Lee, pulling him up into a sitting position. Letting Crane fall over his shoulders, Chip stood up, shifting his friend into a fireman's carry. Lee seemed lighter than he remembered. Morton trudged through the sand, up the stairs and back into the house.
Chip laid Lee down on the living room sofa, throwing the afghan over him. He hurriedly climbed the stairs to the master bedroom. Crossing to the dresser, he yanked open a bottom drawer. As he figured, the arrangement was similar to the way Lee kept his clothes on Seaview. He tossed dry clothes onto the bed.
A half-empty vodka bottle sat on the bedside table. Chip rapidly changed out of his wet clothes, toweled himself dry and donned the plaid robe from the closet. Chip tossed his wet clothes into the bathtub, snagging several towels. Gathering up two blankets and the clothes, he went back downstairs.
Morton dropped everything on the floor by the sofa, then yanked free a towel. He stripped Lee of his soaked clothing, dressing him in the sweat pants and flannel shirt he had found. Lee was a lot thinner than he remembered. Still hadn't recovered from that lousy mission.
Morton dried Lee's hair roughly, but Crane remained passed out. Chip tucked one blanket under him and the other over him, removing the afghan. He carried it and all the other damp items over to the far end of the kitchen, tossing them into a heap on the tile floor.
Chip started a large pot of coffee, checking back on Lee as it brewed. Lee didn't respond to his shaking. Morton paced between the living room and kitchen, his frustration growing.
The coffee finished brewing and Morton filled a cup. Gulping it down, he let it warm and calm him.
Chip pulled the plug. He lifted the pot, carrying it into the living room. He set it on the coffee table and poured a half cup for Lee. He shook Crane again. Lee twitched, moaning and tried to pull away.
Morton shook him harder. "Lee," he said firmly. "Wake up."
Crane shifted on the narrow sofa, shaking his head.
Chip persisted. "I need you."
Abruptly Crane's eyes fluttered open. They were dull and didn't want to focus. "Huh?" Lee muttered thickly.
"Drink this." Morton brought the black coffee up to Lee's mouth.
"What?" He took a swallow, making an awful face. Crane tried to push the cup aside.
"No, drink it!" He forced Lee to take another swallow. Crane tried to resist him, but he had no strength. By the end of the cup, recognition finally appeared in Lee's dull eyes. "Chip?"
"Hi, bud." Morton smiled faintly.
"Wh--what are you doing here?" Lee looked up at him, confused.
"I came by to see if you needed anything." Chip refilled the cup halfway again, bringing it back up. "Here." He forced the rim against Crane's teeth, making him drink.
Lee swallowed, then brushed the cup aside. "No. I don't want any more-- "
"You need this," Morton brought the coffee back.
"You shouldn't be here," Lee mumbled over the rim. "I can take care of myself!" Crane shoved the cup away a third time and tried to sit up. He couldn't make it.
Chip laid a hand on Lee's chest. "Easy."
Lee tried to rise again, then his eyes narrowed, his brow furrowing. "That's my robe."
"I borrowed it." Morton moved his hand up to Lee's shoulder. "I didn't come over dressed to go swimming."
Lee's dark gaze swept over him, coming to rest on his damp, disheveled blond hair. Slowly, Crane raised his hand, touching his own wet hair. He slumped down into the sofa, closing his eyes in pain. "You should have let me drown!" Lee buried his face into the back of the sofa.
"You know better than that!" Chip retorted.
"She's dead. Everything's gone."
"No!" Morton lashed out at the hopelessness in Crane's voice. He slid his hand around his friend's shoulder, pulling him toward him. "I still need you."
"We'll never share anything again. Christmas, birthdays--" Lee's features twisted, his voice going choked.
Chip hugged him tighter. "No! I can't stay here if you die, too." Morton averted his head so Lee wouldn't see the hot tears stinging his eyes.
"You mean that?"
All Chip could do was nod. He caught a glimpse of bright, tormented eyes before Lee buried his head in Morton's chest.
"Help me, Chip."
Morton brought his other hand up, sliding it around Lee's shaking shoulders. "I will," he promised, forcing the words past the tightness in his throat.
"I know," Lee replied, his voice choked. He suddenly threw his arms around Chip, hugging him back for a moment. Then Crane pushed away. "You're the one who always gets the short end," he said raggedly, his features twisting as Lee fought for control. "I don't deserve--"
"I'm where I want to be," Chip reassured him.
To his relief, a faint smile came to Lee's face as he drew several deep breaths. As Morton watched, affection came into Lee's hazel eyes. Crane shook his head. "Why do you stay with me?"
"Simple, Skipper," Chip replied quickly. "Nobody else will have me."
"Liar. You could write your own ticket almost anywhere."
"I'd rather be here." Morton smiled down at him.
"Why does it hurt so much?"
Chip was at a loss, he'd never been that much in love to even consider marriage, much less know what it was to lose a wife. "After a while, I guess, it becomes bearable." It was a lousy answer, but Lee needed something.
"How long is a while? Next week, next month?"
"I don't know," Chip answered softly. "I'm sorry."
"If that's all I have to look forward to--"
"There's the new grant and the refit. Can't do them without you."
Lee glanced up, startled. Then Crane gave him a long look of disbelief. "Sure," he said flatly, leaning back on the sofa arm.
Chip had to fight to conceal his surprise. What were they doing wrong that Lee would doubt his worth? Ever since Cathy's death, Chip had felt shut out. He wanted to help, only he didn't know what to do or say. Morton was suddenly grateful he had decided to come over. If he hadn't-- Chip forced that thought aside. He refused to attend yet another funeral.
Crane raised a hand to his forehead. "Why am I so woozy? "You're drunk, Lee."
"Drunk? I was watching the fire-- " Lee shook his head again as his brow furrowed. "How did I get outside--" Crane looked up at him with haunted eyes.
"You don't remember going out the back door?"
Lee laid an arm across his eyes. "No. I feel like shit."
"Was it a full bottle?"
"I guess so." Crane drew a deep breath, sighing. "It makes the pain go away," he muttered.
"That's not a good solution."
"Why is today so hard?"
"I thought at least you would remember, the big party, the cookout, no matter how cold-- " Lee's voice went wistful. He took his arm away from his eyes, giving Morton a good look at the pain that filled them.
"And she'd kill anyone who forgot," Chip added. The memories flooded back at Lee's words. That was what he kept blanking on all day. Lee shouldn't be alone on Cathy's birthday. No telling what he might do. He had seen what Lee almost did.
"Right now you'd really be in trouble if she was-- if she wasn't-- " Lee's features twisted once more.
Instinctively, Morton put his arm around Crane's shoulder. "Don't," he said quietly. "It doesn't help."
Lee looked up at him, fighting back tears. "I want the pain to go away. Anyway I can."
"No, you can't leave us. She's yours," Chip said quietly. "I want you there, always."
"I need you there, too," Lee said softly, reaching over to grip his hand.
Morton smiled. "Promise me, no more moonlight swims."
Crane dropped his hand. "Real bonehead-- "
Morton hugged him. "Yes, it was." He released Crane, smiling down at him.
Lee smiled faintly. "All right, I promise." He sat up with an effort. "I need to sleep this off."
"I'll help you upstairs."
"I can manage." Lee waved his extended hand aside. "You've already done way too much." Crane swung his legs off the sofa. He stood up and suddenly swayed.
Chip leaped up and caught him before he pitched over, gently easing Crane back down onto the sofa. "Lee?"
"That's it, I'm staying." Chip put his arm around Crane's shoulder to steady him.
"No, it's not right!" Lee forced the words past clenched teeth.
"I'll carry you up those stairs if I have to."
"Here," Morton cut off his protest. He lifted Lee up onto unsteady feet, taking most of Crane's weight onto himself. "How's that? Help any?"
"A little." Lee shook his head again.
"Lean on me and we'll make it, okay?"
"Yes, Chip." Lee gave in abruptly and allowed Morton to get him up the stairs. Morton spent the night, staying well into the morning until Lee woke up. He made sure Crane ate the light breakfast he prepared, resisting Lee's half-hearted insistence that he go do something else more important and spent the entire day, being there. It had helped...
Chip wished he could help Lee now. Morton rolled over once more and closed his eyes. He needed to sleep. The planes would be out again in the morning. Maybe their luck would change with the dawn.
The high pitched drone of a turboprop brought Harry's head up abruptly. His search for a spring had been fruitless, so far. The early morning sun glinted off something shiny.
A silver speck from the northeast grew larger and larger and became the outline of a Hawkeye with US Navy markings. Harry was running for the beach without even realizing it.
He had almost reached the beacon when the plane roared over. He waved frantically, giving a wild whoop when the plane's wings dipped, then waggled back and forth. He had been seen. The plane banked, coming around, and waggled once more before heading back in the direction it came.
Harry sank to the sand in relief. It might take a few more hours to get rescued, but somehow now he knew he wouldn't mind. Nelson got to his feet and headed back to camp.
Linda was glad she had talked to Gil last night. She returned with a fresh cup of tea to her seat in the radio room. To listen to the search fan out on the radio. And remember...
Linda stole a furtive glance at Lee Crane as she pulled up the zipper of her wetsuit. She hadn't expected him to volunteer. They did need the samples and Bronowski couldn't dive with a cold.
The clinging black wetsuit made him look even thinner. Again she wished she could do something about that. Only it wasn't her place. Crane had passed the pre-dive physical.
She sighed softly. She knew how much training went into being a SEAL. She watched him rig his mouthpiece and regulator with the sure hands of a professional. There had been a subtle change in Crane the last three months. He was less distant and smiled more often. He had a beautiful smile when he let it light up his eyes. Linda dropped her gaze back to her tank. She wished again she wasn't so drawn to him. She concentrated on her rigging. Stick to business. You know what to do. Go do it.
He glanced over at her. "Ready?"
She nodded, lifting her tank.
"Here, let me." He took the strap from her hand, holding it so she could put her arm through. Linda smiled her thanks and tightened the straps down.
He shrugged into his own rig, testing the unit.
"Let's go over it once more before we go down. You say it grows thickest on the edges of the channel."
"Yes." She made herself relax. It's only a dive.
He glanced at his watch. "Then I'm watch." He lifted a spear gun from the deck and cocked it. "I'm out of practice with this."
Linda hooked her collection bag on her belt. "Probably won't need it. Migration's over."
His gaze went to the horizon. "Where does the time go?" he asked softly.
She almost answered him, until she saw the faraway look in his eyes. He was remembering.
Linda bent down for her fins.
Sharkey turned away from the wheel. "We stay with this current, Skipper, we'll be smack in the middle of the shipping lane."
Crane came out of his reverie. "Drop anchor, Chief."
He pulled down his face mask.
Time to go. Linda pulled on her flippers, and then adjusted her mask into place. At his signal, she tumbled over the side.
The water was cold. She adjusted her regulator. A moment later he joined her, taking up station at her left. She kicked off, heading for the channel.
He followed slightly above her, his gaze sweeping from side to side. Like Al did.
Linda finned down, scanning the bottom for signs of growth. He circled above her. She smiled to herself. Al loved to talk about his Skipper and would do so at the slightest provocation.
She really didn't know that many of the sub crew, but the ones she dived with told her fascinating stories. Somehow the exploits didn't fit the quiet, unassuming man she worked for. When Linda mentioned the disparity, Al had shaken his head sadly, saying she had to know him before he lost the missus.
She spotted a thick patch and drew her knife. Coming in over it, she began scraping. Linda quickly found a rhythm. She had done it many times before. Scrape. Bag. Maneuver for another stroke.
Suddenly the sand exploded under her feet. Startled, she fell backward into the kelp. Damn. She pushed the waving fronds away from her face mask. Manta ray. Must have stepped on it. She watched the ray glide several yards, then settle to the sand again. Great, bury yourself again so some other fool steps on you.
She ran a quick hand over her regulator. Still connected. Then her eye fell on her specimen bag. Empty. Back to square one. Linda twisted to get her knees under her. Something was holding her down. She felt around the side of one of her tanks. More fronds.
Her knife dangled from her wrist lanyard. Linda moved her arm, bringing it back to her hand. She reached down and back, intending to cut herself free.
A black-sleeved hand closed around her wrist suddenly. She started. She had forgotten all about Crane.
Linda raised her other hand in a quick okay signal. The Captain shook his head and released her. He then drew his own knife from the leg scabbard, making cutting motions with it. She nodded back.
He handed her the spear gun and moved off to one side of her. Several fronds floated away. Then the pressure eased and she could move. She brought her knees under her. She felt him, pushing her down into the sand for a moment, his hands going over her tanks and lines. Linda checked her gauge now she could see it, normal. She turned, raising her hand to signal him okay again.
It brought them almost face mask to face mask. He reached out, taking her shoulders and looked into her mask. Their eyes met and for a moment she saw the compassion Al had told her about. She brought up her hand giving him an emphatic okay signal.
He relaxed his grip on her, gesturing upwards. She shook her head, pointing to her empty specimen bag, then handed him back his spear gun.
He looked at her a moment, then made a slow spiral with his finger. Linda nodded and reached over for her bag. She reattached it to her belt, and then straightened.
He tapped her watch, and flashed her five fingers twice. She nodded. Ten minutes. She'd better hustle.
She worked quickly with her knife among the rocks, filling the bag and tying it closed. He remained above her, circling, until she joined him. They went up and soon the bottom of the boat was in view.
Linda let Sharkey pull her up into the boat. She began removing her gear. A moment later, Crane flopped down next to her, releasing his tank harness. He removed his mask, running a hand through his wet, dark hair.
"Find enough?" he asked, as they continued to divest themselves of gear.
She handed the bag to Sharkey to put in the tank. "I think so." Linda reached for a towel, then a robe to put over her bathing suit.
He shrugged into a chambray shirt and to her surprise sat down next to her. She settled against the side as the boat picked up speed.
"So when did you say Thompson was coming?"
It was easy to talk shop all the way in. Linda kept remembering his eyes. The Skipper Al had told her stories of still existed. All they had to do was find him...
The radio came alive behind her suddenly. It was Gil. He was yelling so loud she could barely make him out. Something about a coral atoll. Then Linda heard coordinates, the rest drowned out by cheering in the radio room.
"Copy those coordinates!" Johnny yelled to the operator before coming over to hug her. Everyone around her was hugging someone else.
"It took her a moment to realize Dan was talking to her. She extricated herself from a bear hug and moved over the console.
"Gil wants to talk to you."
She took the mike. "Yes, Gil."
"You were right. They did make for land. I couldn't hang around because I was low on fuel, but he saw me all right. I radioed. There should be a supply plane on the way by now and a helo after that. I wanted to tell you."
"I'm glad you found them, Gil. I knew you would." She quickly handed the mike back as her voice cracked. Her eyes blurred suddenly. Linda turned her head aside to fight back the tears that had suddenly sprung to her eyes.
A pair of arms went around her. Johnny. She leaned against him gratefully for a moment, fighting for control.
"Hey, it's okay," he said softly. "It's been a long two days."
Linda leaned into him, shaking with relief. They weren't dead. She hadn't realized how important that was to her until this moment. She wanted to stop crying, but she couldn't.
She felt Johnny's strong hands. He had been a rock the whole weekend. Everyone had looked to him, and he had held them together. They were a team. As a member of the team, she shouldn't fall apart. Taking a deep breath, Linda tried again to gain control over her tears. Another deep breath. Slowly, her shaking ceased. She pushed gently away from Johnny. He let her go.
Linda looked up at him and nodded.
She turned her attention to the radio and Gil's excited conversation with Chip Morton. She could hear the relief in Morton's voice. The submarine was probably going crazy with the news.
Johnny gently led her back to her chair. Linda sat down. He picked up her half finished cup of tea and handed to her. She reached for her purse and some tissues.
"I couldn't have done it without you," Johnny said softly. "You were always here. Even if you don't follow instructions." He waggled an admonitory finger and laughed.
She wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry. I had to go with what I felt. If it didn't work, we wouldn't be any worse off than we already were. Gil agreed with me." Linda took a sip of the luke-warm tea.
"I've seen you at work with the senators. You could convince a turtle he could fly. Gil didn't have a chance."
"Johnny." Dan spoke up again. "Chip wants to talk to you."
Robinson turned away. "Now we can really do something."
Nelson sat in the sand, waiting. He had tried to rouse Lee, to tell him about their rescue, but Crane was too feverish. He had to settle for giving him more aspirin and water. No need to ration it any more. Lee had become less restless after that. He didn't feel as hot as he had during the night. Maybe his fever was finally coming down.
A drone came to him on the wind. Harry was on his feet, looking toward the beach. The drone got louder as he cast around for the plane. He found the Avenger coming in from the northwest.
It roared over, a parachute blossoming in it's wake. Nelson watched the canister swing in the wind, trying to gauge the fall. Perfect targeting. It was coming down near his beacon.
Harry moved out of the palms and onto the beach, so the plane could see him. The canister hit the sand, toppling over about 10 feet in front of him.
The silk billowed. Harry reached for the nearest strap. He unclipped the canister, pulling the parachute down. Unhooking the other strap, he rolled the silk up, tossing it aside.
Dropping to his knees beside the canister, Nelson zipped it open. The first compartment held a jug of water and some rations, but he kept digging until he found the radio. Pulling up the antenna, he flipped it on, turning the channel dial until he heard a voice.
"NBF 459 calling Admiral Nelson."
Harry pressed down the transmit button. "Nelson here. Package received."
The plane roared over, flying back the way it had come. Nelson waved. The plane banked left slightly, then straightened.
"Do you require medical assistance?"
"Not immediately. Can you patch me through to Seaview?"
The radio crackled, then Nick Peatty's voice came out of the speaker. "Seaviewhere."
"Hi, Sparks." Nelson could feel a big grin spreading over his face. "How's everybody?"
"Feeling pretty good now we've finally managed to track you down. Are you and the Skipper okay, sir?"
"I'm all right, but I need to talk to Doc."
"I'll get him on, sir."
"What happened, Admiral?" Chip Morton's worried voice came out of the radio.
"It's too long a story to go into, Chip. I'll give you all the details when I get back."
Another click and Will Jamieson's voice came on. "I'm here, Harry. What do you need?"
"Lee tangled with some coral when we bailed out. He's been delirious with fever most of the night. Should I be giving him something besides aspirin?"
"Does he have any other injuries?"
"Bruised ribs, a bump on the head. He landed pretty hard, but his dizziness went away after a few hours."
"You disinfected the coral cuts?"
"Right away. Lee was better for a while, but then he got feverish. I can't rouse him."
"Is he unconscious?"
"No, if I shake him, he'll open his eyes. He doesn't respond to what I'm saying, however."
"How many cuts?"
"Four or five on each leg."
"Keep him down and warm for now. Give him water a few swallows at a time, if he'll drink it. I'll send help with the rescue helo. Are you all right?"
"I think so, a few bruises maybe. What I'd really like is a bed, after two nights on the ground."
"We'll have one ready for you. See you in a few hours."
Chip Morton came back on the line. "The helo has left the Nimitz, Admiral."
"Fine, Chip. I knew you'd get it organized."
"I had a lot of help, sir. See you soon. Morton out." "Nelson out."
He flipped off the radio, stowing it back in the pack. Then he opened the water jug and took a good long pull. That was more like it. Harry took another long drink, then capped it. Better not have too much at once. He shouldered the pack and headed back to camp. The worst of it was over.
The heavy thrum of the Sea King's rotors brought Harry's attention away from his packing. Seaview was as good as her word. Help was finally here.
The Helo settled onto the beach. He was expecting a Navy rescue team. That was not who jumped out of the helicopter. He walked down to the beach to greet them.
Chip Morton was leading the detail, followed by Jamieson and Sharkey. Jamieson's corpsman, Frank, Patterson and Riley all carried supply packs. Kowalski and Malone had a stretcher.
Nelson stopped a few feet from them, hands on hips. "Well, took you long enough."
Chip turned to Will. "You'd think he'd be more grateful."
Jamieson smiled. "It's probably sunstroke."
Nelson reached out to take Will's extended hand, greeting the men each in turn. They were all so happy to see him.
"All right, you slobs," Sharkey said suddenly. "Time to work. Ski, you and Malone go with Doc. Patterson, you, me and Riley are going to pack this place up. Let's move it."
Harry lightly touched Will's arm. "Lee's up here."
Chip and Jamieson followed him up the beach to the half disassembled camp. Will and Frank knelt on either side of Crane, pushing the parachute silk aside so they could examine him.
Harry sat down on the sand and watched Sharkey begin packing. Morton eased down next to him. He caught Chip looking over the camp.
"You've been busy."
Nelson shrugged. "It made the time pass."
Chip reached into the zippered pack Riley had left by his feet. He pulled out a container of fruit juice and opened it, offering it to Harry. "Here."
It was cold, too. Nelson drank it down. It tasted better than fine wine."
"Will?" Chip asked quietly.
Jamieson rocked back on his heels. "The coral poisoning is the worst of it and he's getting over that. We'll change his dressings and then be on our way."
"What about his ribs?" Harry asked.
"I'll have to take x-rays. They have been wrapped tight enough for transport." Jamieson glanced over to Nelson. "Pretty good job for an amateur."
"The class was your idea."
"I'm glad you listened to me, for once."
"We all made a promise last May. I was keeping my end of it, that's all."
Chip smiled. "I'm sure Lee will appreciate that, when he's better."
Jamieson laid a hand on Crane's forehead. "Still has a fever, but it'll be gone soon, as will the swelling."
"You're here, Will. I know you'll take care of him."
"How are you feeling?"
"Old and tired." Nelson stretched out one arm, trying to ease the soreness in his back and shoulders.
"All set, Doc." Frank put the gauze roll back into his case and began unrolling a blanket onto the stretcher.
Chip rose, extending his hand down to Nelson.
"Ready to go home?"
Harry took Chip's hand. Morton pulled him to his feet.
"More than ready."
"Then let's go."
It was finally quiet in Sick Bay. Jamieson had decided to let in as many of the crew as would fit. Nelson had returned after a shower, shave and change of uniform to have his sunburn treated. He remained for quite a while, laughing and joking with the men as they filed in and out.
How Lee could stay asleep through the racket was beyond him. Chip had been a little worried, but Jamieson chalked it up to exhaustion, from fighting the coral poison. Chip had to smile. The men would start shushing each other the minute anyone got boisterous, out of deference for the sleeping Captain. Still, Chip wished he could talk to Lee, see his eyes. Let Crane know he was safe at home.
Maybe Lee knew. He had become less restless as the afternoon wore on. Chip watched him sleep. It was good to have them home. Chip reached down, pulling the blanket higher over Crane's shoulder. Sleep well, Lee.
Morton rose quietly and left. He would keep the conn. Crane would get it back soon enough.
It was the absence of discomfort and a change in his environment that brought Lee awake. He no longer felt hot or itchy, nor was he lying on gritty, hard sand. There was a familiar humming and a smooth motion that gently rocked him. Lee basked in the familiarity of it. He knew where he was. Home. Seaview.
Lee did not want to open his eyes and still be on the island. Very faintly the smell of ammonia came to him. Sick Bay? He belonged in the control room, not Sick Bay. Crane waited for the sounds to change to the pings and whirs of the control room. The steady humming remained. It came from aft. The power plant. He definitely was in Sick Bay.
Lee blinked a few times. When his eyes focused, he found himself lying in a rack, with the rail up. The lights were low, throwing the room into shadow. Lee tentatively closed his hand around the rail. It was solid beneath his fingers. He was on Seaview and the sub was moving. How did he get here?
His last memory was fuzzy, someone giving him medicine. Crane remembered cool water trickling down his throat. Jamie? No, the touch was different, but soothing in its own right. The Admiral.
He felt someone shake his shoulder lightly. "Lee?" Jamieson's voice was low. "Are you with us?"
Crane forced his heavy eyelids to stay up. He tightened his hand around the rail, using it to push his fuzziness away. The Doctor was standing beside his bed, smiling down at him.
"Where'd you come from? I was having such a good time, dreaming."
Jamie's grin got wider. "I bet you were."
Crane found himself smiling in return. "I missed the arrival of the cavalry, didn't I?"
"They didn't mind." Jamieson shrugged. "You're a lot more cooperative when you're out of it."
Lee turned his head, trying to see around the Doctor. "Where's the Admiral?"
"In his cabin. He'd better be sleeping too.
"Who found us?"
"Gil Foley made the initial sighting, but we had a lot of help from San Diego Air and the Nimitz."
"You called out half the Navy to look for us?"
"No, that was Chip's idea. He doesn't like to lose high brass. He said it makes him look bad."
"He would say that."
"How do you feel, Lee? Anything hurt?"
Crane shifted slightly. "My chest feels tight, but I don't have any pain in my legs. Should I?"
"Not unless the hydrocortisone has worn off. I taped your ribs; they'll probably ache from time to time."
"How many did I crack?"
"Only half." The Doctor smiled. "You're slipping..."
He raised a restraining hand. "Okay, kidding aside. You're over the worst of the coral. All you have to do now is lay there and let your lacerations heal. For about two weeks.
"I knew you'd like that. Don't worry; you'll have plenty of company. Half the boat has already been through here to check on you. Feel strong enough to stay awake for a while?"
"I guess so."
"Good. Chip wants to talk to you. I'll go call him." "Is there a problem with the boat?"
"No. Your best friend needs to see that you aren't going to die on him."
"It's great to be home."
"Skipper?" Kowalski's voice was little more than a whisper, but it penetrated.
Lee opened his eyes. He felt almost rested. Ski was standing next to his bed, looking down at him.
"Hi, Skipper. How are you feeling?"
Crane gazed up the earnest face of his sonar man. "Better, Ski. Must be the bed."
Ski grinned. "I'm glad, sir. You had us worried."
Crane had to smile. Kowalski's loyalty never wavered. He touched the seaman lightly on the arm. "I know." Lee pushed himself up slightly. "You get elected representative?"
"No, Doc said to see if you were awake." Kowalski moved aside so Crane could see the doorway. "We wanted you to know we miss you in the control room."
"A" watch was standing in a group inside the sickbay door: Patterson, Riley, Malone, Bronowski, Sharkey, Spencer, Jenkins and Thompson.
Lee swallowed hard, trying to keep his voice steady. His eyes rested momentarily on each of the men in turn. "I miss being there, too."
"Okay, everybody out." Jamieson appeared behind the assembled group. "You've had your visit."
"Gotta shove off, Skipper." Kowalski turned to go.
"Thanks for coming by. Thank them, too."
"No trouble, sir."
Lee eased down carefully. His ribs still ached, but he felt better than he had in a long time. His place was here; he shouldn't have doubted it. The love of his friends and the loyalty of his crew was something he could always count on.