by Diane Farnsworth Kachmar
First published in Anchors Away #1 1993
Revised August 2004
(many thanks to my betas!!!)
You know I have to leave here,
If I can make it to the door.
I've tried my best to stay here,
but I can't be here anymore.
There's something I got to tell you.
There's something bringing me down, you know.
There's only one thing I have to ask you.
Please let me go.
If I'm to meet my maker.
If I'm to rule my fate.
It couldn't come any faster,
I know it's much too late.
Time has not been good for us.
No, time has not been kind.
We've done all we could for us.
More time won't change my mind.
When my life is over,
and I'm out walking in the rain.
Lie me down in soft clover,
and look up to the sun again.
It's not that I did not love you.
Something keeps bringing me down, you know.
There's something I must tell you.
Again now. Let me go. Let me go.
Authors Note: This is an alternate universe story. It follows the original idea of Irwin Allen that Lee Crane married Cathy Connors after the Van Allen Radiation Belt fire crisis. (Second season TV series episode - THE SKYS ON FIRE).
It is late October - early November 1979. This is a crossover story, including characters from David Hedison’s TV series, Five Fingers. Anything ELSE you find in here was intentional. Some of this can be blamed on music recorded by the rock band STYX. The first draft of this story was written the summer of 1977. DFK
Chip Morton had never liked funerals. He had attended many in his twenty-one years of Naval Service, but there was never one he had dreaded as much.
The priest continued the combined rites for George Parker, Dave Wilson, and Luis Rodriguez. Morton was still numb. The Lear jet crash had devastated the Institute. Their number one flight crew gone, along with their passenger, Cathy Connors Crane.
Janice Wilson had fallen to her knees, sobbing into the shoulder of her ten year-old-son. Todd looked dazed, trying to support his mother. Four-year-old Lori Wilson had sidled over and was holding on to Lee's hand, as he stood in support of her mother, as all of them had done for him. Chip wasn't sure Lori understood the ritual. Morton wished he could make their grief disappear. He doubted Lee was even aware of what the little girl had done. Crane was looking beyond Dave's flower draped casket, tears running silently down his face.
Standing there, fighting back his own tears, Chip felt helpless. He had to be strong for Lee. Crane needed him. Morton tried to follow the Priest as his chant rose above Janice's weeping. The Admiral stood stoically across from him, gently holding the arm of Mrs. Parker. Chip wished he could match Nelson's impassivity. Will Jamieson stood beside Mrs. Rodriguez and her children.
Morton turned to comfort Janice, gently lifting her from the ground. He held her tight as she plucked a carnation from the casket and began crying into his shoulder. A wave of pain went through Chip, as he remembered the expression on Lee's face as he reached for the white lily on Cathy's coffin--
Four years together. Now suddenly, without warning, Lee had nothing. The lily clenched tightly in his hand, Crane stood immobile. What could Chip do to help with that?
Todd looked up at him. Chip tried to smile reassuringly, gesturing the boy to take his mother's other arm. Together they gently led her away from the grave. Halfway to the car, the Priest and Jamieson joined them.
"I'll take care of her, Chip," Will said quietly. "Bring Lori over here."
Morton walked back toward the grave. The crowd of mourners was breaking up, only Lee and the little girl remained. Suddenly aware of movement around him, Lee looked down at the child at his side.
Crane scrubbed the hand with the flower across his eyes and then reached down to lift the little girl up into his arms. As Lee held her easily, her small arms twined around his neck. Lee abruptly pulled Lori close in a hug, a shudder going through him. He released her a moment later, shifting so he supported her with one arm. Laying his lily on the casket, Crane took up one of the carnations and twisted it through the top buttonhole of her dress. Lori fingered it, one arm still tight around his neck. Lee carefully picked his lily up again.
Chip touched Crane's arm. "Lee. Time to go." Hard as Morton tried to make it so, his voice wasn't steady.
Crane smiled, a small smile of recognition, trying to reassure him that his effort was appreciated.
Morton wanted to hug his friend right there, as he saw the pain in Lee’s dark eyes. Chip checked the impulse, not wanting to shatter Lee's fragile hold on his composure. Before he could move, Crane turned away, walking toward the car. Morton followed him. Lee handed the girl through the car door to her mother. Chip saw Jamieson glance at Crane sharply.
"You need anything, Lee?" Will asked quietly.
"No, Jamie," Lee answered, his voice low, but surprisingly steady. "I'll be all right."
Will gave Crane's arm a quick squeeze, smiling softly, then let go. Jamieson pulled the car door shut. A moment later the car drove away, leaving them standing in the cemetery driveway.
"Lee," Chip reached out, cursing inwardly at the tremor in his voice. "You want some company?" Crane turned toward him, his face still wet, holding the lily. "When the Admiral gets back from the Parker's, we could--"
Lee put his free hand gently on his arm. "Thanks, Chip," Lee's voice turned affectionate. "I'd rather be alone right now. I need to walk a while." Crane's amber brown eyes met his. "You understand?"
"Sure, Lee." There been no time to spare with everything that had to be arranged since their return from Washington. "Look, if you change your mind, call me, okay? I don't care how late it is." Morton raised his hand to Crane’s shoulder.
"You're a good friend, Chip." Lee's smile wavered, his eyes brimming.
This time Morton pulled him close. After a few moments, Crane gently pulled back, releasing his arm and turned away.
"Lee--" Chip started to follow as Lee walked away down the hill away from the parking lot, then he stopped himself. No, give him the time alone.
That was two days ago and he still couldn’t blank the painful memory from his mind. Morton kept seeing himself standing there, failing to match Crane's silent grief. If only he could have helped, found some way to comfort Lee.
Chip threw his pencil down on his office desk in disgust. It wasn't his place to go back to Washington for Seaview. Why couldn't the Admiral understand that? Lee would never let grief interfere with his command. Who were they to decide for Lee? Without even asking him?
Morton retrieved his pencil, leaning over the chart again. He neatly printed the coordinates beside the line, concentrating on headings and speed, pulling latitude and longitude from memory. Chip rubbed a tired hand across his eyes. He wasn't ready for this trip, his second in less than a week.
"Maureen said you had my C-29's." The familiar voice from the doorway was puzzled.
Chip glanced up quickly, startled. "Oh, hi, Lee." He beckoned for Crane to enter his small office, trying to smile a greeting. "Didn't expect you in today." Morton spoke rapidly to conceal his unease.
Lee extended his hand for the papers. "I appreciate you trying to help, Chip. I'll take them. It's my job."
"Uh, Lee, sit down. There's something you need to know." Chip didn't relish what he had to say. "Have you seen the Admiral this morning?" he stalled, searching for the best way to tell Crane.
"No, he's off somewhere." Lee shrugged. "What's the matter?"
"Lee, I . . .” Chip couldn't think of any easy way to say what he had to. "I'm not doing the C-29's for you." At last he got it out.
Crane looked at him, confused.
"Damn it, Lee!" Chip's frustration flared. "He told me to go. He said you need time to get over--"
"Time?" Lee looked at the C-29's, then at him, and Morton saw comprehension. "You have command."
"Orders were waiting for me this morning."
"Evidently, he thinks you should go, Chip," Lee answered, very soft.
"Go talk to him," Morton urged. "He'll listen to you.”
Lee smiled faintly, turning toward the door. "Do you know where he is?"
"No, but Maureen will!"
Crane nodded and went out.
Morton watched him leave. Maybe he should go with him. No, they had to work it out between them. Chip looked at the C-29's still in his hand, wondering if he should finish them. Might as well, he was still going to DC either way.
Lee walked down the corridor to Nelson's office. If the Admiral was busy, he'd wait. He had nothing else to do this morning. The old man had seen to that. What had made Nelson think he needed time off? That was the last thing Crane wanted right now.
Maureen gave him a small smile when he entered the outer office. Lee pretended not to notice her obvious surprise at his appearance. He wondered what they all expected him to do. Damn it, I haven't changed. I'm the same guy, I was a week ago, only Cathy wasn't-- Lee clamped down, refusing to let the thought form as he fought down the sudden pain. If he let his pain take over, he couldn't do his job. And his job was all he had left now.
"Good morning, Lee." At least Maureen was trying. "Are you looking for the Admiral?"
Crane shrugged. "You know me too well."
"He went to see Lucius. Do you want to wait?"
Lee was about to answer when the door opened.
Nelson came striding in. He did not look happy. The Admiral stopped, surprise replacing his glowering expression, when he saw him. Lee thought he saw irritation momentarily flash across his features, but then Nelson smiled a greeting.
"Hullo, Lee." His gaze traveled up and down him. "Need something?"
"A few minutes of your time, sir."
"Well. . . " Nelson glanced at his watch, almost like he wanted to refuse him. Then abruptly his expression changed, softened. "All right, son, come in." He gestured for Crane to precede him, then laid a light hand on his shoulder. The touch startled Lee, and he barely kept from jumping.
The Admiral glanced back at Maureen. "I want to talk to Mare Island in fifteen minutes."
"Trouble with the refit?" Lee asked, as Nelson followed him into the office.
"The tender worries them." The Admiral shrugged. "They don't normally get anything as wide as Seaview. Gives them the shakes and--" Nelson broke off in mid-explanation. "Don't worry. I'll get it straightened out." He dropped into his chair, wheeling it close to the desk.
"I'm sure you will." Lee moved to the edge of the desk. "I-- "
"Sit down, Lee." Nelson waved him toward the chair, searching for a paper. "What do you need?" The Admiral’s eyes roved over him again.
Crane slid quickly into the chair. "About Seaview--"
"Another idea?" Nelson asked, surprised. "I thought you'd-- Never mind. Give it to Chip. He'll see it gets to Mare Island."
Lee began to wonder if this was going to do any good. The old man wasn't listening to him. "I spoke to Chip this morning and-- "
"He wants my OK. Fine. What did you have in mind?" Nelson leaned toward him.
"This has nothing to do with Mare Island." Lee fought down a sense of futility. If only Nelson would let him finish.
The Admiral gave him that strange look again. Immediately, his voice changed, going softer. "What is it, son?" he asked gently.
Lee swallowed his urge to tell Nelson where to stuff his sympathy. Now wasn't the time or place for it. This was business.
He made his voice steady. "Why did you order Chip to Washington?"
"Someone needs to bring back Seaview." Nelson stared at him, surprised. Obviously the last question he expected him to ask.
"She's my responsibility!" Lee's tone was sharper and more hurt than he wanted it to be.
"I thought with everything else-- " Nelson's gaze shifted to the desk. "All the arrangements-- that you'd need-- time." The Admiral played with his pen absently.
"I've had time. I also have a boat that needs-- "
"But it's so soon--"
Lee could empathize with Nelson's obvious pain. Only it wasn't keeping the Admiral from doing his job.
Nelson abruptly went back to his businesslike manner. "Washington is a milk run. Chip can handle it. Besides," he cocked an eyebrow at him. "I know how much you hate going to DC." The Admiral smiled faintly.
Lee tried to return it, disappointment sweeping through him. The Admiral had decided. I won't get him to change his mind. Not now.
"I’ve taken care of it." Nelson extended a sheet of paper. "You're way overdue for leave."
Lee took the paper, slowly opening it. A quick glance confirmed it. Three weeks worth of leave, postdated from the time they had left Washington. Nelson was saying something else. Lee forced himself to listen.
". . . and you’ll come back with most of it settled. We'll be well into the refit by then, and you can concentrate on that." It was so simple. Get it over now, and never have to think about it again. What if he didn't get over it? Another thought hit him. I'm in the way. I make them uncomfortable. "Sir, I don't want-- "
The phone buzzed. The Admiral picked it up. “Nelson." He listened intently for a moment, then Lee saw his face go red in anger. "Look, you tell him I said no, and I mean it! If he calls here again, I'm calling Admiral King!" Nelson's voice seethed and Lee felt sorry for Maureen. The Admiral put the phone down easily, then glared at the instrument. "God damn idiot!" Nelson muttered darkly.
"Huh?" The Admiral looked up at him blankly. "Jackass." Then his anger faded. "No, I took care of it." Nelson waved his hand in a dismissing gesture, searching through the papers on his desk.
"Admiral, about my leave--" Lee tried once more to make his case.
"No need to thank me, son. It's the least I could do. I remember how much John had to do when my Dad died. There were all kinds of loose ends. Go take care of it. We'll still be here when you come back." Nelson continued to rummage as he spoke, finally uncovering the sheet he wanted. He picked up the phone again. "Maureen, you get Mare Island on the phone yet?" The Admiral listened for a moment. "All right, put them through."
Lee stood up. It was no use. The old man’s attention was on other problems right now. He had decided what to do with him and had done it. Nelson was trying to help. Everybody wanted to help and Crane couldn't tell them he didn’t want it. Lee wished they'd stop tiptoeing around him. His grief hadn't blinded him to what others around him were feeling. The Admiral was hurting, and so was Chip. He'd seen many closed faces the last week, all of them wearing determined smiles. Everyone else had picked up and gone on. He had planned to do the same, except now he had no place to go to.
Crane came out into the main office. Maureen gave him that irritatingly hesitant smile again. "Did you get what you wanted?" she asked.
Lee wanted shout at her, tell her no, but he couldn't. It wasn't anything she had done. He lifted the paper he held in his hand. "He gave me leave."
"Oh. Now you'll have the time to. . . " Maureen abruptly broke off as she realized what she was saying. Dismay crossed her fine features. "I mean-- I'm sorry. It must be hard for you." She dropped her gaze to the desk.
"Someone has to take care of it." Lee hadn't thought about what he was going to do with Cathy's possessions. He hanged the subject to ease Maureen's embarrassment. "Well, looks like I won't be in. You mind taking my messages and referring anything important?"
"No." She smiled, glad to be of help.
With Chip gone to Washington to retrieve the sub and him on leave, a decision on Cathy’s job would have to wait until Chip returned. That would give the Admiral some time to interview possible replacements. A twinge of pain went through Lee. Cathy had been possessive of her position. He hoped the Admiral would find someone they could all work with.
"Anything I need to deal with before I go?" Lee asked, folding Nelson’s paper and putting it in his shirt pocket.
Maureen hesitated, thinking. "There was one caller. The Admiral said you wouldn't be in, so he took it. He got real mad and hung up on him."
"Who was it?"
"He said his name was Crenshaw."
Now it made sense.
Maureen gave him a searching look. "You know him?"
Lee nodded. "And the Admiral turned him down?"
"Twice. That was him a little while ago. He asked to talk to you, but the Admiral told me when I put it through-- "
"I heard him."
"What could the man possibly want with you that would get him so riled?" She looked up, puzzled.
"I have an idea." He couldn't tell her what she wanted to know. "Forget it. The Admiral said no. That’s the end of it."
"Oh, he’s one of those." Maureen rolled her eyes.
"His timing could have been better . . ."
Comprehension came to her features. "That's right, it's only--" Maureen quickly shut off her exclamation. Lee didn't let on he noticed and left. There was no reason for him to remain any longer.
The sun had almost set and Nelson still wasn't sure what kept nagging him to check on Crane. It was an annoying little itch that refused to go away. Nelson couldn't shake his feeling Lee was getting away from him. One day soon he'd wake up and find Lee gone. Like Cathy.
Damn, he missed that girl. Maybe not as much as Lee, but in his own way he had loved her, too. She had left an empty place in his life as well. How could he tell Lee that? Would Crane be able to take it?
Stupid or not, the itch would not let him concentrate. Harry picked up the office phone and dialed Lee's home number. As it rang, he searched his desk top for the refit papers. Good excuse.
After eight rings and no answer, he hung up. Not home. That only made him itch worse. Lee should be home. Harry dialed another extension. The front gate answered promptly.
"This is Nelson. Has Captain Crane checked out today?"
Nelson thanked the duty watch and hung up. Great, 100 acres of base, and no place to start. He picked up the phone and dialed again. "Security office."
"I need Captain Crane located. Call me when you find him."
"Yes, sir." The security man sounded puzzled, but was too well trained to ask. Nelson smiled grimly to himself. He'd think of something when they found him. Harry put the refit papers where he could find them quickly.
About 10 minutes later, his intercom buzzed. He pushed the button down. "Yes, Maureen."
"You're looking for Lee?"
"You've seen him?"
"He was here twenty minutes ago. He left an envelope, but didn't want me to disturb you. Said it wasn't important."
"I'll be right out."
Not important. Harry's itch intensified. If Lee wanted to tell him something, he'd tell him, not leave a note.
As he went through the door to the outer office, Chip Morton came through the outside door.
"I heard Lee working in his office about a half hour ago, but he's not there now." Morton volunteered. "He must have gone home."
Nelson shook his head, and reached for the envelope Maureen extended. "No one is answering the phone." Harry tore open the envelope.
"Maybe he went for a walk--"
Maureen's intercom buzzed abruptly. She turned to push the button.
"Security here. Captain Crane went out Sea lock Six about five minutes ago."
"Sea lock Six!" Morton echoed Nelson's surprise.
"Yes, sir. The duty watch wants to talk to you."
The intercom crackled; another, angrier voice came on. "What's going on? The Skipper asks me to flake out his gear, and tells me Mr. Morton will be right down to be his buddy. Then, he sends me after a special knife. I come back and find the lock cycled. I'm calling to report when Security--"
"Gone?" Nelson interrupted, as the contents of the letter registered. He released the intercom button and dumped the papers onto Maureen's desk.
"Yeah, without a wetsuit, a weight belt that’s way too heavy, and a tank from the wrong end. I haven't recharged that bunch yet. I don't understand, sir. He's an officer! He knows the drill and how to gear up."
"Oh, my God!" Chip Morton was beside him.
Harry knew without opening it that the blue packet contained Lee's will and all his other important papers. Nelson opened the single white, folded sheet. He froze when he realized it was a neatly typed resignation.
Chip must have been reading over his shoulder. Morton abruptly turned and ran out the door. Maureen was staring at him and Harry knew he had to say something. He pushed down the button with a sudden feeling of dread. "Commander Morton will be right there."
Harry was moving in slow motion. Nelson didn't remember leaving the office, or driving to the dock, but suddenly he was there and the rescue boat was coming in. Chip, in a dripping wetsuit, was giving a blanket wrapped Crane CPR, in tandem with another diver.
Harry couldn't move. He could only watch. They kept working on Crane and working, but nothing happened. Crane did not revive. The minute they stopped breathing for him, he went still, unmoving.
Chip looked up at him from the launch, tears running down his face. “We're too late. He's dead."
"No!" Nelson cried.
Harry shot up in his bed, his body quivering, his throat dry from his scream. It took him more than a moment to realize he had been dreaming. He fell back onto the pillows with a moan. God, what a nightmare. He clasped his hands together to stop shaking. It's Monday. We buried Cathy two days ago. We got through it.
Nelson lay prone, breathing deeply, willing himself to calm. His thoughts kept going to Lee. Harry fought his overwhelming urge to call Crane, to make sure Lee was all right, his fingers stopping short of the phone when he noticed the luminous clock read zero three hundred hours. What could he say to Lee at this hour after waking him up? That he had a nightmare? Lee already had enough to cope with without him adding to it. The last week had been very hard on Crane, but Lee had held together, at least in public. In private, Lee's grief was his own affair.
Nelson closed his eyes. He had to get some sleep. Harry began to do mathematical computations in his head. That helped crowd out all his unwanted thoughts, until exhaustion took over and at last he slept.
Lee stood by the back door, looking out at the dawn sea. The answer wasn't there, either. He been up half the night, wondering if he was doing the right thing. Now he had plans for the empty days ahead, Crane had hoped his dull despair would lift. Yet it lingered. Did he really want to leave?
A week in Santa Barbara had made it clear he would find no relief here. There were too many memories within these walls. Already the constant reminders of Cathy and their life together, everywhere he turned, were taking their toll. The house was achingly empty without her, with only echoing memories of laughter and loving—
Lee clamped down. No, can't think about that. He felt lousy. The blunt ache around his temples refused to subside, even with the sea breeze blowing into his face. He didn't remember finishing off the vodka bottle. It had stood accusingly empty on his bedside table when he woke this morning. Work was the cure. No matter what, he had always done his job. If he'd done it better, she wouldn't have died. Those impish sea-green eyes, so warm--
He needed to pack. Crane had a nine AM flight out of the Air Base, and he'd have to take transportation up there. Then catch his plane. . . The rest could wait until he reached Washington, where he should have been yesterday, with his boat. Seaview was now Chip's responsibility. Morton would take care of her. Always had.
Crenshaw hadn't expected to hear from him. The more the Agency man talked, the more Lee realized he had to have something, some way to crowd Cathy from his mind. They had talked a long time. This mission was not something that would normally come to him, but Lee understood why they had specifically asked for him. Risk was part of every mission. Even before Cathy made him quit taking them--
Lee rubbed his eyes tiredly. There was a man whose life depended on him doing his part. Everything was arranged. He had notified the Institute office he'd be out of town. Crane turned away, closing the door, and headed upstairs. His clothes wouldn't pack themselves.
Harry had been arguing with himself all day. His dream had unsettled him more than he wanted to admit. Nelson kept fighting down his urge to check on Crane, to make sure he was okay. Lee needed time to grieve without being smothered.
Finally, about four o’clock, Nelson gave in. He couldn't concentrate on the refit. He would call, see if Lee wanted company for dinner. If he said no, that would be the end of it. Harry picked up the phone and dialed Lee’s home number. It rang eight times, but there was no answer. Not home. Probably went to the commissary, or something.
A sudden cold finger went down Nelson's spine. His dream had started like that. Harry shook himself. Don't be ridiculous, dreams aren't real. His hand was dialing the phone before he even realized it.
"Did Captain Crane sign out today?"
"One moment, sir, let me check."
Harry heard paper rustling.
"Yes, sir. He left at zero eight hundred this morning."
"Any return time?"
"No, sir. It says call his office."
Harry put the phone down. It wasn't like Lee to not leave word where he was going. Nelson went back to his specifications, but his itch refused to go away. He finally reached for the intercom. "Maureen."
"Captain Crane arranged for you to cover his leave?"
"Yes. I don't mind-- I mean, under the circumstances."
"It's all right." Harry knew what she was avoiding. "Did he tell you where he was going?"
"No. He called late yesterday. You had already gone. He said he had to go out of town, but he'd be back before his leave was over."
"Lee's out of town?"
"Yes. Post-funeral arrangements, I guess. He didn't say."
"I see. Thanks, Maureen."
"You're welcome, sir."
Instead of reassuring him, Maureen's words only made him more uneasy. Settling Cathy's estate could be done from here. Where had Lee gone?
Harry picked up the phone again, then replaced it. He should not be checking on Crane. Nelson turned his attention back to his specs. He had work that needed to be done before Chip returned and worrying about Lee wouldn’t get it completed.
Harry knew he should not be making calls, but he couldn't stop. Not until he knew where Crane was. Lee normally would never take off without leaving a destination and number where he could be reached. Transportation had taken Crane to the Air Base. Lee's final destination of Washington had surprised him. At first Harry thought Lee was headed for Seaview, but the boat would have sailed by then. Cathy's old roommate hadn't seen him, nor had any of their other friends in DC. Harry had almost given up at that point, until he replayed all the calls he had received the last five days and remembered the two for Lee.
He had called Admiral King at ONI with his suspicion. King had called back to verify Langley was into something and that they had a player. King wasn't able to say for sure it was Crane. Crenshaw was dodging his calls and that meant the Agency was doing something King wouldn't approve. Harry hoped to God he was wrong. An Agency mission. . . Nelson dropped his head into his hands. What a mess. Lee wasn't up to a mission. Why the hell would he agree to go on one? Harry knew he would find out when King called again.
Nelson paced across the floor. He had waited at his office until his call from King came. It had not been good. Crane had been at Langley Monday night and then had been flown to Europe.
Admiral King had already done more than he should. There was nothing they could do to get Lee back. King had checked for a loophole, but there were none. Crane had volunteered and signed himself over. Crenshaw had been incensed they would even consider compromising his operation. Outmaneuvered. Crenshaw he could understand, but not Lee. Why would Crane do that?
The only answer was Cathy. It was the last reaction he had expected out of Lee. Nelson had loved her too, but it hadn't sent him off the deep end. Harry glanced at the clock. It was after midnight. He'd better get some sleep. He would call Washington again tomorrow. Maybe between the two of them, he and King could come up with some other way to get Crane recalled.
Harry's sleep was restless. . .
Nelson rapped sharply on the front door of Crane's house. He'd give him one minute to open it, then he'd-- "It's Admiral Nelson, Lee. I have to talk to you."
The door swung open slowly. Lee stood in the foyer in civilian clothes. He's on leave, remember.
"Come in, Admiral." Lee closed the door and turned away, walking back toward the stairs. "You'll excuse me if I continue to pack." He spoke over his shoulder as he climbed the stairs toward the bedroom. "I have a plane to catch."
Harry had no choice but to follow him upstairs. A suitcase lay open on the bed, one side already neatly filled. Crane’s .45, clipped into an ankle holster, lay beside the case, with some dark clothing. Lee picked up a pair of pants and began folding them. He ignored Nelson's pointed gaze at the gun, refusing to look at Harry.
"Lee, for the love of God, don't go!" Nelson implored, unable to stand the strain any longer. "Think what you’re doing!"
"I have thought about it." Lee answered quietly, his pain apparent. Then Crane shook it off, his features closing down and becoming hard. "It’s a job that needs to be done. There's nothing more to say." Lee returned to his packing.
Harry wouldn't accept that without a fight. Those Agency clowns might not care who they sacrificed, but he did. Lee wasn't himself. He couldn't let Crane go off and get killed. "Is that what they told you? And you believed them? Lee, listen to me, you’re not up to this. Let them find someone else!"
"Why don't you let me be the judge of what I can handle!" Lee turned on him, his voice ugly.
"Because you're not thinking straight," Harry accused. "Otherwise, you'd have never taken this mission."
"I know what I'm doing."
"So do I," Nelson answered softly, his anger cooling. He had to make Crane understand he was here to help. He fixed his gaze on Lee, hating what he had to say. "You took this mission because of what happened to Cathy."
Crane stiffened, his eyes reflecting hurt, anger, and betrayal. "That has nothing to do with it!" he snapped tightly, continuing to stuff his clothes into the suitcase.
"Doesn't it?" Harry persisted, despite his own pain. "Have you taken a good look at yourself since she died?"
Lee glared at him and Harry retreated a step without realizing it. He had never before received the four stripe look the crew whispered about. "Stay out of my private life!" Crane's cold fury frightened him, as did his sudden tenseness. For a moment Harry was sure Lee would strike him, but then he abruptly turned away, snapping the case shut savagely.
Harry realized he'd pushed too far, but he couldn't let Crane go like this. "You can shut us out, Lee, but it won't change that we loved her, too. You're not going. I'm countermanding your orders."
"You can't. I'm on leave."
"I'm revoking it!" Harry fought down his temper.
"Only the Agency can do that. You gave me leave, I’m taking it. There's nothing left for me here." The emptiness in Lee's voice only increased Harry's pain. "Don't try to stop me, Admiral. I'm going!"
Harry knew that tone. "I see. Did you stop to think about us? How we'd feel? It's suicide! Did she mean that much to-- " Nelson couldn't finish. He wouldn't believe Lee felt that badly. He had always bounced back. The half voiced question hung in the air between them, Harry too afraid of a confirmation to continue. Lee remained tense, staring down at the bed.
Had Harry finally reached him? Lee had never talked to him like that. He could feel Lee's pain, even Crane thought kept his face averted. Harry couldn't let him go. "It hurts me to see you like this, son. Please, listen to me. Don't go!"
"No!" Crane’s voice choked, his hands clenching the sides of his suitcase. Lee drew a deep, shuddering breath, and slowly turned toward him. "I can't," he said softly, his eyes brimming. "I gave Crenshaw my word." Lee finally lifted his head to where Harry could see his eyes. They pleaded desperately, begging him to understand, and not to question.
Harry's pain flared at that mute appeal. He didn't know how to answer it. He touched Crane's arm.
"No!" Lee’s voice went tight, as he pulled away from Nelson's hand. "I have to do this!" Crane sank down on the bed, bowing his head again.
Harry laid a light hand on his Captain’s trembling shoulder, torn. "Go if you must then, but remember your place here. I expect you back in fourteen days, ready for duty. Understand?"
Lee nodded, his face still averted.
Nelson withdrew his hand, turning toward the door. "I won't say goodbye, son. . . only take care." Harry couldn't keep his voice from going husky.
Lee raised his head at his words. "Goodbye, Admiral."
Nelson looked down at Lee for a long moment, into Crane's uniquely colored hazel eyes, shadowed by pain and grief.
"No!" Harry awoke abruptly, drenched in sweat. Not again. Lee had been so near, so real. Crane was in Europe, out of touch and out of reach. Having nightmares about it wasn’t going to help. Harry began breathing deeply, trying to steady his jangled nerves. Nelson began calculating his math formulas again. He had to sleep.
Only sleep would not come, despite all the formulas he ran. Harry went over Lee's last conversation in his office again. There had to be a reason Crane had left. Nelson finally drifted off, no closer to an answer. His last thought, before sleep claimed him, was that there wasn't one.
Chip felt lousy. All he had to look forward to was the relief he'd feel when they finally docked in Santa Barbara. They were maneuvering into the channel now. Soon it would be over.
The cruise had been easy, the sub had performed flawlessly. This close to refit, he could expect something to go haywire, yet they proceeded without incident. Could it be she knew Lee wasn't there to take care of her? Chip irritably thrust his blond hair back off his forehead. How could the sub know Lee's not here?
Maybe now Crane had taken leave, the Admiral would reconsider. He missed Lee. Command was nothing new. He’d had the conn more times then he cared to remember. Lee never gave it to him without a good reason. What better reason than a dead wife? Chip wished again he could be sure Crane had agreed to turn her over. Lee wasn't one to change his mind like that. Not about the sub.
Morton knew that sometimes Lee needed time alone. He would disappear from the control room. If Chip went looking for him, he'd find Crane staring into the dark waters of the holding tanks, or way down on E deck with the turbines. Said he had to think.
He should have talked to Lee before leaving Santa Barbara. Morton had stopped by on his way to the front gate to say goodbye, but Crane wasn't home. There wasn't enough time to find Lee, either. Chip would have missed the plane. The Admiral had wanted him to get going. Damn the old man.
No one aboard minded he was Captain. They knew he wasn’t “The Skipper.” It was awkward, being one officer short. Randy Miller was too busy being Acting Exec, a position he had never liked, to be good company. Any free time Randy had, he spent in Engineering. Craig was a good second, but Miller hated dumping his responsibilities on Watson. Chip knew what he wanted. He wanted to discuss his options with Lee. It always helped to talk. He didn’t even have Nelson or Jamieson to bounce off. Crane needed their help more right now.
Morton didn't trust the reserve Lee retreated behind after the plane crash. He'd reach out, but Crane wasn’t responding. Lee would do all the right things, say all the right words back to him, but Chip knew that didn't begin to ease the pain his friend was feeling. He only had to look into Lee's hazel eyes--
The Exec shook his head, driving out that painful memory. He knew part of his frustration was worry. He shouldn't have left at such a critical time. Not when he wasn't sure the Admiral understood. Nelson had told him Lee was fine. That Crane wouldn't have taken the compassionate leave, if he didn't want it. Chip wondered if the Admiral knew why Lee had stayed these past five years.
Chip acknowledged O'Brien's report, trying hard to dredge up an approving smile. Morton knew he'd been difficult to sail with. It wasn't fair to take it out on the men. They missed the Skipper, too. After the first day out, they'd left him to himself. He wanted that, in a way, but he had noticed their sidelong glances. Chip saw the crew's disappointment when he came back for them alone. They understood, but it wasn't a happy boat he was bringing home. The respect and loyalty they felt for Lee, they wanted to help. Except, it was the Captain's private life and they couldn't. The crew was probably far more frustrated than he was.
Once they docked, he would have fulfilled his orders. Chip had decided to find Lee, wherever he was, and make his report to him. Let Crane refer him to the Admiral, if that's what Lee wanted. Seaview had only one Captain. Lee Crane.
An hour later, Chip came striding into Nelson's office, looking for some definite answers. Maureen half rose to stop him, but pulled back when she saw his face. Morton went past her and threw the inner office door open. It hit the wall with a very satisfying bang.
Nelson glanced up irritably at the loud entrance.
Tough. Right now he didn't feel like knocking.
"Chip," Nelson acknowledged him, reproof in his voice. "Have a good cruise?"
"Just dandy." Chip bit out the words.
"Is that your report, Mr. Morton?" Nelson's voice grew several degrees colder.
"How could you let him go?" Chip blurted angrily, ignoring the question.
"I didn't let Lee go anywhere. He left. I don't care to discuss it!" Nelson averted his face away, but not before Chip saw pain cross his features.
"Well, I do!" Chip leaned forward on the desk. "Look at me!"
Nelson swung back around, surprised at so blunt an address.
"Of all places, an Agency mission! If you don't think Lee can handle Seaview, the Agency's the last place he-- "
"I know that!" Nelson threw his pen down on the desk savagely. "He didn't ask me!" The pain returned to Nelson's features. "He packed up and left--" The Admiral's voice dropped. "--without a word."
"Well, what did you expect?" Chip demanded.
"You have no idea what you did, do you?" Morton knew it wasn't his place to be telling Nelson off, but it was obvious the Admiral didn't have a clue. Chip felt his anger intensify. How could Nelson have been around Lee this long and be so dense? "You told him to go away and not bother you!"
"I did not!" The Admiral scowled. "If he chose to take it that way--"
Chip couldn't believe what he was hearing. It stiffened his resolve to make Nelson understand. "You still don't get it!" Morton leaned down on the desk, holding Nelson's gaze. "It's not what we say to him. It's how we act."
He waited for the Admiral to understand. The sick expression that came to Nelson's features indicated he finally had. Morton knew he should lower his voice, and adopt a more respectful attitude, but his anger wouldn't let him. Nelson had promised to look after Lee. Otherwise Chip never would have left.
"You mean he thought--" The Admiral passed a hand through his hair distractedly. "I-- I called to check on Lee and he was gone. It never occurred to me that he would do it, he hadn’t done an outside mission in two years. Cathy refused to allow it-- " Nelson had trouble continuing. "After he was shot--"
The Admiral dropped his gaze back to the desk blotter and picked up his pen, rolling it between his fingers. "I never thought Lee would call them--" he started, abruptly slumping back in his chair, shrugging. "It's too late now."
"Revoke his leave." Chip braced himself. He was way out of line, but the old man still wasn't telling him anything he wanted to hear. In fact, Nelson sounded like he was giving up.
"I tried that! By the time I tracked him down, Lee had signed off. The Agency won't give him back! The mission will be over before we can get a recall approved." Nelson shook his head, his pain readily apparent. "All we can do now is wait until they send him back."
"It was his decision, Chip," Nelson said tiredly. "No one here told him there was a mission."
"Then how did Lee find out?"
"Look, damn it, I intercepted both calls and told Crenshaw no! There was no way he could have reached Crane, unless Lee contacted him!" Nelson sat up in the chair, his eyes going icy with anger.
"Lee must have felt they needed him," Chip countered softly.
Nelson bristled and Morton prepared for another angry retort. Then the Admiral's anger faded. "Why do you say that, Chip?" Nelson asked gently.
Morton knew he was on very dangerous ground. "He needs to be needed."
"I know that!" Nelson snapped.
"He can't feel that if you won't let him do his job."
"Lee still has his job!"
"He's not doing it!"
"I never said he couldn't--" The Admiral started.
"You didn't have to say it. You sent me and packed him off!" Chip shrugged. "It's really that simple." Morton straightened, stepping back, and turned toward the door. He took no joy in having made his point. Morton’s anger was slowly subsiding, now he knew Nelson had at least tried to stop the mission. He should stay, but right now Chip couldn't. Not until his own feelings were more under control.
Nelson's soft mutter stopped him by the door. The Admiral bowed his head into his hands. "Good God, what have I done?"
Chip let the door swing closed. Let him think about it. Time to do that thinking in was something they all had too much of now.
Harry paced his living room floor, too wound up to sleep. His argument with Chip was still fresh in his mind. Was Morton right? Had he shown Lee he didn't want him around? No, there had to be more to this than giving Crane leave.
Harry thought again about when his father had died. How had his mother reacted? He hadn't stayed long after the funeral. He had been in the middle of an important project and needed to get back. Nelson had felt guilty later, rushing back like that, but the project couldn't wait.
He knew Cathy's death had affected Crane more than he showed. Hell, it had upset him. Harry hadn't slept a night through since the crash. The nightmares were not helping. Nelson had spent his first sleepless night pacing the sub, trying to wear himself out. Amid that pacing, he had found Crane in the nose. Lee was staring out into the black water, watching the lights play on the surface.
At first Harry hadn't known what to do. He did not want to intrude on Crane's grief, but he could no longer retreat unnoticed. He didn't want Lee to think he was avoiding him. Not wishing to startle Crane, he'd come up behind him and laid a soft hand on his shoulder. Lee's only response was to push his head deeper under the bend of his forearm. His shoulder trembled under Harry's hand. Nelson tightened his grip in silent support and waited.
At last, Lee raised his head from his forearm. Crane half turned toward him. As his face came into the light, Harry could see Lee had maintained his composure. The way Crane had been leaning into that herculite beam-- Then the light lit Lee's high cheekbones, reflecting off the damp trails that ran down his face. Now he could see Lee's eyes, Harry froze. Pain shadowed the brown to where the green glints stood out in brilliant contrast, more noticeable than Nelson had ever seen them before. Harry quickly pushed down his reaction. "You all right, son?"
Lee nodded slowly.
"I'm here if you need me."
Crane nodded again.
"Well. . .” Harry didn't know what to say, but suddenly found words. He tightened his hand around Crane's shoulder. "I understand, son. I loved her, too."
Lee's features started to crumple as he turned away. Harry caught him as he slumped onto the observation bench, his arms going reflexively around Lee. Crane sagged into him, his shoulders shaking. His own eyes started to burn, as Harry cradled Lee against his chest and held him. He wasn't sure how long they sat there in the dark. After a while, Crane's shaking subsided and Harry could almost feel him pulling himself back together. When Lee sat up, he let him go.
After that, Crane had held together. Even at the funeral. Harry was sure the worst was behind them, until Lee left. Why did Lee go? Harry felt pain, along with fear that he'd never see Crane alive again. Neither of which was going to get him through the night.
Returning to Gorov after four years, Lee expected some changes. The town was as he remembered it, the cab stopping at the same square embassy he'd worked out of the last time.
He paid the driver and hefted his brown suitcase. This would be home base for the next few days. Crane climbed the stairs from the street and rang the bell. Another junior diplomat reporting for embassy duty. No one paid him any attention. It surprised Lee how much the trench coat, umbrella, briefcase, glasses, and grey wig had branded him a civil servant. Civilians apparently had uniforms, too.
The door swung open, revealing an English butler type. The man looked him up and down for a moment. "Good afternoon, Mr.--" He let it trail.
"Bell. Gordon Bell."
"Ah, Mr. Bell. Mr. Meddings is expecting you. Come right in."
Lee stepped into the foyer, and the Embassy man quickly closed the door. "My name is Jackson. Please follow me."
He took Lee down a side hall that led to a staircase. Following the man down, Lee could see they were going to a part of the Embassy well away from the public. Two flights down, they stopped before a locked door. Jackson opened it and they went into the wine cellar. They crossed the room and stopped at the wall. Jackson reached over, pulled out a wine bottle and the wall slid open, revealing several rooms behind it. Lee followed him inside. A dark haired man rose to meet them.
Lee extended a hand quickly. "Lee is fine."
"Evan. Evan Meddings. Welcome to Station Y."
"I'm glad to be here."
"Jackson will take your gear to your quarters."
"Okay." Crane surrendered his bag, briefcase and umbrella, and shrugged out of the trench coat. "Guess I won't be needing these any more."
Meddings looked at him intently. "Yes, I am curious to see this resemblance Allan was so insistent about."
"It's not perfect, but apparently it is close enough to give the other side pause. Give me a minute." Lee took off the glasses and wig. He combed his hair back the way Crenshaw had instructed him. Then he straightened so Meddings could have a good look at him.
Evan stared for a moment, then shook himself.
Crane smiled. Crenshaw had much the same reaction the first time they made him up in Washington.
"This is wonderful. Add some grey around the temples, and I bet the Russians will never know the difference."
Lee laughed. "Until I had to produce the blueprints."
Evan chuckled. "You've been briefed on the role you're about to assume."
"A little. Allan didn't have much time before my flight."
"Then sit down, Lee. Let me fill you in on Victor Sebastian and his overly hot blueprints and what we need you to do so we can get him safely out of the country."
The days passed quickly, training with Evan. All too soon it was time to go to the opera. They had given him a libretto in English to study. Lee had to look interested, since he was supposedly there scouting new talent. Crane settled into Victor's box as the curtain was rising. He had been to the opera before. Cathy had loved to go whenever they could manage it. That was the worst part, to remain professionally impassive when it was tearing him up inside. He had been to a performance of this same Mozart opera with Cathy in Washington a few weeks before they had become engaged. It was hard enough to concentrate on the assignment without the memories.
Lee flipped his program open as the overture ended. He sat up a little straighter. The tuxedo they had given him was a little looser than his dress blues, but not by much. The idea was to be seen. Evan was sure the event was too public for the Russians to attempt anything. He was there for them to watch, to prove Victor was unaware he was being watched or had been blown. It would also give the Agency the necessary hours they needed to smuggle Victor out of the country.
Crane looked across the filled opera house to the box opposite him. Sandler was watching the performance, as he should be. They were the low maintenance end of this operation. Lee fingered his opera glasses. Props. He normally used heavier hardware on a mission, but an impersonation was what he had agreed to. The only way to get through it was to bury himself in the part. Lee pulled out his pocket notebook and made some notes. The performances looked good to his layman's eye. The opera company had terrific teamwork going, almost like one of his details. . .
It was a mistake to think of Seaview. His concentration shattered, and he lost the thread of the music for a moment. Crane forced the image of his submarine from his mind. Get with it. Remember the part you're playing. He managed to hold his memories at bay until the end and was glad when the curtain finally went down.
Lee stood up and exited the box, blending with the crowd that was leaving the theater. The more people he was surrounded by, the better. He would meet Sandler outside, a block down. It was better they not be seen together. The house was packed. Lee ignored the jostling, once or twice stepping aside to let someone push past him.
Crane was unprepared for the vicious shove that sent him staggering sideways into a curtained off area, and he fell heavily against the red velvet. The material swirled around him. Hands grabbed his shoulders, spinning him out of the curtain and behind it. Trying to stay on his feet, Crane couldn't see who it was or how many hands there were. A stabbing pain went into his left shoulder. The hands sent him spinning around again. Lee fought to break free, but there were too many hands on him. He was still spinning. Everything went fuzzy, whirling into gray, and then there was nothing but blackness.
Lee regained consciousness abruptly, twisting away from the acrid smell of ammonia making him cough. The sudden movement made his head pound even more. He gritted his teeth, forcing his eyes to open. Three people came into focus above him. A burly dark-haired man, a thin blonde woman, and another man with glasses. The big man smiled predatorily.
"Good morning, Mr. Sebastian. I trust you enjoyed the opera. Sit him up."
The other man seized Lee's arms. Moving only made his headache worse. His mouth felt dry and full of cotton. Drugged. Crane felt dizzy, disoriented. What had happened to his backup?
The heavy set Russian spoke again. "Where are the blueprints?"
A stinging slap snapped his head back. Crane fell sideways into the man with the glasses as the pain in his head went blinding. Lee closed his eyes, fighting not to black out again.
"Fool!" The woman spoke for the first time. "That will not get you any answers."
"Time is short. We launch in four days."
"He's in no condition for physical interrogation. The drug has not worn off."
"Then why did you give it to him?"
"You wanted him quiet."
Lee struggled to hang on to consciousness.
"We need the information now."
"An hour will do. Leave him with me. I can bring him around."
"All right, but be quick about it."
Chip paused outside the door to Lee's cabin. He had never liked going in there when Lee was away, though he knew he could. Normally, Crane would have given him everything he needed before he left, but-- Morton shook his head, squared his shoulders and pushed the door aside. He needed everything Lee had been working on.
Once inside, he let his eyes rove over the cabin. There was little sign of Lee's hasty departure for Santa Barbara and the funeral two weeks ago. Chip knew if he pulled open the wardrobe, he'd find a gap where Lee had pulled uniforms to pack, and his kit would be missing. So why did he feel there should be more disarray? Some sign that all was not well.
Chip's eye fell on the framed pictures bolted to the small shelf above the desk. The three of them at Annapolis. Lee's mother. Lee's commissioning ceremony for Seaview. Cathy. They had been there since Lee first occupied the cabin. Morton ran his finger along the edge of the last frame and tried to place the shot. He hadn't seen it before. Late summer from the sun on her hair. Lee must have changed it before they sailed. September and the beginning of the cruise felt far away now. Funny, he hadn't noticed it. Morton clenched his hand against the sudden pain. One moment, laughing, alive, and then-- Chip turned away. He was here for refit papers.
He pulled out the desk chair and flopped down into it. Let's see, recent business, top right. The 2nd folder he pulled out was the one he was looking for. After five years on board together, he should expect it would be that easy. Cathy should still be alive, too. Except she was dead, and Lee had taken a mission. One he had no business being on. Chip slammed the folder shut, the force of his blow echoing off the desk top. It was so god-damned unfair. And worst of all, there was nothing he could do about it.
Morton closed his eyes. Surrounded by his best friend's possessions, at the very heart of his life and yet there was no sense of Crane here. He should feel something. Chip sighed. The waiting was the worst. Lee had been an ONI agent for nearly fifteen years. He was often away, why should this Agency mission be any different?
Sitting here brooding wouldn’t help. Chip forced his eyes open, and tapped the papers straight into the folder. It would be another week before they realistically could expect Lee to return. Morton would have to handle the refit until then. Even if he didn't want to. Chip pushed up out of the chair and placed it back under the desk, pulling the cabin door shut behind him as he left. Lately there was always something that needed doing.
Lee moaned softly, slowly becoming aware. The room was dark. He shifted on the narrow bunk and pain hit him from all over; his face, his arms, his ribs, and his legs. Crane’s last memory was a blow to the side of his head. It had sent him toppling over, and the welcome darkness had ended his torment. Lee lay there, panting slightly, and tried to lift his head. Nothing happened.
Crane let himself go limp. Better save his strength. He had bought time for Victor. He had to hold on, keep his captors from finding out he wasn't Victor, until Sebastian made it to the air base in West Germany.
His lips stretched into a humorless smile. He couldn't even move, and he was thinking of escape. His kidnappers had planned too well for that. By the time Meddings found this dacha, he would be dead and his captors long gone.
Lee shifted again, trying to find a position of comfort. There was none. Think of something pleasant. Unbidden, the silver hulled image of Seaview came. Crane was in the conning tower, the tang of salt fresh on the breeze. He could feel the sub moving under his feet, the faint whine of her mighty turbines barely audible as she sliced through the crests. Home. Seaview.
He knew if he stayed there long enough Chip would come to the Bridge, to see what he was doing. Morton had a special sense for what he needed, often before Lee knew himself. Chip and the sub were far away. They could not help him. He should have stayed in Santa Barbara. It eased his pain to think of home. Crane felt a sudden pang of sadness. The Admiral had found out by now he was on an Agency mission. It shouldn't have ended like this and he had no one to blame but himself.
Lee shifted on the bunk again. His limbs responded more quickly this time. With an effort, Crane heaved himself upright. As he swung his legs down to the floor, he barely managed to keep from pitching off the bunk. The momentary dizziness passed after a few deep breaths. He ached all over, but he still had to try.
There was a tray with food next to bed. Some dark bread, soup, and a battered mug filled with tea. Lee reached for the spoon. The soup was cold, but he didn't really care. Lee finished the meager meal and lay back down on the bunk. He ought to check the room, find out if it was defensible, or if there was way out, or-- Crane closed his eyes, too spent to care about what he should be doing. Tomorrow. Lee let his thoughts drift home again. He could see the Institute sprawled across the rocky cliff top. Funny how he never missed it like this before. He fell asleep thinking of home.
Chip's interoffice com buzzed at him abruptly. He reached over, feeling sudden irritation. Now what? He'd finally cleaned up the last details from the return cruise, only to find the refit snowballing on him. There was no else. Nothing could be done about it now. "Morton," he acknowledged, struggling to keep the frustration out of his voice. He pushed a stack of requests aside, knowing he should be sorting through them.
"The Admiral wants to see you right away." Maureen's voice came through the grille.
"Now?" The C-41 had to go in today and--
"He said immediately." She sounded apologetic. Taking over from Cathy was a big step, even after being her assistant for three years. Maureen was trying, but kept getting caught in the middle, not knowing quite what to do.
"All right," Chip acceded, throwing his report into his bulging IN box. "I'll be right down."
He could tell she was relieved as she clicked off. The way the Admiral was now, Morton could understand her not wanting to tell him anything he didn’t want to hear. Chip removed his hand from the intercom button. At least his typist from the pool could keep up with him. Had plenty of practice, he thought wryly, she's old enough to be my mother. She was what Cathy would have chosen. Something about Lee had most of the younger women in the pool longing to work in this area. Morton didn't mind. Once they realized the Captain was happily, possessively married, they then discovered he was not.
Too much had become concentrated in Cathy’s position over the years to give it all to a new hire. They had decided to split the responsibilities. Maureen would take the secretary position. The Admiral hadn't filled the other part yet. Chip hoped that wasn't why Nelson wanted him. Lee worked with the grant coordinator, he should have approval. Their newest grant had to have someone on it by next week, so they now had to make the decision without Lee.
Chip headed down the inner corridor briskly. Once he took care of this, he would return to his overflowing stack of papers. Morton managed a quick smile for Maureen as he passed her desk. She smiled back tiredly, working on yet another applicant's file. The Admiral hadn't been easy to work with since Chip's return, and had never liked to do employee interviews. Now Cathy was no longer here to do it-- The vacancies were too important to remain unfilled. They might feel no one could replace the people who had died, but they had to. Morton knocked softly, announcing himself. He'd said his piece. No matter what his personal feelings were, Nelson still ran this Institute. Chip had his duty to help, in any way required of him, as long as he remained here.
"Come in." Nelson's gruff voice sounded strained.
Chip pushed the door open, stepping into the office. It took him a moment to find Nelson. The Admiral stood by his window, staring out over the sprawling complex of buildings and labs, toward the sea. Nelson looked very old as the autumn sunlight fell on him.
"You called me, sir?" Chip had a sudden feeling something was terribly wrong.
"Yes," The Admiral answered tiredly, without removing his gaze from the window. "It's on the desk."
Chip wished Nelson would turn around and face him. His strained voice was unsettling. If Morton hadn't known better, he'd swear the old man had been crying. The desk bore very little resemblance to his own. A single folded sheet lay on the blotter. Morton picked it up, realizing it was a telegram. Looking closer, he saw the red border-- Official Agency business. He flipped it open. The typed words danced in front of his eyes. Chip forced himself to focus and read. Bad news all right, couched in sanitized officialese.
"We regret to inform you. No contact for seventy-two hours. Due to the delicate state of relations, no attempt will be made--"
Words. Writing off Lee's life. God damn those sons--
"You will take her?" Nelson's hoarse voice was full of unmistakable pain.
The loss hit Chip abruptly, a sharp stabbing hurt. He reacted instinctively. "Of course, sir. I'll have a crew assembled in two hours. At top speed we could-- "
"No, Chip." Nelson's resigned voice stopped him faster than any shouted words ever could.
He stared at the Admiral in disbelief. "We can't leave him there! The Agency sure as hell isn't going to--"
"It's out of our hands," Nelson replied dully.
"You can't do--" Morton tried desperately to hold back his temper.
Abruptly, the Admiral turned on him, a dangerous gleam in his blue eyes. "Then what would you have me do? Go charging over there, create an international incident, throw around a missile or two! To rescue one man? We don't even know where Lee went. If the Agency, with all their inside sources, couldn't find him, he's probably dead!" Nelson bit the sentence out, a dark scowl on his face. "Surely that can't be your recommendation, on the very unlikely chance Lee is still alive?"
Nelson's words lashed Chip deeply. Maybe it was stupid to want to rescue Lee, particularly with no place to start. Something inside him had to do something. Washington had to know more than they were telling. To not even try, that was desertion! Lee would never do that, no matter what.
"Did you call Washington?" Morton pleaded. "Find out for sure?"
"What good would that do? They've told us everything they know." Nelson shrugged, turning back toward the window. "I suppose it's worth a call."
"You suppose!" Chip's anger boiled over. Damn it, he's giving up. "All those times Lee risked himself for you and you can't help when he needs you," Chip growled bitterly. "Crane would die for you, without even asking why, and all you say is, 'It's out of your hands!' If Lee was here, and you were missing, he'd try anything to find you. I've seen him do it. You don't deserve him." Morton glared at Nelson.
"Chip-- " Nelson tried to speak.
He was in no mood to listen. "Fine, you accept that damned Agency brush-off! I can't! Lee is my friend. I owe him more than my life. Don't approve my orders. I’ll raise a crew on my own. Once I tell them the Skipper--"
The Admiral's command voice stopped him in his tracks. Too many years of service to ignore it. "Sir!" he responded automatically, slamming to attention.
"I'm going to forget what you just said," Nelson came to stand in front of him. "Now, drop the attitude." He laid a hand on Morton's shoulder as Chip slowly relaxed. "I know how you feel." The Admiral’s eyes searched his. "Don't you think I want Lee back home?" The strain had returned to Nelson's voice.
"You’re not acting like it." Chip didn't like watching the pain cross the Admiral's features, but he had to be honest.
Nelson tightened his grip on Morton's shoulder. "Can you believe I never thought this would happen when I gave him leave?"
"Yes, sir," Chip replied sincerely.
"I didn't want him to go away. I wanted to give him time to grieve."
"All right." Morton raised his hand, placing it lightly on Nelson's extended arm. "Now we have to get him back."
"He may not come back." Nelson dropped his hand from Chip's shoulder and turned away, but not before he saw the despair in the Admiral's eyes.
"We're talking about Lee Crane, sir!"
"I know," Nelson replied, leaning on the window frame. "You weren't there when I told him about Cathy. It tore him up. I've never seen him that devastated."
"So Lee wasn't himself. Can you blame him? Do we have to give up on him?" Chip extended the telegram toward Nelson. "It doesn't say he's dead."
Nelson reached for the missive. "No, it doesn't. Maybe if I call Admiral King--"
"Tell him you need positive confirmation to close out Lee’s record. Whatever it takes to get somebody, somewhere, moving on this!"
"You may not like what they find," Nelson replied. "We have no way of knowing Lee isn't dead.
"At least we'll know." Morton’s voice went soft. "I can handle that, it's the not ever knowing I can't--" He cut himself off. "Lee's gone missing before. He may surprise you."
Nelson smiled faintly. "All right, I won't quit until they give us an answer, whatever it is."
"Now you sound like Lee."
"Thanks," Nelson answered wryly.
"He’ll find a way home."
Nelson glanced at him sharply, then slowly shook his head. He sat down at the desk, and picked up the phone. "Maureen, get me Admiral King."
"I have to go." Chip turned toward the door. "I've got too much to finish today."
Nelson waved his hand in a dismissing gesture. Morton softly closed the door behind him. They had to find Crane. Chip prayed the Agency was wrong. With Dave and Cathy now gone, there was no way he could stay here without Lee. He wouldn't be able to stand it.
A hard push in the ribs brought Lee rudely awake. He rolled away from it, his bruised body protesting any movement. Rough fingers dug into his arms, dragging him up and off the bunk. Crane squinted against the bright light from the doorway. Morning. Here we go again. They dragged him over to the chair, and the big Russian flexed his fingers in anticipation.
"Dimitri!" The women's voice was strident.
"Have it your way. You're always so sure of your precious drugs."
"Did your methods get us the blueprints?"
Dimitri snorted. "They would have if he didn't keep passing out."
Lee felt a cold flash of fear. Torture was something he had been trained to endure, but he couldn’t resist truth serum. Victor had the blueprints and he didn’t know where he was at the moment, so they could not get that out of him. He could not reveal he was a double or that he knew other classified information. Lee closed his eyes and began silently repeating his cover identity, implanting it in his brain, so he would reveal nothing else.
"Take his arm."
Crane felt the coolness of the alcohol swab against his skin, then the prick of the needle. He kept rehearsing. It was his only defense now.
"Put him back on the bunk. We must wait until the drug takes effect."
Lee continued to run his identity. The drug would take control very soon. They were all watching him, the anticipation raw on their faces. Lee closed his eyes, not wanting to see their gloating faces. His name was Victor Sebastian. That was all he had to remember. Victor Sebastian. A dull numbness was creeping over him. He had to remember. There was something he had to remember. Then there was nothing.
"The drug has taken effect, Dimitri. He should no longer resist our questioning.
"And if he does?"
"He won't. Ivan." Ingrid beckoned and the thin man stepped up to the bed. "You haven't interrogated him yet, he won't be afraid of your voice." She turned back to Dimitri. "Now be quiet and watch. You will learn there are better ways than force."
"Victor?" The thin Russian leaned over the bed.
The captured agent shifted restlessly.
"Can you hear me, Victor?"
The man's head rolled to one side, then to the other.
"I know you hear me, Victor. Simone is waiting for you."
"Simone," the agent repeated softly.
Ingrid gave Dimitri a triumphant prod in the side.
"You are going to meet Simone. Where will you meet Simone?"
"S-Simone." The agent’s head went side to side again. "I-Istanbul."
"Why are you meeting Simone in Istanbul?"
"And after the audition, Victor?"
"C-C-Contract." The agent's face twisted in a grimace, as he kept shifting from side to side.
"Who is the contract with, Victor?"
The man grew even more agitated. "No. C-Confidential."
"Where is the audition?"
"N-Not set yet." The agent was sweating badly, his breaths becoming ragged.
"When is the audition?
"This is getting us nowhere!" Dimitri roared.
"Quiet, you fool!" Ingrid warned.
The man recoiled from Dimitri's voice and began gasping.
"Ingrid." The thin Russian bent over the restive agent, laying a hand on his forehead. "I don't like the look of him."
She moved beside Ivan. "You were very careful with the dose."
Ivan looked over at her. "Everyone reacts differently. You never really know."
"Prepare the epinephrine. We can't afford to have him die on us until he tells us where the blueprints are."
Chip stared morosely into the bottom of his beer glass, silently debating whether to have another one. Maybe he should ditch the beer for something stronger, really tie one on. He wouldn't remember he had a problem, if he was past remembering. They knew him here. Somebody would call him a cab.
One last hurrah to the memory of the late gallant skipper of the Submarine Seaview. Chip drained the glass, placing it back on the bar. He absently played with it, rolling it back and forth, trying to concentrate on his clumsy fingers and not think. Not about the Admiral, or the submarine and especially not about Lee.
Damn. He let the glass spin upright as his hand clenched into a fist. Of all the lousy, rotten-- Why did it have to be Cathy? She had been headstrong, but she had loved Lee the way he needed-- no holds barred. Chip didn't want to believe Lee was dead. Surely Lee must have known what he was agreeing to. He must have really been hurt. Damn the old man.
No, that wasn't fair. Nelson would have stopped Lee if he had known about the mission. Lee had wanted to go and Chip couldn't understand why. There had to be more Lee's going off than being relieved.
Why did Lee go? Everyone who cared about him was here. There was no one to help him wherever he went. Too many memories? There were other ways to handle that, no need to run off on an Agency mission. Why was Washington so quick to write Lee off? Had they expected this? Was that why they had asked for Lee?
Chip stared at his empty glass tiredly. Talking to Washington had been useless. The Admiral's notorious short fuse was shorter than ever, either from guilt or frustration. There had been a few more shouting matches between them that Chip regretted. There had been many times he and the old man hadn't agreed, but with Lee there, it had worked out. There was so much to do before the refit, Morton didn't know where to start. The thought of his overflowing desk was enough to make him signal the bartender for another beer. He had to do Lee's work. Randy had to cover for him. Bobby had to cover-- It threw everyone off. If he ran into a problem, he had to go to the Admiral. And bother was the word. Lee never minded--
No, finish it! Lee isn't here anymore. Get used to it. You're in command now, will be until Lee comes back. Or until they ship his body back. If they find it. Chip smiled to himself humorlessly. Lee could vanish without a trace. Case closed, marked missing in action, presumed dead. Close the drawer. Another anonymous grave, shallow, hastily dug. Never found. Chip took a sip of beer, forcing his mind to move on to something else. What was this? His fifth? Sixth? Whatever it was, it wasn't helping. He felt quite sober. Nothing worked to keep his mind off Lee. Morton longed to talk to Crane, share a few laughs, hang out the way he and Lee always did. Talking to Randy wasn't the same; he hadn't known Miller for twenty-one years. He loved Lee like a brother, a feeling he was only now beginning to have with Randy. Why, Lee? Why did you go?
The crew needed somebody to give the orders. Command was something Morton had never sought. If that what he wanted, he would have stayed in the Navy. They would have given him a boat when it was his time. He preferred his part of the Seaview team. Without Lee, the sub was a watch without a mainspring. The hands turned if you forced them, but they didn't tick along smoothly by themselves. Get used to it, Morton. She's yours, you have to make her run. You owe that to Lee. Keep him alive by doing his way. That's the only way they know how to do it. John Phillips would be proud Lee had kept so many of the traditions he had started intact. First one captain, now another, whoever-- Chip rebelled against the line his thoughts were taking. You're acting like he's dead. Lee would have escaped. And gotten killed in the attempt.
Lee had always believed in him, all the way back to Annapolis. He probably still does and I've deserted him. Damn the old man to-- As much as Chip wanted to hate Nelson, he couldn't. At least, he hadn’t done anything to send Lee off. Crane knew he hadn't wanted to go after the boat without him. Like it, or not, once Lee accepted his leave papers, Morton had to carry out the Admiral's orders. Lee demanded that of him, always. He should have tried to find Crane before he left. It might have made a difference. When Lee was not where Chip expected him to be, Morton had better start looking. How could he have forgotten that?
Chip clenched his hand around his glass tightly. It wasn't right to blame Cathy's death. He knew he hadn't stopped hurting since the news of her crash. He’d seen what it had done to the Admiral and Lee. Morton shook his head. Some fine mess we're in now, eh, bud? Both of us places we don't want to be. Listen, I know you can't hear me, but wherever you are, if there's someway, anyway, please God, come home. We need you here. Whatever's hurt you, let us help.
Chip abruptly pushed away from the bar. He was wasting time he didn't have. He had specs and requisitions to look over before morning. That's what Lee would do. Morton dropped a bill by his finished glass and walked out. Time to go home. Tomorrow they'd wait again for news from Washington.
Lee had been down too long. He knew that from the crushing weight around his chest and his inability to breathe. Kick for the surface. There was no surface above him. It was too far, he would never make it. He could dimly hear voices, someone insisting he keep breathing. That was fine, until his tank ran out. Where was the surface? Why couldn't he see it above him? It must be raptures. His air had already run out. That would explain the blonde mermaid that kept floating in and out of his vision. She was trying to help him. No one could help him now. He let himself float on the nitrogen dreams. After a while, it wouldn't hurt anymore.
As he drifted, Lee knew he should find the surface, make an effort. He was too deep. He could see light far above him now, shining. Part of him was aware if he stayed down here, he would die, but Crane couldn't summon the strength to move. There was something he still had to do. Lee willed his legs to move, to kick, toward the shimmering light. There finally came a time when the crushing pressure on his chest eased. Had he at last made it to the surface?
Slowly, awareness came back to him. Lee slid his eyes open, trying to focus. He was lying on a bed. Covered with a blanket. Why didn't he remember anything? He gingerly pushed against the blanket with his hand. He felt sluggish, like he had overslept. Why was he here?
There were only flashes. A stocky red-haired man in a brown uniform with a soft smile. A beautiful dark-haired woman with emerald eyes. A young blond man, in the same brown uniform, who laughed a lot. A cold, hard blonde who would ask harsh questions, then plead with him to stay with her. He didn't understand. There was another man, dark and cruel, with a fierce smile of anticipation.
The jumbled faces floated through his confused thoughts. The stocky man in uniform wanted him to do something and he had to do it soon. Father? No, his father had died a long time ago. No, the man was important. The green-eyed woman. She had loved him once, but she was dead, too. The blonde man was his friend, but he was far away.
The blonde woman, she was here. She had been talking to him. She wanted to know something. He remembered her soft hands on his face. Feeding him. Wiping his face. Begging him to stay with her. Calling him. . . Victor. The dark burly man appeared, insisting, screaming, demanding. He shut his eyes against the image. It frightened him.
He thought again of the blonde. She was trying to help. He dimly remembered talking to her. She wanted to know all about him. Victor. He was Victor... Sebastian. He was on his way to... Istanbul. He was going to Istanbul to meet ... Simone.
That was it, Simone. A beautiful red-haired woman. He should be with her. No, that wasn't right. He should be with the dark haired woman. She was the one he loved.
Too exhausted to make any sense of his whirling thoughts, he let them scatter. The blonde knew who he was. She had helped once, she would help again. Lee’s head lolled and he slept.
The sound of voices above him brought him awake. He lay there, trying to focus on what they were saying. They were talking about him.
"Well, what did you expect, Dimitri?"
He recognized the female voice. The blonde.
"With the allergic reaction, it's a wonder he's still alive. I tell you it's useless. Whoever he was, he’s convinced he’s Sebastian now. He wasn't given the information we need. There was no way he could have concealed it from me."
"They put out a double for us to take? The bastards. What do we do with him now?"
"What else? We shoot him, trying to escape."
"Finally, we agree on something."
Large hands seized his arms suddenly, dragging him off the bunk. He stumbled, trying to get his feet under him. The burly Russian lifted him and propelled him toward the door. This was it then. A guard joined them, a rifle slung over one shoulder. He would be free of his pain at last.
They continued to push him down the hallway to the back of the house. Night had fallen while he dreamed. No one would see. The big Russian pushed open the back door. One lone light illuminated the yard and the high wooden fence that surrounded the dacha.
Lee put a hand up to shield his eyes, unused to the light. The guard gave him another push, and he tripped over the doorstop. Staggering, he lost his balance on the stoop, and fell off it into the grass below. The fall jarred his knees, and he gasped at the pain of impact.
"Pick him up!" Dimitri yelled angrily above him.
As the guard bent over him, something inside Lee gave way. He felt a sudden burning in his stomach and fierce anger. He didn't want to die, not like this. Crane lashed out and the guard fell back, choking, clawing at his Adam's apple. In a red haze, Lee saw his hand close around the rifle as the man fell, tearing it out of his grasp.
Crane rolled, regaining his feet. Bringing the rifle to his waist, he pressed the trigger. The heavy slugs lifted the burly Russian off the stoop, smashing him against the side of the house. The woman fell back into the dacha, clutching her stomach.
Whirling, Lee sighted the light. The rifle bucked, there was a tinkle of broken glass, and the back yard plunged into darkness. Crane swung the rifle over his shoulder and ran. He did not know how he knew what to do, his mind remained curiously detached. Like he was watching someone else.
He heard shouting as he fumbled with the gate. Lee could smell the closeness of the water. He had heard the roar of a powerboat passing the house more than once. The gate swung open, revealing a pier and boat house with two boats tied at the end. The yelling came closer. Crane jumped down into the first boat. His hand fumbled alongside the wheel. Pull the throttle. His hand found the ignition, bounced off a metal key. He twisted it. The engine spun, then caught. His other hand feathered the throttle until the engine settled into a throaty roar.
He then reached over the windshield to cast off the line looped around the front cleat. Freed, the boat grated against the pier until he turned the wheel away. The boat wallowed for a moment, as he gave the engine more throttle. Then she lifted her prow and gave to move. There was a whine over his head. Lee ducked, throwing the throttle wide open. The boat lifted further as the blades dug in, and he was away.
A light stabbed on behind him. Above the roar of the wind and his own engine, he heard another boat coming after him. He spun the wheel, sloughing out of the light. Another bullet whined past. He could see a glow in the southwest. He needed to head that way. The light pinned him again. He dodged, seeking the darkness.
Then the night lit from above. Flare. More shots sounded. Wood splintered in front of him, and Lee ducked. At the same moment his engine caught, and black smoke began pouring out of the cowling. Crane heard hissing, and the acrid smell of gasoline filled the air. He could hear the other boat closing fast. He reached for his rifle. His hands closed around the strap and unhooked it. Lee knew he didn't have much time left. He took the strap, wound it through the wheel and tied off the other end around the throttle. The power boat heeled over to the left. The hissing was much louder now.
Lee clambered over the windshield as the boat headed toward the light, then he rolled free of the hull into the water. Better the sea should have him.
Crane hit the surface hard, tumbling down into the depths. Somehow, Lee knew not to fight. The water swirled around him, but he was rising again. Abruptly, his head broke the surface. His hands moved in a circular motion, keeping him afloat. He drew in a deep breath. The night exploded in orange fire. Lee was flying through the air, only to smash into the dark water again. It crashed on top of him, driving any air he had left from his lungs. Crane felt himself sinking, and then there was nothing but darkness.
Lee was dreaming. He should almost be there. He'd been going down for a long time. Up ahead the beautiful green-eyed girl beckoned. It was time to go with her. That would end the burning pain he couldn't think beyond. He had run from it. No one wanted him there. He could see her clearly now, eyes glistening with unshed tears. He reached out to comfort her, but she wasn't there. She reappeared suddenly, far ahead of him, waving forlornly; then the mist swallowed her. No, don't leave. Take me with you. He searched the mist, but she was beyond his reach.
"Come back, son," a voice cried. "It's not your time yet."
I've gone too far now. Let me go.
"I can't do that. Listen to me. Come home with me." The stocky man with reddish hair held out his hand. "You'll be all right, Lee. Trust me."
Lee saw a uniform, captain's bars. Captain Nel... Why couldn't he remember? Captain. He was a Captain-- No, the Captain said to... The hand beckoned him. It was beyond his reach. He tried again. Still too far.
"Easy, son. Swimming's quite simple. 1-2-3, breathe, 4-5-6, breathe. C'mon, you can do it."
Lee's half-conscious body, drifting face down in the water, gave a jerk. He rolled sideways, catching a breath before he went under. Crane came up again, this time on his back. He gasped reflexively, his hands thrashing feebly. His left hand struck a solid wooden object.
Lee pulled it under him, dragging himself up onto it until his head cleared the water. He tried to draw in more air and doubled over coughing up water. He clung desperately to the wood until he finally stopped. Crane felt himself starting to drift out and gripped hard with his other hand. Pain shot through his shoulder. He gasped and almost rolled off his plank. Lee pulled himself back from the edge with his good hand, sliding further up the wood out of the icy water.
He found himself staring at the dark, rippling surface, inches from his face and shuddered. He had almost died in its chill embrace. The voice had saved him. Why did he always hear that voice? The stocky man in uniform. Captain. Captain Nel. . . He couldn't remember. Why wouldn't he leave him alone? The voice kept yammering at him, refusing to let him give up. He had been afraid to face something. He was a coward. He had run.
Lee ached inside, pain deeper than his torn shoulder. Gazing down at the lapping water, he saw his own haggard reflection. Distorted by the moonlight and the motion of the sea, it kept breaking into fragments. All Lee wanted was release from this living nightmare. The dark water had welcomed him. He could sink past this pain. It would only hurt for a moment.
"No, Lee! Don't do it!" The voice was so commanding, it demanded he obey.
"Sir?" he cried softly. "Help me."
"I don't know the way."
"Yes, you do."
Crane dropped his head in despair. "You expect too much of me."
"You can be anything you want to be with me. The past doesn't matter."
The voice faded, leaving an image in his mind of a sprawling complex of offices, labs, and tanks by the sea. That was home. How could he get there? By boat? No, the ride was smoother. Flying boat? No, by plane. He had to find a plane. Airport. Lee brought up a hand, shading his forehead, and searched the horizon. He spotted the glow in the southwest. That way.
He paddled slowly with his one good arm until the shore loomed before him and he could leave his piece of hull behind. Crane slid off clumsily and immediately went under. He fought down a surge of panic when he didn't strike bottom and kicked for the surface. He came up, treading water. Take a deep breath and kick. Lee rolled on his side, cradling his injured shoulder to him. A few moments later, he grounded out in shallower water.
Crane staggered out of the water onto the sand, swaying with exhaustion. He fell to his knees, then sprawled onto his side, drawing in deep breaths of the cool night air. He'd rest until he could move, then he had to find that airport. He had to go home.
Harry sat bolt upright in his chair, his sudden movement rocking it wildly. He grabbed the armrest to steady himself. The tight grip helped calm him. He hadn't been sleeping well at all, but he hadn't expected to fall asleep in his office chair in the middle of the afternoon. He scrubbed his hand over his forehead. Another nightmare.
It was fading fast, but never had he felt so helpless. Surrounded by fog, he kept trying to find Lee. In the distance he could hear Crane calling, but he couldn't locate him, no matter where he searched. Harry kept looking and calling, but Crane wasn't there. Nelson shook himself. It was getting worse. The less he slept, the more the nightmares came. The uncertainty of not knowing what had happened to Crane was driving him to the edge. He couldn't go on much longer like this.
Lee wondered when he'd wake up. He'd been wandering in this dark dream for a long time. A gray mist swam before his eyes, clouding his vision, so he had no idea where he was going. He only knew he had to get there.
He continued plodding in almost sleepwalker fashion. He kept stumbling, and falling. Something always drove him to stagger to his feet again. He could no longer feel the pain of his torn left shoulder. He cradled his arm clumsily; it kept throwing him off balance. Everything remained jumbled in his mind, the pain, the water and the persistent voices. Crane hadn't heard them in a while, but he knew they were still there. Along with the flashes of familiar faces on a beautiful silver sub. His submarine. He had to find her.
Lee trudged wearily up a small hill, not noticing in the darkness there were now houses on both sides of him or that the pavement was improving. He half staggered down the far side into Gorov. He wandered the deserted streets, looking for something familiar to him. He couldn't help feeling he'd been here before. That, too, was a question. He knew he didn't live here, but there was some place.... Had he ever been here? Was he supposed to be here? His mind refused to think beyond anything but home.
Crane turned a corner and stopped when he saw a large brick building in the pre-dawn light. He stood, swaying, trying to focus on it. It drew him. He staggered across the street and into the courtyard. Amid the grass he found a stone path, laid down in precise squares. He stared at it. Lee knew he had walked this path before, but the squares faced the other way. Leaving?
Walking the path brought him to a solid oak door marked with a sign in some language he couldn't remember, yet the characters were familiar. The gray mist that had dogged him for long was starting to turn black. Crane hoped the people inside could tell him where the airport was.
He groped for the door knob and brushed the bell button. Lee leaned forward to press it, and his arm swung free. The pain lanced up his shoulder, sending a wave of blackness across his eyes. He crashed to his knees, hearing a faint bell sound right before the darkness took him.
Jackson glanced up from his newspaper at the sound of the bell on the kitchen door. Even this early he couldn't read his morning paper in peace. A heavy thump sounded on the heels of the ring.
Better check it out. There were no deliveries scheduled until mid-morning. He reached up, punching in the combination that would light up a warning in the Security office. They wouldn't be busy at this hour. It never hurt to be cautious.
While he waited, he took a quick look out the peephole. No one was standing at the door. The thump bothered him. Somebody might have left a package on the step, but if they didn't wait around, it might be a bomb. It wouldn't be the first time.
Jackson heard footsteps behind him. The Security man. He turned, surprised when Evan Meddings came through the kitchen door.
"If I had known they'd call you, sir, I wouldn't have requested someone. I'm not even sure there's a problem."
"I decided to come down, instead the duty man. I'm awake anyway. What is it?"
"Someone rang the bell. There was a loud thump, then silence. I didn't hear anyone running away, but no one is out there now. See for yourself."
Evan crossed to the door, looking out.
"Do you think it's a bomb?"
Meddings snapped the peephole shut. "There's only one way to find out." He reached up to unbolt the door.
"Do you really want to do that?"
Evan shrugged as his fingers closed around the doorknob.
Jackson tried not to tense as the door swung inward. Evan gave an exclamation of surprise and knelt quickly beside the unconscious man lying face down across the doorstep. Meddings lifted him gently, turning him over.
Jackson cringed. The man's clothes were muddy, stained by grass and who knew what else. The dark hair curled wildly, a matted disheveled mess; his beard was scraggly and unkempt. He smelled of stale seawater. "Of all places for a drunk to pass out-- " He put his disgust into words.
"It's Crane." Meddings searched for a pulse under the agent’s ear.
"The loaner we lost at the opera?" Looking closer, Jackson remembered him now. "You said they'd kill him when they found out he was a double and not Victor." Jackson gave Evan a searching look. "You had us turn Gorov upside down, despite orders from home. They couldn't find any trace of him."
"He must have escaped. Help me get him inside."
Jackson forced down his revulsion, sliding his hands under the muddy legs. Meddings took a firm grip under the agent's shoulders. Crane moaned weakly, flinching, as they tried to lift him. Evan quickly eased him back down.
"Damn," Evan muttered. "His shoulder doesn't look right. Come toward me. Now let me have him." Meddings lifted Crane up gently and carried him into the kitchen, laying him down on the wide table.
"Cornelia will have a fit." Jackson handed Evan a damp cloth.
"Never mind. Get Doctor Martin down here." Evan bent over the agent's still form. "Tell him to move it."
Jackson could hear Evan behind him, trying to bring the agent around. He quickly punched in the extension. The Doctor sounded sleepy, but promised to come immediately. Jackson returned to the table to see if he could be any help. The man was in shock, the dark beard could not hide his pallor. Abruptly the agent moaned again, his head rolling slightly to the left.
Evan laid the cloth across the agent's forehead. "Captain Crane!" Evan spoke loudly. "Can you hear me?"
The agent shifted restlessly, his head moving again. His hands drew up into clenched fists and his eyes became tightly closed. He murmured a few words, the only one that Jackson understood was no.
Meddings took Crane's head between his hands. "Captain, listen to me." Evan raised his voice above the agent's mumbling. "It's all right. You'll be home soon. Admiral Nelson says-- "
The agent's eyes snapped open and he struggled against Evan's grip. "Control room! I have to--" His eyes glazed over and he went limp again.
Evan let go, easing the agent’s head down onto the table.
"Better wait for Doc, he doesn't appear to understand you."
Meddings put the cloth back on Crane's forehead. "It doesn't look good."
The Doctor came hurrying through the kitchen door, black bag firmly in hand.
Jackson moved aside to let Martin in beside the table. The Doctor's nose wrinkled and he gave Evan a sour glance. "At this hour I should have figured it was one of yours. Standard procedure?"
"Yes." Evan stepped back from the table. "Can you bring him around?"
Martin gave his patient a quick look. "I doubt it." His hand rested on the side of the agent's neck, as he looked at his watch. "Most likely his blood pressure has fallen too low for him to stay conscious. He's in shock, combination of exposure and trauma." The Doctor's hand traveled downward. "His left shoulder is out of the socket.” Martin pulled up an eyelid. "They beat him severely." He tilted the agent's head to show them the half healed bruises under his ear and along his jaw, only partially hidden by the dark beard. Martin pulled his stethoscope from his bag, listening. "Doesn't seem to have affected his heart yet, but we don't have much time .to reverse the shock before it does." The Doctor put away his stethoscope. "I’ll need you two to hold him down, best do this now while he’s out. Jackson, don’t let his legs move. Evan, brace his other shoulder, so I have something to push against. One, two, three--“ Martin popped the agent’s shoulder back into place with practiced ease.
Jackson expected some movement at that, but Crane remained limp in their combined grasp. The Doctor stepped back from the table. “Now we have to get him warm and dry so I can immobilize that shoulder." Martin ran a hand across Crane's ribs. "Jackson, tell the cook to make me some hot broth."
"Right away. I’ll find the clothes he came in."
The Doctor turned back to Evan. "Use hot water, hot as he can stand and get him clean." Jackson remained for a moment to see if Meddings wanted help with that. Evan lifted the unconscious man lightly from the table without strain and carried him out the far door, to the closest bathroom. The Doctor began repacking his bag.
Jackson pushed through the other door into the cooking area. The cook hated special orders before breakfast was served. So much for a quiet peaceful morning.
Lee knew something was going on beyond the black. He'd fight it off, it would fade to grey, and he’d hear voices calling him. They were different from the ones that had pursued him for so long. Maybe they could tell him how to get home. Someone was lifting him. He felt cold, and a far off roaring sounded in his ears. Warmth enveloped him, and he was floating blissfully.
It began to rain in his dream. Warm rain that ran down his face and over his shoulders, surrounding him in clinging dampness. Heaven. He could float off into the rain and never worry about anything again.
Rain. Water. Floating. Face down. A sudden panic seized him and Lee couldn't breathe. The blackness was crushing him, driving him under.
Crane's sudden violent recoil under his scrubbing hands, knocked Evan back on his heels as Lee abruptly came to. Crane pulled back to the far edge of the tub, breathing in ragged gasps. His eyes jarred open as he struck the porcelain side. He regarded Evan warily, his body trembling.
"Captain." Evan reached out a soothing hand. "It's all right, Lee. I won't hurt you." Meddings hoped Crane would respond. His captors wouldn't know his real name or his rank. Lee looked at him blankly. His eyes focused on him, but they held a strange gleam. Meddings laid a light hand on the agent’s uninjured shoulder. "Easy, Lee," he made his voice reassuring. "You'll be home soon."
"Home?" Crane asked, in a weak whisper of disbelief, a look of longing replacing the blankness in his eyes.
"Yes," Evan answered swiftly. "I'll call your Institute in California --
"I..." Crane shook his head. "I can go home?"
"Of course you're going home, Captain. Admiral Nelson insists."
"Nelson." Crane spoke the word half familiarly, yet with uncertainty.
"He's been raising sixteen kinds of hell with my boss in Washington. To say I'm glad to see you is an understatement."
"Oh." Lee still looked confused. "What day is this?"
"It's Monday morning."
"Monday?" Crane rubbed a slow hand across his jaw, encountering his beard, and jerked it away in surprise. He abruptly slumped down against the tub wall. "I don't remember."
Evan smiled at him reassuringly. "It will come back." He reached up to turn off the hot water. "Feel any better?" he asked as he handed the warm, damp washcloth over.
Crane awkwardly scrubbed it one-handedly across his face. "A little." Lee raised his eyes. They were clearer now. "Thanks, Evan." He looked at Meddings, uncertain. "It is Evan?"
"Yes." Meddings smiled. "I'll get you into some dry clothes and then Doc will wrap your injured shoulder, okay?"
Crane glanced down ruefully. "It hurts."
"We fixed it, don't worry. I'll be back in a minute."
Lee rubbed the towel awkwardly across his hair with his right hand. He needed a comb or it would never settle down. Lying in the hot water had felt heavenly. He hadn't been this warm in days. It cleared away the last of his fuzziness and he finally felt fixed in reality. No more dreams. The voices, the hazy recollections and uncertainty were all fading. He was Lee Crane, on special assignment to the Agency and the mission had failed. He looked down at his soggy black pants in a heap on the floor. Where had he been all that time? It was hard now to remember his imprisonment. It was fading with the rest. It was small consolation he managed to escape. Everything ached and he kept getting light-headed. He was determined to stay conscious until Evan returned.
He lifted the blanket from the bed, pulling it around him. Another doctor. If he was anything like Jamie. . . Lee smiled without humor. Really made a mess of it. A simple impersonation, and he let himself get captured. Who knows what I told them? Now the Admiral wants me back. If today is Monday, then it's-- Lee realized with a sinking feeling it was too late. His leave had only a few more hours to run. He'd have to be in Washington right now to make it to Santa Barbara on time. Crane threw the towel onto the floor savagely. What the hell was the matter with him? The sudden pain that shot through his left shoulder made Lee sway. He groped for the edge of the bed, and sat down on it, fighting not to pass out again. He bowed his head into both hands, closing his eyes.
"Head hurt?" Evan asked, as he heard the station head come back in.
Lee raised his head. "I got dizzy. I'm sorry I’m such a problem."
"Don't worry about it. Doc's ready to bandage you. Put these on for warmth.” Evan laid some sweat pants down beside Crane. “We’ll add the top, if we can, when he’s done."
Lee gestured toward his sodden clothes with his foot. "You'll want to destroy these. The other side probably sent someone after me."
"They won't find you here. I'll know soon if anyone is looking. Leave it to me."
"I failed, Evan. They found out I wasn’t Victor," Crane said softly, his eyes going to the floor. "The mission-- "
"Went fine. Victor has been at Langley with the blueprints, debriefing, for a week. You gave us the diversion we needed. They should have watched you for at least 2 more days before making their move. If I had covered you better, Sandler might still be alive and you would have never been captured." Meddings frowned. "Bad business. Unfortunately, we had get Victor out of here while we had the chance. He was such a deep mole for us, too. Now, we have to start all over."
"I should have--"
"No, you did far more than you agreed to. We shouldn't have let them take you. You're a good agent, Lee. You proved that by getting back on your own." Evan reached out to grip his good shoulder. "If you were Agency, you bet I’d have you back on my station again."
"Thanks, Evan." Lee started to dress himself, but it was too difficult. Meddings took over and got it done.
Doctor Martin had a manner similar to Jamieson, and Lee found himself slowly relaxing as the bandages went on. After Martin finished adjusting the sling, Evan told him to lie back on the bed and tell them whatever he could remember. Crane tried, but everything was fragmented. Almost like he wasn't himself after they gave him the drug. His days in captivity remained hazy, a bad dream. He couldn't fix on anything.
Martin had given him a shot to ease the pain in his shoulder. Without the throbbing ache to keep him awake, Lee kept nodding off. The hot soup tasted wonderful, but now it only added to his drowsiness. He had to help Evan. Make up for the mess he had made of the mission.
Abruptly the Doctor came back into the room. He'd gone to test the blood he had taken. "That's enough for now, Evan," he said softly. "Let him sleep."
"Problem, Doc?" Meddings enquired.
"Nothing that won't heal," Martin answered. "The Captain needs to be a little stronger before you can debrief him. He's practically asleep on you now."
Lee raised his head, with an effort.
Evan was smiling broadly. "I have enough for the preliminary report, Lee,” the station head assured him. “You heard the Doc, go to sleep."
Lee knew he couldn't keep his eyes open much longer. "I'm sorry it's so sketchy."
Evan laid a gentle hand on his good shoulder once more. "Sleep will help. We'll talk again later."
Meddings got up from the edge of the bed. Lee let his eyes close. He didn't even hear them leave.
Lee waited patiently for the Agency driver to bring his brown suitcase from the back of the car. He shifted uncomfortably. His borrowed suit coat was too snug across his shoulders, with the added bulk of the shoulder bandages and the sling. It was his own fault he got captured. No sense rehashing it, it was over. One more plane to catch. Somewhere along the way his bag had picked up a long black scuff mark along the side. Crane smiled wryly at the damage. The driver put it down in front of him.
"Here you go, sir. Do you know where to pick up your transportation?"
"Yes. I've taken planes from here before."
"Then have a good trip home."
Lee lifted the suitcase carefully with his good arm. It wasn’t that heavy, but with his left shoulder bound, it was enough to throw him off balance. Mostly for show. He was a sailor on leave. Leave that expired two days ago. His travel orders didn't mention that. Was there anything he'd forgotten to screw up? It was fortunate that his bag wasn't heavy or he couldn’t have lifted it. Time to go to the transportation officer and find out which flight they had room for him on.
They had brought Victor to meet him after his final debriefing at Langley. They stood looking at each other, not really knowing what to say. Then Victor had smiled.
"They say everyone has a double somewhere. I certainly could have used you before. There have been several times I needed to be in two places at once, but never as much as last week." Victor extended his hand. "Thank you. You saved my life. I'm sorry they kidnapped you."
Lee took the proffered hand. "We didn't plan on that."
"I know." Victor replied. "It's a tough business. I'm not sure how I ended up spending 20 years looking over my shoulder. For me, however, that part is over."
Lee looked at Victor again. "You know, for years people have always thought they met me before, particularly when I was on a mission." He gestured at Sebastian's face. "I always thought I had one of 'those' faces. As it turns out, I have yours."
Sebastian shrugged. "You were ONI. No one at Langley ever made the connection before, until they went searching for it." Sebastian shrugged. "We certainly must have kept the other side confused." He smiled at that thought and Lee found himself grinning back.
It had been good to meet Victor. Crenshaw said they were putting together a new identity for him, before he assumed his position as an Agency analyst. They had already released a story that Victor Sebastian had died in a car accident on the way to Istanbul. In six weeks, after some selective plastic surgery, Sebastian would no longer resemble him. All the loose ends were taken care of one by one. He was the final one, and now he was free to go home.
Lee paused for a moment by the terminal entrance, fighting down a sudden urge to run. Run where? There was no other place to go. He had to go back, face the Admiral, and tell him what an idiot he'd been to leave. Do something right. Crane began walking toward the terminal. He'd been through Andrews enough to know how to pick up transportation, though it was seldom a place he enjoyed. Gateway to scenic Washington, DC. It took him a moment to realize the loud voice was calling him. Lee turned and his eyes widened in disbelief as he saw Gil Foley bearing down on him.
"You’re going the wrong way, Skipper!" Foley reached for his suitcase.
Crane surrendered it at Gil's insistent tug, too surprised to resist. "I was on my way to pick up my transportation to Santa Barbara."
"You're looking at it," The NIMR pilot answered with the cocky grin Crane remembered so well. "I got orders to deliver you personally."
"In the Whisperjet?" Lee asked. The arrangements were suddenly clear. No wonder the Agency hadn’t been concerned how he would get home from Andrews.
"Yep. She handles like a dream. I'd let you have a turn, but I see--" Foley gestured at his bound shoulder. "Tough mission?"
"Yes.” Lee didn’t know what else to say.
"The Admiral said to find you first thing. He doesn't want you getting lost again."
"Oh." Lee tried to fight the sinking feeling those words gave him. "You parked the usual place?" He did not want to think about what they meant.
"Same as always. You know these Air Force jockeys," Gil grinned at him suddenly. "They can't stand the competition."
"Yes," Lee agreed absently. Why had Nelson sent Gil? Wants to make sure I'll report. Lee had every intention of returning to the Institute. How long he remained after that would depend on Nelson.
"I don't mind telling you, Skipper, you gave us a big jolt when you went MIA. I'm glad you made it back. The place wouldn't be the same without you."
"I'm sure they'd have managed." They didn't need him, not the way he'd messed up. Crane followed Gil into the visitor's hanger, steeling himself for the sight of the jet. It had been on her sister ship that Cathy had-- Lee refused to finish the thought. It would lead to others and bring back his pain.
He slowly made his way up the boarding stairs to find the pilot waiting for him inside the door.
"You all right, Lee?" Foley moved closer, concerned as he paused for a moment at the top.
"Yes, Gil." It came out more exasperated than it should have and Lee quickly touched Foley's arm. "Sorry. The mission took more out of me than I thought."
"We'll give you a quiet flight to Santa Barbara. No aerobatics."
Crane smiled faintly. "Actually, I figured you'd take her straight up."
"She's no chopper," Gil laughed. "Besides, you know the Admiral wouldn't let me within ten yards of this baby if I hadn't qualified."
"You're our number one pilot, now."
"Yeah. I wish -- " Foley hesitated for a moment. "Getting it this way takes all the fun out of it."
"George wouldn't have trained you if he didn't think you had it," Lee offered. "You can remember him by doing his preflight checks." He laid a gentle hand on the pilot's shoulder. "Losing someone you love is never easy."
"Its hell, isn't it, Lee?" Foley's earnestness heightened the pain Crane was trying to ignore. He couldn't give in to it. Not here.
"Yes," Crane answered, trying to keep his voice even. "What's our ETA for Santa Barbara?" he asked, changing the subject. Foley was hitting too close. He couldn't confide in Gil, no matter how much he liked the young pilot.
"Three PM, California time. The Admiral said to take his suite." Foley continued to the very rear of the plane. "I wasn't to accept any protests." Gil pushed the door open.
Lee got a glimpse of the bed, half turned down. "All right," he acquiesced. "You have your orders."
Foley swung the suitcase up into the rack above the bed. "Doc Jamieson had lunch put aboard for you. Pop it in the microwave if you're hungry. He suggested you take it easy. Now I'm not one to order around someone who outranks me--"
"I got the message. Thanks."
"Great." Foley grinned. "I'll go grab Philip and we'll get this bird airborne. Yell if you need anything."
"I will." It was a relief to sink down on the bed. They had it all figured out. A hot meal and a soft bed before facing the firing squad. Not many jobs around for ex-submarine Captains who had screwed up this badly. Lee eased his too tight jacket off. He'd had breakfast, maybe he'd feel better with a few more hours sleep. That would save him one lecture from Jamieson. Crane unlaced his oxfords, letting them fall to the floor and eased down onto the soft pillows. It didn't take long after takeoff for Lee to fall asleep, too worn out to worry about what was going to happen anymore.
Every time Lee went missing, Nelson vowed he'd never go through it again, but this time he had really been afraid. That fear had been an unwelcome companion these two weeks. Since Lee had gone, the bravado he relied on in the past to see him through crises wasn't there. It had deserted him, leaving nothing but empty, aching hurt. Harry never realized how much he had come to care for Crane, or how much he relied on Lee's being there, until he had to face his loss. Harry could not shake the feeling that he would never see Lee alive again. When the telegram had arrived, it was his worst nightmare come true.
In the end, the Agency had accomplished what they set out to do, but at what cost to Lee? No one from this institute would be loaned again, King had assured him. Harry hadn't wanted to believe Lee was dead. Maybe he resisted because Washington wanted to close the file. Crane was better off dead.
Lee had two weeks to come back. If he did not return when his leave was up, then he'd have to believe Crane had been killed. Harry hadn't dared tell anyone about his nightmares. They'd think he'd lost it.
Then the second telegram had arrived on that last day. He had made himself open it. Coming on the heels of his nightmare, he was sure it would confirm Lee's death. He had to read it twice before the words finally registered. Lee was alive. They were sending him home. He found Chip Morton, dragged him out of his office and they celebrated.
The roar of the incoming jet was loud in Nelson's ears. His head hadn't quite forgiven him for last night's indulgence. Almost the whole sub crew was at the landing field, with most of the Institute staff there was well. Harry wondered idly who had spread the word. Kowalski had told him Lee would come back. The sonar man had been right. His eye fell on the seaman, standing with Patterson off to his left. Chief Sharkey stood with them. Chip Morton was beside Nelson, a broad grin on his face. Last night appeared to have had no effect on him. Nelson felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. Jamieson smiled a greeting and took his place behind him. The hangover was worth it. Lee was home.
It took a long time for the landing detail to get the stairs locked onto the plane after she taxied in. Finally, they were in place and the door swung open. Lee appeared in the doorway. He stopped, his gaze sweeping over the large crowd assembled to greet him.
Conflicting emotions flickered across his face. The breeze blew Lee's hair down over his forehead. Crane had a good week's growth of beard and looked pale, tired, and gaunt. Whatever he'd been through hadn't been easy on him. A sling supported his left arm.
Nelson raised a hand, beckoning, and smiled.
Lee drew himself up carefully, gripping the rail with his good hand. He made his way carefully down the stairs.
Nelson moved to the foot of the ramp, extending his hand toward Crane, his smile widening. "Welcome home, Lee."
Crane made no attempt to take his hand as he stepped to the runway. "Thank you, sir," he replied. He stopped, facing Nelson and drew himself up straight. "I'm late."
Lee continued in the same formal parade tone. "I had orders to return Monday." He went rigidly straight. "I must report myself absent without-- "
"No, Lee," Nelson interrupted, when he realized what Crane intended. "Don't say it." He gave Lee another encouraging smile. "It doesn't matter."
"I'm sorry, sir." Lee's reply was barely audible as he dropped his eyes to the pavement. Crane remained at attention.
Nelson suddenly knew what he had to do. Harry didn't care who saw it. Nelson reached out and hugged his wayward son. Then he stepped back, gripping Crane’s good shoulder lightly. "No, Lee, the only thing that matters is you are home!" he said affectionately.
Crane raised his eyes and Nelson felt him slowly relax. Then his features softened into that shy, sheepish smile Harry knew so well, and feared he would never see again.
"Welcome home, Lee!" Nelson repeated, releasing Crane's shoulder. He once again extended his hand. This time Lee took it, in a steady, if not strong, grip.
Pandemonium broke loose around them. A very loud voice, sounding suspiciously like Kowalski, yelled `Let's hear it for the Skipper!' The crew complied, giving a tremendous roar.
Harry released him as Morton came around Lee's good side, and engulfed him in a hug.
"I knew you'd come back!" Chip exulted, with a huge grin.
"Watch out, Chip, don't knock him over." Jamieson quickly put out a restraining hand.
"It's okay, Jamie." Lee responded to Morton’s hug with one of his own, draping his good arm over Chip's shoulder. "I'm all right, now."
Then Crane glanced back at Nelson. The warm glow Harry saw in his hazel eyes said thank you better than any words. Lee was glad to be home.
Lee shifted his good shoulder on the pillow, trying to get more comfortable. He wished he could move his other shoulder, but Jamieson had it immobilized again. The lower half of his arm rested in a new sling. Jamie had decided neither he, nor his arm, were going anywhere.
A little stab of pain ran up his arm as Crane moved. He glanced up in sour irritation at the intravenous antibiotic drip that hung above his head. Another battle he'd lost. He was only a little weak. He didn't need all this. Jamieson should have let him go home. He'd redressed his shoulder, which was getting less sore by the day and the rest was nothing that wouldn’t be fixed by sleep and three squares a day.
Lee couldn't get support to leave from anyone. Jamie insisted on a complete physical, the works. The Doctor had a folder he kept consulting. When Lee asked what was in it, Jamieson had said he was verifying the Agency Doctor's diagnosis. Nothing for him to worry about. The folder carried the Agency's red runner along the spine. Lee wondered what information Martin had passed on. Jamie wasn't happy with it, that much he could tell. Doctors.
It felt good to have someone fussing over him. He'd been wrong to think there was no one left in his life that cared about him. He apparently still had his job. It was hard to believe what had happened at the airstrip. Lee had not expected all those people. The Admiral didn't hold 'public' discipline.
It had taken more than a moment to adjust. So many familiar faces out there to meet him. It had taken all his will and twenty-one years of Naval service to go down those stairs and say what he had to say. He'd prayed his body wouldn't betray him. It didn't matter. All anyone cared about was that he'd come home.
The Admiral wasn't one to show affection. A soft smile, maybe a touch on the arm or shoulder, a few words of praise. To hug him in front of all those people-- Lee still couldn’t believe the old man had done it. All those years of being teased about being number one son. He'd wondered why the Admiral hadn’t squashed it. Lee was very fond of Nelson. The Admiral had done a lot for him, but he was only 'one' of his boys. Nelson had always called him son, for as long as Lee had known him. He didn't mean anything by it. Or did he?
Chip had pitched right in, assisting Jamieson with the bandaging. Jamie, despite grumbling about too many cooks in the kitchen, had let them both stay and tell him everything they had been doing with the refit while his shoulder was rebound. Lee had to admit the second wrap job was far more comfortable than the one he had come home with. Jamie finally had enough and threw everyone out, including the Admiral. Nelson hadn't wanted to leave. Chip suggested a hot game of chess and some ten year old scotch. Nelson had probably gone for the Scotch. Chess wasn't Chip's forte. After a couple of rounds of Scotch, his game went right down--
Lee smiled. Jamieson had called quits at the right time. All the attention was tiring. Wherever Jamie had gone, he'd lay money it wasn't far. If he tried to leave, Lee knew he'd find out in a hurry. Crane glanced up the IV again, his own personal leash. Jamieson had promised no sedative if he stayed put. Crane pulled the blanket up a little higher. The bed felt wonderfully soft, warm, and comfortable. He no longer felt empty inside. His pain had eased somehow. Some of the glow rekindled that afternoon was still with him. Home. Lee let his eyes close, relaxing into the mattress and pillows as he drifted off into his first untroubled sleep in weeks.
"Excuse me, Harry, got a minute?" Nelson glanced up from his desk at Jamieson's question. He gave Will a smiled greeting, motioning him toward the visitors' chair.
"Sure, Doc, come on in," he answered, closing his report.
Will dropped into the chair. He looked tired. "I want to talk to you about Lee."
Harry sat up in his chair, raising a questioning eyebrow. "He is going to be all right?"
"Physically, he'll recover," Jamieson reassured him. "All his body needs is rest and regular meals, but I'm still a little worried about his emotional state."
Nelson leaned forward. "He came home."
"Yes, he did," Jamieson granted. "Except, I'm not so sure his hysterical blackout was a complication of his allergic reaction. It may have been self-induced amnesia."
"You said he could remember his capture now, all that happened until he escaped."
"That's what he said." Jamieson extended a folded paper toward Nelson, and then leaned back in his chair, after Harry took the sheet from him. "Read that and tell me nothing's wrong. He said it was too tiring to write any more."
"Lee admitted being too tired?" Nelson scanned the top sheet. It was terse, the statements vague, not at all like Crane’s usual concise, reporting style. Harry laid the paper down on his desk. "I see what you mean. Maybe Lee doesn't want to remember. If he blacked it out, it must have been hell. If he wants to forget, why can't we let him?"
"It's not that simple." Will leaned forward. "Look, I don't want him in pain, either, but he has to talk with someone about this experience, someone close. I figure it's easiest for him to tell you." Jamieson smiled faintly. "I'm not having any luck getting him to open up to me."
"Are you sure Lee needs to do this?"
"Yes. I've done all that can be done, physically."
"Then I'll offer to listen, Will." Nelson looked at Jamieson levelly. "If Lee doesn't want to talk about it, I won’t make him tell me."
"Fair enough." Jamieson spread his hands.
"I'll stop by after lunch."
"Thanks." The Doctor rose to his feet. "I appreciate it."
"Get him well."
"Aye, sir." Jamieson gave him a sly smile, as he crossed to the door. Nelson grinned in return and then turned back to his papers. His eyes fell on Lee's report and he put it carefully aside. He'd know better how to take it after he talked to Lee.
Nelson halted outside the Infirmary door. Could he be sure he wouldn't have left if the situation had happened to him? Harry had never found a woman to love the way Lee had loved Cathy, but he had felt the desolation, the deep aching hurt inside, when he wasn't sure Lee was still alive. That had to be close to what Lee was feeling. Maybe if they shared, it would help. After he received the first telegram, saying they had lost Lee-- Nelson shook himself. That was behind them now.
Harry came through the Infirmary door, giving the duty nurse a smiled greeting. She smiled back, and resumed her writing. Jamieson had probably told her to expect him. He walked down the corridor to the private rooms. Jamieson had Lee in number two. The door was ajar. Harry took a swift look inside. The bed was empty, with the covers thrown aside. He took a step inside the room to make sure. "Lee?" There was no response. Where was he? Lee was still weak. He couldn't have made it past the Nurse.
Nelson walked out into the corridor, looking around. There was only one more room, Jamieson's office at the end of the hall. The door was ajar. Nelson walked swiftly down and pushed it open.
Lee was staring out Will’s large bay window at the sea. He leaned tiredly against the window frame, his legs extended out along the wide sill.
"I thought you might be in here," Nelson said softly, to announce himself.
Lee gave a little start at his voice, then turned toward him. Harry had a fleeting glimpse of tormented eyes before Lee dropped his head. "I couldn't . . . stay in there.” Crane’s voice was low and strained. “It was too dark . . . no window . . . to the outside . . . I needed to see outside. . ." A shudder ran through Lee's frame as he turned away.
Harry quickly went over to him, placing a gentle arm around his good shoulder. He moved in close to let Crane lean on him. Lee's body trembled against his. "It's all right, Lee. You're home now. It's over." God, what did they do to him? Harry tightened his grip. "Easy, son."
Lee curled his uninjured hand around Nelson's arm, clutching it tightly. He took several deep breaths and slowly his trembling stopped. Crane's hazel eyes came back up to meet his suddenly. "I know," Lee replied quietly. "I should have realized that sooner. I wouldn't have left--"
Nelson looked down, holding Crane's gaze. "You did what you had to." He gave Lee a smile full of affection. "Forget it. We all make mistakes. I shouldn't have insisted on giving you leave you didn't want."
Lee looked at him for a moment, then slowly relaxed further into him. His features softened into the shy smile that meant so much to Nelson. "Thank you for that, sir. I feel like an idiot, taking off like that."
Harry squeezed Crane’s shoulder. "Don't, son. It's been difficult for all of us." He didn't mention Cathy by name, fearing it would be too much for Lee right now.
"I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out why. None of the explanations I’ve come up with are worth a damn." Lee's voice went softer. "I let you down."
"No, Lee, you didn't." Nelson smiled again. "You couldn't."
Crane turned back toward the window, his hand still gripping Nelson's arm tightly. "You know, the sea is so beautiful sometimes. So many moods. Angry grey, serene blue, and sometimes . . . sometimes when a wave comes crashing into the shore, for a moment it's as green as her eyes."
The pain in Lee's voice brought back his own. Harry continued to hold Lee's good shoulder lightly, not knowing what to say. Crane stared out the window.
"Did Jamie send you?"
The question caught Nelson by surprise. Then he remembered Lee could read him like no one else. He always saw what other people missed. Even in his grief, that quality hadn't changed.
"I know." Crane put a gentle pressure on his arm. "Everybody wants to help. I have seven mother hens!" Exasperation crept into Lee's voice.
"Lee, we don't mean to--" Nelson started.
"Of course, you don't. I feel so ungrateful." Lee raised his eyes to Nelson again, pleading. "But some things . . . well, they are too-- I mean, you think-- But when you try, it won't --"
"You don’t have to talk about it if you don't want to, Lee. Nobody here will make you. "
"It was stupid."
"What were you trying to prove?"
Crane gave him a startled glance. "How did you know--"
Nelson smiled. "I know you. Did you?"
"No." Lee shook his head. "I failed."
Nelson felt pain at Lee's admission. He always tried so hard, and took it even harder when he didn't succeed. "You want to tell me about it?" Harry offered, unwillingly to let Crane continue to blame himself.
"Have you ever been afraid?" Lee glanced up at him intently, asking for total confidence.
"Yes, I have," Nelson admitted. "More times than I'd like to admit. Any man who isn't is a fool."
"Then you're looking at one."
"No, Lee-- " Nelson started to reassure him, but Crane put a restraining pressure on his arm.
"Let me explain. I don't really know how to put this. For the longest time I felt I wouldn't die. It was out of my hands. As long as I did my job, I didn't have to worry about it. So I did my job, and somehow-- I always survived. That was my purpose, the reason I was here. Sounds like raptures, doesn't it?" Lee looked at him quizzically.
"Not really." Nelson wasn't about to contradict, now Crane was talking about it. He knew Lee's life meant very little to him. He would sacrifice it in a minute to save someone else. Much to Jamieson's irritation. Nelson smiled softly to himself. "Go on," he encouraged.
"You'd always yell at me and tell me not to take so many risks. Except, that's my job, and everything depends on my doing that job, to insure nothing happens to me. It worked fine until Cathy--" Sudden pain clouded Lee's eyes.
Nelson held on to Crane's shoulder in silent support.
Lee drew in a deep breath. "Cathy became part of my responsibility. When she died, I--" Crane's gaze shifted to the window and the sea once more, his voice strained. "Somehow I hadn't done my job." Lee sat up, pulling away from Nelson's comforting touch.
Harry let him go. Nelson moved around him, taking a seat on the sill in front of Lee. He laid his hand lightly on Lee's outstretched knee.
"I'm not sure anymore." Crane slowly brought his gaze back to Nelson. "I thought it was my fault. I wasn't thinking very straight." A rueful smile crossed Crane's face. "The deal was off. My life was nothing without her. So I left. Maybe I wanted to die, I don't know." Lee tried to shrug, but his bound shoulder made it impossible. "The mission gave me an easy out. If it held my death, so be it. I still can't tell you why, but I had to take that mission. I hurt you and I am sorry." Lee touched the hand resting on his knee tentatively.
Nelson enfolded Crane's fingers into his, smiling. "I forgive you, Lee."
Lee's eyes dropped at his words, but he made no move to withdraw his hand.
"I lost myself for a while," Crane continued. "When the choice was given to me, I was too afraid to die. So I came home. It was all I could think to do. If you hadn't taken me back I don't know what I would have done."
"Didn't you know I would?"
"Part of me must have," Lee acknowledged. "When I wanted to let go, slip below the surface, it was your voice I heard. You wouldn't let me."
Lee's words hit Nelson with a sudden jolt of remembrance. "You mean you called out to me?"
"Yes," Lee answered, puzzled. "Who else would I--"
"I heard you," Nelson said in shocked disbelief.
"You did what?!" Lee sat up straight. "I was in the Black Sea. How could. . ." Crane trailed off, visibly shaken.
"I had several nightmares after you left. The strangest was five days before you returned," Nelson replied, his own voice unsteady. "I fell asleep in my office chair. It was weird. You were so close. Only I couldn't find you. You were calling to me. You needed my help, but I couldn't find you in the fog. It was dark, cold, and I couldn't find you. I called out, but you weren't there anymore." Nelson rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Then I woke up."
Their eyes met suddenly. Then Harry smiled and Lee returned it. "You’re home, son. The reason doesn’t matter." Harry released Lee’s hand.
"I belong here. I won't forget that again." Crane swung his legs off the sill. "I'd better get back into bed, before Jamie sends a net squad after me."
"Want some help?" Nelson offered a hand up.
"No, thanks." Lee stood awkwardly. "I have to manage this somehow." He cradled his bound arm to him. "Tell Jamie to stop worrying. I'll get better."
"See that you do, Captain." Nelson growled. "Someone has to `skipper' Seaview to Mare Island."
"Aye, aye, sir," Lee answered, a warm glow in his eyes. “There's nothing I'd like better."
Harry followed, as Lee walked carefully back to his room. Once he made sure Lee was settled and had everything he needed, Nelson left for a talk with Jamieson. It would be all right now. Together they would get Lee through this. However long it might take.
End of Story #1