A Matter Of Perspective

By

Michelle Pichette & Holly Cushing

 

"Guess whoís coming to dinner," Kowalski said to Patterson as an advertisement came on during the football game theyíd been watching for the last half hour.

Patterson turned on the sofa to look at him. "Dinner when?"

"After the game," Ski said. "I made a pierogi."

Now Patterson began to look really confused and a bit suspicious. "You cooked? You never cook."

Ski smiled at his friendís expression. "Gameís back on."

"Wait, wait," Patterson said. "You look awfully smug about this. Whoís coming?"

"Well, you know Cheryl..." Ski started, pausing to let Pat confirm that he did know the lady in question.

"The current flame. Sheís hard to miss," Pat replied. Ski grinned again because Pat meant it in a good way. Cheryl was a model and a soap opera actress. She was gorgeous and gregarious and she adored sailors. Poor Pat had been blushing scarlet after sheíd given him a very enthusiastic kiss and embrace on their first meeting. "So Cherylís coming to dinner. You just had to say so. Iíll leave after the game so that you can..."

"No, no," Ski interrupted, shaking his head. "Remember when she mentioned her friend Sarah?" Pat began to blush. The last time Cheryl had seen Pat, sheíd attached herself to his arm and had tried to get him to agree to meeting a friend named Sarah. She had been rather descriptive about something creative Sarah could do with her tongue, then made a point of telling Pat that Sarah liked sailors, too. Skiís poor, bashful friend had spent the rest of the time that Cheryl had clung to him red faced and silent, shaking his head to Cherylís attempts to fix him up on a date with Sarah. "Well, neither of them was doing anything tonight, so I invited them over for dinner."

Pat rose abruptly, and said, "Iím going."

Skiís face fell and he got up and trailed Pat as he started to the door, saying, "Why? The gameís not even over and..."

Pat paused as he reached the door and gave Ski a look of undisguised humiliation and said, "Look, I know you meant well, but if I stayed, Iíd just ruin your dinner and embarrass the both of us."

"Of course you wouldnít," Ski told him. He had thought that all Patterson needed was a quieter setting in which to meet Sarah rather than the parties and restaurants Cheryl had suggested. He had thought dinner would be a nice surprise.

Pat looked down and shook his head. "Iím sorry, Rick, but this Sarah, she just... Donít get me wrong. Cherylís nice and all that, but..."

Ski set a hand on his arm, feeling bad about putting his friend in this situation. Heíd fixed Patterson up on blind dates before, but usually with at least some notice and certainly not with women that had turned Pat crimson before heíd even met them. "Itís okay, Steve. I sort of sprang things on you. Sorry. Itís that I thought... Well, I guess I really didnít think about it all that much. You donít need to leave. Heck, you might be surprised and actually hit it off with Sarah. I mean, itís not like sheís going to jump you at the dinner table or anything." Ski had meant it to be a joke, but Patís blush deepened and he looked down again.

"Apologize for me, okay? To Cheryl and Sarah. See you tomorrow at work."

Ski wanted to tell his friend not to feel bad about leaving, but he figured that heíd done enough damage for one day and he didnít inadvertently want to do more. "Sure thing, Steve," was all he could say.

Pat forced a smile and nodded, then let himself out. Ski sighed and ran a hand through his hair, angry with himself and frustrated for Pat. Patterson was an incredibly nice guy, but he was just so darned bashful with women, a problem Kowalski had never suffered from. Ski just didnít want his friend to be lonely, but he couldnít see anything else happening if Pat kept on the way he was. Ski sighed again and walked over to his phone to make apologies to Cheryl, hoping sincerely that Pat wasnít too upset about the whole thing.

* * *

"Guess whoís coming to dinner tonight," Rowena Simmons, head engineer of the Seaview, said to her best friend, Dominica Babin as they put away groceries in Roís kitchen. Dominica, a Marine Biologist, was Admiral Nelsonís research assistant in that field.

"Gee, how many guesses do I get?" Dom asked with a laugh as she put some cans into the pantry.

Ro shook her head at Dom and said, "Besides Lee, I mean. You werenít doing anything tonight, were you?"

Dom shot Ro a suspicious look. "If youíre going to tell me that one of Leeís old Navy buddies is coming, I definitely have other plans." Ro had somewhat been expecting that. The last time Lee had introduced Dom to one of his friends and left them alone at dinner, the guy had gotten grabby and Dom had ended up socking him in face and taking a cab home. Lee hadnít been at all happy about the incident and had quite an argument with his now exfriend the next day. Tonight was not only his attempt to make things up to Dom, but, since heíd be there this time, his assurance that nothing of the kind would happen again.

"Oh, come on. Donít be that way. Lee promised that this one is a gentleman."

"Supposedly so was mister octopus hands. Forget it, Ro. Just because youíre all starry eyed in love doesnít mean I need to be or Iím miserable," Dom told her firmly.

Ro got vexed, put down what she was holding, and squared off before Dom, saying, "I am not Ďstarry eyedí thank you very much. Dom, I donít expect you to marry the guy. Just meet him. Lee and I will be there. How bad could that be?"

Dom gave her a reproachful look. "Letís see, first Lee just about forced Chip Morton to ask me out and kept telling him we were made for each other, even though we werenít and both Chip and I were well aware of the fact. Lee had to keep pushing at Chip though, didnít he? Poor Chip, I was surprised he didnít get angry about the whole thing. Then, when we were in Virginia, there was Leeís intelligence friend, the one that talked nonstop about how he was indispensable to ONI, then kept winking at me and telling me how I understood how he couldnít give me details of why or heíd have to kill me. After two hours of that and I wished he would kill me rather than bore me to death. Then, when we got back to Santa Barbara, I got mister Ďyour mouth says no but your eyes say yes.í Three strikes is all Lee gets in mating me off to his pals. Iíll see you tomorrow."

Ro frowned, but she couldnít exactly force her friend to stay. She didnít want her to leave mad either, not that Dom looked angry, exactly. "Okay. I just thought that you might like to give it one more try. Sorry."

Dom shook her head, but seemed to relax a little. "Itís all right. I just wish youíd lay off the matchmaking thing. Iím a big girl. Iím perfectly capable of finding my own boyfriends should I need one, which I donít at the moment."

"If you change your mind..."

"I wonít, trust me. Want breakfast at my place? Iíll make a souffle," Dom offered with a smile as she grabbed her purse from the table. Ro wasnít sure if the smile was genuine or just so sheíd let Dom out the door unhindered.

Ro nodded, showing Dom to the door. "Sounds good. Iíll call before I leave."

"Okay! See you then," Dom told her, sounding far more cheerful. She let herself out and Ro gently closed the door behind her, then sighed. Dom was very out going, but she had terrible luck with men. It seemed like every man that she met either wasnít compatible or was an outright jerk. Ro didnít know what she could do about it, especially when Dom had pretty much stopped dating ever since sheíd moved to California a few months ago. She just didnít want her best friend to be lonely and she couldnít see how that wasnít going to happen if Dom didnít give anyone a chance. A chance romantically that was. Dom did go out quite a bit with the men from the Seaview, but only as friends. Not even Kowalskiís considerable efforts to get Dom to date any of his friends had born any fruit. Ro sighed again, then walked to her telephone to call Lee and tell him that Dom wasnít staying for dinner after all.

* * *

Patterson had gone home, but then Ski called twice, probably checking up on him, and he went out so he wouldnít have to hear another message as it went onto his answering machine. He was angry with himself and embarrassed. He spent an hour driving around Santa Barbara, hoping that Ski wasnít too upset with him for ruining his dinner plans. Finally, he went to the Institute and the gym therein, thinking he could work out some of his frustrations safely there. Heíd been working out for about another hour and was punching a heavy bag when he heard, "Wow! Glad itís not me youíre ticked off at. So, who did what?" from behind him. He turned just enough to see Dom walking toward him from the door, also dressed for a workout. He smiled a little when he saw her in spite of his bad mood.

"Nobody did anything," he told her picking up his towel and wiping off some of the sweat heíd worked up off of himself. "Iím just having one of those days."

"Me too," Dom told him, setting down her gym bag next to his. She shook her head and frowned. "Ro tried to spring yet another one of Captain Craneís friends on me over dinner tonight. Never again, I swear. So what are you hiding from?"

Pat blushed a little, saying, "Aw, Ski wanted me to meet a friend of Cherylís."

Dom grimaced, then said, "Not the one that does the thing with her tongue."

Pat nodded, knowing he was blushing even harder now. "Howíd you know about that?"

"Kowalski told me about it. He thought it was kind of funny or something. As far as I was concerned, it was just way too much information. Iím praying that I never meet that woman or Iíll be fixated on her mouth."

Patís anxiety over the subject eased a little and he felt his color coming back to normal. He could always talk to Dom and she only ever made him feel better. He picked up a bottle of water from his open bag on the floor and he went to sit down on one of the benches at the side of the room. Dom followed him over and sat next to him. "Ski meant well, I guess, but I donít know..."

"Sounds to me like Ski thought you needed a different sort of work out. Roís just as bad. Iím perfectly content with my personal life and she wonít believe me. She actually avoids mentioning poor Alex like the plague, as if itís going to make him vanish off the face of the earth," Dom said, then gave Pat an apologetic look. "Sorry, Steve. You donít need to hear about my boyfriend troubles."

Pat knew Dom was referring to her sometimes boyfriend on the east coast. Dom and Alex had parted on good terms because Alex trying to work out some sort of troubles he was having with his father. Pat never asked about it, figuring it was none of his business. Ro, however, considered Alex an extremely exboyfriend. Pat wasnít so sure about that. From their talks, he know Dom was still very fond of Alex, quite possibly in love with him. Pat was okay with that now, though heíd been a little disappointed at first. Dom had been a really good friend to him pretty much since the day that they met, so even though he would most likely never have the relationship with her that heíd first wanted, he still felt lucky. Their friendship was one of the things he valued most in his life. "Thatís okay. I know what you mean. Skiís got all these women that just fall all over him and he seems to think I need it too. Well, maybe not that, exactly, but he sure worries a lot about me not having a girlfriend."

Dom put her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands, looking just about how Pat felt at the moment. "I mean, so what that I donít have a warm body to show off to people. Itís not as if Roís exactly announced her rather obvious relationship with Captain Crane." Pat leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs, sighing with her this time.

"Itís not that I donít appreciate what Ski is trying to do, but itís just things donít ever work out. Most of the women seem to think the best way to kill my shy streak is to throw me into bed. That just makes things worse. I donít want some woman thatís gonna only have one use for me. Is that so bad?"

"And I donít want some man who thinks that because he buys me dinner that I owe him something."

"Most of the time, I just feel like an idiot because I donít know what to say."

"I just get so tired of having to smile and be charming when Iím bored stupid."

"Iíd rather not see anyone if I have to be uncomfortable all the time."

"I have a lot of friends. Isnít that good enough?"

"Itís just so..." They glanced at each other and mirrored the otherís smile because theyíd started the sentence together, then finished, saying, "Frustrating!" They laughed and Dom gave Pat a hug, which he happily returned.

"You know, we ought to tell the lot of them that we decided to start dating. Maybe then theyíd leave us alone and we can do what we wanted to do in the first place," Dom said. "Half the crew think we are dating anyway."

"Ski knows we arenít, much as heíd like us to. Ro, sheís tried to feel me out a couple of times about exactly how friendly we are," Pat told her. "I donít think sheís happy about the idea of us becoming a couple."

"Not that itís exactly her choice one way or another, but why wouldnít she be?" Pat shrugged, but he was pretty sure it was because Ro didnít think he was good enough for Dom. Despite the fact that he was more comfortable with her than heíd ever been with any woman, that was actually why he hadnít pursued her romantically in the first place. He didnít think he was good enough for her either, not that Dom had ever given him any reason to feel that way. Dom rolled her eyes and laughed at Patís shrug and patted him on the thigh. "Geez, youíd think sheíd be all for it. Next to the last couple of guys Iíve met, youíre a prince, maybe even a minor deity. And Ski hasnít exactly given up on us getting together. He mentions how great a couple weíd be to me regularly."

Patterson blushed lightly and put a hand half over his face, mostly to hide the dopey smile he knew was forming there when Dom had praised him. It faded when she said what she had about Ski. He made a mental note that he was going to have a serious talk with Kowalski about not meddling in his relationship with Dom. He didnít want to lose the very satisfying friendship he had with her, certainly not because of someone else. He worried sometimes about messing it up himself, especially when he was feeling down on himself, like now. "Come on," Dom said suddenly, grabbing his wrist and pulling him to his feet. "Letís go do something other than sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. What do you want to do? Anything."

"I donít know. I..." Pat said as Dom paused so they could retrieve their workout bags. He didnít really want to spend the night how heíd spent the afternoon, but usually when he went out anywhere with Dom, it was with Kowalski and sometimes some of the other guys. Pat thought he was feeling way too needy to spend time alone with her tonight.

"Something fun to get our blood pumping. How about dancing? I remember you telling me that you like to dance, right?" Dom asked, plainly eager to go out somewhere.

"Well, sort of, but Iím not dressed..." Pat said, indicating his sweaty T-shirt and jogging pants.

"Weíll go change. You can even take a shower if you want. Iíll wait," Dom said, smiling brightly. Pat couldnít deny her, not when she was smiling at him like that, so he picked up his bag and nodded sheepishly. "Great! Youíll see. Weíll both feel a whole lot better." Pat followed her out the door of the gym as she tugged him along, Domís suddenly bright mood infecting him before they reached his car. Dom hopped into his Mustang and by the time Pat had gotten in and fastened his seatbelt, he had just about forgotten why he had been feeling so miserable in the first place.

* * *

Dom was having a terrific time as Pat swung her effortlessly across the dance floor at the country/western bar theyíd gone to. Theyíd been there for hours and aside for stopping briefly to have a light dinner or something to drink, theyíd been dancing all night. Pat was an amazingly good dancer and he guided Dom through unfamiliar steps with no apparent effort. Dom noted the easy confidence that Pat exuded on the dance floor and the women in the bar who were also taking notice. If Pat were half as comfortable talking as he were dancing, no woman alive would be able to resist him, Dom mused with a smile. It had been a fun, exhilarating evening, so Dom was disappointed when the discjockey announced the last dance. It was a slow dance, the ones Pat had been avoiding all night, so it came as no surprise when he sighed and said, "Guess we ought to head home. Itís getting late."

"Not just yet. Letís dance the last dance," Dom said, as Tricia Yearwood started to sing "Iíd Still Love You More." Pat didnít seem to know what to do at first, his former confidence shot to pieces for some reason. "Thanks for tonight, Steve. Iím glad you thought of this place," she said, laying her head on his chest and putting her arms gently around his waist. Pat stood still for a moment and Dom could only imagine he was blushing. Finally he shifted his arms and held her gently as they began to sway to the music. "I had a wonderful time."

"Me too," Pat said softly. "Thanks for cheering me up."

"Anytime, Steve," Dom told him. "You shouldnít let things get to you like that. Youíre a nice man and thereís absolutely nothing wrong with you. You shouldnít let anyone make you feel otherwise."

"Ski didnít mean too get me going."

"Iím sure he didnít. I meant women, actually."

"I just... Dom, sometimes I sort of get scared Iím never going to meet the right girl, you know?" Pat actually did sound a little scared and Dom hugged him gently.

"I know. Sometimes I think circumstances are going to mess up every good relationship I ever have."

Pat was silent again for a moment, then meekly asked, "Dom, could anything... mess up our relationship?"

Dom looked up at him and he seemed rather worried. She gave him a smile and stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. "Nothing comes to mind." That seemed to ease Patís mind and he gave her a soft, brotherly kiss on the forehead as the music ended. He was such a sweet guy that Dom couldnít understand why women werenít fighting over the chance to win past his bashfulness. If she werenít involved, sort of, with Alex, she would have saved them the trouble a long time ago.

"Itís late. Iíll bring you home," Pat said, gently taking her on his arm and walking her out to his car. Dom looked up at the clear sky as they crossed the parking lot and gently squeezed Patís arm.

"Itís a beautiful night, isnít it?" she asked.

Pat paused by his car and took in the stars with her for a moment. "Sure is."

"We ought to do this more often, Steve," Dom said as he opened the car door for her.

Pat grimaced a bit. "People might talk."

Dom smiled and gave him another kiss on the cheek, saying, "Letíem," before getting into the car.

Pat gave her a crooked smile and closed her door. "You know, youíre right, about everything. Letíem talk. I had a terrific time tonight and I donít care what anyone else thinks about it."

"Neither do I, Steve," Dom told him as he walked around to his side of the car. "So what are you going to tell Rick you did tonight if he asks you tomorrow?"

"Iím going to tell him I went dancing with a beautiful woman who made me feel really good about myself by paying attention to just me all night," Pat told her with a mischievous grin.

Dom gave him a gentle shove, saying, "Flatterer."

Pat just kept smiling as he started his car. "All true, I swear. I wonít tell him who she was. Ski needs more mystery in his life."

"Fiend. I love it," Dom giggled. "You know, Iím going to tell Ro a tall, handsome man swept me off my feet for the night."

"Tall Iíll give you, but handsome?"

"And intelligent."

"Come on, Dom..."

"And charming."

"Now youíre just getting silly." Though he was protesting, Pat was smiling modestly, so Dom kept on complimenting him all the way home. Unlike a lot of men, Pat never looked for praise and usually demurred when it was given, even if it was earned. In Domís eyes, especially tonight, there was no one who deserved it more.

* * *

Chief Sharkey had been watching the crew all morning on the Seaview because he knew something was up. He didnít know what it was, yet, but heíd find out. With any luck, it would be before there was trouble. It had started out slow, but halfway through the morning, everyone who passed near where he and Patterson were working on some maintenance shot undefined looks their way. Some started whispering once theyíd gotten a little ways away, but the Chief still caught them at it. Sharkey knew they werenít talking about him, so he wondered what was up with Pat.

Once he was sure that no one was around, Sharkey looked at Pat and thought about how to go about finding out what all the commotion was about. "So, what you do last night?" Sharkey asked, hoping it sounded like just friendly chatter.

"Me, Chief?" Pat asked, suddenly looking up from what he was doing.

"Youíre the only one around, arenít you?" Pat actually looked down the length of the Control Room, which almost made Sharkey roll his eyes. "So, you and Ski do something?"

"No, Ski had a date with Cheryl."

"Is she the one that does that tongue thing?" Pat blushed and shook his head, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. In this instance, the Chief didnít blame him. "So, just stayed home, huh?"

"No. Dom wasnít doing anything and we went up to Isla Vista to Longhorns and had some dinner," Pat said with a shrug.

"Thatís it?" Sharkey asked, almost disappointed. The way the rest of the guys were carrying on, heíd thought something big had happened. Pat hanging around with the Admiral Nelsonís new research assistant was hardly news.

"We did some dancing. Sheís a pretty good dancer," Pat commented absently. He was paying more attention to his work than to the conversation, which was as it should be, but now Sharkey was confused. What was all the whispering about? He looked off toward where the last group of whisperers had vanished and decided that it couldnít be about what Pat had just told him. One thing he could count on was Patterson looking guilty if he was lying about something. Now, if Pat had gone on a date with the dame that Kowalski had been talking about a couple of days ago, the one that did the tongue thing, now then Sharkey would have understood the looks coming his way.

They went on with the maintenance they were doing until it came time to break for lunch, then they went to the crewís mess. When Pat came into the room, a few of the men that were already sitting at the tables started laughing quietly. Sharkey walked straight over to the coffee because he wanted to be free to deal with whatever erupted, not that he was totally sure that anything actually would. "Hey, Patterson, nice moves!" Murphy said, also sounding terribly amused about whatever he was talking about.

Pat kept walking toward the trays, saying, "Murphy, I have no clue what..."

"At Longhorns, lover boy," Bennet said, a couple of the others making kissing noises in his general direction. That brought Pat to a halt and he turned on to face the guys razzing him with an utterly baffled expression.

"What the heck are you guys talking about?" he asked.

"Doyle was at Longhorns last night. Said he saw you and Doctor Babin necking on the dance floor," Andrews laughed, his comment punctuated by a few more guys making kissing noises.

Patís shook his head and he said, "I donít know what Doyle is talking about. We went dancing sure, but..."

"Got to watch out for the quiet ones, my mom always said," Murphy commented.

"Hey, Pat, did you get more than a kiss?" Pat rolled his eyes and continued on to get his lunch. Chief Sharkey smiled to himself, glad Pat hadnít risen to the bait. He could picture the kiss Doyle had seen, that sisterly little peck on the cheek that Doctor Babin had even given him twice. Hardly anything to write home over, and, if it had been bestowed on anyone but Patterson, nothing anyone would have commented on. The guys were just teasing Pat because he was so shy around women. Sharkey would give them a couple more shots to get it out of their collective system, mostly because Pat was being a good sport about things, then heíd call an end to it.

"I heard it was getting hot and heavy there on the dance floor, that she was all over you, Pat," Andrews said. More laughter rang through the room, but Patterson ignored it.

"Did you make it home, Pat, or did she do you in your car?" Murphy laughed, but the question made the Chief see red. He didnít like that sort of talk about women, especially a woman that he knew and was kind of fond of.

Before he could say a word, though, Pat, without turning from the lunch counter, said, "Weíre just friends and she kissed me once, on the cheek. Youíre just jealous because Domís never even given you that much, even though you keep asking her out. How many times has she shot you down now, Murphy? Fifteen? Twenty?" A fresh wave of laughter rang through the room, but this time it was aimed at Murphy. The sailor turned red, anger lighting his features and he rose as Pat approached the table.

"Canít take as good as you give, Murphy?" Bennet asked before Murphy could do more than stand up. There were a few mumbled comments to the same point and Murphy, shamed and speechless for the moment, sat down again.

"And donít say stuff like that about Doctor Babin," Andrews said. "She puts up with a lot of come-ons and stuff from us and never complains to anybody. If it gets back to her that one of us has been talking trash about her, that might be over with."

"You started it!" Murphy accused.

"I said she was necking with Pat on the dance floor, not doing him in his car!" Andrews countered.

A spirited debate broke out as to who had said what, but Sharkey noticed that Patterson wasnít participating. He was just sitting quietly, eating his lunch. Sharkey grinned, thinking, "Good for you, kid. Good for you."

* * *

Nelson was walking up one of the corridors in the Institute, about three doors from the lab he was heading for, when he began to hear the argument. "Iím not talking about accepting marriage proposals here. Itís just one date."

"That isnít going to happen."

"Youíre being ridiculous."

"Iíd say thatís my prerogative."

"To be alone, like you were last night, instead of with..."

"Who said I was alone last night?"

That was when Nelson walked into his assistantís lab. Lee Crane was leaning on one of the tables glaring at her, looking about as frustrated as a man could look. Dominica Babin, in contrast, was typing something into her computer, seeming totally unaffected by the conversation that Nelson had just overheard.

"So who, exactly, were you..." Lee started, then Nelson cleared his throat to let them know they werenít alone. Dominica didnít even look up from her work, but Lee turned at the sound and the flustered look on his face intensified for a moment.

"Iím not interrupting anything, am I?" Nelson asked, raising an eyebrow to Lee.

"Just doing some tests on that compound we found in the..." Dominica started absently as she continued what she was doing.

"Yes," Nelson cut her off quickly, not wanting Lee to start asking questions that he didnít have the answers to yet. "And Lee," he said, giving Lee a quick smile, "What brings you to the labs? You usually avoid them like the plague."

Lee quickly hid his annoyance at whatever was going on between himself and Dominica, and said, "I was just saying hello to Doctor Babin before going to check on the maintenance weíre doing on the Seaview. If youíll excuse me, sir." Nelson nodded to him and Lee left the room.

"Have you been annoying the good Captain, Dominica?" Nelson asked as he came over to look at what she was typing.

"More like he was annoying himself. So you havenít talked to him about the mutagen yet, Admiral," Dominica commented.

"No. I havenít talked to anyone about it and I donít want to until we know what weíre dealing with. Speaking of which, have you found something?" Nelson asked, getting the gist of what she was typing from the last paragraph sheíd typed. Inconclusive results from the looks of things, just like he was getting, but Dominica was trying a few unorthodox things he hadnít thought of. Maybe theyíd figure out how all those sea creatures were getting mutated after all.

"Iím not sure. You know how unstable it is. Have you gotten anywhere looking for its creator, sir?" Dominica asked, finally looking up from what she was doing and turning to him.

"That hasnít proven any easier than analyzing our mystery compound," Nelson grumbled, then decided to change the subject. "So, what were you doing last night that was so annoying to Lee?"

"I was not having dinner with a friend of his," Dominica said with a smile, then took the slide from her microscope and started to walk across the lab. She stooped by the safe on the floor there and started to dial the combination. "He needs to learn that being Captain of the Seaview does not give him the right to..." As she opened the door, she stopped dead and murmured, "Uh oh." Nelson crossed over to her quickly as she straightened, saying, "Thatís a bomb, isnít it?"

Nelson looked quickly into the safe and saw a device in it that couldnít be much of anything but a bomb. He grabbed his young assistant without saying a word and started to bustle her out of the lab. They were just past the door when a force slammed them from behind. They were both flung into the air and Nelson lost consciousness while he was still in flight.

* * *

Lee was halfway to the Seaview when he heard the roar of an explosion behind him. The entire Institute trembled for a second as Lee got his bearings. "The lab," he murmured as he turned and started to run back the way heíd just come from as alarms began to wail and the sprinkler system kicked in. He saw smoke as he neared the lab, but reached debris before he got back to it. "Admiral! Dom!" he shouted, starting to shove wreckage aside. What had happened? What had exploded? Where were the Admiral and Dom when it had happened? Too many questions Lee snarled to himself as he threw shattered furniture and other wreckage out of his way. The smoke grew thicker, the ceiling creaked and the floor moaned somewhere past ahead of him and Lee knew he had to hurry.

Before he got much further, security men joined him in his efforts and then some of the men from the Seaview. Minutes seemed like hours and Lee began to fear the worst as he wiped water from the sprinklers out of his eyes again so he could see. When he did, when he pushed forward, he saw the Admiral and Dom not that far from him, caught under some of the wreckage. The fire was still burning just beyond them and Lee knew he had to get to his friends quickly. "Hurry!" he croaked out to the men helping him as he pushed forward, the smoke making him cough and his eyes sting despite the water raining down on them from the sprinklers.

"The fire department is here, sir," someone shouted, but Lee wasnít going to wait for them. He started to squeeze through the remaining obstacles, his goal too close for him to give up now. More creaking surrounded him, but Lee ignored it as he reached the Admiral, who was lying across Dom. Heíd probably tried to shield his assistant from the blast, knowing him. As he touched their throats with both of his hands, he felt pulses, much to his temporary relief. He started shoving things off of the Admiral when suddenly Sharkey and Patterson were next to him, the rest of the men trying to clear them a better path out.

Lee got Nelson free and lifted him off of Dom and into a firemanís carry, just wanting to get him out of immediate danger. That was when the ceiling moaned and more debris rained down on them just before one of the main beams came crashing down tearing out sprinklers as it fell, nearly hitting them and blocking their way out. Lee kept his feet somehow, but Patterson was down on one knee and Sharkey hunched was over Dom, sheltering her beneath him. Pat shoved a shoulder under the askew beam, grasping at it with both hands, and let out a roar as he straightened his legs, his whole body trembling under the weight heíd just lifted. Lee stared for a second, not having even dared hope that Pat would succeed. "Go!" Patterson screamed, whether in desperation or pain Lee couldnít tell as he stumbled forward.

Lee thrust Nelson out to the hands waiting to receive him and turned to find Sharkey right behind him with Dom in his arms. Lee took her, wanting to free Sharkey so he could help Patterson. As he was handing her out to the other men, another explosion flung him part way after her. The fire must have found some chemicals or something Lee supposed, then shook his muzzy head, telling himself this was no time to lose his concentration. He tried to straighten, but there was a sharp pain in his left shoulder and his vision blurred. "No!" Leeís mind protested, however unconsciousness came to claim him anyway.

* * *

Chip got to the Institute just after the line of fire trucks heís been following up the shore road. He saw the smoke from the security gate and trailed the trucks in, knowing that heíd missed something serious. He didnít want to get in the firemenís way, but he also desperately wanted to find out what was going on, so Chip followed them in, but did his best to stay out of their way. He didnít have to go far before he ran into some stretcher teams carrying people toward the Instituteís infirmary. Lee was on one of the stretchers, struggling to pull an oxygen mask from over his face even as the corpsman told him to cut it out. Chip couldnít help but smile even though he was still worried. That was so Lee.

Murphy was following up the stretcher teams, breathing from an oxygen mask himself. He was covered with soot and soaking wet, so Chip assumed he had just come from wherever Lee and the others that were preceding him up the hall had just come from. "Murphy, what happened here?" Chip questioned the man as he fell into step next to him.

Murphy lowered the mask and coughed, then said, "There was an explosion in one of the labs, sir. We heard it clear over on the Seaview. The Admiral and Doctor Babin mustíve been close to it. They got trapped over in the wrecked labs. The Skipper was digging them out when we got to him. He and the Chief and Pat had nearly got them clear and there was another explosion. Stuff went flying everywhere and the Skipper caught something in the shoulder and Pat got pinned under a bunch of stuff. The Admiral and Doctor Babin, they were already out cold when we first got there. I donít know how hurt they are or if they just got knocked out by all the smoke." Murphy coughed again, and Chip patted him on the shoulder, then followed him into the Infirmary.

No sooner did he enter than he was shooed off to the waiting room by a very frazzled looking Doctor Jamieson. Thank goodness the Doc was here was all that Chip could think as he took as seat and waited for someone to tell him if everyone was going to be all right. Some time later, Jamieson came into the waiting area and Chip stood, saying, "How are they, Doc?"

Jamieson rubbed the back of his neck, saying, "It could have been a lot worse. A lot of smoke inhalation and bruises, mostly. Captain Crane caught some shrapnel in the shoulder and back, then tried to tell me he didnít need stitches when I pulled it out of him. Patterson dislocated his collarbone and seriously strained some muscles lifting a beam he shouldnít have tried lifting on his own. Heís lucky he didnít hurt himself worse. Everyone kept shielding Doctor Babin or I think she would have gotten far more seriously hurt. As it was, I think most of the damage she took was from other people landing on her. I want to keep an eye on them all for a day, but I think everyone will be just fine."

Chip let out a deep, relieved sigh. "Can I see them?"

"Just for a minute," Jamieson told him. "I want everyone to get some sleep tonight, so youíre going to tell Captain Crane and Admiral Nelson that youíll talk to Fire Department and the FBI about the bomb."

"Bomb?!" Chip exclaimed, then caught himself and quieted his voice. "Is that what happened? A bomb? I thought maybe some experiment in the labs..."

"No," Jamieson stopped him. "It was a bomb. The Admiral said that it was planted in a safe where he and Doctor Babin have been keeping a classified compound theyíve been working on."

Chipís brow knit. "What compound?"

Jamieson raised an eyebrow to him. "The Admiral didnít say, but, of course, he did mention that it was classified."

Chip frowned. The Admiral had worked on a lot of classified things for the government in the past and something like this came of it entirely too often. He wondered if Dom knew entirely what she was getting into when she agreed to this aspect of her job as Admiral Nelsonís assistant. Sometimes he worried about that very thing where she was concerned, but at least she usually had Patterson and Kowalski looking out for her on the Seaview. Chip thought perhaps he ought to schedule one of them to keep watch when she was working in the labs when he knew classified things were involved. "Then Iíll let the FBI talk to the Admiral about that particular aspect of the matter. Iíll be quick, Doc."

Jamieson nodded to him, then Chip got up and went with the Doc through the patient waiting area where several soot coated men were sitting, then through the examining room and into the Infirmary. The Admiral, Lee, the Chief, Dom, and Pat all were in various states of repose in the beds there, and they all turned to look at Chip as he entered, Jamieson following him in. "Chip, thank goodness. You are here to rescue us, right?" Lee asked.

Dom rolled her eyes and pulled her blanket over her head, obviously not planning to join in any of Leeís Ďjail breakí attempts. Pat, who was lying down and not looking like he had any fight left in him, simply turned his head and closed his eyes. Still, the Admiral, Lee, and Chief Sharkey all seemed interested in what Chip had to say on the matter. "That would imply that you need rescuing, Lee. From what Jamie was telling me, you just need a good nightís sleep, then heíll most likely be happy let you go," Chip said as he walked over to Leeís bed and sat next to him.

"Meanwhile, some dangerous saboteur is running around, blowing up the Institute," Lee replied with a scowl.

"Iíll do what I can. Admiral, do you want me to contact ONI?" Chip asked.

"That would probably be a good idea. And the FBI," Nelson replied. "In fact, Jamie, I should talk to them. And Dominica. After all, we saw the bomb."

"I wasnít even sure what it was," came a muffled call from under Domís blanket. "And sleep sounds just fine to me, so kindly leave me out of your macho displays, gentlemen." That made Chip smile, but he didnít comment because he was as guilty as Lee and the Admiral of Ďdisplaysí when Jamie had him in his clutches.

"Thank you, Dominica," Doctor Jamieson said from where he leaned by the door. "At least I know someone who works here has some common sense. And the rest of you had better behave or some sedatives will be getting some serious use tonight. And Mister Morton is leaving so that you donít waste anymore energy trying to think of some other way of not doing what I tell you."

"Man," Sharkey muttered, as Chip rose.

"Iíll report back on the situation in the morning," Chip said, hoping that would placate everyone.

"If anything comes up that you need us for..." Lee started.

"It wonít. Iím going to check on the smoke inhalation cases Iím sure are waiting for me. If everyone isnít exactly where they are now when I get back, there will be restraints in use before the day is out," Jamieson threatened. Those presently in Jamiesonís care knew him well enough to know this was not an idle threat and they all looked sufficiently cowed before Chip and Jamieson left the room.

"Well, it looks like theyíll all recover," Chip commented with another grin, mostly for the benefit of the men currently sitting in the waiting room.

"Probably, if I can keep the lot of them from running right back into danger wounded. Good luck with your investigation," Mister Morton," Jamieson said as he motioned for the next man to follow him into the examination room. Chip went out to see what Security and the Firefighters had for him as far as this bomb, though he had the feeling things were not going to be straight forward and easily solved. They never were around here.

* * *

It was late when Doctor Jamieson finally got done checking over everyone and sending them home or releasing them outright. Thankfully, the fire had been brought under control and put out quickly by the Fire department and aside from some minor burns and scrapes, no one had been injured once they arrived. Heíd poked his head into the Infirmary a few times while he worked, but to his amazement, everyone was behaving themselves. They even ate the dinner he had the corpsmen bring to them without complaints. Will wonders never cease, Jamieson thought with no small amount of amusement, then settled down to fill in all the reports that this sort of incident generated.

Later that night, after midnight, Jamieson decided to check on his charges one final time before turning in. In the dim light, Jamieson could see that all the men were asleep except for Patterson, who was silently looking over to the curtained area where Dominica was sleeping. Jamieson smiled, then put on his best annoyed expression and walked over to Pat before whispering, "Sheís fine. Go to sleep."

Pat blinked and looked up at him, then whispered back, "Itís just... Sheís so tiny. Us guys, we can take getting smashed around and stuff, but..."

"Dominica is fine, Pat, and sheís tougher than she looks. You ought to know that by now," Jamieson whispered, sitting next to him. Heíd been thinking for some time now that Pat might need a little fatherly advice, but that he might be too self-conscious to talk to anyone about it. "You know, Dominica is very fond of you. Have you talked to her about how you feel?" Even though he couldnít see it in the dim light, Jamieson was fairly certain that Pat was blushing.

"She knows I worry about her getting hurt," Pat mumbled. "She tells me not to, for all the good that does."

Jamieson shook his head, grinning a little. "I meant..."

"I know what you meant, Doc," Patterson interrupted and he looked down a little. He didnít want to talk about it and Doctor Jamieson wasnít going to push him.

"You know, Patterson, doctors keep all sorts of information confidential, so if you ever find yourself wanting to talk about anything of a personal nature that you didnít want to discuss with anyone else, I assure you, it would stay just between us," Jamieson told him, patting him gently on his uninjured shoulder.

Pat looked up at him and grinned a little. "Thanks, Doc. Iíll keep that in mind."

"Good. Now get some sleep," Jamieson said as he rose. Pat nodded and closed his eyes, which set a smile back on Jamiesonís face. Young people, he thought. Someday, young men were going to figure out that approaching young women romantically wasnít half as complicated as they seemed to think it was. Of course, he wasnít much of one to talk, being the old bachelor he was. Jamieson laughed softly to himself.

* * *

"And thereís no word about who planted the bomb, but the scuttlebutt has it that it has to do with something classified that the Admiralís working on. You know, pretty much the usual," Kowalski told Patterson the next day, about midmorning. Riley was sitting by them smiling and listening in for the moment. He and Ski had come to visit their friend as soon as they could, which turned out to be when Doctor Jamieson had released everyone else. Patterson had been hurt worse a number of times, but despite the Docís assurances that Pat was going to be just fine, Ski had been nervous about it until he got to see his friend. Not that Ski would admit such a thing, but Riley knew he was.

"Yeah. Weíd probably die of boredom if we worked anywhere else, huh?" Pat said with a grin. That had been a joke between them for years now and Riley smiled appreciatively.

"Probably. You know, Domís been talking about how brave you were."

"Aw, the Skipper was the first guy in there, as usual. I was just..."

"Holding up the ceiling. Man, the Chiefís still wondering how you managed that one. He wants to know what youíre gym workout is so he can start on it," Ski said with another grin. "And I bet that Domís really impressed. If you asked her out..."

"Ski, cut it out," Pat stopped him. Suddenly Pat wasnít smiling and Riley couldnít tell if he looked embarrassed or angry. Pat was like that, kind of tough to read.

"Yeah, Ski. Like the Docís gonna, like, let him out of the Infirmary to go on a date," Riley tried to make light of things. However, Patterson didnít look amused and Kowalski, always ready to launch into conflict, got that Ďprepare for battleí look on his face. Riley forced himself not to duck for cover and started hoping plan B would work better than plan A. He stood up, saying, "So anyway, weíve gotta motor. You cool, Pat? Need anything?"

Patís tight expression eased and he said, "No, Iím fine. Doc says I can go home tomorrow anyway, but I canít drive. Maybe I can get a lift, Ski?"

Kowalski was giving Riley as questioning look, but turned back to Pat when he was addressed. "Sure. Sure thing. Iíll see you then. Take it easy, huh?"

"Yeah. You guys too," Pat replied as Ski stood up and followed Riley to the door.

Once they were outside, Ski fixed Riley with a glare and said, "Okay, whyíd you rush us out for, Riley? Did you ever think maybe keeping Pat company is a little more important than catching some waves?"

Riley was wounded by Skiís accusation, but he was more annoyed with what had just been going on in the other room. "Helping out a bud is always way more important than surfing, Ski. Thatís why I got us out of Patís hair. Why were you laying that whole trip on him for anyway? Geez, talk about kicking a guy when heís down."

"I was just..." Ski started, his voice raising,

"You were just, like, totally ignoring the fact that Pat is way shy with the babes," Riley interrupted him, his voice very low. He shook his head and started walking, mostly to get them away from the Infirmary. "And shoving him into dating Dom, talk about disaster city," he commented once Ski started out with him.

"What? No, Pat adores Dom and she likes him. Sheís told me so. Theyíd great for each other," Kowalski protested.

Riley shook his head. "No, they already are great for each other. Iíve never seen Pat happier than he has been since Dom started working on the Seaview. But if you shove him into stuff heís not feeling ready for, what do you thinkís gonna happen? And then thereís Alex. Pat wonít be Ďthe other man.í No way, no how. Heís, like, the most honorable person I know."

"But Domís not dating Alex right now," Ski argued.

"Dating, no, but she still cares about him. You know it, I know it, and most importantly, Pat knows it. Until that whole scene is, like, totally ended, Pat wonít think about dating Dom," Riley said. Kowalski was scowling, but he wasnít arguing, which, Riley hoped, meant he was starting to see reason. "Patís not looking at it like you are and heís as entitled to his point of view as you are. Okay, as we both are. Iíll Ďfess. Iíd like to see him and Dom together too, but if we mess with stuff, Pat and Dom stuff thatís working just fine the way it is, and things screw up, how rotten, bad, evil does that make us? I mean, weíre talking serious, mega evil. Messing with the order of the universe type evil."

Skiís jaw tightened and Riley saw him clench his fist, but he shook himself loose a moment later. "I canít believe youíre the calm, rational voice of reason," he grumbled.

Riley grinned. "Wow! I really am! Way cool!" Ski clapped a hand over his face and groaned. "Aw, come on. Iím not totally clueless."

"I never said that you were, Stu."

"Said, no. Thought..."

"I didnít think it either."

"Yeah, yeah. So you say."

"Look, if youíre going to harp on this all day..."

"Whoís harping? Iím not harping. Iím just not right about important stuff like this all that often and Iíd like to enjoy it, okay?"

"Fine, Stu. Savor the moment. Letís go get something to eat."

"Say, your girlfriend still looking for a guy for her friend that likes sailors. The one that does that tongue thing? Maybe we could go out to dinner sometime. Iím feeling adventurous."

"Donít push your luck, Riley."

Riley just grinned.

 

The End