TRANSITIONS

 

by Diane Kachmar

 

Authors Note: This is story #5 of a series that is currently posted on Carol Foss Seaview Stories web site. The Golden Oldies sub page. This story follows ADJUSTMENTS. Series Timeframe: February - July 1983.

You dont have to have read the other stories to follow this, but it helps. This is an Alternate Universe story in which Lee Crane is widowed and now remarried, has a sex life and swears.

You have been warned.

 

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The summer is gone. I cant believe it went so fast.

Why do only the cold and lonely times seem to last?

Now its late at night and I watch you sleeping.

I want to wake you up.

And tell you Im sorry though I know I cant make it up.

 

And Ive made my mistakes now baby, but I did the best I could.

It takes what it takes and sometimes it takes longer than it should.

To live the kind of life that weve both been dreaming of.

There are no mistakes in love.

 

I walked through a fire in my dreams to pull you through.

Though when Im awake somehow it seems so hard on you.

Maybe a change has got to come and I cant see,

after another winters gone, whos going to rescue me?

 

There are no mistakes now, baby, we did the best we could.

It takes what it takes and sometimes it takes much more than it should.

So make the choices that weve both have been dreaming of.

There are no mistakes in love.

 

The nights are much colder now and I feel the need to have you near.

Maybe we can start all over.

I feel a change in the air.

 

There are no mistakes now, baby, we do the best we can.

It takes what it takes and sometimes its so hard to understand.

And take the chances that we all have been dreaming of.

There are no mistakes in love.

 

I feel a change in the air.

I feel a change has got to come.

Its in the air, its everywhere.

Show me that you feel it, too. Tell me that you feel it.

There are no mistakes. We made no mistakes.

 

No Mistakes Robyn Smyth

 

 


Linda Allen Crane rolled over slowly, sleepily opening one eye to check the clock. 7:45 A.M. Time to get moving. They had a lot of prep work to get done before the dive. It felt so warm under the covers and the water would be cold. At least Lee would be there to share her misery, if she could wake him up.

She pulled herself over to the center of their bed and snuggled close to her sleeping husband, curving her body to match his. Lee didnt stir. Linda lay against him, soaking in his warmth. Then she reached up to twine her fingers into the dark curly hair by his ear.

Lee roused at her touch, rolling over onto his back. Linda lifted herself up and leaned over him, giving him a light wake up kiss. He returned her kiss drowsily as his arms came up and closed around her, pulling her down to rest on top of him. She kissed Lee again, a little harder. His eyes fluttered open, the brown hazy with sleep. She loved Lee like this, with his tousled hair and soft eyes.

Once he was awake, his hair was groomed into submission. Linda liked the way it curled, but Lee deliberately kept it trimmed short, military style. From the photos she had seen, he had worn his hair that way since enlisting in the Navy at 17. The one time she had suggested he let his hair grow longer, now he was a reservist, Lee had replied he didnt want to.

She hadnt quite believed him. There had to be another reason for this choice. So she asked Chip. Linda knew first hand the effect Lee could have on visitors, particularly female ones. Morton had shaken his head and told her let it go, which made Linda wonder what Chip was not telling her. There was so much she still didnt know.

Lees soft lips rekindled the memory of last night in front of the fire, bundled in the quilt on the floor. She kissed him deeply with a touch of that nights passion.

Time to get up? he asked, as she lifted her lips away. Or cant you resist my gorgeous body any longer? The mischievous twinkle from their lovemaking was in his eyes.

Thats a Morton line, Linda reminded him. You dont need any help from him.

I dont? He kissed her again.

No. She started to pull out of his embrace and he tightened his arms around her. She resisted only for a moment, before snuggling in close. Their lips met again hungrily. She finally broke it off as she knew where it would lead. We have to dive this morning, she stated firmly.

Lee scowled as he released her. You had to remind me.

Youll be much more enthusiastic after youve had your oatmeal, she assured him.

Oatmeal? He made an even sourer face.

She knew Lee was teasing because she could feel him under her, trying not to laugh. Linda knew how to fix that. She leaned down, mimicking his scowl.

Lee couldnt hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. Careful. Youd really make the Forecastle hop to with that, he replied, after catching his breath.

Take a shower while I make breakfast. She scooted over to her side for the bed for her robe.

The bed is so warm I dont want to leave it.

Linda reached for her robe. Might as well face the cold now. The mornings wont get any warmer for some time yet. She pushed the covers aside and quickly donned her robe. On second thought, stay here until I get downstairs to turn up the heat.

Lee pushed his covers down, got up immediately and threw on his own robe. Man! You werent kidding. Let me go down.

No, Im going anyway. Dont use up all the hot water.

He came around the bed and closed his arms around her, kissing the top of her head. Dont worry. Why dont we share?

She raised her lips to his. Because if we do, you know well never get out in time for the dive. Which we have to make, no matter what else wed rather be doing today.

Lee grinned. Rain check?

Youre on. Now into the shower with you.

Yes, Maam.

 

* * * * * *

 

They made it back to the dock right before the rain. The shower had held off long enough to allow them to gather the samples they needed. Linda listened to the drops beating on the roof as they rinsed and stowed their scuba gear. She really didnt want to go out into it. There still was some time left before they said they would be in the office.

Coming, Skipper? Sharkey asked, as he finished tying down the launch.

Lee looked over at her.

Linda shook her head.

Go ahead, Chief. We have to catalog the samples. Might as well stay here and do it, until the weather breaks.

Sharkey bid them a cheerful goodbye and walked away up the covered pier to the parking lot. A few moments later she heard him drive away.

Do you really want to label the samples? Lee asked, smiling.

We could, Linda replied. Lets see if we still feel like doing it once were showered and dressed for the office.

Want to share? Lee asked for a second time as he waggled a suggestive eyebrow. Now were alone.

When you said rain check, did you really mean for it to rain? she teased back.

Lee grinned. At least no one will come out here to interrupt us as long as it lasts.

Arent you the opportunistic one, she replied, grasping him by the hand.

Waste not, Lee answered, sliding his arm around her waist.

* * * * * *

 

Uh, you may have to go rescue your husband Maggie Harrison cocked a thumb over her shoulder, as she extended her cup for a punch refill.

Linda smiled as she dipped the ladle, watching the small toddlers bouncing around amid the brightly colored balls. She shrugged. Lee let them push him in there. Hes on his own.

Hes good with them.

Linda poured the punch. At that age they love anyone who will get down on the floor and play with them.

Even playboys! Maggie answered as an adult blond head poked up out of the balls, behind Lee, grinning from ear to ear, only to be pushed under again by several laughing small hands.

Adaptability is the hallmark of a good submariner.

I bet I know which one told you that, too. Maggie took a sip of the punch.

Linda let the ladle rest back into the bowl. And wondered how two people who could talk computers with each other until the sun came up could remain poles apart about dating. That neither one wanted to get married right now didnt help. At least they had become friends, since they both kept being asked to the same functions. The one with all the girls, naturally, she answered, teasing.

Maggie laughed. At that age they arent competition. Not that I have any interest whatsoever in being any part of that, as you well know. Although, Maggie cocked her head, I could come up with several reasons to get Chip out of there before they jump on the wrong body part and ruin any plans he has for this evening.

Whoever it is tonight, she would certainly thank you.

Maggie shrugged. She should be here to protect him then. Thats not my job.

It could be so easily. Linda thought to herself. If either one of them would see it. She pushed that thought aside. Neither Chip nor Maggie wanted any more of a relationship than what they already had, even though Linda knew they could be a terrific match.

At that moment, one of the velcroed pontoon walls holding the balls in split apart from the base under the combined weight of Lee and the children after a particularly vigorous bounce. Balls poured out the gap across the floor. The children all looked at Lee.

Go on. Go get them, Lee directed as he rose to get out of the pen. Bring them all back here.

The kids scrambled out, gleefully chasing down the balls where ever they had rolled.

Chip, we need to put this thing back together before we lose any more, Lee stated.

Morton sat up in the nearly deserted play area and cocked an eyebrow. Which we wouldnt have had to do; if you hadnt fallen into it Hmmm, you must have put on weight since you were married. Remind me not to let you fall on me. Chip scooted his way out of the pen via the now open side and stood up.

One child remained sitting inside, apparently too shy to get up and hunt with the others. Lee gently tossed one of the foam balls he had retrieved back in front of her. The little girl picked it up, and then tossed it back. It didnt land anywhere near Lee, but undeterred, he pitched another one of his pick-ups in front of the child. She threw it back, this time managing to hit Chip Mortons leg, before it bounced back into the pen.

Two points! Chip quipped, as he wrestled the pontoon wall back into place and refastened the Velcro.

Lee continued to toss balls from what he was cleaning up to the toddler in their one-sided game of catch and she happily threw them in every direction except back to him. Finally, all the balls had been gathered up and dumped back in.

Get ready for parent pick-up! Mary Sharkey announced with relief.

After the last child had been handed off, Mary sat down in the nearest chair. Linda handed her a glass of punch.

Take five, Chip suggested, plopping into a chair next to her.

Mary looked at him in amusement. Ran you ragged, eh?

You do this every day? Lee accepted his glass and took a long drink.

Its what I was hired to do, Mary answered.

You need a raise, Maggie declared.

No, what I needed today was staff. Mary shook her head. I still cant believe Francis asked you four.

Hell round up anyone for a detail, Chip teased.

Mary raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

It turned out we were the easiest ones to pull off the refit, Lee admitted. After we had already sent him to the sub, with the promise wed take care of your problem.

The things Maggie and I had scheduled for today, didnt involve losing deposits or canceling a celebration the kids had looked forward to for weeks, Linda added. Why dont you let us take the rentals back, while you go check on Susanne? Then you let us know how much coverage youll need until Julie returns.

Mary smiled. Youd send refit crew here?

Some of them would enjoy that TDY far more than what Chip and Francis have them doing, Lee declared.

Chip stretched lazily. You want this refit done right or not?

Well find a way to do both, Lee replied firmly.

* * * * * *

 

It was the first day this month that was almost spring-like and there were more folks out on the Institutes North beach than usual during their walk. Linda always liked to come out here to watch the people, especially the kids chasing each other around in their various games. The number of children here had increased in recent years as both the Institute female employees and the sub crew aged. They had begun pairing off into couples and getting married or were finding mates in Santa Barbara. It was hard to believe the tenth anniversary of Seaviews keel laying would be celebrated this summer.

Nelsons folly was not called that any more. Even though she had only been here for half that time, Linda felt as proud as any of the plank owners. Lee was excited, as well. He was working extra hard to have her refit done in time for the anniversary. That work would keep the sub crew in port for the next six months.

The next time they went out, it would be in a newly refitted boat. Not that it would affect what Linda did on her cruises all that much, but she was very happy that Lees beloved Gray Lady was being upgraded with the latest technology to continue her work of safeguarding the seas.

Seaviews Captain, who was walking beside her, unfortunately, was hardly his dashing self at this moment. In his faded tan chinos, topped with his favorite red plaid flannel shirt, he looked more like a local fisherman searching for grunion. Linda smiled. The amount of plaid in Lees closet had surprised her when they had first started dating, but it suited him. It was a welcome change from his monochrome uniforms.

We should turn back, Lee suggested. Its still not all that warm yet.

Im fine, she assured him. I love our walks together. Im having a blast watching all the people.

Lee smiled as a small boy and a dog started a tug of war over a Frisbee in front of them. Yes, everyone does seem to be shaking off winter today and getting out to enjoy the sun.

The dog wrenched the Frisbee loose and dashed off with it, leaving the boy yelling for his Dad to do something. The father whistled and the dog obediently came trotting back.

I doubt hell ever train the boy to do that, Linda observed wryly.

Lee tightened his arm around her. Kids arent that simple. You have to love them and hope you can teach them everything they need to turn out right.

Its not easy being a parent, Linda agreed. She gave Lee a slight nudge. Like two career obsessed types like us could speak to that!

Crane grinned down at her. Oh, I dont know. I think Id like to give it a go, one of these days. Would you accept a proposal, if I made one, to be the mother of my child?

Linda stopped and turned in his grasp to look up at him. Is that a joke?

No. Im serious. If we could manage to raise a child in between the grants and the cruises and all the rest, would you?

I dont know, Linda answered truthfully. Having a child would change the way our lives are now at the very least. Id have to check into what changes and/or accommodations could be made in order for us to do it. Im not saying no, only that I need some time to research what options there are, before I can make a decision.

He kissed the top of her head. Were in for six months. Take all the time you need. I would never ask you to do this, unless you want to.

She smiled. If I was to have a child, I cant think of anyone Id rather have one with.

Lee hugged her tight. You let me know what you decide. If the answer is yes, Ill make sure I find a way to fit it into my schedule, he teased.

Linda nudged him again. Babies dont come on a schedule, you ninny. We can try to have the baby born a certain time of the year, and if all goes right, we might be able to make that happen, but there are no guarantees that we will or even can, until we try.

He laughed. I know, but there is a schedule running our lives are right now, at least until this refit is over.

Will you get her done in time?

If we stay at our current pace, that shouldnt be a problem, Lee answered confidently.

 

* * * * * *

 

Eric Patterson didnt mind most details. Hard work was something he was used to. Getting to work with the Flying Sub was a privilege most of the boat did not have. He was very proud to be part of the team chosen to keep her running, even if it had meant earning another rating. Ski, Stu and Boots had gone through the training with him. They already were a team, which had made it really easy.

Eric cocked his head at an unusual whine from the hydraulic winch. It wasnt supposed to sound like that. He debated momentarily to signal Boots to cut power, glancing at the four cables around the net that was lifting the parked sub out of the channel into her dry dock cradle. The two on his side were taut, as were the two Ski was watching from the other side of the cradle.

Must be strain. Herculite was a very dense compound. The whine faded as the winch took another turn, lifting the Flying Sub clear of the water. Eric saw Captain Crane lean closer and say something to Chief Sharkey, who made a note on his clipboard. Not much got past the Skipper, he thought, with a smile. Crane wasnt supposed to be part of this detail, but they had known he would show up anyway.

Eric continued to watch his taut cables as Boots began his second task of swinging the netted craft over into the dockside cradle. The screeching whine once again made itself heard and Patterson winced. He saw Crane draw a finger across his throat. Sharkey began walking, moving closer for a clear line of sight to Malone to give him the signal to stop the winch.

There was a sudden whanging crack as one of the cables on Skis side of the sub snapped and whisked free of the net. It barely missed the Chiefs head as he threw himself flat to escape the loose, snaking wire. The heavy sub canted as that side of the net went slack. The craft threatened to spill out of the net onto the dock short of the cradle, right where Kowalski was spotting.

Look out, Ski! Run! Eric yelled desperately, unable to doing anything to help with the cradle in between them. He heard the winch rapidly shift gears as Boots first pulled tight the remaining cables and then reversed direction to pull the sub away back over the water.

The lopsided net swung low over the dock before the reverse kicked in and brought the still partially netted craft out again. Boots immediately released the tension on the remaining cables and let the sub drop. The rapidly unraveling net hit the water of the channel in a wallowing splash, the sub inside rocking off kilter and sinking further with each rock.

Eric ran around the cradle, hoping against hope that Ski had made it clear of that swing. He was relieved to see Kowalski pick himself up from the dock, several feet from where he had been standing, shaking his head and skinned hands. In between Ski and where he had been standing Crane lay in a heap, his left arm bent unnaturally. The Captain was unconscious.

Patterson ran over and dropped to his knees beside his fallen Skipper, praying he wasnt dead from the impact that had thrown him here, unmoving. Eric reached out to search for a pulse he wasnt sure was even there.

Dont. Ski was beside him, breathing hard. Wait for the paramedics to bring us the proper equipment to move him. We could do him even more harm.

Is he alive?

Hes breathing! Kowalski replied. Quick, give me your jacket. Then go kneel on his other side to block the wind. We dont have anything here to reverse the shock, but we can keep him warm until help arrives.

Pat tried not to shiver as he watched Ski carefully drape their two outer jackets over Crane. Looking more closely, he could now see the rise of the Skippers chest. At least Kowalski knew what to do.

Riley says our paramedics are on the way! Sharkey dropped his knees next to Pat, joining their huddle. Either of you see what happened? I was too busy hugging the deck trying not to be cut in half by that cable!

Patterson shook his head. All I saw was you go down, the sub swinging and Boots trying to get her back under control.

Kowalski clenched his hand into a fist, winced and then gingerly opened his hand again. I heard Pat yell. Then I was pushed really hard, fell and rolled. Something large and wet whooshed over me and back, then the splash. I didnt see anything. I was too busy rolling out of the way. He must have Kowalski fought for control.

Pat reached across to take Skis arm and squeeze it momentarily in reassurance. The cable snapped. Its not your fault! If me or the Chief had been standing there, he still would have done it.

A faint siren, coming from the northeast, came to them on the wind, getting louder.

Sharkey shook his head. Riley said the Skipper pushed you clear right before the wing edge plowed into him. Scooped him up and flung him. He hit the dock like a wet rag doll. Stu grabbed the horn and yelled for help. The Chief got to his feet. Id better go tell the Admiral and Mr. Morton. They are not going to like this. You two stay with him. Riley will stay on the com until help gets here. He knows to tell the paramedics what he saw. When I get back from the sub well have figure out how to re-rig that hoist and raise her back up, so she gets into that cradle. Thats our detail today and we are going to do this!

 

* * * * * *

Lee. You have to wake up. Linda was leaning over the far side of the Infirmary bed when Chip walked into the treatment room. Her Institute office was closer to here than coming in from the sub pen.

Her fingertips lightly stroked the hair beside Cranes right ear as she spoke. There was a frighteningly large, rapidly darkening bruise on the left side of Lees head, well up into his hair. Cranes khaki shirt was gone and his left arm lay on top of the thermal blanket in an emergency cast from the elbow down.

Will Jamieson was taking Lees vitals on the near side of the bed. It may take a while for him to come to, Will said to Linda, after he had written everything down and checked the IV running into Lees right arm.

Linda looked over at the doctor. I'll try a little longer. You let me know when to stop.

Jamieson shrugged. It is the best way we know to get Lee to respond, if hes able. Will stepped away from the bed and walked over to him.

At that moment, Nelson strode into the room. Sharkey must have finally found him. One look at the Admirals glowering expression made Chip decide to let Jamieson report first. Harry saw Linda by the bed and his scowl softened slightly, before he joined them.

Lee has a severe head trauma, but hes stabilized for now and were treating that, Will began. The second impact with the dock could have fractured his skull beyond repair and killed him outright, except he landed on his left arm, which is a shattered mess from taking the brunt of that. Both lower arm bones are definitely snapped. I will attempt to set them as soon as his condition allows it. I wont know if the trauma has caused any brain damage until Lee regains consciousness. If he does.

Nelson inclined his head toward Linda. Does she know that? he asked quietly. Jamieson shook his head. I wanted her to try first.

The Admiral nodded. Can I help?

If she cant rouse him, youre next.

Lee? Linda continued stroking Cranes hair lightly. "I know you hear me."

Jamieson turned away, walking back to the bed.

What was Lee doing on the dock with the detail? Nelson demanded, his steely gaze falling on him.

You know how he is about the Flying Sub, Chip answered, resigned. Shes going into dry dock and he was making sure

Have Sharkey find out why that cable snapped!

Its now number one on his list, Chip answered grimly. Could have been strain. You know the Flying Sub puts

Nelson waved his hand. Yes, yes . . . but why now?

Morton shrugged. I wasnt there to see what happened. Riley gave a report you can

Linda gasped, snapping Chips attention away to the bed. Jamie!

Will bent close as Lee blinked again.

Linda quickly seized Cranes right hand.

Open your eyes, Lee! Jamieson said urgently.

Crane twitched restlessly, the cervical collar keeping him from moving his head the way he obviously wanted to.

I need your eyes open.

Lees eyelids fluttered a few more times and then slowly slid apart.

Jamieson quickly flashed his pocket light across Cranes pupils, checking their reaction.

Lee sighed as Will drew back the light. His eyelids closed and he went limp again.

What was that? Nelson moved behind Linda.

Hope! Jamieson replied.

Lee squeezed my hand, Linda added softly.

Any response we can get from Lee is crucial! Jamieson clicked his penlight off and dropped it back into his lab coat pocket. We have to keep him here with us.

Did he recognize you, Will? Chip asked quietly.

I couldnt tell that. Lee did what I asked, so he understood me. He also knew someone was holding his hand. Lets see what happens the next time he rouses. I cant believe Lees pupils dilated. With a head injury of this magnitude, those reactions were not what I was expecting. . . Jamieson trailed off.

The Doctor straightened up, becoming brisk again. I have to run some tests. The three of you go back to your offices and find out what has to be dealt with today and whatever else can be postponed, rescheduled or handed off. Will looked at his watch. Come back here when thats done for an update on his condition. Well decide what part of his treatment you will be doing then. Lees going to need all the help he can get to recover from this.

 

* * * * * *

 

It took Linda a minute to realize the doorbell was ringing. She felt foggy and not quite awake even though she had been up and dressed for nearly an hour. It had been a very long late afternoon and evening in the Infirmary yesterday. They had managed to rouse Lee at Jamiesons direction. She had taken turns with the Admiral and Chip holding Lees hand, for as long as he was conscious. They had told him what had been done that day on the refit and then what they planned to do tomorrow and the day after that and next week and . . .

It was hard to tell if Lee had understood any of what they had said, but Jamieson had been very insistent that they do it. She would go again today. Lee seemed to know who everyone around him was during those too brief periods of lucidness and yet --

Linda slowly pulled the door open, fighting down her weariness. Worry and a bed without Lee hadnt helped her sleep. She didn't feel like having company, but it was sweet of them to come. Linda put a welcome smile on her face, but froze when she saw who it was.

Admiral Nelson gave her a tired smile in return, looking very much how she felt. Hello, Linda.

Good morning, sir. Come in.

I'll only stay a minute. Lee has some papers Ill need for the refit. Since he cant tell me where they are, I decided to ask you for them.

Linda smiled in spite of herself. Probably in the den. Come on.

Nelson followed her through the house. It didnt take long to locate what he wanted in a neatly labeled folder that was on the desk. The Admiral ruffled the papers, but his eyes roved from the tall chair to the citations framed on the walls to the precise arrangement of the desk. It was impossible to be in this room and not know it was Lees.

Would you like a cup of coffee before you go out to the boat? Linda asked quietly. Nelson looked like he could use one.

If you have some made, he answered.

I dont drink coffee. Wouldnt be any trouble to fix, however, she assured him. Lee wants it at all hours when hes working on something.

What are we doing to do with him? Nelson turned to her suddenly, surprising Linda with the question.

Hes there and reacts and then

Nelson rolled his eyes. I could do without the then part.

So could I! she assured him.

The Admiral scowled. Coffee would be good. He followed her back to the kitchen and slid onto one of the bar stools by the counter, while Linda filled the coffee pot with water and plugged in the coffee maker. She pulled out a mug from the cabinet and then took out a spoon for him. Milk? she asked.

He nodded, ruffling through his papers again.

She lifted the milk carton out of the refrigerator and put it on the counter where Nelson could reach it easily.

Ski is not taking this well at all. He still feels responsible.

He didnt snap that cable. Lee would have never forgiven himself if the Flying Sub had killed him. Not when he could prevent it. No one can tell Lee not to do that.

You do. Harrys eyes gleamed with amusement. At least when Allan Crenshaw calls.

Linda dropped her eyes. Thats different. Thats something my husband agreed to. I cant tell The Captain anything, unless its grant related.

He listens to you.

Lee listens to you, too. Ive lost count of how many times hes come back from talking with you, ready to do whatever it takes because you think it can be done.

I dont mean for him to do it.

Have you told Lee that?

Ive tried. It hasnt made much difference.

Then what makes you think I will?

I dont think any one of us can stop him. Im asking you to help. We must get Lee to think before he blindly jumps in front of the next

His crew will always come first. Linda countered.

Damn it! Does he have any idea what his funeral would do to their morale? Harry smacked his papers on the counter.

That wouldnt stop him.

The coffee maker gave a sigh and stopped brewing. Linda walked over to retrieve the pot. She filled Harrys cup and handed it to him.

Nelson regarded her. Will you try?

Linda returned the pot to the coffee maker. Hell take it better from you.

Harry shook his head. Lee knows how I feel. Hes named the lecture; hes heard it so much. Lee is careful for a while after an incident. Then something like yesterday happens

And hes back in the Infirmary.

Exactly. The Admiral took a sip of coffee.

I know. Linda looked Nelson in the eye. That was my introduction to him, remember?

You must convince Lee this is not what your future together should be. Nelson smiled. I know you will find a way.

Will you and Chip help until I figure out how? Linda asked, not sure she would be able to do what he was asking.

Harry nodded. Lees going to need all of us to get through this one. Im counting on you to make the difference this time. Youve given him something else to live for. I want him to stay alive to enjoy that life. Nelson took another sip of coffee. This is good.

Maureen would be heartbroken. Dont tell her.

Nelson smiled. It will be our secret. Can I give you a lift to the Infirmary?

Id love a ride.

* * * * * *

 

Lee was either out or asleep when they arrived at the new room he had been moved into from treatment, so Nelson was content with a quick check of the readouts on the various monitors. The Admiral told Billy, the Seaview med tech, who was watching over Lee that he would be back later to check in with Jamieson and then left.

Billy offered her one of the unused chairs, which he placed on the opposite side of the bed from the one he had by the monitors. Linda sat quietly and watched her husband, not sure what she should be doing, if anything. With stubble and most of the hair on the left side of his head cut off so the medical staff could better see the extent of his now purple head injury for treatment, Lee had definitely looked better. A hard cast was on his lower left arm and the arm itself was nested in foam padding for protection. Someone had dressed Lee in loose green scrub bottoms, obviously remembering that he preferred those, when given a choice. They had also found a green snap front top that could be easily undone for care. Probably Gene.

Now the night shift supervisor, the Institute paramedic had a talent for making sure every patient was as comfortable as they could be. Alex had taken his observations seriously and had restocked the various linens and supplies with that in mind. The land based medical team was becoming more experienced at caring for Lee than anyone liked and once again, here they were. Its done, Linda told herself firmly. No use crying about it. Even though she felt like it.

Jamieson came striding in with a printout after about fifteen minutes. He went straight to the chart and read the notes written there. It was hard to tell from his expression if he liked what he was reading or not. Youve been here since 7:00, Billy? Will asked.

The Seaview med tech nodded.

Its good of you to volunteer to help out the Institute staff in monitoring and caring for the Captain. Youll keep the boat apprised?

Well see if Im allowed to clock out at 3:30 or if I have to do an update before then. Billy grinned. Frank said to tell you he will handle any bruises, scrapes or contusions from the refit and will only call you back if someone drops a wrench and breaks a toe or a foot or something dire like that.

Will smiled back. Tell him I appreciate that. Jamieson turned to her. Youre the message person for the Institute?

Linda shook her head. Maureen volunteered. I am now considered a little, ah, too close. Tell me what you want her to know or contact her directly and shell be responsible for getting the word passed along to whoever is asking.

Have you had a break yet, Billy?

The med tech looked momentarily confused at the question and then hastily got up. Uh, no. Ill go now. You want me to bring you back some coffee, Mrs. Crane?

Linda was not surprised at his choice of address. He was sub crew. They still preferred that title over the hyphenate she was beginning to use more. Their deference was always there. She knew that had been their practice for Cathy Connors.

Maybe later, she answered graciously and waited until the door closed behind him. Bad news? Linda then asked; gesturing at the chart Jamieson had attached his printout to.

Actually, no, Will answered. Billy will be more alert to the monitors for the walk down and back and thats what I need today. Hes already had the brief from Gene and doesnt need to hear it again. You and the Admiral need to be brought up to speed; Chip was already here and is long gone.

Brief? Linda furrowed her forehead.

Sorry. You go on a few more cruises; you talk like us, too. Will flipped the chart back a page. Lees been surprisingly responsive, considering the injury he has, in fact he may be less injured than we first thought. Ill have to do more tests, but for now you can help whenever you are here.

Im supposed to be here?

We will work out a visit rotation, so the work the three of you do can continue. Yes, its important that you come once in the morning and then again in the afternoon to see how Lees doing for yourself and be company for him while hes here recovering.

Lees going to recover?

Eventually. If there are no complications. Jamieson sighed. Its blunt trauma. Every case is different. Well have to take it slow, give him time to heal, but Lees brain is not swelling, nor is there amnesia, which is good.

So whats not good?

Jamieson scowled. You sound like him when you ask things like that. How long have you been with us now? Five years?

In October, she confirmed. You were saying

Will shrugged. This injury will probably affect his speech, his coordination or both. Depending on how much damage to the brain the impact did, Lee may have to learn to talk or walk again. Well know in a week or so, as we test various functions. Right now its too early to make any determination. Were concentrating on managing the trauma, so that will heal and making sure he doesnt do anything else, like fall, to make it worse.

What if Lee doesnt get better?

Harry told me yesterday I can have the six months until the refit is over. If Lee is going to come back from this injury, he will within that time.

Nelson can do that?

Its his Institute and his boat. Harry understands very well now how much Lee needs something to work toward. So Lee will not be allowed to even consider resigning or mustering out on a disability or anything like that. He will not be replaced. Well not make any decision about that for at least six months and only if we still have to.

I can help?

Yes, Lee will do it for me because I tell him to, but involving family adds a dynamic to the treatments I cant give him, but that you, Harry and Chip can. It wont be easy on any of us, but you three will definitely have to be heavily involved in any successful therapy. First thing I want you to do is wake him up. Be persistent, it may take a while. Visit with Lee until he goes to sleep again. Chip brought him around this morning, enough to understand Morton was here and concerned about him. I want you to do the same. When you come back this afternoon, bring a grant or anything else you find with you to read to him. That will do for now.

Okay. Linda wished she sounded more confident. Youre the Doctor.

Go over to the other side. Pick up his good hand and call. Ill observe, but I wont say anything. I want see how he responds to you. Lee already knows Im here.

Linda came around the bed and moved the chair away from the IV stand until it was situated where she could reach her husbands hand comfortably. She took it up into her own, holding it.

Lee? Are you awake? she asked.

No response.

I thought Id come see how you were before going on into the office. I have to call Senator Michaels before he leaves for the day. Linda felt self-conscious, but gamely continued. The progress report he wanted is done, so Ill get that out of the way, so I can

She felt a slight pressure on the hand that was holding Lees and his eyelids fluttered. If the cervical collar had allowed it, she was sure he would have rolled his head.

Easy, love. Im here. She squeezed his hand harder and watched as he struggled awake. It took Lee a while, but at last his eyes opened. They moved until he found her. The pressure on her hand increased. She lifted their twined hands up to where she could plant a light kiss on his hand and then lowered it again.

Lee made a slight grimace, continuing to look up at her. His gaze was steady; he was not confused or agitated. It was more resigned acceptance she saw in his eyes. Lee knew she was the one holding his hand. Linda shifted closer to the bed. Ill be here every day to let you know whats going on in the office. We will get through this, love, promise.

His hand tightened around hers in answer.

Rest and get better. Im so happy you are still with us. She lifted Lees hand up again and rubbed it gently again against her cheek.

His grip loosened. She figured that he had reached the end and was about to release him, when his forefinger raised and moved very slowly along her cheek in a caress, before dropping below her chin. Lee sighed. Then his eyes closed and the hand in hers went limp.

Linda felt her eyes burn as she laid his hand back on the bed. He did know her.

She remained bent, trying not to cry with relief. A hand came to rest on her shoulder.

Go ahead and cry, if that helps, Jamieson said softly. That was more than I hoped for. Lees definitely with us and wants us to know it, too.

Linda sniffed back the tears. Not here, she told herself firmly. Linda raised her head. I think I can get through the day now. When do you want me to come back?

Jamieson looked at his watch. 14:45 a good time?

She mentally reviewed the list she had for the day. Yes. I can do that.

Dont be late. He hates that.

Linda almost smiled. Yes, I know!

Will reached out to touch her arm lightly. One day at a time. And eat lunch. Thats an order.

Jamie she let it trail into a very familiar inflection.

Will grinned. Ill try to make sure you are here when we hear him say it like that.

 

* * * * * *

 

I said would you like to have dinner with me?

Chip was startled out his dark thoughts about Lees recovery from this latest incident to find NIMRs red-headed software specialist standing in front of him in the visitors area outside Lees room.

Youre asking me out? Chip blurted in disbelief, totally surprised by the invitation and the person making it.

Of course not! Maggie Harrison declared emphatically. Linda has more than enough to handle in there, so I thought Id help a friend on my way out. You look like you could use one. Now that we know Lees not going to die, lets get you out of here. You can follow me to my place. I have enough food at home for the two of us. Then you go home to sleep.

Just like that?

Problem?

The way Maggie was scowling at him, it could very well become one. Chip cast a glance toward the room where Lee was. Jamieson had told him to go eat. Or else.

No, he answered truthfully. You cook?

Of course, I cook! Maggie glared down at him, and as he looked back at her, her green eyes suddenly crinkled with amusement. I probably shouldnt tell you this, she admitted, her hostility fading, as she placed her hands on her hips. With me, its never cant, its I dont want to. I wouldnt call what I fix for myself cooking, but given the right circumstances Trust me, youll eat it.

Chip heaved himself up off the waiting area couch. It was the best offer hed had today.

 

* * * * * *

 

These are my morning orders. How far do think we can get with this, based on your overnight observations so far. Billy handed over what he picked up from Jamieson.

Gene looked at the script. You can try it. Hes been better with the bed slightly raised and even upright a good part of the time.

The Skipper doesnt like being flat, thats for sure. Hes been able to sleep upright without issue?

So far. The collar wont even begin to let his move his head enough to cause one. Hes also been told each shift not to move around. You have the most experience. Youll be able to tell what hes capable of doing better than any of us.

This is no twisted knee.

It would be worse if the Captain was concussed on top of the trauma. It should become more of a balance issue than one of continued vertigo as he recovers, I would think.

Well, lets get him up then and see which one we have, while I still have you on shift to help me with him.

Skipper? Billy gently laid his hand on Cranes shoulder. That was usually all it took, even when the Captain was badly injured. Doc wants us to try to get you up. Are you awake?

Cranes eyes opened at his touch, but the alertness Billy was looking for was not really there. They would still do the test, to establish a baseline to do further therapy from. It was a bad injury. This was probably only the first of many mornings he would have to come in early to work with Gene to get Crane back on his feet.

The Skipper looked up at him. At least there was no confusion in his eyes, as they shifted from him to Gene and back again.

It would be better if he had two good arms, but well work with what we have. Stand here and spot, he directed Gene. We must not let him fall over or out of the bed.

Crane lifted his right arm and crooked the elbow in anticipation of what Billy was going to do. He remembered the drill, which was a good sign and one he would have to tell Doc. Let me do the work, Billy told Crane, as always. You concentrate on not falling over.

The Skipper moved his right hand and gave him a sideways thumbs up.

Getting better at that, Captain, Gene encouraged.

Billy moved in closer and braced Crane with his body, while using the patients good arm to shift Lee closer to the edge of the bed.

Okay, I have him. Level the bed. Well see if he can sit up on the edge without support.

Gene thumbed the bed control.

Once he had Lee situated in the middle of the bed, Billy loosened his grip, but did not let go. He waited to see what Crane would do. Gene moved in closer to brace up the Captains left side if necessary. Billy reached around him and carefully tucked the casted left arm deeper into Lees lap so the extra weight of that would not pull him over.

Crane slumped slightly in his grip, but did not seem to be leaning either way or be off balance. Billy still didnt let loose of him.

The Skipper closed his eyes and stiffened, wobbling slightly.

Dizzy? Billy asked quietly, for confirmation.

Lee opened his eyes again and then waggled the fingers in his right hand as he straightened in his grasp. The waggle became a thumbs up.

I guess well tell Doc he can sit up, Billy said to Gene, but that was not who the comment was meant for.

Lee raised his right hand slightly; enough to be seen and pointed across the room to the head, then waggled two fingers as if walking over there.

Billy looked at Gene for support.

Not yet, Captain. The paramedic shook his head. You have to be able to stand up first. You arent ready for that.

Crane started to scoot forward to get off the bed and Billy immediately tightened his grasp, easily stopping him. Gene, lower the bed to where his feet touch the floor. He can try that.

The paramedic brought the bed down slowly, until Cranes socks rested on the tile. His right foot didnt want to go flat at first, but after several seconds of concerted effort, Crane finally got it down and solid. He leaned forward to put some weight on it and immediately pitched right, falling into Billy. Cranes eyes closed and he went white as vertigo overtook him.

Billy caught and cradled him gently as Gene moved in to help. Together they lifted Crane back into the bed and got him situated. Cranes teeth were clenched as he fought against the dizziness. Gene readjusted the bed very carefully, bringing it back up to the best height and angle for Crane to recover.

Well, thats that. Hes fine until he moves. Its definitely still a vertigo issue.

Shall we try again tomorrow morning? Gene asked.

Ill be here. Hopefully hell do better, Billy replied.

 

* * * * * *

 

Will was a bit surprised when this mid-morning vitals check woke his patient. He looked up from his watch to find Lees eyes open and fixed on him. It was a heartening response. They could wake Lee to take care of him, but this was the first time Crane had roused by himself. Maybe they could finally set a daytime routine for him that was not dictated by physical needs or medication.

Good morning. Be done in a moment. Have to take your blood pressure. He put on the cuff and inflated it, all the while aware of Crane watching his every move. Will noted the numbers on the chart and then moved down to hang it at the foot of the bed for the next check.

You want to sit up, right?

Lee gave him the agreed upon right hand thumbs up, so Jamieson adjusted the bed to the height he knew that Crane liked.

Juice?

He received a second thumbs up.

Lee reached for the cup once he had opened the container, poured it and inserted the straw. Jamieson was pleased to see Crane handle the cup with more dexterity than the first time he had let him try. Lee was getting more motor control back each day, even though he still wore the cervical collar for protection. Now for the real test.

Will took back the empty cup when Lee extended it. He placed it on the table behind him and then walked over to get one of the visitor chairs, which he placed next to the bed, before he sat down in it. I know you want an update on your condition, but first I want to try something. Its all right if you cant, but try to talk. A few simple questions so I can see where you are. Hows does your throat feel? Would you like some water?

Crane gave him another thumbs up, so he poured some into another cup from the pitcher beside the bed and handed it over.

Lee sipped it slowly, hunching up taller in the bed.

Does your throat hurt?

Crane swallowed hard. N-n-ooooo, he ground out and blinked in surprise.

Good start. Take the last sip. Does anything else hurt?

Nooo, Crane replied and raised his left arm. He shook his head as he heard what he had said and frowned.

Dont do that! Jamieson warned as he quickly reached out to support the injured arm. It will only make you dizzy.

But his caution came too late as Crane closed his eyes and slumped against the pillow as the now empty plastic cup rolled out of his suddenly limp right hand.

Steady. Jamieson gently laid Lees casted arm back onto the bed. Stop trying to rush. Lie still until the vertigo passes.

Shit! Crane hissed between clenched teeth. Then his eyes popped open as he stared up at Jamieson in shock.

Its all right, Lee! If you have what I think you have, you will be cursing a lot. Swear words, unfortunately, tend to be the first words aphasics can say.

Crane dropped his eyes, embarrassed by his outburst.

No, look at me. Its nothing you can do anything about. Lets move on. Now, use your thumb so you dont get dizzy. Were you telling me your left arm aches?

Crane raised his right thumb and tried again to speak. Yeth. Lee scowled at what he heard come out.

Well work on that word, Will assured him. Some words come back easier than others. Ill bring in flash cards and well find out what you see and can say. That will help me determine what kind of aphasia you have. Its because of your head injury, but theres therapy. Its progressive, the more you heal, the better your speech will be. Can you tell me where it aches?

Plaid, Crane replied quickly, as he pointed to a spot about three inches above his wrist where his ulna and radius bones were now pinned back together. Crane scowled and pointed again. Green! he insisted.

Jamieson put up a restraining hand. Okay, thats enough! Youll only give yourself another dizzy spell. Youre definitely not mute, Lee, but youre not right, either. You need to do more healing. Well work on this. Your late morning visitor is due. I want Harry to see your improvement, not that you are upset over something you can do nothing about.

Crane looked over at him. Tree? he asked seriously, then started to shake his head over the obviously wrong word that came out. Lee managed to stop before Will could say anything and then flopped down onto his pillow, totally frustrated.

Jamieson got up to log their conversation on the chart. When he looked up, Crane was staring intently at him. Seeing he had finally had his attention, Crane crooked his right forefinger. Will brought the chart over to the bed. What? You want me to read what I wrote?

Crane gave him a thumbs down. Then he sat up suddenly and closed his good right hand around the end of the pen Will was holding. Lee tugged it loose and Will let him have it. Lee then gestured he wanted the chart.

No, you cant write your own entry. Even if you could write! Which you probably cant. Not with aphasia.

Lee began writing something in the air with the pen, but it was backwards from where Will was standing and he could not read what it was. Hold on a second!

Crane lowered the pen.

Will took out his pocket notebook from inside his lab coat and flipped it open to the blank pages in the middle. Okay. Prove me wrong. He laid the blank notebook on top of Cranes blanket. If you can write, you keep the pen. If you cant; I get my pen back.

Lee awkwardly positioned his left arm cast to brace the notebook as he wrote in large uneven block letters with his right hand. I know what to say. Why doesnt it come out? He then pushed the notebook over towards Will.

Jamieson picked it up. He could not deny the written words he has seen Lee make. I dont know. If you cant speak right, you shouldnt be able to write. Obviously you can. You wont win any penmanship awards, but Ill find some paper. Is that what you were trying to say? You wanted paper and it came out tree?

Lee gave him a thumbs up.

Will gestured heavenward with the chart. Why should you follow a normal diagnosis? You never have! Ill see you get some paper for your visitors then. Your thumbs up/thumbs down is much better today. What else are you going to come up with?

Lee twisted the pen between two of his fingers, using it to give him a middle finger salute as a wolfish grin grew on his face. The first since he had been injured.

Dont make me regret giving you that pen, Jamieson threatened, but then he smiled to take the sting out of the words. Lee had a tough recovery in front of him, but he was showing signs of being up to it.

* * * * * *

 

Will was still getting used to having an office at the Infirmary. He was always willing to be on call for Alex, but his primary responsibility was the sub and he kept those medical records separate and then transferred over anything Alex had wanted for treatment here.

With the rehab Lee needed, it made far more sense for Will to move here, particularly since they were staying in port for the next six months. Alex already had enough to manage in serving the needs of the land based employees and the ever growing number of sub dependents.

Lee was sub crew and his responsibility, plus Will had the most experience diagnosing and winning cooperation from this particular patient. Alex had given him the lone seminar room. After serving on the sub for so long, these new quarters were almost too big, but it was a private place to consult with his various caretakers away from the patient. If this rehab was to work, they needed this space. Lee would be here for some time. The last thing they needed underfoot now were curious interns from Santa Barbara General observing. Alex being able to say there was no room for any applicants in the next six months was probably best.

Will thumbed through the growing chart, looking for what he wanted to tell Harry and Chip when they arrived for the brief. He hoped this would work out. Lee never had much patience for rehab, submitting only as long as it took to get reinstated to light duty. This injury, unfortunately, was not going away in three weeks or even three months, the longest they had previously managed to keep Crane sidelined. It could easily take the entire six months for Lees damaged speech center to work properly again. Only intensive therapy several times a week would fix what had happened when Crane had decided to save Kowalski.

There was a knock on the edge of the door. Morton and Nelson walked in and seated themselves in the chairs he had set up for them, facing his desk.

Hows the refit going? Will asked, as he found the test results he wanted to share.

Its going, Chip Morton replied. The crew that stayed for refit duty is still out of sorts over what happened, but most of them are the older hands that have been through it before. They will settle down by the end of the week. Well keep them busy and on schedule, so they dont have time to dwell on it. Youll have to let me know when Lees up for visitors or can send them a message or

Hes not up for anything right now, but as soon as he shows more improvement, well figure out something to make the boat happy. For now, tell them hes getting better and leave it at that.

Is he? Nelson rumbled from his chair.

Yes and no, Jamieson answered honestly. Will Lee be back to duty in a month? Absolutely not. Is his comprehension and dexterity improving? Yes, but its only a tiny fraction of how far he has to come back in order to command again.

Can we get him there? the Admiral asked.

Id like to think so, knowing this patient and his stubborn will to do most anything that is in front of him.

Chip smiled. How do we help with that, Will?

Lee has to use the area of his brain that was injured, do things that will stimulate it into working correctly again. It will depend if his therapy will work within the constraint of what we have to get done with the refit by July. Can we ease Lee back into some of the refit, as soon as he is up to it?

Morton looked over at Nelson. Hes mostly logistics. Reading, budgeting and approving. If Lee can still do that, Ill make sure whatever he approves gets done. Like I always do.

Can Lee read with that bad an injury? Harry queried.

Were going to find out, Will replied. Did either of you bring over something simple I can test him with?

You want tomorrows schedule and roster? Chip offered.

Not really. If Lee cant do that today; he will only get discouraged. Do you have anything a couple weeks away I can start him out on?

I have that rough outline for the Mare Island work that he was supposed to put into installation order so Chip could make the schedule for the yard. Do you want him to work on that? Harry offered. We wont be ready for that segment for two months.

That might work later. I need something smaller, not immediate that will give Lee a sense of accomplishment now without overtaxing him.

Chip snapped his fingers. Lee can do his sign off on next weeks requisition requests for the work the week after that. I was about to start on that. Luckily, Lee was a week ahead on clearing those through the budget when he was injured, so I didnt have to do anything with them right away, but these requests will have to go out by the end of the week, if we are to get everything we need replaced purchased by the time we get to those installations.

Is Lee up to that? Nelson asked, with open skepticism.

Lets try him, Will answered. It will be a good test. When can those requests be ready for him to approve, Chip?

Morning, day after tomorrow, Morton promised.

You know what, go ahead and show Lee your copy of the schedule and roster for tomorrow and see if he signs off on it. If he wont, dont belabor it. It would be interesting to see what he does.

Youre making it sound like he actually could. Harry shifted in his chair, still not convinced.

Jamieson reached for his pocket notebook and flipped it open on the desk top so they could see what Lee had written there. Looks like it was done by a drunken second grader, doesnt it? Will leaned forward. Dont let on that you know he can and dont say anything if what he tries goes all over the page. Lee has to continue to do this, so he doesnt lose it. It will help him get better.

Is that the trauma treatment drugs? Chip squinted at the uneven letters.

No, thats what the injury did to his brain. Anyone else probably wouldnt be able to write at all! Jamieson leaned back in his chair. You know the Skipper never lets what is supposed to happen medically stand in his way!

Morton smirked.

Harry reached out and took up the notebook to better study the words. So Lees better than he should be?

Jamieson shrugged. All I can do is treat my patient the best way I know how and see if he responds.

But hes better, Nelson insisted.

Lees communicating at a higher level than I expected, given his injury. Better wont come for some time. Jamieson reached out for the notebook and Harry handed it back. Come and see for yourself. I know hell want to hear about what was done on the boat today. Particularly, since he is not even allowed up to go look for himself.

 

* * * * * *

 

Lee roused almost immediately when Will gently shook his shoulder and looked more alert than he had on Nelsons previous visits. Harry felt his eyes drawn to the purple bruising that was now turning yellow and deliberately looked away. He made his eyes focus on Lees face instead, as Jamieson brought the bed up to a position that allowed Lee to sit up. The lopsided haircut, the facial stubble that had rapidly become a beard and the always present cervical collar were a combination that was not Lee to his mind, but that was the reality they had now. He still didnt like it.

Lee was gazing at him expectantly. Harry made himself smile. They had to be very careful that none their actions caused Lee to do anything that might injure him further. Nelson came over to the bed. Youre looking better, son, he lied.

Lee waggled his right hand back and forth in a so-so gesture and grimaced, but did seem happy that they had come to visit him.

I brought you a progress report on the boat, Chip announced.

And I have one on the Flying Sub, Harry added. Go ahead, Chip.

Lee settled back slightly on the pillow into what had become his listening mode. Crane had yet to stay awake to the end of their reports, but he was lasting longer each day. As he listened to Chip tell Lee about the days work on the sub, Harry couldnt help but wonder if Crane really understood what he was being told or was merely acting like he did.

I brought something else. Chip reached into the clipboard he had been reading reports from and pulled out two papers that he clipped on top of all the others. Its the schedule for tomorrow. Here. He turned the clipboard around and pushed it to where Lee could grasp hold of it with his good hand.

To Harrys surprise, Crane reached out to direct the way it was moving and with Mortons continued support managed to turn it to an angle where Lee could see the papers.

I can read it to you, Chip offered as he held the clipboard where Lee had placed it.

Lee raised his right forefinger, waggled it in negatively and then began tracing the sentences with it. They stood silently watching until Lees finger stopped moving at the bottom of the page and he lifted it off the clipboard. Slowly his right hand came up and he formed an okay signal with it. Then Crane then leaned back on his pillow with a tired grin.

Jamieson picked up the pen lying on a pad of lined paper beside the bed. He reached across Crane to bring it close to his right hand. Youre not quite done, Lee. Initial it for him, and for me, so I can write down that you understand what you read.

Crane looked over at Will for a moment, then took the pen from him and sat up again. With Morton holding the clipboard steady, he very slowly wrote a wobbly letter L and a slightly better C at the bottom of the page, before easing back down onto the pillow.

Jamieson reached over to the take the pen back, but Crane tightened his hand into a fist from which a thumbs down extended to prevent him from doing so. Lee pointed the pen at the pad instead. Will withdrew his hand. He placed the blank paper pad on the blanket where Crane could reach it to write on. Lee situated the pen and wrote three words, before placing the pen down on the pad, so Jamieson could take both away.

Will picked up the pen and pad and then turned the pad to where they could see what he had written.

Send Ski here, Morton read. Will do, Lee. Im sure he wants to see you, too.

Lees right hand twisted into a thumbs up and then he relaxed back into his pillow, closing his eyes.

It looked like his Flying Sub report would have to wait for the next visit, but Harry didnt mind. Lee definitely still wanted to be part of the refit. They certainly would put him to work again.

* * * * * *

 

So, Ski, what happened? Patterson closed the apartment door behind him and paused for a moment when he saw that Boots was also sitting at the kitchen table with his roommate. Are you two celebrating? He gestured at the beer bottles in front of both them.

Not sure we should, Ski answered. But I felt like one and Malone here, is being a bud, and joining me. Grab one out of the frig; if you want it.

Pat opened the door and snagged a cold one, using the opener left on the counter, before joining his mates at the table. Hows the Skipper?

Ski leaned back. I was telling Boots, I think part of the reason he asked for me was to make sure I was all right. Luckily my hands are almost healed, but he spent a long time looking me over. Once he was satisfied I was okay, he put me to work.
Work? Pat put his bottle down in surprise. I thought the Skipper was under twenty four hour watch by the techs so he doesnt get up without help and fall, so he cant hurt himself any worse.

He is, but Doc is letting him write stuff down that he wants. The Captain gave me a note that said I was to go over to his Institute office and look through the office supplies there for markers and index cards and clear packing tape.

Why?

Thats what I wondered, too. So I went there and found everything on his list, brought it back to the Infirmary and Doc woke him up again, so we could finish my task. The Skipper had written out a list of signs he wanted me to print for him and then laminate with the tape. One says yes, the second say no I guess its so he can answer questions.

Did you make one that said, Go Away? Boots asked slyly, lifting his bottle.

Ski grinned. Not quite. It says, Come Back Later. I think he had me make that one more for Doc than himself.

I thought Billy told you Doc said he could talk and he had agreed to use certain hand gestures to let the techs know what he wanted. Pat asked, confused.

He can and he does, Ski confirmed. I talked with Doc for a minute or two outside the room before we went in to wake him up. He said the Skipper doesnt seem to want to talk, because his words dont come out right. Doc doesnt want him gesturing for everything, because his balance isnt good. They dont want him nodding or shaking his head, either, for the same reason.

Hes messed up, isnt he? Eric asked quietly.

Yeah, Kowalski admitted. I didnt know how bad until I actually saw the bruise the Flying Sub left.

I bet hed talk to you, Ski, Malone ventured.

I wouldnt care if it was right, either, but you know him. Let Doc handle that. We will help him when he asks for us.

You think he will ask for us? Pat took another sip from his bottle.

Scuttlebutt has it he wont be back any time soon, so you know what that means

Oh, man, Malone sighed heavily. Skipper hates rehab.

Good thing we already have our Kevlar, eh, Boots? Kowalski lifted his bottle.

Eric clinked his bottle to the other two. The only good thing he could see about this was they werent having this talk at Cranes wake.

 

* * * * * *

 

Talk to me. Will stopped beside the hospital bed, the disastrous results of the first speech therapy session on the chart in his hands.

Lee rolled over onto his back. No, he said firmly.

Weve already established you can say that, but you have to do more than that in therapy for this to work.

No! Crane repeated and then turned away from him, back onto his side.

Barb said you would say that.

Lee buried his head under his good arm. No!

Jamieson reached out to lightly touch the raised arm. I cant help if you wont tell me what the problem was.

Lee pushed his hand away using his elbow with more force than Will expected. No!

Jamieson withdrew his hand. Im not leaving until we talk this out, Lee.

Crane raised himself slightly. Goddammit! No! Lee shouted, and then abruptly snapped his mouth shut and dropped face down on the bed again, his body going rigid with frustration.

Will wasnt that far behind him. He was seeing what the speech therapist had reported; only he wasnt making any more progress with Lee than she had. That was not an option.

Will reached down for the pad. Picking it up, he walked around the bed to where he could see Cranes face. Lee might not be able to verbalize properly, but there was always an answer in his eyes.

Lee lifted his head to glare at him as he heard him approach from that side. Will almost stopped at the misery he saw in those dark eyes. This wasnt anger, even if that was the only emotion Crane was able to project.

Will set the pad down on the side table. Let me help, he repeated quietly.

No, Lee answered again, barely above a whisper. He then covered his eyes with his good arm, making sure Jamieson could no longer see them.

Will grabbed the nearest chair and set it as close to the bed as he could get and sat down. Dont withdraw, Lee, he said firmly. I will fix it. Now, talk to me.

Crane sighed, but did finally roll halfway over. He gazed up at him for a long moment.

Will knew Lee trusted him, so he picked up the pad and pulled his pen out of his pocket. Would it be easier to write it?

Lee thought about that for a moment, then extended his hand for the pen and paper.

Will gave both items to him.

Lee sat up, squared his shoulders and wrote a few laborious words on the pad, before handing it back.

Will read the words.

I cant do this.

Why not? Jamieson answered. He handed the pad back.

What he got back after almost a minute of careful printing explained a lot.

I understand, Lee. I know where you are coming from, but listen to me. First, forget that Barb is a woman. She is a very highly trained speech therapist, the best we have. She deals with these cases all the time. Barb knows that you will be swearing at her. She also knows you cant control that. Trust me, shes been sworn at far worse than anything you did today. Its something you have to work through with her, so do the exercises and soon you will find that wont be the problem anymore. Will leaned forward. Lee, I know youve had it drilled into you to solve your problems without profanity, but you have to let go of that. None of us care if you swear at us right now; we know you dont mean it.

Lee gestured for the pad and wrote some more, before handing it back. Why do I keep saying those words, when I dont want to?

Jamieson raised his head from reading. No one knows exactly why aphasics do that, but most of them can and do work through it, like you will.

Lee gestured for the pad back and wrote some more.

Will could see the frustration in every wobbly word written there. We know you dont want to swear, but you have to talk in order to get your speech back. There is no other way!

Crane sighed again and then nodded.

Jamieson could see that writing out his frustration over what had happened had managed to ease the tension from Lees body. Crane was still fragile and didnt need to be upset like this. So, if I schedule you for therapy tomorrow, will you go and work with Barb? he asked. Try to say everything she asks you to, even if words you dont want to say come out again?

Lee nodded again, shifting on his pillow. Sucks, he said abruptly. Then Crane scowled deeply.

Will had to fight really hard to keep his calm expression. How about I tell Barb you said yes, and not what you actually said. Will that help any?

Lee grimaced and then slowly raised his right hand into a thumbs up.

Will reached out to touch his good arm lightly. I know its hard, but do the therapy. It will help.

Lee sighed for the third time, but Will could tell the worst was over. Lee would no doubt continue to be frustrated, but at least he had been able to talk him over this hurdle.

* * * * * *

 

Linda knew today was an important step and had cut short her morning visit, to give Jamieson more time to brief Lee on what needed to be accomplished in the speech therapy sessions. She walked into the room and knew immediately from Lees tightly curled sleep position that it had not gone well.

Will had warned them it might not. Now she had to do her part. Linda hated having to wake Lee up. It might be best that they keep interacting with him, but Linda was sure she would not enjoy being woken up every couple of hours for meds, labs, tests or talks. In fact, if she was the one stuck in here, she knew shed be royally sick of that by now.

Lee? Linda touched his good arm and rubbed his shoulder lightly to let him know she was there. Thats when she noticed the sign propped up against a book on the table beside her. Come back later, it said.

It probably wasnt meant for her, but it only added to her certainty that it had not been a good morning. She debated momentarily whether or not to leave him be to work it out or to face the snapping turtle she would get if she persisted in waking him up. She rubbed Lees shoulder a little harder. Will had made her promise not to leave until she got him to respond. For better or worse, she said to herself, steeling for what was to come.

He uncurled slightly and opened his eyes. From his expression and hard gaze, she knew better than to ask how his morning had been. She rubbed Lees arm lightly in support. Want to talk about it? she asked, softly.

No! he replied, with the first real emotion she heard in his halting attempts to speak.

Want to hear about my day? she asked, knowing it was probably futile.

No, Lee replied in that same, flat tone, but then he shook his head and scowled deeper.

What then? His body language indicated that no was not the word he had meant to say.

Lee rolled his eyes. He reached for the pad of lined paper that Jamieson had begun leaving each day by the bed. All he managed to do was to knock it off the side table.

Ill get it, love. She quickly knelt, so he wouldnt risk falling out of the bed to reach it. The male techs had already had to catch him a few times when his balance failed without warning. Lee was too heavy for her to lift back into the bed by herself, which remained the main reason he could not be released to go home. Lee was getting better, but it was taking a long time.

She rose and handed him the pad.

Lee laid it down on his blanket, trapping it between his leg and casted arm so he could write.

Linda handed him the pen as soon as his hand came up from the pad. She got a grimace that was almost a smile. Then Lee ducked his head and began writing her a note in the large wobbly block print he was using to make his wishes known.

She was tempted to stroke his hair, but she was now on the side of the bruise and she did not want to hurt him in any way while it was still healing. Linda dropped her hand to his left shoulder instead and gently rubbed in small circles, knowing Lee would feel that and it would help.

He straightened up and indicated with the pen she should pick up the pad. She could feel the tears burn at the back of her eyes as she read, but Linda was determined that she would not cry and make Lee feel worse than he already did.

NOT GOOD COMPANY. SWEAR ALL DAY AT DOCTORS HELPING. NOT MY FAULT. HATE IT. DONT WANT TO SWEAR AT YOU. GO. BETTER TOMORROW. PROMISE. LOVE YOU.

I love you, too, she answered. Does Jamie know?

Yeth, Lee answered.

She could tell from his expression he didnt like the way that word came out, either.

A kiss, then, and Im gone.

He tilted his head toward her so she could easily buss the non-injured side of his now bearded face.

Thats for luck tomorrow. I know you can do this.

Lee handed her back the pen and settled down on the pillows. Faith, he said suddenly and this time managed a smile for her.

She put the pen and pad down, again feeling the sting of tears. He was right about that, although it was becoming more of a test with every visit. Now she had to keep it together until she made it out the door. Linda lifted her head and walked out.

* * * * * *

Chip Morton knew he should be the last one out, but there was still a light burning in Lindas office. He wasnt all that surprised. The work still had to be done. Now her work day was broken up with Infirmary visits, so she was probably getting even less done. He was on much the same schedule and found himself working later to keep up. Maybe she could use some company.

Jamieson had them scheduled to visit Lee at different times so he hadnt seen much of her since the accident. Nelson was keeping tabs on her. Chip didnt want her to feel like she had two watchdogs. Not that she needed even one, but the Admiral was protective. Nelson had fully accepted her as part of the family. Linda was a good addition, too, one he should probably check on, as it was late. He owed that much to Lee.

Chip was about to knock on the door, when he noticed she was curled up in her office chair and not working. Not sure if he should say anything, Chip paused and then realized what she was doing. Can I help? he asked from the door, knowing she would recognize his voice.

She swiveled the chair around and dabbed her streaming eyes with a fresh tissue from the box in her lap. Help is not something I lack. I can call any number of people to come and stay with me and hold my hand and tell me it will be all right. They will do anything I want, except for one thing.

And that is Chip took a tentative step forward.

Leave me alone to cry, Linda answered pointedly.

Morton stopped. Oh! Then I need to go He started to back out the door.

She swiveled the chair back and forth, then raised her head. Chip, wait!

He stopped.

That wasnt fair. Lee had a bad morning, so I had a bad afternoon and now Im about to give you a bad night. Thats not right. Did you come from there?

Yes and no. Jamieson called down to the boat and canceled my evening visit, saying Lees therapy didnt go as planned and to give him tonight to recoup. I went over to see him anyway. He was asleep. I was content to sit there and watch him sleep, but Lee woke up and caught me.

Did he send you away, too?

I thought for sure he would, but no, he seemed almost pleased I was there. He looked me right in the eye and said, clear as a bell, report. Morton shrugged. So I gave Lee his report and he went back to sleep. I guess I will have to tell Doc I defied his orders.

Linda put the tissue box back on her desk. Is that the first time Lee has spoken directly to you and got the word right?

Yes.

Then you will definitely have to tell Will.

Can a condemned man have his supper first?

Linda uncurled from the chair, looking at her watch. Why didnt you eat at dinner-time?

Chip leaned over to inspect her wastebasket. You should talk.

Its too late for the Commissary now, she answered. Besides I didnt have any appetite.

How about now?

The only offer on the table is you come back to the house with me and let me make something quick for both of us. Linda stood up. If you promise to tell to Jamieson what Lee said to you first thing in the morning.

Chip gestured toward the door. Im first on the rotation. I will come clean.

Linda smiled as she gathered up what she wanted to take home. Jamie might forgive you, given what happened, she replied.

Morton grimaced. Dont count on it. Come on, lets get out of here. Im starved.

* * * * * *

 

It was becoming a routine she didnt like, but Linda had no other choice but to keep coming to the Infirmary. Until Lees balance was better, they could not risk their second floor bedroom at home and the stairs up to it. Linda was sure her husband also understood far more than he wrote and/or thumbed up or down, but his continued inability to say words correctly in the right sequence to make a coherent sentence still had him stuck here. Lee had refused any other outside interaction, beyond his chosen caretakers, as long as he sounded that idiotic.

His lack of progress with the speech therapy was frustrating to him and everyone who cared for him. They all knew Lee wanted to be anywhere else but here. Linda squared her shoulders as she walked into the Infirmary room.

Her husband was sitting up in his raised bed, writing on a legal pad attached to a clipboard. Morton and Nelson had been sending over some of the work Lee was supposed to do for the refit. Nick Peattys yeoman would drop off the new work as soon as A-watch came on and pick up whatever work was completed at eight bells. She would bring whatever grant work there was for him to read and sign off on during her afternoon visit. Jamieson was convinced doing that work had to be part of his recovery.

Lee looked up at her entrance and smiled a genuine welcome. So far, so good. He did like having the work. His mood was much improved over what it was when Lee first started with the speech therapy.

Linda came over to the bed and leaned in to see what he was writing. The refit. She kissed him hello lightly on the cheek, then sat down in the chair next to the bed, content to let him finish.

They had found their way again, despite Lees inability to communicate verbally. His writing skill had improved dramatically from working on the refit, something Jamieson hadnt been able to reconcile with his continued lack of coherent speech. Linda hoped their stock of legal pads held out.

Lees aphasia defied categorization. Some treatments had worked; others that should have were spectacular failures. Once his head trauma had completely healed, Lee would do better, but that was at least another month away.

Lee finished writing and set the pen and clipboard aside. Then he opened his arms. Linda boosted herself up onto the bed, so he could hold her. Lee closed his arms around her, cradling her into his good shoulder. She leaned back and relaxed into his embrace. That always helped both of them. She had to remain patient. Jamie was positive Lee would talk coherently soon. The speech therapist would keep working with him until he did. They couldnt let the frustration get to them.

Linda was roused by the legal pad being placed in her lap. She opened her eyes to find a written note. It was simple and to the point. Talk to me. She sat up and Lee let her go. Linda moved off the bed, turned around and then boosted herself back up on the foot of the bed, so she faced him. What do you want to talk about? she said, handing him back the legal pad.

He wrote a short message and handed it back. You look tired.

Damn. She never could hide anything from him. Linda reached out and grasped his left hand. I was up too late finishing a grant. I got on a writing roll and lost track of the time, she admitted before handing the pad back. Its being typed in final form now. I promise Ill turn in early tonight to make up for it.

He wrote and flipped the pad around. You have to take better care of yourself.

Linda smiled. Someone wasnt home to chase me to bed.

He bowed his head, turned the pad back and began writing again. He finished and flipped the pad back. I should be there by now. I want to be.

She looked up at him and told him firmly, Youre not dead. This lets call it a minor setback. She flipped the pad back around to him.

Lee shook his head and smiled. He wrote and then turned the pad around to her. Optimist.

She grinned back at his sarcasm. You will talk right again. I love every stubborn bone in your body, even the broken ones.

He raised his head at that. Lee turned the pad to write and then flipped it back for her to read. Why do you stay with a klutz like me?

For better or worse, in sickness. . . she replied softly.

He gazed at her, then pulled the pad back and wrote another sentence, before turning it around. I love you.

Linda felt tears spring to the back of her eyes and she quickly dropped her head before he could see. She reached out to take his writing hand as well. She raised her head determinedly. We are going to get through this because I have plans for us.

Lee raised an eyebrow.

Ive been thinking a lot about what we talked about, that day on the beach before your accident. I had a meeting with Johnny and hes willing to let me work out whatever I need to do it. So, yes, lets see if we can have a baby while the sub is being refitted. Ill not let six months of you being home only be solely used for rehab! Linda let go of his right hand, so Lee could write his reply.

He stared at her a moment, then smiled. Lee picked up the pen, writing something very quickly, before flipping the pad. Boy or girl?

I dont care, Linda replied. As soon as you are cleared to try.

Lee reached out, picking up her right hand and gripping it hard. He squared his shoulders determinedly. Linda, he said correctly, very deliberately.

She let him pull her forward into his embrace, hugging him. Yes, Lee! Thats right! Youll be a father before you know it.

His arms went around her, returning the hug.

Oh! Jamiesons surprised voice came from the doorway. I didnt know I had approved making out as a therapy.

Linda sat up quickly, and turned around to say something equally rude back.

Jamie! Lees unexpected reply was tinged with a too long absent inflection.

The Doctor stopped, and stared at him for a long moment. Then a huge grin creased his face. Barb said you were close. The right stimulation was all you. . .

Lee scowled at him.

Linda bent over, laughing. She couldnt help it. She nudged Lee, so hed look at her and then waggled her eyebrows at him.

Joke! he declared as his scowl lifted into a big smile.

Will came over to the bed. You two are a pair, all right. Maybe excluding you from his speech therapy sessions wasnt my best idea.

Linda clutched her husbands hand tight. Lee knows what plans I have for him, Jamie.

* * * * * *

 

Lee is doing much better, but I cant help but feel were marking time. That hes not making the progress he should with what Im doing. Do any of you have other suggestions, based on what you have observed? Will Jamieson leaned back in his chair.

Linda and Harry and Chip exchanged glances. Nelson shifted in his chair, and Chip inclined his head toward the Admiral, indicating he should speak first.

Nelson shook his head.

Will leaned forward. Seriously, Harry. If youve noticed anything, I need to know what that is.

Its not a thing, Will! Nelson explained impatiently. Its a feeling.

Im listening.

The Admiral frowned. I think you are coddling Lee too much. You need to turn him loose. Let him do all he can for himself.

Including fall on his head? Will answered.

What is it with that, anyway? Chip asked. One minute Lees fine, the next minute someone has to catch him, or hes on the floor. Cant you issue him a padded helmet or something?

Hed never wear it, Linda said emphatically.

Not only that, hed throw it across the room, Will added. His balance issue will resolve itself with continued monitored practice. Lee is on schedule in that area. It should cease to be a problem in a few more weeks. What we need now is something for him to do thats not only a distraction from his therapy, but something that he can succeed at. To offset his frustration at what Lee feels is a snails pace recovery.

Well, we could up the ante on the refit. Chip looked over at Nelson. Give me back what youve been doing for him and Ill tell Nick to stop prepping what Lees been signing off on. Let him have everything back.

Is Lee up to that? Harry looked at Will.

It would certainly help keep him occupied between therapy sessions, Jamieson answered. We can always adjust it back, if it gets to be too much, but if I know Lee, he will make himself manage it. Anything else I should know about?

Hed do better with more privacy, Linda ventured. You can hear everything from the hall and the front desk where he is now, plus Lee has people in and out all day and into the night. We cant shut the door because of the balance problem, either.

Thats partly so the existing staff can keep an eye on him. He said something to you? Jamieson asked.

No. Lee never complains. Its not his way, Linda replied. He leaves to find a quieter place, except here he cant do that.

Chip sat up in his chair. If Lee cant get to e deck, can we bring e deck here?

Nelson brightened. That might work. Dont you have a private suite here, Will?

The one for substance abuse cases? Jamieson frowned. I dont think Alex has anyone in right now. Would Lee want to be moved back there, given what its used for?

If it will get him out of Grand Central Hallway, you have my vote, Linda answered.

Lee hates being in any hospital, Harry added. Could we do anything to make the suite more like his cabin on the sub? Bring in a desk or something?

We can give him back his stewards and a routine hes used to, Chip declared. That would help out Alex with staffing. You handle Lees therapy. Let me and the crew take over his participation in the refit.

Are you okay with being shanghaied into this? Will asked Linda.

She shrugged. More work will make Lee happier. The rest will come with time. I agree with Chip about a work routine. When hes home with me, he makes one.

Thats been my observation as well, which is what Ive been trying to achieve with his therapy, Jamieson admitted.

Chip grimaced. Theres your problem, Will. Its therapy!

Nelson snorted and Linda tried to hide her smirk behind a quickly raised hand.

Will allowed himself to smile. Touch, Commander. He looked at his three family members. You think this is the answer?

What day do you want in the pool? Harry asked. Ill buy it for you

Jamieson waved a dismissing hand. No, thats a clear conflict of interest. Youd better hope Lee never finds out there is a pool!

Whos going to tell him? Chip answered. Not me and anyone under me knows its dead if they do.

Will shook his head. The sub and the crew always has been the best therapy. Let me clear it with Alex before I turn you and the Forecastle loose in here. If he agrees, the seven of you can redecorate on Saturday. Ill ask Billy to help move Lee in on Sunday. If he settles in okay, we might, Jamieson raised a cautious hand, ask Cookie to come over and use the kitchen to make a special dinner for ten on Sunday night. Lets see how Lee is on Friday.

Lets go find whatever we have that can be moved over here on Saturday, Harry said to Chip, and then you can reschedule the Forecastle out of the refit and into this duty. They are done with Flying Sub, right?

Morton grinned. I was about to reassign them back to work on the sub. Ill give that task to Nick. Sparks is learning more about being an Acting Captain than he ever wanted to know, but I have to admit, hes good at it!

Will shook his head as they went out and then caught Linda watching him. You didnt have much to say about this, Mrs. Crane, he observed.

She smiled. The sub is their business. Dont worry! I have a request from the Admiral Im working on.

And that might be?

Linda smiled wider. If I accomplish it, youll be the second one I tell.

I have a task for you, too. Bring some jeans and shirts in for Lee tomorrow and hang them up in the closet. Lets get him out of hospital issue. The greens may be comfortable, but to Lees mind as long as hes wearing them, hes on sick list. You know what he will wear.

She got up. He is better. Getting Lee to actually talk to us is a whole other matter.

One day at a time, Jamieson cautioned. Thats the only way to get through this.

 

* * * * * *

 

Oh, good! Youre done. Nelson took the lunch tray table and swung it aside and down to the foot of the bed. Doc would kill me if I put you to work before you ate lunch, the Admiral stated with mock fear, even though Lee knew Harry was the last one who had to worry about anything Jamie would say.

Lee hitched up slightly higher in the bed. Something was going on, but it was obvious that none of his self-appointed caretakers were going to tell him what. They did come in every day with reports of what he was missing. Lee knew he should be grateful that they took that time. Crane forced himself to smile a greeting at his latest visitor. He had no one to blame but himself for being stuck here.

Harry began unrolling a blueprint out on his bed. Lee saw the outlines of the sub dive planes.

I cant get the new modification you wanted to make to work out in flow tests. There will be too much drag if we put them in that way given the limitations of our current hull. Here are the specs you gave me Nelson laid a printed sheet on the bed. And the results of the failed tests are here. He added another printout. I have a conference call with Morton to talk to Mare Island in half an hour about our schedule, so if youd take a look at this and write down some different specs, we could test again

Lee reached out to catch Nelsons sleeve before he could turn away. The Admiral stopped and met his gaze.

Lee concentrated very hard. Why? he managed to get out.

Harry grinned and gently swatted his good arm affectionately. Your design, son, he answered. Now hop to it. If you still want them installed this go-around. Then Nelson walked briskly out the door of his room.

Lee looked down at the papers lying on his legs. They really did mean well. He wished again that he felt better and more up to his therapy and the sub work they had been bringing over for him. Lee picked up the spec sheet and the test results. The design should have worked despite the set of the hull. What had he missed? He did have some time before Linda would be here with grant proposals. Lee picked up his pen off the side table and began calculating the design again.

 

* * * * * *

Harry leaned back in the rolling office chair and happily watched Lee make the final adjustments to what he had received today for his new desk. Crane would have everything he needed to do his job right where he wanted it when he finished. Lees left arm and hand were still weak from being in a cast for eight weeks, but Crane was using them more today than he had for a very long time. Left to themselves, Morton and the Forecastle would have put the supplies in a plain brown box on top of the desk for Lee to sort through and take what he wanted.

Linda had taken charge of that box and Riley. They had come back with everything wrapped in paper that matched the surfing poster Riley had contributed for the south wall. Lee had been overwhelmed by the pile they had made, but had happily opened everything, to their jibes and applause. Normally not one to be the center of attention, Crane had reveled in that today. Harry had no idea who the surfer in the poster was, but it did make the suite look much less like the hospital room that it was. Riley had hung it so at first glance; it looked like the guy was surfing down the wall. Nelson shook his head. They were a creative bunch. He had the patents to prove it.

Moving all the furniture and other things over here the day before had actually been fun. While he was quite aware that Morton and his special detail were adept in looking after Lee and that they considered it their duty to keep him both safe and happy, Nelson had rarely been invited along to actually see them in action. It had been a revelation.

Harry still wasnt quite sure what their combined efforts and ideas had converted the rehab suite into, but at least now there was a definite work area in the front part of the room with places for visitors to sit and a door that could be shut, thanks to the much more elaborate video monitoring system installed in here.

It was hardly quiet now, with everyone talking, but he knew Lee would enjoy having quarters with far less outside noise once they had all left. For a new digs christening, Harry would have to say this had gone well. As the recipient of all their largesse and planning, Lee was having a blast. Everyone else was happy and laughing and enjoying the celebration.

He would have to pull Doc aside later and have a quiet word. The Institute was lucky to have such a gifted healer looking after all of them.

Malone came in and gave him the high sign that dinner was ready to be served. Cookie had been very pleased to be asked to do this for his Skipper. He had no doubt brought over everything he needed to make Cranes favorite dishes. Nelson nodded and Malone left to go pick up the first course to serve.

Nelson pushed out of the chair and walked over to Lee. He brushed Cranes good arm to get Lees attention and then pointed at the double dining table the Forecastle had put together after all the supplies had been opened. They wont sit down until you do, so come on. Im hungry.

Lee turned and gave him the grin that had been his dominant feature since they had all piled in here earlier that afternoon to give him his office supplies. Aye. Sir, he replied, very deliberately.

Nelson was pleased Lee was trying to talk. They would get him well yet.

 

* * * * * *

 

Good morning, Skipper. Boots Malone walked past the bed where Crane was finishing off his breakfast. He hung the garment bag of khaki uniforms he was carrying in the closet, before unzipping it and putting the uniforms out in order to be worn. Crane could easily see what he was doing, so Boots kept working.

The Skipper noticed everything. He would see if Crane would comment on it or not. The point was to get him talking to everyone, not just the speech therapist. Hed let the Skipper take the lead. Boots took the folded sheet out of the bottom of the garment bag and put it up on the closet shelf for later. Squaring his shoulders, he came out of the closet and walked up behind the chair where Billy was sitting. Youre relieved, he told the Seaview med tech. Its my watch from here.

Billy got up. Ill take the tray out with me as soon as hes done. Hope you like the twenty-four hour news channel.

Malone shrugged. Thats his call. Cranes head swiveled at their exchange, but Boots took over the chair without comment, only half listening to the news while he waited for Billy to clear the room. To do what was wanted, he needed to be alone with Crane. That is, if the Skipper would cooperate.

As soon as the med tech had left, Crane turned in the bed and crooked a finger at him. Boots stood up and assumed his best at ease stance. Crane smiled, which he was not expecting. Malone bore the Skippers scrutiny silently.

Plot! Crane declared and settled back on his pillow.

Guilty, sir, Malone confirmed. Permission to carry on?

Crane raised an admonishing finger. Meeting? he asked.

Boots was surprised at Cranes sudden coherence, but did not show it. Crane hadnt talked much at the dinner last night, even though he had thoroughly enjoyed it and their company. Doc had told them all it was forming sentences that made sense and not the saying of the actual words that kept the Skipper from talking more than he did. Now they were alone, Crane seemed to know exactly what he wanted to say to him.

Meetings, sir. At least three that I am aware of.

Who?

Im not allowed to say. They said to let you figure it out.

Orders?

Only if you let me stay. Boots raised his head to look Crane in the eye. They told me you might kick me out. If you did, I was to go quietly. And to let them know immediately, he added slyly.

Cranes smile got wider and he lowered his interrogative hand. Watch. How long?

Until your therapy session. If youll have me.

Stay. Crane pointed to a stack of folders now neatly piled on the newly installed desk. Work.

Boots unzipped his jumpsuit pocket and pulled out his barber scissors in their case. Thats why Im here, sir. How about I even up that hack job surgery did and make every thing the same length, so it will grow out right? Maybe trim your beard? I dont suppose anyone has bothered to hand you a mirror?

Crane pointed toward the head and the smile became a grin.

That must have been a shock! Malone answered, with sympathy.

Lee waggled his hand back and forth, still smiling. Do it.

Boots walked over to the closet for his bed sheet drape. They werent pulling anything over on the Skipper, but at least he wasnt mad about his assignment. That would make it so much easier to help.

* * * * * *

 

Here, Ski, Morton extended a sheaf of papers to the sonar man as he came into the suite. Take these back to the boat and give them to Peatty. Youre relieved. I need to meet with the Captain until his therapy session. You can take anything he has done back with you as well.

Aye, sir. Kowalski vacated the chair he had been sitting in and stepped over to the desk so Crane could hand him whatever was ready.

Lee reached over and lifted the one folder from the out box and gave it to the seaman. He then smiled his thanks at his steward of the day. Kowalski grinned back and left.

Chip sat for a moment to take in the change. Lee still looked a little shorn with the cut Malone had to give him to get his hair all the same length again. The closely trimmed beard was a definite improvement, at least until Lees head injury healed to the point where shaving himself was allowed again. Morton liked best that Lee was actually wearing the work khakis he had told Boots to bring in and leave in the closet. That alone signaled Lee was on the mend. Technically, Crane had to be discharged before he could go back on light duty, but he was as close as they could get him.

Sign off on these and were ready to sail. Morton fanned the sheets out onto the desk, so Lee could read the progress for himself. I, for one, am ready to turn the heavy lifting over to someone else and take it easy, until she comes back from Mare Island.

Crane frowned and then picked up the first sheet to read and initial.

Chip relaxed in the chair, letting him work at his own pace. Finally Lee initialed the last sheet and pushed the papers back toward him. Crane then pulled the legal pad over in front of him and began writing.

Is that for the crew? Chip asked.

Lee nodded slightly and kept writing.

You could deliver it yourself, you know, Morton suggested.

No, Lee answered and kept on writing. Chip couldnt tell if his answer was short because of his speech or if it was because of what he had said. He tried again.

Im sure Jamieson would let you. Want me to ask him

No!

That one was definitely angry. Chip sat up. Maybe it was time to have their long delayed talk about this whole mess. At least back here, no one would hear them shouting.

Why not, Lee? Youre well enough to go to Mare Island with us. Ive seen you take command in far worse shape than you are now. Chip leaned forward, warming to his argument. Its a one day cruise to San Francisco for gods sake. Will can come, too, if he wont let you out of his sight. Billys been taking care of you from practically day one, he knows what to do. There is no reason why you cant

Crane slammed the desk with his right hand, startling Chip. He had been so busy making his case, he hadnt noticed Lee had stopped writing and was now giving him his command glare. It was good to see Crane hadnt lost it, but it was a bit disconcerting to have that directed at him, as it was so rarely.

Sir? Chip raised an eyebrow to see if Lee would stop glaring at him.

Crane raised his hand in a wait gesture and then tore the top sheet off the pad and folded it in half, before setting it aside. Then he began writing again.

I dont want an excuse, Morton interjected quickly. I want you to come with us.

Lees hand clenched around the pen, but he kept on writing.

Youd better be writing an order, then, because thats the only written thing Ill accept from you!

Crane stopped. Lee reached out with his left hand for the last sheet he had signed off on and pulled it back to where he could reach it. Crane wrote three words on it, initialed it and then pushed it back, his glare deepening.

Chip picked it up, knowing what was there. The three words were: You have command. No one would dispute those initials, either. He put the sheet back down on the desk. Aye, sir, Morton acknowledged formally. I have command. Chip knew he had to do that to get any further with Crane. At least tell me why, he demanded. I deserve that.

Lee tossed the pad with the partial explanation written on it across the desk.

Chip picked up the pad and began reading. The first few sentences made him stop.

Crane had written: This injury is my fault. I dont have the right to go. I cant give orders if I cant talk right.

I dont care that you cant talk right and neither do the men! Ill translate! Chip replied, looking up.

Lee shook his head and pointed at the pad, urging him to continue reading.

If I cant do the job, I dont deserve it back.

What job? Nick Peatty could take her up to Mare Island by himself, if it came to that!

Whats bugging you, Lee? Why are you refusing to go? Dont you want to?

Crane gestured for the pad back.

Talk to me! Chip demanded. I dont care if you get words wrong. Ill get the gist!

No! Crane replied and put his hand out for the pad.

Morton reluctantly gave it back and Lee started writing again.

What is this? Some kind of weird penance for getting hurt? Christ, youre 42 years old! A fourth year mid in top shape couldnt have avoided that wing tip. Were all glad Ski is still alive and while were not happy with what happened to you; you are getting better. No one blames you for what you did. You dont have to stay holed up in here like you committed a crime!

Quiet. Lee leveled that rank-pulling glare on him once again. Wait.

Aye, aye, sir. Chip knew his tone wasnt as respectful as it should be, but it did let Lee know he would comply. He sat in the chair and waited for his Captain to give him his promised answer.

Finally, Crane lifted the pen from the pad and pushed the pad over to where he could pick it up to read. It was shorter then Chip expected, for all that writing, but so Lee.

This is not about me. She needs to go to Mare Island. I dont. You have to get her done in time for the anniversary since I cant now. I do want her back, but now is not the time. Go. Take care of her. I will get better. Only then will I take her back. You have my word on both.

Chip sat up. The refit crew will not like leaving without you.

Lee leaned forward and tapped the paper with the order giving Morton command with his forefinger as his expression finally softened into something more pleasant.

Itll take longer than one day to get over that. Theyll be grumpy all the way back on the transport bus! Thanks a lot!

A sly smile was all he got in return. Deal, Lee said abruptly.

Morton snorted. Thats easy for you to say. You wont be there! Which is the whole problem! Chip threw up his hands in mock aggravation.

Lees smile grew into a grin. Captain, he declared, pointing at him.

Yeah, yeah, Chip grumbled, knowing he had lost this fight. Youre not off the hook, you know. Morton turned the pad to one side and tore the page with Lees note off. Im keeping this to make sure you take her back. He folded the paper neatly in fourths so it would fit into his front shirt pocket and then placed it there. Now can I read what you wrote to the crew?

Lee handed over the folded sheet, still smiling. Chip flipped the page open. Crane had praised the crew for all their hard work on the refit and was wishing them a safe cruise up the coast. If he closed his eyes, Chip could almost hear Lees voice on the sub intercom, saying those words to the men. Which he would have to do now. Chip pushed out of the chair. Youd better be better when I come back, he threatened.

Crane raised his right hand in a very old three fingered salute that predated their middie days.

Morton put the legal pad down on the desk and added his approvals and orders to the sheet with Lees message to the refit crew. Chip took a couple of safe steps away. If you think Will is going to give you a merit badge when this is all over, Id seriously rethink that! Ill be back on Wednesday. Minus one sub.

Crane reached for another folder in his in box, and then looked up. Dont. Hit. Anything, Lee managed to say, with much effort.

It was Chips turn to grin at that almost eight year old admonition and private joke. Lee was definitely on the mend. He drew himself up and gave his Captain a proper salute. Never. You can even check the paint when she comes back.

Crane laughed. He knew as well as Morton that Seaview was scheduled to come back with brand new paint. Lee pointed to the door with a trace of his former glower.

Chip took the hint and left.

* * * * * *

 

Linda pushed their long finished shared dinner tray further down the side of the bed to get out of the raised bed, so she could wheel it over by the door. Shed leave it outside in the hallway when she left. Linda came back to the bed and snuggled close to Lee again, leaning lightly against his good shoulder. The cast was off his left arm, but he still needed exercise to build it back up. Shed make sure the squeeze ball was beside Lees bed, so he wouldnt have to hunt it down.

Although, the Forecastle was doing a great job of making sure Lee was given everything he needed or didnt even know he wanted, until one of them brought it in for him. The suite was looking more like an office every day, except for the hospital bed.

Much as she didnt want to leave, Linda knew it was time. While most of the hospital rules did not apply to them, Linda knew it was a good idea to follow them some of the time. She smiled to herself and sat up again.

Lees right hand came up to rest on her left arm.

She turned to him. He looked half asleep, but that could be deceptive.

Stay, he said quietly.

Visiting hours ended five minutes ago, she reminded him.

Stay.

Linda leaned back. It was very hard to refuse him. She didnt go on all his cruises, so being alone in the house was not a new experience. With this years grant schedule, however, they had managed to spend more time together than they had been apart, until now. She saw Lee every day, but their shared bed was still empty when it was time to sleep. Next thing I know, youll be asking me to spend the night, she teased.

Sure, Lee replied.

She turned to look at him. His eyes were still at half mast, but Lee was trying really hard not to grin.

Let me get this straight. You want me to stay until the staff kicks me out?

Lee let the grin form and opened his eyes. Wont.

Uh, huh. Did you bribe someone?

Lee was getting more amused by the moment. Know Gene.

He wont be on until 11, she countered. What do I do until then?

Stay, Lee replied, deadpan and shifted slightly so he could close his arms around her in a hug. She stayed very still and let him embrace her, not wanting to hurt his newly healed arm with any sudden movements.

Youre amorous tonight, she observed, after he let go of her. They run out of saltpeter to give you?

Lee grimaced as he settled down on the pillow. Better.

You certainly are, she acknowledged, snuggling close. All right. I will stay until someone comes in here and kicks me out.

Good.

So what do we do about big brother filming up there? Linda pointed to the video camera in the far corner of the room that allowed the staff to continuously monitor whoever was in residence. Throw one of your plaid shirts over it?

No, Lee answered. Cant.

If you say so, love. You know that means were already busted.

Dont. Care. He tightened his right arm around her.

I dont, either, she answered. She looked up at him. Lee was in a very good mood and was actually talking back. Maybe she should ask him.

Chip told me you signed off on his leaving with the boat tomorrow, she ventured.

Yes, he answered.

Are you okay with that?

Yes.

Is that why youre asking me to stay tonight?

He looked over at her a moment, then shook his head. Miss. You.

She relaxed into him. I miss you, too.

His right hand began to lightly stroke her hair. For all his halting assurances, she knew it had to have cost him something to send Chip off. The refit schedule was too tight for him to have made any other choice. She wished Lee had been well enough to go, but it was better not to risk it, now he was making progress. Lee was only one fall away from re-injury. It had taken so long to get this far. He didnt need any more setbacks. This bed was wider than his bunk on Seaview and they had managed that one. Linda sat up again slowly.

Where are your scrubs? she asked.

He pointed toward the closet.

Be right back, Linda promised. If she was staying, she might as well get comfortable.

And leave in the morning with only half wrinkled clothes. She would find out how fast on the uptake Gene was, if he did come into the suite to check on Lee in the middle of the night. This was way better than an empty bed. Shed deal with Jamie in the morning if she had to, but somehow, she didnt think hed be that mad. Not when he found whose idea this had been.

 

* * * * * *

 

 

Hey, Doc. We thought youd be long gone by now. Stu Riley stopped short just inside the door.

Will turned away from the bed. I had some test results I wanted to go over with Lee, now his office hours are over. Arent you cutting visiting kind of close?

Riley looked at his watch. Oops.

Jamieson crossed his arms. Who else is back there?

Chip Morton came into the room. They are with me. Behind him, naturally, were Ski, Pat and Boots and what sounded like more in the hallway.

I could have sworn you told me when you left; that tonight was your poker night and you wouldnt be back here.

That was the plan, but when we all got together, we started talking about it and the more we talked, the more this seemed like a better plan, and well, wed like to have our game here tonight. If thats okay? Chip explained.

And if I wasnt here to ask, youd have barged in and set up anyway?

That was the plan, Stu admitted. He was about to say more when Chip glowered him into silence.

Jamieson had fight to keep his expression stern. Just because you outrank the staff here, doesnt give you the right to walk in and take over. He directed the admonishment at Morton, who had the grace to look down. Also, dont you think you should ask my patient if he wants you here? It is his suite, after all.

Jamieson turned to find Lee sitting up in the bed, quite amused. You inviting these bums in, or do I throw them out? Will asked.

They stay, Lee replied very deliberately and then, with a grin, put his thumb up.

Come on, everybody, were in! Riley pushed the open door back as far as it would go.

You sure you want this? Jamieson bent down close and lowered his voice as the sub crew crowded in and began putting together the folded up tables and chairs, while the card decks and chips were being brought in. In addition to the Forecastle, which Will knew were the regulars, Morton also had brought along Peatty and Miller from the wardroom.

Crane reached out with his newly healed left arm and lightly touched his lab coat sleeve. Dont worry. Fine.

Will had to smile. When you tell me youre fine, thats when I worry the most! he teased back.

Lee grinned, knowing he was being razzed. He swung his feet off the bed and got up, crossing over to the closet, where he pulled on a warm robe over the greens he had donned to sleep in and tied it shut.

Cranes walk was nearly normal again. The recent haircut by Boots almost had Lee looking as he was before his accident, except for the now neatly trimmed beard Lee had grown during his rehab.

Here, Skipper. Kowalski pulled out the chair between him and Morton.

Crane sat down and turned to the sonar man. Good cruise? he asked.

Piece of cake, Ski replied with a grin. Same tender as always.

It is the only one she fits into, Morton added, as the Exec tossed several twenties down in front of Crane. I hit the ATM for you on the way over. You can pay me back out of your winnings.

Crane took up the money and handed it to over to Peatty for chips. Nick counted the bills and passed back chips, which Lee began stacking in four neat piles.

Want to play, Doc? Malone invited. Theres room for that chair over here.

Will shook his head. Im not supposed to be here, remember, so I doubt our always prepared Exec hit the ATM for me.

Chip looked up from his card shuffling. Oops, he drawled.

Everyone around the tables, including Lee, laughed.

Ill sit here and finish my paper work and watch for a while, if you dont mind. When Im done, Ill go tell the night desk you are back here and leave a note for Gene to kick all of you out when he comes on at 11, if Lee hasnt won all the money by then.

Well take our chances, Patterson replied.

Card? Morton asked Crane.

Three, Lee answered decisively.

They were into a raucous fifth pot when Jamieson quietly hung up the chart with the night orders for Gene and walked to the door to slip out unnoticed. Lee was holding his own. He was actually enjoying cracking up the table with well-chosen one word answers and so far, two return insults.

Will turned at the door. Lee glanced up over his cards and winked. This was not planned, but the spontaneity and company of his crewmates would be great therapy. Jamieson walked down to the night desk, trying to figure out how to explain what else he was allowing to go on in the rehab suite. The Infirmary staff had become quite resilient in dealing with his most frequent patient, but this had to be a first.

* * * * * *

Linda walked into the Infirmary and smiled at Liz, who was on duty at the front reception desk. The nurse smiled back. She was expected. Talking was still quite difficult for Lee, but he was finally making progress. There were many words he couldnt say right, but he was speaking more with each passing day.

They had tried their best to make the suite look less institutional with wall posters and other furnishings, but it was still a hospital room. Linda walked over to the bed. Lee was stretched out on top of the covers, fully dressed in work khakis, but fast asleep. A very faint dent under the hair over his left ear was all that was left to remind her Lee still wasnt recovered; now the hard cast was off his left arm.

Almost without thinking, she raised her hand to brush the tousled dark hair back from his forehead. Lee stirred at her touch. She leaned down to kiss him lightly, as her hand continued to lightly stroke his short hair. After a moment, he returned her kiss sleepily and his eyes fluttered open.

Hi, he said in the deliberate way he had worked so hard for.

She kissed him again as a reward, straightening up.

He lifted his hand, extending it to her. Linda took it.

How was therapy today?

Good, he answered. Words coming easier. Lee closed his eyes again. Tiring. Fell asleep waiting.

Linda squeezed his hand gently. Im not late, no matter how impatient you may have been for me to get here.

I want to go home, Lee replied.

Did you tell the speech therapist that? She was surprised how coherent he was today after weeks of struggling. Linda pressed the call button. Maybe if Jamie heard him.

Liz poked her head in the door.

Is Will around? Linda asked quietly. I have a couple of questions for him.

Liz nodded. Ill tell him you are here.

Lee glanced up at her. No deviation from speech exercises allowed, he said, quite clearly and smiled. Lee knew he was saying the words correctly. Something had finally started working again.

At that moment, Jamieson walked in and crossed the room to stand beside her. I understand you had a quite a therapy session this morning, he said to Lee.

You could say that, Crane answered.

Jamieson raised an eyebrow. How much money did you win after I left and how long did the game continue?

Midnight. Gene said you wrote, no spending the night.

They were playing poker here? Linda turned to the Doctor. Let me guess. Chip and the Forecastles idea.

You dont have to talk a lot, Jamieson replied. They wanted him in this weeks game. I knew the byplay would be stimulating as would keeping track of the cards played. I watched for a few hands, enough to decide I didnt need to hang around. So I left them at it. Will smiled down at his patient. Lee has been responding better to unconventional therapy. Im not sure he thinks along normal lines.

Crane rolled his eyes. Straight is boring.

Like speech therapy.

Lee leaned back on the pillow. Necessary evil. Needed the jump start.

Now, Will turned to her. You wanted to ask me something?

Actually, Lee did.

He wont let me, Crane asserted.

Depends on what you want, Jamieson answered.

He told me he wants to go home. It was the first completely coherent long sentence Lee has said to me since hes been here.

Will laughed. It would be. If youll bring him back in until he no longer needs speech therapy, the staff and I will be more than happy to have you take Lee off our hands.

I can go home? Crane looked at the Doctor in disbelief.

All you had to do was ask. We decided that when you did, you were rehabilitated enough to release. Youre not ready yet to be reinstated to full duty, but I am very pleased with your progress.

Linda extended her hand. Come love; lets get out of here before Jamie changes his mind and refuses to sign your release papers.

Lee grinned as he sat up to take her hand. Then he pulled her over to him. I love you.

She buried her face into his shoulder, so they wouldnt see her tears. She blinked them back. Lee was almost back to them. She never should have doubted it.

* * * * * *

 

Chip Morton came striding into his Institute office, looking very determined. He had papers in his hand and Lee hoped it was not a major problem with the Mare Island work. While it was nice to be back in his Institute office, except for the remaining three times a week speech therapy sessions, working almost full days again made him tired by the end of the day.

Jamie had promised it would get less wearing as he adjusted back to a more normal work and sleep schedule. Lee was still found himself waking up at 4:00 A.M., even though he hadnt had morning labs for months. One day at a time.

Crane looked up, giving Morton his attention. What ever it was, not dealing with it was not going to fix it or make it go away.

Chip perused his desk, checking to see what was on it and then seemed to make up his mind. Cmon, bud, you and I are going for a ride.

Lee glanced at his watch. In the middle of the day?

Relax. Well be back for supper.

Wherere we going?

Mare Island, Chip announced, placing his handful of papers down on the desk. I told Boots to go in, dust off your jacket in the Flying Sub and get it ready to wear before I left to file our flight plan.

Jamie wont let me, Lee answered, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed by that reality.

Doc will let you. Chip rooted around in his papers and pulled out a pink sheet. Lee had seen enough of that form to know what it was. A medical release. I figured youd say that, so I already asked him. Morton extended the sheet. Thats his signature, isnt it?

Lee took it, if only to make sure Chip hadnt signed it himself. No, Jamie was letting him go. Now the question was; did he want to? He hadnt been any farther than Santa Barbara for almost five months.

I need you to talk marine engineer to those guys. This is your blueprint, not mine. Chip flipped the now very familiar dive plane redesign open on the desk.

It passed the flow tests? The re-design had been so on and off during his rehab, Lee had given up on them being installed when the blueprint had missed going up with the boat to Mare Island.

Yep, Chip confirmed. The Admiral said if I get the blueprint and you up there to give the brief today, the Yard will consent to shoehorn the installation in as the last major work they will undertake. So, are we going? Sir?

Lee shook his head and folded up the blueprint. I cant explain. Dont have the words. You go.

Morton put his hands behind his back, refusing to take it. Youre talking to me, bud.

Thats different, Lee insisted. You understand.

You know this design better than anyone. Besides, the Yard supervisor knows you had an accident. If your words end up a little scrambled, no big deal. I had to tell him. He was expecting you to show up with her. When you didnt, he knew you had to have been at deaths door or close to it

Crane scowled . You enjoyed that, he accused.

Chip looked upward. Who me? Look, Lee, to get this design installed right, you have to walk them through the blueprint. I cant. Im not that kind of engineer. You are. So either you go or it doesnt get done.

Lee didnt know what to say to that. He glanced down at the blueprint in his hand. He did know it intimately for having worked on it for so long during his rehab. The angle did have to be precisely right. They had plenty of failed flow tests to prove that. If Jamie and Chip thought he could do this, should he refuse? They apparently thought he was well enough to make the short flight to Mare Island.

Lee squared his shoulders and picked up the pink medical release form to take with him.

I have to tell Linda. Or have you talked to her, too?

Chip raised his hand. That one is all yours.

 

* * * * * *

 

I told you youd do okay. Chip Morton directed his attention to his friend and Captain slumped tiredly in the co-pilots chair of the Flying Sub, now they were airborne and on their way again, with the refit brief done.

Lee grinned at him. Didnt think I would.

You sound a whole lot better than you think you do, Chip retorted. Quit worrying about it. Ill bet you do even better.

Crane shook his head. Not that easy. Took me months to get here. Still dont get everything right all the time.

Only when its your blueprint! Chip teased.

Lee laughed. Felt good. Knew what I wanted to say and said it. It will make her better.

We know, Chip acknowledged. Touring Seaview to inspect the work already completed had been great. Crane had walked through his lady with a joy Morton had not seen since their last cruise. All that was left now was to reunite Seaview and the Flying Sub and her proper Captain next month for her tenth anniversary.

Why dont you fly her for a while, Chip offered.

Lee sat up. I cant.

Yes, you can. She trashed you, not the other way around, so there was no reason to have an outside investigation or yank your license. Dont tell me you dont want to.

Crane looked at his joystick and back at him and then back to the joystick. He frowned. Better not. Dont want to crash.

Morton made a rude noise. Dont give me that. You can fly her in your sleep! Tell you what, Ill shadow you for the first few minutes and be ready, if you feel you cant handle her or your left arm starts aching too much.

Put her on autopilot, then, Lee directed. Ill take over when Im ready.

Chip engaged the autopilot and then sat back to watch Lee do the prep to change control over to the copilots station. He knew what he was doing. After a few minutes of reading gauges and checking systems, Lee closed his hands around the joysticks. Give her to me, he said, quietly determined.

Morton leaned forward and flipped the switch to transfer control over to Lees joysticks. They continued to fly on their designated flight path into Santa Barbara. Crane slowly relaxed and a smile came to his features as he found the old comfort again. Chip was glad to see it. It didnt matter how long Lee flew her; only that he did.

After about ten minutes, Lee reached out and flipped her back on autopilot. You handle the approach. Your flight plan. Not mine.

Chip glanced at his watch. Theres time yet, which is good, because I wanted to ask you something.

Lee looked over at him. Ask me.

Morton took a deep breath. When were you going to tell me you and Linda are trying to have a baby?

From Cranes surprised look, Chip knew that was not what he had been expected to ask. Lee sighed and looked at him. Howd you find out?

Morton smiled. Maggie was doing an upgrade to Lindas computer. They didnt even know I was in next door. Linda was asking Maggie if she wanted to temporarily take charge, if Linda went on maternity leave, is all.

Tell anyone else?

No. I was waiting for you. Now you can talk again.

Crane rubbed a hand over his head. We dont know if we can yet.

But you are going to try.

Lee grinned suddenly. Yes.

Chip leaned back in the chair. Im not sure Im ready to be an uncle, you know.

Never been a father, Lee answered. Well learn how.

The console started beeping, signaling their final approach. Chip sat up to take the controls back. Keep me in the loop from now on.

I will, Lee promised. Cant tell anyone until we actually succeed.

You have my word, Chip promised. He flipped on his throat mic. Santa Barbara, this is FS-1 on approach to Gaviota Station. Do you read?

* * * * * *

Lee waved her into the office, even though he was now on the phone. He gestured that she take the visitor chair. Linda sat down and tried not to smile as her husband paced back and forth while talking. He was more his old self each day.

She would have normally left; since this refit conversation was nothing she was involved in, but Jamie had said be supportive and encourage him to do everything he could. Even when Lee thought he couldnt.

Lee was not happy with whoever was on the other end. After the first few terse sentences, she could tell something was not going to specification at Mare Island.

You can tell me anything youd tell my XO, Lee said, in a tone neither she nor any of the crew liked to hear from him.

So the call was for Chip. Maureen must have transferred it in here, as Morton had left at lunch time for a much deserved afternoon off.

I see, Lee interjected, after a long interval of listening to what had to be an explanation of what was going wrong. His scowl deepened, not boding well for the person on the other end of the phone line. Linda resisted her urge to tiptoe out, as that would be the smart thing to do. Lee rarely lost his temper, but all the signs that he was about to were there.

And what do you propose to do? Lee asked in a deadly quiet tone. He shifted the phone to his other ear. That not what we contracted for, Crane replied frostily, after another long period of explanation. He rolled his eyes at her suddenly and made a comic talking gesture with his free hand.

She smiled, encouraging him. She wouldnt have to tiptoe out. Lee was only acting mad and doing a really good job of it. The guy on the other end had to be petrified. He probably now wished he had gotten Morton to talk to instead.

If you cant do it to spec, dont do it. Well tell the Yard to give the job to another contractor. Was there anything else?

His tone would have made her cringe, if Lee hadnt let her know what he was up to. Crane listened intently for a few more minutes. You do it to spec. If that passes inspection, well consider discussing your unexpected overrun. Is that acceptable?

The reply for the other end was much shorter that time.

Fine. My Exec looks forward to hearing from you. Good bye.

Lee dropped the phone into the receiver. How does Chip put up with this! he groused.

Linda smiled. Its his job. You handled it.

Lee looked up at her in surprise. I did, didnt I? Now, lets get back to what I called you in here for in the first place.

Linda walked over and handed him the grant report he had requested, then tilted her head up to give him a light peck on the cheek. Welcome back, Captain, she said, softly, before going back to sit in the chair so they could have their meeting.

 

* * * * * *

 

Lee looked at the piano. She had already shooed him out of the kitchen. Maybe he could play a little music for her to wash dishes by. It would exercise his weak left arm and further test Jamies theory that conventional therapy didnt work for him. It was true that if he followed an impulse to do things he could always do, he was always more successful at actually doing it.

Crane sat down at the piano. His fingers found keys that felt comfortable and he began to play slowly. Looking at music and trying to read it would probably be too much for him to process, so Lee closed his eyes and let his fingers remember the piece for him. Linda always did like Chopin. His left arm moved easily up and down the keyboard without pain. The bones had knit.

He was almost through the piece when he felt Lindas fingers twine into his hair. Thats lovely. She kissed the top of his head. Dont stop.

Lees fingers still felt comfortable so he continued to play the piece until he reached the end of it, then he lifted his fingers off the keys.

Sense-memory? she asked quietly, stroking his hair very lightly.

He looked up at her. It goes better when I dont force myself.

Feel like playing anything else?

Lee spread his hands over the keyboard again and began to search for a melody with his right hand. His left hand stretched and began playing the matching chords.

She stood quietly behind him, listening until he was done. He turned on the bench. Thats enough for one night, love. If I push too much, Ill lose it.

Linda slid down on the bench next to him. You have more stamina than you think.

As long as I dont think about it, he replied. Sometimes I wake up in the morning afraid Ill be back at square one, not able to talk coherently. Then I see you sleeping there beside me and I know everything is all right.

She closed her arms around him. Every day you get better, not worse.

Lee let his head rest on her shoulder for a moment. Never would have made it without you and everyone else pushing me.

We love you. We know you wouldnt be happy being anything else but her Captain.

Cant wait to see her on Friday. He raised his head to gaze lovingly at her. Are you sure you want to ride all the way to San Francisco on that transport bus with my motley crew to bring her home for the tenth anniversary?

She hugged him tight. I wouldnt miss it.

He pulled back gently and leaned down to kiss her lightly. She returned his kiss with one of her own, a deep kiss of promise.

He pulled back slightly. What was that?

You figure it out, she replied, as she kissed him again.

He smiled crookedly. Upstairs or down?

Upstairs, of course. If we are starting our family, were doing it right.

He extended his hand. Lead me on.

 

* * * * * *

 

End of Part 5