A stand-alone story that take place following the events of “Blow Up.”
Harry, when you make a mess of things, you make a mess of things.
Harriman Nelson stood at the base of the drive that led up to Chip Morton's condo. The place looked over a stretch of privately owned beach, maintained by the Institute. It was a refuge for the officers and staff that lived on base, providing a calming place to let go of their stress and worries. Lee and Chip could often be found jogging up and down the stretch. Harry himself would join them from time to time when his schedule permitted it.
The auburn-haired admiral took a long deep breath and let it out slowly. It was barely a week ago that Seaview had made port, barely a week since Nelson had spoken those hate-filled, paranoia-laced words to Chip Morton in the Control Room. .
I never trusted you.
Never knew what you were thinking.
Going to break you.
Those words had been a hammer, driving a wedge between him and the younger man until Chip was avoiding Nelson like the plague. Preoccupied with the day-to-day running of the Institute, Nelson hadn't realized Chip was withdrawing until Will had cornered him and read him the riot act over the fact that Chip looked like the walking dead. If Nelson didn't get to the bottom of this soon, it might be too late to repair the damage his words had caused.
Harry gathered his courage, courage that had seen him through invasions of alien races, murderous mutant life forms and those bent on world domination. One step in front of the other, up the walk and around the corner to the back redwood deck. The deck was empty.
He walked to the edge of the deck and leaned against the railing. He looked out over the blue sea and the white surf as it broke against the beach. Footprints led down to the water’s edge. Harry let his eyes follow the course of the beach, and caught a glimpse the setting sun glinting off wheat blond hair.
The broad shouldered figure of Seaview's first officer was sitting with his back against a sand dune, his head just barely visible from the edge of the deck. Harry made his way down the steps onto the sand and made the long walk down to where Chip sat.
The young officer seemed lost in his thoughts. He never noticed Harry until Nelson walked up next to him then sank down onto the sand by Chip's side.
“Admiral? Something wrong?” Chip asked, clearly surprised and gathering himself to stand. Nelson reached over and laid a hand on Morton's arm, pulling him back down.
“Have a seat, Chip. Drop the protocol for a moment. You and I need to have a talk.”
Those blue eyes that Harry had seen blaze with fury were cool and guarded as Chip avoided Nelson's gaze. “About what sir? Everything alright with Seaview?”
“With Seaview, yes. Between you and I, no.”
“I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, sir,” Chip replied carefully.
Nelson felt like he was dealing with a sixteen year old who had been caught in the high school bathroom holding a cigarette. I was just holding it, I swear I wasn't smoking…Nelson wanted to reach over and grab Chip by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. Instead, Nelson kept his cool. Irrational behavior was what had gotten them into this bloody mess to start with. “I think you do, Chip. I'm sorry, if it's worth anything. I wasn't in control of what I was saying, I thought that you knew that.”
Chip stared out into the sea, never blinking, all the emotion drained from his face. Nelson stared at the young man's profile, noticing the hollows behind his cheeks, the dark circles under his eyes. Yes, this was getting out of hand. Time for damage control, if it wasn't too late.
“I understand that, sir. What I don't understand is why.”
Nelson blinked. “Why?”
“Yes sir, why. Why did you say you didn't trust me? Why to me, why in the Control Room? Do you hate me so much that you want everyone to know?”
Will had been right. This was eating at Chip more than anyone had thought. “No, Chip, I don't hate you. I've never hated you. I trust you more than I trust myself sometimes. Chip, lad, I don't know why I picked on you then, I don't know why I chose the Control Room to confront you. That wasn't me. I want you to believe me. This issue between us, this trust issue, you have to understand, there is no issue. I trust you. I always have. I trust no one more than you and Lee.”
Chip didn't say anything for a long time and Harry found himself wondering what was going on in that blond head. It was this ability Chip had to hide his emotions and make snap decisions, decisions unfettered by those same emotions that made Chip such a valuable XO. But it also made Commander Morton a hard man to get to know.
“You called me out, repeatedly in the Control Room. I felt like you were determined to make me look like an idiot. You just kept at it, baiting me, like you weren't gonna be happy till I took a swing at you or something. I defended you when it was suggested we lock you up for your own good. I still believed in you, even if you didn't trust me.”
Harry didn't know what to say. Chip was right. He remembered the ugly confrontations, even as he tried to forget them. He hadn't exactly told Chip the truth about not knowing why he had chosen Chip Morton as a target for his aggression. Nelson remembered thinking that he never understood Morton. Lee, well, Lee Crane was someone he understood. Lee's emotions danced across the surface. It wasn't hard to read Crane, to know what he was thinking. Not so with Morton. Harry remembered thinking why couldn't Chip be more like Lee? So he had set out to provoke a reaction out of the Exec. He wasn't sure he could admit something like that to Chip, even though he deserved to hear the truth.
Chip continued. “I don't know what I did or what I said that made you turn you on me like that. Lee couldn't explain it. I didn't understand it. I still don't understand it. You've told me over and over again that you never wanted anyone else for Seaview's exec, and yet you stand up in the middle of the Control Room with the entire day watch looking on and tell me you've never really trusted me. Those were your words. ‘I never really trusted you.’ I lie awake at night and those words echo in my head. Do you know how that feels? To have someone you look up to call you out in front of everyone?”
Chip stood, jamming his hands into his back pockets. Without looking back, he started walking toward the waterline. Harry stood back and gave the younger man some room. He watched as Chip stopped just above the tidal line. Morton at first stared out over the sea then dropped his head to his chest. Harry felt like a heel. He walked forward till once more he stood by Chip's side.
Chip pulled his hands out of his back pockets and let them drop loosely to his sides. Long fingers balled into tight fists, clenching and unclenching, the only indication he was thinking. “Even after Doc explained what happened, you acted like nothing had happened.”
Harry racked a hand through his hair. “Lad, you have to believe me, I didn't mean what I said. I know this can't be fixed overnight. I would never try to break you, despite what I might have said. I came up here hoping we can at least come to an understanding about your abilities. Abilities I need, that Lee needs, that we both rely on and trust. Can we at least start there?”
Chip reached down and picked up a small shell out of the sand. He turned the small object around in his hands. “Yes sir, I think we can make a small start. I need to know you trust my abilities and judgment.”
“And I do. If I haven't said it enough already, let me tell you again. I have never wanted anyone else for Seaview's exec. Let me say something else. You and Lee are the closest thing I have to a family. I don't have any sons to pass the Nelson name on to. Look at me. I'm a confirmed bachelor, looking at the downhill side of fifty. Little late in life for me to start a family, don't you think?” Nelson asked with a half twisted grin.
Chip ducked his head to hide his own slow smile. “You can always adopt. I hear it's all the rage among celebrities these days.”
“No thank you. I already have two 'sons' that drive me to drink.”
“Two sons, huh?” Chip finally said, and turned to finally look into Nelson's own sapphire blue eyes.
“Sometimes I feel like I'm running a nursery.” Nelson replied sourly and both men chuckled.
“Can I borrow the keys to the Flying Sub, 'Dad'? Gotta hot date tonight,” Morton chuckled. Harry reached up and gave Morton's shoulder a squeeze and a gentle shove toward the house. Chip continued to chuckle and as infectious as it was, Nelson couldn't help but play along.
“Have it back in the garage by midnight. If you scratch the paint, you can explain it to your brother.”