I apologize ahead of time. The character of Wendy just appears in my works. As of this story I havenít properly introduced her. My intentions were to introduce Wendy as Chipís second youngest sister, on detached assignment for NCIS as a bodyguard for Serena, at the behest of Nelson. She eventually enters into a relationship with Lee. This is one of their stories.
I wasnít sure what woke me up but I lay in bed, listening to the surf breaking on the beach below the condo. I always loved the sound of the sea, especially at night. I rolled over on my side and felt around on the right-hand side of the bed. It was warm, but empty. I cracked an eye to get a better look. Sure enough, Lee was gone.
Where had that man gone to? I glance over at the clock. 3:24 a.m. Iím not sure in all the months Iíd been dating Lee Crane if heís ever slept though the night. Even when Chip used to drag him home on holidays, it wasnít uncommon to find him and my brother downstairs in the living room at some obnoxious hour of the morning, talking low about their plans for the future.
I sat up and reached over to the nightstand, fumbling for a hair clip. I pulled my waist length hair back into a pony tail and got out of bed. I knew where Lee was, I just wasnít sure if he wanted company or if I should just let him alone. We Mortons are a stubborn lot so I decided to go in search of him.
The house was quiet as I crept down the stairs, my bare feet making no sound on the carpet. There were no lights on. In the last four months I had learned the layout of his place and didnít need much light to navigate. I walked though the living room, then the kitchen. Through the back sliding glass door I could see Lee leaning against the banister of the patio, the only illumination being the light from the half moon. I crossed the distance and slipped though the partially opened door. I didnít try to be quiet. Sneaking up on a weary Lee Crane had its hazards. I saw the slight tilt to his head and knew he had heard me. I wrapped my arms around his waist and settled my chin on his shoulder. He turned his head slightly to look at me. He looked so pale in the moonlight, a trail of dark splotches running from his jaw line, down his neck, and disappearing down under his shirt. I donít know what had happened to him this last time out, but he had come back covered in bruises. When I questioned Chip about it, heíd gone all blank on me and refused to talk about. When it comes to being stubborn, Iím not sure who is worse, Lee or my brother.
"Did I wake you?" Lee asked quietly and turned his gaze back to the sea. Always the sea. The sea and the Seaview, they always called him back. Sometimes I felt like the other woman. Makes it hard for a girl to compete. Didnít mean I wasnít going to try. I lay my head against his back and gave him a little squeeze. He took my hands up in his, rubbing his thumbs over the backs of my fingers.
"No. I just noticed you were gone. Whatís wrong, Lee?"
" ĎBout what?"
He stood there for a long time, holding my hands, watching the surf roll in and out. With my ear pressed against his back, I could hear his heart beat, steady and strong, the pulse of his lifeís blood loud and clear. I heard the beat quicken then settle back down into a regular rhythm. I thought for a minute that he wasnít going to answer me. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Just wondering if itís worth it."
"Deep thoughts from someone who claims to be just a sub jockey," I said, hopping to lighten his mood. I got a slight smile and a low chuckle.
"I think I remember Chip saying the same thing."
"Great minds think alike. Talk to me, captain. Iím a really good listener." I kissed the side of his neck, hoping I could get him to open up about whatever was bothering him. This was the second night since Seaview got back from her last run, and whatever she had encountered out there had Lee walking the floors when he should have been resting. Whatever it was, he couldnít face it on his own and Lee had asked me to stay with him last night and tonight. He would eventually drift off to sleep holding me close. Thatís as far as it ever went. Despite what my erstwhile best friend, Serena, might think, Lee Crane was too much of a gentleman to ask for anything more right now. Maybe later, when he had his demons under control but for now, he just needed someone close. I had loved Lee Crane for a long time. I had waited this long. I could wait forever if need be.
He tugged on my arm slightly, pulling me around in front of him. I shifted position, leaning my back against his chest while he wrapped his arms around my waist and held me close. He kissed the top of my ear and then rested his chin on the top of my head. He thought that was cute, since he stood five inches taller then me. When he finally spoke, he sounded tired.
"All the crazy insane things we deal with. It seems every time we go out we meet up with some mutant creature, some egotistical scientist or some power hungry dictator. It seems no matter what we tackle and combat, thereís always something worse waiting around the corner. The admiral isnít getting any younger, neither am I and Chipís only a few months older than me. The threat isnít going away. Is anything we do now going to make a difference?"
"Of course it is! How can you think itís not? How many times have you saved the world from some global threat? How many times have you done that and we the public have never been told about it? I know a good 75% percent of what you deal with is classified and weíll never hear about it, except maybe on the cover of some random tabloid. Think about the good youíve done, the evil youíve stopped. Think about what would still be loose in this world if you hadnít been there to put an end to it."
"But donít you see, it never stops. I feel like Iím fighting a losing battle. There always seems to be something even worse waiting around the corner. What happens the day I canít stop it? Am I going to be there the day an assassin finally takes out the admiral? What happens to the Institute? I know he expects me to take over his work when heís gone, but can I? Iím not a scientist. Iím not the admiral."
Was this what drove Lee to wander the house at all hours of the night? Chip had told me about his habit to tour the boat when he was troubled. Was this what haunted his thoughts and dreams? "Lee, youíre borrowing trouble. First off, since when is thirty-four old? I doubt Chip would appreciate being called old. Heíd probably kick your tail end out to sea."
I felt the laughter bubble up as Lee considered that mental image. "He can try," he said.
"Thatís better. Secondly, the admiral is a tough, clever old buzzard. Heís got a good many years left on this earth. Beside, if you havenít forgotten heís recently acquired a daughter. Serenaís not going to just stand by and let something happen to her father."
"But she doesnít understand the security risks."
"Give her time. She will. Lee, nobody expects you to be anyone other than yourself. When the time comes, and that time is far off, everything will fall into place. Trust me. Chip will be there to help."
I felt Lee stiffen as if he had just thought of something unpleasant. I knew he and Chip were close, as close as brothers. Chip thought the world of Lee. They were as close as Serena and me, maybe closer. I had seen my brother obsess over losing Crane.
"And what if heís not?" came the low question, the words spoken in my right ear. I turned slightly to look into Leeís dark eyes. In the pale moonlight I could see the pain and the fear of what Lee Crane faced. It was the fear of losing what he fought so hard to protect, his friends and his family. What could I say to him that would bring him out of this dark mood he had fallen in?
"Sweetie, Chipís not going down without a fight. Like the admiral, like you, heíll go out kicking and screaming and if he goes, heíll take someone with him. Youíre fighters, all three of you. You defend and protect. You canít do anything less, itís something genetic, I think."
"Defend and protect. I like the sound of that." Lee nestled his head in the crook of my shoulder. I could smell the ocean and salt and Leeís aftershave. I leaned back and closed my eyes, savoring the moment.
"Iím surprised you put up with me when Iím like this. I donít mean to bring you down with my troubles."
"You're no trouble. Youíre not going to run me off so easily. I plan on hanging around." I turned my head and kissed the tip of his nose.
"To be defended and protected?" he teased back, kissing the tip of my nose.
"You bet." I replied. I had one more thing to ask, and I knew I wouldnít get an answer. I tried anyway.
"Are you going to tell me about how you got the bruises?"
"Maybe someday," he said. Slowly he rocked back and forth, holding me tight. Whatever demons had chased him this night were gone for the moment. Lee wasnít the only one who defended and protected.