The Substitute

By R. L. Keller


Chip took the proffered folder and scanned the information. "Impressive resume, Admiral. Lt. Commander, USN, Fellow of the American College of surgeons, specializing in Emergency medicine." He raised his eyebrows. "Black belt in Tae Kwan Do?"

Nelson laughed. "Will the crew have a problem, do you think?"

"No, Sir. At least, I won’t allow it to be one." He hesitated just a moment, continuing to read. "It’s Lee I’m worried about. He’s NOT going to like this."

"It will only be for this one cruise, Chip, while Dr. Jameson is doing that Continuing Education course. The regular corpsmen are on duty. It was Jamie, in fact, who suggested Lt. Commander West to take his place. He knows the Doctor well. They’ve worked together when Jamie’s taken training sessions in San Diego. Lee can hardly argue with that kind of recommendation. Besides, as long as he stays out of Sick Bay it won’t be an issue."

"Yeah, right," Chip muttered. "And when was the last time Lee managed that for 4 weeks straight?" Chip suddenly realized what he had said, and to whom, and looked at the Admiral, embarrassment written all over his face. But Nelson was laughing heartily, and clapped his XO on the shoulder.

"Well, then, we’ll just have to be extra vigilant and see if we can’t keep him out of the Lt. Commander’s clutches." Realizing how he’d phrased that last sentence, he laughed all that much harder.

Chip was by now laughing as well, but just shook his head and headed for Seaview with the folder, documenting the credentials of one Lt. Commander West, M.D. – Lt. Commander Melissa West!

* * * *

Nelson stood chuckling to himself the following morning, waiting in his office for Dr. West. He’d asked her to report to him first and he’d walk down to the boat with her. It wasn’t that Lee disliked women. Just the opposite. He liked them rather well. But the Admiral knew that Lee was old-fashioned enough that he still resisted having women serve aboard a submarine, even a semi-civilian research vessel like Seaview. And decidedly old-fashioned enough that he would hate being treated by one, should the need arise. Unfortunately Chip was right – the chances of Lee staying out of Sick Bay for 4 weeks straight were astronomical. Nelson’s laugh turned somewhat introspective before being interrupted by a knock on his open office door. Turning, he greeted the newcomer.

"Commander West, welcome to the Institute. And thank you for agreeing to come." Still thinking of Lee, Nelson knew under different circumstances his Captain would definitely approve. At 5’7", mid 30’s, slender build, short dark brown hair, Dr. West was an extremely attractive woman.

"Definitely my pleasure, Admiral," she responded warmly. "I’ve been wanting to see Seaview since I first heard about her. That’s one of the reasons it’s been so interesting working with Dr. Jamison. But I was completely blown away when he recommended me as his substitute. I never even imagined I’d actually be able to serve on her."

"One of the perks of being the boat owner – I get the final say on who’s aboard." Nelson smirked. "Hopefully it will be a quiet cruise, we won’t work you too hard, and you’ll have time to enjoy the view." Again realizing how that last came out he chuckled, then tried very hard to get himself back under control. "Did you have any questions after reading the briefing packet?"

"No, Sir. Dr. Jamison went over everything carefully." Nelson thought he heard her emphasize the word ‘everything’ and was slightly puzzled, but continued amiably.

"In that case I guess we’d better get going. The XO, Lt. Commander Chip Morton, is expecting you. He’ll get you squared away. Any problems you happen to run into, co-ordinate directly with him."

"Aye, Sir." This time Nelson was sure there was a certain smugness in her tone and he stopped to look at her. She smiled easily and so did Nelson.

"Why do I get the impression Jamie did more than just go over the basics with you?" and Nelson’s smile broadened. So did hers.

"He just wanted to make it very clear what I could expect once on board, Admiral."

Nelson now knew exactly where this was headed. "Chip assures me the crew won’t be a problem for you."

"Nor would I allow it, Admiral," she grinned. "I grew up being good-naturedly harassed by 5 brothers, and I’ve had to stand my ground ever since entering the military." She paused and her smile was brilliant. "Jamie made sure I was well-warned concerning a specific member of the crew, and as soon as it became known I’d been assigned to this cruise I’ve had any number of messages from, I suspect, every nurse on the base who’s ever either treated or dated him. Captain Crane will not be a problem." Still laughing heartily, the two completed their trip to the dock.

* * * *

Seaview’s Captain, Lee Crane, was standing at the chart table in the Control Room coordinating departure details when Chip walked up. The XO had been getting crew checked in, as well as other odds and ends, and came now to report. He’d purposely avoided mentioning the changes in the duty roster up until now, but since everyone was on board or checked in and working topside, with the exception of Admiral Nelson and the temporary CMO, he couldn’t put it off any longer. He walked up and laid his clipboard on the chart table.

"Everything in order?" Lee asked somewhat distractedly, working on a chart.

"Should be ready to leave in about half an hour. Everyone’s checked in except the Admiral, and he’s on his way…" Chip hesitated ever so lightly, "with the temporary CMO." As Lee looked up, Chip grinned softly. "Jamie’s taking a course in Los Angeles the next three weeks. Before leaving he recommended Lt. Comm. West to take his place on this cruise and the Admiral approved the change. Didn’t find out about it myself until yesterday."

Lee just nodded and went back to his chart. "If Jamie recommended him, he must be OK."

Chip had what was acknowledged by the entire crew to be the best poker face on the boat, but even he was having a difficult time controlling his expressions. "Ah, Lee. There’s something you should know about Dr. West…" but before he could get any further Admiral Nelson came down the spiral stairs, followed by who must be Dr. West. Even dressed in the Navy’s Khaki slacks uniform she was a looker.

"Good morning, Lee, Chip," Nelson said cheerfully. Chip acknowledged the greeting but still kept a watchful eye on Lee’s face as the Captain turned…and stopped dead! Chip’s worst fears were realized when Lee’s smile, which had started at hearing Nelson’s voice, was immediately masked as he spotted the Doctor. Nelson made introductions, and while Lee kept his reception of the Doctor polite, Chip could see his expressions were hooded – not a good sign.

The Admiral noticed it as well, and tried hard to counsel his own face. "Chip, I believe Dr. West’s gear has been stowed in Dr. Jamison’s cabin?" he went on carefully.

"Yes, Sir. Jamie OK’d it, as his cabin is closer to Sick Bay than any of the guest cabins."

"Would you see that she’s settled, and shown where things are at?"

"My pleasure. Doctor?" and motioned her toward the aft hatch out of the Control Room.

Once they left Nelson turned back to Lee. He knew he should take the Captain aside for a private talk, but not only wasn’t he sure of what to say, he was fairly sure he’d never get through it with a straight face. Instead he spent several minutes going over cruise details. As the two settled into what was after these past few years an old, comfortable routine, Nelson saw Lee’s guarded expressions soften and his short, clipped speech pattern relax. Afraid that anything he said at this point concerning the crew change would just bring back the dark mood, Nelson eventually left the Control Room and allowed Lee to get the boat underway.

* * * *

The cruise was to be a quiet one. The Institute had over the years put a variety of sensing devices literally all around the world, mostly on the ocean floor but also at different levels on undersea mountainsides and, where they could, on uninhabited islands and atolls. These devices measured in any number of different ways the health of the oceans. They were fairly self-sufficient but did need occasional maintenance. Seaview tried to check any that fell within other cruise parameters, but once in awhile they simply scheduled trips specifically to check certain sectors. This trip would take Seaview nearly a month and cover a good portion of the southern Pacific Ocean. Nelson, in conjunction with several technicians at the Institute, had made improvements to the design of one of the devices, and Seaview would be picking up each old one and bringing it aboard for Nelson to upgrade.

Nelson kept eyes and ears open during the first week and he knew Chip was doing the same, but all was quiet. Several times he invited Dr. West to join him in the Observation Nose. Each time Lee was polite but always seemed to have something to keep him busy elsewhere. Chip reported that the majority of the crew was perfectly happy with the temporary CMO. The two corpsmen found her very knowledgeable, easy to work with, and she put the few crewmen she’d so far had to treat quickly at ease. Nelson also ran into her frequently in the Wardroom where she visited comfortably with him, Chip and the other junior officers. Lee had been conspicuously absent for the most part, although that in itself was not unusual. Lee frequently chose to eat at other than normal mealtimes, either staying in the Control Room and eating later, or eating in his cabin. The few times he and Nelson had been together at a meal Lee had sat quietly at the far end of the room, his nose glued to an endless stream of reports. Each time Nelson had sat with him, and he and Lee had visited amiably but quietly. Toward the end of the week, however, Nelson saw him smiling to himself as Dr. West tormented Chip one evening at dinner, giving the XO as bad a time as Chip usually gave everyone else, and Nelson started to relax as well. Lee was so frequently the brunt of Chip’s good-natured badgering, it was good to see him enjoying his XO’s discomfort.

* * * *

By the beginning of the second week the real work began. On the average, every other day a site would be reached and a diving party dispatched to check and service the equipment. The units being upgraded were brought aboard, fixed, and re-deployed. Nelson suspected he knew part of the reason why Lee’s spirits were rising. Second only to the Captain’s devotion to Seaview was his love of diving, and he’d assigned himself to a majority of the dives.

The first 3 sites were serviced and they’d reached the 4th before running into any problems. Nelson was in his lab working when he heard the missile room call for a corpsman. Knowing Lee was out on the dive, Nelson headed aft. Once there, however, the only thing he learned was that Lee had indeed been injured slightly and had already gone to Sick Bay with the corpsman. Nelson’s worst fears were realized as he hit the Sick Bay door, and he hurried over to the exam table where Lee was sitting. The waters in this area were warm and the sites not all that deep, so Lee had chosen to forego a wetsuit and just wear his swim trunks. At any other time the expression on his face would have been laughable as Dr. West examined a gash starting just above his left knee and extending up almost 6 inches. But Nelson knew that the return of the dark, hooded, deadly quiet glare boded trouble. Apparently the two corpsmen had decided the same thing, as neither was anywhere in sight.

"Lee, what happened?" Nelson asked, but before Lee could answer, Dr. West interrupted.

"Captain, this is going to need stitches. Why don’t you just lie back a few minutes? It won’t take long," and she walked over to one of the cabinets. Lee didn’t move so Nelson put a hand on his shoulder.

"Down, Lee," he said quietly, smiling, and while the younger man grudgingly complied, the expression on his face never changed. Nelson just shook his head slowly and repeated the question. Lee finally seemed to hear him.

"While Richardson took care of the other units," Lee started wearily, his eyes never leaving what Dr. West was doing, "I started to dismantle the sensor to bring it in for upgrading. This one was mounted on a section of coral. Shouldn’t have been a problem. That section was old and shouldn’t have overgrown the mounting bolts."

"I gather someone forgot to tell the coral," Dr. West interjected with a smile, returning with a tray full of supplies. Nelson smiled back but watched Lee just continue to glare. "Captain, I’m going to numb this with a spray, and you’ll feel a momentary sting." She used a small pump spray to apply a liquid to the gash. Nelson felt Lee stiffen under the hand he’d left on the younger man’s shoulder, but Lee said nothing. Lee had put one arm under his head so he could keep watching, and as Dr. West started to stitch the wound, finally continued with his answer.

"I couldn’t get the last bolt undone, and was tugging on it pretty good when the wrench slipped. It knocked the cap off, and when water hit the inside the whole thing blew apart. I guess the edge of the cap came back and caused this. Sorry, Sir," and he finally looked up at Nelson. "I’m afraid there’s no way to fix it. I fried it big time."

"Don’t worry about it. We’ve got extras aboard. I’m just glad you’re ok. But I’m afraid it’s going to stop your diving for awhile."

"Why?" Dr. West questioned, looking up from her handiwork.

Nelson was puzzled that she would challenge the statement, and his voice echoed that thought. "Lee can’t swim with stitches, we all know that. A regular wet suit won’t keep the area dry, and a dry suit is too cumbersome to work in unless absolutely necessary." He watched as Dr. West just shook her head and went back to stitching.

"Captain, before you make your next dive, stop by the galley and grab 4-5 feet of plastic food wrap. Put it around your leg over the wound and seal the top, bottom and outer edge with waterproof tape. The tape will hurt a bit when you pull it off, but the wrap will keep water out of the wound."

During the instructions Lee had raised himself up on his elbows. "No restrictions?" and Nelson heard the incredulity in his voice.

"For this? Of course not." She cut the extra off the last stitch and peeled off the latex gloves she’d been wearing. "I don’t have to tell you that’s going to hurt once the anesthetic wears off. It’s not deep and should heal quickly. The next 24 hours will be the worst. If it hurts too bad, yell and I’ll zap it with the spray again." She stood quietly, as if waiting for the two men to leave, so they did.

Nelson silently applauded Dr. West’s handling of the situation. Lee’s expression as he headed to his cabin to change was still somewhat guarded, but not nearly as dark as it had been. Nelson just shook his head and headed back to the lab, having a new sensor to prepare.

* * * *

Over the next week Seaview and her crew settled back into their routine. Lee continued to go out on the majority of the dives and had also, Nelson was happy to note, shown up more frequently in the Wardroom. He was still quiet but definitely more relaxed. Chip mentioned to Nelson that Lee had taken a fair amount of ribbing his first dive after the incident. Though it wasn’t said, the Admiral suspected a good bit of it had come from the XO himself. But Chief Sharkey had told him that Lee had taken it all good-naturedly and it was all quickly forgotten as everyone got back into the routine. Chip also had been going out on a number of dives and Nelson, knowing his young officers well, had a feeling Lee would have gotten his revenge on his fun-loving XO.

Standing in the Missile Room watching Chip and Seaman Henderson prepare to go out and replace the sensor Lee and Kowalski had brought in just over an hour ago, Lee himself had to finally admit – but only to himself – what an idiot he’d been. He still wasn’t overly pleased Dr. West was aboard, but all the reports he’d so far received testified to the fact she was doing an excellent job. Ruefully Lee admitted one of the main reasons he had relented was the handling of his own injury. Lee knew he’d be a bear to deal with right now if the accident, decidedly his own fault, had restricted his diving. Yet he had gone to Sick Bay expecting just such a verdict. Boy, did Jamie have a surprise coming the next time he tried to cancel Lee’s fun because of a few stitches!

He gave Chip a grin as the XO and Henderson entered the escape hatch. Apparently sensing Lee was having second thoughts about the substitute CMO, Chip had been unmerciful in his teasing, something he’d dare not have tried if Lee hadn’t backed down. Chip could be a tyrant but he wasn’t stupid.

The two divers would be out about 20 minutes. Lee started to head for the Control Room but got sidetracked talking to Chief Sharkey. Going over routine maintenance reports, a part of him was still listening to the speaker monitoring the dive. Everything was normal until the two divers started back. Suddenly he heard Chip’s voice, irritated, say "Henderson, where are you going?"

"Just down the stern deck, Sir. Looks like we’ve got plant life stuck on a couple hand holds." All was quiet for a bit, then Henderson shouted "Shark!" and there was no mistaking the panic in his voice. Everyone in the Missile Room immediately stopped what they were doing, and the back-up divers started quickly gearing up.

"Henderson," came Chip’s voice, calm but a bit exasperated, "relax. It’s just…" and the sentence ended in what sounded like a gargle. Lee and Sharkey had the two back-up divers in the escape hatch inside 30 seconds, during which the only sounds over the speaker were garbled and unintelligible. But the outside hatch had barely opened when there were the unmistakable sounds of divers re-entering, and the outside hatch was closed. With still no indication of what was going on, all Lee could do was wait until the water was pumped out and quickly open the door.

From deep concern, Lee quickly had to switch gears as he caught the expressions on the four divers’ faces. Hacking and coughing, Chip still looked ready to have ‘seaman’ for lunch. Henderson was totally chagrined, and the other two were a toss-up of trying not to laugh and getting out of the XO’s line of fire as fast as possible. As Sharkey took Henderson aside Lee grabbed Chip, sat him down, and started unbuckling the diving gear. "What happened out there?" he asked firmly. Chip was still trying to catch his breath between coughing spells, and Lee turned to Henderson.

"Guess I got a little excited, Sir," the young seaman answered sheepishly.

"You guess?" Chip snarled before another cough cut him off. Lee laid a hand firmly on Chip’s shoulder, bent him forward, and used his other hand to thump Chip gently but firmly on his back, then returned his gaze to Henderson.

"I had gone down toward the stern to remove some plants from the handholds…" the seaman started.

"We got that part over the speaker," Lee interrupted.

"Yes, Sir. Well, I turned back and there’s this shark practically starring me in the face."

"It was a half-grown nurse shark," Chip snapped, still bent over, and tried to sit up. But Lee kept a firm pressure on his friend’s back, and a firm grip on his own emotions. Nurse sharks, while you still had to be careful around them, were normally quite docile. They rarely bothered divers and, if they did come around, normally just checked you out and swam off again.

"Go on," Lee ordered sternly. It was the only way he could keep a straight face.

"Anyway," Henderson continued apologetically, "I just froze, and when Mr. Morton came up and touched me I guess I panicked, thinking it was another shark. I guess I knocked Mr. Morton’s mask and mouthpiece out, ‘cause when I finally realized it was just him…"

"You like to have taken my head off." Chip was still angry, and Lee decided he’d better do something fast or Henderson would be the one minus his head.

"Henderson, consider yourself confined to quarters until," and he glanced at his watch, "reporting to my cabin at 1630 hours. Dismissed," and barely suppressed a grin as the young seaman acknowledged the order and scurried out. Lee knew that during the intervening hour before the scheduled meeting Henderson would think long and hard about what had happened, and have a chance to stew over what the Captain was going to do to him for practically drowning the Exec. Lee, on the other hand, knew exactly how he was going to handle the situation. However, first things first. "Come on, Chip," and taking a firm hold on his friend’s arm, helped him to stand. "It’s off to Sick Bay for you."

"What?" Chip practically yelped, and Lee’s smile was brilliant. If there was one person on the boat who hated Sick Bay more than him, it was the XO.

"You know the rules. Diving incident means Doc checks you out before you can go back on duty. Now move, Mister," and he gave the man a slight shove. Lee could practically feel the heat from the glare Chip sent him, but he kept his expression friendly but firm. He got another glare when Chip realized Lee was going to escort him, but nothing more was said.

Chip finally started to calm down, and handled the whole thing rather well. Being on this side of the exam, as it were, Lee could finally appreciate how the Doctor tackled the problem, totally professional but almost teasingly gaining Chip’s cooperation. Finishing up her exam of the no longer coughing XO, she stepped back.

"Everything seems OK, Commander. Even though you obviously swallowed some water, your lungs sound clear. I’d recommend you rest today, and take tomorrow off from diving, but that’s about all."

"No problem," Chip grinned. "We won’t be to the next site until about 0830 the following day anyway." Lee just shook his head. "What are you going to do about Henderson?" and Chip’s voice got hard again.

"See that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice," Lee replied sternly. "Now, if you’re ready to go…" and he chuckled as Chip wasted no time whatever slipping off the exam table and heading for the door.

* * * *

The next few days were quiet and routine. Admiral Nelson didn’t see much of his two senior officers, kept busy either in his office or lab. Finally realizing he was turning into a hermit, he made a point of showing up in the Wardroom for lunch. He was enjoying a pleasant conversation with Dr. West when Lee and Chip entered, busy discussing what Nelson finally realized were plans for an upcoming leave. Nelson was pleased that even the Doctor’s presence didn’t stop the conversation as both filled plates and turned to sit down with them. In fact, if anything, Lee was downright friendly. Nelson decided maybe he’d better come out of his lab more often. So bemused was he at himself and his thoughts that it took a bit to notice how little food his normally unfill-up-able Exec had taken.

"Chip," he asked with amusement, "are you sure you’re feeling alright?" As everyone looked puzzled, especially the XO, he continued. "I haven’t seen you eat so little since that time you were recovering from food poisoning."

Lee laughed. "He’s just saving up for roast pig," he said. "He’s been invited to spend a week in Hawaii, and his lady friend’s job is coordinating the luaus for one of the major hotel chains – free food!" They all laughed, but as Nelson surreptitiously observed Chip as the XO fielded questions from both Dr. West and Lee about what the job entailed, Nelson noticed Chip just didn’t look quite right. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but noticed the Doctor also give Chip a speculative look as the Skipper and XO got sidetracked into a discussion of the best places to snorkel around the Islands. He raised an eyebrow at her. It was quickly transferred to Chip as she quietly interrupted the conversation.

"Mr. Morton, you really don’t look well," and Chip’s expression immediately turned sullen.

"I’m fine," he muttered and, finished eating what little he’d put on his plate, started to rise.

"Chip," Nelson said sternly, "are you sure you don’t need Doc to check you out?"

"No need, Sir," and he picked up his tray. "If you’ll excuse me, I have some reports to finish and a dive to get ready for," and he quickly left.

"Lee?" Nelson questioned, but the Captain was looking at Dr. West.

"He just looked a bit flushed," she answered the unasked question.

"Haven’t noticed anything," Lee commented, "but I’ll keep an eye on him." He quickly finished his own meal and left.

"Didn’t handle that very well, did I?" Dr. West muttered to no one in particular.

Nelson just smiled. "It wouldn’t have made any difference if Jamie had asked. If there’s anyone on the boat worse than Lee for not admitting illness, it’s Chip."

Nelson eventually returned to his cabin, but the scene in the Wardroom continued to puzzle him. He’d never understood the two senior officers’ reluctance to admit illness or injury. Lee had always been the worst, causing Jamie no end of gray hairs. But Chip was a close second. Hell, I’m almost as bad he chuckled to himself. But he was beginning to realize he really had been locked away too long and didn’t have a good idea of what was happening aboard, the last few days in particular.

The quick fix was simple and he reached out and hit the intercom button. "Chief Sharkey, report to my cabin," he said mildly, and received an instant reply. He often had Sharkey do odds and ends for him, and nothing would be thought of the request.

A slight rap moments later announced the Chief’s arrival and, after having him come in, waved him to a chair and smiled at Sharkey’s expectant expression. "Relax, Chief. Just wanted an ‘off the record’ report of how things are going on the boat, and in particular the dives. I sometimes think all I get are the sanitized versions," and saw Sharkey settle more comfortably in the chair.

"Well, Sir, nobody likes to bother you with the little things," the Chief said. The Admiral and he often had these discussions. Nelson never took advantage of the Chief’s closer contact with the crew – never asked for privileged information. He just liked to keep the lines of communication as open as possible, to try to head off any problems before they became one.

"So there have been little things?" Nelson asked innocently.

"Oh, nothing much. Cookie had a fit when he discovered Supply had ordered the wrong kind of noodles for one of his recipes." Sharkey smiled. "He wasn’t overly thrilled when it was made known the crew liked it better with the substitution." Nelson chuckled. He could well imagine how the temperamental chef had reacted.

"Let’s see," Sharkey continued, getting into the storytelling. "You know that everyone’s OK with the new Doc, ah, I mean…"

"Understood," Nelson interrupted. "Jamie will be back the next cruise."

"Yes, Sir. It’s just that everyone knows that Dr. Jamison is about the only one besides you and Mr. Morton who can keep the Skipper in line, ah…" and there was embarrassment written all over his face. "That’s not what I meant to say, Sir."

Nelson laughed out loud, and raised his hand. "Understood, Chief, and I have to agree." He chuckled again before continuing, "The dives seem to be going well."

"Yes, Sir. Just the usual little things. Nothing bad. An air tank got put on the wrong rack. Said it was refilled when it wasn’t. But it got caught before the diver went out. We go through too many safety checks for that to happen." And Nelson nodded, playing with his pen. "And of course, there was that little incident with Henderson and the shark," and it was the Chief’s turn to chuckle. When Nelson raised an eyebrow Sharkey sobered. "You didn’t hear about that, Sir? I thought by now it would be all over the boat."

"Apparently ‘all over’ somehow missed me."

"Just thought the Skipper probably mentioned it to you. But then, maybe not."

As Sharkey seemed to stop, Nelson verbally nudged him. "Suppose you mention it to me, Chief."

"Oh, sure, Admiral. Mostly it was just funny. Two – no, three days ago, Henderson was Mr. Morton’s diving partner. Roberts and Nielson had already come in, and Henderson and the Exec were just coming in when Henderson noticed some plants stuck on a couple handholds on the stern deck. While Mr. Morton waited by the hatch he went back to clear it away. The Skipper and I were in the Missile Room, talking about a few things, and heard it all on the speaker. Well, to make a long story short, Henderson got scared by a shark, the Exec went back to help, and tried to explain that it was just a nurse shark. But Henderson was really spooked and when Mr. Morton tried to grab him, he ended up knocking Mr. Morton’s mask and regulator off. The Skipper immediately sent divers out, but by the time they got out Mr. Morton had things under control and both men were coming in. Poor Henderson. He was really ashamed of what had happened. Sharkey smiled. "Mr. Morton was madder than a wet hen," and he chuckled at his little pun. "The Skipper got everything calmed down and under control. Sent Henderson to his quarters while he took Mr. Morton down to Sick Bay just to be sure, then called Henderson to his cabin. Don’t know what was said, but I bet Henderson doesn’t make that mistake again."

Nelson grinned along with the Chief. He could well imagine Lee sitting down with the young seaman and giving him a lesson in identifying dangerous from non-threatening shark species. Better Lee than Chip, who wouldn’t have been nearly as patient as Lee usually was instructing the younger crewmembers. "I gather Mr. Morton wasn’t injured?" That he was sure he’d have heard about.

"No, Sir. Swallowed a little water and was coughing it up, but Doc, I mean Dr. West, didn’t keep him. Couldn’t have been any problems or the Skipper would have insisted the Exec stay."

"That’s for sure," Nelson agreed. "Anyway, I appreciate the update. I’d better let you get back to work." Sharkey accepted the dismissal and left.

Nelson spent an hour in the lab upgrading a sensor, then wandered down to the Control Room. As expected, Lee and Chip were huddled around the chart table, probably plotting courses to the next couple sensor sites. What wasn’t expected was finding Dr. West in the Observation Nose. She’d had a few moments to come forward, and invitations for more, but for the most part she’d stayed close to Sick Bay. Nelson suspected it wasn’t a coincidence she was here now.

"Impressive view," she murmured, looking out the windows. Seaview was traveling through an area of coral beds, populated by a multitude of colorful fishes. They were moving slowly and Nelson wondered why. A look back to the Control Room earned him a wink from Lee, and he smiled. This was obviously being done for Dr. West’s benefit, and Nelson wondered briefly whose idea it had been. Though the obvious answer was Chip, Nelson wouldn’t have been at all surprised to discover that Lee had suggested it. As much as he had originally disapproved of Dr. West being aboard, he seemed at least outwardly to have accepted it, and either way wouldn’t begrudge her the view.

Nelson joined her, admiring the seascape and describing what they were seeing. As Seaview finally passed through the area and gathered speed Dr. West excused herself, turned, and walked back through the Control Room, headed aft. Nelson noticed she gave Chip a speculative look as she passed the chart table, but didn’t say anything to either officer. He decided he’d better go check this out for himself, and walked back to stand next to Lee.

"That was a nice thing you did," he said, speaking to both men.

Lee answered. "Seemed a shame to waste the view," he said softly.

"Oh? And which one would that be?" Nelson asked innocently. Lee, despite his dark complexion, seemed to get redder. Chip was conspicuously quiet, and Nelson gave him a speculative look. "Chip, are you sure you’re feeling OK?"

"Fine, Sir," was the curt response, and Lee finally reacted.

"Mr. James?" he said quietly.

"Aye, Sir?" the Lieutenant answered promptly.

"Do you suppose you could keep from sinking us if I borrow Mr. Morton for awhile?" and Lee smiled.

Nelson returned Lee’s nod and quickly left up the spiral stairs toward Officers’ Country. Now that the pot was sufficiently stirred he was making a rapid exit. This had the potential for getting messy. Chip was already giving Lee a hard look as the two senior officers left by way of the aft hatch.

Lee himself had been looking for the right excuse to say something to Chip. He’d been watching his XO and friend all afternoon and, while Chip tried to hide it, knew there was something wrong. When Dr. West had unexpectedly come forward, Lee had used the excuse of slowing down through the coral beds to give her time to also observe Chip, if that had been her motive. The final straw had been Nelson’s comment, and Lee knew he had to tackle the issue.

Chip had given him a hard look, but at Lee’s "I have something I want you to do, Chip," had followed along fairly amiably – until they were almost to Sick Bay.

"Where are you going?" Chip demanded.

Lee gave his friend an innocent look over his shoulder. "Why, to Sick Bay. Apparently you still need an escort." He smiled, but kept just enough of an edge to his voice that Chip knew he meant business.

"I’m just fine," Chip continued to argue.

"Then I’m sure Dr. West will be all too happy to confirm it." He continued walking, and finally heard reluctant footsteps following.

As they entered Sick Bay, Lee saw Dr. West at Jamie’s desk. "Doctor," he said, "if you have a minute, could you give the XO a once over? He doesn’t look like he’s feeling well."

"Of course, Captain," and she walked toward the exam table. Both had kept their voices casual, but when Lee looked at Chip his face was a blank mask – a sure sign he was ticked. He did, however, walk over and sit on the very edge of the exam table. "Would you unbutton your shirt, please, Commander?" Dr. West continued as she pulled several instruments out of the nearest cabinet. Lee leaned casually against the bulkhead, staying out of the way but not leaving, either. He knew Chip far too well for that. And besides, he wanted to know what was going on, too. The skin on Chip’s chest was flushed as well as his face, revealed now that his shirt was open, and he seemed to be perspiring. One of the instruments Dr. West had grabbed was a thermometer, which she placed carefully in Chip’s begrudgingly opened mouth before taking Chip’s pulse, then used a stethoscope to check heart and respiration. At the latter she frowned slightly but continued on, asking Chip to take the shirt off his left arm so she could check blood pressure. Finally she removed the thermometer and read it. "Commander, you seem to have picked up a bug somewhere. Your temp’s almost 102." When Chip didn’t respond, she continued quietly. "There’s also a bit of congestion in your lungs, and the most obvious answer is that you aspirated seawater the other day. I’m going to draw some blood to see what you’ve got hatching in there," and she gave Chip and Lee both a quick grin, "then give you a wide-spectrum antibiotic to tide you over until I get the results back." Retrieving more supplies from the cabinet, she drew two vials of blood from Chip’s left arm and taped the collection site. As she picked up an already loaded syringe and Chip turned his shoulder toward her, Lee almost lost what little control he was maintaining when Dr. West said softly, "I’m sorry, Commander. That’s not where this one goes."

* * * *

Lee never did figure out how he got through the next hour. Having to deal with an obviously ill but still very ticked off XO gave him a thundering headache. Dr. West had surprised both men by not insisting Chip remain in Sick Bay, but did want him to try to eat something then go lay down in his cabin. Left to his own devices Chip would have returned to the Control Room. Under the circumstances Lee knew that only a firm hand would insure Chip’s cooperation, and that left it up to him. The Admiral could be counted on to help, but Lee was hoping to use that threat only if he had to.

Getting an under-the-weather Chip to eat something – anything – was a struggle. Lee had the feeling that was all that kept Chip from openly defying Lee’s order to go to his cabin and hit the rack. Chip was extremely unhappy but just couldn’t come up with an excuse good enough to argue with him. Seriously considering a good stiff drink, Lee instead stopped to give Admiral Nelson an update, went to the Control Room to check on things, then wandered back to Sick Bay.

"Too soon to have the labs back, Captain." Dr. West said, looking up from a file she was reading.

"Just wanted to let you know Chip’s laying down as you requested."

"Was that ever in doubt?" she questioned.

"Oh yes," Lee answered emphatically, and sat down heavily.

Dr. West sent him a questioning look. "Are you alright?"

"How bad do you think Chip is?" he changed the subject.

"That depends on how well he responds to the meds. I was just reading his chart," and she indicated the file in front of her. "It appears Dr. Jamison has had trouble in the past finding just the right combinations."

"Don’t remind me," Lee muttered.

"I’ll check on him before I go to bed. See how he’s doing and administer another injection. As long as he’s no worse he’s probably OK to leave there, at least for now."

"He’ll be more comfortable, and easier to deal with," Lee agreed. "The Admiral and I will help any way we can. Chip can be a handful."

"So I’ve gathered." Both smiled, although Lee’s was more of a grimace, and he left.

It turned into a crazy evening. Lee got stuck in the Control Room when one of the engines went a little haywire and O’Brien had to go down and work on it. He was trying not to pace, frustrated that he couldn’t comfortably leave until the problem was fixed yet wanting to go up and check on Chip. Thankfully Nelson showed up before Lee impatiently took anyone’s head off.

"Calm down, Lee," he said, recognizing the symptoms. "Just came from his cabin. He’s sleeping fairly quietly."

"I wonder what Dr. West put in that last shot," Lee was finally able to smile. Nelson chuckled softly and nodded.

"Wondered that myself. I also checked Engineering. The problem isn’t major and Mr. O’Brien should be back up shortly. Once he does, go check on Chip," and he smiled indulgently. "Then I want you in your rack." As Lee started to say something Nelson cocked an eyebrow at him, and Lee closed his mouth. Nelson smiled "Dr. West was checking on Chip while I was there, and the corpsmen will do it periodically during the night. I know you’re worried. So am I. But that’s their job – let them do it. I need you awake enough to do your job."

"Yes, Sir," Lee acknowledged a bit sheepishly.

"When do we reach the next sensor site?"

"Approximately 0845 tomorrow. I’ve assigned Kowalski as Dive Master."

Nelson smiled. Obviously Lee had already admitted to himself he’d be too worried about Chip to rest properly, and smart enough to know that he shouldn’t be diving. Occasionally Lee surprised Nelson by actually taking care of himself. Although, Nelson suspected, it had more to do with looking after Chip.

"There weren’t a couple j.g.’s ticked because you gave the assignment to a seaman?" Nelson asked innocently.

"Didn’t seem to be," Lee answered, distracted briefly by flashing lights on one of the panels and not seeing Nelson’s smile. Being a wise lot of junior officers, no one was likely to cross the Skipper when the XO was ill, or vice versa. The lights stopped flashing and there was an almost immediate call from O’Brien, reporting that the problem was fixed and he’d be back shortly.

"You have your crew well trained, Captain," Nelson said smugly, with a double meaning that Lee didn’t catch. "Get some rest, Lee," he added firmly, and headed back up the spiral stairs.

* * * *

Lee slept fitfully and got up twice to check on Chip, not realizing that Nelson was also checking on him. Both times he found Chip sleeping, if a bit restlessly. He was still running a fever but it didn’t seem to have gotten worse. The second time, about 0200, he ran into John, one of the corpsmen, coming to do a check and administer more meds. Chip had awakened but been fairly amiable about going back to sleep, and Lee did as well, feeling better himself.

When he headed again to Chip’s cabin just after 0545 he met Dr. West just about to knock on the XO’s door. He motioned for her to go ahead and when there was no answer, said with a grin, "He’s probably in the shower. Let me check," and entered the cabin. But Chip was still in his bunk. Motioning the Doctor in, they both walked over to the sleeping man.

It was apparent almost instantly that Chip wasn’t exactly sleeping. He’d kicked the blankets off and was tossing about restlessly. Lee reached out and laid a hand on Chip’s forehead as Dr. West checked his pulse.

"Burning up," Lee muttered.

"Pulse thready and weak," the Doctor confirmed. "He needs to be in Sick Bay, Stat!" and reached for the mic.

"Don’t bother," Lee said, gently picked up his friend, and headed for the door.

Dr. West was a bit surprised as she followed the Captain toward Sick Bay, then nodded to herself as something Dr. Jamison had told her finally started to make sense. "And don’t be surprised," he’d warned her, "if you end up with one of the Command staff in Sick Bay, that you wind up tripping over at least one of the others, and possibly both. The CO and XO are old friends, going back to the Academy. Might as well be brothers. And as far the Admiral is concerned…" and Jamison just shook his head. But having seen how paternal Nelson had acted when the Captain was injured, she figured she had a pretty good idea what was what.

After laying Chip down on the exam table, Lee backed off and watched Dr. West and the corpsmen work on him. Eventually feeling another presence, he turned to find the Admiral standing quietly next to him. Neither spoke, just watched as Dr. West did a thorough examination, set up an IV, administered further meds and finally, with help from the corpsmen, settled Chip in a bunk. Dr. West finally seemed to notice they were there and walked over.

"How is he, Doctor?" Nelson asked worriedly.

"In simple terms, lousy," but she gave them a brief smile. "While his temp hasn’t gone much higher, it’s not lowering, either. And his lungs are definitely congested."

"Pneumonia," Lee translated.

" ‘Fraid so. And before you ask, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference if he’d spent the night here. The damage was already done by his waiting so long to get treatment. About all we can do is try to keep him comfortable until we find the right combination of antibiotics to knock the nasty little bugs on their tails."

As Lee started to walk across to his friend he felt Nelson take his arm. "Later, Lee. I know you want to stay, but right now it’s breakfast time, then we have a dive to coordinate." Lee reluctantly nodded and Nelson knew he was going to have his hands full for awhile. Oh, not with the boat, or anything to do with the dives more than what he was already doing. But with Chip down Lee would not only be spending more time in the Control Room than he normally did, but would be wanting to spend as much other time as he could spare haunting Sick Bay. Unfortunately, past history spoke to the fact that what Lee thought of as spare time usually translated into what anyone else would consider time for eating and sleeping. Nelson was pleased with himself that he actually got Lee to eat a decent breakfast and pointed in the direction of the Control Room before he headed to the lab. He was very patient, knowing that if it were Lee lying there instead of Chip, they’d have a hard time prying him out of Sick Bay. And not that he didn’t care that it was Chip this time. But he’d be the first to admit his feelings for his young Captain ran just that much deeper.

Lee himself was doing the best he could to control his emotions. He quietly explained to everyone who asked that yes, Chip was ill, and yes, Dr. West seemed to have as good a handle on it as possible. Sparks mentioned that the Doctor had had him place a call back to the Institute, to relay to Jamie the problem and coordinate treatment. That pleased Lee, and helped get him through the morning’s duties. But the instant the dives were over and the new course laid in, Lee left the Control Room in Lt. James’ capable hands and hurried aft.

What he found wasn’t encouraging. Dr. West was standing next to Chip’s bunk, readjusting the single sheet covering the XO and straightening out the IV line. She gave Lee a brief smile as he went to stand next to her.

"I’ve spoken to Dr. Jamison and he reiterated what the charts already told me, that we may be in for a battle."

Lee nodded. "Chip has strange reactions to drugs sometimes. Always told him he’d have made a lousy junky," and Lee managed a slight smile.

"The good news is, he doesn’t seem to be getting any worse."

"And the bad news?"

"His temp refuses to come below 103, he’s not totally coherent, and is very restless." Seemingly to prove the point Chip rolled over, pushing mindlessly at the sheet and nearly succeeding in dislodging it. Dr. West smiled softly as she turned back and once again straightened the covering. "Commander," she said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder, "I know you’re too warm but you need to keep this on. It’s all that you’re wearing." Lee didn’t think Chip looked aware enough to understand, but he did settle down just a bit and she turned her smile back on Lee. "With 5 brothers, I doubt there’s anything under there that would surprise me. But I have a feeling he wouldn’t be overly happy once he’s awake enough to know what had happened."

"Got that right," Lee said with emphasis. "I’ll sit with him for awhile. You look like you could use a break."

"Actually, the corpsmen have been doing most of the work. I just sent Frank off to get some lunch. But I could use a cup of coffee," she admitted.

"Take your time," Lee said, and brought over a chair to sit next to Chip’s bunk.

* * * *

Dr. West had reason to smile to herself several times that afternoon. She did indeed end up with Capt. Crane underfoot, although she had to admit he did seem to have a calming effect on the XO. The corpsmen were obviously used to the routine. When Frank came back from lunch he brought a tray for the Skipper and hovered nearby, albeit cautiously, until Crane had eaten a good portion of it. Only twice during the afternoon did Crane leave, and both times he was back within ten minutes, simply nodding to her and resuming his post next to the XO’s bunk. He said little to anyone as both she and Frank periodically checked Mr. Morton. She did notice that Frank tended to give the Skipper a running account of what he found, and tried to do the same out of courtesy. But Crane would just nod an acknowledgment. She noticed, however, that he seemed to frequently speak to Morton, but so softly it could not be heard by anyone else.

Admiral Nelson showed up about 1730, but all Dr. West could tell him was that there had been no change either way in the XO’s condition. She was continuing to evaluate the medications used, but, as they were ones that had worked on Mr. Morton in the past, was hesitant to make changes. Nelson then walked over to his Captain and said something to him. She saw Crane shake his head and a momentary look of annoyance crossed the Admiral’s face, but he finally just laid a hand briefly on the Captain’s shoulder and returned to where Dr. West was standing by her office door.

"Having been turned down by Lee as a dinner companion, would you like to accompany me, Doctor?" he said, somewhat resigned.

"I don’t know, Admiral. I don’t usually accept dates with someone on the rebound," and just continued to hold a smile on her face until he worked it out and smiled back.

"I hope Lee hasn’t been in your way."

"Not at all, Admiral. In fact, I think Mr. Morton has rested much easier having him here."

"Not surprised," Nelson confirmed with a nod. "Shall we?" and motioned for her to precede him out the door.

She was a bit puzzled as, when they entered the Wardroom and she started to fill her tray, Nelson grabbed a mic and asked Kowalski to report to him immediately. But her unasked question was answered as the seaman entered hesitantly.

"Kowalski," Nelson said, motioning the young man over to where he and the Doctor were sitting.

"Yes, Sir?"

"Would you prepare a tray for Captain Crane and take it to him in Sick Bay?"

Kowalski’s expectant expression changed to a smile. "Aye, aye, Sir. No problem." Nelson nodded and the seaman hurried to comply.

The Admiral looked at Dr. West. "For whatever reason, Ski can sometimes get Lee to cooperate when even I can’t." He gave a shrug. "It’s worth a try.

* * * *

It was Lee’s turn to be momentarily annoyed when Ski put the tray down on a small table and set it by him. "I didn’t ask for that," and he tried to wave the seaman away.

"By order of the Admiral, Sir." Kowalski answered quietly and pushed it a bit closer. "How’s the Exec doing?"

"About the same," Lee answered.

"He’ll be OK, Skipper. He’s tough. He’s come through worse."

"I know, Ski," Lee answered, somewhat distracted. He appreciated the seaman’s comments, but somehow they didn’t help that much.

"And you also know, Skipper, what he’s going to say when he wakes up and finds out you’ve been so worried about him you haven’t taken care of yourself."

Lee didn’t move for a second, then he gave Kowalski a wry smile. "Point taken, Ski," and he picked up the fork. "Aren’t you supposed to be on duty in the Control Room?"

"Ah, yes, Sir. I’d better get back." As he turned to leave he was stopped by Lee’s voice.

"Thanks, Ski."

"You’re welcome, Skipper," and he quickly left.

Lee didn’t pay a lot of attention to what he was putting in his mouth, so was somewhat surprised to find the tray almost empty when Dr. West reappeared.

She came over and checked Chip. "Has he been quiet?" she asked, deliberately ignoring the tray.

"Mostly," Lee answered. "Like all afternoon, just restless but not responding."

"Don’t sell yourself short, Captain," she commented with a smile, and started to walk off.

"What do you mean?" Lee was puzzled.

Dr. West indicated Chip. "He knows you’re here," and she headed for her office.

Lee could have sworn it was only a few minutes before she walked back over, but a quick glance at the clock revealed a gap of almost two hours. She was sipping on a large mug of something, and somewhat offhandedly handed a second one to Lee as she observed Chip. Lee took the mug out of courtesy, then did a double take. First sniffing, he tentatively took a taste.

Dr. West had been using her free hand to check Chip, and gave Lee a glance as he made a small sound. "Half coffee, half Irish Cream cocoa," she answered Lee’s raised eyebrow.

"Thanks," Lee said softly, then gestured toward Chip.

"I’ll check his temp for real after a bit, but my hand tells me he’s not quite as warm."

"Good," Lee breathed adamantly, and took a long drink of cocoa.

"Not out of the woods yet," she warned. "But definitely a start in the right direction." She paused, then changed the subject. "By the way, Captain…" and he looked at her quizzically, "how’s the leg feeling?"

"It’s fine," Lee answered flatly and returned his attention to the mug, watching Chip over the rim.

"Good," she responded casually, and headed back toward her office.

Lee steadily finished off the cocoa, surprised that it tasted so good since his worry over Chip had stripped him of his appetite. He set the empty cup on the still present small table, although somewhere along the way the tray had disappeared. "Easy," he said softly to the suddenly restless Chip, leaning forward to lay a hand on his friend’s arm, and Chip quieted again. It was a pattern that had been playing itself out all afternoon and evening. This time, however, Lee left his hand there instead of removing it to sit back in the chair, and rested his head against the bunk framework, suddenly tired. He knew he should go hit the rack himself, but worry about his friend wouldn’t let him rest anyway, so why bother. And Dr. West was right. Lee’s presence, whether or not Chip was totally conscious, was keeping him quieter. Lee would just rest his eyes for awhile. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d gone without sleep for extended periods. And if there was even the smallest chance it was helping Chip…

* * * *

At 2200 Admiral Nelson looked up from the report he was reading and decided to go down and see if he could pry Lee out of Sick Bay. He knew it was probably hopeless, but had to give it a try anyway. However, all he could do was stop and stare when he walked quietly in the door. Dr. West was standing next to Chip’s bunk replacing the IV bag. But Lee, instead of sitting tensely in the chair next to the bunk, was curled up on the next one over. Nelson quickly hurried over, but was reassured as the Doctor smiled enigmatically at him.

"He’s just sleeping, Admiral," she said quietly, finishing up. "Seems he couldn’t handle my mocha." Nelson noticed Lee’s uniform lying neatly on the upper bunk and raised an eyebrow. "Had the corpsman tuck him in," she continued. "Gave me a chance to check the cut on his leg."

"And?" Nelson couldn’t keep the smile off his face.

"Healing beautifully."

"There isn’t going to be a safe hiding place on this boat when he wakes up," Nelson commented mildly, humor still very evident in his voice.

"Wasn’t planning on trying to find one, Admiral."

All Nelson could do was shake his head. "Chip?" he finally asked.

"About the same, although his temp’s down a degree so that at least is encouraging."

Nelson watched Chip for a second, then briefly laid a hand on Lee’s shoulder. "Thanks," he told Dr. West before turning to leave.

"Just treating my patients the best way I know how."

* * * *

Chip gradually became aware that changes had taken place. His cabin wasn’t nearly as hot as it had unexpectedly become, and his bunk was narrower for some reason. The smells were different, too, and he opened his eyes to try and figure out why.

"Well, good morning, Commander," Dr. West said, looking down at him, and Chip immediately tried to sit up. Her hand stopped him about the same time his head did, and he allowed her to resettle him against the pillows as he tried to get the room to stop spinning and his vision to clear. "Suppose you wait a few hours before trying that again," she continued softly, and Chip gave a small nod.

"Seems like that might be a good idea," he agreed. "At least for the time being." He opened his eyes again cautiously. "What happened?"

* * * *

Two hours later Chip was resting quietly in his bunk talking to Dr. West when Lee bounded through the door. Chip knew Lee had been notified that he was awake, but because Seaview had just reached a dive site was kept busy in the Control Room. In the meantime one of the corpsmen had helped Chip clean up. Chip figured he still had to be a bit muzzy. He could remember Frank getting him washing up, into clean pajama bottoms, and settled back into the freshly made up bunk, but not getting him out of the pjs he’d been wearing. Dr. West had returned from wherever she’d disappeared to and was just explaining that ‘No, Chip could not disconnect the IV, at least for a few more hours,’ when Lee arrived. Being undressed was obviously not all Chip had missed, judging by the return of the dark, hooded expression that instantly crossed Lee’s face when he spotted the Doctor. But she just grinned and walked leisurely toward her office as Lee came over to Chip.

"Welcome back," Lee said, a smile starting to replace the hard look.

"Good to be back," Chip answered, pulling himself a little higher on the pillows.

"Don’t mind admitting," Lee continued, sitting down on the edge of the bunk, "you scared me big time."

"Sorry about that," Chip said softly, then added with a grin. "Guess I’ve been taking lessons from you," and was pleased to see Lee smile sheepishly. The two visited for about 20 minutes, Lee catching Chip up on boat’s business, until Dr. West walked briefly into the main area then left out the door to the corridor. At the return of Lee’s frown when he spotted her, Chip nudged Lee’s leg. "Hey, what gives? I thought you two had buried the hatchet."

"I know where I’d like to bury it," Lee muttered almost to himself. "Never mind," he brushed off Chip’s comment, but the smile briefly reappeared. "You just mind your manners. I want you out of here as fast as its safe."

"Not any faster than I do," Chip assured his CO. "But…" he persisted, gesturing toward the door.

"Let it drop," Lee said harshly, before a most unholy expression crossed his face, "or I’ll tell you what she did to you while you’ve been here," and he left before Chip could respond.

* * * *

All Admiral Nelson could do for the remainder of the cruise was stand back and watch. He had known Lee wasn’t going to be happy with what Dr. West had done to him. But he was totally unprepared for the return of Lee’s guarded attitude toward the temporary CMO. Any time Lee was in her vicinity around the crew he was polite – almost overly so. But Nelson knew Lee was doing his best to avoid her. For her part, Dr. West was just going about her normal routines, neither avoiding the Captain nor purposely putting herself in his path. Toward the end of the cruise Nelson caught himself shaking his head one day when Lee quickly and quietly exited the Control Room as Dr. West came down the spiral stairs to join Nelson in the Observation Nose. "Children!" he muttered to himself before returning Dr. West’s smile.

* * * *

Dr. Will Jamison walked into the main office building at NIMR with not just a little trepidation. He’d still been in Los Angeles when Seaview docked just over a week ago, but between calls transferred to him during the recent cruise and a rather detailed conversation he’d had with the Admiral once Seaview was home, Jamie knew what had gone on. Not looking forward to his first meeting with Captain Crane, he could only hope that a week of shore leave had mellowed the Skipper’s fiery temper.

Jamie caught sight of the Admiral and XO visiting in the reception area, apparently having just come in themselves, and walked over. He was just about to say ‘Good morning’ when he got a good look at Chip. "Mr. Morton," he said firmly, making the XO jump and producing a huge grin from Nelson. "However did you manage that?" Chip was so sunburned he looked like a boiled lobster. Jamie reached out to touch the XO’s neck and Chip shied away with a sheepish expression, his face getting even redder if that was possible.

"Chip spent his week off in Hawaii," Nelson started the explanation, still grinning.

"Was relaxing in the swimming lagoon at the hotel my friend works at," Chip added hesitantly. "Sort of…" and he just shrugged.

"Out with it," Jamie demanded.

"Fell asleep on an air mattress in the middle of the lagoon."

"A bit fried, are you?"

"My back, mostly," Chip admitted. "Burned to a crisp."

"That uniform must feel really good." Chip didn’t answer, just ducked his head while Jamie and Nelson shook theirs. "My office, Mr. Morton." Jamie continued firmly.

"Already had it looked at," Chip said defiantly.

Jamie just looked at Nelson. "Mr. Morton doing something sensible about his health? He’s almost as bad as the Skipper in that department. Has to have been the lady friend’s idea," and both older men laughed as Chip hung his head again.

A voice behind the three interrupted with a ‘Good morning,’ and it was Jamie’s turn to cringe slightly as Lee joined them and greetings were exchanged. Jamie was expecting at the very least a cold shoulder from the Skipper, for the CMO’s choice of a substitute. But for the time being, at least, Lee chose to ignore the issue as he teased Chip into explaining his unusual coloration. Twice during the brief conversation Lee had to stifle a yawn, and Jamie just had to risk a comment.

"Skipper," he started firmly, "I’d better not find out you spent your week off working instead of taking a decent break."

Lee just smiled. "Down, Jamie. This is the first time I’ve been in the office in 4 days." He cut off another yawn and smiled. "Had a hot date last night and didn’t get a lot of sleep. We spent most of the night down on the beach, talking."

Chip’s face lit up. "Ah, details, details?" he teased his friend. "Anyone we know?"

"Actually, yes," Lee admitted. He said nothing more, but gave Jamie a wink and a pat on the shoulder before turning toward his office.