Worlds Apart

A story by Sea Starr

 

“Oh Lee,” the blonde beauty whispered airily into her dark haired lover’s ear as he delivered his final thrusts of ecstasy.  He breathed heavily into her ear, ravaging her neck with kisses before making his way over to her mouth for another hard passionate kiss, while continuing to massage her breast beneath his hand.  His sweat filled brow curled strands of dark hair across his forehead as he finally ran out of steam, rolling off her and collapsing on the bed beside her.

She moaned as the pleasure she had experienced continued to tickle in waves of erotic satisfaction before rolling over to cuddle next to him. 

“You were quite the aggressor tonight,” she said still breathing hard and a bit surprised at some of the positions he had employed this evening.

“Did you like it?” he asked, his voice a bit hoarse having had an accident aboard Seaview breathing an improper diving mixture, he had explained.  “There’s more where that came from,” he quipped back, pulling her to sit astride him.

“I know you’re a sailor Lee, but I’ve never seen you this… vivacious before,” she said partly joking, partly wondering where this feisty side of her lover had been hiding as his usual gentlemanly love-making ways were taking a back-seat to a different kind of lover tonight.  He had practically ripped her clothes off tonight and while she was more than willing she felt he had been quite demanding just the same, especially since they had only been seeing each other for a few months now.  She wasn’t sure what to think of it.

He rolled over bringing her underneath him once again, nuzzling her neck in heated passion.

“I’m just getting started,” he announced, working his kisses down to suckle her breasts as she moaned.  “Any objections?” he teased, sliding down further between her legs.  But whatever objections she might have had were lost in erotic moans as he pleasured her once again. 

~o0o~

Lee hopped into his Cobra after leaving Cassie’s house, taking the 101 and opening up his Shelby in excess of 90 mph.  He was satiated in satisfaction and feeling more than a bit pleased with himself as he bypassed the turn-off for his housing development in the Santa Barbara foothills and proceeded north on the highway.  It was late at night, and there were few cars out as he spotted his turn-off, following a dirt access road to a small marina.  He parked the candy red classic and hopped out, moving to the passenger seat to help Cassie out of the car. 

“Where are we going?” she asked groggily, as he placed a hand around her waist and helped her negotiate the dock as she struggled to walk straight.

“I told you, to my boat,” he answered.

“Boat?”

“Just shut up and enjoy the ride,” he replied walking up to the boat slip.  Several men were waiting for him as they climbed aboard, but he ignored them while they busied themselves with the duties of casting off.  Cassie's footing faltered as the drug he'd spiked her wine with overtook her, so he picked her up and carried her the rest of the way down to the small sleeping quarters.  He deposited her on the bed and ran an appreciative hand down her face, stopping to run his fingers over her lips before trailing his touch down her neck and tracing her cleavage.

“Later Baby,” he whispered, promising another encounter and then headed to the main cabin where another man greeted him, tossing over a chilled long-necked bottle.  Lee caught the beer deftly, popping the lid off and taking a long drink.

“So how did it go?” the other man asked.

“I’d say pretty well,” he replied walking over to the corner of the cabin where a man lay bound with his hands tied behind his back.  Blood pooled beside one of his legs, though it had a handkerchief wrapped around it now.  His face bore the signs of a scuffle as he had obviously not made it easy on his abductors.

“I’m glad I kept that date with your girlfriend, Crane,” he said, pulling off the prosthetic mask to reveal an imposter.

“Did she suspect anything?” the other man asked.

“I doubt it, judging by the amount of times she screamed ‘Lee’ while I screwed her,” he said laughing, before dropping down to a knee beside Lee.  “She’s one hot babe, Crane.  I really enjoyed myself,” he goaded as Lee, still dressed in his ship board khaki's tried to lunge forward, his efforts countered by the fact that his ropes were secured to the bulkhead.

His imposter smiled at the fact that he had riled Lee and continued to torment his prisoner.

“In fact, I think I made quite an impression on the young lady.  Did you know she likes it rough?  I pretty much had my way with her… not that she wasn’t willing mind you,” he said with a sick grin.  “What was it she said… that I was ‘vivacious’ tonight,” he boasted while noting the disgust on Lee's face.  “What’s wrong Crane; don’t know how to satisfy a woman?  Because I can take care of her anytime, in fact, I brought her along with us… just to keep this trip interesting,” he continued as Lee lunged forward once again.

“You bastard,” Lee spewed out as his double stood and kicked him unmercifully in the side, eliciting a grunt from the bound man.

“Relax Crane, I left her breathing hard and begging for more,” he said laughing and walking away.  “Anyway, now that the captain kept his date, he won’t be missed for the rest of the weekend,” the imposter announced, turning his attention back to the other man.  He threw back his head and finished off the beer before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Good, we’ll be at the coordinates in about four hours.”

“Fine, I think I’ll take a nap.  Crane’s woman wore me out,” the imposter laughed heading to the couch and stretching out as Lee watched with dark eyes promising retribution if he ever got free.

“Hey, you’d better be careful with this, Johnny,” the other man said, picking up the discarded mask. “The Boss spent a lot of money on it.”

“Oh I plan on taking real good care of it, Carlyle.  I plan on visiting Crane’s woman again real soon,” he said laughing, purposefully trying to rile his prisoner once again.

Lee thought of Cassie in the hands of this creep, and prayed he hadn’t hurt her, but those thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the engines starting and the feel of the boat being pushed away from the slip.  His predicament had just gotten a whole lot worse as he knew they were headed out to sea.  He still didn’t know what they wanted from him or who had paid for his abduction, but he knew it couldn’t be good.

He breathed in shallowly, trying to adjust himself into a less painful position, but found none as his leg objected to the entry and exit wounds.  He had a sore gut and a few bruises on his face to go along with the gunshot wound in the thigh as the over-eager thugs decided to show him who was boss once they subdued him.  He amended the last thought… thugs don’t carry sophisticated prosthetic facial masks around in their trunks.  This was a well-thought out, well-funded abduction.  His imposter had similar bone structure and build, the mask and colored contact lenses had completed the disguise all too well.  Only his voice gave him away, for which he had apparently had an excuse good enough to fool Cassie.  But such a ploy would never work with Chip or Harry, so it wasn’t likely they were planning on substituting a double in his stead.  At least Seaview is safe, he pondered before realizing that the possibilities that he was left with didn’t bode well for him.  He could think of several scenarios… none were good and sighed silently.  He’d just have to deal with it as it came along.

Lee watched as the imposter, Johnny, drifted off to sleep and Carlyle went top-side.  Maybe now he could work his ropes and try to free himself, he thought hopefully as he quietly tried to wiggle free from his bindings.

He worked, trying to find the weak spot in the knots while watching the imposter for signs of awakening.  He felt a knot loosen and concentrated on the spot by twisting his wrists back and forth, rubbing them raw, but making progress when Carlyle suddenly returned from topside.  Immediately, Lee stopped his struggles to hide his progress, but the big man approached him anyway, dropping to his knee as Lee caught sight of the hypodermic needle in his hand.

“The Boss Man says he wants you asleep Crane,” he announced preparing the needle as Lee struggled to free himself.  He didn’t know what was inside the hypo, but he couldn’t do anything about an escape if he were drugged so he fought, making it difficult for his assailant to find his mark.  Finally, Carlyle stood and issued a crushing kick to his mid-section.  Lee doubled in pain, breathing hard as his assailant found his opening and jammed the needle into his arm.

“Don’t mess with me Crane,” Carlyle threatened darkly as the contents of the hypo began to take effect.  “The Boss Man doesn’t care what shape I deliver you in; you're pretty much extra cargo at this point, so don't push me,” he warned before Lee’s eyelids closed, wondering just what he meant by “extra cargo”.  It almost sounded as if he weren't the target at all; that was all he could reason as the darkness took him fast.

~o0o~

Lee woke some time later, he had no idea how long he'd been out, as he glanced at his surrounding and realized he was now ashore somewhere.  He was lying on a tiled floor of a rather large room with his hands still tied behind his back.  He tested the ropes and found they had been tightened once again and focused on the men across the room.  He couldn't hear their conversation, but by a few words caught here and there, realized they were speaking in another language. 

“Look who's awake,” one said in accented English as a well-dressed man walked toward him.

“Do I know you?” Lee asked trying to figure out which ONI Mission or Seaview Voyage was responsible for this latest enemy.

“Don't flatter yourself Crane.  I couldn't give a flying leap that you command a submarine.  You're only here because she cares for you, otherwise you'd be dead by now,” he said darkly while Lee tried putting the pieces together, which at present was a difficult task with his mind still foggy. 

“It would have been a lot easier to have killed him, could have dumped him at sea,” another man commented, as Lee looked up see Johnny, wearing his prosthetic mask once again; the similarities of his double was astounding, though he didn't have his walk down.

“Get your filthy hands off me!” he heard, as Lee recognized Cassie's voice coming from a hallway.  He tried moving but found the dangerous end of a rifle applied to his temple, while another guard applied a gag.

“Now, now, now,” the well-dressed man said, walking toward Cassie who was escorted in by Carlyle, handling her roughly to keep her in check.  He threw her into the room, straight into the arms of the imposter.

“It's alright Cassie,” he said, feigning concern.  “I'm here,” the imposter finished with a leer.

“Lee?” she said in recognition.  “You used me, you're working for them?” she yelled in disbelief as she wheeled back and slapped his face.

“Better be nice to me, Baby,” Johnny advised, grabbing her harshly by the chin.  “Because I like to play rough,” he said, his crude insinuations not missed.

“You pig!” she screamed back, devastated by his betrayal before looking beyond him to the well-dressed man now standing beside a desk.

“I should have known you were behind this Emilio,” she said defiantly, recognizing the General's henchman. 

“Is that any way to greet a countryman, Princess?” he answered with a grin.  “I heard you greeted Crane here much differently,” he continued coarsely as Johnny walked past her, nudging her and causing her to follow his steps across the room. 

He proceeded toward the far wall where Lee was lying immobilized and gagged, as the sight of two Lee Crane's finally reached her understanding.  She looked from one to the other as Johnny dramatically pulled off the mask, showing how easily he had deceived her.  Instantly, she realized that her last date must have been with the imposter as she recalled how differently he had behaved.  Their love making had been much more primal and had lacked Lee's gentlemanly finesse.  The imposter had been over-bearing and demanding, even crude, while Lee was generous and loving.  She spotted the dried blood on Lee's leg as she started toward him before being held at the arm by Carlyle.

“Not so fast Princess,” Emilio declared, walking toward a small end table and pouring himself a goblet of wine from a decanter.  “You know what I want, and if you don't give it to me your boyfriend over there is going to pay the price,” he stated bluntly. 

“You know I can't give it to you,” she replied, squaring her shoulders as Lee grunted behind her when Johnny and a rifle toting guard pulled him to his feet.

Emilio took a sip, noticing how she had turned toward Lee when it was apparent he was in pain.

“Why don't we give you two little love birds a chance to reacquaint yourselves,” Emilio said with a half-smile, before tilting his head in an unspoken order to move them out.

Lee made eye contact with her, his sorrow evident in his eyes that Johnny had used his identity to take what would have surely been unwanted advances.  He barely held in his groans as he was forced to walk on his injured leg.  Cassie's eyes returned her own regret, knowing that Lee's life was in grave danger because of her.

~o0o~

Lee and Cassie were escorted to a cell block; neither one spoke, saving their questions for when they were alone. 

As Lee limped painfully along, he silently replayed the events he'd just witnessed, realizing that he had inadvertently been pulled into something having nothing to do with either of his two jobs in the Navy.  He could have almost smiled at the irony that it was neither his work in the espionage world nor the fact that he commanded Seaview that had landed him in this predicament; however, the harsh reality of the situation kept him appropriately solemn.  Emilio had called Cassie, “Princess”.  Just who was she and just what did she have that her “countryman” wanted?

They were tossed into a cell as Lee faltered, having been pushed forward and landing hard on the stone floor with his hands tied behind his back, unable to break the fall.  Cassie ran to him, dropping beside him in instant concern.

“You two get reacquainted,” Johnny said.  “But I still think she liked me better,” he added crudely with a lustful leer.

Lee glared at Johnny as Cassie reached for his gag and the guards withdrew from the cell, slamming the door behind them.  The sound of the outer cell block door closing was welcomed as they were finally left alone.  She worked the gag off and started working on his ropes as he sat up.

“Are you alright?” he asked concerned.

“I'm alright, Lee.  I'm so sorry I got you into this,” she apologized, just as she worked off the last knot enough for him to wiggle out.  She helped him up to the cot as he leaned heavily on her, limping and holding in his groan as best as he could. 

“Lee, you're shot.”

“It's not bad, it went straight through, didn't hit anything important,” he said trying to placate her concerns.

“It looks like it stopped bleeding,” she noted as Lee placed a gentle hand under her chin, bringing her attention to his face.

“Cassie, I think it's time you tell me what's going on,” he said gently to her agreeing nod and sigh.

“First... my name isn't Cassie Carpenter, it's Katherine Karpanova.”

Lee's forehead wrinkled, connecting immediately the title Emilio had used earlier.

“As in Princess Katherine Karpanova,” he said in sudden recognition of her title.

“Yes.”

“Everyone thought you were dead,” he noted.

“A necessary deception to protect both myself and the throne.”

“I don't understand,” he said.

“Though the rightful government has been overthrown, my people will never accept another king or queen, without the royal scepter.  It cannot be duplicated, many have tried.  When inserted into the base of the throne, it unlocks a mechanism and gives my people a sign of its authenticity.”

“And without it, your people may be ruled by the general's coup by force, but they won't accept him as their king?”

“Yes, though he may be able to rule under forced marshal law for a time, there are certain assets that are not available to anyone except the king.”

“And apparently you know where it is?”

“Oh Lee,” she said falling into his arms in a sob.  “I can't tell them,” she cried, apologizing for what she knew they were going to do.

“I know,” he whispered back, wrapping his arm tighter around her.  “I don't want you to,” he said reassuringly.  “No matter what.”

“They'll hurt you...”

“We have to think of the bigger picture,” he reminded her.

“I know,” she replied, finding her resolve in his strong embrace, before speaking in a near whisper as her face lay against his chest.

“We made love, Lee.”

“I know.  He told me.  Did he hurt you?” he asked gently.

“No, he was a bit... aggressive, but I thought it was you and I didn't stop him.”

“It's not your fault.  I'm sorry he used my identity to trick you,” he said dipping his head.

She nodded and cuddled up closer.  “I'm sorry I doubted you.”

“You couldn't have known.  Cassie...” he said before stopping himself.  “Just what do I call you anyway?” he asked with a small grin.

“Katherine.”

“Katherine... it's officially Princess Katherine isn't it?”

“Just Katherine,” she said laying her head on his shoulder.

“Katherine you're going to have to be strong,” he said pausing a moment.  “They're going to make you watch.”

She swallowed a sob.  “I know.”

“But you can't lose hope.  I have a few secrets myself,” he said offering a small smile.  “And this isn't over yet, but you're going to have to hold out until help arrives.”

“Help?”

His smile widened as he reached for his shoe and turned the heel.  Inside was a small device, which he fiddled with before closing the false heel back up.

“The cavalry is on its way,” he said before dropping his smile and looking toward the door.  “They're coming back,” he whispered.  “Remember, be strong,” he added just as the cell block door opened.

~o0o~

“Hello?” Harry answered groggily, while reaching for the clock beside his bed to assess the early morning hour.

“Admiral Nelson, this is Ray in Communications.”

Harry sat up straight, shaking off the cob webs of his interrupted sleep.

“Yes Ray, go ahead.”

“Sir, Captain Crane's emergency transponder just went active.”

Harry threw the covers off and swung his legs to sit straight up.

“When did this happen?” 

“Just a few minutes ago, Sir.  I followed standard procedure and tried his home phone first.  No answer.  Also I checked the log, he didn't leave a Reach Number,” Ray explained, as the officers were required to be reachable should there be an emergency deployment.

“Do you have coordinates?”

“Aye Sir... somewhere in Europe.”

“Europe?”

Harry grumbled something unintelligible about ONI and added a colorful exclamatory word at the end as Ray ignored the Admiral's understandable outburst.

“Alright, contact Mr. Morton, and see what he knows.  Have him standby while I contact ONI.”

“Aye Sir.”

Harry hung up and immediately dialed up ONI; since DC was three hours ahead of the west coast and knowing Cartwright's early morning hours; he figured the head of ONI would be in by now. 

“This is Admiral Nelson; I need to speak to Admiral Cartwright right away.  Priority One,” he stated and then waited for his connection.

“Nelson, this is Cartwright.  What's going on?” the ONI chief asked, knowing Nelson wouldn't just call for a friendly chat.

“Just what have you got my captain involved with in Europe, Stanley?”

“Europe?  I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific Harry.”

“Crane's Seaview-issued emergency transponder just went active.  My Communications tells me it's somewhere in Europe.”

Cartwright sighed as Harry heard the taps of his keyboard working on the other side.

“Negative Harry.  Crane's current status is 'Reserve, On-Call',” he answered.

“He's hasn't been called up?” Harry asked in clarification.

“Negative.  Where in Europe?”

“I'll have to get to the Institute to find out more.  I've got my people on it, but I suspect I'll have to bounce the signal off a few satellites to get the exact coordinates.”

“Do it.  Keep me informed.  If Crane walked into something he might have gone off chasing it without checking in.”

“I'll contact you when I know more,” Harry promised before both admirals signed off.  Harry headed straight for the shower and within fifteen minutes was in his car and headed for the Institute.

~o0o~

Harry pulled up to the Institute just as Chip Morton pulled in behind him. 

“I checked his house,” Chip reported, as he lived in the same foothill community, only a mile and half from Lee's place.  “It doesn't look like he's been there for a couple of days,” he said catching up to Harry as they took the steps two at time, both dressed in civvies.

“How could you tell?” Harry asked.

“Yesterday's paper is still on his driveway; the paper boy was delivering this morning’s just as I drove up.”

“What about his car?” Harry asked as Chip held the door open for him.

“Not in the garage.”

“Hmmm,” Harry said as they headed for the elevators.  “What were his plans for the weekend?”

“We really didn't talk about it, but I think he had a date with Cassie Friday evening.”

“Well the two going away for a weekend in San Francisco is one thing, but I doubt very seriously that they hopped on an airplane and flew to Europe,” Harry noted sardonically.

“Aye Sir.”

“Let's get to Communications and narrow his signal down, we'll know more when we know where the signal is originating from.”

~o0o~

Harry leaned over Ray's shoulder as he entered the coordinates into the computer and a world map appeared with a pin point in a land locked country in Europe.  Harry waited as Ray honed in the signal and the map expanded to pin point Kaviaslovo.

~o0o~

“Kaviaslovo?!” Admiral Cartwright blared over the phone.  “What in the hell is Lee doing in the middle of a country that recently saw the entire royal family murdered by a dictator general's coup?”

“I wish I knew Stanley,” Harry admitted.  “The last any of us saw him was Friday at work.  He had a date with a young lady he's been seeing for a couple of months on Friday, but we haven't been able to reach her either.  It doesn't look like he's been home since Friday evening and he left no Reach Number with our Communication's staff.”

“We have no diplomatic ties with Kaviaslovo, Harry.  I can't authorize an operation there.”

“Then don't.  He wasn't on assignment with ONI, this was a Seaview-issued transponder and you don't know anything about it.”

Admiral Cartwright was silent for a moment and then sighed loudly.  “For the record,” Cartwright stated dutifully, “You are not authorized or sanctioned by the US government to take action.”

“Aye,” Harry stated blandly.

“Off the record... if Crane is there, then he's onto something.  If he's activated his transponder, then he's depleted all his options.  Get in there as quietly as you can and try not to start an international incident in the process.”

Harry smiled thinly.  “Understood.  Nelson out.”

~o0o~

“How he must hate you,” Emilio whispered into Katherine's ear as the sound of each blow was followed by a grunt of pain.  Tears spilled down her cheeks as she was forced to watch while Lee was brutally beaten, held in between two men while another pounded on him mercilessly.

“He knows you can make this all stop,” Emilio accused as her escort held her firmly in place, keeping her from rushing toward Lee.  The sounds of a man reaching his limit were heard as his face bore the brunt of the painful blows.  When one tormentor tired, he was replaced with another and when Lee had passed out from too many blows they had revived him and started again.

“How long have we been doing this?” he continued rhetorically.  “Thirty minutes... forty?  No wait, it's been nearly two hours,” he said answering his own question mockingly just as the blows silenced.  Lee's head lay limply forward as Johnny took a handful of hair to raise his head before letting it drop again.

“He passed out again,” he reported.

“Revive him,” Emilio ordered.

“He's had enough,” Katherine begged.

“Only you can stop this Princess,” Emilio replied waiting for her answer.  Katherine shook her head in a “no” watching helplessly as the smelling salts were shoved under his nose once again.  He gasped as he woke, his pain unchecked as he hung between the two men.   They pulled him to his feet again as Johnny stepped in and restarted the beating.  He applied more blows to Lee's damaged ribs, using him as a boxer's punching bag until he grew tired of his effort then delivered another uppercut, brutal enough to send Lee back into the darkness of a welcomed unconscious state.

“That's enough,” Emilio stated, tilting his head for his men to deposit Lee back into the cell where they left him on the cot, not for mercy sake but because pain that has time to ripen is a strong ally to the torturer's goal.  “Remember Princess, he pays for your silence,” he warned, before pushing Katherine into the cell.  She ran to the cot and dropped to her knees as the cell door closed behind her and Emilio and his men withdrew from the cell block. 

She buried her head on the mattress next to his still body and cried, her shoulders heaving with her sobs.  She had just about cried herself out when she felt his fingers brush against her face.

“Shhh,” he said to comfort her.

Katherine raised her head to see Lee awake, but barely in control of his pain.

“Oh Lee,” she said as tears fell again.  “I can't do this... I'm not strong enough to watch them hurt you.”

“You are strong enough,” he corrected and then stopped to deal with the pain.  “What aren't you telling me... about the scepter?” he asked trying to make eye contact through eyes that were nearly swollen shut, knowing she needed a reminder of what was at stake.

Katherine dropped her head and sniffed, finding her voice.  “That once it's turned over to the general, the legal royal line will pass to him; my family will have no claim as the rightful throne bearer.”

He nodded slightly, then reached for her face weakly, his fingers brushing her cheeks as he spoke.  “Then you have a greater responsibility than you and me... you have a responsibility to your descendants and to your people to do what's right.  You are strong enough Katherine,” he said before his hand dropped wearily and he closed his eyes, breathing shallowly.

She looked down on his face, too bloody and bruised to find a safe place to kiss and raised his hand to her lips instead. 

“I'll try,” she agreed, finding strength in his resolve and the truth of his words.

“We only have to buy time,” he reminded her with painful airy breaths between his words.

“But what if they don't come?” she whispered back, checking over her shoulder to make sure their conversation was private.

He'll come,” he corrected her before grimacing.  “He'll come.” 

She ran a gentle hand down his cheek, trying to transfer her concern for the pain he was bearing.

“Try to rest now,” she urged, knowing that the only pain relief he had was what he could find asleep.  He nodded tiredly; surrendering to the request as she gently fingered away wet hair from his forehead.  “I won't let this be for nothing, Lee.  I promise... I'll be strong,” she vowed quietly as a small thin smile appeared across his face for a brief moment and then faded as Lee sunk into unconsciousness.

~o0o~

Harry didn’t know what he was walking into, only that Lee was missing and his emergency transponder was active and pinging out his location half-way across the globe in a country in disarray, with no US diplomatic ties.  He assumed that if Lee was unable to make contact that he was being forcefully detained and couldn’t overlook the possibility that he would also be in need of medical assistance.

“Chip, I'll need two men to come along with me,” Harry said, hanging up the phone with Cartwright and immediately making plans.

“Two Sir?” Chip asked, wondering if it wouldn't be prudent to take three so that one could stay with FS1 while the other two went along with the Admiral.

“Doc Jamieson will be the third,” Harry answered, knowing exactly what was on Chip's mind.

“Aye Sir, I'll pull Kowalski from deck duty.  May I suggest we station Chief Sharkey in Communications for the duration?”

“Very well, and the other man?”

“I'm saving that spot for me, Sir,” Chip answered without missing a beat and showing no signs of backing off his plan.

For a brief moment Harry considered the wisdom of allowing Seaview's entire Command team to walk into this mess, but quickly relented with an agreeing nod; this was an all or nothing mission.

“Very well Chip.  Advise Kowalski that this is a volunteer only mission, dress is civvies and be ready to shove off within a half hour.”

“Aye Sir,” Chip replied before hurrying off to grab Ski and ready the flying sub.

Harry sighed silently as he reached for the phone; Jamieson would be up by now... he hoped he had a good dose of his morning coffee because he didn't have time for anything less than “Yes Sir, I'll be right there, Sir.”

~o0o~

Thirty minutes later Seaview's rescue team was harnessed in as Harry launched FS1.  The flying sub comfortably seated two passengers behind the pilot and co-pilot, but there was an additional jump seat that they would utilize once they found Lee. 

Harry swung the craft first out to sea, gaining altitude and then going supersonic once passed the required distance to engage Mach speed, before circling and heading across the United States at Mach 2.

~o0o~

“It's Admiral Cartwright,” Ray announced as Sharkey raised his eyebrows and blew out an exaggerated breath while reaching for the mic.

“Good morning Admiral, this is Chief Sharkey.  What can I do for you, Sir?”

“Patch me through to Nelson, Chief,” Cartwright replied not wasting any time.

“I'm sorry Sir, but the flying sub is on radio black-out, Admiral Nelson's orders.”

“I wasn't born yesterday, Chief.  I'm well aware that Nelson doesn't want to risk a Cease and Desist order, but if you don't patch me through you'll be busted all the way back to a rating fresh out of boot camp,” he threatened to Sharkey's noticeable gulp.

“Ah... with all due respect, negative Sir.  I'm under orders...” Sharkey started, risking his career to get the Skipper back.

“The second thing that's going to happen is I'll be dispatching two fighter jets to intercept Nelson at which point, he'll be forced to tune into our frequency and listen to what I have to say, so let's keep this friendly,” he interrupted, not backing down but impressed with the Chief's gumption.

“Aye Sir,” Chief replied reluctantly before tilting his head in resignation to Ray.  “Patch the Admiral through.”

~o0o~

Harry raised an eyebrow as a blinking light indicated a video transmission.  Frustrated he reached to accept the call and indicated for Chip to take over the flight controls.

“Nelson,” he answered gruffly as Admiral Cartwright's face appeared on the monitor.

“Hell of a fire wall you placed between us Nelson,” he noted, referring to Sharkey and the radio black-out.

“You've got me now,” Harry deadpanned, urging Cartwright to get on with it.

Cartwright ignored Harry's sour tone and got to business.  “I've been busy trying to find out how Crane ended up in Kaviaslovo.  It took some extreme measures to get the story, are you ready?”

“Go on,” Harry said leaning forward.

“First, Cassandra Carpenter, the woman Lee's been dating...”

“Yes?”

“It turns out she's under Protection, it's a high-level deal; the State Department didn't want to give it up easily.”

Harry pursed his lips as his blue eyes demanded an explanation even though he just nodded.

“Carpenter is her alias; try Princess Katherine Karpanova, the last surviving member of the royal family and heir to the throne of Kaviaslovo.”

“Damn,” Harry interjected as Cartwright continued.

“It seems she was placed in Santa Barbara purely by coincidence, but when Crane and Karpanova got cozy, well the State Department figured what better way to protect her than to have a seasoned ONI Agent as her boyfriend.”

“You're telling me that they contacted Crane and he agreed?” Harry asked, momentarily hurt by Lee's lack of trust to disclose the matter.

“Negative,” Cartwright stated flatly.  “They didn't give Crane the courtesy call because they didn't want to risk his refusal.  It seems the relationship moved to a physical one,” Cartwright announced without emotion as everyone understood that the powers that be had their ways of knowing such things.

“They're two consenting adults, Stanley.”

“Well it would seem that someone decided not to mess with a good thing, figuring the more he spent the evening hours with her, the safer she would be.  For the record, they kept the Princess in the dark as well.”

Harry grumbled out another colorful word before answering.  “So they allowed him to proceed with the relationship without the benefit of knowing that the Princess' entire family was killed by a death squad that would surely hunt her down if they got wind that she was still alive?”

“They tell me it was a calculated risk and they had no indication that the General knew that she had escaped.  Listen Harry, I'm no happier about this than you are.  One of my best operatives was hijacked into a mission without my knowledge, approval or consent.  I don't like the non-transparency in this operation and heads will roll once we've cleaned it up.”

“Well let's just hope we can clean it up.  Apparently Lee has been missing since Friday night, but he wasn't able to activate his transponder until early this morning.”

“Which could mean that he had the situation under control...”

“Or more likely that he was physically unable to respond.  Come on, Stanley!  He would have found a way to report if he was able,” Harry responded.

“Washington is also interested in how your transponder picked up his signal half a world away,” Cartwright probed, switching gears and ignoring Harry's outburst.

“It's not a radio wave, Stanley,” Harry replied shortly.  “It's a microchip which uses GPS technology like a satellite phone.  As soon as he turned it on it bounced off a series of satellites to connect with its already programmed home number.  All I had to do was back track through the satellites to get the exact coordinates,” Harry explained to Cartwright's impressed expletive.

“Washington's going to want in on that one Harry,” he added as the idea of being in contact with an agent half a world away was too appealing to ignore.

“We've been testing it out, this is the first time Crane has used it in a non-controlled situation,” Harry answered, irritated that the conversation had switched from Lee's whereabouts to his latest innovation.

“At any rate, the rescue mission is officially off,” Cartwright stated blandly to Harry's piercing eyes.  “The State Department doesn't want to risk an incident with the General's unstable regime.  Which is why I want you to turn off FS1's flight transponder and maintain radio black-out for the duration of the mission,” he added to Harry's approving nod.  “All of our necks are out on this one, Harry.  I hope you have a rabbit to pull out of that genius hat of yours.”

“Let's hope so, Stanley.  ETA is five hours, twenty-two minutes.”

“We never talked.  Cartwright out.”

Harry signed off as Chip bit his bottom lip trying to maintain his composure.

“So they used Lee,” he said quietly trying to preserve Lee's privacy, even though everyone in the flying sub heard the video transmission.

“It would appear so,” Harry replied, taking over the flight controls in a need to be doing something at the moment.  “Let's just hope that the General finds it necessary to keep Lee alive, frankly I'm not sure why either he or the Princess were abducted in the first place if their only concern was to cut-off the royal family,” he noted as the solemn mood in the flying sub's cabin thickened in palpable concern.

~o0o~

Lee was pulled from the cell cot for round two.  He had warned Katherine that the next session would be more physical and to be ready.  Her resolve was renewed, but she wasn't prepared for what Emilio had planned.

Lee was positioned in front of the cell bars, well-guarded and standing on his own as Emilio pushed Katherine toward him.

“Take off his shirt,” he ordered to her perplexed look.

“I don't understand,” she stammered.

“It's really quite simple, Princess, remove your boyfriend's shirt.  I'm sure he'll find it less humiliating than my men doing it,” he threatened not worried that Lee might be humiliated, but because it made her an active participant in what he was about to do.

Katherine stepped forward and began unbuttoning his shirt as a cocked pistol against his temple kept him from moving.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered, tugging the tails from his khaki slacks and sliding the shirt off his arms.

“It's not your fault,” he assured her.  “Remember,” he added cryptically as she responded using only her eyes, promising to be strong.  Once his shirt was free he was shoved back against the cell bars with his arms stretched across and tied in place at shoulder height.  Katherine was tugged away from him, but she couldn't help but notice the angry dark bruises that covered his torso as his hands were secured tightly with ropes.

“Now Princess, is there something you want to tell me before we get started?” Emilio asked, careful to keep his very expensive business suit from being soiled in the cell block.  His dark hair was gelled and swept back, while his thin mustache gave off the impression of a well-refined man, instead of a ruthless henchman who had hacked his way to the top at his general's bidding.

She shook her head 'no' as one of Emilio’s men stepped forward pulling something from his pocket as Katherine's eyes went wide, recognizing the implement in his hand.

“No!” she said trying to rush forward as he waved the short bladed knife before Lee's face in intimidation.

“Notice the short blade, Crane?” Johnny said leaning in close to Lee's ear.  “It's designed to cut you like a pig, but without damaging internal organs, if you know where to apply it, that is,” he said taking the knife from his counterpart and running the flat end of the blade across Lee's jaw without drawing blood. 

“All you have to do is find the muscle in between these lower ribs,” he explained, lightly running the knife down his damaged, but well-defined six pack and stopping to apply the point, drawing a little blood in the process. 

“You see, if I do this right, it won't kill you, but it'll sure make you wish you were dead,” he bragged, cracking a sick smile before looking back to get his okay from Emilio, who nodded for him to proceed.  Without delay he shoved the knife in as all the preparation Lee had made for the impending stab couldn't keep back the cry of pain, quickly stifled as he breathed in painful gasping breaths.

~o0o~

Lee had worked hard during the beating to keep his distress in check as much as possible to make it easier on Katherine, but the knife was too excruciating not to cry out.  Johnny tugged the blade out, as the reverse slice elicited a gasp of agony.  He could hear Katherine screaming in the background, but it took all his concentration to glare defiantly at Johnny.  His accent was too good, and his features slightly different from the people of the region; Lee sized him up as an American under the General's employ.  Only now, he could tell he wasn't just an imposter, but a ruthless mercenary butcher as well.

“Here's the next spot I'm going to stick you, Crane,” he tormented dragging the blade up to another spot and eyeing Lee before thrusting the blade in between his ribs again.  Lee's pain demanded an outlet as he screamed, but quickly worked hard to bring it under control.

“All you have to do is beg her to tell us what we want to know,” Johnny said, moving the knife to his next intended target.  “Call to her Crane.  Beg for her save you,” he repeated.

Lee found his voice in between shallow breaths.  “Go to hell you scum,” he defied as Johnny responded with a thrust in and then a slow agonizing retreat of the knife out.  This time Lee kept the scream inside and grunted through the pain, focusing intently on Johnny's eyes promising to return the favor if he got free.  If Johnny was unnerved, he didn't show it as he turned around to let the pain ripen and to allow Emilio time to torture Katherine with Lee's condition. 

Blood spilt from three knife wounds as he stood painfully on an already injured leg.  His pain from the beating took a definite backseat to the new wounds but the totality of his injuries was weakening him considerably.  He could barely hear Emilio across from him, torturing Katherine with her “willingness” to watch him suffer.  His chin lay limply on his chest as he tried to drum up more defiance, he wasn't a broken man and he needed Katherine to see it.  Slowly he raised his head, still breathing hard but able to maintain eye connection with her.  Silent tears ran down her cheeks as she tried to keep her promise to be strong, pulling strength from the deepest parts of her being to not tell them everything... anything they wanted to know.

“Too bad Crane,” Emilio said mockingly.  “Maybe Johnny was right after all.  You must be an easily forgettable lover for her to allow this,” he suggested crudely, addressing Lee but really speaking for Katherine's benefit.  “Maybe she prefers Johnny here to warm her bed,” he continued.

Lee didn't respond, choosing to keep his eye contact with Katherine to tell her he believed in her until Johnny stepped back into his line of sight, blocking their connection and ready to go another round.

~o0o~

Chip was busy flying as Harry poured over a satellite picture of their objective.

“We'll land here,” he pointed out to Kowalski.  “Morton and I will exit and head to the house, approximately one and half miles due east.  If Crane is mobile, we'll backtrack here, if not, then you'll take off and land here,” he said pointing to the large manicured lawn on the property.  “Wait for our signal and be ready to move.  Sorry Doc, but until I know what we're up against you'll have to stay with FS1.”

Jamieson nodded reluctantly; he was Navy doctor, not a Rambo wannabe, but when it came to the health of his patients he was tenaciously stubborn.  This time, however, he knew the Admiral was right.  He would only slow down their progress; the best way to help was to be ready to move when they got the call.

“We're coming up on our landing zone, Sir,” Chip advised.

“Very well, prepare for landing,” Harry ordered, his resolve evident in his deep blue eyes. 

~o0o~

The house was set in the wooded countryside.  It was a large estate but not fenced as it was a good distance from any other structure.  Harry deduced that it wasn't the General's facility as there didn't seem to be the entourage of security one might expect from the dictator seeking to make it official as king.  This was good news; still they were prepared to repel the expected roaming security guard and were armed with the Admiral's latest laser gun prototype.  Harry figured that the best way to avoid an international incident was not to leave Made in the USA bullets in the bad guys they took out. 

They crouched low in the bushes, ready to make a dash for the house and spotted another building off to the side.

“Admiral, look at that,” Chip said, pointing Harry toward a suspicious looking building.  It lacked the flair and architecture of the main house with few windows for the size of the building.  Harry nodded in agreement.

“That looks like a good starting point,” he noted.  “Let's try one of the windows,” he suggested.  They moved around to the side of the building, surprised that they hadn't come across a single roaming guard yet.  Chip stood on one side of the window as Harry stood on the other, both peering in to see a jailer's office of a cell block.  The door to the cells was open, which afforded them the opportunity to see that this section was empty.  They were about to move on to the next window when Chip's face sharpened as he listened.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered.

Harry was about to respond when the definite scream of a tortured man was heard as their hearts dropped to their feet with both men recognizing Lee Crane's voice.

“Come on,” Harry whispered intently as they ran for the door, intending to shoot their way in if necessary.

~o0o~

Lee's chin dipped against his chest; across the room he could hear Katherine cry.

“I can't do this anymore,” she begged.  “Please stop!”

“The scepter Princess,” Emilio demanded, grabbing her by her hair and pulling her head back in a snap.  “You can end this now,” he reminded her, pushing her head back to see Lee in a bloody mess. 

He was bleeding out of knife wounds to his torso, but Johnny had changed tactics and plunged the knife into his good leg, hitting the bone and eliciting a cry of pain Lee couldn't suppress.  The knife was currently embedded in his thigh as Johnny had left it there while he drummed up the anticipation of the painful retraction of the knife.  He started reaching for the knife when all hell broke out behind him.  Strange sci-fi buzzing noises preceded men dropping to the ground as Johnny turned around to see two men shooting laser guns and taking out all the targets in the room.   With his back turned toward his victim, Lee found the strength to kick his legs up using the bars he was tied to as his anchor.  He wrapped his legs around Johnny's neck and pulled him back into a scissor lock as the pain from his injured legs was ignored.  Johnny reached up to try and break the choking hold as Lee twisted, trying to choke the air out of his tormentor.  Johnny's hand floundered until he found the blade still stuck in Lee's thigh and twisted it, causing him to scream and lose his hold.  The ruthless imposter turned and raised the knife, ready to plunge it into Lee's heart, but was stopped in his tracks when another laser found its mark and he fell to his knees before Lee, still holding the knife.

“Go to hell, Crane,” he groaned, dazed by the laser shot.

“You first,” Lee replied, using the last of his strength to kick with all his might, applying a solid blow to Johnny's chin and sending him sprawling to the ground in front of him.

Lee's strength was gone, his vision faltering as his head fell backward trying to spot Katherine in the fray still going on around him.  Bullets were flying as laser beams took out new targets pouring in from another area of the cell block.  Meanwhile he was tied up like a cardboard target at a cheap carnival shooting range.  It didn't make much difference anyway; he had nothing left to give.  It hurt to breathe, it hurt hanging with his arms stretched out, and it hurt trying to support himself on two injured legs.  He would have let it all go into a welcomed darkened sleep, far from the pain of the torturer's knife if he could only know that Katherine was safe.  Finally, the battle quieted as the laser guns proved to be far more effective from their protected attack position, while the prison guard reinforcements were taken out as they funneled in through one door.  They had been laid out like a turkey shoot, getting off ineffectual shots and in some cases, hitting their own men in the confusion.

“Lee!” he heard, not even realizing that his eyes had closed.  “Good Lord, Lee, what did they do to you?”

He wheezed as he breathed out, trying to find his voice. 

“Katherine?”

“I'm here Lee,” he heard as his head tossed toward her voice, just before his eyes closed decisively.

~o0o~

Harry and Chip didn't have time to plan out the offensive.  The sound of Lee's agonizing cry demanded an all or nothing assault.  Both men knew Lee had a high tolerance for pain, for him to cry out in this manner meant he had been pushed over his limit of endurance.  They rushed in finding only five men to take out, three gathered around Lee, and two around the Princess.  They took out the men holding Katherine first, and then turned their attention to the men beside Lee, but the man right in front of Lee was too close to fire off a clean shot. That decision, however, was taken from their hands as the cell block became a barrage of bullets, when reinforcements arrived from another area of the prison.  Immediately, Harry laid down cover as Chip ran forward and tugged the Princess by the hand, back behind a table they had turned over.

“Stay down,” he ordered without any pleasantries as both men were forced to ignore the struggle between Lee and another assailant while they focused their fire power on the door in front of them.  Men piled in as the laser beams applied quick work sending them to their knees, some to unconsciousness, others to disorientation.  Chip kept a wary eye on the door behind them, if they had company from that direction they would be dead ducks, fortunately all the excitement was going on in front of them as no less than ten men tried entering through the door.  Most got a shot off, but in the confusion and disarray of having to avoid all the fallen men around them played in their favor. 

“Lee!” Katherine suddenly screamed as Johnny lunged toward him ready to plunge the knife into his heart.  Immediately Harry aimed and found his mark, catching the knife wielding man in the back as he dropped to his knees before Lee.  They exchanged heated words of mutual hatred before Lee issued a powerful kick to send his tormentor out cold.

“Gather their guns, Chip,” Harry ordered as he ran toward Lee, tied against the cell bars with multiple knife wounds dripping his blood to the floor. 

Harry called out as Lee's eyes opened and the pained wheezes of a man on the ragged edge breathed out. 

“Good Lord, Lee.  What did they do to you?” he asked taking in the badly bruised and swollen face and body of man who had taken a significant beating, as blood spilled from multiple knife wounds down his naked torso, staining his khaki slacks in long streaks.

Lee rallied for one word.  “Katherine?”

“I'm here Lee,” she answered from the other side.  Lee turned his head, having no peripheral vision with his eyes nearly swollen shut and found her eyes.  With the realization that she was safe, his body shut down, taking him away from the pain and hanging limply by the ropes.

Chip approached Johnny and turned him over to ascertain if he had a gun, but found instead that he had landed on the knife which was buried deep into his heart.  Chip turned the dead man over without emotion, thinking he had gotten what he deserved as he looked up at his best friend's abused body. 

He and Harry both worked hurriedly on the ropes as Lee fell forward into Chip's arms.

“I've got him, Sir,” Chip advised, adjusting Lee as carefully as he could across his shoulders and praying that the rescue wasn't going to send a rib into his lung, but he was dead weight and they needed to make their getaway before the dazed guards came around.

“Kowalski!  Initiate Plan B,” Harry called into the radio as he guided Katherine towards the landing zone.

The flying sub landed and the cargo side door was opened as they hurried along, just as several more guards ran from the nearby house.  Kowalski laid down cover for them as Chip climbed aboard carrying Lee, followed by Katherine and Harry.  Kowalski readily took out his targets and then jumped in and closed the door.  The Admiral was already powering the flying sub to take off and as soon as the cargo door was secure, engaged a short roll take-off to the safety of the skies.

~o0o~

“How is he?” Harry called over his shoulder as Chip took the co-pilot's chair beside him.

Lee lay on the deck with Jamieson hunched over him as they hadn't had time to put him in the bunk during the emergency take-off.

“Bad Admiral.  I need to treat him immediately,” he yelled back as Ski helped to stabilize the Skipper.  Katherine sat helplessly by his side, holding his hand and shivering as the quick loss of adrenalin left her quivering and fighting sobs. 

“Shhhh,” she heard as Lee opened his eyes and cracked the smallest of smiles.  “I told you he'd come,” he whispered before swallowing hard.  “You did it,” he breathed out, proud of her resolve.

“Not me... you,” she corrected as tears rolled down her cheeks, especially as Lee groaned at the overwhelming pain.

“Lee, can you hear me?” Jamieson interrupted.

“Yeah,” he breathed out. 

“I've got an IV ready to go, and we're going to get you some relief,” he promised.

“'Kay,” he answered, squeezing Katherine's hand before the morphine hit with blessed relief.  His hand went limp as Katherine looked a bit lost.  Doc nodded for Ski to take charge, knowing that she was precariously close to going into shock, but having his hands full with Lee just now.

“Ma'am?” Ski said, gentling her away and wrapping a blanket around her.  “He's going to okay now.  We've got the best CMO around, you'll see, he's going to be alright,” he encouraged as he settled her into a passenger seat.  He strapped her in and fetched a bottle of water for her, then felt her head and determined that she was recovering.

“Now you keep this blanket wrapped around you,” he gently admonished, before looking back at the Skipper.  “I'm going to go back and help the Doc now,” he explained.  “Will you be alright?”

“Yes, go take care of him,” she urged working to bring herself under control.

Up front Harry and Chip were busy clearing Kaviaslovo's airspace, as well as making arrangements for a landing at the nearest American Base.

Harry accessed ONI's direct line and identified himself.  A few code words later and he was speaking with Admiral Cartwright again.

“Harry!  What's the story?” he asked without polite pleasantries or navy decorum.

“We've got both the Princess and Crane, but Lee's in bad shape.  We need clearance to land at the nearest Base with full medical facilities.  I've got my CMO here and he says he needs to get to work on Crane right away.”

“I'll get right on it.  Anything I need to know about your operation that can't wait for a debriefing?”

“It wasn't a clean break if that's what you mean, but we used the new stun lasers to keep the body count down and I doubt the General will go public with this as he'd have to admit that he had the Princess in first place, especially since she's supposed to be dead.”

“I see your point.  Okay, here's where you're going...”

~o0o~

Upon their arrival at the Air Force Base in Germany, Lee was whisked away to surgery to deal with a gunshot wound, six stab wounds and possible internal injuries.  Katherine was examined as well and found to be good health.  She had recovered from the shock and was given the opportunity to shower and change.  The Base accommodations for her diplomatic status were welcome, but she wouldn't leave the hospital until she knew Lee was going to recover.

“Princess,” Harry greeted, standing as she rejoined Seaview's men waiting for news on Lee.

“Please Admiral, I... don't feel too much like a Princess right now,” she replied with a reserved smile.  Her shoulder length blonde hair was vibrant and bouncy once again, and though she wore no cosmetics, her natural beauty shone through.  Clothes had been provided by the Commissary and for the first time since the ordeal began, she felt safe.

“Just call me Katherine,” she invited.

“For the time being,” Harry relented.  “Katherine, I know this is all so fresh, but we need to know what happened.  How did you and Lee start out in Santa Barbara on Friday night and end up in Kaviaslovo by Sunday?”

Katherine nodded, knowing she needed to explain not only their abduction, but why Lee was tortured.  She also knew that these were Lee's closest friends and wondered what they would think of her when she was through telling her story.

“Lee and I had a date on Friday evening.  He seemed different, for one his voice.  He said he had a diving accident breathing bad air and that's why it was hoarse, but that wasn't all.  He acted differently, not enough for me worry, just enough to notice,” she explained without going into details.  “By the end of the evening everything became a blur.  He told me we were going to his boat and that was the last I remembered before waking up in Kaviaslovo.”

Harry's forehead wrinkled.  “Are you saying Lee abducted you?” 

“Yes, but it wasn't Lee,” she said, knowing just how ridiculous her last statement sounded.  “When I woke up, they brought me to Emilio and he was there.  I thought he had betrayed me, then I saw him on the floor... I mean the real Lee.  The man I had spent the evening with on Friday night was an imposter.  He took off his mask to show me,” she explained. 

“An imposter?” Harry repeated dumbfounded.

“Yes, he was very convincing, other than acting a little out of character he still knew the right things to say, and his mask was very sophisticated.”

“No wonder your Protection Guards let you go off with him,” Harry deduced.  “Who was the imposter?”

“The man who was torturing Lee when you came in.  They called him Johnny.”

“He was dead when we left,” Chip chimed in, feeling that at least that was something he could tell Lee, that the SOB who had stabbed him six times was dead by his own knife.

“Don't you see?  I'm the reason they kidnapped Lee, because they thought they could use him to get what they wanted from me.”

“They tortured him to get something from you?” Harry clarified.

She dipped her head in a silent nod.  “Lee and I had a little time to talk and I told him why we had been abducted.”  She paused a moment.  “Emilio was sent by the General to find out where the Scepter is hidden.  Without it, he cannot be king and certain assets are not available to him.  He'll run out of money to rule the country if he doesn't produce the Scepter.  He thought he knew where it was when he sent the assassins to kill my family, but my father was wise and moved it.  I'm the only one left... and only I know where it is,” she said raising her head to accept responsibility.  “Lee and I made an agreement.  He told me he didn't want me to tell, and asked me to be strong.  We both knew what was coming... he said I had a responsibility to my descendants and to my people.  I was forced to watch everything they did to him and I will bear that burden for the rest of my life.  But I promised Lee, that I wouldn't let his sacrifice be for nothing.”  She paused a moment gathering her thoughts before continuing. 

“I ran away to save my life, but I left my country in the hands of the General.  Lee showed me that I must fight for what it is right.  I was forced to watch his torture, but the truth is, the General and men like Emilio are oppressing and torturing many people in my absence.  Just because I'm not there to witness it, doesn't mean it isn't happening.  Just as I must take responsibility for what happened to Lee, I must do the same for my people,” she added with resolve.  “Once I produce the Scepter, my people will know that I'm the rightful heir, I can build an army and then I must return to defeat the General,” she finished, her duty clear.

She looked into their faces, expecting to see men who hated her for not saving Lee and sparing him the torture, but instead saw only their respect; not only for Lee's sacrifice but for the mental torture she had endured to protect her country.

“Thank you Princess,” Harry said reaching for her hand.  “I know that wasn't easy for you.  I'll report what you've shared; I believe my country will want to help you.”

“Thank you Admiral Nelson.”

“Now, I'm told that Lee is expected to be in surgery for several hours more.  Would you like for Mr. Morton to take you to the Guest Quarters to rest?”

“Thank you Admiral, but I don't believe I can rest until I see Lee for myself.”

Harry patted her hand, knowing just how she felt.  “Then we'll wait together.”

~o0o~

Several hours later Dr. Jamieson arrived with the news, his tired smile gave them hope as he spoke.

“He's out of surgery and resting comfortably, though we have no intention of bringing him out his unconscious state yet.  He's obviously very weak and there was a lot of damage that needed to be repaired.  He'll be heavily medicated for the next several days, but we'll allow him to wake naturally tomorrow morning.  Though he'll require some physical therapy, we expect him to make a full recovery.  He's being settled into a room as we speak, I'll allow you to see him for a few minutes and then I want you all to go to your quarters.  The hospital staff will notify us if his condition changes and what he needs now is rest,” Jamieson urged with conviction.

~o0o~

The next three days were spent with Lee mostly asleep and waking for only short periods.  He seemed relieved to see Katherine again, but wasn't really lucid enough to carry on a conversation.  She was beginning to worry that he wouldn't be able to forgive her for what he endured.  On the fourth day, the doctors let up on his medication.  She was there when he woke.

“Hi Lee.”

“Hi,” he replied, trying to offer a smile through bruised and battered lips.  “Are you alright?  I know you probably told me, but I really don't remember too much when I was awake before,” he admitted.

“I'm all right.  You're the one who took all the pain.”

Lee nodded in disagreement.  “That's not true.  My injuries are on the outside, I'm worried about what's on the inside,” he said reaching up to touch her forehead.

“I've had a lot of time to think about it.   I don't know when it will stop being what I see every time I close my eyes,” she admitted.

“You're stronger than I am Cassie...” he smiled and corrected himself, “Katherine.”

“How could you possibly say that?”

Lee reached up and fingered her cheek gently, moving a strand of hair from her face.

“If our roles had been reversed, I couldn't have done it,” he said.  “I couldn't have watched them hurt you.”

She dropped her head sadly.  “What does that say about me, Lee?”

He raised her chin with a curled hand.  “That you're strong enough to do what's right, that you're willing to bear a heavy burden for your people... and that you're worthy to sit on your father's throne,” he said sincerely.

Katherine leaned over, gently applying a kiss to his lips and lingering in his embrace. 

“I have to go back,” she whispered in his ear.

“I know,” he answered.

“Everything is going to change,” she said, referring to their relationship.

“I know that too.”

“I'm going to miss you, Lee,” she whispered, still in his embrace.

“I'll miss you too,” he said kissing the side of her head.

She kissed his cheek and then sat up.  “I've been in contact with certain people in my country.  They're ready for me to return, to prove I'm still alive and to overthrow the General.”

“Be careful, just... be careful,” he said, not having any more words for moment.  They had been enjoying each other's company and had become close, but their ordeal had sealed something in them.  He didn't know if he could call it love, but it was strong and it was real and he knew that she would always be special to him.

“Will you come to the Coronation?” she asked, knowing it was premature but expressing her resolve to step up to her responsibilities.

“You know I will,” he replied with a smile.

“Good bye, Lee,” she said, leaning over and kissing him lightly.  He couldn't let it go so easily, and pulled her closer for a deeper kiss, which she returned eagerly.

“Good bye.”

~o0o~

Harry watched as Katherine left; he knew it would be difficult for Lee and found him in an introspective moment when he entered the hospital room.

“How are you feeling, Lee?”

“Better,” he replied, still tiring easily and not even having ventured out of bed yet.  “How long will I be stuck here?” he asked, suddenly feeling very homesick for Santa Barbara, but mostly for Seaview.  He knew that he would be out of commission for at least six weeks, and then there was still the physical therapy Doc Jamieson told him about.

“Jamieson says another three or four days here before you can travel.”

Lee stared out the window saying his next words.

“She's going back.”

“I know,” Harry replied.

“I guess... it's what has to be done,” he said, still staring out the window then sighing.  “She's going to be a great queen,” he said smiling and turning back toward Harry.

Harry placed a hand on Lee's shoulder and squeezed.

“I'll be alright, Harry,” Lee assured him.  “I'm not sure I can say we're even in love... only that what we experienced connected us in a powerful way,” he said, baring his soul to his best friend.  “I just know that she needs to go back to her world and I need to go back to mine,” he admitted.

“And I think she knows that too,” Harry noted.

“Yeah,” he agreed in resignation followed by a short silence before speaking again.  “Harry?”

“Yes?”

“I could really use a stiff drink,” he said with a small smile of hopefulness. 

“How stiff?” Harry asked with a raised eyebrow, knowing damn well that Lee couldn't mix his heavy pain meds with alcohol.

“Strong... black... coffee.  No sugar, no cream,” he said to Harry's chuckle.

“I'll see what I can do about that, Lad,” he answered, smiling and glad to see the twinkle still in Lee's eyes.

~o0o~

Within a week they were on their way, just as Jamieson promised.  The swelling had receded for the most part, and the bruises were in various stages of fading, but he still looked like a man who had been beaten within an inch of his life, shot, stabbed and only a week out of major abdominal surgery to correct internal damage.  All of which meant, unfortunately, a stretcher ride to FS1.  At this point, he didn't argue.  He was tired, and he wanted to go home.

~o0o~

“Come on, Skipper.  Just three more reps,” the physical therapist urged as Lee grimaced, completing his final leg presses on the weight machine.

Lee blew a tired breath out, grimacing again as the leg Johnny stabbed was healing slower than the gunshot wound.

“I don't know what's worse, Sandy,” Lee said, still breathing hard as the therapist massaged his leg.  “Getting tortured by dirty rotten scoundrels or being tortured by you,” he joked.

Sandy stopped the rub down and looked up.  “Now that hurt, Skipper,” he joked back.  Sandy was aptly nicknamed as his sandy blond hair over his sculptured copper toned sun tanned body made him look like a California poster boy for beach tourism. 

“Don't listen to him,” another voice chimed in as Chip walked over with a towel draped around his neck, having just finished his workout.  He had rearranged his schedule to join Lee in the gym during his therapy sessions to support his efforts.  Harry thought it was a great idea and had encouraged it. 

“He's just being a wuss,” the blond, blue-eyed officer continued.

“What's a wuss?” Sandy asked.

“A cross between a wimp and a...”

“Stand down Mister Morton!” Lee interrupted in full command voice, before the two laughed off the joke.

“As I said, Skipper, the leg is healing just fine.  Don't worry about that limp, I can barely tell now.  At the rate you're going it will be back to 100% in no time,” he encouraged.

“Thanks Sandy,” Lee replied sincerely.  “And I really do appreciate what you've done for me.”

“My pleasure, Skipper.  I wish all my patients worked as hard as you do,” he added before patting his shoulder and moving to complete his paperwork for Doc Jamieson.

“So, are you ready to move to the whirlpool?” Chip asked as the two headed to the indoor pool which also housed a sauna and a hot tub.

“Yeah, it really helps with the stiffness,” Lee said, his limp always a little more pronounced after his workout.

Both men stripped down to their bathing trunks under their sweatpants and entered the hot tub, sitting on opposite sides.  Chip waited a moment to talk, letting the hot swirling water ease the pain of Lee's sore muscles before asking him about the invitation.

“So are you going to go?”

“Yeah... I promised I would,” he said, tilting his head back with his arms resting on the back of the pool deck and letting the hot water ease away the strain of the strenuous PT session.

The last eight weeks had done wonders for Lee's appearance as the bruises on his face and torso had completely healed; only the scars from his knife wounds and surgery remained.  Jamie assured him that given time, they would fade.  Even with the water swirling around his chest, Chip could still make out the ugly reminders of Lee's torture.  He had to work to keep his anger down at the depravity of a man to purposely inflict pain on another human being in this way.  He could still see Johnny's dead body in that cell-block and he wasn't the least bit sorry.  Lee seemed to take it all in stride, relieved that Johnny had met his just rewards, and downplaying his own part as only doing what needed to be done.

Chip was resting in a similar fashion with his arms resting on the pool deck as well.  The two men were different in so many ways and yet totally connected in their brotherhood.  Where Lee's preferred workout was running, Chip's was weights.  They were both well-muscled, though Lee's lean frame was contrasted by Chip's well-toned muscles that created a sturdier frame.  Blond and black haired, the two couldn't look less like brothers, but after spending four years rooming together at Annapolis they had formed a lifelong friendship, even when their careers had moved in different directions after the Academy.  But this ONI thing... Chip would never understand that!  Still, he couldn't blame Lee's association with the Navy's espionage unit for this latest threat to his life.

“How about you?” Lee asked in easy conversation.  “Are you going?”

Someone's got to watch the shop,” Chip answered with a grin, knowing that with Harry going along he needed to keep things in motion for the next voyage.  Lee would be in command for that one, and he wanted everything ready for his first voyage back after the harrowing experience.

“So... are you over her?” Chip asked, probing where most would have no business going.

Lee opened his eyes and smirked.  “You don't get 'over' someone, Chip,” he gently chided.  “You just get used to them not being around,” he replied honestly.  “We had a lot of fun together, but we were still getting to know one another when this happened.”  He paused a moment in quiet reflection before shrugging his shoulders.  “Still, it's amazing what twenty-four hours of torture will reveal in someone,” he finished philosophically, before sighing in resignation.  “She was raised to be a monarch someday, that's who she is.  I mean, look at what she did.  In less than six weeks she raised an army, rallied her people and took back the government.”

“Pretty amazing woman,” Chip noted.

“Yeah,” Lee agreed introspectively, then caught sight of Chip's concerned scrutiny and smiled.  “Stop playing 'Shrink' Chip,” he admonished, realizing that Chip always got him to open up on personal feelings that he didn't easily discuss with others.  “We're good friends and I expect someday I'll be getting an invitation to her wedding,” he said with a shrug.  “I'm okay with it; I just want her to be happy.”

Chip smiled, content to see Lee healing on the inside as well as the outside.

“Well, we better get to the office before Harry sends Boat Security after us for being UA,” Lee joked.

“Slave driver,” Chip deadpanned as the two exited the hot tub, toweling off excess beads of water dripping down their chests.  They draped the towels around their necks and headed to the locker room, discussing boat business along the way.

~o0o~

High-collared dress whites were in order at the Pre-Coronation Celebration, an invitation-only ball attended by diplomats, heads of states and dignitaries from across the world. 

“Princess,” Lee greeted in the receiving line.

“Captain Crane,” she returned formally, but smiling her delight he came.  “So good to see you again,” she continued, marveling at how well he looked compared to the last time she saw him.  “And Admiral Nelson, thank you both for coming.”

“Our pleasure Princess,” Harry replied, looking just as dashing in his dress whites as his young counterpart.

The receiving line wasn't the place for a chat, so they moved through and began the process of mingling, small talk and elbow-rubbing.

“Wow, she looks beautiful,” Lee noted in a side whisper to Harry, as he took a sip of champagne and stole another look at Katherine.  Her floor length ball gown was appropriately stunning for the evening and no doubt the Paris designers had vied and competed tenaciously for the opportunity to supply the dress for the evening.  But it was her slender frame and gentle curves that would have made any dress spectacular in Lee's estimation.  She wore her hair in an elegant style on top of her head this evening, with intentional strands of well-placed blonde hair framing her face and neck.  Her dress brought out the blue in her eyes and when she tossed her head in a gentle laugh it seemed the whole room lit up.  Lee smiled, he couldn't be happier for the world's newest monarch; at least she would be by tomorrow evening. 

Security was well-placed in the crowd tonight, a necessary precaution for the soon to be head of state, but no one expected a disruption to the evening as the General and his entire staff of high officials, officers, and advisers committed suicide as the short-lived civil war neared its decisive end.  It seemed the General couldn't stomach losing the war to an army commanded by a woman.  It was unclear how many of his staff had been executed, or how many had done the deed willingly, only that the entire bunker of men was found dead.  The General waited so he could perform his own deed in front of witnesses, his last words cursing the Karpanova family name.  Among the dead was Emilio, one of the General's most trusted henchman and master torturer, the bullet to his head had been self-inflicted.

Tonight, however, wasn't a night to remember the bloody battle, but to celebrate the continuance of the monarchy.  Tomorrow's coronation would be a spectacular royal affair, high-lighted by the presentation of the royal scepter.

Lee smiled and turned his attention away from the Princess and toward the room of dignitaries before him.

“Time to work the room,” Harry advised as Lee nodded, ready to do his diplomatic duty.

* * * * *

The night had been a relatively short one as the next day's events dictated.  By midnight, Lee was back in his room.  Though the finest hotels of the land had been employed for the large influx of dignitaries, both Lee and Harry had been invited to stay at the royal palace.  His suite was large and spacious, located in an entirely different wing and separated from the private living quarters of the royal family.  They were honored to receive such an invitation and of course accepted graciously.  Lee had found the evening to be a time of mixed emotions, though the royal affair did serve to remind him that their lives were ordered too far apart for the relationship to continue.  He already knew that and smiled to himself, pleased for Katherine and satisfied that he was doing the right thing.

He hadn't had time yet to change, but the first thing he did when he hit the privacy of his room was to unbutton the stiff neck of his uniform.  He headed to the large walk-in closet dressing room to continue undressing when he heard something in the parlor.  Quickly, he reached for his saber, the only weapon he had, and peered around the corner.  The noise stopped, but he was sure there was someone else was in the suite, so he proceeded cautiously stepping out into the room to see an open hidden passage way, beside it stood the Princess.

“What are you doing here?” he asked incredulously, though clearly delighted to see his visitor.

“I wanted to see you, one last time before the Coronation,” she explained, and an explanation was definitely in order as she wore a silky spaghetti strap designer nightgown that plunged drastically revealing a deep cleavage.  Her matching robe was completely transparent, showing off the revealing side panels made of lace that ran from her bodice to the floor showing skin all the way down.  Her ensemble was topped off by spiked high heels with dainty silver straps crisscrossing her feet.

“I missed you,” she said, stepping forward into his embrace.

“I missed you too,” he replied kissing the top of her head and wondering how many rules of protocol they were breaking with her being in his room unattended.

“No one knows I'm here Lee, and I just want to be with you tonight,” she said, as if reading his mind.

Lee held her at arm's length and then stepped back, running a hand through his dark hair.

“Katherine... you're going to be crowned Queen tomorrow,” he said, trying to do the right thing, though it was difficult with her standing before him in her negligee.

She took a step toward him closing the distance.  “That's why it has to be tonight,” she explained, knowing that after tomorrow such a meeting would be impossible.  She wrapped her arms around his neck as he reached for her waist.  “Please Lee, I don't want our last time together to be a memory of him,” she said, referring to the night Johnny stole disguised as Lee.

Lee blew a breath out, fully surrendering to her offer and tilting his head down to her waiting lips.

“Neither do I,” he admitted before drawing her close and kissing slowly and deliberately. 

Their kiss was long and passionate before he traced his lips over to her ear and nuzzled her neck, while sliding the transparent robe off her shoulders to fall at her feet in a puddle.  As he kissed and nuzzled her neck one hand slid past her spaghetti straps and down her bare back, while the other moved to softly cup her breast.  She moaned, encouraging him, while at the same time working to unbutton his uniform tunic.  Once she divulged him of it, she tugged at his t-shirt, desperately trying to get to his chest.  He smiled and pulled it over his head as she leaned forward kissing his pecks and running her hand down his abs.

They were lost in their mutual desire and too far gone to stop and reason out the wisdom of this last encounter; they only knew it felt right and they deserved this last time before they went their separate ways.

Fully aroused, Lee picked her up, cradling her as he carried her to the bedroom, kissing her as he walked.  He laid her gently on the bed and then hovered over her, drinking in her eyes before lowering himself to taste of her lips once more.  Her fingers tickled across his back as she felt his firm muscles while he worked himself down to her shoulder, kissing it lightly, before sliding the strap down her arm and pulling the nightgown down to free her bosom.  He lowered himself to kiss and suckle her nipple as she groaned her delight, then worked himself down the valley and to the other mound, kissing through the silk nightgown first and then tugging it down to get to his desire.  Her fingers entwined in his curly hair, encouraging his sweet ravage of her breast as he slid his hand down to her private place, tantalizing her with his touch.  Her passion was ignited as she slid her hands down to his belt to unbuckle his uniform slacks then took command and tugged him to the bed, rolling him on his back and hovering over him.  He sighed in erotic pleasure as she kissed him while running her hands up and down his chest then down to his zipper line, where she felt his fully aroused manhood.  She rubbed appreciatively as he soaked in her touch and then closed his eyes as she parted his pants to free his manhood.  She placed sweet kisses over the head, making him anticipate and long for her full attention, before sliding her mouth completely over to take in the full length of his manhood.  He groaned his pleasure, caressing her head and fondling her hair as he received her gift.  Katherine sucked in satisfaction, feeling a strong rod in her mouth and ready for him to take her.  She hiked her nightgown, now puddled at her waist, and sat astride him, feeling his strength underneath, but not allowing a penetration just yet as he reached up and fondled her breasts.  Her mounds were soft and supple as he kneaded, then sat up to suck them as she held him about the neck and tilted her head back. 

Lee rolled her over on her back and felt for her thong panties, he moved them out of his way and fingered her pleasure spot as he sucked her breasts.  She wiggled beneath him as he worked his way down to gift her.  Her moans were exciting and the way she fingered his hair encouraged him until she peaked in pleasure.  She rode out several waves of satisfaction before he rose and smiled.

“Oh please, Lee.  Take me now,” she begged erotically as his passion ignited.  He quickly divulged himself of his slacks, still riding low on his hips and joined with her, sliding in slowly, teasing his way in as she moaned.  She gasped when she received the full measure of his shaft while he thrusted slowly and deliberately.  He built up speed as she cried out, grabbing the sheets and accepting the orgasmic pleasure of his manhood.  He delighted as she bucked under him, recognizing her pleasure and thrusting to allow her completion then backed off to keep himself from coming too soon.  He slowed down, breathing hard and looking into her eyes as she slid her fingers down his six pack stomach.  He picked up speed again, as her hands found their way to his hips, running over his buttocks and urging him to go deeper as he rose up on his arms and thrusted.  She tilted her head back and whimpered in pure ecstasy whispering “Yes, yes,” to his rhythm, her final scream coincided with his crescendo as she bucked under him as the two burst forth together.  He rode out the full orgasm and then slowed, stroking long and slow until he was satiated.

“Oh Lee,” she whispered into his ear, pulling him down to rest completely on top of her and running her finger nails lightly over his back.  She smiled at her vivacious lover, his finesse and passion as well as his gentleness and style.  She would miss him terribly, but at least they had tonight.

Lee rolled off and gently pulled her into the crook of his arm, kissing the top of her head and running his fingers lightly over her arm.  What a way to say goodbye, he thought with a smile.  They lay together satiated and recovering before she sat up and smiled deviously.

“Let's take a bath,” she suggested, tilting her head toward the oversized Roman Tub with the built in whirlpool.

Lee smiled; he was game if she was.

He drew the water while she lit the candles in the luxurious bath, then dimmed the lights.  He climbed in first, then helped her as she settled in with her back against his chest.  Lee leaned forward and kissed her cheek as she snuggled into his embrace.  His hands gently caressed her body, moving over her breasts and down to her womanhood and then back up again as the scented oil in the tub made their bodies smooth and silky to the touch.  She smiled as she felt his manhood harden behind her and turned to position herself onto his lap, sliding down to take his shaft completely.  He tilted his head back as she rode him slowly, while the water in the tub lapped back and forth.  He breathed out the pleasure of the gentle ride, holding her breasts and fingering her hardened nipples under his touch.

Her face turned feisty as she started riding faster, Lee groaned then opened his eyes and moved his hands to her hips, helping her movements as the water lapped over the top of the tub.  With their passion once again ignited, they needed more room, so she climbed off and pulled him from the tub.  He picked her up and settled her onto his manhood as she wrapped her legs around his hips while kissing ferociously in unbridled passion.  He walked her to the vanity counter and sat her on top, then thrusted deeply as she leaned back against the mounted mirror.

“Yes Lee!” she encouraged, urging him to completion one more time as his shoulder muscles bulged in the effort.  She watched as he threw his head back and thrusted in a primal passion that excited her to her core.  She loved seeing his strength and passion unleashed like this and drank in all the pleasure as their wet bodies shimmered in the candlelight.  He opened his eyes and leaned over driving himself deeper inside in order to kiss her as he completed his orgasm.  She held him tight and wrapped her legs around his hips, receiving both his kisses and the final pleasure of his seed deep within her.  His deep groan heightened her own pleasure as she rode out the final thrusts.  He was breathing hard when he stopped, keeping his hold inside her treasure spot as he drew her close to him and picked her up from the counter, then turned around and leaned against it as they kissed again.  Physiology finally demanded he exit as he reluctantly withdrew and set her feet back on the floor before him.

He smiled broadly and cupped her face in his hands.

“Thank you,” he whispered in between satiated breaths.

“Thank you, Lee.  I'll always remember you, and I'll always remember this night,” she promised as she laid her head on his chest, lost in his embrace.

~o0o~

Finally it was time to say good-bye as Lee watched her take the hidden passage back to the royal wing.  Their night together would be their last, but neither regretted the encounter.  They lay together talking quietly for another hour before her responsibilities for the Coronation demanded she return to her own room.  They smiled and said their good-byes, offering one last kiss as she readied herself to become the monarch of her country.

The secret passage closed behind her as Lee sighed, then climbed back into bed and lay with his hand behind his head.  He found himself falling asleep, strangely at peace and finding closure to their romance.  Her responsibilities as monarch would also include marrying from her own people, or from a royal line of another country.  It was old, antiquated... and the way it was, but at least they had this one last night.  He was content and held on to his prior decision that the two belonged to their own worlds.

~o0o~

Lee watched proudly as the pomp and circumstance of the Coronation honored Katherine.  All guests stood as she entered the large cathedral, her royal robe trailing in an impressive train of ivory, gold, and deep crimson red.  She wore the crown of a princess during the procession, which would be removed and replaced by the royal crown; in her hand she carried the royal scepter.  The exquisite piece was made entirely of gold but was inlaid with every known precious jewel of the world, as well as rare bone ivory and polished coral, all of which surely harvested years before conservation efforts sought to protect the resources.  The tip of the scepter held the largest gem, a three-inch diameter ruby encased in a gold setting.  It was what she had united her country with, the proof of her right to sit on the throne, but it was her own inner strength and leadership abilities that had won the war.  He had seen that strength demonstrated in her tears; never once during their ordeal had he seen her tears as a sign of weakness, but as an outer sign of the burden she was willing to bear to preserve her country from the likes of the General.  She had earned the right to be here today.

Pomp and circumstance demanded certain rituals of the Coronation, but the time finally came to present the royal scepter.  Before she could be crowned or even sit on the throne, the scepter must bear witness to her right to rule, the Bishop explained.  Therefore, all eyes were on the Princess as she inserted the scepter into the base and stepped back bowing on her knees on the pillow positioned meticulously in place and dropped her head reverently.  At first nothing happened, but in the absolute silence of the cathedral, strange clicks and whirrs were heard coming from the throne.  The hush upon the crowd was deafening as most there had never seen the Witness of the Scepter before.  The clicks continued and the whirrs wound up until the scepter bore witness, lighting up from the base and shooting fantastic rays of colored lights through the precious stones as the illumination traveled upwards.  The cathedral was filled with a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes but the Witness was not yet complete.  Many held their breaths until the clicks and whirrs stopped as silence filled the great hall, before the ruby suddenly illuminated its own light.  A red hue permeated the ancient cathedral until it sharpened and honed its light on the woman bowing before the throne.  Gasps filled the room when it settled over her head draping her alone in its glow.  How the scepter was powered was as much a mystery as how it managed to direct all its illumination on the Princess, but there was no denying that the scepter had borne witness having anointed her family line as the royal succession.  The guests erupted in joy, disbelief, awe and wonder as she rose and walked to the throne.  Purposefully and full of the ancient rituals of her people, she sat on the throne looking ever as regal as her father before her.  The crown was placed on her head as the Bishop bowed before the new monarch.  The mood changed immediately, as all in the cathedral bowed in honor of the Queen. 

Lee bowed his head as the custom required and smiled, pleased that she had taken up the burden of her country with such elegance, outshone only by her inner strength which he had witnessed in the torturer's chamber.  The irony of her strength was that the pain she bore to keep the secret of the scepter was hidden deep inside, where her scars were unseen by others.  He hoped in time, those inner scars would disappear just his scars were promised to fade.  He had no doubt she was the thing royalty was made of and silently wished her the very best.

~o0o~

The Coronation was followed by the expected Royal Ball, but he didn't get to greet her, nor did he expect to.  They had said their goodbyes the night before, but from across the crowded ballroom their eyes met and locked briefly.  He smiled his delight and nodded, then withdrew from the celebration when her attention was diverted away.

~o0o~

“So have you figured it out yet?” Lee asked as he piloted FS1 from the right seat.

Harry was sitting beside him scribbling a diagram on a note pad. 

“It's only an educated guess,” he started, “but I would venture to guess that the source of the power comes from a mechanism in the base of the throne.  I'll even speculate that the light source itself is actually derived from the throne and harnessed into the scepter producing the brilliant kaleidoscope effect we saw,” Harry continued as Lee smiled that the Admiral's brilliant mind was constantly at work.  He continued to speculate the inner workings of the mechanics involved, which had placed such an aura of wonder on the Coronation.

After much speculation, which Lee had no doubt was correct, Harry finally settled back in his chair and sighed, approaching a delicate subject.

“How are you feeling, Lad?” he asked, referring to Lee's emotional state, not his physical one which had finally healed, his limp not even making an appearance when he was tired anymore.

Lee nodded and continued to fly. 

“I'm good, Harry.  We both know that what we shared was special, but our lives have now been ordered by her new responsibilities as Queen.  I think we're both at peace with it,” he answered honestly.

“Then you've said your good-byes,” Harry noted, relieved that Lee had a good perspective of the situation.

“Aye Sir... we said our good-byes,” he replied, not going any further to explain their unscheduled rendezvous or the secret passage she had employed to meet him.

Harry nodded and paused slightly before he changed the subject dramatically, jumping to the issues of their next voyage.  Lee lit up, finding both comfort in discussing the mission and excitement for getting back in the saddle after his long absence during the healing process.

Harry forced down the twitch of a smile that threatened to make its appearance as he noted Lee's excitement regarding the voyage.  He could still remember the sight of Lee Crane, tied to the cell bars, beaten till his face was swollen and marred and his ribs a mass of bruises, but it was the multiple knife wounds that he would always remember as they bled, streaking down his torso in cruel witness of the depravity of men.  But that's not all he saw, as he recalled the fight still alive in the battered man as he attacked his tormentor with the scissor hold of his legs, and when the fighting had stopped his first concern was for Katherine.  She had later told them that it was Lee who encouraged her to keep her secret, even upon pain of the torturer's knife.  On that thought, his smile did escape as he considered the inner strength of such a man to endure and eventually rise above the pain to overcome and compared that to the inner strength of a woman who held out for the betterment of her country.  He suddenly realized that though they were worlds apart in their stations in life that the two were of the same caliber of heart.

“What?” Lee asked, noticing Harry's introspective moment betrayed by a one-sided smile.

“Oh nothing... nothing at all,” Harry replied, keeping his observations to himself.  “Now what about the diving teams?” he asked, expertly diverting the conversation back to the mission as Lee smiled and continued the impromptu mission briefing.  And so went the mood of the journey   back to Santa Barbara as they left the Queen of Kaviaslovo to her world and Seaview's Captain returned to his.

~Fini~

 

Copyright 2016, Sea Starr.  All Rights Reserved.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is the property of Irwin Allen and the respective production companies including:

Irwin Allen Productions, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Brothers. (As noted by the IANN web page)

No infringement is implied or intended