Mud Time


Susan F.

"If you love what you do, you'll never have to work another day in your life." Nietzsche


Admiral Nelson looked askance at Seaview's executive officer as they came within earshot of Sickbay. Of course, "earshot" was currently being defined pretty generously given the volume of the discussion going on between the sub's Chief Medical Officer and her Captain. "Doesn't sound as if Will is too thrilled about Lee going along to visit the Houston while we’re both in Norfolk."

Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton grinned and suggested only half in jest, "Maybe we should just wait out in the passageway until the winner comes out?"

"Feeling faint of heart, Chip?"

"Just don't want to get caught in the crossfire, sir."

Nelson shared a chuckle with the younger officer but there was a note of concern in his comment. "I just wish I knew why Lee has so much trouble with doctors. It doesn't make it easy for Will... or for any of us." As they entered sickbay, Doctor Will Jamieson was just echoing the Admiral's question at a greater volume and in tones more redolent of exasperation than concern as he worked his frustration off by pacing.

"Why, Captain? Just give me one good reason why you can't ever just cooperate with your doctors. Anyone would think we were your sworn enemies! Hell, at this point I'd take a bad reason!" Jamieson swung back on the young officer seated, well partially anyway - he actually looked poised for escape - on the examination table. As he automatically catalogued the more visible injuries on his uncooperative patient he almost let sympathy get the better of him. Lee Crane looked pitiful - the bandage covering the deep cut that just skimmed his hairline did nothing to hide the bruises that were coming out in full force along the side of his face. His right hand was covered in salve and gauze protected severe burns on his palm and fingers. A sling was around his neck but despite a separated shoulder Jamie had yet to get his captain's right arm into it. And those were just the visible injuries. Seaview's captain looked tired and ill - and mad as hell. The doctor hardened his heart, any sign that he was softening and Crane would be out of Sickbayfaster than he could sling a sedative. "Well, Captain?"

Lee was angry enough and tired enough and had enough of a headache that he let fly with an answer without thinking. "Because you guys ruin all my fun." Hazel eyes widened comically as he realized what he had let slip. As he looked away from Jamie and saw the Admiral and his best friend in the doorway, a tide of red clashed with the bruises on his face. One *look* from Jamieson sent Admiral and XO on their way. They were only too happy to make good their escape.


Hours later, Chip poked his head around the door to Sickbay and made a show of casing the room.

"Is it safe to come in?"

A drowsy chuckle drifted over from one of the bunks in which lay a heavily chastised and lightly sedated Lee Crane. Chip hid a grin as he noted that one of his nature music CDs was playing softly in the background; Jamie had become a firm believer in the power of music to soothe his worst patient.

"Yeah... Jamie went to get coffee. How was the Houston?"

Chip snagged a chair and set it by the bunk. He studied his friend and nodded in satisfaction. Lee's color had improved somewhat and the lines of pain were not as pronounced. Jamieson had been absolutely right to keep Lee in Sickbay - not that anyone would ever convince Crane of that. Although Jamieson had certainly made an effort before flat out ordering his recalcitrant patient to bed.

"Better question is "How's Will?" I don't think I've ever seen him that mad. If we could figure out a way to bottle all that heat we could secure the reactor for a month. I'm surprised you're not stuck full of IVs and in restraints. Losing your touch there, buddy. That was not the brightest thing I've ever heard you say."

Lee looked sheepish. "Yeah, well, I figured that as soon as it slipped out. Don't know what I was thinking."

Guess we could blame it on the headache..."

"Probably.... wasn't really thinking of anything but getting on board the Houston...."

"....that you weren't supposed to have." Chip finished smoothly and hid a grin as color flooded Lee's face.

"Well, it wasn't that bad, Chip. I could have gone over to the Houston and come right back." Lee heard the petulant note in his own voice and winced. Chip's grin didn't improve matters any.

"Yeah, right. I wanted to watch you climbing around a strange sub with only one wing. Would have added considerably to the gaiety of the occasion. And if you believe that....." Aware that he was allowing more of his anger over his captain’s disregard of his health to show than he wanted at the moment, Chip tempered his voice before saying quietly, "I know and you do too that Doc was absolutely right to beach you." As Lee looked everywhere but at him, Chip let him off the hook They’d for sure be talking later about the risk that Crane took but for now.... Chip forced amusement into his voice as he added, "And not to change the subject but... what did you mean that doctors ruined all your fun, Lee?"

"Tell me about the Houston. Did you meet Cusimano?"

"Ah, ah... I asked you first."

"Chip!" There was a familiar note of exasperation in Crane's voice that his exec ignored.

"Come on, Lee, give me an example...."

Lee shifted to lay on his side facing his friend and bit back a gasp. From out of nowhere, Corpsman King appeared and rearranged pillows to his satisfaction and the captain's relief. King lay a gentle hand on Crane's shoulder and said softly, "Try not to move, Skipper. You don't need any stress on that shoulder."

"'kay, Tom. But I am all right. You don't need to fuss."

"Yes, sir. How about while Mister Morton is here, I go get you a mug of hot cocoa before you go to sleep?"

Chip loved the way Seaview's senior corpsman just "assumed" Lee into behaving himself. King would have Lee asleep with a minimum of fuss.

"That'd be good, Tom. Thanks."

King cast a warning eye on the executive officer before he left and Chip knew he'd better not get Lee wound up about anything.

When the corpsman had gone, Chip asked again. "C'mon, Lee, give me some examples. Who knows? Maybe you'll convince me to back you up next time Doc tries to beach you."

"Yeah... and pigs will fly."

Chip snickered.

"Besides you were there for some of the more egregious displays of medical meddling."

"Wow, Lee, the concussion can't be that bad if you can get that sentence out." Chip planted an expectant look on his face and waited.

"That's what I told Jamie… so how come you didn't back me up? Huh?"

"You're changing the subject." Chip wagged a finger at his friend.

"You're not going to drop this, are you?"

"Not a chance, buddy." Chip slouched in the hard chair and made it look comfortable.

"Sheesh - you're like a dog with a bone, you know that, don't you?" The words might have been astringent but the tone was amused affection.

Morton's entire posture proclaimed, *I'm waiting.*

"Okay, segundo summer. Remember? I got that internship with the deep dive equipment team in Orlando while you took that computer seminar? Had that minor mishap the first dive and had to wait two weeks for another one because the medic got fussy. And then it was time to leave. I only got half a dozen dives in." Remembered disgust colored the words.

"Oh, for pity's sake, Lee. You aspirated seawater and got pneumonia."

"It was a little chest cold, Chip."

Chip gave that protest the weight it deserved. Had any of the crew been around they might have been surprised to hear the beautiful raspberry delivered by their oh-so-correct XO - or they might not. "Well, if you hadn't gone after the master chief when he got rapture maybe you wouldn't have lost your mouthpiece and breathed in half the ocean."

"So, I was what? Supposed to let him drown? And it was *not* pneumonia."

Chip made shushing motions with his hands, well aware that all the Seaview corpsmen seemed to somehow know when the captain was acting up regardless of where they were on the boat. Couldn't always do anything about it, mind, but they knew. And while King should be safely in the Galley, Chip didn't know where Frank and John were at the moment and didn't want to find out the hard way. "Okay, Lee, it wasn't pneumonia and the docs ruined your summer. That's one."

"When do you think King will be back?"

"Oh, you've probably got enough time to give another example."

Lee shifted awkwardly and Chip leaned forward to pat the pillows into shape.


"Don't mention it. Mention another time instead."

"Okay. When I was a JG.. and had that chance to go to Uzbekistan and *just* because I had those *minor* injuries to my arm and the *docs* were worried about the kind of medical care that might be available I wound up having to go to France instead. Remember?"

Chip shook his head. Yeah, he remembered. And remembered thinking at the time that only Lee would rather go to the back of the beyond and practice his Russian than go to Embassy parties in Paris. True, he did feel a little guilty about that one since Lee had almost lost his arm keeping a hatch from closing on one Chip Morton's neck. And there *was* the incident of the Ambassador’s secretary and the potted palms; Lee still blushed if that was mentioned even in passing. Still…

"Well, hey, Lee. Look on the bright side. You managed to get kidnapped along with the Russian Ambassador and had a solid week to practice your Russian before you escaped."

"Well, the docs didn't know that was going to happen."

Whatever Chip would have found to say to that acerbic observation was lost as Tom King came back balancing a tray with two mugs, spoons, a pitcher and a small bowl of marshmallows. Chip grinned, as he saw what the captain could not. A small white card sat beneath one of the mugs with an "XO" written on it in hard to miss letters, unless, that is, you were flat on your back in a rack

"That for me, King?"

"Yes, sir. Cookie thought that as long as you were visiting the skipper you might want some hot cocoa - or I could get you some coffee?"

"No, chocolate is fine." The XO managed to keep his grin concealed as Lee watched suspiciously as Chip poured cocoa into one of the mugs.

"So... is there something in this stuff besides cocoa?" It wasn't only his eyes that broadcast his wariness.

Chip dropped several sugary treats into the mug and stirred it briefly. He exchanged a glance with Corpsman King who asked softly, "And if there was, Skipper, would it make a difference?"

"It sure would!" Crane managed to convey by tone of voice alone that the answer to that question was the most obvious in the world. The raised eyebrow that pulled at his head wound and brought his undamaged hand to his forehead in reaction was an unnecessary - and painful - emphasis.

King eased the shaky hand down, checked the bandage and suggested, "Might be a good idea not to put any stress on those stitches, Skipper. How about you just let me help you sit up a bit, sir?"

"Why?" Chip directed the mild question in Lee’s direction as King grabbed some extra pillows from another bunk. He waited for a response, expecting the complaint that formed part of it. After all, he wasn't the only one who could give a dog with a bone a run for its money when it came to tenacity.

"Why what? And no one answered my question." A little bit of long suffering patience crept into the not-so-patient's tone.

"Why would it matter if there was a little something extra in the cocoa. You know that Doc is going to make sure you rest one way or another. Wouldn't you rather drink a nice, tasty cup of hot chocolate than have him go about it in a more ~ahem~ *pointed* fashion?"

Lee unconsciously rubbed the hip that had seen Doc's persuasive argument for restfulness once already that day.Waiting until Corpsman King had helped Lee to lever himself upright, Chip handed the mug off to his friend and watched as it was studied with a jaundiced eye. Then Lee brought the mug up to his face and breathed in the aroma wafting from the hot liquid. A gentle, self-mocking grin spread over his bruised face as he shrugged with his good shoulder. "See what you mean. Guess it really doesn't matter, does it? But does it? Have something in it?"

Chip grinned. "Well, I can only vouch for the marshmallows."

Lee leaned back into the pillows that King positioned behind his back and took a sip. Chip could almost see him relax as he savored the rich taste. There was silence in the room as Corpsman King unobtrusively fussed over the Captain, taking his pulse, checking bandages and adding a little more salve to burns with a light touch. Finally he said, "That should do it, Skipper. You just give a call when you're ready to settle down.

"Thanks, Tom."

The corpsman left with one more warning look for the XO. A smile tugged at Chip's mouth as Lee's eyelids grew heavier with every passing moment and swallow.

"So, Lee…. It's not really about ruining your fun, is it?" It was Chip's experience that a little hot cocoa, even without Doc’s additive, could go a long way toward encouraging confidences from his normally taciturn friend.

"Well, they do get in the way sometimes, especially when I'm trying to do stuff, Chip. You know how they got at the Academy - you'd have thought that I was the only middie that ever had anything wrong with him the way the medical staff carried on. There were times I was convinced they wanted me to wash out. Remember when I was in that van accident with the rest of the boxing squad? They let everyone else go but tried to keep me in Sickbay and I almost missed Service Assignment. I swear they picked on me just 'cause I was a little younger than the rest of you guys."

Chip shook his head. "Everyone else" had nothing worse than assorted bruises and bumps. Lee had managed to collect a concussion when he shoved a classmate out of the way just as the van started to roll over on itself. And while Jamie regularly got on Lee’s case about his weight now, he was positively fat compared to his Annapolis days. Then he looked as if a stiff wind would knock him over and far too young for the Academy. Chip hid a smirk behind his mug as memories surfaced. Lee did tend to bring out the parental instincts of the medical staff. Especially the nurses. Chip remembered the van incident and Lee's almost frantic demands to be released from sickbay. Chip still wasn't sure how Lee had managed to get out of the doctor’s clutches that time without winding up on report. Lee had only smiled when Chip asked. However he managed it, Lee had brushed aside all Chip’s sage advice and reassurance and showed up long enough to emphatically state his preference for sub duty. Years later, Chip still shook his head as he thought of Lee’s conviction that if he didn't make it to Service Assignment he'd wind up relegated to some dead end billet ashore when they graduated. As if Lee had to worry about making his preferences known - as number one in the class he would have had his pick of assignments but getting him to see that had been as impossible as getting him to have a care for himself had proved to be. Lee didn't miss much but he had a blind spot when it came to his place in the scheme of things. It was always about the job, never about him.

Then again, thinking about it, Chip decided he might finally have a real explanation for Lee's attitude toward doctors. As often as he managed to get himself hurt, if Lee just retired to his rack every time he was injured he'd never get anything done. Nor would he have gotten as far in the Navy as early as he did. When he tuned back in, Lee was still complaining woozily.

"....and I almost missed out on Summer cruise on the Nautilus, Chip."

"You did have that nasty bug, Lee. I still don’t know how you were able to do your job and keep the officers from figuring out just how ill you were. Didn’t fool me any, buddy. You still owe me for not blowing the whistle on you."

"Come on, Chip. You’ve held that over me, must be fifty times since we graduated. When are you going to get over it?"

"When you stop pulling stunts like that. Which means probably never. And as I recall, that time you were the only one who got out of Sickbay in time for Summer cruise. How did you manage that, anyway?"

Lee's answer was slower and his voice a little more slurred. "They were using that new medication, remember? I convinced them that they needed a control … you know, so that they'd know if it was the meds or just the general care given that made the difference? So they let me go on cruise as long as I took the pills and had the corpsman check me out every day and record everything for them. Pretty slick, huh? And just think, I might not have opted for subs if I hadn't gone. Might have wound up on a target instead." Smug satisfaction over his successful outflanking of the medical profession still surfaced fourteen years after the fact.

"Doubt if you would have gone Surface, Lee. Maybe Airedale the way you throw the FS1 around the sky." Chip reached out and took the cup away from an ever more unsteady grasp just as a light rap on the bulkhead announced the Admiral's entrance.

"Still awake, Lee?" There was a note of amused exasperation in Nelson’s voice that elicited a slightly sheepish answer from the patient, interrupted by a yawn.

"Yes, sir. You just... get back from the Houston?" No doubt about it, the captain was losing his battle with Morpheus.

"Yes. I return bearing gifts and an invitation." Nelson went over to the bunk and settled onto the chair that Chip quickly vacated.

"Gifts? Invitation?" Curiosity was enough of a force to stave off sleep as the Admiral well knew.

"Yes, the usual cap and mug. Which reminds me, we’ll need to restock Seaview after this trip." Chip nodded and made a mental note. "And an invitation to join them on a short cruise next week. They're going out for a few days to run some checks on new gear they just installed."

"Wow. What did you do, sir? Give Captain Cusimano the deluxe tour of Seaview? Minus Sickbay, that is." There was a hint of envy in his voice but there was nothing but pleasure for the Admiral's good fortune in the amber eyes struggling to stay open.

"No, no. I offered Cusimano a tour but he preferred to wait until you were back on your feet. Maybe after you get back from the test run you could…"

Lee swallowed a moan as he straightened up much too fast. "Whoa, wait a minute, Admiral. When *I* get back from the test run?"

"Why, yes, Lee." Nelson fought back a smile. "Who did you think the invitation - and the gifts - were for?"

"But… but… I don't understand, sir. Why? I mean…."

"Well, lad, it seems Cusimano wants to meet the Captain of the Seaview about as much as Crane wants to meet the Captain of the Houston. He was sorry to hear about your accident --"

Nelson ignored Chip's muttered "That was no accident. Dauntless here deliberately parked himself under that falling panel until Riley got clear."

"-- but I assured him you'd be back on your feet in plenty of time for the cruise if….

"IF, " another voice cut in sharply, "you people would get out of my sickbay and let the Skipper get some sleep." Jamieson plastered a frown upon his face even as he ran expert eyes over his patient. Yes, indeed, the amber eyes had the thousand-yard stare of a man about to succumb to sleep despite the excitement the Admiral had succeeded in awakening.

"Doc… I just…" Lee started, before losing the thread of thought.

Jamieson didn’t give him time to get it back. "Skipper, we're safely in port, the crew is 100%, the boat hasn't sprung a leak and Mister Morton has the figurative conn. Now, unless you want me "ruining all your fun" next week by keeping you off duty, you'll settle down right now."

Lee started to speak, took another look at Jamie and eased himself back onto the pillows. Within moments, he was just where Jamieson wanted him, sound asleep.

The note of displeasure evident in Jamieson’s voice made Chip decide he needed to do some damage control.

"Doc? You do know that Lee’s .... aversion.... to Sickbay isn’t really about his not having fun, right?"

Jamieson shared a grin with the Admiral. Some things never changed and Crane and Morton sticking up for one another was a universal constant. But he still snorted inelegantly before he answered. "If it is, Mr. Morton, then the Captain has the damnedest definition of "fun" I’ve ever heard. No, I think we all know that for the Skipper his vocation and avocation are one and the same."

Nelson tucked the covers around the sleeping young man and said quietly, "And that, gentlemen, is why he is the best."


But yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future's sakes.


Two tramps in mud time. Robert Frost