Harsh Realities

By

Linda Delaney

 

 

For Lee and Caitlin Crane the day had begun as a perfectly normal one. This last year, since their wedding, had been a hectic one for Seaview's Captain and his bride. There were two major projects that Caitlin had become involved in at the Institute, and Jiggs Stark had called on her expertise to do a fairly complex re-programming of the Computer System that he was using at COMSUBPAC. Starke was a demanding taskmaster, to say the least, but Caitlin Davis Crane handled the man with an ease and facility that surprised those that knew him.

Lee had been just as busy on the boat, and recovering from the mission that he had been sent on just after their honeymoon. Once he had gone back on duty, he had returned to the boat and the subsequent missions had all been successfully concluded. Both Lee and Caitlin had taken some time, and were preparing for the upcoming holidays and their first wedding anniversary.

After much discussion, Caitlin and Lee had decided to rent an apartment for her use, near the San Diego Naval base, so that she would be able to make better use of her time when she was working at San Diego. Much of her work on that project could be done in the labs at the N.I.M.R. and she only spent time in San Diego when Lee and the boat were out of port. It seemed to make an easy pattern for the both of them, and it was easier on R.C. as well, so that the youngster still spent time with his grandmother, when Lee was on the boat, and Caitlin at San Diego.

Caitlin had become a devoted mother and friend to Lee’s son. The young boy had blossomed under her kind and caring attitude. That he was an easy child to be with, was beyond any question. Lee’s mother, Helen Crane, had said time, and again, what a joy R.C. was. Caitlin was aware of how much R.C. loved her, and, in turn, she loved him. Caitlin had been concerned about being there, as a mother figure after all the years that Helen Crane had been raising her grandson. To her genuine surprise, the transition had been an easy one and Robert Crane had become another joy in her life!

 

 

Caitlin was happily working on the final specs for Stark's project, before she went about installing the programs. She looked at, and fingered her wedding band, and engagement ring, pausing in her work to marvel at how quickly the year had passed. After all the time that she had loved Lee, and he hadn't been aware, being married to him was all that she had imagined and more. It wasn't easy! He wasn't going to be a different person just because they were married, but she hoped that his life was at least easier, better in some ways. She knew that hers was. She looked at her desk and sighed. She had come across a rather lengthy bit of calculation that took more of her time than she had planned, and it made her late for her appointment for lunch with Lee and the Admiral.

Her mother, Karen Davis Nelson, was in Virginia with her little brother, Sean, sharing some time with relatives that they did not often see. It wasn't a school holiday, but Karen had taken him on an extended weekend, and Caitlin knew that Sean would be having the time of his life in the house on the Chesapeake. Caitlin smiled at the thought of Sean Nelson. Of all of the changes in her life in the last year was the deepening of the relationship with him. He was R.C.'s best friend, in spite of the differences in their ages. Sean was often at the house with Robert, and she come to appreciate what a bright and articulate youngster her little brother was.

She sighed, and closed her notebook, putting it aside, and straightened her desk. She stopped to tell her secretary, Julie, that she was on her way to the labs, to check on some of the hardware adjustments, and then meet Lee and Nelson at the commissary of the Institute. She left the Admin building and crossed Atlantic Avenue to the main computer lab building. Nelson had made some major changes in the Institute in recent years, and the Computer Building was one of them. He had converted the original Main Labs to house the computers needed to run all of the facility, when he built the new Main Lab on the grounds. The Main frames were in the basement of the building, and Caitlin waved to the receptionist and went into the elevator to go to basement in order to check on her other project before running to lunch.

 

 

Lee Crane and Harriman Nelson sat at the white covered table in the Officer's Mess at the Main Mess Hall. The hall sat at the corner of Pacific and Humpback Sts., in the center of the Institute Complex. The Third Floor Dining room was completely windowed and gave a good overview of the Institute. The Admiral's Table was set at the windows that had the best view in the room. Lee was staring out towards the dock and the Seaview’s above ground dock.

Nelson chuckled. "Penny for your thoughts, Captain?"

"Humnh! Oh, sorry, Admiral. Just daydreaming a bit, I guess… you were saying?"

"I was just saying," he said benevolently, "that this next mission looks to be an easy one. Karen is taking the dive team to the undersea site that we found with the oil deposits off Alaska. There needs to be a study done of the other elements that are present. There has been some interest in the quantity of sulfur and some of the other elements that were found along with the oil. The DWD team is the only one that can get the samples, so Seaview and the team are elected. Not a bad area if the charts are to be believed."

Lee glanced at his watch, and then at his CO. "Yes, sir. An easy trip... I wonder what’s holding Caitlin up?"

He signaled the waiter, "Bring me a phone, will you?"

Nelson looked at him, somewhat bemused. He had seen some interesting changes in his Captain since Lee and his stepdaughter had married last December, but Crane's attention to time and appointments hadn’t changed. Lateness was something that Lee didn’t like in anyone, and when it came to his family and friends, it was always colored with a tinge of fear that something had gone wrong. The phone arrived and Lee punched Caitlin’s number into it.

He tapped the table as he waited for it to be picked up. Nelson saw the expectant look on his Captain's face deflate as he spoke to the person on the phone. Looking at the Admiral, Lee said, "That was Julie, Caitlin’s secretary. She said she left about fifteen minutes ago she was on her way to the computer labs, and then here. Julie said that she's...." At that moment, the building shook with a powerful explosion. Lee dropped the phone and both men were on their feet, at the windows, scanning the grounds. Horrified, Nelson whispered. "The Computer Labs."

Lee's agonized gasp was "Caitlin!!!!"

 

 

A few moments earlier…. Caitlin waited as the familiar whine of the elevator slowly ground to a halt at the basement level. It stopped with its usual easy, slight bounce, and the doors hesitated a moment and then opened. The basement computer rooms reminded her of a hive. Constant activity, day and night. People scurrying about, dealing with this problem and that, all of the myriad of details that the center of a facility the size of the N.I.M.R. required to run smoothly. Every thing that went on filtered through here. It was connected to the rest of the complex by a series of underground tunnels, which sent people here and there faster then they could drive on the surface. There was a backup system in another part of the complex, also underground, in case of an emergency, but it had been used only once and few even t thought of its existence.

Caitlin walked slowly to the archway that faced the elevators and lead into the main area. She stopped a number of times to say 'hello' to many of the people working there, as they walked by, or passed by in golf carts, going to other parts of the complex. As she reached the archway, the building shook, and rumbled, the lights blinked, and then went out as the entire structure was shaken and began to collapse downward. She tried to stay in the archway, to protect her head and face with her arms, and she felt herself being thrown off her feet, and slammed backward and downward and the world for her went completely black.

 

 

Nelson and Crane moved as one to the Dining Room doors, as the lights went out and the electricity went off. Emergency lighting came on. Both men made for the Emergency stairwell, years of training in similar situations taking over before the mind could react and think. They were outside before they realized it, and broke into dead runs toward the Computer building.

Lee arrived first, being younger and in better shape then Nelson. He arrived seconds later. The two men stood and stared at the devastation before them....

The left-hand side of the two-story building was completely gone. Rubble lay all over the streets surrounding the building. Clouds of dust, of smoke were pouring out of it, covering the entire area with a white coating. People were staggering from the building, holding injured limbs, bleeding and crying. The right hand side of the building had people at shattered windows, calling out for help. Lee's eyes anxiously searched the people coming out of the building for Caitlin. He didn't see her, and his heart began to ache in fear. But his training again took over, and reached for the nearest victim, aiding him to the ground and beginning to help him.

Emergency Services began to arrive. The men from the boat and people from the other buildings poured into the area of the explosion. Tommy Chin and his men arrived, and began to organize the emergency teams, and volunteers. Chip Morton and Chief Sharkey arrived, and began to assist with the organizing of the site. They had a disaster on their hands, for the Institute, and possibly for the boat's Captain as well. Word began to circulate that the Skipper's lady was in the building when it blew, and one look at the Captain and the Admiral confirmed the rumor.

As the site became more organized, with Will Jamison, Frank Lerner and John Warner taking over Triage, and Tommy Chin organizing the search parties, Crane and Nelson took precious moments to see the Exec and the Chief. One look at Crane's face told Morton all he had to know, although had to ask him,

"Lee, we heard that Caitlin...."

"She was inside, Chip. The receptionist saw her go into the elevator. A couple of minutes later, the explosion..."

He clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder, "We'll find her, Lee. We'll get her out."

Crane nodded numbly, reality setting in his mind, that Caitlin, his wife, his 'little girl’ was trapped in the wreckage of the building, and he had no way of knowing what was going on, if she was dead or alive. ‘Dead... no.... NO!!!!!!!!! Oh, God, no!!!She can’t be dead!!!" He swayed with the wave of emotions that tore into him, and hands reached out to grab him and stop him from falling. Feeling their warmth and concern, he raised a hand to his forehead.... "I... I'm alright!" he tried to reassure his friends.

"Sure you are, Skipper," Chip said as he took Lee's arm and guided him over to where Will Jamison had set up his triage. Concerned looks were exchanged, and Will extended an arm to the Captain.

"Lee, c'mon and sit here for a minute... let me..."

"No! Jamie, I'm ok.... just a dizzy spell. Jamie..." he looked at the medic, his hazel eyes blurred with despair and pain, "She's …She’s in ….there…."

"I know, Lee, and I'm sorry. But if you want to help get her out, then you have to listen to the CMO of your boat, and sit here for a few minutes." With that, Jamison forced Lee to sit in one of the camp chairs. A mug of coffee was shoved into Crane's hands by Harriman Nelson.

"Here, son. Drink this... just get it down. It will help clear your head."

Hazel eyes locked into blue ones... "My head is clear, sir. "

"I know, Lee. " He laid his hand on the younger man's shoulder.

"I know... I have a call in to Karen... I have to tell her what's going on here, if she hasn’t heard already." The pain and despair in his heart was communicated to his Captain and friend in his touch. "I just don't know how..."

Stu Riley covered in dirt and grime came running up to them, "Skipper! We got through to one of the transport tunnels, it leads to the entrance to the mainframe room! They want you to come over!" Lee jumped to hi s feet, and followed the rating to the pile of debris where dozens of men were digging. Riley touched the Captain's arm..."Over here, sir." They climbed over several piles of rubble, and found Paterson and Rodriguez digging furiously at a small hole, big enough for one man to get through. Lee looked at the men.

"Here, Skipper, you can get through here." Paterson pulled himself out, and passed a light to Lee, as he eased himself into the tunnel.

 

 

Lee crawled through the small narrow space, bloodying his hands and fingers as they tore at the debris that was keeping him from reaching Caitlin. He called her name, hearing nothing in response, but silence. Admiral Nelson had implied that it wasn’t likely that she was still alive. The Admiral wasn't one to give up hope, but Nelson had helped design the building, had done the redesign. He knew, as much as Lee did, what it would be like in the tunnels. Chip had been working at the underground control center to get all the rest of the complex up and running...Caitlin's program for emergency activation had kicked in as soon as the explosion happened. The program's search mechanism had found a problem in the gas lines at the Computer complex and shut down the gas lines inside. They also shut down the electric and water in the damaged structure, and restoring services to the rest of the complex. Caitlin's work... Caitlin's touch...

His mind flashed back to the apartment, to the time, when they had begun to discover the depth of feelings that they had for one another…

He had awakened to find Caitlin Davis in the apartment with his mother. The pain in his hands and hips had been particularly bad. The fixators were becoming more and more unwieldy, and no one was giving him any real hope of using his hands again. Caitlin had been excited about showing him how the voice adaptation she had constructed, worked on the laptop. Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea, a laptop that he could talk to and it would follow his commands. No need for hands. Caitlin's head bent over the computer display..."Here, Lee. You talk to it and it follows your command.... Watch. Plans for the SSRN Seaview, Deck A."

He had been truly amazed when the plans for the boat appeared on the screen... but at the time, he was so deep in his own despair, that he hadn't paid too close attention to it.

He had made some kind of scathing comment, about cripples and things for them, and in a fit of anger, sent it, and Caitlin, away. But she came back; kept coming back in spite of how he was treating her... and then, in a moment of her own anger, she had blurted out that she loved him. This wonderful young woman loved him.... He had started to recover then... started to find his way back to living life, not just existing. It was all because of Caitlin, his 'Little Girl', his heart.....

She couldn't be gone from him... she couldn’t be dead. He would know, just like he knew when Cathy had been taken from him.

‘We haven’t come this far, finally coming together, being together in mind and heart, to be torn apart. I can't lose her, Lord, I can't ... I can't do this, again, She’s so young, she gives me so much, and it's taken me so long to find her. Lord, help me... please!’

"Caitlin!!!" he called sharply.. "Caitlin!!! Little Girl!!! Answer me!!!!" and to himself, as he tore through the rock and dirt, "Dear God! Please let her answer me."

The only response he received was dead silence, save for the shifting of the unstable rubble all around him. "Caitlin!!! Please, in the name of God, answer me! I need to know where you are!!!"

He strained to hear, to get a response. All he heard were the sounds behind him, the sounds of the crews shoring up the area, trying to, literally move a mountain of rubble. He continued to crawl on ahead of them, to try and find her, the indications were that there were a number of people in the remains of the building, whether or not they were alive, depended on where they were when the explosion happened. He had no idea where Caitlin had been. All he knew was that she had taken the elevator to the basement. If she was in the elevator, well then, he knew what the end result of that was, but if she wasn’t there, if she was in the computer room itself, or in one of the tunnels, or... Then he would find her... He had to find her!!

"Caitlin!!!! Caitlin, answer me!!!!!!!"

 

 

Consciousness returned to Caitlin Crane, painfully. Breathing was difficult. Agonizingly difficult. There was an enormous weight on her chest. Her arms were trapped, as was the rest of her torso. She had no feeling below her knees. Her face was clear, there was nothing on it. She seemed to be lying on her back. She had no idea where she was. She vaguely remembered what happened. She had been walking to the main computer room and was in the archway when the explosion occurred. She remembered the explosion, the building rocking, seeing the ceiling fall in, and hunkering in the archway of cavernous room. She remembered nothing else. "Lee! Oh my God!!! Lee!! What happened??? What in the name of God?"

She tried to move again, and became immediately aware of pain. Pain so intense that it took her breath away. She lay there, gasping, sucking in dirt, and dust, and choking and trying to breathe and comprehend all that had happened. When the pain lessened, and her breathing slowed, she slowly moved her head. There was no light, it was pitch dark, and as she lay and strained to hear, she heard some distant moans, and cries of pain. Voices calling out intermittently. Where there had been silence, complete silence there was now some sound. She opened her mouth to call out and found it full of dirt, and dust. She coughed, and the pain that came in a wave, threatened to bring the blackness of unconsciousness with it. Not that it would have made a difference in the blackness that she was imprisoned in. Moving her head slightly to one side, she called out, "Anyone here? Anyone???"

No voices answered, only more moans, and cries of pain. Part of her mind wanted to panic, to join the voices, but the stronger part prevailed. She called out again, "Is anyone here???"

The rubble shifted, and dust and concrete scattered and fell. She had another coughing spasm, and this time, gave in to the welcoming warmth of the blackness that overtook her.

 

 

Lee called her name again, the light in his hand shining this way and that searching for some sign of life in the debris. There were several search parties moving in different directions thru the underground tunnels to the site of the explosion. He had been lead to the one near the elevators, based on the knowledge that Caitlin had taken that bank of elevators to the main frame room.

" Dear God, please, let her be okay! Please! Robert and I can’t lose her! We’re only starting to be a family! I can’t go through losing again, I can’t!! Not losing again... No! ...Not like Cathy... Cathy was too young to die... and she did... Caitlin is too young to die... Lord, don't let her... She still has so much of life ahead of her.... Please, dear Lord!"

The narrowness of the tunnel reminded Lee vividly of the car, the day that Cathy was killed so long ago. He took a breath and remembering his own helplessness at that time, his helplessness to help Cathy. This time he was determined it would be different, determined that he would get to Caitlin. This time he wasn't helpless... This time he could do something! He wasn't going to stop until he found her.... He wasn't! He would find her! She would be alright!!!

He was willing it, wishing it, praying it as he dug through the rubble in the tunnel.  "Caitlin!!! Caitlin!!! Answer me if you can!!! Caitlin!!!"

 

 

Caitlin had no idea of how much time had passed since she had been aware. As consciousness gradually took hold, she was cognizant that a lot of the sounds that she had heard before were gone. Other sounds had replaced some. In the far distance, she thought she heard machinery, but passed it off to a hallucination of want and need, not reality. She moved her head to the left and right, and found that the movement did not bring pain. The pressure on her chest had increased, and although she could not move the rest of her body, she found that her right hand could be moved slightly. She moved her thumb to the ring finger and touched the Claddagh ring that Lee had given her the first Valentine’s day that they had been together. Caitlin lay there, listening and struggling to remain alert for any changes. She fought the growing waves of pain by thinking, remembering…

 

 

After they had returned to her apartment, she and Lee had shared some coffee, and then sat out on the balcony. The sea always drew him, no matter where he was. They sat on the wide wicker couch that faced the incoming ocean. He had his arm around her shoulders, and she was nestled into his side, her hand holding his free one. He was staring out to the sea, the witch in the water, calling his attention.

"You’re far away right now, Captain." she said softly.

He pulled her closer. " Yes, and no, Little Girl. Just thinking about how grateful I am to have found you."

"Found me, Lee? You found me?" she asked lightly. "I thought that it was the other way around. I thought that I pretty much went after you!"

He lightly kissed the top of her head, "Well, whatever way we came together, it continues to amaze me that a beautiful, young woman like you is in love with an old man like me."

A slight bit of frustration crept into her voice, and she tugged at his tie, to get him to look at her. "Lee, how many times do I have to tell you that the age thing, that you're so concerned about is not an issue here. You're older than I am. So what?! Does that make you any different from most of the men that are out there, in relationships? The differences in our ages is a non-issue to me!!! Lee, I’m thirty! Most of my friends have been married for several years, and have families. I don’t. Does that make me strange, or different. You and I have not lived the usual lives of ordinary people. Just being part of this, the Institute, and in your case, the Seaview, makes the two of us living lives something out of the ordinary. And if you are older than me, so what?! Age isn’t important. Not when two people love one another." She pulled in closer to him. "And, Lee Crane, I love you!" She bent her head to his, and kissed him, warmly, and thoroughly. When she pulled away, he continued to hold her close.

"I love you, Caitlin. Since that night in the apartment, since you made me realize that I'd been living in pretty much of a vacuum for the last ten years or so, I have never felt so alive! Every day, I see things in a new light! I appreciate so much in my life that, until that night I had taken for granted." He paused and looked at her, "even you ... I had even taken you for granted. I took it for granted that you would always be there in my life to look after Robert, when my mother couldn’t. I assumed that you would be there for me to depend on, like I depended on every one to, take up the slack when I couldn’t. I was pretty much of a, what’s the word here…"

"Let’s see, my love, hmmm, Self-absorbed, self-destructive, focused, stubborn, intransigent…"

He laughed a low, warm laugh. "Alright, Little Girl! I get the picture! But you have changed some of that, you know! At least I hope that you have." This time he bent his head to hers, and taking her chin in his hand, pulled her lips to his. His kiss was tender, treating her as the treasure that he had discovered she was, and she eagerly returned the kiss. When he ended the kiss, he gently kissed her forehead, and murmured, softly "Thank you, Caitlin Davis. No one has given me the gift of love like you have...No one...." He pulled her closer to him, and murmured, "No one!" They sat quietly in one another's arms for a while and then she said quietly,

"Lee?"

"Mmm, yes?"

"I have a gift for you. I didn’t want to bring it to the restaurant. I wanted to wait and give it to you here." She leaned forward, and reached under the couch. She pulled a flat box, about the size of a shirt from under it.

He looked at the package, wrapped and tied in red paper and ribbon, and smiled, gently jibing, "A shirt? I don’t think I need shirts, Little Girl."

She slapped at him in jest. "Just open it!"

Careful of the wrappings, he took the card that was attached, and opened that first.

In Caitlin’s strong, sure handwriting, the card simply said,

Lee,
I love you,
Always and Forever
Caitlin

He turned the card over once in his hand, and smiled at her. Looking into her clear blue eyes, he said, "I hope you know how much I love you!" and then he took the package and opened it.

As he pushed aside the tissue paper that lay there, he looked at a silver framed picture, of Caitlin, Robert, and himself on a recent trip that the three of them had made to the San Diego Zoo. Robert had been anxious to see the cetacean exhibit that had opened, and Lee and Caitlin had decided to take him there for a weekend trip. They had rented a suite and Lee and Caitlin had thoroughly enjoyed the weekend with Robert. As they were leaving the Zoo that Sunday, there had been a photographer taking instant pictures. Robert and Caitlin had spent a good ten minutes persuading Lee to get the picture taken.

Caitlin had taken it, and told Lee and Robert that she was going to frame it.

She had taken it instead, and had it enlarged to an 8x10 size and had several copies made. Caitlin gave Lee the original 5x7 and an enlargement in frames. She had had them designed to be able to be fastened to the desk in Lee’s cabin or to the wall.

He smiled at her in deep appreciation of her gift. "This is another beginning, Little Girl.  The beginning, I hope, of a gallery of pictures of you and I, and the three of us. It’s wonderful. I’ll have the steward put it on the wall and on my desk tomorrow. Thank you!" he said softly.

 

 

Caitlin let the tears slip from her eyes. She hurt, oh God, she hurt! "Lee! Lee, my only love! Please…find me… soon… I’m so scared, Lee… I don’t want to leave you and R.C. Please, my love…soon find me soon…please!" The blackness was pulling at her, and she gave in, floating into it, where there was no pain, and it wasn’t hard to breathe at all!

 

 

Lee Crane was a driven man. He knew that the time he had to get to his wife was limited. He also knew that he would get to her, or he would die trying. His search was a dangerous one. He was the lead digger in the tunnel, and he was pushing, pushing to move as much rubble as he could. It was slow and tedious work. He kept calling for her, until his voice was hoarse with the effort. And he still kept calling her name. He was moving more and more debris, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. Patterson’s voice came from behind him.

"Skipper, Doc Jamison says out, and out now, or he’ll send in some men to pull you out. I’ll take over here, sir, and you take your time out of here. We’re gonna find Mrs. Crane. You’ll see."

When Lee didn’t move, Patterson nudged him again. "Skipper, please?"

"I’ll be back as soon as I tell Jamie what I think of his orders. Keep on digging here, Pat, and thank you. I won’t be long."

He backed out of the tunnel, and Patterson edged his way forward. As Lee moved out of the tunnel, he saw the faces of his crew, all helping with the search, for Caitlin and the rest of the people in the building. Quickly falling into his leadership role, he ticked off the names of the crewmen that had family that worked here in the building at the computer center. He counted off seven names, and made a note to have Chip check on the men and their family members. As he approached the end of the tunnel, bright light flooded the area. Artificial light created a surrealistic setting in the brightness of the late afternoon. Lee stood, and stretched, searching for Nelson, Jamison and Morton. He saw Harriman Nelson, four star Admiral, director of the Nelson Institute, hunched over in a tent chair. He looked all his age and more. Despite his own weariness and fear, Lee moved quickly to the older man’s side. Nelson had become, since his marriage to Caitlin, his stepfather-in-law, an odd quirk of fate that never ceased to amaze the two men. And Nelson’s wife Karen was his mother-in-law. Lee questioned, "Sir, are you alright?"

"No, lad. I just got off the phone with Karen." As if to justify his actions, he said, "I’m sending Ski in the FS1 to get her and Sean. They should be here in less than four hours. " His expression was bleak, his voice ragged with pain of the heart. "Lee, I should have taken the FS1 myself and told her in person. Yet I really couldn’t leave here. Karen and Sean need me, but the people here, our whole Institute family need me here. I have never felt so torn in my life…

 

 

Twenty minutes earlier…

The telephone rang in the timbered home by the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Three rings. A hurried Sean Nelson picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" he asked in an out-of-breath voice.

"Sean, this is Dad. Is your mother there?"

"Hi, Poppa Yeah. She's outside talking with Aunt Mary Ellen. We're going up to Washington tomorrow and gonna go to the Smithsonian and…"

"Sean! Slow down, son! Go get your mother, please. I've got to talk to her. Now!" Harriman forcefully replied to his exuberant son. He didn't want to alarm the boy, but he needed to get to his wife as soon as possible to let her know what was going on.

"Sure, Poppa. Hold on."

The next thing Harry heard is Sean yelling out for Karen Nelson to come to the phone and that is was his father. He heard footsteps in the background and then the phone being handed to her.

"Harry? Hi! What's up?" Karen's voice was jubilant and upbeat. She come east to meet up with her former sister-in-law and to take Sean to Washington for some sightseeing.

"Karen, … there's been an accident here," he started.

"Harriman, what's wrong? Is it Lee? Or one of the team?" she asked hesitantly, afraid to hear the answer.

"No, Karen… it's…Caitlin. I think you need to come home."

The words froze her solid to the floor. Time stood perfectly still as she struggled for focus. Gripping the telephone, she forced herself to speak. "What! What's happened, Harriman?"

As unemotional as he could possibly be, he told her, "There was an explosion in one of the lab buildings. The one that houses the main computer servers. She was in the basement working on some things when it hit. There's a crew trying to excavate it now and get any survivors out."

In a hushed but frightened voice, she asked, "Is she…?

"We… we don't know, Karen. Lee's down there right now, trying to get to her." Then, in a voice more forceful, yet tinged with fear, he continued. "If she's alive, she'll need you."

Karen Davis Nelson felt as if the entire world had suddenly caved in on her. Caitlin! Her first born. Her daughter…the only part of Robert that she had left. No! Dear God in Heaven, No! Her mind flashed back years ago to a similar explosion when someone had planted a bomb outside her office. Caitlin and Lee had been trapped in the elevator at that time and came very close to dying then. Now…to lose her now...Oh, please God! Not Caitlin! Please!!

"I'll pack our bags and come home on the next flight I can get to Santa Barbara." Her hands were trembling and her face drained of color. "Have someone meet us at the airport."

"No need. I've got Kowalski enroute to you as we speak. He'll land the FS-1 near the pier and you can board there. Karen, we're doing everything we can…" his voice faded into nothingness as he tried to reassure her. It was as hard for him to speak the words as he was for her to hear them. Harriman Nelson had taken Caitlin Davis under his wing as soon as she and Karen had entered the gates of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research years ago. She had been instrumental in getting her mother and Nelson together. She had been, for him, the daughter he'd never have. And the man she eventually married was the man he thought of as a son. "Karen, you're going to have to tell Sean. He'll want to know about his big sister."

"I know." She said in a quiet voice. "I… I'll tell him, Harry. I'll see you shortly. If you can, tell her I love her… Lee too." She placed the handset on the cradle, and turned as Sean came clattering into the hallway of the house, shouting, "Momma!!! Momma!! Aunt Mary Ellen found the neatest birds' nest near the edge of the bay! C'mon, Momma, lemme show it to you!!" He skidded to a halt, seeing his mother's face, and said, alarmed, "Momma?"

Mary Ellen Davis stared at her former sister in law. Karen's face was bone white, and her eyes had such a look of fear and loss that Mary Ellen was immediately concerned.

"Hush, Sean, can't you see that Momma needs a minute." putting her arm around Karen's shoulders, "Honey," she whispered, "What's wrong? What's happened? Is Harry ok? Lee?" she swallowed realizing the fear in Karen's face, "Caitlin? Oh, God, honey, what happened?"

Sean, listening to the conversation, pulled on her arm, "Momma, did something happen to Caitie? Momma!"

Karen looked at her son, so much like his father, and then looked over at her former sister in law. Slowly, she gathered what strength she could and then quietly took his hand. "Sean, there's been an accident back at the Institute. We've got to go home, honey."

"Momma, is Caitie okay? Has something bad happened to her?" the little boy solemnly asked.

Choking back tears as best she could, she replied, "I don't know if she's okay, Sean. Your poppa just told me that they're doing everything they can, but I don't know." A small tear formed in the corner of one eye and then slowly flowed down her cheek. The boy and his big sister, born a generation apart, were as close as two siblings could be. He idolized Caitie and his mother knew it.

"Momma, is she…is she gonna die?" His eyes suddenly fell listless and fearful, as he watched his mother fight for control, struggling to give him the only answer that she had.

Karen reached out and enveloped her son in her arms. Holding on tightly, she softly kissed the mass of red curls on his head. Then in a low voice filled with fear, "I hope not, Sean. Oh, dear God in Heaven…I hope not." And then, more softly, she added, "But I don’t know… I just don’t know!"

 

 

Lee had reached the near end of the tunnel, and the amount of debris was somewhat lighter. He flashed the light around ahead of him and saw it catch on something that reflected back at him.

Pushing away some rubble, he saw a small hand, and on the hand, a ring, a Claddagh ring.

"Caitlin!!" His voice was no more than a hoarse whisper as he reached for the hand. He shone the light directly on the ring, and the tiny diamonds that made up the windows of the boat flash back at him.

"Little Girl!!!! My God!" Reaching for her hand, it felt cold to him and his heart stopped with the memory of another hand, beloved and cold, so cold… As he held, tightly, to her hand, it twitched slightly, dragging him out of the depths of fear.

"Caitlin!!" Frantically digging at the rubble and dirt, he finds her face, and seeing the heavy slab of concrete that is keeping her pinned down... "Caitlin!! Little Girl!!!! Can you hear me?"

In the darkness that enfolded her, Caitlin heard a voice... "Lee!"... She forced her eyes to open, and a deep sigh escaped from Lee Crane.

"Caitlin?" he called again.

"Lee..." she said softly, "I... I knew you'd find me...I… I’m sorry."

"Shhhh...sweetheart, don't talk...all I need to know is that you are here, with me." He said, as he gently brushed the dirt from her face. He tightly grasped her hand, and she returned the grip with a weaker one of her own. "Now that I've found you, we have to get you out. Pat and Rod are behind me.... I’m sending one of them for Jamie."

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard... "Lee... it … hurts... it hurts all over... I... I'm scared."

"So am I, Caitlin. But we'll get you out... I promise!!" careful not to lean on her, or the material lying on and around her, he bent over, and kissed her gently on the lips...."I love you, Caitlin." He said softly.

She let the tears run down her cheeks. "I love you, Lee Crane! Oh, how I love you!!" She whispered. "Please, my love, Please..." her voice faded, and her eyes closed.

Lee felt a hand on his shoulder, and Will Jamison’s voice in his ear. "Lee, let me get to Caitlin. I can’t help, if I can’t reach her."

Lee reluctantly moved away from his wife’s side, and the boat’s doctor crawled into his place next to her. In the weak artificial light, the medic did his best to help the Captain’s wife. He was hard pressed. There was very little he could see and do until they were able to get Caitlin out of there. He fixed an oxygen mask on her face, setting the small tank beside her, but there was nothing else he could do. The slab of concrete would have to be moved, before they would be able to see how bad her injuries were. There was a lot of noise on the other side of the wall, where Caitlin was trapped. Voices and hammering, and the movement of machinery. Lee had sidled back to Caitlin’s side, and Jamie had moved aside to allow the Captain to be next to his wife. Lee watched her face, and carefully held her hand. He lost himself in memories … memories of a time that she had been his hands.

 

 

‘Dunce!!! She called me a dunce!! Am I that slow that I didn’t see what was going on here? And this isn’t the first time!’

They had been walking on the beach shortly after he came home from the hospital. He had been several months in the NIMR facility and then the apartment next to hers in the complex. Now he was finally back in his home, and settled and back to work. He and Caitlin had spent several nights alone there, until R.C. decided that he wanted to come home, so his mother and son had moved back in that afternoon. The three of them were a family again, at least of sorts, and he had called Caitlin and asked her to share dinner with them all that evening.

After dinner for the four of them, Lee invited her for a walk on the beach, and R.C. and Helen had encouraged the two o f them to go off together. Helen knew the necessity for privacy for them, and literally chased them out of the house like two children. They had taken the steps off the deck two at a time, laughing at Helen’s actions. At the foot of the deck, he had grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to him in a passionate kiss. When it ended, they both were breathless. She leaned into him and said, "You know, Captain Crane, either you learn fast, or you aren’t the dunce I thought you were!!!"

"Dunce, Little Girl?? Why would you think I was a dunce?" He had wrapped his arm around her, and they were now walking along the beach.

Caitlin ran a finger down the side of his face, and stroked his chin, "Because, my dear Captain Crane, it took you an awful long time to kiss me like that! Think about all that you have missed!!!!"

Lee smiled at her, "Caitlin, believe me, I do regret every single minute of the time that we haven't been together." He pulled her to face him again. "And now that I know the pleasure, I intend to spend the rest of my life making it up to you." He leaned his dark head to her fair one, and kissed her passionately for a second time. Running his fingers through her hair, gently stroking her face and neck, he said, "C’mon. There’s that private spot up the beach a bit." His invitation was unmistakable, and the deep warmth of his voice spurred her to take his hand and start up the beach.

 

 

Lee looked at the hand he held, fine and delicate, belaying the strength of person that inhabited the body. Caitlin’s strength had taken him so far from that accident so many years ago. And now, he was in danger of loosing her. He shook his head, ‘No!! I won’t loose you, Caitlin! No!!! Not now!!! Not when we are, finally, realizing how right we are together! Dear God, please don’t take her from me!!! Please!! I can’t do this again. I have no strength to do it. Lord, I don’t want to be alone again…not after I found her. Please!!’

He felt her fingers tighten onto his, and knew that her awareness was returning. Looking at her face, he watched as the blue eyes opened, seeking him. She smiled through the oxygen mask.

"Jamie’s been here, Little Girl, he wants that mask to stay in place."

She tried to speak, but her voice was lost in the mask. Lee looked at Jamison, his expression a plea, and the doctor said, "… for just a few minutes. I don’t know how much dirt and dust has gotten into her lungs, and …well, just a few minutes."

With tenderness that hid his fear, Lee lifted the mask from Caitlin’s face. "At least now you can hear me," she said softly.

"You shouldn’t try to talk to much. You need to reserve your strength."

"No, my love, I… I have to tell you… a few things…"

"Shh…" he lightly touched her lips with his fingers. "It can wait, Little Girl… It can wait!"

She moved slightly and groaned softly, " No, no, my love, it can’t wait… I need you to promise me...promise...if… if I don’t…"she swallowed hard, "If I don’t get out of this… that you will…will not…beat yourself up over it." She paused, breathing hard, and he held the mask to her face. In a few moments, she moved her head and he took it off again. "I love you, Lee…but… you can’t do… what you did when Cathy died, if I die… There, … I’ve said it…" A tear slid down her eye, "I… don’t plan to go anywhere… but….it’s in His hands… not mine…or yours…" Again he placed the mask on her face, and she breathed deeply of the oxygen until she could speak again. In a voice, now no more than a whisper, "Does Mom know?"  He nodded the affirmative, and she responded, "Good… help her, Lee. No matter what happens, this is going be tough on her. HN loves her… but…help her…. Uh, oh" she cried out, "… it hurts… again!" she said and lost consciousness.

"Will!!" Lee cried out, anguish and fear in his voice.

Jamison moved quickly over to her finding her pulse strong, and steady, and seeing no blood, he replaced the oxygen mask, and tried, as best as he could, to reassure the Captain. "Lee, you know that she’s going to be in and out of it. Until we can get this thing off her, we won’t know what’s wrong, or how bad she is… she’s steady right now!"

Lee Crane looked at the ship’s doctor with a face that was ravaged with deep-seated pain. Jamison had seen him like this only once before, when Cathy had died. At that time Lee had been inconsolable, pulling into himself, and keeping everyone else at bay, including his closest friends. Caitlin Davis had been a burst of life and a saving grace in the life of the Seaview’s Captain. There from her first days at the Institute, a young girl of seventeen, she had first observed, and then gradually became a part of his life, taking him, often against his will, from the loneliness and isolation that he had held himself in. When she had, literally, kicked his ass with the announcement to him that she loved him, Lee had let the barriers he had built, fall, and had begun to allow her brightness into his life. That these two were meant to be together was beyond doubt. If Caitlin should die, then no one could begin to imagine what would happen to Lee Crane. Jamie resolved to do all with in his power not to let that happen.

There was movement at the end of the tunnel, and a number of workmen came thru, one by one. In a short time span, there was a great deal of activity, and the men had small hydraulic lifts in place to help move the block that held Caitlin trapped. She had remained unconscious, and Jamison had administered a mild sedative, to keep her that way as they moved the concrete.

All of the men in tunnel were wearing masks against the dust and dirt, and with surprising speed raised the block enough to ease Caitlin’s small body from beneath it. Stabilizing her as best as possible, they moved her body into a stretcher, and pulled it slowly out of the tunnel. Lee followed the stretcher out of the tunnel, as the rest of the team of men remained behind to work in the tunnel and rescue effort.

Once out in the light at the front of the tunnel, Caitlin’s stretcher was moved to the triage area, where Will Jamison had worked quickly, and with further first aid, bundled her into the ambulance, Lee not leaving her side, and going with her.

 

 

Lee, Karen and Harry stood at Caitlin’s bedside. Tubes and wires ran from her small frame to the machines and monitors in the room. Lee held tightly to her hand, Karen’s hand on his shoulder, and Nelson's arm lay around his wife’s waist. The only sound in the room came from the machines. No one spoke.

Caitlin’s condition was critical. While the concrete block had not lain directly on her, there had been other problems. Besides the massive bruising due to being thrown about in the explosion, there had been damage to her lower legs, both broken. Her left arm was broken in two places and her shoulder had been dislocated. More serious than the broken bones, however, was the condition of her lungs. She had inhaled a large quantity of dust and dirt during her entrapment. Her ribs, while not broken, had been bruised, and had been pressing against her lungs, causing bruising there as well. She was suffering from pneumonia complications that Jamison feared could be fatal...If her lungs didn’t clear, he would have to use the ventilator and see if that would help ease her breathing and allow the lungs to clear, and hopefully heal. Both Caitlin and Lee were resisting the use of the machine, knowing full well, the other difficulties that the machine would, bring. At this moment, she was resting, tho’ not well, her breathing aided by only the oxygen.

Karen Nelson stood next to her son-in-law, and good friend, grief and pain clearly written on her face. She had never in her wildest imagination ever thought that she would be standing at her daughter’s bedside, like this.

‘Caitlin...my first born... my living link to Robert! Not now...Dear God, not now, not like this... just when she has found the happiness she has sought so long.'

Karen thought back to the days before the wedding, almost a year ago... to a time when they all had thought that Lee might not make the wedding... The night before the wedding…

 

 

Caitlin had stayed the night at Karen and Harriman’s. She just didn’t feel like going home alone. In her bedroom, at the Nelson’s, Caitlin sat at the edge of the bed, staring out the window at the sea. Karen had come into the room, and without looking at her mother, Caitlin said, "He's out there somewhere, you know, Mom. Somewhere... We are so close to being married, and I feel in some ways that we are already married, at least in the heart. I never, in all my wildest dreams thought that this day would come and that I wouldn’t know where he was. We’re supposed to be standing before Fr. Bernard and Rev. Miller in a few hours, and I don’t have a damn clue where he is, or how he is!" The infinite sadness in her voice moved Karen to sit beside her and wrap her arm around her daughter as she had done when Caitlin had been a small girl, and was hurting.

"Sweets, I’m sorry that this time that is supposed to be so joyful, is so sad for you. But I also know, that Lee Crane loves you, and that barring total disaster, he will be here to marry you. He loves you, more than you can even imagine, more than y you ever even hoped for. He is the man that you have waited for all of your adult life. He will be here!"

Caitlin allowed herself to completely relax in her mother’s embrace. There was a security here that even Lee Crane could not give her. A security that drew on a relationship as old as mankind. This was her mother, her source of strength, her source of all that was dear. Her relationship with Lee Crane, notwithstanding, here was the source of who and what she was.

And the words that her mother shared with her gave her the ability to draw on the depth of character of generations of Virginia women, strong and determined, that w would see her through any and all of the challenges she would face…

 

 

Karen remembered that night, and her hand tightened on Lee’s shoulder. He glanced at her and then went back to watching his wife. If possible, he held Caitlin’s hand even tighter...

This was a vigil he had never thought to keep... and now he understood better what he put those that he loved, and loved him, through, each time he found himself in the Sick Bay or worse.

His mind went back to the day that Cathy had died. He had not had the opportunity to even bid her good-bye. She had been ripped from him, and from Robert. ‘Robert!’ The look on his son's face, when he told him of the accident to Caitlin spoke volumes of the depth of feeling that the young man had for his stepmother. Robert had been raised by his grandmother, Helen. However, Caitlin had been with him since her arrival at the Institute, helping Helen Crane, with the lively youngster whenever she had the time. Lee smiled to himself to remember how much Caitlin had been in his life, and how unaware he had been of her presence. She was always there when he and Helen had needed her, and once she came home from Tech, and started working for Jiggs Starke and Nelson, he had seen much more of her. That this tiny, fireball of a woman loved him, and had loved him for so long never ceased to amaze him. Now that they were together, were married, for almost a year, he couldn’t lose her ... he leaned over her, and whispered, "Little Girl, I love you!" and brushed her forehead with a kiss.

She opened her eyes slowly and locked into the amber hazel ones that were staring at her... weakly, she responded, "Hello... my dearest love..." fighting the overwhelming emotions welling inside, she simply said, "I love you." and she wearily closed her eyes again. Anxious eyes went to the monitors above the bed, but the readings remained steady.

"Little Girl," Lee whispered, "are you with me?"

"MmmHmnh. Just… very tired, Lee." she replied softly. "Why?"

"The boys, Robert and Sean, want to see you, and Jamie has given his permission for a brief visit. That’s if you're feeling up to it. My mother is bringing them here in a few minutes."

"Yes, please...I do..." she sighed, "Poor boys.... so scared.... so very scared." Her hand tightened in Lee's grasp, as a spasm of pain ripped through her, in spite of Jamison’s medications. "How much?...How much do they know?... Mom? ... HN? What...what ... did you… tell Sean?" She closed her eyes again, gulping breaths, waiting for answers.

"Robert knows what we know, Caitlin. He's scared, but he understands. Little Girl, he loves you a great deal."

"And you… know...how much...I love him." Her voice was becoming weaker and softer as she spoke to them. "And … my little brother...what …about him?"

Karen laid her hand on her daughter's arm. "That you were hurt in an accident, sweets. That you have been hurt pretty badly."

Slowly and carefully, she asked her mother the next question. "Did he ...ask… if I was… going to die?"

As tears fell from her eyes on the crisp linen sheets, Karen Davis Nelson answered her daughter, "Yes...he did." She took a deep breath. "And I told him that we hoped not, but that we didn't know."

Caitlin smiled weakly at her mother... "It’s okay… Mom. We all know… what's going on… here, and ..." she grimaced as pain from her chest moved through her, and she gripped Lee's hand tightly, relaxing her grip after the pain passed. She took a breath and continued, "And you… never …hid… anything from me… growing up.... I ... wouldn't expect ... you …to be different now...."

Karen patted her daughter's arm... her tears still not abating as she spoke... "Can't teach an old Virginia woman any new tricks, Sweets."

Nelson's arm tightened around his wife, and he said gently, "Not that any of us want to, Karen." and to his step-daughter, "Sean doesn't understand all of this... but you know he wants to see his sister, as soon as he can. And Jamie thinks it will be a good for both of the boys to see you..."

"I know… HN... but just ...in case... It's ok, you … know...all of you... its okay..." she cleared her throat, "to say …it... in case… I don't make it." She coughed, then, and her slight body was racked by spasms. Lee's amber-hazel eyes filled with unshed tears at the pain that she was in, that he could do nothing to ease. Karen stood with Nelson's arm still wrapped around her, and watched her daughter, her heart tearing at Caitlin's pain. And Harriman Nelson, head of the Nelson Institute, cursed his own helplessness at preventing all the pain and suffering that the explosion had caused. He felt the burden of guilt for the accident. The experts had determined the explosion was caused by an aging gas valve, but nonetheless, his step-daughter was here, in the Med Center, three people had died, and some 47 others had been injured because of that faulty gas valve.... Something that could have been prevented if he had been more vigilant... the pain that Karen was in, that Caitlin was suffering, that Sean, his son was in because of this... He shook his head sadly.

Caitlin reached for Nelson’s hand. "HN…"

Clearing his throat, he answered, "Yes, Caitlin."

"Like I said,… in case… I … don’t …make it… You have to...promise…me…."

"Anything, Caitlin, anything at all…" his voice was at once tender and sad.

"Take…good care… of Mom, …HN. She… loves you …so much… so very much…."

He gave her a slightly crooked smile. "I will, Cupid Crane… I will do my very best!" he leaned over the rail of the bed, and kissed her gently on the cheek. "I will take care of your mother, my wife, " his voice caught, "for the rest of my life, Caitlin. The rest of my life."

Karen looked at him, and seeing his face, took his hand in hers, and whispered to him, "I know that look, Harry... Stop it...stop it right now... you couldn't have prevented this.... This was an accident.... A simple accident..."

"No accident is simple, Karen. Accidents happen because people are less vigilant then they should be they don't see the details, don't take care of simple mistakes. That's how accidents happen. And since I am the one in charge of it all, it is my fault."

Karen remained silent. Knowing her husband all these years had taught her that when he was in a mood like this one, there was no reasoning with him. She knew that later, when things fell into the right perspective, that she would be able to talk and reason with him, but to attempt to do so now, would only make his guilt worse, not better.

There was a light knock on the door of the room, and it swung open. Two boys stood in the doorway, a tall young man, an image of Lee Crane at a younger age, and, with him, a slightly shorter red head. Behind then stood a tall, dignified woman with dark curly hair. Her resemblance to Lee Crane was unmistakable. The only clue to her age were the lines on her face, but her form and bearing seemed ageless. She had her hands on the shoulders of the boys, and bent a head to speak to them. The red headed boy suddenly clutched at the hand of the older boy, who bent his head to him, and held the hand in his grasp tightly.

Robert Charles Harriman Crane was no stranger to hospital rooms of the ones he loved. He had been in many of them in his thirteen years, visiting his father time, and time again, during Lee's many hospital stays. Yet this time was drastically different. This wasn't his father. ‘This was Caitlin!’ The woman who had become the mother he never had. Caitlin had always been there for him whenever Lee had been hurt, and now, she was hurt. The thirteen-year old boy felt as if his heart was breaking. And the pain on the face of his father, pain, he had hoped never to see t again, was all too familiar. It spoke of how Lee felt whenever he had thought of, or spoken about Cathy, Robert's mother. Caitlin had taken that look away.... and now, it was back, but this time, for Caitlin

Sean Nelson was terrified. He had never seen anyone he loved in a hospital room like this with wires and tubes, and it was his sister, his 'Tatie that was here. R.C. told him that the machines and wires were a good thing, and Momma and Poppa had told him the same... but he wasn't so sure. Momma and Poppa looked like they had been crying...and so did Uncle Lee. Grownups didn’t cry unless something really bad was happening. He reached for R.C.'s hand, and grabbed it tightly. R.C. bent down, and said, in a voice that was soft and wise beyond his years, "It's okay, Sean. It looks a lot worse than it is.... Those machines and things are to make Caitlin better. They look bad, but they really are good things!

Sean moved to the other side of the bed, and reached for Caitlin's hand, wanting to touch his sister and see if R.C. was indeed correct.

When she felt her brother’s touch, Caitlin slowly opened her eyes. Licking her lips to moisten them, she whispered, "Hi, Seany. How’s… my… baby brother?"

Fighting back tears of fear, the youngster gulped. "Okay…. Okay, Caitie. How… How’re you feeling?"

Deciding to be honest with the child, she said slowly, "Not… not very good… It hurts… a lot."

Sean touched her forehead, "I’m sorry, Caitie… I wish I could help you. I wish I could take the hurt away!"

She smiled slightly at him, and tried to be reassuring, "It’s okay, …Seany… really… Dr. Will is…is doing …the very… best he can." She choked, and had a coughing spasm, trying not to frighten the boy any further. The spasm passed and she took several short breaths, smiling weakly at Sean, trying to ease the panicked look on his face.

"Caitie…are you gonna… gonna die? All these machines… an’ Momma an’ Poppa…an’ Uncle Lee…everyone’s so sad…" tears were streaming down his face, his bright blue eyes, like his father’s full of love and fear. "Caitie… are you?" he held her hand tightly, squeezing it as he became more and more upset. Karen moved around the bed to stand behind him, holding him tightly. She watched her daughter’s face as Caitlin struggled to answer the little boy truthfully, yet try to continue to protect him from the total fear that he was feeling at the moment.

Gathering her strength, she looked at her husband, and stepson, then to her mother and brother.

Slowly she answered him, looking deep into his eyes. "I … hope not…Sean. I…sure don’t plan to…but I’m gonna… need your help… and everybody’s… I need you… to …to pray for me… and Dr. Will… and Lee, and everyone… Okay? and…make them …your…own… very… special… prayers… Little Brother…"

"Oh, yes…Caitie…" He shoveled the tears from his face and eyes, and asked Nelson, "Poppa, lift me up to kiss Caitie, and then you an’ me an Momma are goin’ to the Chapel, ‘cause I gotta talk with God."

He waited patiently as Harriman Nelson lifted him above the railing and he lightly kissed Caitlin’s forehead. "I love you, Caitie," he murmured. One giant tear fell on the pillow next to her. She reached for him, and her fingers lightly grazed his cheek.

In a voice, barely above a whisper, she said, "And I love… you, …Seany. Very, … very much… Now… you take care of Momma and Poppa… Okay?"

He nodded solemnly as his father put him on the floor. He grabbed Nelson’s hand and Karen’s and commanded. "C’mon…We gotta go pray for Caitie!" In spite of the situation, Karen and Harry smiled at the little boy. She bent down and whispered in his ear, and he pulled his father from the room. Karen bent over the bed.

"Sweets, I’ll be back as soon as I can." She paused, "You know that I love you , Caitlin."

She gently touched her mother’s hand, and said, "I…know… Mom. Go on, …now…Sean needs you. I …love you,… too." And she closed her eyes. Lee and Karen looked at one another, and he nodded slightly and, eyes brimming with tears, she left to join Nelson and Sean.

R.C. moved to the side of the bed that the Nelson’s had vacated, and took Caitlin’s hand in his. He was frightened as well, but he also knew that Jamison would do all that he could to help Caitlin. Her hand felt cold to him, and that disconcerted him. He looked at Lee, and saw a man in deep fear. He’d never seen his father with this look on his face and that also frightened him. He looked at his stepmother. Caitlin’s eyes were closed, her breathing seemed light to him, but he didn’t know… he whispered her name.

"Caitlin?"

Her eyes slowly opened. She smiled her gentle smile at him. "R.C.?"

"Yes. I … I wanted to see you. I … I …know that … I shouldn’t be here… that you need the time with Dad, and the Admiral, and Aunt Karen, and all, but I needed to see you. I wanted to tell you how much you mean to me. I love you, Caitlin. You have always been here for me. Like I said at the wedding, I’ve never known Dad to be as happy as he’s been since the two of you have been together. I really want you to know that, and to know that I’m praying along with everyone else that you get better soon."

A look of concern crossed her face, she squeezed his hand, and said, "R.C. I’m…glad … that you … are here. You… Lee… and me…we’re …a …family. You…belong… here…with…us."

Robert nodded. "I think so, too. Thank you. I’m going to go home with Gran, and Dad and you know that I can come over any time, if you want me. But I think I’m better staying with Gran right now. She needs company, too." Helen came behind her grandson, and her hand lightly rested on R.C.’s shoulder.

The older woman smiled at the young woman on the bed. Holding on to the boy, she said, "Robert is taking me home, Caitlin. Know that I love you, dear, and that you are very special to me…to all of us. I am so sorry that I can’t do more for you, but you have my prayers." She leaned over, and kissed Caitlin. Then Robert kissed her, too.

"Caitlin, I love you. Thank you for being here for Dad and me."

Caitlin rested her hand on the boy’s face, "I love you…R.C. I… couldn’t have…picked out… a… better…son!"

Robert allowed the tears that he had been holding fall, and he went to his father’s side. Lee laid Caitlin’s hand on the bed, and engulfed his son in a hug. The boy cried for a few minutes, resting his head on his father’s chest. Lee let his own tears mix with his son’s. Robert finally disengaged himself from his father’s arms, and reaching across to the table at the bedside, took tissues to wipe his face and eyes. He looked hard at his father, and said, "Dad, I’m going to come back over in a while… I want to sit with you and Caitlin. But I have to look after Gran, she’s pretty upset, and I don’t want to leave her alone."

Lee smiled at his son, gently ruffling his dark curls. "I’m okay, Robert. Take care of your grandmother. I appreciate that, its one thing less that I have to worry about. Thank you!"

R.C. smiled at his father for a brief moment and then his young face became serious once again. "Sure, Dad." He hugged Lee one more time, "I love the both of you"

Helen Crane approached her son. She was slightly wary. Lee always drew into himself in a crisis, and the last time he had been fairly short tempered with her… Helen loved Caitlin like a daughter and was beside herself with the degree of Caitlin’s injuries. If truth be told, she was brokenhearted for Lee and his wife. Neither one of them deserved this wicked twist of fate. Caitlin certainly didn’t. And neither did Lee. She sighed, and opened her arms to him, remaining silent. He moved to her, and wrapped his arms around her. They simply held one another, and then let the embrace end.

Helen’s hazel eyes looked deeply into her son’s… "I love you, Lee. I trust you know that." Nodding towards the young woman in the bed, "Take care, son. What the two of you have, well, it’s so special. The good Lord will see you through this"

"I will do my best, Mom. And I love you. Thank you for being here in all the times that I needed you!"

She shot him a small smile… "That’s why God made mothers, Lee." Turning to her grandson, "Robert, time to take your Gran home. C’mon, dear."

She linked her arm in the young boy’s, and they left. Lee pulled his chair to the bedside, took Caitlin’s hand in his, and began his vigil anew.

 

 

Harriman Nelson followed his son into the Chapel and knelt next to him, as the nine-year-old knelt, down, and bowed his head. Harry looked at his son, and smiled. He wondered what was going on in Sean’s head… Sean was surprising his parents with the depth of his understanding of the critical situation. Harry bowed his head, and began to say a few prayers of his own. Sean clasped his hands tightly together and began his prayers.

‘Now listen God, this is Sean Pearce Nelson, and you gotta listen to me… My sister, Caitie, is hurt and I'm scared."

The youngster sighed deeply.

‘Real scared! I need you to help her get better. See, she, and Uncle Lee just got married, and Momma and Poppa say that they love each other a lot. It isn't fair if... if you let her die, God... 'Cause I love her too, just like Momma and Poppa. Now, a while ago, Caitie told me that her poppa is with you, and that she misses him a lot. And maybe you’re thinkin’ that he would like to see her again. But I don’t think that’s right, God. We still need her here with us. She also told me that she loves my Poppa, almost as much as her own. And my Poppa loves her too. You know, God, I don't want to have my Momma crying all the time, an’ you know that if Caitie dies, she's gonna do that. She’s gonna do that a lot.’

He reached out and squeezed his mother’s hand.

‘She's gonna be unhappy like Uncle Lee was for so long, ... like R.C. says he was until my sister Caitie made him laugh again…Caitie is like R.C.’s momma now, and I don’t want my friend to be without a momma, just like I wouldn’t want to be without one. I don’t understand all of that, God, but I do know that I love my Caitie… and, God, I don' want her to die. I want her to be with me, and Momma and Poppa and Uncle Lee and R.C. ... please God... please make her get better. Please?’

Sean Nelson looked at his mother with eyes like his father’s. Karen returned the gaze, running her free hand through the riot of red curls that was her son’s hair. Abstractedly, she marveled at its texture. Feeling the softness of it, she was suddenly jolted back to another hospital, another Chapel, and another child in pain. Back to a time that she, and Caitlin had sat in a hospital Chapel on the other side of the country, and she had had to tell her daughter that her father was dead. Caitlin had also prayed with all of the certainty of a nine-year-old, that her Daddy would be okay. Caitlin had been wrong…God hadn’t heard her prayers, and it had taken Karen a long time to resolve her own guilt about Robert’s death, and an even longer time to find her way back to the belief in God. She now prayed for her daughter, her friend, her husband that none of them would know that pain ever again…She prayed to God, that her son would not have to know that kind of pain so young. And she prayed to Robert, Caitlin’s father, asking him, selfishly, not to take their daughter to join him.

‘She’s a wonderful woman, Robert. She has done you and me, proud. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. She’s a wonderful wife, a wonderful mother… she has been for a while… I can imagine how badly you want to know her, but she’s so young. If you have it in your power, please, try to convince the good Lord to let her stay with us, here. I don’t want to let her go, Robert. Neither does Lee. He’s a good man, my… no, our… son-in-law. He loves her more than anything in the world… there isn’t any thing he can’t do for her. They have had their problems, the man was damn thick when it came to realizing how she felt about him, but he came around…Robert, I think the expression is that he treasures her. Let her stay with him. Lee’s had that grief once, and it almost killed him… not again, please. And then there are Harry and Sean. My little boy who is so like his father. I know that you and Harry are as different as day and night… and I know that he isn’t the person you would have chosen for me… but I chose him… and he is very good for me. I love him, Robert. He completes me. And he is a good father, albeit a different sort of one. Help me here, my dear love… please…her arm went around her son’s young shoulders, the tears flowing freely. 

Sean patted her hand and said with the confidence of an eight year old, "Don’t worry Momma... I talked to God... He'll listen, and make Caitie better. I promise he will."

 

 

Lee sat in the darkened room, staring at the ventilator standing silent sentinel over his wife, as she struggled to breathe. He knew all too well, the pain and discomfort of the machine. He also knew that for Jamie to use it, it would mean that Caitlin’s condition had continued to deteriorate. He held her tiny hand in his larger ones, and he stared at the Claddagh ring that circled her finger, and the bracelet, the anniversary gift he had recently given her. The golden heart was tarnished and scratched, some of the engraving blurred. He took her hand and held it to his forehead, and he prayed, prayed with a deep pain, one that he had not known in a long while.

‘Dear Lord, please… don’t take my ‘Little Girl’ away from me. I need her light, her love in my life… in my son’s life. You seem to be asking me to walk a path I know too well. I don’ t know if I can do this again. I’m old, Lord. At least I feel that way, and for some reason, You gave me this young woman to love and treasure, to share my life, and my son’s with. You gave me back some of my youth in her. If You were going to take her from me so soon, then why did You let me take so long to find her? I know… It wasn’t You, it was me… I’m the one who took so long. Look at her, Lord. She is good and kind, and so loving… and she is in such pain… she doesn’t deserve this… All that she has done is good. All that she has done is to love me…

He began to allow his tears to fall freely, allowing the pain that he was in to come to the surface, since no one was with them, and Caitlin wasn’t aware. ‘It seems that I lose those that love me… Cathy, how I loved you! …I wish I would have told you every day how I felt. I didn’t… I’m sorry. You know, Cats, I’ll never forget the way you looked the day that Robert was born. No one will ever give me a gift like him again. But, Cats, Robert loves Caitlin. She has been part of his life since you died. He needs her, needs a mother. You know that. If you can, don’t let her leave me… I really don’t think I can walk the path again… I’m weak like that. Selfish too… I don’t want to say goodbye to Caitlin, when we have just begun to say hello…Dear God, help me…help her!!

Caitlin had stirred, and she heard Lee’s soft sobs, and saw the tears…She wanted to hold him and tell him that she would be okay, but she didn’t know… she certainly didn’t want to die… He only opened up to her on that last weekend, when he had arranged for them to go away, after all the time that they had been together, after being married a year… they finally, finally talked to, not at, one another. It had been wonderful. The depth of his feelings had been laid bare to her, and she had done the same with him. She moved, and another wave of pain rolled over her. A moan escaped her lips, and he turned his tear-stained face to her…

"Caitlin…?" he whispered softly…"Little Girl?"

"Yes, my love….I… I’m awake. For a while… The pain…My chest…. Oh, God, Lee… I’m so sorry! To… put you… through this…"

Alarmed, he pushed at the button on the bed, "Will!"

She gripped his hand tightly, "It’s time… for … the machine, Lee. I… I don’t…."

"Shh, don’t try and talk, Little Girl." He kissed her lips gently. "I love you."

"I… love… you, Lee."

Will Jamison came quickly into the room. "Yes, Lee?"

"We think that its time for the vent… Caitlin asked for it."

Will peered at his patient, knowing how she feared and hated the ‘Instrument of Torture’ as Lee referred to it. Caitlin merely nodded. "It’s harder…. And harder to … breathe, Will."

Trying to reassure the Captain and his wife, he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I think that it will help, Caitlin. I’ll get the meds, and be right back."

"Lee…" she whispered… "I just… want to… tell you ...before …the damn… tube …goes in…. I … Love …you…Always…Forever…"

He slid an arm carefully beneath her shoulders, and lifted her lightly to hold her close to him. "I love you, Caitlin. You are my life, Little Girl. I will be here, with you… I won’t leave you."

"I … know…" She took her hand and slowly traced the planes of his face. "So…sorry… for … all of… this…" He felt her tiny body trying to draw in air, and also felt her body as it resisted the effort.

"It isn’t your fault, Caitlin. It truly was an accident. Don’t waste your energy on being sorry, focus on getting well… I know that you are in pain, I wish I could take it away. I wish I could make you well…" He held her closer. "Please, Little Girl… try and get better… Robert and I love you, we need you to come home to us… We have a lot of plans, Caitlin… A lot to do together… I love you!!" He eased her back onto the bed, and Will Jamison came to the bedside.

Looking at the two of them, he knew how hard this would be, so he quietly said to Crane, "Lee, Skipper, this is going to take a bit of time. I want Caitlin to be comfortable before we put the tube in. Why don’t you go and call Harry and Karen. They asked me to let them know if we were going to do this."

"Jamie, I promised Caitlin I wouldn’t leave her." Lee informed the medic, firmly, as he held tightly to her hand.

"It will be easier for the both of you if you aren’t here when we do the procedure, Lee. You know that." He looked at Caitlin and smiled gently, "and you know that too, don’t you, Caitlin?"

She nodded, and taking a breath, said to her husband, "Will’s… right, my love. Go on…. Call Mom and HN…I’ll be here…. when … you ….. come back." She smiled wanly.

Jamison reached over and held Crane’s wrist. "I’m going to give Caitlin a mild sedative to relax her, and it will put her to sleep… stay ‘til she goes off. Then make the phone call."

Lee nodded. Jamison took a needle and injected the contents into the I.V. "Caitlin, this will make you sleepy, and relax you. I don’t want you to be too aware when we intubate you."

She nodded slightly, gripping Lee’s hand. "Don’t forget…."she whispered to him. "Not… your… fault…. Love… you… and Mom…HN…all…" the medication quickly took effect, and drifted off to unconsciousness. Lee placed her hand gently on the bed, and searched Jamison’s face for a clue to what was going on with his wife.

Seeing the question on the Captain’s face, Seaview’s CMO answered, "I’m going to keep her sedated for the time being, Lee. She’ll fight the vent if she’s conscious. I need it to work for her lungs… if it does what I’m hoping, in 36 to 48 hours we can take it out, and she’ll be on her way to recovery. You know what it is like to be on that… I don’t think you want Caitlin to be any more uncomfortable than she already is… and that’s why the sedation."

Crane nodded, and said, "Alright, Will. I’ll go call Karen and the Admiral." He leaned over the bed, and brushed Caitlin’s hair from her forehead, following it with a light kiss. "I love you, Caitlin. I’ll be right back." He murmured, and looking back at Jamison, said, "I’m going to make that call. Take care of her, Jamie… try not to hurt her any further… She’s been through enough." He turned and left the room, as the nurse entered to begin the procedure.

 

 

In the Nelson household, the phone rang shrilly in the darkness. Karen and Nelson had come home to get a few hours sleep. Neither had bothered to change, collapsing dressed on the bed, after seeing Sean to his room. The phone ringing made the both of them sit upright. Nelson grabbed for it.  "Nelson!"

"Admiral, Crane here. I’m calling because Jamie is putting Caitlin on the ventilator. We promised we’d call. He, uh… he sent me out of the room… he didn’t want me there…"

"Is Caitlin aware of it?" Karen was holding on to her husband’s arm.

"Yes, sir. We decided together. He gave her a sedative."

"I see…we’ll be right over."

"Yes, sir. I’m going back to the room… Jamie is going to keep Caitlin sedated for as long as the vent is in. I won’t be leaving her until this is over. I’ll see you when you get here."

 

 

Karen was moving before Nelson, could hang up the phone. "Jamie is putting the vent in?"

"Yes."

"Oh, God, Harry…why? Why Caitlin? Why now? Why?"

He pulled her close and held her in a tight embrace. "I don’t know, Karen… I don’t think anyone will ever figure it out…."

"It’s just so bizarre….such a freak thing…I never in my wildest dreams thought that we would be keeping a bedside watch for … my daughter…" she started to sob, burying her head in to his shoulder. His arms encircled her, pulling her close, and he held her as she cried, something she had not allowed herself to do since she had received his call in Virginia. She cried as if her heart was broken and more. The only thing that Nelson could do was hold her, and whisper softly to her as she cried. Then minutes later, her anguish spent, she slowly raised her head, and looked into the loving, clear blue eyes of her husband. There she saw the love he had for her, and the pain he was in as well.

"Our daughter, Karen," he said softly.

She reached and placed her hand on his heart. "I know, Harry… I know." Then, kissing him warmly, she said simply, "Thank you." And rose from his side, and began to dress…

"I’ll call Helen, and see if Sean can stay with her until school."

"Yes, do that…I’ll go and wake him…"

 

 

The door to the hospital room opened quietly. The lone officer quietly approached the figure at the bedside. The only sounds in the room were the sounds of the machines. Lee sat at the bedside, clasping Caitlin’s hand in his, his head bowed, his shoulders bent over. He looked a figure of deep despair. Softly, Chip Morton moved to his friend’s side. He put his hand on Lee's shoulder, and Lee lifted his head to look at him...'Chip?'

"Here, Skipper… How’s Caitlin?"

"No better…no worse…" he looked infinitely tired to his friend… "She hates that thing, you know, Chip…I didn’t want Jamie to use it. But Caitlin decided. She felt she needed it…Jamie did to…" He sighed, sadly and turned his head to look at his wife. He shuddered, and Chip gripped his shoulder more tightly. With a voice filled with total desolation, he asked his friend,

"Chip, what am I going to do if Caitlin dies? She’s so young, so much younger than me… and she doesn’t deserve this…doesn’t deserve to be in such pain. I hate to say that its not fair, but Chip, it isn’t fair…Oh, God, it isn’t fair!"

In the presence of his oldest friend, Lee let his grief and fear ride outward, and fill the room and fill him. His body was wracked with great shuddering sobs. Chip was immobilized by his own grief and fear. All Chip could do was stand there, holding onto Lee, and let him release the pent up emotions that he had held so carefully in check. Finally spent, Lee dropped his head into his hands, and took several deep breaths.

"Thanks, Chip." Lee said softly.

"No problem, Lee. No problem at all." He pulled a chair up next to Crane’s at the bedside. Quietly he handed Lee a small towel he had captured from the windowsill when he grabbed his chair. Crane used it to wipe his face, and his hands, and let it drop to the floor, in an uncharacteristic gesture of carelessness. Taking Caitlin’s limp hand in his, Lee turned his head to face his friend.

"I’m not going to ask how’re you’re doing… I can see that for myself. How’s Caitlin doing?"

Lee shook his head, "I don’t really know… Jamie says no ground lost…. But I don’t know if that is good or bad."

"Lee, I’m here for you, you know that. I can’t say that I know how you feel, what’s going on here, but I do understand. Before Alex was born, when the Sargent tried to kill Matty and me, when he took Matty… I …well, I know what’s going on in your head, to a certain extent… the idea that he had her…was going to try and …" He paused, swallowing hard as the memories of that day, long kept buried, rushed back into his mind… "and the baby…she’d just told me about the baby…"

"Chip, don’t go there… I know… trust me… I know…"

The two friends shared a deep moment of shared pain, and then Chip spoke softly, " Lee, there’s a couple of things we have to talk about."

Lee looked carefully, seeing now, not just his friend, but the Executive Officer of the Seaview. "Yes?"

"I’m not sure how to approach this, so I’ll just storm ahead, and well, Lee, when you were on that mission before the wedding…?"

"Yeah?"

"Caitlin, and Matty and I had several long talks… about everything under the sun, and then some. One of the things that came up was injuries, and hospitals."

"And?"

Chip swallowed hard, knowing that what he was about to say would floor his friend, for it would never have crossed his mind. "Lee, Caitlin has a Living Will. She knows that we all have one, because of the nature of what we do, and not hearing from you in all that time, and not knowing what was going on with you, well, she decided she wanted one, too. She named me as the person to make any decisions. Gave me her power of attorney. She didn’t want to burden you. She figured that if a situation ever arose, that you wouldn’t want to make any decisions. So she asked me and I said yes. Lee, we both know how we feel about machines. And we all know what we don’t want to have happen. If… the vent doesn’t work, and if, well… you have to know… Will has a copy of it. And I wanted you to know. I … didn’t want it to come as a surprise."

"I… don’t know what to say… I’m really not too surprised. It’s the kind of thing she would do, and not bother me about." He paused, "You know we don’t believe in using the machines to maintain, but, when you are on this side of the bed, and the person you love is on the other… well, Chip, it puts a different spin on it."

"I’m sure, buddy. And I think that’s why Caitlin wanted it this way. Someone she hoped could be more objective than you would be."

Lee nodded again, and then said quietly, "I’m glad she chose you and not the O.O.M. Thanks again."

"Like I’ve said before…the job of the Exec…taking care of the details so the Skipper doesn’t have to worry about it. And speaking of details, there is one other thing, Lee."

"What else, Chip?" he asked dully, "Can’t you take care of it?"

"Wish I could, Lee, but its the Memorial Service, Skipper. You’re going to have to be there."

"I can’t be… I promised Caitlin I wouldn’t leave her until this was over."

"Lee, Caitlin would be the first to tell you, you have to go… the old adage of command, buddy… ‘The needs of the many …’ "

"The needs of this one is my priority right now, Chip."

"Lee… think about it. For just a minute."

Crane shook his head wearily. "You’re right, of course… Caitlin would be kicking me out the door." He sighed again. "When?"

"1400 today, at the front of the Admin building. "

Crane nodded… "Alright… I have to say something… If I could only think clearly…"

"Listen to me, Captain. I’m here. Why don’t you take 20 on the couch. I’ll sit by Caitlin, and when I leave here, I’ll have Sharkey bring over the dress blues, and we’ll get you to shower and shave… Beards may be in, but honestly, you look like hell with that three day growth!"

Lee ruefully scrubbed at his chin. "You’re right… probably scare the hell out of Caitlin, when she wakes up… If…"

"Well, then, Captain, if you don’t want to scare your wife, you’d better get some shut eye and let me sit with your lady."

Crane nodded again, and rose, somewhat shakily… when Chip saw how unsteady he really was, he asked, "when was the last time you had anything more than coffee?"

As he sank onto the couch beneath the windows, he ran his hand through his unkempt curls, "I… I don’t know… I think… a tuna sandwich. Yesterday. Sharkey brought some over from the boat." He smiled a bit, "It seems Cookie doesn’t think the food here is any good."

"Okay, Sharkey brought it over, but did you eat it?"

"To tell you the truth, Chip… I don’t know. I don’t know at all." He leaned back in the softness of the couch, and allowed it to envelop him. Before he realized it, he was asleep.

Chip rose, and took a blanket from the closet, and covered him, and then took Lee’s place at Caitlin’s bedside. Taking her hand in his, he began, "Well, Caitlin… the watch has finally changed. I got that stubborn husband of yours to hit the rack, and get some sleep. I know you won’t mind. I’ll be on duty here, just in case… So, don’t worry, you won’t be alone here. Just let me know if you need anything…"

 

 

Will Jamison entered Caitlin’s room later that morning. It was 0630 hours, and he was checking on his patients, leaving his check of Caitlin ‘til the last, so he would have the time to field all of Lee’s usual questions. He opened the door quietly, and was startled by the scene he found…

Lee was sound asleep on the couch, his long, lean body curled up on his side, his arm thrown over his head. At Caitlin’s bedside, Chip Morton sat, or rather slept, his head on his crossed arms, Caitlin’s hand in his.

Jamie shook his head benevolently, grateful to Chip for getting Lee to sleep. He had been fearful that if the boat’s Captain had gone on much longer, he would be the next patient to deal with. As he moved to the bedside, he checked the monitors, and then laid his hand on Morton’s shoulder.

Chip lifted his head, and sleepily looked at Jamison. "Oh…Will… sorry… must’ve dozed off here." He straightened up, stretched, and looked up at the monitors, and then at Caitlin. "Any change?"

"No…still the same… Thanks for getting Lee to the couch. I was afraid he was going to keel over before I got him to sleep"

Chip grinned at the doctor…"The job of the XO, Will…take care of the Captain." He stretched again, "He said he had a sandwich yesterday, but I don’t think he ate it… just the usual Lee Crane under stress. Coffee, coffee, and more coffee… Food isn’t a thought. Or a need."

"Right, until he collapses and puts himself in the Sick Bay! Somethings will never change, Chip."

"Well, I told him I would see he had breakfast. He has to go to the service today, and I have to find someone to stay with Caitlin. I’m going to speak with Helen. Ordinarily, I’d ask Matty, but she wants to be at the service. One of her men, from Electrical lost his sister, and she wants to be there for him."

Jamison nodded in understanding. "I’m sure that Helen would be glad to help. I’ll go order up breakfast for the both of you, though your appetite isn’t something that I worry about." He gave the exec a pat on the shoulder. " When you wake him up, tell him that the O2 levels are slightly better. We may be reaching a turning point."

Chip nodded, and Jamison left. He looked at the woman lying on the bed, and sadly looked over at the man on the couch. Uttering a soft prayer, he asked the powers that be to help these two people that meant so much to him and everyone else. He asked for strength for Lee to get through this, whatever the outcome, and for strength for Caitlin, if she did survive, to face the long recovery. Slowly, he rose, and stretched, and went over to the couch. He placed a hand on Lee’s arm that was flung over his head. Softly he called, " Lee…" touching him again, "Lee…Rise and shine, Captain."

Lee stirred, and looked at Chip through eyes groggy with sleep. Trying hard to orient himself, he slowly sat up, and raked his hair with hands shaky from too little sleep when more was needed.

"Caitlin?"

"Jamie was here. There may be some good news, Lee. He said to tell you that the blood oxygen levels are slightly better… his exact words were ‘We’re reaching a turning point.’"

He snapped immediately more awake…."Good news? That sounds like good news, Chip!"

"Yes, Skipper, it does…Jamie also ordered up breakfast. You have to eat all of it… else he’s gonna clamp you in leg irons and put you in a bed down the hall!"

"Alright, Mr. Morton!!! I’ll eat…" his momentary elation quickly faded, " I have to find someone to stay with Caitlin while I’m at the memorial.."

"Already taken care of, Lee… Helen will be here at 1200 hours… so that you can go and shower and change, and make the service. Sharkey is bringing the blues here, and there’s a room down the hall that Will says is at your disposal."

"Thanks again for taking care of the details, Chip." He stretched his arms out, and stood slowly. "Thanks a lot."

"Just doing my job, Skipper… taking care of details…After all," he winked at Lee, " someone has to look after your sorry ass."

"Well, Chip… you always have looked after your captain… one way or the other… saved me from a lot of things… and I guess I don’t thank you enough for that. Especially when Cathy… and now… "

"Lee, friends don’t have to say ‘thank you’. Besides, there are times when…well, I think you know…"

There was a knock on the door, and an orderly carried in two covered trays. He set them on the table next to the couch. "Captain, Commander… Doc Jamison said to bring these here."

"Yes," Chip said. "Thank you. You can come for them later." The man nodded and left. Lee went to the chair at the bedside, kissed her lightly on the forehead, and sat, taking Caitlin’s hand in his.

Speaking softly to the unconscious woman, he said, "I love you. Always and forever, Little Girl. Jamie says that you are getting better… The blood gases have improved slightly… maybe he will turn off the machine soon… Caitlin, I want you to come back to me. Soon, please, I miss you… I need you in my life, Little Girl. I need you to give me hell, to keep me in my place… I need your love!" He sighed heavily… "Caitlin, I have to leave you in a while, for a short time. My mother is going to stay with you… I have to go to the service for those that died in the explosion. I know I promised to stay with you , but, I also know that you would understand if you were awake." He touched her hand to his forehead, leaning his head against the railing.

He jumped when Chip touched his shoulder. "Lee, you’d better eat this before it gets cold."

Morton had pushed a table with a tray on it to Crane’s side, lifted the lid, and poured the coffee from the carafe that accompanied the food. Lee looked at the tray, and tried not to turn his head away. He wasn’t hungry. Hadn’t been since the accident. How could anyone expect him to eat at a time like this? He reached for the coffee mug with one hand, and took a sip, and put it back down. Eyeing the plate of eggs, bacon, toast, and home fries, he picked up the fork, and took a bit of eggs on the edge. Putting it in his mouth, he looked at Morton, and said, sarcastically, "There, mother. The boy is eating!!"

Chip was standing, arms crossed on his chest, and just simply smiled. Crane took another mouthful of the eggs, and Chip said, "That’s better, Skipper. Will would have my head if you don’t clean that plate!"

"I’m a grown man, Morton. I know when and if I want to eat!"

"Right again, Lee. That’s why the Doc is always on you about eating."

"I’m fine, Chip." Lee took another sip of the coffee, and there was a knock on the door.

"Come." Lee called, and CPO Sharkey came into the room.

"Skipper, I’m sorry to bother you…Didn’t mean to interrupt your breakfast, sir." Looking over at Morton and then at his Captain, "How is it, sir?"

Lee cast a baleful eye at the chief, and shoved two more forkfuls of eggs into his mouth. "There, Chief, now you and Chip can tell Jamie that I’ve been eating."

"Begging the Captain’s pardon, sir, but all I can tell the doc is that I saw you have some of the breakfast, sir. If Doc Jamison wants you to eat, then you’d better do so, sir. You know the Doc."

Making a face at the Chief and the XO, he commented, " Yes… and I really don’t need two mother hens, thank you very much."

"Yes, sir. Well, sir… as you know, I’m only following orders, sir… How is Mrs. Crane, sir?"

"Doc says better, Sharkey, thank you. What’s the problem that brought you here?"

"Well, sir. I went to your house, like Mr. Morton said to, but sir, there are no ‘Blues’ in your closet. Could you have them any where else?"

Lee gently laid Caitlin’s hand down on the bed, and slowly stood. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his wallet. Thumbing through the contents, he pulled a slip of paper from it and handed it to the Chief. "There’s a set in my cabin on the boat… but this is the ticket for the cleaners here on the grounds. Caitlin… Caitlin brought them all over there on Monday morning…before the explosion. Four sets. And the one on the boat… where ever you want to get them from."

He sat again, and Sharkey looked at Morton. "Go to the cleaners, and the boat." He said, sotto voce, "And then bring one set here, and the rest to the Skipper’s house."

"Aye, sir…Mr. Morton…?"

"Yes, Chief. He’ll be okay. And so will Mrs. Crane."

"That’s good sir, real good! I’ll be back as soon as I can with the blues, sir. And Captain?"

"Yes, Sharkey?"

"Enjoy the breakfast, sir."

Lee simply glared at the COB, and as Sharkey headed toward the door, Morton said, "Chief, wait a minute. Lee, I’ll be right back."

Crane nodded and turned his attention again to the still form on the bed, taking Caitlin’s hand again in his…

A short time later, the orderly returned to find both trays stacked neatly and covered, sitting on the side of the couch. Timidly, the man asked, "Captain, was the food ok, sir?"

"Yes, yes…it was fine. Mr. Morton covered them up for you. Everything was fine."

"Thank you, sir. I hope Mrs. Crane gets better, sir. We all do."

"Yes…thank you…thank you very much." Lee replied, his answer distracted, as he sat next to the bed.

When Chip returned, he saw that the trays had been taken, and he moved next to Lee. "Jamie says he’ll be in shortly, Lee. He wants to run another set of tests on Caitlin’s blood gases. He got called to the boat." Crane looked up, startled.

"What happened on the boat?"

"One of the new crewman, Fred Weiss, was in the forward stores locker. He reached for a crate, and the crate fell apart… Cut open his head. Not badly, but he needed some stitches. Will went over. He’ll be back in an hour. In the meantime, why don’t you hit the couch again. I’ll sit with Caitlin."

"No, thanks, Chip. I’d rather stay here with Caitlin as long as I can." He rested his head against the bed-rail, still holding Caitlin’s hand. There was nothing else that Chip could think of to say to his friend. Neither man had steered this course before, and this was unknown territory. Inside, Chip shrank from the worse case scenario. He had been with Crane when Cathy died and he knew Crane well enough to know that if Caitlin should die, Lee would follow, emotionally at the very least.

"Lee, I’ll be going to the boat. The Admiral’s there, and I want to check on the men, and the boat’s business. We should have a report on Weiss when I get there. If you need me…"

"I know where to find you. I‘ll be here with Caitlin until Mom arrives. Put a few words down on paper for me, will you? I can’t seem to think straight."

"Sure, Skipper. Be glad to." He clapped his hand on Crane’s shoulder. "I’ll see you at the service. Sharkey will be back to get you whatever you need." Lee slid his hand over Chip’s.

"Thank you…for Caitlin and me."

The rise of a lump in his throat prevented Chip from responding further. "Again, Lee…none needed…Later, Skipper." Chip quickly left the room, fighting his own emotions and keeping them from Crane. Once outside the room, he leaned against the wall and gave into several heaving sobs, totally distraught.

There was a gentle touch on his shoulder, and he found himself looking into a pair of incredible turquoise eyes. A soft smile, and a gentle voice said, "Sailor…you doing okay?"

Chip looked at his wife of more than twelve years. "Angel! What are you doing here? The kids…"

"Are with Helen. They stayed there for the night, just in case you needed me… they are being very good with all of this. And you, my dear XO… how are you?"

She extended her hand to him, and he pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly. In a voice that was tight and strained, he said, "Matty," he sighed heavily, "I don’t know… Lee is in there, living with the worst thing that I can imagine, and all I want to do is to get as far from it as possible…. I keep thinking …what if…..what if it were you in that bed! I don’t know how to help Lee, because I can’t imagine what he is feeling. When Cathy died, we all pulled together for Lee. It was different for me…I… didn’t have you, or the children. And while we knew that Lee was hurting, I don’t think anyone, except maybe the Admiral knew how he was feeling…and even that was different, the Admiral didn’t have a child…a constant reminder of what he had lost. And then, when Lee finally realized what Caitlin meant to him, he became, again, the Lee Crane that I had known at the Academy and here, when Lee first came aboard as Skipper. They’re meant for one another… and now… what a damned mess…! Lee was telling me Monday morning what a good weekend they had had…how he had finally… finally opened up to Caitlin… told her a lot of things that he hadn’t before… and how she has opened up to him… and then…a couple of hours later…this…" He released his grip on her, and leaned again on the wall, keeping one arm wrapped around her. "Angel, I just don’t know how to deal with any of this…. And then, there’s Karen… with the boat and the deep dive team scheduled to go out… how can she concentrate on anything. We’ve been running the tests on the new suits, but her mind isn’t on it. She’s been out with the other boat twice since the explosion… and we’ve all seen her concentration just isn’t there…"

Gently, Matty said, "Sailor… can you blame her? That’s her daughter in that room, and Caitlin’s life is in doubt. Her husband is blaming himself for the accident, and her son-in-law isn’t dealing well with a horrendous situation… In addition, her little boy doesn’t understand what happened, except that his sister, who he adores, is hurt, there is a possibility that she may die, and Sean wants to know why. She’s got a helluva lot on her plate!"

He held her closer, and sighed. "I know…I don’t know how she handles it either." He hugged her tightly…"Matty, I don’t know if I could be as strong as Lee, if…if this were…."

She placed a finger on his lips…. "Shhh… don’t say it, my love… I can tell you, I know, I wasn’t…strong. I wasn’t when you… when you were going to be…executed…when Drew was born… I didn’t handle it at all… I…fell apart… I gave up. I would have just laid down and died, if it hadn’t been for Lee, and the Admiral and Karen. Everyone here fought me. Fought with me. I thought you were dead. I didn’t want to go on without you…didn’t want to live at all. No one…nothing mattered. You… You were gone, and you didn’t even let me say good bye to you …didn’t let me know…how you felt…or why…"There were tears in Matty’s turquoise eye, "I felt like my love for you wasn’t worth anything… anything at all. I hurt, Chip. I hurt like I had never hurt before in my life. And I was empty, and facing a loneliness for the rest of my life that I didn’t want to, didn’t have a blasted clue how to deal with. I know how Lee feels… and the worst of it is that I can’t do anything to make him feel better, save pray to God that Caitlin, my dear, sweet, friend, survives this." She sobbed, and he held her tightly until the sobbing stopped.

Quietly he said to her, "When this is all over, I think we need to do what Lee and Caitlin did last weekend…. Get away from all of this and talk…just talk, Angel… We have some issues that we haven’t resolved, and for that, I am sorry…very, very, sorry…"

She rested her head on his shoulder, and then slowly raised her head. Smiling almost shyly, she said to him, "Chip, we will resolve this. We both promise. But right now, we have to get ourselves ready for the Service. I brought your blues with me, and mine, too. Jamie said that we can use his office. And you have to put something down for you and Lee, don't you?"

He nodded. "Yep, Lee asked me to jot down a few ideas for him. I need about an hour. Could you wait here for Helen? She said she'd be here at noon, but I don't think I want her to walk in on Lee alone."

Matty kissed him lightly and said, "Go ahead, Sailor. Take care of the details. I'll wait here for Helen…"

 

 

Lee re-entered the hospital room and found Helen sitting next to Caitlin's bed, talking to the unconscious woman. He caught her saying, "… and Caitlin, I thought I wouldn't stop laughing when Lee finally told me what happened in the kitchen at Karen's baby shower… I love my son, but, well, my dear, I sometimes wonder 'what' you did see in him. How you knew that the two of you belong together. I love you, dear girl. You have made my brooding, sad son, a happy smiling, complete man. Caitlin, I love you like a daughter. I have been praying to the Lord to make you well. My son needs you, child. I'm old. I won't be here on this earth much longer. If I could, I would gladly give my life for yours. Please Caitlin, get well for my son's sake, and his son's. They need for you to continue to love them…Please get well."

Lee placed his hand on his mother's arm, and Helen Crane looked at her son with her Hazel eyes brimming with unshed tears. She quickly wiped at them, "Lee! I didn't hear you!"

He smiled crookedly at her. "Years of ONI training, Mom." Helen looked at the man that towered over her, and saw the pain and sorrow etched in his face… pain and sorrow akin to that other time. Had it been only Sunday night when they were laughing on the phone about R.C. coming home, and finding the two of them, on the couch, sound asleep? Lee had been so relaxed, so completely happy…and the next day, the explosion and he had reverted to that dark, broody person he had been before Caitlin.

"How are you? Did the service go well?"

"I think so. Chip handed me some words to say, I read them, but I don’t know what I said…Where’s R.C.?"

"Babysitting."

"Excuse me? He’s what?"

"He’s in charge of the Children of the Senior Staff. He’s old enough…almost 14. And the children love him, and respect him. I’ve called several times… Everything is fine. They’re at Chip and Matty’s."

Lee shook his head in disbelief. R.C. taking care of the rest of the children. Well, he was old enough. Helen had confidence in him… "Mom, why don’t you go over there, and give him a break. I’m here now, I’m not leaving Caitlin."

Standing, Helen held his arm tightly. "Lee Crane, I love you. You are a son that makes a mother proud, and I am so sorry for all the sadness I put into your life for so many years. You were right. This life that you have chosen is the ONLY one that you could have been happy in. I was wrong to oppose you for all those years. I see what you have in friends, and family, and I am happy for you. You be happy…Caitlin will recover from this… I just know she will." She kissed him on the cheek, and patted him on the arm. In a soft whisper, she said, "Your father would have been very proud of you. Very proud indeed." She walked to the door. Turning, she said, "I’ll send R.C. back to the house." Lee nodded and stared at the door long after she had left, absolutely stunned by the reference to the father he barely remembered; the man that his mother never spoke of. Coming out of the reverie, he dropped his cover and jacket on the couch, and went to the chair, next to the be, where he sat by Caitlin, and once again took her hand in his.

"Well, Little Girl, somehow, with Chip’s help, I got thru the memorial. Don’t ask me how… I don’t know. All I could think of is how I wanted to be here with you. I know that I read something that he wrote, and that afterwards a number of people spoke to me, but I don’t know what I said, or who I spoke to. Everyone is walking on eggshells around me… I don’t like that . Everyone is worried about you, Caitlin. Everyone. If they didn’t tell me, they told the Admiral or Karen. Your mom is looking so tired, and so is Harry. He’d choke if he heard me call him that. But when I talk to you, I guess its ok, right?"

He sighed. He was bone tired. His sleep on the couch had been punctuated with dreams of when he had found her in the rubble of the Computer building. The coldness of her hand…the grayness of her face. And her cries of pain when they had moved the block of concrete off of her, and found her legs broken. And the cries when they had moved her… He’d wakened several times, and looked over to the bed to make sure she was still there. Once he’d gotten off the couch, and went to the bedside, just to touch her and make sure she was still with them in some way. Chip hadn’t heard him. His XO was as tired as he was, maybe more so… Chip was running the boat, ship’s stores, security, and in charge of the cleanup after the explosion. He had also volunteered to arrange the memorial service. And he had spent hours here with him, and Caitlin. He would have to see that Chip got some extra leave when this was all over.

"You know, Little Girl, I just want you to realize that you are loved, and not just by me, or our little family, but by the whole institute family as well. Mom was talking to you about a lot of things, I guess. She loves you, too. She doesn’t tell too many people that…years of being alone , I guess…" He laughed a little to himself. "I guess I am more like her than I thought…"

There was a slight knock on the door and the Seaview’s CMO entered. Will Jamison was wearing his Dress blue uniform, his cover under his arm. "Lee… I came right here from the blood lab. I’m going to take out the vent. Caitlin’s lungs are much clearer. The oxygen levels in the blood are significantly improved." He paused. "I think we’re over that crisis." Several emotions ran across Crane’s face, and Jamison carefully chose his words, trying to encourage the hope that he saw there, and dispel the sadness. "Lee, you must know that Caitlin is going to have a long recovery, with her broken legs and arm. And you know that we are just beginning to see things look up here." Lee nodded. "Good." Jamison said softly. "Now, you, Captain, go on and get some coffee, and whatever you call food. Chip and Harry are waiting for you in the Cafeteria. I need some time here, with the nurses and when you come back, your wife will be infinitely more comfortable." He clapped Lee on the shoulder. "Go on, Lee. She is getting better." He said softly. "I don’t make promises that I can’t keep. I promise you, she is getting better…Now, go...Harry and Chip are expecting you to join them, and I have work to do here. "

"I’ll be back in ten, Will." Jamison looked at the boat’s Captain.

"Better make it twenty, Skipper. I’m good, but not that good." Lee nodded, kissed Caitlin on the forehead, murmuring "I’ll be back." and left the room.

 

 

Some time later, Lee returned to the room, accompanied by Nelson, both of them having sent Morton home. As the door opened, the first thing that they noticed was the absence of the sound of the vent. Jamison was standing at the bedside, a nurse next to him, working on the IV that was still connected to Caitlin’s arm. He looked up as Crane and Nelson entered, and nodded, as they moved to the bedside. "She’s doing fine, Lee." He reassured. "Harry, why don’t you let Karen and Sean know, they’ll want to talk to her when she wakes. After Lee, of course."

Lee moved to the bedside, and Nelson went over to the phone by the couch, talking in low tones. Crane looked at the doctor, and ran a gentle hand over her face, kissing her softly on the lips. "When will she wake up?"

"In a while…we have to let the sedative wear off. She’ll be sleepy, her speech may slur a bit. She’s going to have a very sore throat… All things that you are familiar with…Maybe too familiar, Lee. "

"No lectures, Will. Please?"

"Sure, Lee… no lectures…just a gently reminder to be careful."

"Right, Will… You tell that to the bad guys out there." He sighed. " You know, it is weird that this happened without a bad guy in sight. How long before Caitlin becomes aware of things?"

"Again, all I can say is a while…no real definite time… depends on Caitlin, pure and simple and how badly she wants to come back… there will have to be respiratory therapy… she will have to have it for a few weeks, at the least. And then we can think about sending her home. And I mean a few weeks, Lee. NO compromise here… I need to keep her monitored. And we have to watch the healing in her arm and her legs. That’s going to be the hardest for her. "

" No compromise will be sought, Dr. Jamison." Lee replied formally, "None… Your word will be law in regards to her recovery."

Jamison laughed. "Oh, yes… right, Captain! Like her husband listens to his CMO!!"

Lee merely shrugged. "You can’t teach this old dog new tricks, Jamie, but he will see that this Little Girl listens to you."

"I know that you’ll do your best, Lee. But I also know these Davis women."

Nelson had come up behind his Captain, as Jamison continued, "And I think you’re going to have your hands full."

Nelson harummped, and Lee looked at him, " Karen’s on her way over, Lee. She wants to be here when Caitlin wakes up. She said she hopes that you won’t mind, and then followed it up with the idea that she knew you would understand. Will, just what was the comment about the Davis women?"

Both Crane and Jamison smiled at the gentle barb Nelson made about his wife and step-daughter.

"Oh, I think that I can handle it, sir. I married the girl, didn’t I?" Then overwhelmed by the news that Jamison had given, that Caitlin would soon be awake, Lee sat hard in the chair, next to the bed, grabbing her hand. Her head moved slightly, and Jamison looked at the monitors, and at the young woman on the bed.

Looking at Nelson, he took the older man by the shoulder, and guided him to the door. "I think that we’ll wait outside for a while, Lee." Saying no more, the two older men left the room.

Lee took Caitlin’s hand and brought it to his lips. Kissing it several times, he then held it to the side of his face. "Little Girl," he said softly, " I’m here. I hope that you are feeling better. Will says that it will be a while before you wake, so I’m just going to talk to you and hopefully at some point you will answer me…Chip and the Admiral tried to get me to eat something a while ago. You should have seen Morton. He was just about standing on his head in the cafeteria here trying to get me to eat… I know… I know I should eat… you and Will and Chip and everyone want me to… but like I said before, how can I think of myself, when you are here, like this… I hope that I can be as strong for you as you were for me, after… after Gamma shot me. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you, Caitlin. It never should have…never…" his voice drifted off, his eyes closing, and he bent his head to lean on the bed rail. He stayed that way, for seconds, minutes, hours…he didn’t know, had no sense of time…until he felt her light touch on his cheek. Soft and light, like a gentle breath… almost not there, yet present. He snapped his head, and looked at her face.

She was struggling to open her eyes, and slowly, the lids opened. She blinked several times, and focused. In a voice low and hoarse, "Lee…?"

"Caitlin…Oh, God, Caitlin!!!!" Lee’s voice was also low and charged with emotions he was having difficulty controlling. Holding her hand more tightly than before, he lowered the railing, and kissed her tenderly, and asked… "How do you feel, Little Girl?"

She attempted to clear her throat, "Throat…hurts…sore."

He smiled sadly holding her hand to his cheek…"I know…exactly…how it feels. And I’m so sorry..."

She gently pulled her hand from his grip and placed a finger on his lips. "Shh…This…" she whispered, "is something that no one … no one… can take the blame for…especially not you!" she paused and then continued, "and … don’t even try, Captain!"

Taking her hand back in his, he smiled at her. "Yes, ma’am. My step-father-in-law is always telling me not to argue with a Davis woman." 

She smiled gently.  "I love you, Lee Crane."

"And I love you, Caitlin Davis Crane…" he paused. "Do you want…anything, Little Girl?"

"Just to…get out of here…and go home!"

"Sounds like the same complaint your husband is always making, Caitlin!" Will Jamison smiled at her, as he nudged Crane further down the bedside, and took Caitlin’s hand from him, feeling her wrist for a pulse. Satisfied with it, he placed her hand back in her husband’s. Looking down at his patient, he said in a kindly fashion, "Caitlin, I think you may have a feeling for what is going to go on here. Lee can stay until you go to sleep, and then I’m sending him back to the Morton’s for dinner, and sleep of his own." He looked at Crane, as he was about to protest, "Karen is going to stay with you while we get the Captain here to do what his CMO demands. And no man in his right mind is going to argue with the one woman who is his mother-in-law, the Admiral’s wife, and a Davis from Virginia all in one!" Nudging Crane, he asked, "Am I correct here, Captain?"

Crane shrugged his shoulders, in seeming acquiescence. He turned to the door, as Harriman and Karen Nelson came into her daughter’s room. Jamison moved to the opposite side of the bed, allowing his place to be taken by Karen. She smiled briefly at Lee, and then, looked at her first born, asking softly, "How are you, Sweets?"

"Sore, Mom… and tired… very tired."

Karen stroked her forehead as she had done when Caitlin was small. "Will told you, I’m staying here while we send this stubborn husband of yours to the Morton’s?"

"Mmm..." she took a deep breath, and coughed. Alarmed, all eyes at the bedside turned to the Doctor’s.

"She’s going to cough… the vent removal triggers coughing. And she still has a lot to get out of her lungs." Some of Jamison’s testiness lessened, "Look, now that you have all seen that Caitlin is getting better, let’s get moving so she can get some good sleep. Harry, take Lee with you, and get him to Chip and Matty’s."

"Jamie, I don’t want to…"

"Two choices here, Lee… Go with the Admiral, or, go into the room next door. Next door, you will be sedated and I will keep you there for a week, at the least, in bed. Go with your father in law and you can sleep in the guest-room at Chip and Matty’s and be back here, with your wife in several hours. Your choice, Captain. Your only choice." Jamison gave Lee his CMO’s ‘brook no interference look’. Caitlin gently squeezed Lee’s hand that was holding hers. She pulled on it ever so slightly and he leaned toward her.

"Go to Chip’s, my love… please…"

Karen squeezed his shoulder. "I’m staying with her, Lee. I promise. Harriman will take you to Chip and Matty’s." She squeezed his shoulder again… "Go on… I’m here…She won’t be alone…Go, my friend."

"Yes," the voice from the bed reiterated. "Go my love." She smiled at him, a tiny glimmer of her humor being reflected in her tired eyes. "I’m not going anywhere…I promise."

Lee had to restrain himself from gathering her in his arms, and holding her. "I’ll go with you, Admiral." He leaned over the bed, and kissed Caitlin. "I’ll be back shortly, Little Girl…Know that I am not far… and if you need me… well, you know…" She brushed his face again lightly with her hand, and then let the hand fall to the bed. "I’m so tired, Lee."

"I know, Caitlin. Rest now. Karen will be here, if you need." He kissed her again, lightly caressing her forehead, and then turned to Nelson and his wife. "Karen, if she needs anything, if anything changes….please …"

"Not to worry. I’ll get you as ASAP. Go now and get some sleep." She hugged her son-in-law fiercely, and released him, turning to her daughter on the bed. "Sleep, Sweets…I’m here…Lee is going to get some needed rest. Sleep."

Lee turned to look back at Caitlin as Nelson picked up his jacket and cover, and led him from the room. "C’mon, son. You do need to get some rest!!…" Lee allowed the older man to hold onto his arm and lead him to his Mercedes.

Rest for a while might be a good thing…’

 

 

Matty Morton paced the foyer of her home. She was slightly uneasy with her part in this little scheme of Will Jamison’s. If it wasn’t for her concern for Lee Crane, as a friend and the husband of her dear friend, she would never have said ‘yes’. Slipping Lee a ‘Mickey Finn’ in a drink wasn’t in her frame of reference, even if it was for his own good. And she didn’t need to be convinced that it was for his own good. She knew it was. But that didn’t make it any easier.

She was so deep in her own thoughts that she jumped when the doorbell rang. When she answered it, she found Nelson and Crane in the doorway. The Seaview’s Captain was looking decidedly unwell. Haggard and worn were words that came into her mind immediately. Lee was leaning heavily on the doorframe, and Matty could also tell that it would not take much to get the man horizontal… the problem would be to keep him that way for a while.

"Admiral, Lee…come in…" she greeted them. Each man had his cover under his arm, and placed them on the clothes tree on entering the foyer. She reached for Lee, and pulled him into a hug. "I’m so glad the news about Caitlin is good, Lee. So glad for you two, and all of us as well."

"Thanks, Matty," he said wearily, scrubbing his forehead, "And I appreciate the hospitality. Guess I’m more tired than I thought. And I really didn’t want to go home alone."

Linking her arm in his, she guided him to the couch in the family room. "Well, I’m glad that you decided to come here. And I promise, with this tribe, you won’t be alone!" She smiled at him as he sat. On the coffee table, two mugs of hot chocolate stood, with cookies on a plate next to them. Lee looked at Matty, and smiled slightly.

"Your Exec reminded me of how much you enjoy the hot chocolate as a change of pace. And considering the amount of coffee we all know that you have been drinking, I thought that this would be nice for you." She released his arm and let him sit on the soft couch. He unbuttoned his jacket and loosed his tie. Nelson sat in the chair at the end of the couch, reaching for a cigarette in his pocket. He lit it as Matty gave Lee the cup of chocolate, and she offered the other to the Admiral.

"No, thanks, Matty. I’ll forgo the cocoa if you don’t mind… I enjoy all the caffeine I can get, and the hot chocolate may dilute it." He laughed and Matty smiled at him.

"Coffee’s on in the kitchen, sir. I’ll get you some in a minute."

"If you don’t mind, I’ll help myself. I know the way." He winked at her, as Lee began to sip at the steaming drink. "How was Caitlin, Lee? When you left?"

Crane took a hefty slug of the sweet mixture, and rested the mug on his knee. "She says better. She does have better color, I think She’s tired, and sore. I know how she’s feeling, I’ve been there. At least part of the way there. That machine…" he rubbed at red eyes. "Think I’m more tired than I thought I was." He drank more of the hot chocolate. "Or else, this hot chocolate is doing the trick." He rubbed his eyes again, "Matty… if you don’t mind…think I’ll … close my eyes…for a minute…" She grabbed at the mug, as it began to fall from loosened fingers, and she watched as the mild sedative allowed Lee Crane to finally sleep. Nelson looked in from the kitchen, and went to the front door, waving slightly.

In a few minutes, Frank Lerner and Will Jamison came into the foyer. "Worked like a charm, Will." Nelson told the medic. Matty was sitting on the couch next to Crane, the mug still in her hand.

"Somehow, I don’t think a marching band could wake him up right now, Will. I still feel guilty, tho’. I mickeyed my CO’s chocolate!"

"On the orders of his CMO. And, with the blessings of the Admiral. Therefore, you, my dear Commander are innocent!"

She smiled gently as she rose from the couch, allowing the doctor and his corpsman to work on the Captain of the boat. Between the three men, they moved the unconscious man to the guest-room, off the family room, firmly settling him in the bed.

They rapidly set up an IV and a portable monitor to watch Crane’s vitals. The plan was simple enough. Since Caitlin would be sleeping most of the time in the next 48 hours, the doctor had decided to see that her husband had the same advantage. He would see that Lee slept and take the consequences after. He had made arrangements for Frank Lerner to remain with Lee, just as Karen, the Admiral, Chip, and Helen Crane would be taking turns staying with Caitlin. They all believed that Francis Sharkey would also be making his presence known at the Morton’s once the news of Caitlin’s improvement and Lee’s enforced rest, reached the COB’s ears.

When Lee was settled, Jamison and Lerner came into the kitchen, where Nelson and Matty were sharing coffee. "Coffee, Will? Frank?" Both men silently took the coffee mugs, and the four sat in companionable silence. Finally, Nelson asked, "How is Lee, Will? Medically, that is."

"How is he, Harry? Really, he should be in the Med Center, in the ICU hooked up to all my machines for at least the next 72 hours. He’s malnourished, dehydrated, and totally exhausted, both physically and emotionally. How is he…? In very poor condition. These next 24 - 48 hours will tell…If he sleeps and we can get some fluids into him, then we’ll see what we can do for him."

"I’ll be here until the Skipper wakes up, sir. We’ll try to keep him down, and out of the Commander’s hair. I think that Doc has ways and means to do that!" Frank grinned.

Jamison nodded, looking satisfied with his efforts to treat Lee. "I’m sure that Frank will keep a close eye on our Captain, Harry. If he knows what is good for him."

"It seems to me that Lee is in very good hands here. I think I'm going back to the Med Center to be with Karen. Matty when does Chip plan on being home?"

"Sometime late, Admiral. He's got the specs for the demolition of the building, and all that still has to be down is to finish the downloading of the information from the mainframes. The secondary control center is working much better than we even planned. About 80% of the information has been transferred."

"So he'll be late."

"Aye, sir. He's been at the site since the service ended."

"Well," Nelson ruminated, "I think I'll go over there before the Med Center. Will, keep me posted on Lee... I'll check on Caitlin when I get there."

Nelson left, leaving Matty and Will Jamison alone in the kitchen. "Any thing else that I should know, Will?"

"No, Matty. I think that Frank will be able to keep him down. He's got some practice. Thanks for all your help. "

"I still can’t get over the idea that I helped to ‘mickey’ the hot chocolate of my commanding officer." She laughed, " and I don’t think that he’s going to let me forget it either." She shrugged, and looked at her watch. Turning to the corpsman, "Frank, in exactly one hour and seventeen minutes, all hell will erupt here. Alex and Drew will be coming home on their bus, and Kittle arrives five minutes later… there are three softball games this afternoon. Chip and I are still trying to figure that one out…" she smiled. "It’s going to get crazy for a while. But if you keep the door to the guest room closed, I think it will be alright."

Frank looked at her, and said, "Ma’am, I don’t think an atom bomb exploding in the room could wake the Skipper now…Doc here, has him well sedated."

"Me?!" Jamison asked. "All I’m doing is seeing to the Captain’s health! And with our Captain, well, we all know how well he takes care of himself left to his own devices. So I just have to help him along, when I have the opportunity." He smiled at Frank and Matty, "and especially when I have able assistance."

"I still feel guilty, Will. Even though I know that this is for Lee’s own good… I still feel guilty." She sighed and rose from the chair. "I have to put a move on things here." Pausing a moment, "Frank, if you need anything, help yourself. If you need me, I’ll be in and out." She turned to Jamison, " and if you would be so kind as to tell the Captain when he wakes up that this is all your fault, I would appreciate it." Then more seriously, "Caitlin is going to be all right, isn’t she, Will?"

"Yes, Matty. It will be a while, but she’s going to be okay. She’ll be sleeping a lot in the next few days as the sedatives wear off, and the pain meds continue to work… but she’s getting over the lung complications and we’ll be able to concentrate on recovery from the other injuries. And if I can keep Lee down for a few days, then I think the both of them will recover from this nicely. Of course, I think that the whole family is going to have to talk to someone about all of this. Convincing them of it will be another story." He glanced at his watch, and stood. "I’ve got to get back to the Med Center. And I’ve a patient on the boat that I have to check on. I’ll be back here to check on Lee later this evening. In the meantime, I’m sure that Frank can handle anything. You have the kids to ferry about…."

She laughed… "Yep! Mom and Dad’s Taxi! We’ll see you later, Will."

Matty walked the doctor to the door, and after he left, turned and went back to the kitchen. Opening the door to the guest room, she looked in, and saw Frank reading a magazine, and Lee still asleep. Nodding to the corpsman, she turned and went to the counter, and began to get ready for the arrival of her children.

 

 

Karen Davis Nelson stood at the window in her daughter’s room, arms crossed across her chest. The window looked out on the view to the cliffs that the Institute stood on. The sea was choppy today, grey and steely, as the sky was. A day that Californians didn’t talk about. And it was reflective of her mood. Karen still had not come to grips with what had happened to Caitlin. Her daughter was an adult, a married woman, with a wonderful life of her own, but the bottom line was that she was her daughter. Her link to her past life, her late husband, all the things that helped bring Karen to the Nelson Institute, and to Harriman Nelson himself. Caitlin was on the mend, finally, but Karen was still experiencing a seesaw range of emotions. Fear, anger, and such heartache tore at her soul…Harriman had tried to help, but this was something that she had to solve herself. She turned toward the young woman on the bed, and moved towards her, finally sitting in the chair at the bedside, watching Caitlin sleep. Karen’s eyes traveled down Caitlin’s body, stopping painfully to gaze at the cast on her arm, and the casts and pulleys on both her legs. Karen wanted to cry and take the pain away from her daughter.

Karen’s life had been so filled with events that were the result of her own decisions, that she was finding dealing with this random accident most difficult. ‘Why Caitlin? Why, at this time in her daughter’s life? Why such hurt and pain to Lee as well as Caitlin? What were they all doing wrong? And why such a loss of life to the Institute family as well…Harry was taking the whole thing personally, including the deaths, and no matter what any one was telling him, he was regarding this as his fault.’ And Karen was, at this moment too tired to help him…her focus had been, and right now was Caitlin.

She reached over the bed, and pushed some of the curling hair from her daughter’s face. She looked carefully at Caitlin, seeking something, she didn’t know what, in her daughter’s face as she lay sleeping. Caitlin stirred, and slowly opened her eyes.

"Mom?" she cleared her throat, "you okay?"

Karen smiled wryly at her, "Sweets, I don’t know how I am." She lowered her voice, "I’ve been worried about you."

Caitlin lifted her hand to her mother’s face, and brushed it. "Sorry, Mom… I’m so sorry!"

"Caitlin, you had nothing to do with this … this nightmare… no one here is at fault, but what scares me is the randomness that something out comes out of nowhere, and causes all this heartache and pain. I can’t control this… couldn’t control what happened to you. What happened to you…oh, Caitlin! I’m the one that’s sorry here… I look at you, I see you in pain, your bones broken, I almost… we almost lost you!! Lee, Harry, Sean, R.C. are all in pain, and there is nothing…not one thing that I can do for you or anyone… it’s totally out of my control, and I have never, never been so frustrated in my life. Sweets, when your daddy was killed, it was a situation that I didn’t control, but someone did… the man that got into that car drunk, he’s the one that controlled there. When I was hurt in that DWD accident years ago, I made the decision to go… but this time…"her voice faded, all the hurt and pain coming to the fore… "This time, this is totally random, and here you are in a hospital room hurting, in pain, and looking at a long period of recovery that is going to be hard for you, and your husband. Caitlin, you don’t deserve this… I… I…" and she began to cry. Caitlin held to Karen’s hand, saying nothing, allowing Karen Nelson this rare moment of self-recrimination, of grief and sorrow. After several minutes, Karen’s tears slowed, then stopped, and she drew a deep breath, regaining her usual composure.

"Mom…"

"Yes, Caitlin."

"I love you… and I just want you to know that. You are a wonderful mother, a great role model, and a terrific person." She smiled slightly. "No one had any control over this… and it's over. I’m going to recover… the building will be rebuilt…we’ll all help those that were hurt, and help those who lost people in the accident…cause that is what this was… an accident."

"A very costly accident, Sweets… in more ways than anyone can measure."

"And Lee, Mom…how is he, really? I remember that he said he was going to Chip and Matty’s. But how is he…so much is blurred and confused." She wiped at her forehead. "Is he okay?"

"Will called over a little while ago… Lee is sleeping. Soundly. With a bit of help from his hot chocolate. Will has him on an IV and intends to keep him sleeping for the next 48 hours at least. Maybe going for 72, if he can do it safely. But then again, you know Lee Crane. If he walked through that door in the next five minutes it wouldn’t surprise me." She held Caitlin’s hand tightly, "I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so frightened, Caitlin. When Cathy died, shortly after we came here, I know how devastated he was. How sad, and you, above all, know how hard it was for him to accept your love."

“There’s more, Mom. We talked, when we went away…how long ago was that? How much time have we spent here? I don’t have a clue… but when we were away for the weekend, he finally opened up to me… finally mom… I learned more about my husband in those few days than I have in all these years… Frightened… I think he was terrified, and knowing him, he didn’t share it with anyone." Caitlin closed her eyes, and took a breath, coughing hard for several moments. When the coughing stopped, she opened her eyes, and looked at Karen again. "He told me he held back, and refused to notice what I was saying or doing because he was afraid of being hurt again, of losing again. And until that night in the apartment, he didn’t want to know anything of love and loving… he told me that …That I was his heart… that … he couldn’t even bear to think of me leaving him, and I promised that I wouldn’t… And then this had to happen…" She choked back her own tears. "He was so open…so free of fear. So relaxed. And now this… This had to happen. He’s going to shut down again…. I just know it!"

"Shh…" Karen stroked her forehead. "Maybe not, Sweets… maybe not… after all he knows that you are going to be alright."

"I’m just scared, mom. This…this can all be repaired… but we came so far…and I don’t want to fall back to where we were before our weekend, yet, if I know Lee…"

At that moment there was a knock on the door, and a voice called, "Karen, may we come in?"

"Yes!" was the reply, and Helen Crane opened the door, accompanied by Robert Crane and Sean Nelson. The both boys’ faces lit when they saw Caitlin without the machines that had been so present when they had seen her last.

"Caitie!" Sean exclaimed, as he rushed to the bedside. "You’re gonna be okay!"

She smiled gently at the youngster, "Yes, I think so, Seany… tho’ it may be a while before you and I can play catch…"

"S’okay, Caitie. I talked to God… I told Him He hadda make you better. An’ He did."

"Yes, I think He did, with some help from Doc Jamison."

"I know. But all that matters is you’re gonna be okay!"

R.C. stood behind the redhead, and said, quietly, "I’m glad too, Caitlin. Real glad. For Dad and you especially. He loves you so much."

Caitlin’s response was also quiet. "Thanks, R.C." she ruffled Sean’s curls, and laid a hand on Robert’s arm for a moment. "I hope that you boys have been good for Helen."

"Oh yes, Caitie! Very good, right?" Sean looked at Helen Crane for affirmation.

Helen smiled at the boy, and gently held her grandson by the shoulder, "Yes, Caitlin, Sean and R.C. have been models of good behavior. A bit exuberant at times, but very good." She looked at the young woman with a depth of love and concern that she rarely showed. "And how are you feeling, Caitlin? The machines are all gone?"

"I’m better, Helen…and yes, they are all gone. All except the oxygen, and Will says that this will go in another day or so. I have to continue the lung therapy, and he promised me some real food soon…anything is better than the blasted Jell-O!"

Karen and Helen smiled. It seemed like the universal dislike for Jell-O among the Senior Staff was now creeping into their families. The light laughter that followed was a welcome relief from the serious tenure in the room. Then both Sean and Robert began to tell Caitlin tales from school, and their plans for the coming Christmas vacation….

 

 

Lee Crane’s awareness was slowly returning. His eyes felt heavy, his mind was blurred and foggy. He felt the softness surrounding him, and for a few moments, he allowed himself to luxuriate in the softness, without thinking. Then, his mind began to clear, and he moved, and tried to sit up. "Caitlin!"

Gentle hands held him down until total awareness sunk in. "Easy, Skipper." Frank Lerner said.

"Mrs. Crane is in the Med Center. You’re here at the Exec’s. Do you remember, sir?"

Lee nodded, and then asked, " How’s Caitlin? How long have I slept?"

Lerner smiled at his CO. "Mrs. Crane is comfortable. That’s what Doc Jamison said to tell you when you woke. Her lungs are just about clear, and he thinks she’ll be going home soon."

Lee struggled to sit, fighting the bedcovers, and the IV still attached to his arm. "Home! Where are my clothes, Frank? How long have I been here? Take this blasted thing out of my arm!! I’ve got to get to my wife."

"Not so fast, Captain." Will Jamison stood in the doorway of the bedroom. There are a few things that you and I have to discuss."

"Like how you and Cdr. Weaver conspired against your commanding officer?"

"With the CO’s employer’s permission and blessing, … sir."

"On that note, Skipper, Doc, I’m going for a cup of coffee…"

"Good," Jamison commented, "Bring in that tray of food that’s on the counter for the Captain when he woke up."

"Aye, sir…" the corpsman left the room quickly, knowing the fireworks that the confrontation between Crane and Jamison were likely to bring.

Will Jamison sat in the chair in a leisurely manner, crossing his arms over his chest. Crane sat at the edge of the bed, his legs now over the side, glaring back at his CMO.

"You were saying, Captain?"

"I was saying that I appreciate Chip and Matty’s hospitality, but I want to get back to my wife!"

"Your wife is safe and sound in the confines of the Med Center. She will be there, when and if I allow you out of that bed. Karen, Harry, Chip, Helen, they have all taken turns sitting with her. She’s alert, and feeling better. She’s still rather sore, and it will be about six weeks or so before the casts come off, but she is better. Probably better than you are right now."

"Hummpf!"

"Now you sound like Harry! Lee, you were dangerously close to a complete collapse. Physical, as well as psychological collapse. Getting you off your feet for 48 hours, and sleeping was the only way to prevent you taking up residence in the room next to Caitlin’s. And having had Harry and Karen in my Med Center at the same time, I didn’t want to have the same difficulties with the two of you!"

"Couldn’t handle it, huh?" Lee grinned.

"No, not couldn’t…didn’t want to. So listen to me, Captain Crane. I will take out the IV and allow you to visit your wife. I said visit, and that is just what I mean. Caitlin will be fine if you are not there for a few hours a day or night."

Lee opened his mouth to protest, and Doc continued, "You will visit with your wife and then you will return here, to sleep, and to eat three square a day. Or I promise you I will lock you in the Sick Bay, on the boat, and you will stay there until the both of your are recovered separately, and completely. Do you understand that, Captain? And all of the parameters that I require of you, as your CMO?"

Somewhat sheepishly, Lee asked, "Is Caitlin really going to be alright, Will. Really alright?"

The uncertainty of a young child had crept into the voice of the Captain of the Seaview. "Her legs… and her lungs… you were there… you saw… you know…" He dropped his head into his hands, and his voice choked as he continued, "I couldn’t bear it again, Will. I… we had a wonderful weekend when we went away… just the two of us… we talked… like never before… I… I told her… I’ve known her longer than I knew Cathy. That she was so different from Cathy. That part of me would still care about Cathy, because of Robert, but that she was my heart…my life. Will, can you guarantee that she will be alright? That Caitlin will be able to do all that she did before… before the explosion?"

"I can’t guarantee anything, Lee. You, above all, know that. But within all that I am as a doctor, and a friend, I can say that I believe that she will be fine."

Lee let out a sob, his lean frame, wracked with great heaving sighs of relief and joy. Taking one last deep breath, he raised his head, and looked directly at the boat’s doctor, his amber-hazel eyes saying much more than the whispered, ‘thank you’ ever could.

Will Jamison could hardly bear the raw emotions revealed in the eyes of his friend. He rose and clapped Lee on the shoulder, muttering, "I’ve got the few things I need to take out that IV, and hep-lock, then you can get dressed. Kowalski is waiting to take you over to the Med Center. He will also be waiting to bring you back here. There is no way that you are going to get around these orders. And there are strict orders for Caitlin, too." He placed a hand on Lee’s shoulder, lowering his voice, and saying, gently, "I wish I could take away all your pain, my friend. I can’t. But trust me… I will do my best for the both of you." Lee’s hand covered the medic’s.

"I know, Will. And thank you, for everything that you have done…" he grinned slightly, "for the both of us."

Jamison cleared his throat… "Yes, ... well… uh… Let’s get that IV disconnected, and then you can get to seeing your wife." Jamison began fussing about the Captain’s arm to remove the IV lines.

 

 

Several hours later, Lee stood at the door to Caitlin’s room. He was awash in a variety of strong emotions, many of which he had shared with Caitlin only recently. He put his hand to the door and pushed it open. Standing next to his wife on one side was her mother, and step-father, and on the other, her little brother, and his own son, Robert. All of them were smiling, and he could hear Caitlin’s soft laughter, punctuated by a slight cough. They all looked up as he came to thru the door. R.C. moved across to him.

"Dad!"

He opened his arms and the teen dove into his embrace. "Dad, how are you? Are you feeling better…Look!" He pulled Lee to Caitlin’s side. "Caitlin’s better, Dad. Jamie says she can come home soon… that we can all go home soon!"

Sean moved aside, and Lee ruffled the youngster’s hair. Sean looked up at his brother-in-law and smiled. "Caitie’s gettin’ better, see!" he told Lee seriously.

"I can see that, Sean." He leaned over the bed, and kissed Caitlin tenderly. "Hello, Little Girl.

How are you feeling?"

Caitlin gave her husband a radiant smile, "Much better now, my love… Much better." She reached for his hand, "I think that recovery will be much more rapid."

"I’m sorry, Caitlin…"

She placed a finger on his lips. "Shh… No sorry for anything, Lee Crane. Mom, HN and I have already been over that ground. There is no reason for anyone to be sorry that this happened. It was an accident… a complete and total accident, and no one…no one at all is at fault! So stop the I’m sorry business, right here and now." She shifted slightly and looked deeply at her husband, "And you, Mr. King of Guilt for things that he cannot control, there will be no more pity parties for you!" We’ll get through this together, Lee. And we will get through it…I'll be fine. I promise!"

 

 

Two days before Christmas, the red Cobra pulled up to the Crane’s home. Lee Crane got out of the car, and went to the passenger side, where he opened the door, and lifted Caitlin from the front seat. The casts on her legs swung slightly Lee carried her, her good arm wrapped around his neck. Caitlin allowed herself the luxury of being held closely in her husband’s arms. They were finally going to be home. And home alone. R.C. was at his Grandmother’s and would be coming back to the house tomorrow, Christmas Eve. Tonight, it would be just the two of them alone in the house. She sighed. There was a long road ahead, and it wasn’t going to be easy, but, she was home… a place that at one point, she didn’t know if she would see again. It was good to be home, and in the strong arms of her husband. She sighed, and nestled into his arms more closely. He looked down at her and kissed the top of her head lightly.

"Welcome home, Little Girl. It feels like you have been away from here for too long a time."

"Thank you, my love… thank you so much. For everything…I am so very glad to be home. So very glad. I’ve missed it."

He chuckled lightly, "I think IT missed you too. You make this house a home, Caitlin, and when you are not here, it is a very empty place."

"Speaking of empty, Lee, what are we going to do about the Holiday Decorations? I can’t and you have been so busy…"

"Hush, sweetheart, just hush…" He opened the foyer door, and she gasped. The house had been decorated. Green boughs of holly, pine, and ivy were wrapped around the bannister and draped around the doorways. The warm smell of spice mixed with the scent of the pine to permeate the entire foyer. Caitlin looked at Lee. He merely smiled and murmured, "Karen, Matty and my mother, with the help of Sharkey, and Sean and R.C… and ‘Ski, Pat, Riley, Rod…"

Lee felt Caitlin trembling, and looked at her in surprise. She was trying to control her laughter.

"Just what is so funny, wife of mine?"

"The visual… All the Chiefs… where were the Indians?"

For a moment, Lee looked puzzled and then suddenly realization dawned. Smiling broadly, " I never thought of it in that way! But you’re right!! Am I glad that the Admiral had Chip and me holed up in …a…meeting…He knew! And he kept us out of it!"

"I’m glad that none of you were here… there would have been bloodshed, I’m sure…" She paused and looked around, "But they did a beautiful job… its wonderful… beautiful! The Great Room?"

"On our way in there now, Little Girl." Lee carried her into the Great Room, and she gasped. The tree had been set on the step in front of the French doors to the deck. The room had been draped in the roping that was in the foyer. The tree was large and its tip touched the ceiling of the room, a good twenty feet. All over the candles, white lites, and the decorations glowed. Lee sat Caitlin down on the sofa in front of the fireplace, that had a fire blazing. On the coffee table was a large pillar candle, and many smaller ones, along with roughly a dozen votives. Mixed among the candles were holly and pine boughs. Set in the middle of all of it was a bottle of Moet Chandon, and two glasses. As Lee knelt next to the sofa, he kissed Caitlin warmly.

"Welcome home, Little Girl… I love you."

Caitlin stroked his face with her hand. "Thank you, my love. I didn’t ever dream our first married Christmas would be like this… I’m so sorry… I.."

" What did you tell me, Caitlin Davis Crane, about not being sorry. If I can’t be, then neither can you!" He reached into his pocket. " This is for you… to let you know how much I love you, what a treasure you are to me… to say an early Merry Christmas…"

"Lee, I …"

"Don’t say anything, Caitlin… Just open it."

She held the long slim box in her casted hand, and opened it with her good hand, and gasped aloud again. Lying on deep blue velvet was a copy of the anchor that the middies wore on their uniforms. Instead of brass, it was crafted of sapphires and silver, with the rope on the anchor being made of titanium. It was attached to a sterling chain that was twisted as the rope on the old sailing vessels. It was sturdy and strong, but also delicate and fine. "For my only love, Caitlin." Lee kissed her long and warm. She responded in kind, relaxing in the warmth of his arms, returning the kiss as warmly.  She sighed, and he looked at her, concerned. "Did I hurt you? Touch something I shouldn’t?"

"No," she said sadly. "It’s just that what I want, and what I will be able to do are two very different things."

"Seems to me that I remember a night, several years ago, when I said something similar to a then, very determined young lady. As I recall, and I do admit that on occasion this old memory fails me, she didn’t let my condition stop her … ‘demonstration’. I don’t intend to allow her condition to deter mine!!"

"Lee!"

"Yes?"

"That was different!" she objected.

"How so, sweetheart?" he drawled, as he began to slowly undo the buttons on her blouse, placing light kisses on her neck, and throat, and as he undid the buttons, kissed the exposed flesh. She squirmed, wanting to give into the delicious sensations he was evoking, but still very afraid. Lee stopped, and looked at her, with eyes that were smoky with desire, yet filled with concern for her reticence.

"What’s wrong, Caitlin? What’s really wrong?" He slid onto the couch, taking her head and shoulders into his lap, one hand caressing her head, the other lightly stroking her partly exposed breasts. She shifted, and looked deep into his amber-hazel eyes. Reaching for his face, she ran her fingers over it with her good hand.

"This scares me… making love… like this… what if I don’t feel like I did before the accident? Lee, what if I don’t feel the way I did before?"

"If you don’t, then we’ll deal with it, Little Girl. But Jamie gave you a full clearance to come home. He said that everything was healing well… everything that was damaged. And as far as I know, there wasn’t any damage here…" His long fingers caressed her breasts, his other hand moving slowly to her waist, and sliding beneath the elastic of the waistband of her skirt, and into her panties, and gently probed at her most private of places. "Or here." He murmured huskily. She shuddered at his touch there, his slow, tempered strokes reawakening the fires that lay within.

Lee bent his head to hers, and murmured, as he nuzzled her ear, "There now, see… No problems here…none at all, sweetheart."

"But, Lee, what if later, if…"

"No ifs, Caitlin, none at all…" He held her close as his fingers worked their way with her, drawing her to a crashing climax.

She shivered in ecstasy, her body moving and twisting as his fingers pleasured her. She lay in his arms, drained by the heights he had brought her to. Once she regained some measure of control, she said, softly, "Thank you, my love." And she pulled his head to hers, to give him an impassioned kiss. When the kiss ended, the both of them were breathless.

Lee held her close. "I’ve missed you, Caitlin…missed you in my arms, missed you in our bed, missed you in the life we share. I am so grateful to have you back. I want to spend the rest of my life making love to you, to make up for the time we’ve lost."

She laid a finger on his lips. "I think that would be a little difficult! You can’t sail the Seaview from our bedroom!"

He laughed. "I guess not… still… If I could get you aboard as a mission specialist… then the scenario may be possible."

It was her turn to laugh. "Oh, yeah, right! ‘Skipper, there’s a problem with the reactor! …Sorry, I’m too busy making love to my wife. Let someone else take care of it! Sure, Lee! That’ll happen!"

He grinned…"Well, I guess you’re right as usual, Little Girl…Still, the visuals…"

She slapped him playfully on the hand, "Enough of the visuals. We have the time to do some serious ‘reality’ right now! If I could just get up, and move a bit then…"

"Say no more, my lady!" Lee gathered her into his arms, and lifted her up, and moved to the fireplace, laying her on the soft throw that lay in front of the fire. She squirmed into the throw, and looked at him with eyes now full of desire and love.

"…considering my partial state of undress, Captain, perhaps you should finish what you started on the couch, and then we can begin with you?"

Lee knelt next to her, and lazily fingered the rest of the buttons on her blouse. He slid an arm beneath her shoulders, and pulled her close. She moved her good arm so that her fingers could begin to caress his chest, and toyed with the buttons on his shirt. "It’s a good thing that we have a lot of time, Lee… this is going to take me a while…a long while!"

Lee smiled, and kissed her. "Little Girl, we have all night… and most of tomorrow. Mom and R.C. won’t be here until we have to go to the Admiral’s for Christmas Eve Dinner. Your mother is going to give quite a party, from what I have heard!"

"Well, then, for now, Captain mine, let’s leave everyone outside the door, and just worry about what is going on here, and now…"

 

 

Christmas Eve Dinner at the Nelson’s was a tradition for the Senior Staff and their families. This year there was more to celebrate than ever before, with Caitlin’s recovery, and the Crane’s impending First Wedding Anniversary, in addition to the Holiday itself. Caitlin had been ensconced in one of the large, soft chairs in the Nelson’s great room, while Karen, Matty and Helen bustled about with dinner. She felt somewhat helpless, but the attention being bestowed on her by the children and the other adults present, made her restlessness ease somewhat. Over the years, the small dinner party had grown, and others besides the Senior Command staff had been added to the guest list. Will Jamison and Francis Sharkey and several of the Senior Ratings, along with Bobby O’Brien were present this year. Caitlin was aware of the surreptitious glances she was getting from Jamison, as he watched his ‘patient’, and more than once she tried to indicate that she was ok!

Finally, after the final dishes had been placed on the buffet table, Harriman Nelson cleared his throat in a gesture that demanded everyone’s attention. Even the youngsters looked his way. The two servers that had been helping all night passed among the adults with champagne flutes. Lee had moved to Caitlin’s side, and was joined by Robert. Karen and Sean stood at the other side of the chair. All of the other adults found places in the large room, and turned their attention to Harriman Nelson.

"First, and foremost, I would like to say ‘welcome’ to all of you who are newcomers to this annual party. Karen began this when she first came to us years ago, and I for one, am most grateful for my wife’s insistence on tradition! Thanks, Karen!" He raised his glass to her, their eyes connecting, and Karen knew the depth of her husband’s thanks extended far beyond the words he had spoken. "Merry Christmas, everyone. We have a great deal to be grateful for this season. And once again, I am most grateful to all of you for the support you have all given me, and my family in the recent catastrophe that took place here. Thank you all very much." He paused. " And on a far more personal note, I am very grateful to have Caitlin here this evening. Our daughter" he looked at Karen, seeing her hand drop on Caitlin’s shoulder, "gave us, and her husband quite a scare. But she is recovering, and with us this evening and I can thank Will Jamison, and the good Lord for that. As well as the strength and stubbornness of Virginia women!" the group chuckled, and Nelson went on, ignoring the look that Karen shot at him.

"On a happier note, our daughter, and my Captain are about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, and I, for one, want to be among the first to wish them happiness, and many more years together." He nodded to Lee and Caitlin. "And finally, I just want to wish all of you the happiest of holidays and a good and safe New Year. The realities of yesterday will continue to impact on today, and tomorrow, but if we learn from them, then our lives, even if they are difficult, will be better for them. Merry Christmas! And God Bless!" He lifted his glass in a toast, and then drank from the glass.

The adults in the room followed suit, and then all began to move to the buffet. Lee knelt by Caitlin’s side, and kissed her. "Merry Christmas, Caitlin."

After returning his kiss, she murmured, "Merry Christmas, Lee. All my love … always and forever."

Harriman and Karen watched them, Nelson’s arm tightening around her waist. He saw the glistening of tears in her eyes… "She’s going to be okay… they both will be."

"Mmm. I know… just what you said, about reality, it’s true. I just hope that we all can learn from it."

"I know… and I think that we will. Maybe not as much as we like, but I think we will."

 

 

Epilogue

Months later, a man watched the couple jog along the beach at the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. The tall, dark-haired man was pacing himself to the tiny blonde woman that was running with him. The man watching sat quietly with his binoculars for a while, and then moved off the sand dune, and pulled a small radio out of his pocket.

"Rogue one to home base. Come in home base."

"Rogue one, this is home base. What is your report?"

"The Eagle and his mate are running on the beach. It seems the mate’s recovery is complete. Any further instructions?"

"Continue to observe…the Leader seeks all pertinent observations."

"Roger, home base. Observer, over and out."

In Davis, California, a messenger knocked on an office door, and handed the man behind the desk a note. The messenger nodded and left. The man behind the desk read the note, and angrily crumpled it. He punched his intercom. "Tell the Observer, pictures!!! I want pictures!"

 

FINIS?

  

FEEDBACK STORY PAGE
   
HOME

 

 Hit Counter

 

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm , 20th Century Fox, and the Irwin Allen Foundation and its related companies, all rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited. This web site, its operators and any content contained on this site relating to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea tm are not authorized by Fox.