Regret's Dark Season

by

Beth Kauffman



Admiral Harriman Nelson paced about his ornately furnished office and frowned. The project for the government was way behind schedule, a fact not missed by the last two callers from Washington, and he was being pressured to produce results. But his biggest concern right now was the Seaview. According to the last report, Seaview's engines were still acting up with no explanations given. Nelson grimaced at the thought of more delays. He ached to be aboard her and away; away from paperwork, reports, phone calls and bureaucracy. A small smile played about his lips as he remembered the look on Lt. Bobby O'Brien's face when he told him he would be taking the Seaview out for a short shakedown cruise. Sheer disbelief had almost immediately been replaced by one of sheer joy, tinged with an overshadow of doubt. Nelson grinned at the remembrance. His smile slowly changing to a frown as he recalled why Bobby had been asked to take the sub out. Bobby needed the responsibility, but the real reason was Lee.

Frustrated, he slammed the reports on his desk and sat down heavily in his chair. He hadn't seen Lee Crane in almost a week. No one had and the tension was becoming more than he needed right now. He ran a hand through his red hair and picked up the reports again.

No matter how hard he tried though, he could not focus on the words. Lee had been back from his latest mission for the ONI for over a week now. A very long week it had been, too. The mission had not gone well. Not that it was Lee's fault. The information they had been given had been inaccurate and had cost the lives of two members of Lee's team; a loss that Lee took personally. Nelson waited for Lee to resurface, but each day that brought no word from him increased his anxiety.

Nelson picked up the files and was just about to attempt deciphering them again when his office door burst open and a very angry Lee Crane entered.

"How could you do this?" Crane shouted, his face a mask of anger.

Nelson stood at Crane's entrance, all joy on his face erased as he realized to what he referred. He looked down at his desk for a moment and then walked to the side of the desk.

"You know what I mean I take it?" Crane asked, as angry as Nelson had ever seen him.

Nelson nodded and said, "If you are referring to the ONI's request for your services on another mission, yes, I know what you are talking about."

"If? If I am talking about the ONI mission! You know perfectly well that is what I am talking about! How could you do this?"

"Lee, I turned the ONI down on this mission because I didn't think you were recovered enough from the last one to..."

"Don't you think that should have been my decision? Not yours?" Crane paced away from Nelson and turned back angrily. "Don't you know what happened out there? I lost two good men! I did. It was my fault! If..."

Nelson interrupted, "No, Lee. It wasn't your fault. The information we were given was wrong. You know that. It was no one's fault. It happened, and rushing off into another mission to prove something isn't going to bring Jeffers and James back!"

Crane walked slowly towards Nelson, the anger still plain on his face. "That still doesn't give you the right to choose my missions for me. I am perfectly capable of running my own life without interference!"

"Look, son I..."

"Don't call me that! I'm not your son! I had a father once that ran my life and I am not in the market for another one!"

Nelson turned away, but not before Crane saw the pain that flitted across his face. The knowledge that he had hurt Nelson gave Crane a twinge of regret. Turning on his heel, he strode quickly from the room, past Nelson's secretary and out the door.

For a moment, Nelson stood as if rooted to the spot, then walked to the row of windows lining the far wall and stared out at the blue-green ocean visible from his office. The sun danced off the waves as seagulls chased each other, then disappeared behind a bank of clouds. Nelson saw none of it. His thoughts dwelt on the one person that could cause such pain within him.

Catching the sound of someone in the room with him, he turned, expectation lighting his face, but only saw his secretary, Angie, standing there, hesitant and questioning.

"Sir? Is there...is there anything I can do? Lee..."

"No, Angie. There isn't anything you can do," he interrupted. "Thank you. I...I think I need to get out for a while," he said as he headed for his coat hanging by the door.

"But, sir!" she said following him out his office and into hers. "The FBI doesn't want you..."

Nelson stopped and spoke slowly. "I don't really care what the FBI wants right now, Angie. I am going out. Alone. All right?"

Before she could answer, he was out the door and down the hallway. She hesitated a moment and then sprang for the phone, about to call the FBI guard in the office down the hall, but stopped herself. Nelson was in no mood to be stopped by anyone, especially not by someone from the Bureau. Indecision warred with her concern for the Admiral.

A smile lit her face as she hit upon a solution and she quickly dialed another number.

"Yes? Morton here," a deep voice on the other end said.

"Chip! It's Angie. Can you come to the Admiral's office? Now."

"Is there something wrong? What is it?"

"Just come. And hurry, Chip."

The few minutes it took Chip to get to the Admiral's office seemed interminably long to Angie as she paced the office floor.

"Angie! What is it? What's wrong?" asked a breathless Chip a few moments later.

"Oh Chip! Lee and the Admiral had words. Lee left here in a huff and the Admiral...Chip, the Admiral went out. Alone."

Chip stared at her uncomprehendingly, still breathing heavily. "You called me... all the way up here...to tell me that?" he asked, still huffing.

"Chip, you don't understand. The Admiral is under guard by the FBI. No one is suppose to know."

Chip looked at her with a questioning stare. "Why would the Admiral be under FBI guard?"

"It's this new project for the government. Foreign agents tried to kidnap him twice in the past month. They don't want our country to develop this new weapon system. What's more, they want the system for themselves and have tried to abduct the Admiral."

She paced about the office wringing her hands as she spoke. "After the last attempt, the FBI put guards on the Admiral. There is one guard down the hall, two by the main gate and one is supposed to be with him whenever he goes out. He left without letting them know."

"Why? Why would he just leave without letting them know?"

Angie stopped her pacing in front of Chip. "The Admiral turned down the ONI's request for Lee's services. Lee found out and was hopping mad. He accused the Admiral of interfering in his life. And..."

Chip looked up when Angie didn't continue. "And?"

"The Admiral called him son and Lee flipped! He...he said he'd had one father that interfered in his life and he didn't need another one."

Chip whistled softly. "I can't believe Lee would say something like that. I know his own father meddled a lot in Lee's life but... Did he say where he was going?"

Angie resumed her pacing and shook her head. "No. He just said he was going out alone. I was afraid to call the guard down the hall. He was so upset. I...Chip, where can he be?"

Chip got up and walked about the office. Suddenly, he stopped and snapped his fingers. "His yacht!'

Angie smiled in relief, "Of course. He always goes there when he needs to think."

Chip headed for the door. "Call the FBI and tell them I am heading down to the dock now."

"But Chip, the Admiral didn't want..."

He stopped and turned back to Angie. "Don't worry. I'll handle him. And I'll talk to him and bring him back." With a small smile, he was out the door.

The walk to the pier where the Admiral kept his boat took only a few minutes. Chip walked down the concourse to the wharf and looked at the slip where Nelson's yacht was docked. He saw no movement other than the gentle roll of the boat as she rode at her berth. He hurried down the dock and hesitated before climbing aboard.

Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Chip made out the figure of Nelson standing at the stern, a drink in one hand and staring out at the sea beyond, lost in thought.

"Admiral? Are you all right, sir?" he called softly as he crossed the distance to Nelson.

Nelson stood without moving or acknowledging Chip's presence for a moment, then turned and smiled. "Hello, Chip. I guess Angie told you I left without my guard dogs, eh?"

"Yes, sir. Why didn't you tell anyone? We could have..."

"You and the others could have followed me around like a bunch of well meaning friends and gotten in the way or been hurt. It was better to leave it to the FBI and let them take the risks," he said as he turned back to the view.

Chip was silent, not knowing how to respond, yet relieved the Admiral was safe.

"Sir, Lee...Lee has had a hard time lately. Whatever he said, I am sure he never meant to..."

"Chip, do you know what I have been doing since I came down here?" he interrupted. "I have been wondering what you and Lee would have accomplished if I had never set eyes upon the two of you. How far would you both have gone in the Navy?"

Nelson shook his head and took a drink from his glass. "What Lee said or didn't say was deserved. I have meddled in his affairs. And yours."

Swirling an amber liquid in his glass, Nelson stared out at the horizon. Gray clouds that had obscured the sun began to part, and the sun's brilliance lit the sky once again, turning the ocean a bright blue.

"Sir, I don't..."

Nelson held up a hand before Morton could say anymore.

"Please, Chip. Don't stand there and tell me that I haven't. I believe there is a saying around the Navy and the Institute. Something like, 'what Nelson wants, Nelson gets'. Well, I wanted Lee Crane to command my submarine and I pulled all sorts of strings to see that it happened." He turned to Morton and stared him in the eye. "And I wanted the best darn XO the Navy had to back him up and I got him too."

Morton took a step towards Nelson and held out his hands as if pleading. "Yes, Admiral you did. And I for one will be forever in your debt that you did pull strings. I wasn't happy in the Navy. I was just marking time. I wasn't doing one bit of good there. I wasn't making a difference!"

Morton walked directly in front of Nelson to block his view of the harbor. "You gave me, and Lee, a chance neither of us ever expected. To be a part of something big. To make a difference."

"The past few years, I have been the envy of every classmate from Annapolis. Everyone I served with or went to the Academy with would kill to be a part of your dream. It's become our dream too!"

"And Lee...well, Lee loves what he's doing. If he didn't, do you think for one minute he would stay, or that he would have accepted being tossed from the Navy? He knew that one word from him and you would've had him back in the Navy so fast his head would spin. But that's not what he wanted and that isn't what he wants now. He needs time, sir. If we give it to him, the old Lee will be back."

Nelson looked down at the floor and, after a moment, smiled slightly. "Do you see why I wanted you as my XO?" He raised his eyes to Morton's and was rewarded with a small smile.

"I'm an old fool, Chip. And I'm too old for this self pity stuff." Nelson laughed and tossed the remainder of his drink overboard. "Let's head back to the office, eh? Calm my guard dogs down a bit."

The two men retraced their steps to the pier after securing the boat. They hadn't gone more than a few yards when Nelson spotted one of the FBI guards coming down the ramp ahead of them.

"Uh oh," said Nelson with a grimace. "I'm going to catch it now. Maybe I can..."

But Nelson's words were cut off as the sound of a gun shot echoed around the marina. Morton reacted quickly to the sound of the blast and turned to push Nelson down, only to discover he was already falling, a patch of blood spreading on his chest. He hurriedly fell beside Nelson and tried to shield his body with his own.

At the sound of running feet, Morton turned, relieved to see the face of one of the Institute guards.

"Hurry! We need an ambulance! Go!" he shouted when the guard hesitated. The guard ran off, leaving Morton with the injured Nelson. He tried to apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding but it seemed to have no effect.

"Come on! Don't die! Do you hear me?" Morton knelt by Nelson's side. "Don't give up! Do you hear me? Don't give them the satisfaction!"

Morton was relieved to see Nelson's eyes flicker open for a moment. They focused on Chip's face and he struggled to speak. "Chip? You all right?"

"I...I'm fine, sir. You'll be okay, too. Just lie still."

"T...tell Lee...tell Lee I'm sorry. I...I only..." His voice drifted away and he closed his eyes.

"I'm not telling him anything. If you want to tell him something you will have to do it yourself! Do you understand?" Morton watched in despair as Nelson faded away.

The ambulance siren broke the utter stillness enclosing them and gave Morton a minute measure of relief. He watched as the paramedic team raced down the ramp and was directed by the guard to where they waited. Uniformed guards and men in suits raced about, pointing to where, Morton was sure, the shot had come from.

"Hurry!" he called to the paramedics. "He's in bad shape."

The paramedics put their equipment down and ordered Morton away.

He rose stiffly to his feet and stared at the activity before him, not really taking in what was happening or what they were doing. Disbelief clouded his thoughts and his eyes as he tried to process what had happened.

"What happened?" A gruff voice from behind interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see a tall man with graying hair standing behind him, anger etched on his face. Morton recognized the man as having been with the Admiral at the Institute recently and judged him to be one of the FBI guards.

Morton shook his head. "I...I don't know. We were walking back to the Institute when...when I heard the shot."

The agent sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. Before he could say anything else, another agent ran up.

"Sir! The shot came from that balcony," he said as he pointed to a balcony on the second floor of the apartment building that fronted the marina. The agent turned to look at the spot and grimaced.

"Must have been a good shot."

Anger welled through Morton at his coldness. "Is that all you can say? A man has been shot here! A man you were suppose to be protecting! Don't you..."

"I can't protect someone that doesn't want protecting, Commander!" the agent interrupted.

Morton dropped his gaze to the Admiral being worked on by the paramedics and closed his eyes to the scene. "I know... it's just..."

The agent nodded once and left with his fellow agent to explore the area.

Walking to the Admiral's side, sick with guilt and anger, Morton watched the paramedics work.

"How is he?" he asked one of the paramedics.

The man rose, holding an IV bottle in one hand, its tube trailing away into Nelson's arm. He frowned and shook his head. "Not good. His BP is low and his pulse is weak."

"Will...will he live?"

The paramedic stopped for a moment and looked reluctant to speak. "I don't know. I'm not a doctor. I guess it depends on how much fight he has."

Morton smiled slightly. "Then he'll be all right. No one has more fight than Admiral Harriman Nelson."

The ambulance crew loaded Nelson into the waiting ambulance. Chip crawled in behind them, but stopped long enough to ask an FBI agent to contact Nelson's office and tell Angie what had happened.

The ride to the hospital seemed to take forever. Chip listened with growing apprehension to the paramedics talk to the hospital. Nelson's vital signs were constantly monitored and relayed to the doctors awaiting their arrival at the hospital. The tone of their voices evinced their concern for his condition.

After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance pulled up to the emergency room entrance. Doctors and nurses hurried to the ambulance doors and whisked Nelson off to the examining room. Chip walked with the Admiral as far as they would allow, and then peered through the door at the activity within.

"What happened?" a voice behind him asked.

Startled, Chip turned to see the Seaview's doctor, Will Jamieson standing behind him.

Morton let the door close behind him and explained as best he could the circumstances, then asked, "What are you doing here? How did you know?"

"I was visiting an old friend here when I saw you come in. How's he doing?"

"He...he's not doing well."

"Do Lee and Edith know?"

"I didn't think to call Lee. I...I asked an agent at the scene to notify Angie. Maybe she's told Edith by now. But I don't know where to find Lee." A determined look came over Chip. "I'd better start hunting him down. And I had better let Bobby know too."

Jamieson watched Morton head for the phones, squared his shoulders and prepared to enter the room where Nelson fought for his life. He may not be on staff, but he was a doctor, and no one was going to keep him out.

Chip called every place he could think of, but could not locate Crane. He had called the Institute and was informed Angie had left shortly after she was notified by the FBI agents of the shooting. The guard that took the call said she was on her way to Edith's. He didn't envy her that. That left one call to make. To Bobby and the Seaview.

******

A soft pinging from the sonar was the only sound that broke the silence on the submarine Seaview. Lt. O'Brien paced back and forth in the Observation Nose, his hands stuffed into his pants pockets. He would have laughed to realize how Nelson-like the action was. Only, he didn't feel like laughing. The Seaview"s engines were still acting up. The last "repair" had apparently not fixed the problem as the submarine could still not make flank speed. Something was wrong, but what?

O'Brien's musings were cut short by an urgent call from the radio shack. "Mr. O'Brien! There's a call coming in from Mr. Morton."

Misgivings filled O'Brien as he realized he had to tell him there was still no answer for the power problem. He took a deep breath, held it for a second and picked up the phone.

"Chip? Yes, it's Bobby. Look we still..." He broke off what he was about to say and listened with growing apprehension. His face changed from one of irritation to one of horror and then anger.

"What? How...Is he all right?"

The crew gave up trying to look as though they weren't listening and turned towards the radio shack, puzzlement on their faces. They watched as O'Brien's face slowly drained of color, a few rising to their feet, wondering what had happened.

"Yes, I...I understand," he continued in a small voice. "Yes, we'll head for port now. We're only a few hours out. Even with the engines running the way they are, we should be back in Santa Barbara in a few hours. Chip, keep us informed, all right?" he added before ending the connection.

For a moment, O'Brien stood where he was, the phone dangling from his hand. A soft cough drew his attention to the Control Room crew, staring at him expectantly.

"Mr. O'Brien? What's wrong, sir?" Kowalski finally asked.

O'Brien took a deep breath to steady himself and then walked to face the crew-the Admiral's crew. "Something has happened, men. To the Admiral."

Whispers of disbelief floated about the Control Room while O'Brien tried to find the courage to say the rest.

"He was shot just a little while ago near his boat. Mr. Morton was with him at the time and was with him in the ambulance."

"Is...is he all right, sir?" Kowalski asked in a quavering tone.

Closing his eyes he continued, "No, Ski, he isn't. He was shot in the chest. Mr. Morton doesn't know anything more, just that he is hurt badly. Very badly."

O'Brien tried to make himself heard over the outraged voices. "We are heading back to port now. I want every man at his post. Do your jobs and do them as if the Admiral were here with us."

He gave a small smile as he watched the crew spring to their positions. It was a good crew. A fine crew. Pride filled him for a second, then he reached for the mike and made the announcement to the rest of the crew. He didn't have to hear the choruses of anger and disbelief. He knew they were there.

"Engine room. I want all the power you can give us from those sorry excuses for engines down there. We need to be in port as soon as possible. And I don't want to hear that they are acting up. FIX THEM!"

From the opposite side of the room, Chief Francis Sharkey watched, nodding in approval. Yep. The Admiral sure chose his men well.

*****

Chip slowly walked back to the waiting area and was surprised to hear his name called. Looking up, he saw Edith and Angie coming towards him. He faltered a moment, then went to them.

"Chip! How is he? Is there any word?" Edith asked, her eyes red and teary.

Chip shook his head. "No. I've been trying to find Lee. Jamie was here a moment ago." He looked about him. "I guess he's in with the Admiral," he said as he nodded to the door behind which they had taken Nelson.

"How could this happen? Why, Chip?" Edith asked desperately. "Who would do this to him?"

Angie moved to put her arms about Edith, but she shrugged her off. "Answer me, Chip. Do you know?"

Chip hung his head for a moment, then looked up. "The Admiral was involved in a secret project for the government. Word got around to the wrong people concerning what the project was and they tried to kidnap him. Twice. The FBI thought it best if he have protection. So they..."

"Protection? Is this the protection they gave him?" she interrupted, gesturing angrily at the door.

"Edith, it wasn't their fault," Angie said, trying again to comfort her. "He...the Admiral left the Institute without letting the guards know."

"Why?" she asked, turning to Angie. "Why would he do that? He isn't a careless man. Why would he leave like that?"

Angie turned pleading eyes to Chip's. Chip reached out a hand to Edith. "Edith..."

Edith waited for the answer she knew Chip had. "Yes?"

Chip hesitated. "How much should I tell her?"

Before he could answer, the door to the examining room opened and Dr. Jamieson and another doctor came out. They glanced at each other and then headed for the group.

"Jamie?" asked Edith in a quivering voice. "How...how is he?"

Jamieson hesitated for a moment and looked to the doctor beside him. He nodded in the direction of the young physician beside him and said, "This is Doctor Wylie. He's in charge of the Admiral's case. Perhaps he should tell you what's happening."

All eyes turned from Jamieson's to the young doctor before them. He wavered a moment before speaking.

"The Admiral has sustained a gun shot wound to the chest very near the heart. His vital signs are not good and he's losing a lot of blood. We are prepping him for surgery now."

Edith closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to speak for a moment. "Will he live?" she asked finally.

She caught the look that passed between the two doctors and her heart constricted.

"Jamie?" she whispered.

Jamieson shifted his feet and refused to look her in the eyes. "I...I don't know. He's...his condition is not good," he finally said. He raised his eyes to hers and she saw the uncertainty in them. "He may not survive the surgery. He's very weak."

Edith nodded and struggled to control her breathing and her racing heart. "I...I want to see him. Now."

Jamieson looked to Wylie, who nodded. "Of course. This way."

Edith disappeared into the examining room, leaving Chip and Angie alone. They were silent for a moment, stunned by what had happened.

Chip shook his head. "I can't believe this is happening. I can't believe...I should have protected him! I should have seen this coming!"

"How?" Angie asked, turning to face him. "How could you know, Chip? If it is anyone's fault, it is mine," she said glancing towards the room Edith had disappeared into.

"Yours? How do you figure?"

Angie looked back into Chip's face and he saw the tears that tracked down her cheeks. "I should have stopped him. I should have called the guards. This wouldn't have happened if..." Her voice broke and she turned away.

Chip walked to her, put his hands on her shoulders and sighed. "We're a pair aren't we? We both want to take credit for this when it was no one's fault. Except the one that pulled the trigger. And the one that ordered it." His voice hardened as he spoke.

Angie dropped her head and slowly turned around when she heard the examining room door open. Edith, enveloped in the arms of Will Jamieson, came out. She walked slowly to the waiting couple and looked up, tears streaming from her eyes.

"He's so still, Jamie. And all those tubes and wires. He has to live Jamie. He can't die." She turned to face Jamieson and pleaded, "Please. Please don't let him die. He's all I have."

Chip stepped forward. "That's not true. You have us. We'll be here with you."

Edith nodded her head and placed a trembling hand on Morton's arm. "Thank you, Chip. I...it's good to know he has such good friends." She looked about her and noticed the one man missing she would have expected to see. "Where is Lee? Hasn't anyone told him yet?"

Chip looked to Angie then quickly looked away. "I haven't been able to locate him. He's...not home."

Edith nodded and then turned at the sound of the examining room door behind them opening. Dr. Wylie came out, followed by a gurney on which a very pale, still Nelson lay, tubes and wires keeping him connected to life.

"We're taking him to surgery now. I'll keep you informed," the young doctor said as the nurses pushed the stretcher past the waiting group. Morton, Angie and Edith all whispered words of encouragement to the Admiral as he was wheeled past them. They watched as they rolled him onto the elevator and the doors closed.

Silence surrounded the group as they stared at the now closed doors. Without a word, Edith walked to the nearby waiting room and sat down.

*****

Lee Crane raced his sports car around the bend of the road and smiled in satisfaction as the sleek car responded to his directions. It felt good to be out. Away from the Institute and the submarine. And away from responsibility. At that thought, the smile fell from his face and he slowed the car, pulling off the road at an overlook. He parked the car and sat, staring out at the valley far below him.

Angry, he slammed his hands down on the steering wheel. "Why can't I run my own life? Why did the Admiral feel it necessary to make that decision for me? Sure, the last mission was a hard one and I'm not looking forward to going out on another one, but did that give Nelson an excuse? It should have been my decision."

He shook his head as he sat there. If he had been given the option, he would have refused the assignment. He didn't want anyone else's life in his hands right now.

Rubbing a hand over his bloodshot eyes, he reached down and turned on the radio. He let the music wash over him and soothe him as he closed his eyes, picturing once again the Admiral's expression when he had said he didn't need another father to run his life. He hadn't meant that. At least not the way he had said it.

He felt closer to Nelson than he had ever felt to his own father and it grieved him to know he had hurt his friend. He knew Nelson was only trying to protect him, just as he tried to protect the Admiral. Crane shook his head and smiled. They were more alike than he wanted to admit. In Nelson's shoes, he would have done the exact same thing.

Crane leaned his head back against the seat and sighed. It had been a very long week and he had a lot of fences to mend. He reached for the ignition but was stopped by the voice of a newscaster that had replaced the music he had been listening to.

"And waiting at the hospital now for word on the condition of Admiral Harriman Nelson, is Bob Graves."

Crane sat bolt upright in his seat. Condition? Hospital? What was going on? Crane leaned forward to listen.

"Yes, Doug, I am waiting at the hospital with many of Nelson's crew for news of the retired Admiral's condition. As has been reported already, Nelson was shot earlier today in an apparent assassination attempt. There aren't many details available, but we have been informed the Admiral was accompanied to the hospital by his Executive Officer, Lt. Commander Chip Morton, who was with the Admiral at the time of the shooting. We have also been advised the Admiral's condition is critical. Doug, we'll report back when we have more information."

Crane sat in silence, dumbfounded. He had just left the Admiral. Not more than a few hours ago. How could this happen? And who would do it? Crane grimaced at that and realized there were many that would have liked to see him dead.

Clenching his teeth in anger, Crane started the sports car's engine and spun the tires leaving the overlook. As he raced back to Santa Barbara, he remembered again with distaste the last conversation he'd had with the Admiral. He only hoped it wasn't the last conversation he would ever have with him.

*****

Time passed slowly for those sitting in the waiting room. Nurses and doctors scurried about soundlessly, but there was no word from the operating room. The tension in the room rose with each passing hour.

The sound of a hand slapping a knee broke the silence. Morton looked about sheepishly, then rose. "Sorry. I just never was good at waiting. I'm...going to go make some more phone calls."

He left the room and headed for the bank of phones off to his left. He hadn't gotten far when he heard his name called out. Heading down the hall at a fast clip was the Seaview's Captain.

"Chip! I just heard! How is he?" he asked out of breath.

Morton turned to face Lee Crane and grimaced. He hesitated a moment before answering. "Not good. He's in surgery now. Has been for about four hours. He wasn't doing real well when he went up there."

Ashen faced, Crane closed his eyes. He had hoped the news reports were wrong. "They never seem to get things right when it doesn't matter, why did they have to when it did?"

"I...Edith...is she here?"

"Been here since shortly after it happened. I had the FBI agent call Angie. She's the one that told Edith. They're both here."

Crane looked up at Morton with a puzzled expression. "FBI agent? I don't understand."

Hurriedly, Morton explained.

"I...I didn't know."

"No one did. Except Angie. He wanted it that way. Said he didn't want anybody to get hurt because of him."

Crane walked off a few steps and lowered his head. He brought his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes.

"This can't be happening. It just can't."

"I know. I feel the same way. But it is happening. All we can do is wait. And hope."

Turning back, he nodded once. "Let's...let's go wait with Edith."

The two men started back for the waiting room when they heard the doors to the elevator open and saw Dr. Wylie and Dr. Jamieson come out. They stood huddled in quiet conference for a moment, then looked up and saw the anxiously waiting men. Wylie turned to Jamieson and placed his hand on the older man's shoulder, then went back into the elevator.

Jamieson hesitated a moment before crossing the corridor to them.

"Jamie, is he all right?" Crane asked with apprehension at the sight of Jamieson's face.

Avoiding the two men's stares, he said softly, "He's alive. Let's go in with the others. I'd rather only say this once."

Filled with misgiving, the two men followed him.

Edith and the others rose warily when they saw the look in Jamieson's eye.

"Jamie? Is...is he all right?" asked Edith in a quiet voice.

Jamieson dropped his eyes and delayed speaking for a moment.

"Jamie?"

"He's alive. The bullet did a lot of damage though. He's lost a great deal of blood and he..."

When he didn't go on, Crane walked to stand face to face with him.
"He what?"

Jamieson looked away from the intense gaze of Crane for a moment and then continued, "We lost him on the table twice but were able to get him back. Barely. He's very weak."

Edith walked forward and placed a shaking hand on Jamieson's arm. "What are his chances?"

Jamieson slowly raised his eyes to hers and she saw within them all the fear she herself felt.

"I...I don't know. If it were anyone else, I would say there wasn't much hope. But this is Harriman Nelson, my friend. I have to have some hope."

He placed his hand under Edith's chin and raised her downcast eyes to his. "I want you to be prepared though. Dr. Wylie doesn't hold out much hope, but he doesn't know Nelson as we do. Right?"

Edith hesitated a moment and then slowly nodded, an uncertain smile upon her face. "Can I see him?"

"In a bit. They're getting him settled in ICU right now. I'll come back and let you know when it's all right to go in." With that, he glanced at the others in the room, smiled weakly and left.

"Well," Edith said after a silent moment. "I guess we wait some more."

Nodding absently, Crane walked to the windows along the far wall and stared at the scene below him without really seeing it. He closed his eyes and saw once again the scene between them play out in his mind. "I didn't mean it! Dear God, I didn't!"

"Lee?" Crane started at the sound of Chip's voice behind him. "Are you all right?"

Crane gave a bitter laugh and turned around. "I'm fine, Chip. Just fine." He walked away from the windows and stopped, his back turned. He stared hard at Edith sitting on the far side of the room watching him with a curious expression. Feeling her eyes upon him, his guilt increased and he faced Morton once again.

"I just may have killed my best friend, but I'm fine." His voice was filled with suppressed anger.

"This isn't your fault, Lee! As much as you regret what happened, this isn't your fault!"

"You know how much I hurt him, don't you?"

Chip stopped. His mouth moved but no words came out. "You...yes, I know what happened, but..."

"No buts, Chip. If I had just accepted what he did and left it at that, he wouldn't have left the Institute without protection. But I had to confront him. And you want to know the strange thing?" he asked. "I agree with him and the decision! I wasn't ready for another mission! And he knew it. I just..." He raised his hands to his mouth and stopped for a moment. "I just couldn't accept the fact that he had made the decision for me."

"Lee, he knew he'd been wrong. He felt bad that he hadn't told you. He just didn't think before he acted."

"It doesn't matter," a quiet voice from behind them said. "Don't you see? Nothing matters except that he lives."

Crane and Morton turned to see that Edith had come to stand behind them.

"Edith," Lee began. "You don't understand. I..."

Edith stopped him by placing a hand on his arm. "I do understand. Angie told me what happened. All of it," she said as she looked at both Crane and Morton in turn. "No one is to blame for this except the person that shot him. Blaming yourselves isn't helping Harry, is it? What we need to do is concentrate on him, not on ourselves and how badly we feel."

Unable to look her in the eye, Crane's gaze slid away from her to a point on the far wall. The feeling of responsibility was strong within him, yet he knew she spoke the truth. No matter what had happened, it was in the past and it must stay there. The one thing, the only thing, that mattered as she said was being there to support him. And he would be for as long as it took.

"Look, Lee, I'm going to call Bobby and let him and the crew know what's happening." At Lee's nod, Morton stepped out of the room and reached for the phone.

*****

"I just don't understand, Ski," Patterson said from his perch by the radar screen. "Why? Why would someone...do that to him?"

"I don't know, Pat. Sometimes I don't think I understand anything about this world any more." Further conversation between the two men was cut off as Sparks called O'Brien to the radio shack.

"Man, I hope that is some good news," Kowalski muttered.

The conversation was mostly one-sided, O'Brien listening to what Morton said. "Yes. We're still having some problems but we should be in port soon. Right. As soon as we get in. Chip? Uh...nothing. I'll see you soon."

The crew collectively held their breath, waiting for O'Brien to tell them what the news was.

The men turned when they heard O'Brien clear his throat softly. "That was Mr. Morton. The Admiral is out of surgery. He made it through the operation, but he's very weak."

"Is...is he going to be all right, Mr. O'Brien?" Sharkey said, stepping close to the young lieutenant.

Turning to face the COB, his face clouded for a moment when he remembered the exec's words. "They...they don't know yet, chief. We just have to wait and see. Now, back to work men."

*****

Another hour passed before Jamieson returned to the waiting room to tell Edith she could see her brother. She hesitated a moment before turning to Crane. Wordlessly, she held out her hand to him. He wavered for a second, then rose slowly to his feet and took her outstretched hand. Gently, she squeezed it and they walked together to Nelson's room.

The room in which Nelson lay was brightly lit and filled with the incessant sounds of machines. The pair walked to Nelson's side and stared down at the man who, only a few hours ago, had been strong, vital and filled with dreams and visions. Now, he lay before them hooked to machines that helped him breathe and monitored his heart.

Edith cried softly as she watched her brother struggle to live. "It's so unfair. All my life he has taken care of me, whether I wanted him to or not. And now, when he needs me, I can't do a thing for him."

Crane put his arm about her trembling shoulders. Squeezing them gently, he said, "You are helping him. Just by being here. I know he can hear us. I know he knows we're here."

She nodded once, then pulled from his embrace, drying her eyes. "Well then, I must pull myself together before he wakes up and asks what I am blubbering about," she said with a tight laugh.

She walked to a chair near the bed and sat down, taking one of Nelson's hands in her own. "Did you hear that, big brother? Lee says you can hear us. Can you? If you can, then I want you to open your eyes. I know you can do it."

Crane closed his eyes tightly against the scene before him as regret enveloped him. Regret for what he had said, regret he never told his friend how he felt, regret...regret for so many things. Unable to remain in the room any longer, he placed his hand on Edith's shoulder for a moment and then left the room after taking one final look at Nelson.

He walked the halls of the hospital, not knowing where he was going, but knowing he couldn't bring himself to go back to Nelson's room. Not yet. In time, he found himself outside another room. He looked at the sign on the door, hesitated a moment and then walked through the doors to stand in the muted light of the hospital chapel.

Rows of candles gave off a soft light that flickered over the seats lining the small room. What had brought him here he didn't know. Crane walked further into the room and slumped into a chair near the front. His mind kept drifting back and forth between the argument with Nelson and the picture of him lying pale and almost lifeless upon the white sheets of the hospital bed. He covered his eyes with his hands as tears slowly tracked down his face. "Why? Why did it have to happen? Why couldn't I have been there for him instead of being the cause?"

Thoughts and memories swirled about him, even though he didn't want them to. He was lost in their grip, tears streaming from his eyes, till he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Chip Morton sitting behind him. The two men locked gazes for a moment till Crane, unable to look his friend in the eyes any longer, looked away. Silence enveloped the chapel as the men sat, lost in their own thoughts and prayers for the Admiral.

Finally, Morton leaned forward in his seat once more, his blue eyes staring straight ahead. "You can't blame yourself Lee. It's not your fault. Or mine. Or Angie's." Crane turned to stare at Morton's profile, candle light dancing off his face.

"You? Angie? How could you both feel responsible?" Crane asked, his voice loud in the hushed room.

Morton gave a short laugh. "Everyone wants to take responsibility for what happened. Angie, because she didn't call the guards, me because I couldn't stop it from happening...and you because you feel your argument drove him out of the Institute and into the sights of the shooter. Why, if the Admiral were conscious, he'd take responsibility for the shooting himself!"

Morton focused on his friend's drawn face and said quietly, "Don't you see? There is only one person to blame and it isn't any of us."

"Chip..."

"No, Lee. Don't. Do you know what the Admiral was doing when I found him on the boat?"

When Crane remained silent, he continued, "He was wondering what our lives would have been like if he had never known us, if he had never convinced us to come aboard the Seaview."

Crane turned his eyes to Chip's and stared hard at his friend.

"He took responsibility for your argument. Said you were right, that he had meddled."

"No. No, it wasn't his fault. I..."

"Don't you see?" Chip said interrupting. "It doesn't matter. Nothing matters except that he get better. He blames himself, you blame yourself and the only person to blame is the one that pulled the trigger."

Crane turned his face from Morton's and shook his head. Nothing was going to take away the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. Nothing. Morton sighed and leaned back in his seat, lost in his own thoughts once more.

After a time, Chip rose and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm going back to see how he is. And how Edith is. Don't sit here too long wrapped in self pity." And with that, he was gone.

Crane clenched his eyes shut at Morton's words. "Self pity? That's not what I'm feeling! I just...just...Dear God! I am feeling full of self pity! I haven't thought about Edith or how she is dealing with this at all. I'm too wrapped up my own feelings of self loathing to have done that!" Smacking his hand on the seat in front of him, he rose slowly, wiped a hand across his eyes and left the room without a backward glance.

The halls and corridors of the antiseptic hospital rang with activity, yet Crane heard and saw none of it. He moved mechanically down the halls till he found himself outside the room he knew contained the Admiral. Guards were posted outside the room and, down the hall, he could see Bobby O'Brien and some of the men from the Seaview huddled together talking to Chip. Apparently, the Seaview had made it back to port. Closing his eyes against a fresh round of grief, Crane opened the door to the room and stepped inside.

The room still held the soft hum of machines, but there was another sound. Edith sat as she had before he had left, holding her brother's hand and talking softly to him.

"Do you remember the time I cut school? You were so mad! The school called to tell you and you came after me. I had never seen you that mad before! It scared me. But I never cut school again. I..." Edith sensed his presence in the room and turned to him. She smiled weakly and asked if he was all right.

Crane looked away from her questioning gaze and felt the clenching claw of guilt. He laughed unhappily and looked back. "I'm fine. Just fine. I...I have been so wrapped up in my own grief and guilt, I...I'm sorry."

Edith rose from her seat and crossed the distance to his side. Looking up into his eyes, she saw the pain there. "Lee, it isn't your fault. I know how you feel about him." She looked back over her shoulder at her brother and whispered, "So does he." Returning her gaze to his, she said, "He wouldn't blame you. Neither do I because you did nothing wrong. If my brother weren't so proud and independent and, yes, I will say it, controlling, he wouldn't have been in the position he was."

Crane walked around Edith to stand by Nelson's bedside, staring down at the man that was closer to him than his own father. "Did you know he was at my graduation from Annapolis? My own father was too busy to come, but he was there." Crane sighed deeply and continued, "I spent a lot of time trying to make my father see I had made the right decision in going to the Academy, but he never saw it that way."

He reached out and patted Nelson's hand with a soft, feathery touch. "My father had me enrolled in Yale before I was out of my sophomore year of high school. Said no son of his was going to be a Navy man. And the way he said it...it sounded dirty!" Crane shook his head as if to dispel the thoughts and memories he had tried so hard to overcome.

Smiling, he looked back at Edith who stood watching him with a sad expression. "I gave up trying to make my father proud of me. Maybe that was why I tried so hard to be the best. I knew I could never be what he wanted so I became what I wanted, and found the one man that would be proud of me."

With difficulty, Crane pulled his gaze from Edith's and stared down at Nelson. "And I let him down," he said softly, almost too softly for Edith to hear.

Edith crossed the few steps to Lee's side and yanked him around to face her. "You didn't let him down!" she said slowly and distinctly. "Do you think you are the only one that hurts? That you are the only one with regrets? You aren't!" She released his arm and faced her brother. "We all have regrets, Lee. Even me." Her voice had become so quiet, Crane had to strain to hear her. "I have so many things I wanted to say to him. So much..." Her voice broke and she turned from the two men who meant so much to her.

She took a deep breath and turned back, a small smile on her face. The reflection from a nearby light glinted off the fresh tears that tracked down her face. "I think I need some time alone." Crane nodded and started for the door.

"No. I...stay here with him for me. Will you? I...I don't want him to be alone." At Crane's nod, she started for the door then stopped. "Talk to him, Lee. Talk to him." And with that she left them alone.

Except for the sound of the machines that monitored Nelson's condition, silence filled the room, and Crane suddenly realized how uncomfortable he felt. Shaking his head as if he could dispel the feeling, he sat down on the chair by Nelson's bedside. He watched as his friend's chest rose and fell, and held his breath when it seemed he hadn't taken a breath in a while. Crane tried to look away but found he couldn't as he sat, spellbound and numb.

Finally, in a small voice he said, "I...I don't know what to say. Edith...she..." He gestured weakly towards the door and then let his hand fall back down. He raised his eyes to the stark white ceiling and clenched his eyes shut. A different feeling overcame him and, as hard as he fought it off, he became filled with it. Angrily, he asked, "Why? Why did you just walk off like that? You knew...you knew what could happen! You knew they were out there! You knew they were waiting! You..." He broke off what he was about to say when the door to Nelson's room opened soundlessly and a green-clad doctor entered the room. He looked up, as if surprised anyone was in the room, then quickly regained his composure. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I need to change the Admiral's IV bag."

Nodding, Crane glanced to the almost empty IV bag that hung by the head of the Admiral's bed, then looked back. A feeling of uneasiness filled him. "Don't you usually have the nurses change the IV bags?" Crane asked.

The doctor hesitated for a moment, then laughed. "Usually. But there are a lot of nurses out tonight. Flu I guess. Didn't want to take the time to find one that wasn't busy. It won't take a moment."

Crane nodded again. He could feel the tension in the room go up several notches. He looked from the IV bag to the doctor and back again. He looked all right. Stethoscope, green scrubs, badge...That was it! He wore no security badge!

Before the intruder could finish hooking the new IV bag to the Admiral, Crane launched himself across the bed and tackled him, knocking aside the IV bag. The interloper crashed a fist into Crane's stomach and pushed him off. He tried to rise and make a dash for the door but Crane grabbed his feet and pulled him to the floor. Taking advantage of Crane's awkward position, the "doctor" punched a fist into Lee's face, shook his feet free of his hold and sprinted to the door. Yanking it open, he was met by several doctors and nurses that tried to enter the room. He knocked them aside and ran out into the hall.

"Stop him!" Crane yelled as he started after the man. He saw with satisfaction Morton and Sharkey take off down the corridor after him. Crane started after the fleeing man also, but was brought up short by the shrill noise coming from the Admiral's heart monitor. Doctors and nurses crowded around the Admiral's bedside and it was with a sinking feeling Crane realized the Admiral's heart had stopped.

"No," he whispered, unable to accept what he saw.

A hand reached out and gently pulled Crane the rest of the way through the door and out into the hallway. He turned to see Jamie with a hand on his arm.

"Let them help him, Lee. Stay out of their way."

Crane looked back to the door then turned to face Edith who walked towards him, fear written on her face.

"I heard the call go out for a code blue in his room," she said in a soft, scared voice. "Is...is he all right?"

Gathering her in his arms, he whispered, "I don't know. I..."

Beyond Edith, Crane saw a disheveled Morton, O'Brien and Sharkey practically carrying the "doctor" that had tried to kill Nelson. Behind them came several angry, and slightly mussed, members of the Seaview crew.

"We got him, sir," said Sharkey, stopping to wipe a drop of blood from his lip. "Wasn't easy, but we got him."

Crane's arms left Edith and he walked very slowly towards the men. He reached out and grabbed the front of the "doctor's" shirt.

"Who are you and why did you try to kill Admiral Nelson?" he said in a low, menacing tone.

When the man did not respond, Crane twisted the material till he had closed off the man's air supply.

"Talk!"

Fear shone in the man's eyes but he did not answer the Captain's question.

"I asked you a question, mister and I expect an answer. Why did you try to kill him? Were you the one that shot him?" Crane twisted the shirt a little tighter with each question. The man's face began to turn from red to blue.

"All right! All right. I'll talk," he managed to croak out after a few seconds.

Crane relaxed his hold on the shirt a bit. "So talk. What is in the IV bag and why are you here?"

The man grunted and said, "I don't know what is in the bag. I was told to come here and replace that bag with the one he had. That's all."

"Who told you to come here?"

"I...I can't tell you that." Crane applied more pressure to the man's neck.

"I can't tell you! They'll kill me!"

Crane laughed, "Who says I won't kill you before they do?" He put more pressure on the man's neck. "Not much time left, friend."

"Asylum! I want asylum. Then I will tell you."

"No. Tell me now and I will see about getting you asylum."

Seeing he had no other choice, the man spat out a name, "Rochenko."

Stunned, Crane released his hold on the man slightly. "Vladimir Rochenko?"

"Yes," the man whispered. "Told me I had to take Nelson out or I would be killed. Along with my family. They...they are still back in my country."

Rochenko was the head of the People's Republic secret police. They must have been desperate to obtain the weapon for him to have been involved. Crane breathed a prayer of thanks that the Admiral hadn't been kidnapped by Rochenko's men, knowing what would have been in store for him.

"Was he the one that put out the order to kill Nelson before?"

"Yes. He also tried to have him kidnapped. Said if our country couldn't have the weapon he was designing, no country would."

"Were you the one that shot him?"

"Yes," he finally spat out.

"Captain! That will be enough!" a voice interrupted. Crane turned to see an FBI agent coming towards them, anger suffusing his face. "I said that is enough," he repeated when Crane hadn't released the prisoner.

Reluctantly, Crane relaxed his hold on the man and turned angry eyes to the agent. "What do you want here Baxter? Should I set him free so he can try again?"

The agent grimaced and tried to keep his anger under control. "This is our jurisdiction, Crane. He's our prisoner."

"Did you hear what he said? Rochenko is behind this."

"I heard," he said taking hold of the prisoner. "We will take care of it."

Crane was about to reply when he heard Edith call Jamie's name and start for the Admiral's room. Jamie and two other doctors stood outside Nelson's room and talked in soft tones to Edith, who lowered her head and began to cry.

Apprehension filled Crane as he started for the group. "Edith? What...?"

Edith turned her eyes to Crane's and he saw she was smiling. "He's all right!! He's all right."

"His heart...he...it stopped," Crane said slowly.

Jamie stepped forward and put a hand on Crane's arm. "His heart didn't stop. The electrodes must have come loose during the struggle. That's all. He's holding his own and, I think, maybe doing a bit better than before you decided to have a brawl by, and on, his bed.

Crane stood dumbfounded. He'd thought Nelson was dead. He'd heard the heart monitor go off. He closed his eyes and allowed the news to soak through. Looking back, he saw Baxter leaving with his prisoner and the men of the Seaview crowded around. The smiles on their faces told Crane that they had heard the news.

"Is he waking up, Jamie?" Edith asked, relief written on her face.

The smile left Jamieson's face. "No. He isn't showing any signs of regaining consciousness. Yet. But he is hanging in there. And that is all we can hope for right now."

"My suggestion for all of you is to go get some sleep. But somehow, I don't think any of you will follow that advice. If you will excuse me, I think I'll go check on our patient. Edith?" Jamie held out his hand and waited till Edith had gone into the room before he followed.

Turning from the room, Crane walked to the windows that looked out over the parking lot. Relief that the Admiral was still alive filled him.

"Well, at least we don't have to keep worrying someone is going to take another try at the Admiral," Chip said following him to the windows. "Now that the FBI knows about Rochenko, the government should be able to put pressure on the PR about this. Don't you think so, Lee?"

Morton turned to stare at his friend when Crane made no attempt to answer. "Lee?"

Crane stood with his eyes closed, trying to blot out the memory of the past day.

"Lee?' Morton tried again and was rewarded by Crane's small smile.

"I thought he was dead, Chip. I heard the monitor go off. I saw the doctors crowding into the room and start yelling orders. I..." Stopping, he brought his hands to his mouth and closed his eyes again. Dropping his hands, he sighed deeply and turned to face Morton. "I think I could use a cup of coffee. How about you?"

Morton smiled. "All right. But I buy."

Crane nodded and the two set off for the cafeteria.

*****

Dawn, the hour when death stalks its prey, came and went without its quarry. The waiting room that held the men from the Seaview's "hospital watch" was filled with crewmen that had given up trying to find a comfortable spot and had simply yielded to sleep.

Chip Morton's chin finished its slow descent to his chest and he jerked awake, momentarily uncertain where he was. Looking about the room crowded with crewmen brought back to him the events of the previous day and he grimaced. He rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin and wondered if Lee had gotten any sleep.

Rising from his seat, he stretched his long body and yawned. He was about to turn to Sharkey, who was making waking noises beside him, when he saw Jamieson come down the hallway slowly and enter the Admiral's room. At least this time there were no monitors going off and no code blues announced. Deciding he needed more coffee, Morton headed off to the cafeteria, hoping desperately that it was open.

Jamieson opened the door to Nelson's room and stepped inside. Before him sat Edith on one side of the Admiral's bed and Lee on the other, both asleep. Stepping further into the room he closed the door behind him, walked to the Admiral's bed and did a cursory examination. He sighed deeply when he saw no improvement and no sign of consciousness.

At the sound of Jamie's sigh, Crane awoke with a start and sat up.

"What? What is it?" he asked groggily.

Jamieson put a hand on Crane's shoulder. "Easy, Lee. I just came to check on him."

"Any change?"

"No. Not that I can see. Have you been here all night?"

Crane rose from his chair and tried to work the kinks out of his back. "Yeah. I didn't want to leave Edith alone."

Jamieson sighed again. "Look. You both need to get some sleep."

Crane laughed and turned to Jamieson. "That's what we were doing, Doc."

"Not sitting in a chair. Look, there's a bed down the hall. Go use it. I'll stay..."

"No thanks, Doc. Maybe Edith will take you up on the offer." At the mention of her name, Edith raised her head from the bed and looked at the two men.

"Harry? What...?"

"I was just trying to get Lee to get some sleep in a real bed instead of sitting here. I can find one for you too if..."

"No thanks, Jamie. I am not moving from here till I know he is all right."

"Edith, you aren't doing him any good sitting here, not eating and not sleeping well."

"Jamie, I am fine and I am not moving."

"You really need to get out of here for a bit. Take a walk..."

"I already said I am not leaving here. If you really feel you must mother me, you can get me something to eat. But..."

"Do you three think you could find some other place to argue?" a weak voice behind them whispered.

Shocked, the three turned to Nelson, his eyes still closed.

"Admiral?" Jamie asked hesitantly, moving to his head.

Nelson's eyes opened slightly and he fixed Jamie with a stare.

"Admiral! You're awake!" Lee practically shouted.

Nelson grimaced at the loudness. "I guess so. What happened?" he asked in a voice not above a whisper.

"You don't remember?" Jamie asked concerned.

Nelson tried to shift position and groaned aloud at the agony that coursed through him. "Judging by the pain and the looks on your faces...something not good."

Crane and Jamieson grinned at the understatement. "We...we can talk about it later. When you're feeling better," Jamie said reaching a hand down to gently pat the Admiral's shoulder.

"When might that be?" he asked.

Edith leaned over and gave her brother a kiss on the cheek. "Soon, big brother. You rest. We'll be here."

Jamie headed for the door. "I think I will go let a few other people know you are awake. But I want you to rest. No more talking. All right?" he asked turning back to the Admiral.

"He'll rest Doc if we have to hit him over the head." Crane said softly, looking at Nelson.

Nelson turned and looked Crane in the eye, feeling there was something wrong but not knowing what.

Crane dropped his gaze from the Admiral's and turned away.

"Lee?" Nelson questioned. "What...?"

Edith put her hand in her brother's and drew his attention away from Lee. "Harry, I...I was so afraid. I..."

She was interrupted by the sounds of cheering out in the hall.

"What the...blazes is that?" Nelson asked, his voice weakening.

"Happiness, Harry. That is the sound of happiness," she said as her brother lost his battle against the rising darkness and slept.

*****

Over the next few days, Nelson regained his strength slowly. The men of the Seaview had returned to their work with a renewed vigor. Joy at the news of the Admiral's slow recovery fueled their efforts.

Several days after the shooting, Edith walked down the hall of the hospital with a bit of a spring in her step. Sleep and food had restored her spirits and her brother's continued progress gave her reason to be cheerful.

She stopped in front of her brother's door and saw Jamieson coming down the hallway towards her.

"Jamie! How are you today? And how is my big brother doing?" she asked light-heartedly.

Jamie smiled at the happiness in her voice. "I am just fine and your brother is getting stronger all the time. He asked for work to be brought to him from the office today."

"Well, I certainly hope no one obliged him," she said with a frown.

"Don't worry. I have given strict orders that no one bring him anything other than books and maybe magazines. He doesn't need to start pushing himself again."

"I agree. He needs to take it easy and I will make sure he does." She looked at the concern in Jamie's eyes and hesitated.

"Jamie? What is it? You said he was doing well."

Jamieson glanced up into Edith's eyes, then looked away.

"Jamie?"

He looked back into her eyes and decided to get it over with. "It's Lee. Harry keeps asking where Lee is. I have been telling him Lee always seems to pick the times when he is sleeping to visit but I don't think he believes me. Now that he is spending more and more time awake..."

"I see," Edith said turning her gaze to Nelson's door. "Does he remember yet? About the shooting or...what happened before the shooting?"

Jamieson shook his head, confused at the sudden change in topic. "I don't think so. He was questioned by that FBI guy, Baxter, yesterday but he didn't seem to be able to help them." Jamie noticed her worried look and reached out a hand to her. "Hey, it isn't important. He'll either remember it all someday or he won't. It isn't going to change anything is it?"

Edith looked back to Jamie and smiled. "No. No it isn't."

"Well, I think I will just step inside a moment and see how our patient is doing and then leave you two alone," Jamieson said reaching out hand and opening the door.

"Well, it's about time you got here. I've been waiting for those reports for..." Nelson broke off what he was about to say when he noticed that it was Jamieson that had entered the room.

"Reports? Admiral, I told you, you need rest. Not reading a bunch of reports that are going to raise your blood pressure," Jamie said with a stern look.

Nelson tried to adopt the look that had made many a young officer cringe but it had no effect on Jamie.

"I've seen that look before Harry and it isn't going to work. No reports. No proposals. No papers of any kind. Understood?"

Nelson slumped back on the pillows without saying a word.

"All right. I'll just go now and make sure everyone on the Seaview and everyone at the Institute knows they are not to bring you work of any kind," Jamieson said heading for the door.

Before he could open it though, the door burst open and Chief Sharkey hurried in holding an armful of file folders. "I got the reports for you Admiral. I..." He stopped when he saw the stern look on Jamieson's face.

"Oh, hi Doc. I was just..."

"I know, chief. You were just following orders. Well, you have new orders now. From me. No folders. No reports. No work for the Admiral. The last thing he needs is stress. Understood?"

Sharkey stood looking from Jamieson to Nelson with a helpless look on his face.

Nelson finally gave in and put Sharkey out of his misery. "It's all right, Francis. I'll behave," he said glaring at Jamieson.

Jamieson beamed at having won the battle. "Well, I'll just help you take these folders back to the office, chief and we'll let the Admiral get some rest. All right?"

Sharkey nodded and headed for the door, grateful to have escaped.

The door closed behind the two men and Edith walked to her brother's bedside, a small smile on her face. "You shouldn't have done that to Sharkey. You know he would do anything for you. Even if it isn't in your best interest."

Nelson grimaced at the rebuke. "Perhaps."

Edith sat on the chair by her brother's bed and looked at him with concern, noticing a troubled look in his eyes. "What is it, Harry? What's wrong?"

Nelson turned his eyes to her, startled for a moment. "I...I haven't told anyone this but..."

When he didn't go on, she became concerned. "What? Are you feeling all right? Is there..."

"No, no I'm fine," he hastened to assure her. She resettled herself in her chair and waited for him to continue. Looking her in the eye, he said, "I remember. I remember all of it. Everything from the time I got to the office in the morning to...right before the shooting."

When she didn't say anything, he continued, "I guess I can see why Lee hasn't been here. He's still angry isn't he?"

Edith let out the breath she didn't know she had been holding and reached for his hand. "No. No, that isn't it, Harry. Lee...Lee is..."

"He's what? He's all right, isn't he?" he questioned, sitting up straighter in the bed.

Edith pushed him back against the pillows and fingered a curl that lay across his forehead. "He's all right, Harry. Physically."

Confusion wiped the fear from Nelson's eyes. "Physically? What...what's wrong then?" he asked.

She smoothed the errant strand of hair back from his brow and dropped her hand. "He feels guilty, Harry."

"Guilty? About what? I heard about how he got that thug to confess but..."

"No. It isn't that. He feels he is responsible for the shooting."

Silence filled the room as Nelson took in his sister's words. "How is he responsible for what happened? He wasn't even there. Why..."

She laid a hand on his arm and looked him in the eyes. "That's why he feels responsible. That and what he said to you. About not needing another father in his life to interfere or control. He feels he drove you into the sights of the shooter."

Nelson's head slumped back against the pillows. He shook his head as if he could dispel the feelings that rose up within him. "That...that's ridiculous!" he sputtered, sitting upright. "I was the one that made a mistake! I was the one that ran off! He had nothing to do with that!"

Edith rose and stood over her brother, staring him in the eye. "I know that. And you know that. But Lee doesn't. He still feels responsible. And if you are going to get all upset over this, I will just have to march down to the nurses station and tell them they need to give you a shot to calm you down! Jamie said no excitement and no work and I am going to see to that. I can do without any more bedside vigils for awhile."

Nelson smiled up at his sister. "You're pretty feisty aren't you? I can see why no one has snatched you up yet."

Edith tried to hide the smile she felt behind her stern face. "The reason no one has "snatched me up", as you put it, is because no man wants to face the formidable Admiral Harriman Nelson. That and because I haven't found the right man yet. Now, you lay back and I will reconsider getting the nurses."

Nelson did as he was told but still felt the anger and the futility within him. All this time. Lee had felt this way since it had happened. He had to make him see it wasn't his fault.

"Edith, I'll relax if you do me one favor. Get Lee here. Somehow. Tell him I need to see him. Tell him...anything. Just don't let him know I remember."

Edith stared at her brother for a long moment, debating what to do. "All right," she said slowly. "But you have to do something for me while I am gone."

Suspiciously, he asked "What?"

She smiled at her brother, enjoying being the one to tell him what to do for once. "Rest."

Nelson closed his eyes and smiled. "All right, all right, I'll rest. Will that make you happy?"

"Ecstatic."

She headed for the door but was stopped by her brother's words.

"You're enjoying this aren't you? Telling me what to do?"

She turned back with a smile on her face. "I must admit I like being in control. But I don't like the way it came about." Her voice trembled a bit as she continued. "I was scared Harry. I really thought we had lost you. And I realized I hadn't told you in a long time that I love you. And that I know what it cost you to raise me after our parents were killed. If you had died, I would have lived with that regret all my days."

Nelson's smile disappeared. "It cost me nothing Edith. I only wish I had been there more for you. And...I love you too."

Edith watched her brother's face. She knew what those words meant and what they had cost him.

"I'll be back. You rest," she said as she went out the door.

*****

One long nap, one visit by Doctor Wylie, one visit by a nurse intent on embarrassing him and three aborted attempts at trying to read a popular novel found Harriman Nelson wondering how he was going to survive for the duration of his hospital stay. And he wondered where Lee was. It had been over five hours since Edith had left promising to bring him. He must really be hurting to not want to see him this badly.

A sound at the door got Nelson's attention and he watched as the door slowly opened to reveal a rather scruffy looking Lee Crane.

"Come in, Lee. Come in. I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me. Please, sit," he said as jovially as he could.

Crane walked hesitantly across the room and seated himself at Nelson's side. He remembered how just a few days ago, he had sat by his side and despaired of ever seeing or talking to his friend again.

"Have you given up shaving?" Nelson's words brought Crane back from his musings and his hand went unconsciously to his chin and the week's growth of beard that covered his face.

"I thought I would try a new look," he said with an uneasy laugh. "Don't want to waste my...my leave time shaving."

"It looks good on you. How have you been?"

Crane tried to look Nelson in the eye but found it impossible. Rising from his chair, he walked to the window and gazed out at the scene below. "This is a nice view. And a nice room," he said turning back to Nelson. "The other room didn't...didn't have a window. This is so much nicer. More airy and..."

"Lee."

Crane stopped short his ramblings and stared at the floor.

"Lee, please. You have to stop doing this."

"What? Talking? I thought that was what you wanted."

Nelson closed his eyes and sighed deeply, sending a stab of fear through Crane. "Can I get you something? The nurse? Do you need..."

"I'm fine, Lee. Fine. Please sit. I want you to listen and I don't want you to interrupt. All right?"

At his uncertain nod, Nelson went on after Crane had seated himself once more. "I...I want to apologize to you for what happened. I..."

"No, Admiral, I am the one..."

"Lee, please. Let me finish. I know I was wrong in telling ONI you were unavailable for another mission. I had no right to...to interfere. I felt it was in your best interest to not go out again so soon. I hope you can..."

"Admiral! Please!" Lee practically shouted, rising from his chair . He began pacing about the small room, nervously twisting his ring.

"I...you were right. Yes, you did interfere but..." Lee stopped his pacing and stood in front of Nelson, understanding dawning on his face.

"You...you remember?"

At Nelson's nod, he asked, "Everything?"

"I remember, Lee. Everything."

At Lee's silence, Nelson continued. "I didn't understand till today why you hadn't come to see me when I knew you had been with me the entire time I lay here unconscious. Edith finally told me."

Crane felt as if his whole world had stopped. Nelson remembered. He knew! And yet, staring at the man in the bed before him, he saw no condemnation, no animosity. He saw...his friend. Alive. Stronger. Smiling?

"I...I am the cause..."

"No, Lee!" Nelson said loudly, rising from his bed as much as he could. "No! You are not the reason I am here. We know the reason and we know the person responsible. And it isn't you. It has nothing to do with you."

Crane gave a bitter laugh and turned away. "I wish I could believe that."

"Well, believe it, because it is true."

When Crane didn't answer, Nelson leaned back and gave a short laugh. "Why are you so determined to take responsibility for something you had no control over?"

"I had control over it!" Crane said, turning to face Nelson. He rested his hands on the bottom of his bed and stared him in the eye. "I drove you..."

Nelson made a rude noise and leaned forward. "I walked out of that building without my guard! I walked down the pier to my boat! I made the decision to walk away! Not you! Me!"

Crane tore his gaze from the Admiral and stared at the heart monitor beeping steadily behind him, afraid it would stop again.

"Stop looking at that infernal machine and look at me! I am all right. I want you to listen to me. You...are...not...responsible!"

Crane dropped his gaze and walked to stand before the windows again. "I can't make you understand how I feel," he said softly.

Nelson was silent for a moment. The wound in his chest was beginning to throb again and he despaired of getting through to Crane. If he didn't, things would never be the same between them again. He closed his eyes to block out the images that suddenly flowed through his brain.

"So you never really forgave me for shooting you then, did you?" Nelson asked quietly.

Crane turned slowly from the window and saw Nelson holding his chest and felt a shiver of fear course through him till he realized what the Admiral had just said. He took a step towards the bed and stared with a quizzical expression on his face.

"Forgive you for shooting me? What are you talking about?"

Opening his eyes, Nelson glanced at Crane and then away. It was so hard to think of it again. And yet he could not stop. Finally, he spat out the hated name. "Krueger. As much as you pretend it doesn't matter, it still does. Doesn't it? I picked up the gun and walked to the Control Room and shot you. As hard as I fought it, I still shot you."

Crane was filled with a feeling of hatred far beyond anything he had ever felt before. "Krueger! How I hate that name! All he did, what he made us both do."

"Admiral, I know what is was like to be possessed by Krueger. You didn't have a choice! I know that! I don't hold anything against you." Crane turned from Nelson's bed and started pacing about the small room.

"You weren't responsible for what happened! We both know who was responsible. How can you after all this time..." Crane looked up to see a small satisfied smile playing about the corners of the Admiral's lips. "What? What are you smiling about?"

"Don't you see? You're telling me the exact same things I told you not more than a minute ago."

The questioning on Crane's face was replaced slowly by one of recognition. He dropped his gaze from the Admiral's stare, and came to sit heavily in the chair by Nelson's bed, his hands hanging limp between his legs. His head shook slowly from side to side till he finally looked up into the eyes of the man he called best friend and saw peace engraved in the lines and crannies of his face.

"We all have regrets, Lee," Nelson said softly, reaching out to grasp one of Crane's hands. "What matters is what we do with those regrets. Do we let them rule us all the rest of our days? Or do we say 'It happened' and get on with life? I've tried to put behind me what happened with Krueger and what I...did to you. Some days I am successful and other days..."

Nelson squeezed his eyes shut to block the memories. "Other days I fight it. But I've tried to not let it affect our relationship. Can you do that? Even though in my eyes you are not to blame, in yours you are. Can you put it behind you? Forget? Can things be the same between us?" he asked, holding his hand out to Crane.

Crane stared for a long time at the proffered hand, knowing what it meant if he didn't take it and also knowing what it meant if he did.

A smile slowly took shape on the Captain's face and he reached his hand out to grasp firmly the hand of his best friend, mentor and father figure.

"Yes," he said softly. "They can be the same." "And maybe even better than they were."

Nelson smiled a broad grin and lay back against the pillows, satisfaction and peace suffusing him. He'd reached him. Or they'd reached each other. Either way, things were going to be all right. At least, as soon as he convinced the doctors he was fine and didn't need to be mollycoddled. "Yes, I'll start on that tomorrow."



Copyright 1999 by Beth Kauffman

Please send comments to Beth at: BKauff81@aol.com

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