Title: Family Matters
Author: Kim Q
Rating: PG
Length: Vignette
Flavor: nostalgic

Notes: This is my very first VBOTTS fanfiction and was written for Uncharted Waters' July '06 Heroes Contest. I have set my little corner of the VBOTTS universe in the classic time period of the '70's and early '80's. Thus this particular story is set in the mid-sixties, about six years before Seaview's keel is laid.   Edited slightly from the posting on UW.

Dedication: In honor of the USS Wahoo and the 51 other US submarines and their heroic crews who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.


A match flickered in the cool night wind, briefly illuminating a sea-worn craggy face.  Rear Admiral Harriman Nelson leaned against a sturdy oak tree on the lawn outside the Base Exchange, relishing the acrid taste of his freshly lit cigarette after hours of enforced abstinence.  While he was quite pleased to be the guest speaker at the graduation of Groton’s latest Submarine Officer Advanced Course, he hadn’t much of a chance to indulge his favorite vice, preferring to set a ‘good example’ for all the bright shining little Lieutenants who would go on to become department heads aboard their various boats.

Tendrils of fragrant smoke wreathed his head as his gaze swept the moonlit grounds of the U.S. Submarine Base in Groton, CT. To a submariner, this place was rich in history and tradition, telling the story of those who'd served their country with honor and distinction in the Silent Service.  The very names of the streets themselves stirred recollections of famous boats and of the many men who would walk these grounds no more.  Nelson sighed as he remembered the faces of friends and shipmates lost to the great cold Deep.

Nelson's reverie was broken by the sight of two familiar young men, one light and one dark, striding purposefully down Grayling Ave towards Morton Hall, the Base gymnasium.  A wry smile crossed his face as Lt. Lee Crane and Lt. Charles 'Chip' Morton, well matched in height and stride, walked with parade ground precision in perfect unison down the paved road.  You can take the boys out of Annapolis but...he thought with amusementAs the two Lieutenants paused to talk in front of the gym, Nelson pondered their latest achievements.  The junior officers had repeated their accomplishments from the Submarine Officer Basic Course in the much more challenging Advanced Course.  Crane was again named as the Honor Graduate and Morton again received the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Award for distinction in the field of electronics and information technology.  Nelson's deep blue eyes twinkled as he reflected that these two bright young men were well on their way to becoming exactly what he needed to bring his greatest dream to fruition.

Crushing the butt of his spent cigarette under the heel of his dress shoe, Nelson exhaled slowly, continuing to watch from his unobtrusive spot under the oak tree. Crane seemed to be trying to talk Morton into or out of something, waving his slender, elegant hands for emphasis. The blond was evidently not convinced, shaking his head stubbornly, arms crossed in a gesture of defiance despite his friend's obvious pleadings.

Nelson frowned at the thought of the possible mischief the two might be planning, well aware of the many pranks that were attributed to the devious team of Crane and Morton throughout their four years as roommates at the Naval Academy. Of course, the two had been clever enough that all the incidents were alleged and never proven, but Nelson was certain of their culpability. He watched with curiosity as Crane smiled and put a hand up to squeeze Morton's shoulder. The blond officer sighed deeply, a wry smile briefly crossing his handsome face as he patted the hand resting on his shoulder. Morton turned towards the stairs that led up to Morton Hall while Crane took a watchful pose at the bottom of the stairs.

Nelson's eyebrows rose in surprise as he saw Morton fiddle with the door a moment, then head inside the building. Though the dark and deserted gymnasium certainly wasn't a high security building, Nelson was sure that the door must have been locked. Intrigued, Nelson wandered down Grayling Avenue towards the building in question.

"Good evening, Admiral." Crane saluted crisply as Nelson drew near.

Returning the salute, Nelson grinned at the oh-so-innocent face Crane presented him. "As you were, Lieutenant." He looked from the angelic face of the dark haired young officer to the shadowy building that had swallowed up his friend. "So you're covering for Morton again, eh, lad?"

"I... I'm not sure what you mean, Admiral. I’m simply meeting Chip for a last dinner together before we're both off to our new postings and this is one place that easy to find." Golden eyes shimmered with sincerity and virtue as the young man nervously twisted his Academy ring.

Nelson simply raised a disbelieving eyebrow at Crane, who had the grace to blush and snap back to attention. "Sorry, Sir. No excuse, Sir."

Shaking his head and chuckling, Nelson said. "Oh, don't worry, lad. I think I have a pretty good idea of what's going on here. Just stay right where you are and continue keeping a lookout and I'll deal with Mr. Morton." He patted the younger man's shoulder and headed towards the door.

Crane, worried for his friend, dared to protest, "But sir, he's just gone to..."

Whirling back to glare at Crane, Nelson growled. "That was an order, Mister!" Satisfied that there would be no further interruption from the now motionless officer, he turned around quickly, hiding a broad smile as he headed up the stairs. He gently opened the unlocked door and entered Morton Hall, closing the door carefully behind him so as to not alert the young officer inside to his presence.

Moonlight streamed through the bank of windows set high around the perimeter of the main gymnasium hall, casting alternate patterns of light and dark across the well worn wooden floor. The typical gymnasium scent of sweat and musty old socks permeated the still air, stirring memories of the many athletic endeavors that the old building had observed. Remaining quiet in the shadows beside the door, Nelson looked around the cavernous room for the wayward Lieutenant. He finally spotted Morton standing in front of the hall's dedication plaque, the moonlight illuminating an unexpected look of sadness and reflection on the young man's usually composed face. He watched as the blond officer ran one hand gently over the name of Cmdr. Dudley "Mush" Morton for whom the hall was named.

"You forgot to lock the door behind you," Nelson's deep voice rumbled quietly from out of the shadows. He suppressed a grin as the startled Morton gasped and jumped at least a foot straight up before freezing into an almost painfully stiff attention.

Keeping his voice gruff though his blue eyes twinkled, Nelson stalked slowly around the petrified officer. "Now, what possible reason could an officer of the Navy have for breaking and entering..." He waved a hand around, indicating the large hall. "...a gymnasium? Hmm?" He stopped in front of Morton, planting his feet apart and resting his fists on his hips in a posture calculated to intimidate even the bravest of junior officers.

"Sorry, Sir! No excuse, Sir!" Morton gulped, fixing his eyes on a point just to the right and above Nelson's shoulder, his usual expressionless mask slipping into place over his now pale features as he tried to straighten even further.

"Oh, relax before you sprain something, Lieutenant!" Nelson chuckled as a bewildered Morton fractionally loosened up his stiff pose. "I'm pretty certain I know why you're here." He gestured towards the dedication plaque. "Commander Morton was a relative of yours, wasn't he?"

Nelson was pleased to see Morton relax even further as he realized that the Admiral wasn't going to flay him alive. "Yes, Sir. He was my uncle as well as my godfather." Morton paused a moment as a blush crept up his neck, easily visible even in the pale moonlight that shimmered through the windows. "It's become something of a tradition of mine to pay my respects on my last day I'm at Groton, sir. But we've been so busy with graduation and administrative concerns that I couldn't get here while the gym was still open. I have to ship out tonight after dinner and this was the only way I could think of to..."

The admiral's upraised hand stopped Morton's confession. "I understand, lad," he said softly, smiling at the obvious relief on Morton's face. Turning away to give the young man a moment to compose himself, Nelson gazed at the dedication plaque. “He was quite a hero,” he mused, rocking back on his heels. “One of the top three sub drivers of WWII... an aggressive commanding officer who brought a new level of combat skill to the Pacific submarine fleet..." He gave the hero's nephew a calculating glance. "That's quite a legacy to live up to, lad."

"Yes, sir, I know," came the soft reply. Nelson saw a mischievous twinkle behind Morton's calm mask as the young man said, "I think that Lee is more like Uncle Dudley than I am. Aggressive leadership is his middle name." Emboldened by Nelson's chuckle of agreement, Morton clasped his hands behind his back, and dared to continue, "Actually, my Aunt Harriet said that the bravest thing Uncle Dudley ever did was to take the Commander of the Submarine Forces in the Pacific, Admiral Lockwood, to task for the horrid performance of the Mark 14 torpedoes during one of Wahoo's war patrols."

Nelson threw back his head and laughed heartily. "Now there's a man after my own heart! Not afraid to take on the brass for what is right." He saw Morton's not-so-subtle glance at Nelson's relatively new Rear Admiral shoulder boards and raised an eyebrow. "I guess I am the brass now," he said with an impish grin.

Morton briefly returned the smile, opened his mouth to speak then hesitated, nervously running a hand through his short blond hair. Hoping to encourage the usually taciturn young man to continue, Nelson laid a gentle hand on his arm. "What is it, lad?"

The Admiral watched as Morton took a deep breath, obviously gathering enough courage to drop his usual mask in the presence of a superior officer. "It was losing Uncle Dudley that made Dad so reluctant to accept my going to the Naval Academy," he admitted. "He didn't want to lose his only son to the Navy like he'd lost his brother."

"I can certainly understand his point of view," Nelson paused a moment, cocking his head as he thought, "But I remember seeing him at your graduation. He seemed quite proud of you then."

"You didn't see his face when I told him I was selecting subs as my service assignment, sir!" Morton winced at the memory. "But Mom was able to convince him that he had no argument for keeping his son out of harm's way, when he himself was a career Chicago firefighter."

"Your mother had a very good point," said Nelson with an amused snort.

"She usually does, sir!" Morton's smile faded as he reached out once again to lightly touch the plaque. "Everyone thinks of Uncle Dudley as a legendary war hero. But, through the eyes of my father, I see the man behind the legend. Though he died when I was only three, my father loves to tell tales about the mischief they used to get into growing up. Those stories help me see the man who simply wanted to be the best sub driver possible, not for glory but for the sake of the country he loved. I can see the beloved brother that my father still misses terribly."

"I'm glad to hear that, Chip," Nelson laid a gentle hand on the taller man's shoulder. "It's vital for us to remember that heroes are not just faceless names on buildings or the two dimensional images depicted in newsreels and history books, but real living people with strengths and weaknesses...hopes and dreams. People with families and friends who loved them deeply. True heroes are found whenever ordinary people do extraordinary things, not for glory or recognition, but because they must be done and there is no one else to do them."

Morton nodded in silent understanding. Nelson turned him around and pushed him towards the door. "Now lad, let's go and relieve Lt. Crane's mind. I'm sure I've seen him peeking in the door's windows, making sure I don't shed too much of your blood."

The two men walked out of the building, replacing their covers as they emerged. Morton carefully locked the door with a small tool he slipped quickly into his jacket pocket. Nelson was pleased to see Crane in the exact same spot he'd left him, his keen hazel eyes carefully inspecting his friend for any obvious signs of damage. "You may stand down from your post, Lt. Crane. Your cohort in crime is un-bloodied." he chuckled. Crane relaxed, exchanging wry grins with Morton.

Turning his attention back to the blond officer, Nelson said in a mock stern voice, "Don't make a habit of breaking into government buildings, lad, even if it is for a good reason."

"Yes, Sir! I mean, no Sir. That is... thank you, Sir!" Morton snapped to attention followed immediately by Crane.

Nelson smiled and reached out to shake each man's hand. "Good luck on your postings, gentlemen. I know you will do the Navy proud. Now, both of you get out of here before you get into more trouble. Dismissed!"

Returning the flawless Annapolis-worthy salutes, Nelson grinned indulgently as the two young men spun on their heels and marched away. The two waited only until they got a respectful distance away before breaking into a run, laughing and pushing each other towards the car park behind Morton Hall.

Raising his eyes to the starlit sky he murmured softly, "I believe they'll both do us proud, Commander Morton." The brisk night wind rustled in soft agreement as Harriman Nelson lit a cigarette and strode off through the peaceful night towards a future that was looking more and more promising.


A few of the resources used:


CDR Morton & the USS Wahoo





Naval Submarine School at Groton


© 2006 Kim Q. All Rights Reserved