Notes: Since Voyage is, by broadcast canon, an AU from 'our' Earth
(complete with different presidents and 'futuristic' technologies/timeline), I
have taken the liberty of changing one tiny bit of baseball history. This
story is a sequel to a WIP, but can stand alone. Set in June 1977.
In loving memory of my beloved, sports-addicted father, may he rest in peace.
Chip Morton opened the door to his home and wearily trudged inside, tossing his keys on the table in the foyer. Turning his head, he addressed the tall, dark shadow behind him. "You didn't have to pick me up at the airport, Lee. I could have caught a cab."
"And pass up a chance to show off the Cobra's new suspension?" came the much too cheerful reply from his best friend, Lee Crane. "Not a chance! Didn't you feel how much more smoothly she took the curves?"
"I was too busy checking for cops on our tail," Chip replied with a tired snort as he hung his uniform jacket in the coat closet and tossed his cover on the shelf.
"Hey, I kept it close to the limit." Lee protested. Chip sighed inwardly as his friend followed him through the door and closed it behind them.
"Depends on what you mean by 'close' Captain Lead Foot." The retort was flung over a broad shoulder as the blond crossed the living room and headed up the hallway towards the master bedroom. He dropped his duffle on the bed, planning to unpack later. After he figured out how to convince Lee to go home and let him brood in peace.
A dark-haired imp stuck his head into the bedroom. Speak of the devil… "I've got your personal mail back at my place. I'll go get it and be back by the time the pizza is delivered."
"Pizza? What pizza?"
"I ordered us an extra large Double Meat Supreme, your favorite. I'll be right back…"
Before he could protest, the well-meaning brat had disappeared. Chip shook his head, exhaling forcefully in irritation. He'd just been through a very exhausting and emotional three weeks in Chicago and all he wanted was to be left alone. Stripping off his travel-wrinkled khaki uniform, he tossed the clothes into the nearby hamper and put on a favorite pair of beat up baggy sweat pants and a well worn dark blue NAVY t-shirt. He stretched his tall frame and yawned, eyeing his large comfortable bed with longing. Unfortunately, he was still too wired from his flight - and Lee's driving - to be able to sleep quite yet. Besides, his self-appointed keeper would be returning soon with three weeks worth of personal mail, a huge pizza and a pair of worried hazel gold eyes that wouldn't take 'go away' for an answer.
Padding on bare feet into his spacious living room, the blond stood for a long moment in front of a large picture window. The luxury residences provided for N.I.M.R.'s senior staff were strung out like pearls along the rugged California coastline, providing each with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. The setting sun cast a golden aura over everything it touched; caressing him with its warmth as he gazed out to sea. The ceaseless rhythm of the waves could usually smooth the rough edges of his soul, but not this time. No, it wasn't nearly enough to heal the gaping hole in his heart.
He turned away from the window, ignoring the huge TV with its entourage of comfortably worn leather chairs and sofa, and headed to the back half of the large room where a bulky object sat cloaked in dark nondescript fabric. Pulling aside the dust cover, Chip settled onto the bench of an antique baby grand piano that had once belonged to his grandmother. She'd passed away shortly after he came to the Institute and when his grandfather moved in with his parents, he'd given the piano to Chip. It had cost a small fortune to ship it from Chicago, but it was worth every penny to him.
Nelson had helped him add special soundproofing to the walls of his home so he could play in peace while maintaining his privacy. Lee thought he was silly to want to keep his piano playing a secret, but he respected Chip's feelings on the matter. The junior officers who gathered at the exec's place for the occasional Army-Navy game party or other social gathering probably had their suspicions as to what lay beneath the shroud, but none would dare risk the wrath of the XO by spreading any scuttlebutt.
Long fingers wandered aimlessly across the cool ivory keys, trying several melodies before settling on something that suited the player's dark mood. The melancholy strains of the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight* sonata began to fill the air as Chip escaped into the music.
Lee paused a moment in the foyer of his friend's place, his brow furrowed with concern as he listened to the sad melody emanating from the piano. Chip usually relaxed from the rigors of their high-pressure careers by puttering around with electronic gadgets, designing new computer programs for Seaview or engaging in a physical activity like golf or hiking. But the talented amateur musician lurking beneath the exec's calm, reserved veneer would surface now and then, especially in times of great emotional stress. The last three weeks certainly qualified as Chip had been on compassionate leave after the death of his fireman father in the line of duty.*
While Lee had been able to stay with the Mortons for a few days, the need to prepare for Seaview's next mission had forced him to return to Santa Barbara right after the funeral. He'd convinced Chip to stay and help his mother settle things, assuring him that, as Seaview's skipper, he was perfectly capable of handling the exec's usual pre-mission preparations along with his own duties. He'd never admit that it would require working overtime with O'Brien and Lukela to make it all happen.
As well as he knew Chip, Lee was certain that his friend would have spent the entire time in Chicago being strong and stoic for the sake of his mother and sisters, ignoring his own grief. The stubborn idiot would repress his feelings, letting them simmer and stew indefinitely behind his XO mask of efficiency until his health suffered. From the looks of the dark circles underneath the blond's intense blue eyes, he certainly hadn't been getting nearly enough sleep. Lee was very familiar with the signs since he reacted in much the same way after a blown ONI mission or the loss of a crewman. Each time that happened, 'Mother Hen' Morton would be there, offering a sympathetic ear and unfailing support despite his very vocal disapproval of all things spook related.
Hazel eyes narrowed in determination. For once it was Chip who needed a mother hen...whether he wanted one or not. Having lost his naval officer father in the line of duty when he was just a teenager, Lee understood quite well what his brother in all but name was going through. Hence the pizza and a very special package.
Cradling the large parcel and the rest of
Chip's personal mail in one long arm, Lee stopped by the kitchen, pulling two
ice cold bottles of beer out of the fridge with one hand before heading into the
"Here you go." Lee handed over the large paper box and set the extra beer
down on a coaster on the nearby coffee table.
"What the heck is this?" Chip stared down at the parcel in his hands.
"It's a box."
"Thank you, Captain Obvious." A brief arctic blue glare chilled Lee's beer further before Chip's attention turned to reading the return address. "It's from Mom? I knew she said she'd kept some things aside for me, but they couldn't have gotten here this fast…"
Lee put on his best poker face, sipping his beer calmly as Chip sat down on the sofa and puzzled over the mystery package. Fortunately, the doorbell rang before the inquisitive exec could ask his skipper any incriminating questions. "Must be the pizza from the Institute delivery service. I'll get it while you see what's in the box." He set down his beer, dug out his pocket knife and lobbed it over to Chip who easily caught it and began carefully opening the box.
As he headed towards the door, Lee smiled smugly. He'd been pretty sure Chip couldn't resist opening the box despite his somber mood since the man had the curiosity of several cats...
Pushing aside shredded newspaper, Chip's eyes widened in surprise as he pulled out an old beat up baseball glove. Turning it over, he saw his own name scrawled haphazardly across the back strap. Tucked inside the glove was a baseball covered with autographs. The distinctive smell of worn leather surrounded him, carrying him back to another time, another place.
He was just a kid, standing on Waveland Avenue under the watchful eye of his dad, scrambling with the ball hawks for home run balls hit out of Chicago's Wrigley Field during batting practice. He could almost taste the salty peanuts and popcorn that perched precariously on top of the snack laden trays he and his father juggled as they walked through the dark tunnel leading from the concession stands up to the general admission seats. After what seemed like an eternity, they would emerge from the shadows into the brilliant blaze of a sultry summer sun shining down on the Friendly Confines.
The red brick walls made a striking contrast with the deep green covering of ivy that would occasionally eat a fly ball…or unwary outfielder…the freshly mowed smell of the bright green Kentucky bluegrass warred with the sour tang of spilled beer…the crisp crack of a bat alternated with the ponderous sound of the organ cheering on the home team…
More memories flashed through his mind…bouncing happily on the edge of the hard seat, basking in the glow of his dad's infectious grin as they sat with gloves at the ready, in eager anticipation of the rare foul ball to be hit in their direction…joining in a heartfelt roar of appreciation as one of their favorite Cubs made a spectacular play…sharing conspiratorial smirks as they wolfed down excessive amounts of greasy junk food that would have triggered his mom's most baleful glare of disapproval...
Wrapped up in the warm memories, he scarcely noticed Lee returning with the pizza.
Lee sat down on one of the comfortable oversized chairs that flanked the couch, plopping the pizza box and more bottles of beer in the middle of the coffee table. "Here, drink your beer before it gets warm and eat some pizza before it gets cold." He grabbed a slice and asked in a deliberately casual voice, "So what was in the box?"
"My old baseball glove and a ball from when the Cubs won the pennant* in '69." Lee noticed with concern the roughness in his friend's voice. Perhaps the package wasn't as good idea as he'd thought when he'd first suggested it to Chip's mother? His fears were relieved when a sad but warm smile crossed his buddy's weary face. "Dad had gotten tickets for the last game of the National League Championship series, but NR-1* had just finished her initial sea trials and was off on her first big classified mission during the war. As the XO and one of only three officers on board, I couldn't exactly ask for leave."
"Tell me about it." Chip handed the ball to Lee and picked up one of the thick gooey slices of pizza before continuing, "Dad caught a foul ball off of Ernie Banks at the game and he got him and the other players to sign it for me."
"How'd he manage that?" Lee peered at the ball in amazement. It was covered with the names of famous Cubs players, some who would probably be enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday.
Chip washed down the slice of meat-laden pizza with a healthy swig of beer and replied, "Back then, my dad was Captain of one of the fire stations that had responsibility for that area of Chicago so he got to know a few of the players. When he told them it was for his Navy son away at sea, they were all happy to sign it." He accepted a second beer from Lee. "I asked him to keep it for me while I was away at sea, 'cause I knew how much it meant to him."
Noticing Chip run a hand across watery eyes, Lee reached out a hand and asked softly, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." The skipper quirked a wry eyebrow at the exec tossing one of Lee's favorite phrases back at him. It drew a true smile from his friend who said firmly, "Must have been some dust in that box."
Lee suppressed a smile at the blatant lie. "Yeah...dust." He handed back the baseball and opened a second beer of his own. Leaning back in the comfortable chair, he propped his feet up on the coffee table and watched his friend through long, dark lashes. If he could just get his stubborn friend to let his 'efficient XO' mask slip just a bit, the exhausted man might finally get a decent night's sleep
Chip's smirk turned melancholy. "You know, going to baseball games was one of the few things my dad and I enjoyed doing together. The one thing we never seemed to argue about…" His voice trailed off as he stared long at the half-eaten slice of pizza in his hand, his thoughts obviously fixed on the past.
"I though he was always supportive when you played football..." Lee replied as he slowly sipped his beer.
"Yeah, but since I didn't play on the baseball team, my dad and I could just enjoy the game as fans. No expectations. When I played football, I was always under pressure to be the 'perfect quarterback' so I could win a scholarship to a big university. And what do I do? I go and apply to the Academy." Chip sighed deeply, quickly finishing off his bottle then reaching for an uncharacteristic third one.
Lee knew how hard Chip's decision to go in the Navy had been for Phil Morton to accept after having lost his own brother, a Navy submarine captain, during World War II. But the man had never seemed to hold it against the boys when Chip brought Lee home with him on leave from the Academy.
Time to steer the talk back to baseball. Lee wanted his friend to focus
on the good memories he'd shared with his father, not the conflicts. Years ago,
the blond had unknowingly helped him regain an even keel when he'd entered the
Academy only a year after his own father had died. Now he would try his
best to return the favor. "Growing up in Providence, my father and I were
big Red Sox fans."
"You have my sympathies." Chip ignored the golden daggers shooting from Lee's eyes and finished his third beer. He handed Lee another slice of pizza - minus a pepperoni that just happened to be dangling from the side of the slice - then popped the top off another bottle.
Green sparks sizzled in amber eyes. "Hey, we've got a good chance of taking the pennant this year!" His glare relaxed into a nostalgic smile as Lee remembered his own fond memories of times with his father. "Though we moved around a lot due to Father's duty assignments, we did get to see a good number of games the two separate times he was stationed in New London." He grinned over at his friend, "Besides, we've still got you beat, having won seven World Series to your two."
Chip snorted as he set down his fourth bottle with exaggerated care. His slightly unsteady hand was a clear sign to Lee that the combination of alcohol, grief and lack of sleep was finally catching up with his friend. Safe in his home, with only his brother to see, the grieving man could safely ease the tight controls that guided his duty-driven life and allow himself to mourn the passing of his father.
The blond leaned back against the arm of the overstuffed sofa, stretching his long legs along its length. "Though my dad was a diehard Cubs fan; since he grew up in Kentucky he still had a soft spot for the Reds. That was the only time baseball became stressful for him, when the two teams played each other. Most of the time we simply enjoyed some great father/son times during those long glorious days of summer..." Chip looked over at his friend, the dulled grief in his exhausted gaze piercing Lee's heart. "I miss him, Lee."
"I know." Lee's own eyes watered slightly as he grabbed the Cubs stadium blanket lying on the back of the couch and carefully covered his friend's long, lean frame.
Pale lashes drew a veil over tired blue eyes as Chip allowed his brother to fuss over him for a change. "Does it ever stop hurting?"
The wealth of anguish behind the simple question caused Lee to pause a long moment before answering. "The hole in your heart that your father left behind will always be there, but the good memories help ease the pain."
"Thanks, bro," came the sleepy mumble.
"For the box...it really means a lot to me..." Chip's voice faded away as his breathing slowed into a steady peaceful rhythm.
Lee smiled affectionately at his sleeping friend. He should have known Mr. Smarty Pants would figure out he was behind the contents of the package. Picking up the box of left over pizza, he headed into the kitchen to put it in the fridge and dispose of the empty beer bottles. Yawning widely, he decided to crash in the spare bedroom so he'd be close by if Chip needed him.
Turning off the lights, he closed the blinds so that the silvery moonlight wouldn't disturb the snoring figure asleep on the couch. He looked pensively at the box of memories. A new thread had been woven into the enduring bond of brotherhood that they'd shared for so many years, this time one of shared sorrow. But "sorrow shared was sorrow halved" and, with a little help, his friend would find healing.
* 1st movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata can be found here...
* Call of Duty - working title of a work-in-progress
* The Baltimore Orioles lost to the Mets in the 1969 World Series. The "Miracle" Mets had beaten the imploding 92-game-winning Cubs during an unbelievable season-end run for the NL pennant. In my world, the Cubs beat the Mets and went on to beat the Braves to win the National League Championship and then get beaten by the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh game of the World Series. Couldn't mess up their reputation as Lovable Losers too much.
* NR-1 Deep Submergence Craft, nicknamed Nerwin - http://www.csg2.navy.mil/NR1.htm
Nerwin is a unique US Navy nuclear-powered ocean engineering and research submarine. It was launched on 25 January 1969, completed its initial sea trials 19 August 1969, and is homeported at Naval Submarine Base New London. NR-1 was never officially named or commissioned so Rickover could avoid the oversight given to warships. Personally I think Rickover based some of Nerwin's basic deep submergence/intelligence gathering missions and design concepts off of Seaview - including giving her three viewing windows - since the movie version of Voyage came out in '61. :)