Title: Those Who Wait
Author: Kim Q
Rating: G/PG
Length: Vignette
Flavor: duty and sacrifice, holiday

Notes: Written for the Uncharted Waters Writers' Challenge #3 "Home For The Holidays." Ever so slightly edited from the original posting. Set in 1973, just after the events in "Long Live the King," this is a sequel of sorts to "Carry On." Chip's mom is based on my own feisty red-haired, blue eyed mother, may she rest in peace.

They also serve who only stand and wait - Milton

~~~~~

Green sparks flashed from Lee Crane's stormy hazel eyes only to bounce ineffectually off the thick hide of his so-called best friend, Chip Morton. The focus of Lee's ire serenely stretched his tall form, setting in more comfortably into the deep cushions of the plush sofa that faced a blazing fireplace in the living room of the Morton's Chicago home. The annoying man even had the audacity to smirk at his commanding officer, blue eyes dancing with wicked glee.

Lee knew it had been a bad idea to prank Chip with the Academy 'cannonball' pastries after the Army-Navy game. Everyone on the boat knew that the Exec's payback was a thing to be feared, but this was going too far! Chip never should have told his mother about the little incident at O'Hare Airport. After all, Lee's shoulder was only slightly wrenched. He'd gotten worse bruises during normal turbulence on Seaview. And it certainly wasn't his fault he was the only one close enough to cushion the fall of the little boy who'd been climbing on the baggage carousel!

"Are you comfortable, Lee? Shoulder still in pain? Do you need any more aspirin?" asked Chip's mother with concern, turning around to snap out orders to her daughters before he could reply. "Margaret, hand me that quilt from the back of the sofa. Victoria, a fresh cup of hot chocolate for Lee. Valerie, keep your son off the chair! Lee doesn't need his shoulder jostled!" The Skipper smiled inwardly as her voice bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain Executive Officer's commanding tones.

Chip's older sister Margaret flipped her strawberry blonde hair out of her blue eyes and grabbed the indicated throw, roughly pulling it from under her protesting brother's back with a wicked grin. She tossed it at her mother who tucked the quilt carefully around Lee's slim legs, azure eyes shining with worry for the young man she'd long ago embraced as one of her own. One of Chip's younger sisters - Lee never had been able to tell the blonde haired, blue eyed twins apart - handed him the requested cup of hot chocolate. The other pulled her curious son away from Lee's chair, tempting the tow-headed boy with one of the newly opened toys pulled from the pile under the festively decorated Christmas tree.

Ever the gentleman, Lee suppressed the urge to sigh and graciously thanked the ladies, snuggling deeper into the ever-growing pile of quilts, mindful of his sore shoulder. Thanks to Chip's meddling, he'd just have to resign himself to being fussed over by the formidable Morton women. Though he outwardly glared at his brother in all but name for putting him in this predicament, he was inwardly touched by their warm concern for his well being. From the first time Chip had brought his roommate home on leave from Annapolis, Lee had been welcomed as part of the family. For an only child whose father died when he was a teenager and whose high society mother was somewhat less than maternally inclined, their loving acceptance filled a deep void in his life.

His face lit up with an affectionate smile as he met the concerned gaze of his best friend's mother. "I'm fine, Anna. No need to worry."

Piercing blue eyes, the same intense shade as those of her son, searched Lee's face for any sign of subterfuge before she allowed herself to relax and accept his reassurances. Arianna Llewellyn Morton was barely over five feet tall, a petite woman with flaming red hair, only slightly frosted with silver, well suited to her indomitable personality. Though she was born into a similar level of privilege as Lee's mother, Anna Morton had no time for those who put on airs or looked down on those who labored. She'd ignored those who whispered that she'd married beneath her when she wedded a Kentucky born fireman and took pride in the fact that their marriage had lasted almost forty years. As soon as her last child was grown and gone, she went back to college, finishing her degree in math so she could teach at an inner city Chicago high school. She ran her family and her classroom in a tough but fair, highly organized fashion that the Seaview crew would have quickly recognized. "Okay, Lee. But if you need anything just let me know." Anna gently patted his knee and bustled off to deal with her two oldest children, who were wrestling over a pillow on the nearby sofa, acting as if they were five years old rather than full grown adults. "Charles Phillip! Margaret Rose! What on earth do you think you're doing?"

Lee watched with a smug grin as the Morton matriarch skillfully broke up the tussle between Chip and Margaret, firmly grabbing her tall son by a handy ear and her smirking daughter by the shoulder, pushing them in the general direction of the nearby piano and guitar. The fact that both her children towered over her made not the slightest bit of difference. "If you two can't behave I'll just have to put you to work!" she scolded, a twinkle betraying her own amusement at the antics of her kids. "Since your Pops is off romancing his latest lady love, and my arthritis is acting up, you two have to provide the Christmas music!"

"Yes, Mom!" came the obedient chorus as the siblings gleefully poked and prodded each other one last time before Chip settled at the piano and Margaret picked up her guitar. The cozy wood-paneled room was soon filled with the joyful sound of classic Christmas carols. The two youngest Morton girls and their husbands settled down with their kids on cushions in front of the cheery fireplace as the family sang the traditional songs with gusto. Music was always an important part of the Morton family gatherings. Anna's father had played guitar at a variety of jazz clubs throughout Chicago and had taught the eldest Morton child to play. Anna herself had given piano lessons to the neighborhood children to help make ends meet as she stayed home to raise her four children. Though she'd taught all her children the basics, Chip was the only one who had stuck with the piano as he grew into adulthood. The entire clan had been blessed with excellent voices so the music the family made together was nothing short of glorious.

To Lee's amusement, even Chip's taciturn father unbent enough to sing along from the comfort of his beat up old recliner, waving his pipe to the beat. Phillip Morton was an older, mustached version of his son, with the same tall, lean frame and fair handsome face only slightly worn from decades of fighting fires. His platinum blond hair had gone mostly white and his eyes were a pale blue-grey rather than the intense blue of his son's, but the two men shared the same firm ideals and dedication to duty. Though the two hadn't always seen eye to eye, especially about Chip's decision to enter the same Silent Service that had caused Phil to lose a beloved brother, there was a tight, unspoken bond of love between them that Lee had long envied.

As the combination of hot chocolate and cheerful music relaxed Lee even further, he gazed around contentedly at the warm domestic scene, glad that Anna had cared enough to set up this special gathering. Having a husband and two son-in-laws who were career firemen and a son who was career Navy, she knew full well the effect emergencies could have on the best laid plans. Upon hearing that Seaview's Christmas leave was delayed due to their last mission, she'd quickly moved the time of the big family reunion to a later date so that her boys would still have a holiday celebration.

Lee wished his own mother could have been as accommodating but Sophia Crane had been scheduled to go on a cruise in the Mediterranean with some of her friends at the same time Seaview was to finally return. Of course, Lee had been invited along, but he didn't relish the thought of being paraded around in front of rich society matrons as some sort of trophy or, heaven forbid, marriage prospect for their eligible daughters. His mood took a downward turn as he realized that he actually felt more at home here with the Morton family than with his own mother. His gloomy introspection was broken by the unexpected sight of Phil Morton jumping out of his recliner, grabbing at the pager that hung at his belt.

The music faltered and all eyes turned toward the elder Morton as he strode purposefully towards the phone in the foyer, his manner instantly shifting into Battalion Chief mode as he dialed his office. After a quick conversation, he slowly hung up the phone, his entire bearing speaking eloquently of what was to come. Returning to the now silent living room he stopped in front of his wife, reached out to take her slender hands in his and sighed. "I'm sorry, Anna, but there's a huge fire at the Palmer House Apartments downtown and I need to go." Keeping hold of her hands, he looked over at his two firefighter son-in-laws. "Michael. Scott. I'm afraid both your engine companies are being called up. I'm going to need our best teams out there." The two men nodded, quickly embracing their wives and wide-eyed children then heading to the foyer to grab their heavy coats and put on their snow boots before heading out to their cars. Phil turned his attention back to his wife. "Anna, I..."

With a gentle hand on his lips, Anna stopped his words and said with an understanding smile. "I know, dear." After pulling his head down to meet hers in a tender kiss, she released him and stepped back. "Now shoo! Time for you to go save lives!" Phil waved at the rest of his family and headed quickly for the front door, pulling on his boots and coat as he moved. Anna followed him to the door, sneaking one last quick kiss. "I'll keep the light on for you, love."

The closing of the door behind their father stirred the Morton children out of their immobility. Margaret and her sisters gently shepherded their children off to the kitchen for a final treat of fresh baked cookies and milk before bed. A pain tugged at Lee's heart as he watched his 'brother' walk over to where Anna stood staring blankly out the window into the cold blustery night. Chip laid a gentle arm across his mother's shoulders then wordlessly pulled her into a tight hug. Burrowing closer into the supporting arms of her son, Lee saw her confident mask slip as Anna allowed herself the rare luxury of being able to lean on someone else's shoulder.

The quiet moment was eventually broken by two wildly careening grandchildren barreling into their legs, breaking Anna loose from her son's grasp. Seeing that their trajectory would bring them too close to Lee's chair, Chip reached down to redirect the bouncing kids in the other direction.

Anna smiled warmly at her son then gathered her usual calm demeanor around her as though it were a suit of armor. Stepping briskly back into the living room, she headed over to a drawer in the side bureau where the playing cards were stored. Casting a challenging look across the room to her assorted children returning from the kitchen with full stomachs, she said with an impish grin, "I hope you kids are up to some cutthroat cards tonight! I've got some old scores to settle!" She turned and walked regally towards the dining room, her back straight and her face serene.

In that moment, Lee realized that he had been completely wrong about his best buddy. He had always though that Chip's calm and controlled manner under the most stressful of conditions was due primarily to the influence of his father, the brave, dedicated fire chief who could out stoic the Sphinx. But it was finally clear to him that it was the quiet strength of his mother that had made the biggest impact on her son. The inner fortitude that enabled her to hold her family together, not knowing if those she held most dear would ever return to her from their battles with the fiery beast or from endlessly long missions, this was the inner strength that had been passed on to her only son. This was what enabled Chip to keep calm in the face of chaos and to keep Seaview and her crew together while Nelson and Crane were off the boat.

Lee recognized that same strength and fierce dedication to family was what sustained the spouses of Seaview's crew when their loved ones were at sea. He finally understood in his heart what he'd always known with his head, that one of the most difficult jobs was that of those who had to watch and wait as their loved ones faced danger in the line of duty. Few women could accept the necessary sacrifices demanded of them. But here, in the warm caring home of his adopted family, Lee could see a living, loving example of such dedication that had endured for nearly forty years. As he carefully eased his bruised shoulder out of the comfortable nest of quilts and headed over the dining room table where Chip, Anna and Margaret were waiting to play cards, he gave thanks to the powers above for the resolute spouses of those who daily put themselves in harm's way for the sake of others.

Fin


Merry Christmas!


2006 Kim Q. All Rights Reserved