This is an AU story from IA universe. I have written Chip and Lee quite young. Since the youngest submarine commander in the USN was twenty-seven I gave Lee the same age when he got his navy command. This seemed a reasonable age for young men to be asking themselves the questions of this story and finding its answers. I have followed much of the fandom cannon (Lee is younger than Chip, the youngest sub commander, doesn't like sickbay and doesn't eat as much as his friends think he should. That Chip is heavier than Lee and has a great appetite and hates ONI.). I'm not sure where all these notions originated but I enjoy playing with them.

Chip knocked softly on the cabin door. If Lee was awake he wanted to make sure he had breakfast before spending sixteen hours walking around the boat. His knock was soft though because if, by some miracle, Lee was still asleep he wanted to be very sure he didn't wake him. He heard an inarticulate call from the cabin and smiled to himself as he opened the door. Lee was never at his best when he first woke. Actually, he wasn't even close to good until he'd had his second cup of coffee.

As soon as he stepped into the cabin he realized that the inarticulate sound had not been Lee giving him permission to enter, but his friend calling out in his sleep. The light from the desk lamp, uncharacteristically left on while Lee slept, showed his captain still in bed.

Chip hesitated in the doorway, but when Lee called out again he closed the door and stepped to the bunk. This wasn't Lee waking slowly and looking for his morning caffeine hit. Lee had the blanket and sheet bunched at his waist, and was struggling against some unseen assailant. Chip had put his hand on Lee's arm and started to speak to him when the sight of Lee's torso, naked above the sheet, stopped him cold.

Lee captured and questioned would have resulted in some damage but Chip hadn't expected the long sections of black bruises. At first he thought it must be a trick of the shadows from the desk light. When he looked closer he realized that great sections of Lee's chest and abdomen were covered with thick, dark marks, apparently he'd been beaten with some sort of a stick.

Lee's thrashing broke his reverie and he called softly, "Wake-up, buddy."

Lee yanked his arm so hard Chip lost his hold, stepping back quickly as his friend swung at him. He'd woken Lee before from bad dreams and he knew to be careful that he didn't come up swinging at the monsters that haunted his sleep. "Hey, buddy, wake-up."

He recognized that Lee was awake when his friend collapsed back into the bed with a groan and rolled toward the bulkhead pulling his knees up as he cradled his ribs. That swing had to have hurt those sore ribs.

Chip stepped back up to the bunk and put his hand on Lee's shoulder enjoying the feel of his friend's warm flesh under his hand. Lee could so easily have not come back from this latest adventure. He'd been gone for over a week, not the two days he'd promised when he gave Chip a smile and a wink on departure. "Don't worry, buddy, a walk in the park."

Chip hadn't believed in Lee's optimistic estimates of his jobs for ONI in years. He'd hoped that when Lee came to work for NIMR he would no longer accept the ONI assignments. But here he was in command of the Seaview less then six months and damaged from another intelligence foray. He'd argued with Lee about the assignment, but Lee wasn't only his friend, he was his boss too now. He'd pleaded, said as much as he could until Lee got that stubborn set to his mouth and Chip shut up.

Chip sighed looking at Lee's bruised and damaged body. In the short time Lee had been in command of the big boat it'd come to feel so natural that they should be running her together. This was the future they'd only dared to dream of when they talked late into the night in their room at Annapolis, the two of them running a boat. Then it'd been Chip as captain and Lee as his XO. They'd assumed the command would be Chip's, he guessed because he was the older

Lee had usually deferred to him in those early days although even then Lee couldn't be persuaded to do anything he didn't want to do. He'd allowed Chip to be the leader. It'd only been when Lee came to command the Seaview that Chip realized this was the way it was always meant to be. Chip's attention to detail was perfect in an exec who had to stand between the captain and crew. Lee's reticence and more cerebral approach to problems were perfect in a captain.

The past six months had been great fun as they used the skills they'd learned in the navy to manage the Seaview, meeting all of the Admiral's demands upon them and the boat. As always anything he did with Lee was more fun than anything he did without him. He hadn't realized what a hole there'd been in his life once he left the Academy and Lee behind.

They'd still been best friends after graduation but it'd been different, meeting on their leaves when they could manage to; keeping up with each other's adventures through the mail and telephone calls. He'd so missed the closeness of those long nighttime talks and the quiet walks in the evening around the quad. He'd missed Lee a lot. He guessed, much as he hated the pain of watching his friend put himself in harms way, it was better than not having Lee with him.

He realized he'd been standing staring down at Lee with his hand on his shoulder for over a minute lost in his thoughts, "Sorry, I knocked and when you called out I thought you were awake."

Lee nodded his head but didn't make any effort to turn and face him. Chip could feel him shaking and gave a squeeze to his shoulder and attempted a lighter tone, "Hey, bad trip ashore could haunt anyone's dreams."

When Lee made no reply and didn't move Chip sat down on the edge of the bunk. He kept his hand on Lee. He didn't say anything, giving Lee time to finish waking up, to finish dealing with whatever he'd been fighting in his sleep. This trip hadn't only been tough on Lee's body he guessed but something must have happened to be haunting his dreams as well. Chip wondered if he should say something, try to get Lee to talk about what ever was waking him in the night? He'd known things had gone worse than expected as soon as he'd seen his friend slowly climbing down the ladder in the control room the previous afternoon. Lee's quick dismissal of the mission and the week of worry as 'sort of a mess, got picked up by the rebels'. Had done nothing to reassure him.

He wanted to help if he could, take some of the pain and make it less. He wasn't sure how much mothering Lee would allow. He had to walk such a fine line between the care he wanted to give his sometimes prickly, friend and the help Lee would accept. He had a sudden desire to reach over and wrap his arms around Lee. He looked so defenseless and alone, pulled up into a ball on the bunk.

He moved his hand down Lee's arm in a gentle stroke. That was when he realized how warm Lee felt. At first he thought it was from his thrashing around in the bed, that perhaps fighting his memories so hard he'd gotten hot. Then cursing himself for a fool he realized that the room was freezing. He got up and checked the thermostat. Lee had turned the room's temperature down to 55 degrees, the lowest setting the thermostat permitted.

Chip walked back over to the bed and sat down on the edge of the bunk and put his hand back on Lee's shoulder. "Lee, you got a fever?"

"Go away, Chip, I'm fine." Lee still had his back to him and made no effort to sit up, but also no effort to move away.

Chip kept his hand on him offering what support he could with his touch. "Not going to happen and you know it, roll over and talk to me." Chip felt more comfortable now that Lee was talking to him.

Lee made no reply and Chip sat still waiting him out. When two minutes went by he began to think Lee had gone back to sleep.

"Come on, buddy, I think you have a fever, you feel awfully warm to me."

"Just go, I'm fine."

"I already saw so you might as well roll over and sit up." Chip gave up on the light tone and let the anger he was feeling bleed into his voice. He was angry that Lee had hidden the beating from him, and he was very angry that someone had done this to his friend. Because someone had done this to Lee, no one accidently ended up with long black bruises all over their chest and stomach. Not unless someone beat them with a stick, probably while asking questions that couldn't be answered.

"Roll over, Lee, you're going to talk to me and I'd rather have this conversation looking at you. But we're going to have this conversation. We should've talked about this yesterday when you told me you were okay to run all over this boat." Chip stopped, he needed to not attack Lee when he was simply being Lee - stupid, silent, 'hide his injuries' Lee.

"Come on, pal, roll over and talk to me." Chip let the anger go and spoke with all of the concern, and yes love that he felt for this man who was more of a brother to him than a friend.

Lee rolled toward Chip so he was lying on his back, attempting to pull up the sheet as he moved. Chip's weight on the bedclothes prevented this and Lee ended half turned toward him his torso still uncovered. Chip put out his hand and gently touched one of the many welts with the tip of his finger.

"My God, Lee."

"It doesn't matter; can we not talk about this? Let me get up, move."

"No, I don't think so, I think we're going to talk about this," moving his hand so it rested on Lee's forehead he finished, "and this. You have a fever, how long have you had a fever?"

"It's from the beating, it'll be gone in a day or so, don't worry, you're like someone's mother."

"No, I'm your friend and I'm asking now as your friend, how sick are you?" Chip kept his voice soft and even. He knew from experience he could only push Lee so far and he would go silent on him. Talking about his health was not Lee's favorite pastime and Chip suspected this case was going to be worse than the bad norm.

"Good enough to do my job, so move. I need to get up."

"Really, you really need to get up? Then you can answer a few questions first. Have you been to see the corpsman since you've been aboard?"

"Get up, its a few bruises, I'm fine." There was that edge of steel in Lee's voice and Chip knew if he'd any hope of continuing this conversation he had to let his friend get up. Reluctantly he stood and took a step back from the bunk. He watched motionlessly as Lee awkwardly rolled to his side and lowered his feet to the floor and sat up with his arms wrapped protectively around his middle.

"You are such an idiot, they broke a couple of ribs didn't they? You didn't say a friggin' word, just kept wandering around the boat with your damn ribs? Talk to me, how hurt are you?"

Lee didn't say anything, Chip wasn't sure he could as he watched him struggle to his feet.

"Just stiff first thing when I get up, nothing's broken."

"Yeah, I bet you are," Chip said, putting as much sarcasm into his voice as he could, "and when you sit down and when you walk and when you bend over."

"Give it a rest, Chip." Lee said with more sternness as he moved away toward the head.

"You need to see a doctor," Chip mumbled, but when Lee ignored him and continued across the room to the little bathroom he let it go. "I got the software patch written and loaded and left the computer at the chart table. I went over it with O'Brien and Baker since they were both on duty. I'll get all the second and third watch fire control officers up to speed today."

Chip stood in the doorway of the little head, talking to Lee as he shaved. It was his first chance to get a really good look at the damage to his friend's body. He had a hard time maintaining the even tone he wanted in his voice as he watched him going through his morning ablutions. Once Lee stepped into the shower Chip left the doorway and headed back to his cabin. When he returned to Lee's room with his first aid kit his friend had begun to dress.

"Don't you ever knock?" Lee asked sourly, after trying to get to his feet when the door opened.

"Sorry, try relaxing a little."

Lee made no comment.

Chip laughed, "You were afraid I was the admiral about to see how truly awful you look." Lee's under the eyelashes glance was answer enough and Chip shook his head in amusement. "You are such an idiot some times. Do you really think he needs to see this to know you feel like crap? The whole boat knows there's something wrong with you they just don't know how truly, awesomely screwed up you are, the way I do."

"What do you mean the whole boat knows, the crew?"

"Lee, you wandered around the boat yesterday like a lost soul, you've got dark circles under your eyes and look like the walking dead, the cook knows you haven't eaten anything but soup since you got back. You think there are any secrets on this boat? They've moved from speculating that you're a vampire to wondering if you're a zombie."

Lee joined in his laughter and when Chip sat down in the desk chair and raised his eyebrows Lee came over willingly enough. Chip carefully cleaned the half dozen abrasions on Lee's chest and stomach and covered them with ointment.

"You know you've got a fever, right?"

"It comes and goes, let's not make a big deal out of this."

"No, we wouldn't want to make a big deal out of this, no let's ignore it shall we?" Chip jammed the rest of the contents back into the first aid box and slammed the cover closed. "My God you are stupid, this is a big deal, you got a death wish or something?" As soon as he'd said the words he was sorry and stood and grabbed Lee's arm when he went to turn away. "I'm sorry, Lee, I get angry when you do stuff like this and I don't always think. Pax? Come and pretend to eat breakfast with me."

"I'm doing the best I can here. I don't have time to worry about a few bruises that aren't giving me any trouble. When I get back to Santa Barbara will be soon enough to see this right. Until then I need to not let it get in my way."

"Actually, I do understand which worries me about myself. I won't say anything else I promise, but try and be careful, okay?"

"I'm always careful."

"Yeah, I know, cautious Crane they call you." Chip threw his arm around Lee and gave him a gentle hug, resting his forehead briefly on Lee's shoulder. He so wished he could do something for Lee. "I love you, buddy, now put some clothes on, I'm hungry."

"When aren't you hungry?" But Lee returned the brief hug and quickly grabbed a shirt and tie from the closet. While he buttoned the shirt Chip knelt on the floor and put Lee's feet in his shoes and tied the laces. Neither man said anything, exchanging a long look as Chip finished. Lee nodded at him and in another minute they were out of the cabin and on their way to the wardroom, deep in conversation about the improvements Chip had made to their fire control computer.