Passage of Time
This short story is an abbreviated version of the novella ‘Those Crumbs Of Heaven’, and was adapted specially for the Devacon programme zine 1993. The full version of the story can be found in the zine ‘Lindar’s Voyages’ from Triffid’s Leg Press, http://www.triffid.co.uk or from Lionheart Distribution http://www.lionheartdistribution.com. It was first published in Kathy Resch’s zine ‘No Holds Barred #7’.
Lee Crane stood beside Nelson at Seaview's chart table, his attention not fully engaged on the route they were plotting home. His thoughts would keep veering to exactly how he intended celebrating their homecoming with a bottle of champagne and quick route to the king-sized bed in Nelson's apartment; always assuming they did manage to make it as far as the bed and not become an undignified heap of desperation on the long-piled carpet. Though they shouldn't really be that desperate — they managed to snatch quite a few hours to themselves during the sparsely manned graveyard shifts, spending that time in guilty pursuit of pleasures that would turn the Chief's hair white with shock should he ever come to discover what his adored Admiral was in the habit of doing with Seaview's cool and collected Captain.
"Lee?" He turned his head and caught the glitter in Nelson's very blue eyes as the Admiral looked up at him with a quizzical glance. "I don't think your mind's on this."
"No," Lee murmured. "I guess it's — somewhere else entirely." He had no need to describe exactly where it had been. Nelson was only too well aware from the brief flash of mingled love and lust that escaped from under the lowered fringe of long, sooty eyelashes. The Admiral tried to hide his answering grin and failed, succeeding only in illuminating his face with a brilliant smile that caused Lee to experience a flush of desire. For an instant Nelson's fingers touched Lee's on the table, and the same spark of sexual electricity set a slow fire burning through them both.
Their subtle exchange was abruptly halted by a shout from Kowalski and the clamour of men calling out readings from their stations. Chip was issuing a string of brisk orders as Lee ran to the sonar panel, but the Captain instinctively knew it was already too late. The incoming trace was as obvious as it was impossible. An underwater missile fired from the enemy who had been long gone, all further action totally discounted.
"Crash-dive! Emergency crash-dive!" Almost before the words left Crane's lips a shuddering shock ran through the submarine and it lurched violently, sending them all flying. The harsh wail of tearing metal was deadened by the ominous sound of rushing water as the control room began to flood, the deck tilting at an even steeper angle, vanishing below a wash of angry grey sea.
"Lee!" The Admiral struggled towards him, but the water was up to his neck now, and all Lee could do was reach out helplessly, knowing their fingers would never touch again.
"Admiral!" he shouted. "Harry!" He fought the water and he fought for breath, never admitting defeat, hanging on to life with the last ounce of his strength.
"Lee! Stop it, Lee!"
In a small white villa on the southern shores of the Languedoc, Lee Crane awoke with a start and blinked back to awareness. Someone was shaking him, calling his name.
The man bending over him was white-haired and ravaged by time, his skin tanned and weathered into a mask of wrinkles. For one dreadful moment Lee didn't know where he was, or who this aged stranger could be — it was surely no one he had ever known. He'd been on Seaview, with Nelson . . . they'd been dying . . . .
"Lee? What's the matter? What's wrong with you?"
Lee's voice stuck in his throat. Even if he'd been able to formulate a reply, he wouldn't have been able to utter it. He was suddenly lost in a nightmare of unreality and confusion.
"Uh — I don't . . . don't know. Where am I?" Lee drew a shaky breath and sat up straighter, feeling a little giddy, his heart pounding wildly. He realised he was slumped in a high-backed leather armchair, but at that moment not even the room seemed familiar, with its pale cream walls and antique bookcases. He put a hand to his head and found a film of cold sweat on his face. "What . . . what happened to me?"
As Lee dug his fingers into his hair, even that seemed different, no longer short and sleek but longer and curling, and there was a heavy growth of hair on his face that should not have been there. He was wearing a beard.
"You were dreaming. Having a nightmare."
The voice! That voice was so familiar. Rich, velvety, mellow — a little hoarse. Reality filtered back slowly, as if the past was holding on to Crane with fangs and claws, trying to keep him from the too-distant future. But he struggled free, fighting the strange disorientation. Of course he knew where he was, who he was — and who was leaning over him, his bright blue eyes filled with deep concern.
"Lee?" The voice sharpened, worry obvious from both the tone and the hard grip on his arm. "Lee, are you all right? Are you ill? You're as white as a sheet."
"Harry?" he managed to whisper. "What happened?"
"I don't know, Lee, you tell me." Nelson knelt on the aqua carpet beside the chair, a hand on Crane's arm. "Lee?" he said in a gentler tone, "Come on, talk to me, tell me what's wrong."
Crane raised his head, trying to meet the anxious blue eyes without flinching from the man he should have known so well. He felt a sudden sadness to see the deep lines and creases traversing the face of the man he loved; the ravages of time that had eaten away his youth. A strand of silver hair fell across the lined forehead, matching the bushy silver eyebrows. His dimple was lost somewhere in the furrows on his cheek.
"I — I thought I'd lost you, you were drowning," Lee said weakly. "Was I asleep?"
"You must have dropped off in the chair. I heard you shouting out, and when I came in you were thrashing about, deep in some terrible nightmare. I had the devil of a job to wake you. You were looking at me just now as if you didn't even know who I was."
"At first, I don't think I did," Lee admitted shakily. "I wasn't here at all, I was back on Seaview. It was so real I thought we were both back there, both young again. It was quite a shock to wake up and see you as you really are. I was young too." He realised he was sounding barely coherent.
"Don't move." Nelson rose quickly and went to a cupboard among the books, returning with a small glass of brandy. "Come on, drink this."
Lee drained it in two gulps, feeling a sudden warmth kick in his stomach. As he gave the glass back to Nelson he realised his hands were trembling. He clenched them hard, shocked by the severe effect the dream had produced. He managed a shaky laugh. "Sorry, I don't think I even knew who I was myself at first, but it's wearing off now. It's okay. You look like you should do — I guess you are real."
"Of course I'm real! Larger than life and twice as cussed, just like I always am." Nelson gave a half chuckle, his well of limitless humour always unquenchable, despite his concern. He took hold of Lee's hand and pressed it firmly against his chest. "Come on, touch me. What am I, a ghost?" As he smiled, a familiar web of laughter-lines mapped his face with warmth.
"Now, tell me how you feel. I think I ought to call the doctor, it may be some kind of delayed reaction to your accident."
"No, there's no need for that." Lee gripped the gnarled fingers and held them tightly, the warmth of Nelson's hand becoming a lifeline to rescue him from the sudden insanity that was now fading like the bad dream it must have been. "I don't know what the hell was in those pills Lapointe gave me, but that's the second awful nightmare I've had in two days, and I wasn't even in bed this time. I'm not taking any more."
"I think they were to steady your heart."
Lee scowled. "There's nothing wrong with my heart, or there wasn't until I had that shit-awful nightmare. I'm not having any more of this. When I woke up I didn't even recognise you, let alone the room, or anything else."
"Well, it has only been home for five years, that might be easily forgotten." Nelson smiled again, causing his face to crease into a thousand new lines, his bright eyes still filled with the familiar light of life and love as he patted Lee's hand in a comforting gesture. Lee could see clearly now that it really was his own Harriman Nelson behind that suddenly unfamiliar stranger's mask. The man who had shared his life and soul for the last twenty-five years. The vital, passionate, charismatic Admiral he had left behind in his dream still lived on in those sparkling blue eyes. They were only now a little faded, like the sun shining off a summer sea.
"And you're quite sure you haven't forgotten me?"
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I know where I am and who I am now. I'm not losing my mind. I know how long we've been together, and just how much you've meant to me. I'd never forget that, would I?"
Nelson's smile widened and his lined face took on a special beauty. "I should hope not. You know I've loved you beyond words to express it. Beyond my life and my honour — more than my immortal soul. And I shall never forget that while there's a breath of life left in this old carcass."
The Admiral raised his other hand to touch Lee's cheek, and Crane moved his head to kiss the older man's fingers. "You and your damned golden tongue," he murmured. "You'll have me falling at you feet all over again."
"Not literally, I hope," Nelson said dryly. "You've been in the wars quite enough the last few days. Are you feeling any better now?"
"Fine, really," Lee said cautiously.
"I don't know, you still don't look too good. I think I'm going to call Doctor Lapointe. You stay there. Sit still."
"No!" Lee grabbed at Nelson's wrist, holding him back. "Wait a minute. Was I really acting that strange? What was I doing?"
"Behaving like you'd gone out of your mind," Nelson said bluntly. "You scared me half to death."
Although still concerned by Lee's unusually bad reaction to the dream, Nelson felt relieved to see that Crane appeared to have returned to full reality. The blank, shocked expression had left his eyes and he seemed only a little puzzled.
Lee ran a hand back over his greying curls in a familiar gesture. "I feel like a fool. I'm sorry I worried you."
"Just as long as you are all right." Nelson leaned closer to kiss Lee gently on the lips. "But I think you ought to go back and see Lapointe again before too long. Maybe we should go to Montpelier and get you a brainscan?"
"Hell, no!" Lee said hotly. "I was only dreaming. It was those damn pills, you know I hate taking things like that. That fool doctor was treating me like I'm some infirm basket case, I only had a slight accident."
"Slight! I think I'd call it more than that to be half drowned."
"Well I don't, and I wasn't," Lee said stubbornly. "And those pills are going down the drain as soon as I get up. I'm perfectly all right now." He was shocked by Nelson's obvious belief that something was seriously wrong with him. A brainscan for God's sake? What was he, suddenly losing his marbles?
"All right then, I'm probably over-reacting." Nelson was still a little worried, but he didn't want to press Lee into believing he was ill for no good reason. Though the incident had given him a shock to add to the one he'd received a few days earlier.
He took hold of Lee's hand, stroking it gently. "Why don't you go and lie down for a while?"
A faint smile curved Lee's still-shapely lips. "Only if you come with me."
"Oh!" Nelson chuckled, delighted by that typical response. "You can't be all that ill then, I see your libido hasn't suffered a decline."
"That'll be the day." Lee's smile widened, and he began to look much better. "I'm all right now, really. Just let me just pull myself together for a minute."
Nelson stayed where he was, kneeling on the carpet beside the chair, Lee's left hand clasped in his own.
The colour was returning to Crane's face, though he still seemed a little shaken. He shook his head slowly, puzzling over the strange experience. "It's — weird. I can still see the odd glimpse of it so clearly, Seaview sinking, and your face, but the rest of it is fading already. I don't know why someone was shooting missiles at us or why I wasn't prepared. All I was doing was flirting with you. But you were so damned attractive, with your hair shining red and that wicked gleam in your eyes. That part was so real I could have been actually there in the flesh with you twenty years ago."
"Sounds like a little wishful thinking," Nelson observed wryly. "Are you bored with living in the sun with only an old man for company?"
"That'll be the day. And I'm not exactly a spring chicken myself, am I?"
"Well I know that, but I didn't think you did. With all that sailing and diving for sunken treasure you sometimes still behave like you're twenty."
Lee snorted affectionately. "Well if we're on that subject, it's about time you retired from the board of the NIMR and stopped trying to run the place like you used to."
"Retire?" Nelson growled. "The day I retire, Lee, is the day I'm dead. I've told you that before."
"Stubborn as an old goat," Lee sighed.
"Always was, and always will be."
"At least you gave up trying to run the research division as well and let Nichleson take over."
Nelson made a sound of derision. "He's not active enough for my liking. He should be out there at the cutting edge like I always was."
"But there's no one else like you, Harry, and there never will be. That's why you're the first and only honorary President of the NIMR, and I guess no one else will ever be able to walk in your shoes after you're gone."
"They'd better not try it until I am! I intend to be wearing my own shoes for a long time to come," Nelson chuckled.
"I'm sure you will," Lee said fondly, loving Nelson's unquenchable enthusiasm and love of life. If any man deserved an extra century to live out his full potential, it was Harriman Nelson.
Nelson still had Lee's hand clasped firmly between his own. His worry had faded now, but he was reluctant to let his partner go, seeming to need the simple reassurance of holding on to him to assure himself that everything was back to normal.
The Admiral still hadn't fully recovered from the terrible shock he had received the previous week, and his continuing, unspoken concern that Lee might suffer some sudden relapse. He'd had the fright of his life when Lee had been involved in a scuba-diving accident, while exploring a sunken wreck just off the coast. He'd dived too deep and for too long, still expecting to treat his body as if it were thirty years old. They had pulled him out of the water unconscious, bleeding from the nose, white as death, and it had suddenly come home to Nelson with a severe jolt that it was he who should die first; he'd never expected to outlive his beloved Captain.
Lee had been all right, sitting up in his hospital bed shortly afterwards, angry at himself for his physical failings and so disgustingly fit that he'd been allowed home after a few hours rest. But the incident had seriously shaken them both, and been an unwelcome reminder of just how many years had passed them by.
Nelson pushed away that dark recollection of Lee's close brush with death. He had already firmly assured himself that Lee was going to be fine, and the last thing he must do was to act as too concerned, or start trying to wrap Lee in cotton wool. Lee Crane still had a formidable mind of his own and did not take kindly to being coddled.
"Do you want to tell me any more about your dream?"
Lee shook his head. "There's nothing else to tell. The missile caught us aft and the hull ruptured, and a few seconds later the water was pouring in. The last thing I saw was your head in the water, but I couldn't reach you."
Lee didn't elaborate on the momentary horror of waking to find his lover an old man, withered and ravaged by time. It had been dreadful, terrifying . . . but only for a brief moment. He was back home with the real Nelson now, and Harry really hadn't changed at all, he was his normal self: sparkling-eyed and silver-haired, as spry and agile as a man twenty years younger.
Lee tried to straighten out his confused recollections. "The end isn't something I want to remember, but rest of it was. You were so real I can still feel your hand against mine on the chart table, so warm, so sexy, so — just you. And I was young again, too. So full of life it was bursting out of me, I felt like I was burning up with it, all that youth and strength and energy. And then it all fell apart." Lee's smile was a little sheepish. "That was one hell of a nightmare."
"It's an interesting reaction to those beta blockers," Nelson mused. "Perhaps it ought to be investigated."
"Well not by me," Lee said firmly, for once not sharing the Admiral's boundless scientific curiosity. "One experience like was quite enough, and I've no intention of repeating it to order. Except that for a moment I was young again. I was, you know, I was really there, back in the past. Hallucination — call it what you like, it was real enough to me." He looked at his long, strong hands, sunburnt and lined with age. "Be nice to turn back the clock, wouldn't it?"
"And have our whole time together all over again?" Nelson smiled softly. "Ah yes, I could do with that. And more."
"You always wanted your cake and eat it," Lee laughed, feeling the sunshine of Nelson's smile bathe him with as much warmth as the real sun outside. "It's been good, hasn't it?"
"Better than good. Too good to be true. I never expected to be so lucky, or to have you for so long." The Admiral put his arms around Lee, pulling the younger man into a close embrace, drawing Lee's head against his cheek. After a moment Lee moved his mouth across Nelson's face and kissed him, softly at first and then with increasing passion. Nelson responded eagerly, loving Lee's mouth as he always did, returning the kiss until they were both breathless.
Lee raised a hand to stroke his partner's lined cheek. "I've just seen you as you used to be, bright as day with your hair shining like fire and your eyes alive with the summer sky. But you haven't changed that much. Your hair is silver instead of red, and you're a little browner, a little thinner, but your eyes are the same. There's still so much life in you. And I feel like I've still got some of that forty year-old blood in my veins."
Lee kissed Nelson again, one hand cradling his head and stroking through his thatch of fine, silver hair. The mouth under his own opened, welcoming him to a familiar duelling of tongues in the warm wetness. A slow white heat spread through Crane, familiar and welcome. If it was a little slower now then twenty years ago, it was no less powerful and satisfying. And if he didn't get fucked quite so often with his legs around Nelson's neck, well, there were other pleasures as satisfying. Like lying for hours in a close embrace, kissing and caressing, making the pleasure of their loving last infinitely longer than they could have managed years ago when they were filled with the fires of youth.
Lee drew away a fraction and smiled, running the tip of his tongue across Nelson's lips. "Sweetheart, come to bed and let me love you. Damn it, look at me, I'm horny as hell." He drew Nelson's hand down to the considerable bulge in his fawn pants.
Nelson felt a thrill of pleasure and answering desire. "My, that does feel interesting. Do you think we can make it as far as the bedroom?"
"We used to only get as far as the rug," Lee grinned.
"Well, do your best, Captain, these bones are getting a shade too old to rattle around on the floor."
They both stood up and Nelson put his arms around Lee's neck, letting himself go in the powerful grip as Crane hugged him so tightly he could feel the hard bulk of Lee's arousal pressing against his belly. His own cock stirred and stiffened, a new wash of desire coursing through him. He hadn't felt quite this turned-on in weeks. "Lee," he said hoarsely, lifting his face to be kissed. "My God, I love you."
Lee was still taller and more powerful than Nelson, but his customary gentleness with the older man was a trait which had endeared him to the Admiral all their lives. With consummate ease he lifted Harriman slightly off his feet while they kissed, another long, tender meeting of flesh and spirit, and then lowered him, knowing how much Nelson hated to be picked up and carried. Instead he wound a firm arm around Nelson's waist and purposefully guided him into the next room, where the afternoon sun painted long streamers of golden light across the very familiar bed.