Caretaker

Rachel S. Helvey



Gadget looked sorrowfully at her friend. Chip was laying on the couch, asleep; his condition had worsened after the case against Bubbles was finished. He was now mercifully unconscious. She sighed as she wiped his feverish forehead with a damp washcloth. He had been in a lot of pain, and sleep was his only relief. He stirred and she winced. He was waking up again. "Gadget?"

She smiled as he opened his eyes. "Yes, Chip, Iím here."

He gave her a weak grin, but she could see the pain in his eyes. "Youíre still watching me?"

She nodded. "I told Dale to go to bed. Heís been here longer than I have; he needs some sleep."

Chip laughed, softly and with difficulty. "Thatís one thing that Daleís good ató going without sleep. The way he stays up with those late showsó " He broke off as coughing overtook him. Gadget sat back, not knowing what to do. As the coughing subsided, he lay back, weaker than before. "Gadget?"

"Yes, Chip?"

"Am I going to be o-k?"

Gadget winced again at the question. "I donít really know, Chip." It was her duty to be honest with him; no one else was. Monterey was always a little too optimistic, and Dale was just too quiet. "I think that Monty went to look for a doctor. Weíll see what he comes up with."

Just then, the door opened. Monterey Jack entered with a handsome male mouse. "Hey, there, mates! Look what I found. A doctor!"

The doctor smiled warmly. "I just want to say how honored I am to help the Rescue Rangers. My name is Doctor OíConnor." He walked over and shook hands with Gadget and simply smiled at Chip. "So, what seems to be the problem?"

"Well, itís kind of hard to explain," started Chip. He went on to tell the story of Bubbles and the electrical shock that he had received. The doctor listened intently, trying to make some sense of it all.

"Hmmm. Well, letís have a look at that burn." He pulled back the covers to inspect the injury. "It looks like itís been taken pretty good care ofó thereís no infection."

"You can thank Gadget for that," said Chip. He smiled her way. She gave a weak smile back; heroism was Chipís job, not herís. However, he was in serious trouble and she had to do all that she could. Tears began to well up in her eyes. If they lost Chip . . . if she lost Chip . . .

"Well, I canít see anything externally. The problem is the internal injuries that we canít see." The three were stunned; they hadnít even thought of internal injuries. "We may have to do some investigative surgery."

Chip paled. "You mean, cut me open?" he whispered.

Dr. OíConnor nodded, very matter-of-fact. "I canít make a full analysis of all the injuries unless I do. Donít worry; there shouldnít be any major complications involved, and itís very low-risk. Youíre strong and healthy; there should be no problems."

Chip and Monterey looked at each other wildly. They had gotten too used to Gadgetís claims of "no problems." "Uhhhh . . ."

"Donít worry. We can do it right here, as soon as my equipment arrives. Do you have a phone I can use?"

Monterey showed him to the small phone that Gadget had invented. The doctor was quite impressed; his office had only a human sized phone with the volume turned down so that the humans in the ER couldnít hear. One phone call, and it was done. Gadget could tell that Chip was extremely nervous. She did her best to calm him.

"Now, Chip, heís a professional. Heís done this a hundred times! Youíll be fine." She patted him on the side of the face. "You just have to be brave." She blushed slightly. "Do it for me."

Chip couldnít refuse a request like that. He took her hand and kissed it, simply grateful for her presence. "Gadget, what would I do without you?"

She smiled, feeling her emotions soar. She pushed them deep in her heart; this was no time to tell him. Not with him already so excitable. "Shhh. Just stay still for a while. Iím sure the doctor wouldnít like you moving around a lot. Iím going to go tell Dale whatís going on. Zipper, too. Heís staying with Dale, making sure that heís getting some sleep." She kissed his cheek and quickly left.

Chip smiled as he watched her leave. He had seen a change in Gadget after the case was over. She had been more . . . well, devoted. He had always felt something from her, a tiny spark, and that was why he still pursued her after two and a half years. Now, it finally felt like it was paying off. He grimaced from a sudden jolt of pain; why did he have to get scorched for her to notice him? He lay back and rested. After this bothersome surgery was over, perhaps he finally had a chance.
 
 

Gadget tapped lightly on Daleís door. A mumbled "Come in" was heard. She gently pushed the door open. Dale was in his nightshirt and was lying face down on his bed.

"Dale? Monty found a doctor."

Dale became more alert. "Well? What did he say?"

Gadget gulped. "Heís going to have surgery."

"What?" Dale bolted upright. "When? Where?"

"As soon as the equipment is delivered and right here in the house."

"Wowie zowie." Dale was unusually quiet. Gadget knew that he was thinking of his best friend being cut apart. It was not a pleasant thought. She herself shuddered. "Is he awake? Can I talk to him?"

"Of course." She closed his door as he pulled on his signature Hawaiian shirt and woke Zipper. Zipper was also exhausted. He had been with Dale most of the time, and when he wasnít, he was with Monty. The door opened and Dale and Zipper came out. Gadget led the small procession into the living room.

Chip was glad to see them. He feebly tried to make a joke. "Hey, whatís all this? Itís not like Iím going to die, or anything." Gadget smiled for his benefit, but Dale remained somber. Zipper flew wearily over to Monterey where he landed on his shoulder. Monty patted him affectionately.

Dr. OíConnor broke the uncomfortable silence. "Is there a spare bed I could use for an operating table?"

"Thereís a spare bedroom back here." Monty again took the initiative. He could tell that his mates were more involved in Chip, particularly one female. Monty led the doctor to the tiny room where his parents usually stayed when they visitedó which wasnít often. The doctor nodded in approval.

"This will be perfect. Now, can we go ahead and move him in here? Iíd prefer he not walk. Heís in a very delicate state; I want you all to realize the severity of the situation." He looked Monty right in the eye. "Heís in serious condition, and I donít want you to think otherwise. That burn is incredibly deep, and I donít know if thereís anything I can do." The look on Montyís face told the doctor everything he needed to know; they were ignorant of exactly how serious this was.

"Should we tell me little palley before the surgery? I mean, I think he should know."

The doctor considered. "Yes, perhaps youíre right. The patient should always know what may or may not happen." He strode purposefully out into the living room. He walked directly over to Chip. "Everyone, it has been made clear that you do not know how serious this is." The group turned to stare at Dr. OíConnor, all except Monty, who simply turned away. "Chipís injuries (I believe) are very serious. Iím not sure how this surgery will turn out. I have to admit, I have not done much work with electrical burns, especially ones this severe. However, I want you to know that without this surgery, Chip will definitely get worse, or it may be fatal."

Gadget gasped. Dale looked faint. Chip simply stared at the doctor. "You mean, I couldó "

"Without the surgery, yes. With the surgeryó well, I canít say for sure. However, itís your only chance."
 
 

Fifteen minutes later, there was another knock at the door. Gadget answered it this time. The nurses with the equipment were then shown into the spare bedroom where Chip was lying in the bed, visibly shaking. Gadget went over to him, whispered some words of encouragement, gave him a quick kiss, and then went to her room. There was nothing she could do but cry. Dale stationed himself right outside of the door. He sat down and wrapped his arms around his knees and told himself to be brave, like Chip. Monty retired to the kitchen where he knew heíd be alone with Zipper. Zipper was the only one he could show his weakest side to. Well, and sometimes to Gadget. Only this time, she needed to be alone. He too had noticed the change in her behavior toward Chip. He had seen it long ago, but hadnít brought it to her attention. Or Chipís, for that matter. Whatever was to be would come about on its own. Dr. OíConnor pulled tiny latex gloves over his hands and began to administer anesthesia to Chip. It was going to be a long night.
 
 

Six hours later, Dr. OíConnor tiredly came out. Dale was there to pounce on him. "How is he?"

The doctor shook his head. "We really wonít know until the morning. He should wake up by then. I think it was successful. Heís very lucky to have gotten assistance when he did; a little while longer and it would have been too late." Dale cringed, but walked away. The doctor and his nurses flopped down on the couch. Dale went to get Monterey Jack. He found him outside, watching the stars. Zipper was asleep beside of him. Monty didnít look up immediately.

"How is he?" He then turned to face Dale.

Dale sat down beside of him. "The doc wonít know Ďtill morning." He grew very quiet. "Monty?"

"Yes, Dale me lad?"

"Do you think heílló "

"Donít say it! Donít even think it. Our Chipper will pull through. Heís been in tougher scrapes before." Dale was taken aback by Montyís outburst. Monty then fell silent again.

"Do you think we should go tell Gadget that the doctorís finished with the surgery?"

Monty pulled his large frame off of the branch. "Iíll go." He left Dale there with Zipper to contemplate the infinite number of stars.

Monty knocked insistently on Gadgetís door until she pulled it open. Monterey had never seen her looking so distraught. "The doctor completed the surgery."

"Is he . . . ?"

Monty didnít quite know what to say. "We donít rightly know, Gadget luv." She fell into his arms and began crying afresh. "Itíll be all right, luv." Gadget would not be consoled. Monty led her over to her bed and sat her down. She looked at him with tear stained cheeks.

"We canít lose him, Monty." She wiped her eyes. "Ió Ió " She broke off.

"Go ahead, Gadget," he prompted. He had a feeling about what was next.

"I love him!" she exclaimed softly. It was the first time that she had said it out loud, and she had hoped that the first time would be with Chip. She fell into Montyís arms again and hid her blushing face.

"Now, Gadget, why havenít you told him?"

Gadget smiled; trust Monterey to be logical. "Well, I wasnít really for sure until a little while ago. And now, heís hurt, and I didnít want him to get real excited with his injuries, andó "

"Shhh." Monty hushed her. "Why donít we ask Dr. OíConnor if we can see him? You can tell him now. Iím sure itíll help his recovery."

"But Montyó "

"Donít be gettiní shy on us now, luv." The big Aussie gently helped her off of the bed and led her out of the room. He smiled at the exhausted doctor. "Hey, doc, can we see me little palley?"

The doctor looked up. "I donít see why not. Just donít try to wake him up; number one, it probably wonít work since heís heavily sedated. Number two, he needs his rest. I take it he hasnít been sleeping very well?"

Gadget nodded. "Iíve been staying with him at night, and the pain keeps him awake. He never told us how bad it was, though." She shivered. "I think it was torture."

Dr. OíConnor nodded in agreement. "Heís a strong one, he is. With that kind of burnó " He shook his head. "Why donít you follow me. I need to check up on him right now anyway." Gadget slowly followed him into the small room. She was a little scared when she saw how pale and fragile he looked. She steeled her confidence as she neared him. If he was to wake up and see her looking frightened, he would think the worst and there was no reason to terrify him. She watched the doctor give Chip a once over and then start thoroughly examining the suture. Gadget was impressed at the expert job that the doctor and his three nurses had performed. It seemed a miracle, really. The doctorís words jolted her from her reverie. "He seems to be doing well. Thatís a good sign." He pointed to one of the machines that monitored Chipís heartbeat. "Heís going good and steady. Wonderful." He patted Gadget on the shoulder. "You have a very brave friend."

She smiled softly. "Yes, yes I do." The doctor left them both. Gadget pulled up a small chair that was the roomís only other piece of furniture besides the bed. She stared at Chip for a long time before she said anything. "Uhhh, Chip, I donít really know what to say." She paused again and watched his heartbeat for a few minutes. "Well, Iím going to keep being honest with you. I, um, have some very serious feelings about you." She stopped. "No, thatís not quite right. Let me try again. Well, I really like you. No, thatís still not it. Hmmmó "

"I love you."

"Yes! Thatís itó " She broke off, staring at Chipís opened eyes. "Chip! Youíre awake!"

He smiled faintly. "Yup." He made an unpleasant face. "I kinda wish I werenít, though."

Gadgetís expression turned to one of sympathy. "Is there anything I can get you?"

Chip grinned drowsily. "Well, I could say that you were all I need, but perhaps youíd better go and get the doctor."

"Huh? Oh, right." She leapt up and ran into the other room. "Hey, everyone! Chipís awake!"

"So soon?" The doctor was the first one in the small room. He began examining Chip. "Well, it looks like Iíve done my job. Youíre looking a lot better than you were before."

"I donít feel better than I did before."

The doctor smiled. "Itís because we had to remove a lot of infection from inside of your chest." Dale looked as if he were going to faint. "That was why you had such a high fever. Also, we had to stitch up part of your lung. Thatís why you couldnít breathe."

Chip nodded slowly with understanding. "So, am I going to be o-k?"

Dr. OíConnor nodded. "I think soó with a lot of rest, of course. I donít want you to be moving around very much. And no more adventures for a while. Let the police do their job." The doctor smiled. Well, I guess Iím done for now. Iíll be checking up on you in a few days, so donít try anything foolish; you need some time to heal. If you start having any problems, be sure to call me. Other than that, your life can start to get back to normal." He turned to go. "Iíll be coming some time on Thursday, so be expecting me." He left to gather his nurses and to go home to his wife.

"Well, guys, looks like youíre going to have to wait on me some more."

Dale snorted. "Yeah, right. Donít expect me to go running every time you want a glass of water!"

Chip pretended to look hurt, but it soon turned into a look of pain. "Chip!" exclaimed Dale. "Are you alright?"

Chip smiled weakly. "Iíll be fine. Hey, what happened to you not being at my beckon call?"

Dale blushed at Chip calling his bluff, even if it wasnít intentional. "Well, maybe for a little while. I guess youíd do the same for me." Zipper flew over to Chip and hugged him gently around the neck.

"Thanks, Zip," he said fondly. He then looked meaningfully at Gadget, who blushed and smiled back.

Monterey caught this look and accordingly did his part. "Come on, Dale and Zip. Letís go make our mate some cream ofó " his mustache frizzed with a slight cheese attack, "cheee--eee--eeese soup." He led the small crew away from Chip and Gadget.

Gadget sat down in the chair again. She put her hand in his. He squeezed it in an answer to her silent question.

She looked down. "Iím sorry I didnít tell you before. I was just so afraidó "

Chip rubbed her hand gently. "Donít worry about it, Gadget. Youíve told me all I need to know." He kissed her hand. She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. He sighed as she pulled away. She blushed.

"You need your rest, Chip."

"I know. Can you just . . . stay here with me for a while?"

She smiled sweetly.__"Of course. Until you fall asleep." She leaned closer to him. "And the sooner you get better, the sooner we canó " She blushed again.

He smiled and nodded, still weak. Suddenly, his eyes glazed over with pain. "Chip? Are you alright?" Gadgetís voice shook with alarm. He nodded.

"Just stay here with me." She took his hands in hers and rubbed them. His eyes closed and he began to drift to sleep.

"I love you," he whispered drowsily. He fell asleep almost immediately; the anesthesia was still heavily in his system.

"I love you, too," she murmured in his ear. She wasnít sure if he heard her, but his mouth seemed to turn up in a smile. Gadget felt as if someone was watching her. She looked up, surprised to see Monterey Jack in the doorway. "How long have you been standing there?"

"Not too long," he whispered. "Weíve got you both some soup ready. Is he asleep?"

Gadget nodded. "I donít want to leave him."

Monty disappeared for a moment and returned with a steaming bowl of cheese. He tried to hold it away from his large nose so that he wouldnít be tempted to devour Gadgetís soup. He quickly handed it to her. She pulled her hands away from Chipís long enough to eat the thick soup. She handed Monterey back the bowl. "Thanks, Monty."

He gave her a quick smile and went back to the kitchen. Gadget eventually fell asleep in the chair, not caring about how her sleep habits had been interrupted.

Gadget awoke some hours later to bright sunlight coming in the window. She checked the small clock on the wall. It was eleven oíclock in the morning. She stretched, feeling her muscles catch in her back. Sleeping in the uncomfortable chair had done nothing for her. She felt as if she hadnít slept at all. She remembered where she was and made sure that Chip was all right. He seemed to be fine; some of his color had returned during her nap. She gently felt his forehead; no fever. She sighed in relief. Dale came in the room just then.

"You want me to take over? Gosh, you look terrible!"

"Thanks a lot, Dale."

"Sorry. Monterey just thought that you might want to sleep in your bed for a while." Dale got that jealous look on his face, and she knew not to question him. Gadget got up and yawned.

"That sounds like a good idea. Come and get me if thereís any changes."

Dale nodded and sat down in the chair. His face became very somber as he looked at his friend. Gadget felt pity rise up in her. Dale loved Chip as a brother, and that bond she could not break. She yawned again, and giving them a final look, went off to take a shower and to go to bed.
 
 

Two days later, around supper time, Monterey Jack stirred the mixture for his cheese flapjacks thoughtfully. Chip seemed to be getting better by the day, and Gadget had made a willing nurse. She had been by his side for hours on end, reluctant to leave him as she changed his bandage and bathed his forehead. He had been asleep for a good part of the day, but a slight fever had taken him. The doctor told them that it was nothing to worry about, but if it went too high to call him immediately. Monterey poured the mixture out on the griddle. Dale wandered into the kitchen. "Hey, Monty! Something smells awfully good!"

Monty smiled. "Of course it does, Dale! Itís me cheese flapjacks!" He flipped one high in the air. "Do you think that Chip will want one?" His mustache twisted as the flapjacks began steaming.

"I donít know; Iíll go check." Dale went to the room where Chip was. Gadget was sitting next to him, a wet rag in her hand. "Hey, is Chip better?"

Gadget shrugged. "I canít really tell; heís been asleep since late this morning. Do you think that we should wake him up?" She looked doubtfully at Chipís sleeping form.

"I donít know. Should we call the doctor?"

"I donít think so. Dr. OíConnor would have told us if we shouldnít wake him." She finally leaned over and touched his shoulder. "Chip?" Only a moan was heard in response. "Chip, are you awake?" Another moan, then a coughing fit. "Golly, that doesnít sound good." She got up and went to the door. "Monty? Can you call the doctor?"

"Sure, luv," came his reply. "Just a minute." After about five minutes, Monty called to her. "He wants to talk to you."

Gadget went to the tiny phone. "Yes, doctor. Heís really unresponsive. His fever hasnít gone down, but its not worse." She listened for a moment. "Alright, thank you Dr. OíConnor." She hung up the phone. "The doctor is on his way. He said he canít tell whatís wrong unless he examines Chip. He said that he doesnít think that itís anything serious, but he wants to check it out."
 
 

About thirty minutes later, the doctor arrived. After a thorough examination of Chip, he met with the others. "I think that Chip may be having a delayed allergic reaction to some chemical that we may have used during surgery. Itís very serious, and I may have to take him to the hospital. Is there a way we can get him there?"

"We can take the Ranger plane," volunteered Gadget. "Dale, you go with the doctor. Monty, you need to help me get Chip into the plane, and weíll meet you guys there." She busied herself getting Chip ready to travel. As she touched him, she realized that his fever had risen. Worry struck her heart. She wrapped soft bandages around his burn and sponged his forehead one last time before Monterey picked him up and whisked him to the Ranger plane. Gadget made a temporary kind of bed out of the back seat with pillows and blankets. She wiped tears away from her cheeks as she jumped into the pilotís seat. Monty settled in beside her and Zipper made a place for himself at Chipís feet. Gadget took off and flew hard and fast to the hospital. She followed the directions that Dr. OíConnor had given her and landed close to a small door next to the heating unit. Monterey gently lifted Chip out of the back of the plane and followed Gadget into the ventilation. Dr. OíConnor and Dale were just arriving; he had called ahead and a room was already prepared for Chip. Gadget was amazed at the efficiency of the tiny clinic. Chip was quickly taken away from Monterey and swept into the hospital bed that was awaiting his arrival. The doctor called out instructions and the nurses leaped to do his bidding. Gadget and the others stared at the activity of the place. There were doctors everywhere with their own agendas, their own patients, hurrying out of the way of others. They watched as Dr. OíConnor gave Chip a shot and placed an oxygen mask over his face. He turned to them.

"Thatís all we can do. The shot I gave him will hopefully counteract the chemical reaction that heís having and bring the fever down. Iím giving him oxygen because he seems to be having some trouble breathing." He turned to Gadget. "Did you hit any unusual air pockets or any hard gusts of wind on your way here?"

Gadget thought for a minute. "Well, Iím not sure. I may have, but I was in such a hurry that I didnít even think about it. Why?"

"Because it may have knocked some of his stitches loose. Like I said, heís having trouble breathing. I donít know if itís because of the allergic reaction or if the stitches are giving him problems."

The group was silent as Dr. OíConnor hurried away to check on another patient. Monty spoke first.

"Well, mates, I guess we just have to watch and wait . . ."

"And pray," said Gadget, quietly. Dale just nodded. Zipper squeaked something to them. Monty translated.

"Zipperís found us some chairs. Letís go rest our bones." They followed Zipper and sat down. Surprisingly, the chairs were fairly comfortable. Gadget sat down with a sigh, tears welling up in her eyes. Monterey put his arm around her. "Itíll be alright, Gadget luv. The doctor will fix our little paley."

Gadget just sighed and shook her head. Zipper handed her a tissue and she blew her nose. Dale stared out into space. "Guys, you think that Chip will be o-k, donít you?"

Gadget finally gained her composure. "Of course he will! Chip is too strong and stubborn to let us down. Heíll pull through with style." Monty hugged her.

"Thatís me girl," he said. They sat and watched the bustle in the hospital for a few moments in silence. "Well, should we go home and leave Chipper here, or should we stay?"

"Stay," said Dale and Gadget in unison. Their voices were strained, tense. Monterey knew better than to argue with them, so he settled in for a long wait.
 
 

Forty-five minutes later, the doctor came to see them. "Well, Chipís fever is down, but heís still a little warm. Iím going to keep him overnight for observations, so you may want to go home for a little while. Thereís nothing more that you can do. You might as well get your rest."

The group looked at each other. "Well?" said Gadget. "Should one of us stay here? Or should we all leave?"

"Put like that, one of us should stay here. In case he wakes up, or something." said Dale. He looked worriedly at the room where Chip was staying. "I donít really want to leave."

Gadget didnít quite know what to do. Part of her wanted to stay with Chip, but part of her knew that she had to get some rest or she could end up getting sick. Also, Dale looked so pitiful that she was considering leaving him on call while she got some sleep. Monterey Jack made up her mind.

"Dale, you can stay here. If he wakes up, fill him in on the situation. Gadget needs some sleep, and youíve taken a nap more recently. Weíll be back in the morning." Dale nodded and sat back down in one of the chairs. Gadget led the way out to the plane. Zipper yawned. Monty stretched as Gadget warmed up the plane.

"Golly. I hope that Chipíll be alright." Gadget dejectedly lifted off.

"Donít worry, Gadget luv. Just keep believing what you said earlier. Heíll pull through; Chip wouldnít dare let us down. He just wouldnít." Monterey smiled. "Especially since you told him the truth the other day."

Gadget blushed. "Well . . . I donít know. I mean, I know that I love him. I know that he loves me. I just hope that weíll have some time to ourselves when he recovers. And Iím afraid of hurting Daleís feelings. All this has really been bothering me since I told him. And now Daleís really sensitive about Chip, and I donít want him to think that Chip getting injured is what made me like Chip much more than him. How do you think that heíll react?"

Monty didnít look directly at Gadget. "I canít really say. I want to tell you that he wonít mind and that heíll be happy for you two. However, I think me little mate will take it harder than that. I donít think that heíll hate you two, or anything like that, but I do think that heíll be a little out of it for a while. Heíll get over it eventually, but itíll take some time." Monterey paused for a moment, looking out over the city scape below. "Heíll understand in his heart, but heís more sensitive than he puts on." Monterey Jack turned to look at the troubled Gadget and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "However, I do think that youíve made a wise choice."

Gadget took her eyes off her flying for a moment to smile gratefully at Monty. "Thank you Monty. I appreciate that. Do you know how long Iíve had feelings for him?"

Monterey smiled. "Iíve had a feeling, but I never said anything."

"Well, I didnít know it for a long time. I think that I first knew that I loved him when we had that big case against Rat Capone last time. You know, when he was selling all that counterfeit cheese?"

Monterey Jack made a face. "I remember. I canít believe anyone bought that junk! It didnít even look real."

"Aw, Monty, youíre just sore Ďcause you got taken in, too. And if you hadnít, then we may have never found out. Anyway, that was the time. When Chip rescued me from Rat Capone, I knew that something was different about how I felt about him. And then, when he teased me about me having Ďspunk,í I didnít even get a little bit mad. Of course, when Dale caught on and started doing it, it got really old. Well, was that when you thought?"

"I figured it out when Fat Cat stole the Ranger plane that one time. Blimey! That was a case."

"I know. I almost got killed!"

"Yeah, but Chip stopped that from happening."

Gadget smiled at the memory. Fat Cat had bound her with chains and was about to drop her in a tank of water when Chip and the others burst in. Chip had been the one that had swung by and caught her up. The chains were too heavy for him to lift, of course, but the momentum of his swing had carried them both to the top of a cabinet. She shivered at the feeling of his strong arms around her. She shook her head to clear it; they were nearing the tree. She glanced over at Monterey. He was nearly asleep. Zipper was dozing in his lap. Gadget landed the Ranger plane gently on the branch. They pulled themselves out of the plane and slowly walked in.

"Itís been quite a day, huh Monty?"

"Too right, Gadget. Iíll see you in the morning."

Gadget yawned as she walked to the bathroom. She pulled the shower curtain and began running water. Time for a long, hot shower.
 
 

The next morning, Dale was still awake. Chip had not stirred; the oxygen mask was still in place. His fever had not changed; at least it was not higher. Dale jumped as Gadget walked in. She gave Dale a once overó he looked haggard, pale. It was obvious that he had been crying. She was glad that she had asked Monterey to talk to him later, after Dale had gotten some sleep.

"How is he?" she asked.

Dale shook his head. "The doctor said that he may have to go in again and stitch him back up. He doesnít know if it will work very well. They were going to wait until ten oíclock this morning to do it."

Gadget nodded. "Meanwhile, youíd better go home and get some sleep. Monty is waiting out in the plane to take you home."

Dale hesitated before walking out of the door. "Uh, take care of him, Gadget. He doesnít look too good." Gadget gave him a heartfelt hug.

"Donít worry, Dale. Heís in good hands here." She gave him a gentle push. "Now go. Montyíll fix you some breakfast. Iíll see you later."

She stood in the doorway and watched him go. As he turned the corner, she turned back to Chip. "Oh, Chip," she breathed. It was frightening to see him with the oxygen mask. He looked very small in the bed. She sat down in the chair next to him and took his hand in hers. It was apparent from his body temperature that he was still running a fever. She noticed a wet cloth on the table next to her. She put it on his forehead. As she did, she noticed the burn. It wasnít looking too good, either. In fact, it looked as if it were getting infected. Suddenly, Chip began coughing. After a few minutes, he quieted down, but looked much worse. His breathing was undeniably laborious. She turned as the doctor appeared in the doorway.

"Dr. OíConnor? His burn looks infected."

Dr. OíConnor came over to Chip and inspected the burn. "You know, youíre right!" He hurried to the doorway. "Will someone page Nurse Mitchell?" He turned to Gadget, exasperated. "Nurse Mitchell is the one who is supposed to be watching the burn and making sure that itís not infected. Someone is responsible for letting this happen, and Iím almost sure itís him." Five minutes later, a slightly built male chipmunk entered the room.

"Did you page me, Dr. OíConnor?" The chipmunk seemed agitated and nervous.

"I most certainly did. Werenít you the one assigned to take care of this burn?" He motioned to Chip and his chest.

Nurse Mitchell blushed. "Well, I, uh . . ."

"Well nothing. Fetch me some medication and some sponges. Weíre going to have to correct your mistakes again." Nurse Mitchell ducked his head and hurried away to carry out the orders.

"Does this happen often?" asked Gadget.

Dr. OíConnor shook his head sadly. "Only, it seems, with Nurse Mitchell. He just canít seem to follow instructions. Heís . . . well, a bit scatterbrained, if I say so myself. Unfortunately, weíre always short on help and just canít afford to tell him to leave." The doctor looked sadly at Chip. "Weíre sorry this had to happen."

"Thatís alright," she said shakily. "As long as it can be fixed, itís o-k. Itís the big problems that worry me."

"Oh, donít worry," said Dr. OíConnor, breezily. "We donít let Nurse Mitchell do anything big. We just let him handle small jobs. Nothing like surgery or setting broken bones. Just little clean up jobs and such. Things that we can watch after and correct easily." By this time, Nurse Mitchell came back into the room with a wooden bowl and some sponges.

"Do we need some water or anything?" Gadget was eager to help. She didnít just want to stand and watch.

Dr. OíConnor looked pleased. "Well, we could sure use some if you could get it. Thank you. Just go out the door and turn right. Ask the mouse with the gray hair. Sheíll get it for you." He turned and began swabbing Chipís chest with a sponge. Gadget hurried out of the room. Sure enough, a fat gray mouse with her hair in a bun was standing at a makeshift desk.

"Uh, could I get some water in a bowl or something? Itís for Dr. OíConnor."

The big mouse smiled. "Sure, dearie." She turned and ran some water in a thimble and handed it to Gadget. Gadget thanked her and fairly ran back to the room. The doctor smiled in appreciation.

Gadget looked down at Chip, who was breathing steadily, if not easily. "Dr. OíConnor, are you going to have to do more surgery on Chip?"

The doctor didnít look up from applying the medication. "Well, itís beginning to look that way. I think that infection may have set up around the stitches also. That would be the cause for his fever. I donít think that itíll be as easy this time, though."

"Go on."

"It was hard enough on Chip for the first surgery. Iím hoping that another one wonít put him into shock, or even a coma. Anesthesia does strange things to oneís mind while theyíre under the effects. Iím hoping that wonít happen. But thereís always a possibility." He finished his job and turned to Gadget. "I need to go check on another patient. Will you excuse me? Iíll be back around ten to begin the surgery. Iíll see you then."

Gadget sank back into the chair and watched as the doctor, followed by Nurse Mitchell, left the room. She sighed, and took Chipís hand again. As she did, she remembered her words about Chipís stubbornness. Again, she hoped that they were true.
 
 

About three minutes after ten, the doctor and three nurses (Nurse Mitchell not being one of them) entered the room. Gadget smiled weakly at them, kissed Chip on the cheek, whispered an "I love you" and left the room. She paused in the doorway and gave Chip a small smile. A nurse grinned encouragingly at her, and then closed the door. Gadget felt very alone. She wandered up and down halls, casually looking around. She walked for about two hours, then walked back to Chipís room. The door was still closed. A small sign hung on the door handleó "surgery in progressó do not disturb." Gadget wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and realized that she was starving. She had declined Montereyís cheese ala cheese for breakfast, but now didnít know what to do for lunch. She ambled out of the door and headed home.
 
 

Back at the tree, Monterey Jack was cooking up some cheese souffle. He put the finishing touches of grated cheese on it, then set out three plates, one of them a bit smaller than the others for Zipper. Suddenly, he heard the door open.

"Gadget? Is that you?"

"Yes. I just came home for lunch. Chip is in surgery." Gadget made her way into the kitchen. "Is Dale asleep?"

Monterey Jack nodded. "Did you say that Chip was in surgery?"

Gadget sighed. "Yeah. Theyíre sewing the stitches back that came loose in flight and checking for infection. They think that is whatís causing the fever."

"Well, strike me starkers. Me poor little lad!" Monterey handed some forks to Gadget, who set them on the table. "Iíd better go rouse up Dale. You just wait here." He left her for a moment. Zipper flew over to her and hugged her.

"Thanks, Zipper." She hugged him back. "I needed that."

Dale quietly walked to the table. Gadget could see that he hadnít slept welló if he had slept at all. "Hey, Gadget."

"Hey, Dale. Chip is in surgery."

"I know. Monty told me." He spoke in a flat monotone. Gadget decided not to press more conversation. Monterey, however, did not know how to take a hint.

"Well, Iím sure heíll pull through just fine. Right, Zipper?"

Zipper squeaked a cheery affirmative. Dale just sat and stared at the souffle that Monty put on his plate. "Eat up, Dale!" exclaimed Monty. "I used the best cheese I could find this morning. I believe itíll be pretty good, if I say so meself."

"Iím not too hungry, Monty." From the way he pushed it away, Gadget could tell that he probably had done the same at breakfast. She decided to give it a go.

"Come on, Dale. You need to keep up your strength if youíre going to be there for Chip tomorrow." He just stared. Gadget looked at Monterey and shrugged. He shook his head; the message was clear. Dale would eat in his own time. Eventually, Dale got up from the table and sat in front of the TV. Flipping on the TV, the others saw that the news was on.

"This is Stan Blather. Today in the news, a robbery and arson suspect was just apprehended. Officer Muldoon, of our cityís fine police squad, is here to tell about the exciting case. Officer?"

Gadget watched as the familiar officer told of the harrowing capture and near escape. She watched on in fascination as they showed a clip of the burned warehouse. "Golly," she said. "I wonder what else weíve missed in the world of crime fighting."

"Iíll bet that we could have stopped that fire," said Dale. "Chip will be awfully disappointed that we couldnít have taken that case." Abruptly, he started crying. "I donít want Chip to die!" he wailed.

Gadget ran to him. "Chip wonít die, Dale! Thatís just your craziness talking. We wonít let him die. O-k?"

Dale seemed to calm down a bit after Gadget hugged him. His crying slowed to hiccups, and finally stopped. "O-k, Iím better now." He wiped his eyes with the back of a hand.

"Do you want to go back with me and see if the doctor has finished with the operation?"

Dale shook his head. "I guess you and Monty are right; Iíd better stay here and get some food and rest. Actually, Iím really hungry."

Gadget smiled. "Of course you are. Well, Iím going to head back down there. I think Iíll take the Ranger plane, if you donít mind." She headed out the door.
 
 

Another hour later, Dr. OíConnor emerged. He looked dead tired, as did his nurses. "There was a lot of bleeding this time," he told Gadget. "That took us a while to stop. And then there was the infection . . . that doesnít even count the stitches." He paused and shook his head. "Did he do much tossing and turning while he was asleep?"

Gadget tried to remember. "I think that he did one night. He was having a nightmare of some kind-"

"I thought so." Dr. OíConnor sighed. "It was a mess. Fortunately for Chip, I believe we fixed all the problems. You can see him now, if you wish." He motioned toward the now open door. Gadget nodded shakily and stepped inside.

"Oh, my poor Chip," she murmured. He was still wearing that horrible oxygen mask. Gadget stroked his face softly. She turned to where the doctor was still standing. "When will he come out from under the sedatives?"

The doctor thought for a moment. "In about an hour or two. If heís not awake in three hours, come and get me. That will signify a problem." He gave Gadget a quick smile and walked away. Gadget sat down in the chair once more.
 
 

An hour and a half later, Chip stirred. Blinking his eyes open, he saw Gadget with the washcloth. "Gadget?"

She smiled softly. "Hey. Howíre you feeling?"

He shifted, then thought better of it. "Iím not sure. Iím kinda numb."

She nodded. "The doctor came by a few minutes ago and said that you probably would be for a while. Just stay still."

"Where is everybody else?"

"At home. Dale stayed all night, and heís getting some sleep. Monty is going to stay with you tonight. Weíre all making sure that youíre being well taken care of." She took his hands in hers and blushed. Chip smiled weakly.

"So, Iím going to be all right?"

Gadget nodded. "Of course. You just had a close call." Gadget then went on to explain what had happened. She smiled. "We all knew you would pull through."

Chip was silent for a moment. "So, Dale stayed all night?"

"Yeah. He was really worried about you."

"Have you told him?"

Gadget blushed again. "Well, no. But I think that Monty is going to explain it when weíre not there. He thinks that heíll be mad, but that heíll get over it."

"Thatís Dale, alright. Slow to thought, quick to temper. Inside, though, heíll realize that itís the right thing." Chip squeezed her hands. "Like I did."

Gadget stared into his eyes. She leaned forward; the kiss was the sweetest thing that she had ever felt. Suddenly, the pair felt eyes on them. They broke apart and looked up. Dale stood in the doorway, his eyes wide.

"Daleó " Chip began.

Dale put out his hands. "Hey, uh, donít mind me. Iíll just get in the way, as usual." He turned and ran out of the room.

"Oh, no," groaned Chip.

"Iíll talk to him," said Gadget. She started to get up, but Chipís persistent hands caught her.

"Just let him cool down for a while," he cautioned. "Heís likely to just blow up and be unreasonable. The best bet is to just let it go for about a day. Then heíll calm down and be able to be confronted. Until then, just pretend that it didnít happen."

Gadget sat back down, not knowing what to say. A few minutes later, Monterey walked in.

"Have you seen Dale?"

Gadget and Chip looked at each other. "Monty, I thought that you were going to talk to him," said Gadget. Monty looked taken aback.

"I was going to, but he was insistent on coming and seeing Chip for a while. Why? What happened?"

"Dale walked in at a bad time," explained Chip. "Now heís off somewhere pouting. He needs to watch his temper. Things like that are what could tear our team apart." He started to sit up, but the sudden shock of pain kept him from propping himself all the way up.

"Now, Chip, you know how you would feel if you walked in on Dale and me," Gadget said softly. "I wouldnít be too critical. He did lose his temper, but heíll calm down. He always does!"
 
 

Dale walked up and down the length of the park. He wiped his tears away with one hand. The anger overwhelmed him. First, he thought that Chip was dying. Then, he walked in on his best friend kissing the girl that he loved! Of course, he told himself, Chip loved her too. However, that part of his inner dialogue didnít register. All he could feel was fury and bitterness welling up inside. At least Chip was in the clear. That soothed him somewhat, but then he remembered walking in and seeing Gadget lean down and kiss Chip! Why Chip? he asked himself. He was the funny one! Chip didnít have near the sense of humor that he had. Also, Chip had no sense of entertainment. Gadget would get bored! he told himself. He walked around the park a few more times, venting his frustration. Sure, Chip was the smart one, but that wasnít a good reason for Gadget to prefer Chip over him! As he wandered around aimlessly, he then began to realize what was truly bothering him. It was the fact that Chip or Gadget had not told him about their current status. He felt betrayed. Suddenly, the stress of the past few days overwhelmed him. Dale sat down, hugged his knees to his chest, and cried.
 
 

That night, Chip lay wide awake in the hospital bed. Monterey Jack was snoring softly in the chair beside him. His thoughts kept returning back to Dale. Zipper had come in telling them that Dale had returned home, but had refused to speak to Gadget and went straight to his room. He knew that he had hurt Daleís feelings, but Chip had feelings, too. He couldnít stifle his own for his friendís sake; not when it was as important as his love for Gadget. He was about to roll over, but he remembered his stitches. He sighed as he tried to relax. There was nothing more that he hated than to be inactive for long periods of time. Taking a deep breath, he winced. The pain still had not faded. Of course, the doctor told him that it would take three, maybe four weeks for the burn to heal completely. Chip had moaned; to be trapped inside without working for a month was terrifying. He then smiled, thinking of Gadget. At least she would be wonderful company. A frown creased his brow as he remembered Dale and his reaction to Chip and Gadget. Tears began to well up in his eyes. Although no one could see him, Chip embarrassedly wiped the salty drops away from his cheeks. Chip truly loved Dale as a brother, the brother he never had. And now, Dale was trying to compromise that bond by being unreasonable. Of course, Chip supposed, he was almost as much to blame as Dale. Gadget was coming between them. As much as he hated it, Gadget was his new priority. He gave a sigh and kept trying to go to sleep.
 
 

The next day, the doctor breezily gave Chip a checkup. "Well, Chip, it looks like youíre finally going to be o-k."

Chip grinned. "So, does that mean that I get to go home?"

The doctor shook his head. "Sorry, but we need to keep you for a few days. For observations, and all. We just want to keep an eye on you." Dr. OíConnor left the room.

Chipís grin faded. Monterey gave him a nudge. "Donít worry, Chipper, me lad. Youíll be outa here in two shakes of a dingoís tail!"

"Sure Monty. Whatever you say." Chipís downcast expression made Montyís heart ache. He knew that Chip wanted to get out of this place so that he could be with Gadget. He also knew that Chip was dying to get back to cases as well. He just patted Chip on the shoulder and hurried after the doctor. Chip was so lost in his own thoughts that he didnít even notice.

"Hey, doc!" he called. Dr. OíConnor turned and smiled.

"Yes? What can I do for you?"

Monterey puffed to a stop. "Uh, are you sure that Chip needs to stay for a few days? I mean, he really wants to go home. Heís been here for three days already and heís getting restless."

The doctor paused and thought for a moment. "Well, Iím not sure. He needs to stay here at least another night. He still has a chance of going into shock from the surgery. I mean, for all I know, he may be in shock, and we just donít realize it. Itís very difficult to tell with chipmunks. But, yes, after tomorrow, I donít see why Chip canít go homeó that is, if there are no more complications." On that note, Dr. OíConnor hurried away as a nurse began calling his name. Monty gave a little smile and went to tell Chip the news and to call Gadget.
 
 
 
 

Back at headquarters, Gadget smiled in relief at Montereyís phone call. "Hey, Zip! Monty said that Chip may get to come home tomorrow!"

"Hooray!" Zipper squeaked. He buzzed away to tell Dale.

Gadget smiled to herself. When Chip came home, everything would be perfect. Suddenly, she heard a crash, and Zipper came flying very fast (even for him!) around the corner from Daleís room. Gadget sighed. Well, maybe not exactly perfect. Dale still hadnít calmed down. She looked questioningly at Zipper. He just shrugged dramatically and shook his head. Gadget sighed again and went over to the couch. She began to wonder if Dale would ever talk to them again. She wasnít sure if Dale loved her or not, or if he was just jealous. At any rate, she loved Chip and that was that. She set her resolve. No one was going to tear them apartó not after all that they had been through. She finally sank down on the cushions. Tears began to well up in her eyes. The team was falling apart without Dale. Well, maybe not, but they were certainly stressed out about it. That just couldnít be healthy for future teamwork. She turned to Zipper. "Hey, Zipper? Do you think that you could keep house? Iím going to go see Chip. If Monty gets back or something, tell him where Iíve gone, o-k?"

Zipper squeaked an positive answer. Gadget grabbed her goggles and hurried out of the house. On the way to the hospital, she started thinking again. She hoped that Chip was resting and not worrying about this conflict that had erupted. As she neared the hospital, she was forced to wipe at her eyes again. Why was she so sensitive all of a sudden? She laughed through her tearsó it must be love, she mused. She hugged herself before she entered the building, pretending that it was Chipís arms encircling her instead of her own. She giggled at her silliness. She went on through the ventilation and into the busy (as usual) hospital. She made her way to Chipís room, slowly but surely. As she entered, Monty jumped up to greet her and Chip smiled, still weak.

"Hey, Gadge!" Monterey said loudly, as was characteristic of the large mouse.

Gadget threw him a look bordering on a glare. "Hey, donít call me that!" she exclaimed. She smiled at Chip. "How are you feeling?"

Chip shrugged, and made a face. "All right, I guess. I still donít feel all that great, though."

Gadget smiled sympathetically as she made her way over to his bedside. She turned to Monterey Jack. "Monty? Could youó"

"Oh! Sure, luv. I was going to go on home, anyway." As he passed by her, he gently took hold of her arm and bent down to whisper in her ear. "Hey, be easy with him. Heís not having a good day." Gadget nodded, her head down.

Chip watched Montereyís back as he left. He turned his head slightly to face Gadget. "Howís Dale?" he asked softly.

Gadget didnít exactly look at him. "Well, heís still pretty upset. He hasnít spoken a word to me, and today he threw something at Zipper. I think it was a comic book." It sounded so ridiculous that the two began to laugh. After a minute, Chip was gasping for breath. "Oh, Chip! Are you o-k?"

Chip kept laughing, only not as hard. "Oh, Iím fine. I just havenít laughed in forever! Iíve really missed it." He paused and looked meaningfully at her. "Iíve really missed you."

Gadget blushed. "Oh, Chip . . ."

"No, really." Chip was very serious now. He reached for her hands and pulled her toward the hospital bed. She sat down next to him. "Gadget, you donít know how long Iíve been wanting to tell you that I love you, and how long that Iíve wished for the same words to come from you. And now, they have."

They stared into each others eyes for a long moment. "I love you, Chip," Gadget breathed.

Chip beamed at her. "Iíve been waiting for that for a long time, Gadget. I love you, too." He extended his hand and touched her blonde hair with a careful hand, almost not believing it. Of course Gadget had told him a few days ago that she loved him, but now it just seemed more special, more real. They sat there for many long minutes, not realizing how much time was slipping away. Suddenly, Chipís stomach growled, breaking the moment. The pair began laughing again. "I donít guess that Iíve even eaten since breakfast. I didnít really eat much lunch." He made a face. "I wouldnít eat any of this hospital food if I were you," he cautioned. "Itís worse than Daleís cooking."

They laughed for about five seconds until they realized what Chip had said. Silence encompassed them again. Gadget looked down at her lap. "What are we going to do about him, Chip?"

Chip sank back into his pillows. "I just donít know. I didnít sleep at all last night worrying about him. I donít have a single idea of how to handle him anymore." Gadget caressed his hands.

"Donít worry, Chip. Itíll all work out." But she wasnít so sure.
 
 

The next morning, Monterey Jack came in to find Gadget snuggled next to Chip on top of the covers of his bed. He smiled; they really did make a wonderful couple. Too bad Dale didnít realize it. He quietly went to the small window and pulled the curtains back to let in the early morning sunshine. Gadget stretched and yawned. She turned and jumped, startled at Montyís presence.

"Monty!" she whispered, careful not to wake Chip. "I didnít expect you so early." She pulled herself gingerly off of the bed. She joined him on the other side of the room, the farthest they could get from Chip. "Howís Dale doing?"

Monty gave a slight shake of his head. "Iím not sure, luv. He actually came out of his room for a while and ate some of my cheese flapjacks. He may be cominí out of his funk. Slowly, but cominí out of it."

Gadget still looked a bit depressed. "Donít worry, Gadget. Heíll be right as rain once he sees how happy you two are together. This has been coming for a long time, and nobodyís realized it Ďtill now." He gave Gadget a hug. "Iím proud of you, you know?"

Gadget smiled against the bigger mouseís chest. She squeezed him gently. "Thanks, Monterey. You always did know the right thing to say."

Monty smiled, remembering his promise to Gewgaw, Gadgetís father. He would always take care of Gadget, just as a father would. He wrapped his massive arms around her. "I just do what I can, luv."

At that moment, Chip roused from his deep sleep. "Monty?" His voice was weak and cracked from the early morning hour. "Gadget?"

They went over to him. "Morniní, Chipper. Glad to see you awake!" exclaimed Monterey.

"How do you feel today?" asked Gadget.

Chip stretched slightly, his unused muscles in his arms and legs tightening. "O-k, I guess. Considering Iíve just had two surgeries in the matter of days, I assume that Iím doing pretty good." He gave them a vague smile, then turned serious. "How are things back home?"

Monty fidgeted and Gadget looked flustered. "Well, Daleís taking it hard, as you knew. But, we think that heíll be ok in a few days. Itíll just take him a while to get used to the fact that . . . well, you know." Gadget blushed in the presence of Monterey Jack. Thankfully, Chip understood.

"Well, maybe I can go home today and everything will get back to normal."

"Yes, I believe you can." They turned to see Dr. OíConnor enter the room with a clipboard. "All your tests seem to be all right. It appears that you can fully recuperate in the comfort of your own home."

It was all Chip could do to keep from cheering. He was tired of being cooped up in such a tiny room, and the antiseptic smells were making him a little nauseous. Gadget took his hand and gave it a loving squeeze. The doctor told them about all the checking out technicalities and said that they would send a wheelchair right away so that they could leave as soon as possible. Monty gave a wide Aussie grin and left to go fill out the paper work with Dr. OíConnor. This left Chip and Gadget alone again.

"So, how did you sleep last night?" asked Chip. He remembered waking up once at about three in the morning and feeling Gadgetís warm body against his. It was the single most comforting feeling that he had ever experienced.

Gadget reddened at his comment. "Well, uh, I slept pretty good, thank you. And you?"

Chip smiled broadly. "Great. I slept great." He stretched again. "However, I canít wait Ďtill I can sleep in my own bed in my own house." He sighed contentedly. "And I canít wait Ďtill I can get some time alone with you."

This time, Gadget didnít blush. Instead, she leaned forward, kissed him, and looked him straight in the eyes. "Me, too."

"Well, weíre home, Chip me lad," exclaimed Monterey, helping him out of the Ranger plane. He gently carried him inside to the couch. Chip settled back, still in pain, but incredibly happy to be homeó and to be able to wear his old familiar bomber jacket again.

Gadget sat down, staying very close to him. "Well, sorry we donít have a welcome home party, butó" Gadget broke off, looking up as Dale suddenly appeared in the doorway.

Dale took a step forward and stopped. "Chip, can, uh, I talk to you for a minute?"

Chip looked around at the others. "Uh, sure. Yeah. Well, could you guysó "

Gadget took the hint and led Monterey Jack out of the room. "Weíll give you guys some privacy." Zipper buzzed away behind them.

Dale slowly sat down beside Chip on the couch. The two chipmunks didnít look at each other for a few minutes. Chip was embarrassed. He felt as if he had double-crossed his best friend instead of merely following his heart. Then, Dale began speaking.

"Iíve been thinking about this, Chip." Chip winced at the serious tone in Daleís voice. It wasnít often that one heard it, but when you did, you listened. "Iíve finally come to the conclusion that I simply canít stay here with you and Gadget being together."

Chipís mouth dropped as he finally turned to look at Dale. "What do you think youíre doing?" he yelled. Dale looked at him, startled. "Dale, youíre my best friend. There shouldnít be anything to come between us; not even Gadget. O-k? Look, youíre the only family that Iíve got. You canít run out on me now. Besides, where would you go?"

Dale shrugged uncomfortably. "I donít know. But, I donít want to be here when Iím not wanted." He turned away from Chip again.

Chip punched Dale weakly in the arm. "You must be crazy. You know that I love Gadget! You also know that I love you. Dale, youíll always be wanted. If not by anyone else, youíll be wanted by me. Youó youíre like my brother, Dale! And brothers donít run out on their brother."

Dale had looked as if he was going to agree with Chip, but at this statement, his face turned stony. "But they can betray them right?"

Chip slapped his forehead. "Dale, you just donít understand, do you? I didnít mean to make you mad. But I couldnít ignore my feelingsó not for you, not for anybody. I know that you wouldnít hesitate telling the one person that you truly love that you love them!"

Dale squirmed uncomfortably. "Well . . ."

"Are you starting to comprehend?" Chip was trying his best to be patient.

Dale shrugged again.

Chip patted him on the arm. "Please, just think about it for a while. And donít even THINK about leaving." He finally smiled. "Weíd have to track you down, and I donít think that the doctor would be too happy with me if I had to run out and search for you in the Ranger plane."

Dale tried not to smile, but it was useless. He just couldnít be somber for too long! Chip just grinned at his teammate. "Thanks, pal."

"For what?" asked Dale.

"Just for helping me see whatís important to me!" He leaned over and gave Dale a feeble hug. "I love you, you know?"

Dale laughed. "I know. I love you too, bro."

From the doorway, Monty and Gadget smiled silently, unbeknownst to the two embracing chipmunks. Monterey gave her the thumbs up sign. Gadget beamed. It was good to see the two being friends again. Now, maybe things would get back to normal.
 
 

The next day, Monterey Jack woke Gadget up early. "The boys ainít up yet, and I need your help."

Gadget nodded sleepily. "What are you thinking of?"

"Iíll explain later. Get ready and weíll get to work."

Gadget quickly got dressed and brushed out her long hair. She joined Monty and Zipper, who were sitting on their knees in the living room. "So, whatís up?"

Monty turned from his position on the floor. "Weíre making a banner for Chip and Dale. Itís kinda a Ďwelcome homeí and a Ďweíre glad youíre friends againí present."

"Great! What can I do to help?"

Monty and Zipper looked uneasily at each other. "Well, Gadget luv, we were hopiní that you could help us hang it up." He motioned to the banner. "Itís almost done, you see."

Gadgetís face fell, but soon brightened. "Sure, Monty. Hey, can I wake the guys up when weíre ready?"

Monty shrugged. "I guess so. Oh, Iíve got some cheese oatmeal for you, if you want. I know the boys donít like it."

"Oh, uh, no, uh, thatís really o-k, Monty. But thanks, anyway." Gadget edged off to turn on the TV. The early morning news was on. "Oops, I donít think that Chip will want to see thisó"

"See what?"

Gadget whirled around to see a groggy Chip leaning on the doorframe. "Chip!" she scolded. "What are you doing out of bed? You shouldnít be running around."

Chip smiled weakly and made his way slowly into the living room, finding a comfortable seat on the couch. "Hey, donít worry about me. And donít worry about me watching the news." He gave a chuckle. "I can compare how everyone holds up without us."

Gadget made her way over to him. "Do you usually get up this early?"

Chip shrugged. "Yeah, sometimes. Usually itís because I go run some laps around the park. This morning, I think itís just because I didnít sleep very good last night, thatís all."

Gadgetís face took on a concerned expression. "Are you all right?"

Chip nodded. "Yeah, Iím fine. Too tired to sleep, I think."

"Well, Chip, you almost ruined my surprise for you and Dale!"

"Huh?"

Monty held up a corner of the banner. "This is for you and Dale." Gadget ran over to help him, and Zipper lifted the middle of the huge sign. Together, they hung it up with tacks. It read: Welcome Home and Congratulations!

"ĎCongratulationsí for what, Monty?" Chip was puzzled.

"For becominí friends again, pally!" He grinned, his mustache quivering. "Weíve been worrying about you two."

"Wow, you guys. This is really special." Chip tried to stand up, but just couldnít gather the strength. He just eased back into the cushions nonchalantly, trying to act like he didnít feel any pain. Unfortunately, Monty perceived the discomfort.

"Are you all right, Chipper?"

Chip tried to smile, but his mouth wouldnít form the expression very realistically. "Ió Iím sure Iíll be o-k, Monty. Itís just a slight case of fatigue, thatís all." Gadget sat down next to him and began to rub his back.

"Perhaps youíd better go back to bed, Chip. You shouldnít be up, anyway," she admonished.

Chip looked slightly ashamed. "I guess youíre right, Gadget, but . . . well, I justó Iím just tired of staying in bed all the time. I want to get up and walk around, run my laps, look for new cases. Iím just, bored, I guess."

She nodded. "I know. But you have to rest so that you can get better, Ďcause if you donít, then youíll never be able to get out of bed. I mean, you wonít get better, and you wonít get to go out and look for cases andó"

"O-k, Gadget, thatís enough." Chip laughed. "I get the point." He shakily stood up. "I guess I will go back to bed." He winked at Monty. "Doctorís orders, and all that."

Gadget slowly helped Chip back to his room. Dale was still snoring loudly on the top bunk. She carefully eased him down onto the soft mattress. Chip gave her a pained smile.

"Are you sure youíre all right?"

Chip shook his head yes. "Yeah, Iíll be fine. Youíre right; I guess I do need to rest for a while longer, huh?"

Gadget smiled sweetly. "Uh-huh. Now, you just lay back and relax." She gently pushed him down and covered him with his blanket. "Iíll bring you some breakfast." Gadget sighed. "Will cereal do? Monty made cheese oatmeal."

Dale groaned in his sleep. Chip laughed. "Anything but cheese oatmeal." He paused as they glanced at the top bunk. "And I think that Dale will agree with me."

Gadget grinned. "Sure thing. Iíll bring you a bowl in a minute." She sailed out of the room. Chip lay back and chuckled. Maybe there was something to this invalid business after all.
 
 

When Gadget entered the room next, Dale was up and stretching. "Good morning, Dale!" she said, cheerfully.

"Gí morniní," he mumbled, still half asleep. "Whatís in the bowl?"

Gadget glanced down. "Itís Chipís breakfast." She looked over at him in his bunk. "Sleeping again, I see." Sure enough, Chip was fast asleep. The doctors had told them that he would sleep a lot in the next few days while his body tried to heal itself. She smiled, not even realizing she was. Dale caught her dreamy look and his cheeks brightened. She snapped back to reality and tried to apologize. "Look, Dale, this thing between me and Chipó"

Dale just shook his head. "Hey, Iím sorry about how I acted. It was really stupid of me."

"Dale, I just want you to know that I donít care for you less than Chip. Justó well, I donít know. Itís not the same. You know?"

Dale reluctantly nodded. "I know. Iím sorry, Gadget." Suddenly, he perked up. "Hey, what is for breakfast?"

Gadgetís face fell. "You wonít be very happy."

"Cheese oatmeal again, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Cereal for me, too, then." He stumbled sleepily out of the room. Gadget just shook her head and crouched next to Chipís bed.

"Chip?" she whispered. No response. "Chip?" she said, a little louder this time. Still nothing. Then, a soft snore. She giggled. She didnít know that Chip snored. She carefully stroked his cheek, feeling the softness of his fur beneath her fingertips. The dreamy look returned. Her imagination wandered, unbidden. What was in the future for them together? Would this thing progress? She knew that she had loved Chip for sometime (even though she had refused to admit it to herself and to others), and that he loved her equally. Chip sighed quietly, breaking her thoughts. His eyelids fluttered, but didnít open entirely. She checked his pulse, almost as an afterthought, but found nothing unusualó merely an affect of the anesthesia still in his system. She returned to her daydreaming. Marriage? Kids? Who knew what could happen? In her own little world, Gadget began weaving fantasies of her new life with Chip.

"Gadget?"

Gadget bolted upright, jerked out of her sleep. She had fallen asleep on the floor next to Chipís bed. Almost hitting her head on the night stand, she pulled herself into a sitting position and yawned. "What time is it?"

Chip himself yawned before answering. "I think that itís time for lunch. I smell cheese." They laughed together. Chip brushed a small ball of dust out of Gadgetís hair. "I think that I need to sweep in here."

Gadget sneezed to reiterate his point. "Yeah, I think that youíre right." She began swiping at the dust that lightly covered her purple coveralls. "Dale will never do it."

"Gadget? Chipper? Iíve got lunch ready," called Monty.

Gadget stood all the way up and sighed. "Are you hungry? I can bring you something," she offered.

Chip shrugged. "Not particularly, but I probably need to eat something." He motioned to the soggy cereal on the nightstand. They laughed again.

"Well, stay awake, this time!" she chided playfully. She left the room and came back with two steaming bowls of cheese chowder. "I think that Montyís overly happy about me fixing that pressure cooker. I swear, if I have anymore cheese chowder after this bowl, I think Iíll be sick." She handed a bowl to Chip and kept the other for herself. They sipped the hot cheesy goo silently for a few minutes, savoring the richness of the cheese and the importance of each otherís company. Gadget looked up from her bowl and gazed at Chip. He returned her gaze after realizing that she was staring at him. He smiled questioningly.

"What?" he asked.

Gadgetís face turned a brilliant shade of crimson. "Oh, uh, I was justó" She broke off, knowing that she just couldnít lie to the one she loved. "I was just looking at you." She blushed yet another shade at the surprise in his eyes.

Chip reached out and took her hand with his free one. "Gadget, Iím still reeling from the fact that you love me. Iím sorry if I donít seem like I understand, but I want you to know that Iíve done the same thing to you, time and time again." Gadget turned away. "Gadget? Whatís wrong?"

"Itís just that I never really recognized your, ah, advances." Then she corrected herself. "Or more correctly, I never took advantage of them." She turned back to Chip. "Actually, I did see them; not clearly at first, but then I soon got the message. I held backó I didnít want to hurt Daleís feelings." She gave Chip a small smile. "And now that the Dale episode is over, I guess we can get on with our relationship."

Chipís face was positively glowing at this torrent of words. The lady he had loved and pined over for so long was finally realizing his love for heró and her own love for him. He gently squeezed her hand. She squeezed back and simply stared into his eyes. Although she didnít believe in the telling of fortunes (even after the incident with Cassandra, the fortune-telling gypsy moth), she knew that she could see their future and fortunes together in Chipís dark brown eyes. They leaned toward each other and shared a single, breathtaking kiss. A new adventure into the most uncharted of territories had just begun.
 
 

The End



All characters featured in this work are the property of Disney. No copyright laws were meant to be violated. Any semblance to any other work (fan fiction or otherwise) about the Rescue Rangers is purely coincidental.