Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 27

 

 

* * *

     Portman had waited a long time, then gone to look for Harper to give him some more little tasks to preform.  He had thought out a huge heap of degrading things to dump on the worthless vagrant, jobs that would keep him busy and knowing his place for the rest of the week.  Smiling at the list in his hand, he could picture Harper’s face as he read them, that was if the uneducated boy could read.  Portman chuckled quietly as he looked into the electronics lab.  It was empty and still in a disarray.  Portman frowned.  Where had that layabout gotten to?  Portman would make sure to berate him thoroughly when he found him.  It wouldn’t do to let Harper get away with anything this early in the game.

     After searching through Engineering for him, Portman widened his search to the break room, then the cafeteria.  That was where he found Harper, finally, sitting and laughing with Chip Morton.  Portman didn’t like Morton.  The Seaview’s Executive Officer fancied himself a programmer and wouldn’t let him review the Seaview’s code neither during the current problem nor in any time in the past.  The man obviously felt threatened.  Portman watched as Morton laugh quietly at something Harper had said with a smile.  He now knew his instincts were correct.  Morton was plainly a low class bumpkin, just like Harper.  How could he find anything the boy said funny if he weren’t as socially inept as the little hobo.

     Turning from the scene with disgust, Portman prepared to go, thinking he would tackle Harper when he returned to Engineering.  That was until he saw Doctor Babin approaching from Marine Biology, smiling to herself.  Portman smiled too, thinking that she must be thrilled to have Harper out of her home.  He would take her out to celebrate he decided as he headed in her direction.  She shouldn’t be busy tonight, now that she was free of embarrassing little charity projects.

     “Hello, Dominica,” he said as they met.  She blinked up at him as if she hadn’t seen him, stopping as she was about to walk past him.

     “Oh, hi Greg.  I’m sorry, I was miles away,” she commented, still smiling about something.

     “Somewhere pleasant, I see,” he commented, musing about how perfect they were for each other.  Dominica was the brightest star in Marine Biology, despite her tender years, and Nelson’s assistant on the Seaview.  Even more importantly, she had the Admiral’s ear.  Nelson plainly adored her and would give her anything within reason.  She needed a boyfriend, no, a husband, someone that was her intellectual equal, someone that could pamper her after those ruthless missions on the Seaview, someone who would do her justice at all the important functions she attended for the Institute.  Portman knew he was just the man for the job.  It was a foregone conclusion to him that they would get together eventually, but she was always so busy.  She’d been here for months and never had she had a free evening.  He would help ease her burden once they were together, letting her rest while he socialized with the Admiral and his friends.  Being a woman, she probably found that intimidating anyway.

     “Yes, very,” she agreed.  “Well, I’m sure you have a lot to do, Greg.  I won’t keep you.”

     She started to walk away, but Portman stepped back in front of her.  Usually when they ran into each other, someone was with Dominica and he got flustered, asking her out with an audience.  Today, they were alone and Portman took advantage of that, saying, “You aren’t.  I was just thinking to myself how busy you’ve been.  I’ll bet you could use a nice, quiet dinner with some good company.”  There, charming to a fault, Portman praised himself.  She couldn’t refuse.

     Dominica’s smile fled and she gave him a sympathetic pat on the arm.  “Greg, I’m sorry.  I’m seeing someone,” she replied.

     Portman thought about Philip Kensington flirting with her at the Fundraiser and ground his teeth, then thought about it.  The billionaire went through women like water.  Poor Dominica would be cast aside and need someone to nurse her broken heart.  He would be there with plenty of emotional bandaging when that happened.  “Yes, I should have known.  Mister Kensington did keep you to himself for most of the Fundraiser, and who could blame him.  You looked heavenly,” he said, just to let her know he had been aware of her that night.

     Suddenly, Dominica smiled again and shook her head.  “Philip and me?” she said with a little laugh.  She started to walk again and Portman fell into step next to her.  “No, that wouldn’t work at all, trust me.”

     “Someone here at the Institute?” he asked, feeling a little repulsed by the idea that it might be one of the sailors that followed her around constantly.  Dominica was too nice a person to demand they leave her alone, but when they were together, Portman would take the situation in hand.

     “Yes, and there he is.  I’m going to go say hi.  You take care, Greg,” Dom said as she turned into the cafeteria.  Since only two people were in the cafeteria, there was no doubt who this ‘someone’ was.

     Portman frowned.  Of course, it would be Morton.  Dominica and the Officer had dated briefly when she first joined the Institute.  Crane had probably fixed them back up again.  After all, Crane and Morton were good friends and Crane was dating Miss Simmons, Dominica’s closest friend.  The last time Dominica and Morton had gone out together, it hadn’t lasted for more than a couple of dates, Portman consoled himself, thinking Morton wasn’t right for Dominica and that she was most likely already thinking of another way to let him down easy, as she had last time.

     Sighing about having to put up with such ridiculous delays in how his life should be proceeding, Portman watched as she walked over to the table where Morton was and she spoke to him and the vagabond.  Then she did something odd.  She stroked Harper’s hair back, probably trying to straighten it out a little because it was uncombed, as usual.  Portman grimaced.  How could she bring herself to touch him?  He probably had fleas.  Harper smiled at her attention and said something, then Dominica did something totally shocking.  She kissed Harper on the cheek.  Portman looked to Morton, who didn’t look surprised or upset, then his eyes snapped back to Dominica and Harper.  Harper had taken one of Dominica’s hands and was holding it, stroking her fingers with his thumb as he said something else to her, looking at her as if nothing else existed, and Dominica seemed to like it.  Portman thought he would be sick on the spot.

     Harper?  Harper was who Dominica was seeing?  Portman had been asking her out for months and she refused him, but not Harper?  It was Harper’s fault, Portman thought with a snarl.  Dominica was still being charitable and Harper was taking advantage of her and keeping her from people that she should be with.  This was the final straw.  Harper would pay.  Portman would destroy him and dance on his grave.  Suddenly the list in his hands was much too short and not nearly demeaning enough.  Portman stormed back to his office, suddenly inspired.  Oh, Harper was going to rue the day he stepped foot in the Nelson Institute.

* * *

     When Lee finally got the call from his friend Barry, it hadn’t gone at all as he’d expected.  Barry had said that Harper was, as everyone kept saying, simply no one.  Every check, from fingerprints to DNA to advanced facial pattern identification software had turned up blank.  Much as Barry seemed to want to side with Lee, he said there was nothing anywhere about Harper.  He even made a joke about wondering if one of the aliens that harried the Seaview from time to time had dropped Harper in on them from outer space.  Lee hadn’t found that amusing, but had thanked Barry for his time and made plans to get together before the Seaview shipped out again.

     After hanging up his phone, Lee leaned forward in his chair and rubbed his forehead.  He knew what he should do, but he didn’t want to do it.  The thought of being civil to Harper, much less apologizing to him, still rankled him.  However, he was the only one getting bad feelings about the scruffy little man, who was most likely on his legs health wise.  Groaning, Lee got up and prepared himself for the disagreeable task before him.  Better to get it over with, Lee thought as he walked to the Engineering wing.

     Lee found Harper in the lab that he’d been working in with the Admiral when he had first appeared at the Institute.  There was music playing in the room, Benny Goodman if Lee was not mistaken.  The little engineer was at the drafting board in the far corner, his back to the door, slowly drawing up plans for something or other and had not heard him enter, probably because of the music.  Who would have guessed that Harper would like forties tunes?  Lee paused not too far into the room and cleared his throat, wanting to alert Harper to his presence before he came too close.  Harper glanced back at him, then returned his attention to what he was doing, reaching over to turn down the volume a little on the small boom box nearby.  “Hey, Captain.  How can I annoy you this evening?” he asked, his voice once again unbearably cheerful.

     Lee grimaced at the comment because Harper’s words were a  pretty accurate assessment of the situation.  He could only imagine that it showed on his face, hence Harper’s greeting.  Not exactly the start he had been planning.  “Actually, I came to apologize,” he said as he approached.  He stopped about halfway between the door and Harper, not wanting to make the smaller man feel intimidated.

     “Oh.  I guess the ONI told you that I had no life before now.  Course, I could have told you that,” Harper said, still sounding upbeat despite what he was saying.  He was also paying absolutely no attention to Lee whatsoever, his focus on what he was doing.  Lee didn’t recognize the thing that Harper was carefully drawing, but that wasn’t surprising.  The Admiral had hired Harper for his inventive mind.  The plans were probably for something that didn’t yet exist.

     “I’m sorry I’ve been so terse with you,” Lee attempted to apologize again.  He paused, not knowing how to continue.  Harper wasn’t making this easy, sitting there with his back to him.  Lee wished the kid would turn around so he could do this face to face so that Lee could tell if he was even listening.

     “Don’t worry about it.  I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to think about it,” Harper said, but his tone was growing distant, his mind probably occupied by his work.  Lee frowned and squinted at what Harper was drawing.  What was so important about what looked to be a reactor of some sort that Harper couldn’t take two minutes and get apologized to properly?  Once this was taken care of, Lee could avoid him.  Lee sighed, getting the feeling that doing this fast and easy didn’t appear to be in the cards.  Harper was going to be one of those things in life that would keep popping up and annoying him endlessly, he just knew it.

     “No, I leapt to conclusions because of your past and that was unfair of me.  I just thought that considering your health problems you didn’t need to worry about my coming down on you like I have,” Lee tried one last time, thinking that maybe expressing concern over Harper’s health might break the ice.

     “What health problems?” came a small, trembling voice from behind him.  Lee and Harper both turned swiftly toward the door, where Dom was standing, beginning to look a little frantic.  Lee couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed her come in.  Dom didn’t know Harper was sick?  Lee felt like groaning.  What had he just done?  Suddenly, the music was off entirely and Harper was on his feet, but seemed frozen where he stood, uncertainty all over his face.  “Seamus, did Doctor Jamieson find something wrong?  You were saying he was concerned about your breathing being off.  What...”

     “It’s nothing to worry about, honest,” Harper said quickly as he started toward her.  “Thanks a lot,” he whispered as he passed Lee, actually sounding annoyed for once.  He took Dom’s hands and said, “He wants to do some more tests is all.  You know how doctors are.  Something’s a little off and they take that as an excuse to whip out all the instruments they don’t get to use normally.  I’m fine.  Really.  Healthy as a horse.”

     Dom searched his face, still plainly worried, then looked at Lee and frowned.  “If you’re in here trying to make nice, then... Oh, no.”  Horror leaked onto her features and she pulled her hands from Harper’s as she looked past him at where Lee was standing.  “You saw ‘the face,’ didn’t you?  You wouldn’t be apologizing to Seamus if you hadn’t.  What’s wrong?  What isn’t he telling me?”

     “What face?” Harper asked, looking from Dom to Lee, baffled.

     “Actually, Chip was the one that...” Lee started, thinking Dom deserved to know the truth.  He couldn’t believe that Harper hadn’t already talked to her about whatever was wrong with him.  She should have been the first person to know what was going on, whatever it was, so Lee ignored the angry look that Harper was giving him.

     “What are you talking about?” Harper demanded.  “What’s this ‘face’ stuff?  If I was sick, I’d know!”  He turned back to Dom and seemed about to say something, but she didn’t give him a chance.

     “You do know and you aren’t telling me!” Dom accused, tears hanging in her eyes.

     “Please don’t say that!” Harper begged.  “I’d tell you if...”  But then the tears fell and Lee could actually see something breaking in the younger man as he hugged Dom to him.  “Please, please don’t cry.  All right.  Okay.  I’ll tell you everything... just... I don’t want an audience, okay?  Can we go someplace where we won’t be interrupted?”

     Dom pulled herself from his arms and wiped her face.  “I’ll get my Jeep and meet you at the main entry,” she said stiffly, not looking at his face.  Lee could see that was hurting Harper, especially when she turned and left without another word, dodging his hand as he reached out to her.

     “I...” was all Lee got out before five and a half feet of unbridled fury rounded on him, gave him a firm two handed shove against the chest, pushing him back a step, then was stretching up to be in his face.  For a little guy, Harper was surprisingly strong, or maybe it was because he was angry.

     “If you ever, ever make my girlfriend cry again, I swear I will find a way to kick your ass from here to China!” Harper snapped at him, then he turned from Lee, frustration and anger dueling for supremacy on his face as he paced a little, running a hand up through his hair.  “Now I’ve got to... Crap.”  Blue eyes turned back to Lee, flashing, anger winning out for the moment.  “What did I do to you that was so bad, huh?  I’m sorry if I bruised your ego, but do you need to make my life hell for it?”

     Lee restrained himself from doing anything physical, knowing that Harper was ill enough to warrant ‘the face,’ but not having a clue as to how, exactly, the little man was ailing.  Even a shove like the one that Harper had given him might hurt the little man and things were messy and complicated enough as it was.  Still, Dom was Lee’s friend and he wasn’t going to let Harper treat her badly.  “Dom deserves to know if your dying, doesn’t she?”

     “And if I were, she’d know, but I’m not and now I have to sit her down and talk about stuff that’s just gonna worry her for no good reason all because you don’t like me.  I get it, okay?  You don’t like me.  Fine.  Dandy.  I’ll avoid you in the halls.  No more chirpy good mornings or how ya doings from me, I swear.  Next time I get on your nerves, swat me across the back of the head or kick my ass.  It wouldn’t be the first time anyone has and I know I deserve it more than occasionally.  Just leave my personal life alone, would ya?  I’m new at this boyfriend stuff and I don’t need you making it hard for me!”

     “Please.  As if Dom is you’re first...” Lee started, then Harper’s stance shifted to a defensive one.  Great.  Dom was his first girlfriend and Lee had just caused their first fight.  It wasn’t as though he’d tried to do it, but he couldn’t blame Harper for feeling persecuted.  “Look, I didn’t mean for that to happen.  I only came in here to apologize and see if there was anything I could do for you.  It can’t be easy getting bad news about your health like this.”

     Harper rolled his eyes, then looked back into Lee’s, plainly trying to control his temper.  “Listen carefully.  I.  Am.  Not.  Sick.  I’m not dying.  I’m not suffering from a debilitating disease.  I’m not even particularly tired at the moment.  I don’t know who told you that something was wrong with me, but they were jerking you around.”  He looked away from Lee again, then glanced up at the clock over the door.  “I’ve got to go see if I still have a love life.  Really, next time just beat me senseless, okay?”  Without another word, Harper left the room at just short of a run.

     Lee watched after him in silence, not knowing what to think.  Chip couldn’t have been wrong, could he?  No, Jamieson had found something and Harper was just not admitting to it, at least not to him.  How could Lee blame him?  It wasn’t as though they were on friendly terms.  He glanced over at the drafting board, trying to make sense of what was drawn there, as if that might give him insight into Harper himself.  Harper seemed small and harmless on the surface.  Even when Lee had royally ticked the kid off just now, all Harper had done was push and yell, nothing more.  Lee didn’t know if he would have been that restrained if he’d been in Harper’s place.  So why were Lee’s instincts even now telling him that there was something dangerous about the little engineer?  It made no sense, Lee thought with a worried frown.

     “Oh, Lee, I didn’t expect to find you here,” came the Admiral’s voice from behind him.  Lee turned to see the Admiral coming into the room.  He stopped in front of Harper’s drawing and looked it over with apparent satisfaction.  “You haven’t seen Mister Harper, have you?  I was hoping to touch base with him and expected him to be here.”

     Lee closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, thinking he’d better talk to the Admiral about what had just happened, feeling a little ashamed over the whole thing.  What else could possibly happen?  “He just left with Dom.  I’m afraid I inadvertently caused some friction between them because I was talking to Harper about his health issues and Dom overheard us and got upset about it.”

     Nelson cocked an eyebrow at him as he turned to face him.  “Health issues?” he asked, sounding surprised.  “Seamus was discussing his health with you?”

     “Not exactly,” Lee admitted.  “Chip told me about Jamieson coming into your office earlier and...”

     “And you thought you’d confront Harper about personal medical matters?” Nelson interrupted, surprise turning into disapproval.

     “No, not at all,” Lee assured him.  “I came to apologize about being abrupt with him.  I’m trying very hard to shake off the bad feeling my instincts are giving me about him and give him a chance.  I was telling him that, but Dom walked in when I mentioned that I knew Jamieson had some sort of concerns and things just spiraled out of control from there.  Harper went to explain things to her, but he kept insisting he wasn’t sick.  That can’t be true if Jamie was wearing ‘the face’ like Chip said.”

     Nelson let out a weary sigh.  “Lee, the whole thing doesn’t concern you, or anyone else that Harper chooses not to talk to about such matters.  Suffice it to say that he isn’t dying and can perform all his duties without anyone needing to be concerned over his physical well being.”

     Lee frowned, having half hoped that the Admiral might be a little more forthcoming.  Lee should have known that nothing concerning Harper was going to be that easy.  “If you say so.  He said as much, but I just... I get keep getting these bad feelings about him, like he’s hiding something dangerous,” he told the Admiral, hoping that Nelson would understand and perhaps tell him some reason why Harper was setting off all his alarm bells.

     “I wish I knew what to do about these ‘bad feelings’ of yours.  I promise you, Harper isn’t a danger to the Institute or anyone here.  He’s a lost soul trying to find his place in the world and I think it’s for the best for everyone that it be here with us.  Brilliance like his, that can pull things like this,” Nelson nodded to the drawing behind him, “out of thin air, could be dangerous if left unguided or pushed in the wrong direction by unscrupulous parties.  Perhaps that is what your sensing.  We certainly wouldn’t want Harper working with our enemies.”

     Lee glanced at the drawing again, not sure how what seemed to be some sort of reactor could be dangerous.  The drawing didn’t look very complete, though, so it was possible that the finished product would be more impressive than what Lee was seeing at the moment.  Certainly, the Admiral thought so.  “I don’t think that Harper is going to want anything to do with me for a while.  Even though it was unintentional, I did get Dom angry with him,” he said, feeling bad about it.  He really hadn’t meant to cause Harper problems.  It seemed he was more guilty of what he was ready to accuse Harper of than Harper himself.  He’d deserved the shove, so he wasn’t going to tell the Admiral about it.  He’d talk to Dom in the morning, apologize to her about upsetting her and see if she knew some way for him to smooth things over with Harper.  Maybe if Lee tried talking to her rather than talking at her, she’d get him over his unease about Harper.

     “Then you should apologize sooner rather than later, I would think,” Nelson advised.  “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing, Lee.”

     “Yes sir,” Lee replied, not at all certain about welcoming Harper with open arms just yet.  Something kept nudging at him, something worrisome that was just out of his view.  “I can’t help feeling like he’s keeping things from us.  Important, dangerous things,” he confided in the Admiral.  After all, Nelson had spent a decent amount of time with Harper in the past couple of days.  Surely the Admiral would sense if the kid was somehow dangerous.

     Nelson gave him a knowing smile.  “You know, Seamus has been extremely open with me.  Perhaps if he were more comfortable with you, he’d be more forthcoming.”

     Lee rather doubted it, but said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

     “Good,” Nelson said, seeming pleased with that vague answer for the time being.  “I was heading down to speak to Miss Simmons about how our rewiring effort is going.  Chip found us a healthy supply of good wire, thankfully, so at least supplies won’t be holding us up.”

     Lee was glad for the change of subject and walked with the Admiral toward where the Seaview was berthed.  In the back of his mind, he told himself that would probably be the best solution to the entire Harper problem.  Lee should forget about him and concentrate on getting the Seaview seaworthy again.  After all, it wasn’t as if Barry’s little joke were reality.

* * *

 

 

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