Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 32

 

 

* * *

     Harper had stayed hard at his schematics for the rest of the day.  His hand, arm, and shoulder were all starting to cramp and his back felt like one big knot.  There were rewards, though, for hard work.  The Admiral showed up just a little while ago with a coffee maker for the lab and said that a small refrigerator for Harper to keep sodas or preferably juice and fruit for quick pick me ups in was to arrive shortly.

     That was mostly so Harper could stay in his lab more of the day, not that he went out and about all that much.  However, when he had gone out to grab some lunch earlier, he had found out what an inquisition was like because a half dozen of the other engineers had ganged up on him, cornered him, and questioned him mercilessly as to what he was working on.  Harper hadn’t answered them because he’d been told quite sternly by the Admiral that his reactor was top secret, but they wouldn’t let him leave or get food until Dom had showed up and rescued him.  It had given Harper tingles when she had marched up to all those guys and ordered them to get back to work.  He even saluted her with a grin when they fled her ire like frightened children.  Dom could order him around any day, he thought, still turned on by just the thought of it.  Dom had obviously told the Admiral about what had happened and he hadn’t been happy about it, hence all the additions to Harper’s lab.  Harper hadn’t really minded being descended on, except the not being able to eat when he wanted to part.  At least he could lay in emergency supplies now.

     The Admiral had stayed in the lab after telling him about the refrigerator and had gone to look at some of the finished schematics that were laying out on a nearby table.  He seemed very happy with what was done so far and Harper was determined that by Monday, he would have all his drafting done.  Harper was used to not sleeping well, so he would do what he always did, spend the time he wasn’t sleeping doing something else productive.  He certainly didn’t want to waste time he could spend with Dom working.  Weekends off sounded heavenly, almost miraculous when Dom had introduced idea to him back when he was staying at her house.  He was extremely pleased to find out it was a practice widely accepted and practiced by employers around America, his boss included.

     Harper glanced over at Admiral Nelson as he thought about that.  As luck would have it, the Admiral finished looking at the completed sketches just then.  He looked back at Harper, seeming about to ask about something.  However, he stopped before the first word left his mouth, then looked Harper up and down, sighed, then said, “Seamus, we have to do something about your second hand clothes and I keep forgetting.” 

     Harper looked down at himself then back up at Nelson and said weakly, “These are mine.  You know, the stuff I showed up in.”  Well, he had warned Nelson that he had terrible fashion sense.  It was a little depressing, though.  Harper considered this to be some of his better stuff.  Apparently he’d been fooling himself.

     Nelson went tight lipped for a moment and said, “I’ll ask Dominica to take you shopping this weekend.  She has an Institute expense account and I’ll tell her to make sure that you’ve got enough clothing to last more than a couple of days.  Women love to dress us up and make us look our best.  Pretty soon, you’ll find a talent for it yourself, I’m sure.”

     “I tend to gravitate toward color and comfort, which Trance liked, but Beka said my clothes made me look like a dye factory explosion walking around.  She used to try to get me out of Hawaiian shirts, loud colored jerseys, and baggy pants, but gave up and declared me hopeless,” Harper replied with a smile.  It was nice being able to talk to someone about his past, even if it was only in private.

     “I’m sure that Dominica will succeed where Captain Valentine failed.  She’s more personally motivated,” Nelson told him.  “And I would suggest doing something with your hair, but I would probably be wasting my breath, wouldn’t I?”

     “It doesn’t behave, so I don’t think it’ll listen,” Harper said, running his fingers up through the spikey stuff on the top.  “It always sticks up, so I decided to run with it as a look.”

     “A good salon could probably tame it, but we’ll fight one battle at a time,” Nelson said, then started back out.  “Don’t forget new shoes, Seamus, preferably at least one pair without steel toes.  Have a nice weekend.  Don’t spend any of it working on anything other than having some new clothes on Monday.”

     “Okay, Boss,” Harper sighed at the closing door.  He liked steel toed boots.  He liked his loose, comfortable clothing.  He hated shopping for anything that he couldn’t eat, drink or plug into something else.  Most of all, he didn’t want to waste time with Dom shopping instead of cuddling and kissing.  He’d been looking forward to that all day, knowing that he wasn’t getting anything more than that and surprisingly not minding.  Now it looked like he wasn’t even going to get that!  He sighed again.  Oh, well, better to get it over and done with, he decided.  Maybe it wouldn’t take that long.  It’s not like they had to travel all over the galaxy to find things.  He glanced up at the clock.  It was just before three, so he had a couple more hours to work.  Harper sighed and rolled his tight shoulders.  It was Friday after all and he’d have all weekend to be cozy with Dom.  It wouldn’t be so bad spending some time tonight doing something else.

     Harper was tired and his mind wandered, making it hard to concentrate on the schematic he was drawing.  After a few minutes of basically staring at it, he started to think about making himself some coffee with his new coffee maker and went to check out what he had.  There was a knock at his lab door before he finished walking to the counter where it sat.  He looked up to see Dom there and smiled as he went to let her in.  He wasn’t supposed to let people in, he knew, but this was Dom and he was sure the rule didn’t apply to her.

     “I’ve been given a mission,” she told him with a smirk as he opened the door.  “We’re to leave immediately.”

     “Yeah, I know.  Make me presentable.  It’s a lost cause.  They don’t make clothing to suit my sheer adorableness,” he replied, then kissed her on the cheek, just because he could.  After all, he was giving up kissing time to shop.

     Dom laughed and shook her head at him.  “Well, we’ll have to make do with stuff designed for all the poor, ordinary looking folk that inhabit the area.”

     Harper kissed her again for not denying he was adorable.  “Come on in.  I’ve got to lock stuff up.”

     “I’ll wait here.  You’re off limits now, you know.  After the little scene in the cafeteria, the Admiral warned the rest of engineering that if you were bothered like that again, heads will roll.  The Institute is abuzz about it.  The really crazy thing is that Greg Portman is saying that your project should have been his,” Dom told him with a frown, shaking her head.  While a laugh and a head shake was a good thing coming from Dom, what she had just done meant that she was pretty much disgusted with you.  Apparently Dom didn’t like old Gregory anymore than Harper did.  She stood in the doorway and held the door opened so they could talk, so Harper went to put his schematics in the safe as he’d been instructed.

     “He doesn’t even know what my project is,” Harper replied as he rolled them up.

     “Doesn’t stop him from complaining.  Greg thinks that a lot of things should be his by virtue of his great intelligence, good family line, and what he considers to be superior looks.”

     “I know the type,” Harper muttered, then decided that Portman wasn’t worth his time.  He certainly didn’t want to waste any more time talking to Dom about him.  “The Admiral gave me my own coffee maker!”

     “Very nice.  I’ll buy you some really good decaf tonight.”

     “Decaf?  That stuff is sacrilege.  No decaf shall ever pollute my coffee maker!  So swears the Harper on the lives of the coffee beans everywhere that so bravely give their all to keep him functioning.”  He spun the dial on the safe, hoping he could remember the combination when he was half asleep, which would most likely be the state he’d be in when he attempted it.  At least now he didn’t have to worry about Portman getting his hands on things.

     Dom laughed quietly.  “Now you’re just being silly.”

     “You love it,” Harper told her, then walked up to her and kissed her softly on the lips as he wrapped his arms around her.  “You love me.  C’mon.  Admit it.  I get you all tingly because I make you laugh and I have enough brains not to bore you to tears.  And all that comes wrapped in a very attractive package, if I may say so.”

     “You may,” Dom said with an indulgent smile.  “Especially your eyes.  I do love your eyes.”

     “Just my eyes?  Man, I’ve got to work on the rest of me,” Harper said, feigning disappointment.  At least Dom was willing to say she loved pieces of him.  That was a start.

     “Which is what we’re off to do.  Come on,” Dom said, pulling from his arms and taking him by the hand to lead him off toward the parking lot.  Harper made a token resistance by dragging his feet and making her walk slowly.

     “Ugh.  Shopping!  Why don’t you just tie me to a chair and make me watch that channel that sells stuff on television?  Hey!  Wait!  Maybe I could...”

     “No, you are not buying clothes off of QVC, so forget it,” Dom stopped him in mid sentence.  “We’ll go to the Paseo Nuevo.  You’ll have fun.  You can ogle the lingerie mannequins in the Victoria’s Secret window.”

     Harper moved up next to her and wrapped his arm around her waist, nuzzling her cheek, saying, “I’d rather ogle you in lingerie.  Hey, if I promise to behave, can we do that later?  All eyes, no hands, I swear.  I already agreed to be tied to a chair.”  Then he gave her a squeeze.

     “You and your bondage fetish.  Keep dreaming, horny boy.”

     “About you scantily clad?  I certainly will.  Want to hear about some of the ones I’ve already had?” he asked, thinking it might give her ideas.  He got jabbed with an elbow for asking the question, but he had to admit, he deserved it.  “Hey, you’re the one that called me horny boy.  I’d prefer horny man, but...”  Another poke.  “Hey!” Harper protested.  He’d been agreeing with her!

     “You would be upset about the wrong part of that description,” Dom said, but he knew he was being teased.

     “Another thing you love about me.  Come on.  Just say it.  I’ll say it.  I love you.  See?  Doesn’t hurt a bit,” Harper teased right back.

     “I take those words very seriously, Seamus Harper,” Dom told him and if her tone was anything to judge by, she meant it.

     “So do I.  Sorry if it didn’t sound that way a minute ago, but I seriously, really, truly love you,” Harper told her as he drew her closer, practically tripping both of them by doing it and not caring as he kissed her on the cheek.

     “You are hopeless, aren’t you?” Dom said, referring to what he’d told her last night, he was sure.  He shrugged expansively, trying to come up with something witty to say, but before he could, Dom said softly, “And I’m starting to feel a little hopeless myself.”  Harper smiled.  He knew she loved him.  “You’re sure you aren’t going anywhere?”

     “Not without my girl,” Harper told her, giving her another hug.

* * *

     Portman ground his teeth as he watched Dominica leaving with Harper, all cuddly with the scrawny nobody, eyes only for him.  It made him sick.  How could she bear to touch him?  He was an  uneducated, plebeian, funny looking little nothing.  It defied reason, yet there it was, plain as day, the two of them giggling and unable to keep their hands off each other.  Portman wouldn’t have put on such a display, embarrassed himself or her that way.  He would have treated her like a queen, lavished gifts on her, introduced her to society, made her the envy of other women.  Why had she always turned his attention away?  It made no sense.

     Scowling, Portman decided that he was take out some of his frustrations on Harper’s work.  What should he do this time?  He grinned as he thought about changing numbers, not all of them, just a few by a difference of one or two.  It was the sort of change that might go unnoticed until it was too late and Harper found himself humiliated.  That would fix the little hobo, he thought maliciously.  Portman walked to the lab that the vagrant was using and ran his security badge through the security slot.  Instead of flashing the green ‘enter’ light, the panel flashed an almost taunting red light at him.  Portman growled, remembering Harper’s words this morning about his lab being off limits.  Sniffing, Portman headed over to the break room and the cafeteria to see who else was here.  There were other ways to punish Harper’s impudence. 

     There were some men from the Seaview in the cafeteria, as well as Fletcher.  Portman smiled.  Fletcher was terrified of Harper or at least terrified of the scrawny boy’s supposed brilliance with electronics.  Just the person Portman needed to talk to at the moment.  “Andrew,” he called to Fletcher, going over to him.  Fletcher looked up at him, his expression worried, which improved Portman’s mood.  This was going to be fun.

     “Greg,” Fletcher mumbled as looked sullenly back into his cup.  Portman had no intention of being so quiet.  “You heard about what happened over lunch today?”

     Portman had heard about that and wished he had known about the plans of those other engineers before they had acted on them.  Direct confrontation of Harper in a public place was doomed to failure.  Portman would now show them how it was done.  “Yes, I did.  What is Harper’s problem?” Portman asked, making sure that his voice was loud enough to be easily overhead without raising it to the point of yelling.

     Fletcher looked back up at him, blinking in confusion.  “Harper’s problem?” he asked, plainly not understanding. 

     “Yes.  I mean, a few of his coworkers ask him a few simple questions and he runs to the Admiral as if he were attacked,” Portman said, the disgust he felt for Harper plain in his voice.  “It’s as if he were trying to hide something.”

     Fletcher still looked like a deer caught in headlights, but that suited Portman just fine.  “I suppose...”

     “It’s sad, really.  The boy probably doesn’t know how to act around civilized people, having been homeless all his life.  Doctor Babin is lucky he didn’t do anything... unsavory when he was staying with her,” Portman stated with a sigh.  He stole a glance over at the sailors sitting nearby.  The big one, Kowalski, seemed to take notice of that final comment.  Kowalski was easy to incense and Portman intended to make certain the sailor was aimed in the proper direction.

     “You don’t think he’s violent, do you?” Fletcher asked, sounding a little afraid.

     “Who knows.  None of us know much about him at all, do we?” Portman asked in return.  “And Doctor Babin is such a tiny woman.  It’s lucky that the Admiral took Harper out of her home before anything regrettable could happen.  It’s not as if Harper would know better, really.  The poor, uneducated boy, he should be glad that the Admiral’s taken an interest in him.  Maybe now he’ll get a little schooling.”

     “I don’t understand what you mean,” Fletcher said, still looking baffled.

     “Oh, didn’t you know?  Harper hasn’t ever been to any sort of school.  Pretty much everything he’s talking about and building is coming out whatever the boy has managed to learn on his own.  I’m not even sure that he can read.  He probably learned a lot of his science from movies or television.  It’s a little frightening when you think about it.  I certainly am glad that I don’t have to be the one testing anything he builds,” Portman said, glancing over at the sailors again.  They had begun to talk about something in whispers, but Kowalski still looked agitated and angry.  He knew that Kowalski in particular was protective of Doctor Babin and that many of the other sailors looked to him for guidance.  Portman let a smile spread across his face.  Harper was going to pay for laughing at him.  Portman couldn’t wait to see how much he would pay after word began to spread over the weekend.

* * *

 

 

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