* * *
The Admiral’s office door had barely shut when Lee said,
“Harper should be in a hospital. He nearly died. He
might have brain damage or...”
“Lee, the last place on Earth Seamus would want to be sent
to is a hospital. Unless
Jamie says its necessary, I’m not going to force the issue.
Seamus deserves that much consideration at the very least,”
Nelson said as he rounded his desk and sat down heavily.
He looked suddenly tired.
“We still don’t know anything about him.
Did you see all the scars on him?
Someone tortured him. We
both know what pain can do. What
if he isn’t aware of conditioning that’s been done to him?
His being here...” Lee tried to argue.
“His being here, his being allowed to make the Institute
his home is my decision, not yours,” Nelson declared, anger darkening
his features for a moment. He
pushed it aside, looking weary again.
“He and I discussed the scars and several other things that are
none of your business unless Seamus chooses otherwise.
I doubt he will, the way you treat him.
You keep picking at the boy even though I’ve asked you repeatedly
to either be civil to him or let him alone entirely. He isn’t here to cause problems.
In fact, the only trouble he’s been involved in was instigated by
you. I would have thought his
actions today would be sufficient evidence that Seamus doesn’t mean
anyone here any harm, but here you are, demanding that he be removed.
The boy almost died protecting the Institute, Lee.
What more has he got to do before you admit that you’re wrong
about your suspicions?”
Lee felt his jaw tighten in frustration.
He still didn’t like Harper, but that didn’t change the fact
that the kid had just saved lives and probably the Seaview herself and had
put his life on the line to do so. If
that thing had shifted the boat in her drydock or knocked it free
entirely, Lee hesitated to think of the deaths and damage that would have
resulted. “Fine,” he
said. “He probably isn’t
a danger to the Institute, but he should be at a hospital.
You said it yourself. He
was dead for at least three minutes because he was hurt protecting the
Seaview and her crew. Why
aren’t we rushing him to the best possible care?
Why wouldn’t he want that for himself?”
Nelson gave Lee a cold glare.
“Because, as a child, he was tortured by people doing medical
research and he is terrified of doctors.
He barely tolerates Jamie touching him.”
The Admiral had obviously only said that because Lee had given him
no other recourse.
Lee felt the color drain from his face as Nelson’s words
sank in. “But who...
How...” he stammered out. He
knew things like that happened. He’d
seen it too many times on the Seaview not to know it did. Lee also knew Nelson wouldn’t say it had happened to Harper
if it weren’t true, if he didn’t have irrefutable proof that it had.
Jamieson certainly would never have agreed to treat the kid himself
rather than send him to a hospital unless there were some reason why he
shouldn’t. Lee felt sick to
his stomach at the mere thought of what those reasons might be.
“Seamus grew up in an atmosphere of violence and extreme
poverty. His parents were
murdered in front of him when he was a small child.
He had no home and no real protectors.
People did whatever they wanted to him knowing that no one would
come to his rescue,” the Admiral told him, fury making the words icy and
terrible. Nelson clenched his
fists, then visibly forced himself to relax, though it only made him look
tired again. “Even under
those conditions, the boy managed to educate himself and not turn into one
of the low, despicable creatures that abused him.
He trusts too easily despite all that’s happened to him, and I
won’t see him hurt for it again, especially since he’s placed that
unquestioning trust in me. If
you had sincerely taken his hand in friendship when he offered it to you
when you first met, you would know that he is a unshakably loyal in his
personal associations and undeserving of all the venom you’ve been
pouring over him. This is
beneath you, Lee, and I’m asking you, as a friend, to stop it.”
Lee, quite simply, felt awful.
How had he let this whole situation get so out of hand?
He rubbed his neck, embarrassed to have put Nelson into this
position. No wonder the man looked tired.
“I promise, Admiral, I won’t give Harper anymore grief.
You’re right. He hasn’t done anything wrong.
I let my instincts get the better of me. I don’t know why he was affecting me the way he was, but if
I start to get those feelings of distrust, I’m going to think of those
scars. The poor kid.
Can we go after the people that did that to him?”
Nelson shook his head.
“I only wish we could, but I’m afraid the they are out of our
reach. Seamus just wants to
put it all behind him and move forward with his life.
I think that’s best, if everyone will just let him do it.”
Nelson gave him a meaningful look, but Lee didn’t blame him.
Lee nodded, thinking that he would apologize, this time sincerely,
the next time he saw Harper. He
wouldn’t do it at the infirmary. Harper
needed to rest and recuperate and Lee didn’t want to upset the kid by
making an appearance. Nelson,
who seemed to be thinking roughly the same thing, rose, saying, “So when
he’s released from Jamie’s care, I know you’ll make every effort to
change the situation between you.”
“Absolutely,” Lee agreed.
“Good,” Nelson said, but came around his desk and
started for his office door. “Then
I’m going to go talk to Doctor Babin, tell her what happened to Seamus
before someone else does. I
think he’d be much less alarmed if he wakes up in the infirmary with her
at his side.”
Lee nodded. “I’m going to check on the repair crews and make sure the
drydock berthing wasn’t damaged. And
I’ll make sure that the crack in the far wall is nothing to worry about.
That sound gun of Harper’s is one hell of a weapon.
Ro said it before, and now I agree with her.
It’s a good thing that Harper is on our side.”
Nelson actually looked amused by the statement and Lee was glad the
air was cleared between them.
“Yes,” Nelson agreed, nodding sagely.
“A very good thing.”
The last thing that Harper remembered was someone grabbing
his arm just as he finally gave up any thoughts of surviving the
creature’s attack. Of
course, he was in the process of blacking out at the time, so he didn’t
know who grabbed his arm. Maybe
it had just been another tentacle, he mused, and the creature had just
gone from planning to drown him to deciding to tear him limb from limb.
Then he wondered how he was thinking any of these things,
especially if he was dead. Okay,
so he wasn’t dead, Harper decided.
That was good. He
really didn’t want to die right when his life was going so well for a
change, monstrous creature attacks aside.
Why wouldn’t his eyes open, he wondered with growing concern.
Why couldn’t he feel anything?
Maybe he wasn’t dead, but was close to it.
After all, he hadn’t had any air left in his lungs before.
No, Harper told himself, he was not going to die.
He’d beat the odds with the Magog larvae.
Drowning after going through all that seemed almost ridiculous,
especially when he was such a good swimmer.
Maybe the creature had let him go when he’d lost consciousness.
He had to wake up, right now.
“Wake up!” he demanded of himself fiercely.
“Wake up, now! Right
now! Wake up or you’re
gonna die, you idiot! Wake
up! Wake up!
Suddenly, Harper’s eyes did spring opened and he was
sitting up, dry, something uncomfortable in his nose, and he was sucking
in air for all he was worth. As
the rest of his surroundings began to come into focus, the first thing he
was aware of was Dom gently holding him and hushing him as she tried to
get him to lie back down in the bed he was currently sitting up in.
He gave in to the gentle pressure she was exerting because he
simply lacked the strength to fight her.
What the hell was in his nose?
He wanted to pull whatever it was out, but couldn’t even work up
the will to lift his arm now that he was lying back again.
“It’s all right,” Dom assured him softly as she
stroked his hair and planted a warm, lingering kiss on his forehead.
“It’s all over. You’re safe.”
“What happened?” he managed to murmur, but it took
almost everything he had to get out those two words.
His chest hurt. Why was he so tired? He
was starting to feel Dom trembling. He
wanted to comfort her, but he didn’t know what for. Then he felt a pinch in his left wrist and realized there
were tubes running from where the pinch was to some bags of liquid hanging
nearby. Okay, he was on some
sort of intravenous medication and the tubes irritating his nose were
oxygen, which meant he was... where?
Now he really wanted to know what had happened when he’d been
“You left us for a little while,” came Jamieson’s
calm, even voice rather than Dom’s.
The doctor was now standing by his left side and taking his pulse.
“How are you feeling?”
“Confused,” Harper admitted, beginning to tremble a
little himself. He wasn’t
in a hospital, was he? Had
the thing dragged him off some place away from the Institute? What did Jamieson mean, he’d left? “Where am I?”
“The Institute Infirmary,” the Admiral’s voice came
next. He moved behind Dom,
who was sitting to Harper’s right, holding his hand and stroking his
hair. Dom’s touch was
comforting and Harper felt the shakes level off and start to die down.
He hated waking up in medical places and not knowing what had gone
on before. It usually meant
something really terrible had happened to him that he didn’t want to
know about, but that everyone he knew would be recounting endlessly to him
for the foreseeable future. Jamieson
kept distracting him with a cold stethoscope and a too bright light that
he shown into Harper’s eyes. Harper
missed medical scanners. Still,
Nelson was talking and Harper tried to focus on him rather than what
Jamieson was doing.
“That sound weapon of yours is quite powerful.
The Chief turned it up to full capacity and managed to put a dent
in the channel wall with it. When
he turned it on the creature, two blasts were enough to finish it off.” The Admiral smiled, but it was forced, the smile attempting to
hide another expression, a far grimmer one.
He was worried, or getting over being worried. Harper began to wonder how badly hurt he was.
“You have Patterson to thank for your life,” Jamieson
told him. “He dove in after
you while the creature still had you.”
Harper was starting to put things together, and he didn’t
like the scenario that his mind was laying out.
“I died, didn’t I?” His
voice was trembling. He was
trembling. No wonder Dom had that scared look on her face.
He’d actually died.
Nelson’s pained smile dimmed and Dom squeezed his hand a
little more tightly. “Your
heart stopped for a couple of minutes, yes, but Doctor Jamieson started it
beating again without too much to do. He was afraid to use the defibrillator on you, so we were all
relieved that he didn’t need to,” Nelson said.
Harper was sure that the confused look he was wearing became more
intense. What was the Admiral
talking about? Dom ran a
finger gently over his port, but she covered the motion by moving to give
him a kiss on the cheek. Their
eyes met and she smiled a little. Dom
wasn’t supposed to know his port was anything but a disk on his neck and
Harper took her look to mean that she hadn’t let the Admiral or Jamieson
know that she did. Harper
squeezed her hand, weakly returning her smile for a second, glad that
he’d been right about being able to trust her.
“It would have been okay.
Everything’s insulated,” he said weakly, then wondered if he
should have because Nelson gave him a tight lipped look, then glanced down
at Dom. She had the good
sense not to react at all. See,
he told himself, she was the best girlfriend ever.
“Well, we’ll talk about all that in greater detail later.
What’s important now is that your heart rate’s steadied out and
we seem to have gotten all the water out of your lungs,” Jamieson said
quickly to change the subject. “I
am a little worried about what was in that channel water you swallowed.
I’ve got you on a broad spectrum antibiotic, but maybe we should
move you to a more sterile environment.
Your white cell count is so low right now that I’m really worried
about infection. You
certainly don’t need to be exposed to anything else.”
“I’ll be okay,” Harper told him, but he knew he
didn’t sound very convincing, especially since he was having troubles
raising his voice above a whisper. The
thought of being isolated in a small room with people in EV suits around
him was terrifying, mostly because he didn’t know if he’d ever be
released once he was locked in. Harper
squeezed Dom’s hand. He
wanted to stay here with her. She
wasn’t sick and wouldn’t make him sick.
He couldn’t let Jamieson take him away from her.
He just felt so exhausted. Maybe
it was something in the medication he’d been given.
Maybe dying took a lot out of you.
The thought gave him a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Better not to dwell on that, he decided.
He needed to change the subject entirely.
“How long was I out?”
“Two hours,” Nelson replied, then gave Harper another
thin smile and reached past Dom to ruffle his hair.
“Long enough to worry us all.
Don’t make this a habit, young man.”
“No way,” Harper assured him.
“I usually duck for cover at the first sign of trouble.
I don’t know what got into me.”
“I think it has something to do with working here,” Dom
said with a much more sincere smile.
“It makes heroic urges suddenly spring from the most timid
“Me a hero. Yeah, right,” Harper scoffed, then was seized by the
largest yawn of his life.
“You should rest,” Jamieson said, patting him gently on
the shoulder. “Everyone can
come back in the morning and...”
“No!” Harper said, suddenly terrified as Dom began to
release his hand. What if
Jamieson decided he needed to be isolated after all? If Dom left, she might not be allowed to come back!
He clung to her, saying, “Don’t go!
Or... or if... if you’ll let me come back to your place, I’ll
stay in bed, nice and quiet. I
can rest there too, right?” Dom
looked suddenly concerned and glanced at Jamieson.
“Sweetie, you need to let Doctor Jamieson take care of
you,” Dom told him, stroking his face and hair, trying to get him to
calm down. He couldn’t
though, not if she was going to leave and maybe never going to be able to
“Don’t leave,” Harper repeated, panic stricken, on the
verge of tears. “Please.”
“Of course I’ll stay,” she assured him, still
caressing him gently. “It’s
all right. I won’t go.
I don’t have to go, do I?”
She looked up at Jamieson for confirmation and Harper clung to her
desperately, determined that she would stay or he would go with her.
Jamieson seemed concerned, but he said, “If you promise to
lie still and sleep if you feel the urge, Miss Babin can stay with you.
You need to rest, let your body heal from the shock it suffered.
Try to calm down.”
“‘Kay, Doc,” Harper sighed wearily, the fear he’d
just been gripped by slipping away almost as quickly as it had come on him
now that he knew Dom was going to be able to stay.
Lying still and letting Dom caress him sounded doable.
He didn’t have the strength for anything else anyway.
At least nothing hurt too much.
Considering the way the creature had smacked him into the wall and
stunned him, he could only assume that the almost pleasant numbness he was
now experiencing was not going to last, so he might as well enjoy it while
he could. He looked up at Dom
and forced a smile, glad she’d sided with him, that she didn’t look
put out about staying close. She
stroked his cheek and he turned his head to kiss her hand.
He was going to pamper her like crazy the moment he was strong
enough to do it. She was the
best and he was going to make sure that she knew that he knew it.
“I’ll be good as new and back in action in no time,” he said,
mostly to reassure her.
“Good,” Nelson said, the worry having pretty much
vanished from his features. That
was good. Harper didn’t
like to make people tense. “However,
young man, it seems that you and I have to go over procedure again.
I’m not planning to reprimand you officially over it this time,
considering that you did save lives and protect the Institute, but I
don’t seem to remember seeing a proposal or schematics or anything at
all about the weapon you used on that creature.”
Harper gave Nelson a pained look and ventured, “I skipped
to the testing phase? It
just... See, it was supposed to be part of something else and I wanted to
make sure this part worked first?”
“Uh huh,” Nelson said, obviously not impressed with his
Harper, I want a detailed list of all the little gadgets currently lining
your lab’s workbench, then I want preliminary schematics for every
single one of them before you touch another tool.
Am I making myself clear?”
“Crystal, Boss,” Harper replied sheepishly.
“Then I’ll expect no further lapses.
Now get some sleep and get better,” Nelson told him with a much
more sincere grin as he reached over to muss his hair again.
Harper didn’t have the energy to complain about it, just glad
Nelson didn’t seem too angry with him for ‘forgetting’ to follow
“You should sleep,” Dom urged him softly as Nelson left.
“I only just woke up,” Harper protested, but it was
halfhearted at best. He could
barely keep his sagging eyes opened and breathing was beginning to hurt a
little. Who knew how they’d
gotten the water out of his lungs, he thought a little worriedly.
Of course, drowning probably hadn’t done him any favors.
Knowing that his lungs were messed up enough before all this had
happened, Harper supposed that filling them with less than sparkling water
had to have done more harm than good.
No wonder his chest ached and he had a strange taste like diesel
oil in the back of his throat. On
top of that, he felt like he’d been running for hours, not talking for a
few minutes. He wanted to stay awake, make sure that Jamieson didn’t
send Dom away the minute his eyes were closed by not closing them.
However, each time he blinked, it was a battle to open his eyes
“Sleep,” Dom repeated, then kissed him softly on the
lips. She fussed with his
blanket for a moment, then stroked his hair gently and he let his eyes
shut, despite all his worries and all the questions he wanted to ask.
He hadn’t asked if the creature was the only one or if it had
siblings that might come to avenge its death.
He hadn’t asked how much damage there was to the Institute or the
Seaview. He hadn’t asked if
the sailors he’d tried to save were hurt. There were so many other things that should have been nagging
at him, keeping him awake, despite how wiped out he felt.
All that mattered right then was Dom’s gentle touch, her presence
there next to him. Harper let
the world fade around him. As
long as Dom was there, everything was all right.
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