Michelle Pichette


Chapter 40




* * *

     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!  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 unconscious.

     “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 men.”

     “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 come back.

     “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 explanation.  “Mister 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 development procedure.

     “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 again.

     “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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