Michelle Pichette


Chapter 43




* * *

     Harper didn’t know much of what went on for a couple of days after he got sick.  He was so weak and most likely drugged up that the things happening around him were like music in the background when he was working.  He knew it was there, he could remember some of the songs sometimes, but mostly his mind was elsewhere and it was just something going on that didn’t concern him all that much.  As he drifted in and out of sleep he was partly aware that way of the small place he world consisted of at the moment, his bed in the infirmary.  People moved around him and moved him around.  The Admiral spoke to him once or twice, he was pretty sure.  Doctor Jamieson talked at him, told him about shots and things, but he couldn’t focus and most of it slid past his brain rather than sticking.

     There was only one thing that did manage to make it past all the fluff in his head.  Dom was there.  She held his hand and stroked his hair and face.  She talked to him with her soft, soothing voice, and though the words didn’t always get past the drugs pumping through his system, her voice did.  He knew she slept next to him, that she didn’t leave him for more than a few moments the whole time his world was fuzzy and indistinct and should have been a scary place.  It wasn’t and that was because Dom kept all the monsters away just by being there.

     When things actually snapped into focus, Harper could feel Dom holding his hand and she was reciting something.  Moving his head just a little, Harper could see that she was actually reading to him, not reciting.  That made more sense.  She owned books.  She didn’t have to memorize them.  Harper didn’t move for a while, just lay there watching her read, feeling drowsy but not all that bad.  It didn’t really hurt to breathe.  That was a nice change.  He could still feel a little pressure in his lungs and would probably be hacking up disgusting goo for a while, but he could cope with that.  He could still feel oxygen tubes in his nose and an iv in his wrist and other tubes in unmentionable places, but he wasn’t in any actual pain and didn’t feel ill exactly, just tired.  Harper closed his eyes for a moment and listened to what Dom was reading, then laughed at the last thoughts of a whale as it fell through space.  The laugh turned into a cough and suddenly the reading stopped and Dom was holding his hand more tightly as she stroked his head.

     “I’m okay,” Harper whispered out as he opened his eyes and looked up at her once the coughing subsided.  His throat felt raw and his voice was terrible, but it felt good to be able to talk without it turning into a struggle for oxygen.

     “Shh,” Dom said softly and planted a lingering kiss on his forehead.  “You should be sleeping.  Doctor Jamieson was a little worried about how weak you were and said that talking to you might be a good idea.  I think he was worried about you slipping into a coma.  You really should be sleeping, though, so you can get better.  I’m sorry I woke you.”

     “You didn’t.  Funny book.  What is it?” Harper murmured, trying to stay succinct with his words.  Just because he wasn’t gasping for air at the moment didn’t mean he wanted to do anything that might make him start.

     “Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy.  Somehow, I thought you’d like it,” Dom told him, still stroking his hair.  It felt nice.  Harper wanted to make a comment about how well Dom knew him, but the thought skittered away as he lay there enjoying her petting him.  “Are you in any pain or...” she started to ask a little worriedly.

     Harper forced his eyes open and offered Dom the best smile he could manage.  “No, I’m good.  Sleepy.  Hungry maybe,” he whispered out.  Where had hungry come from?  He didn’t know if he could work up the will to chew anything and it was iffy as to whether things would stay down if he managed to swallow anything.  He knew from bitter, embarrassing experience how his stomach reacted to most meds.

     “Hungry is good, but I think a little tea or some thin broth is about all that you’re up to,” came Doctor Jamieson’s voice from somewhere.  Harper shivered, suddenly unnerved.  The worst was over, sickness wise, so Jamieson probably wasn’t going to tie him down and isolate him if he hadn’t already.  Harper still worried about it a little, though.  Focusing on Dom kept him from totally freaking out.  He didn’t feel up to a full out anxiety attack anyway.  “I’ll send for some, then you should sleep some more,” Jamieson told him as his blanket was moved down and something cold and smooth pushed down on various places on his chest.  The pressure, slight as it was, made Harper ache and cough weakly.  For a few moments, he felt as though he’d been used as a punching bag again, but when Jamieson stopped what he was doing and pulled the blanket back up, the sensation faded quickly.  Dom smiled and kissed his softly on the cheek, as if to reward him for lying still and letting Jamieson examine him.

     Broth appeared and Dom slowly, carefully spooned it into his mouth.  He didn’t finish the whole bowl before he was too tired to swallow anymore, but no one pushed or criticized.  Dom merely set the bowl aside and gave him a few ice chips to suck on to cool his throat, somehow knowing that he needed it.  She always knew what he needed, he thought with a small smile as Dom tucked his blankets around him.  “You won’t leave?” Harper asked once his mouth was empty and his eyes were sagging, suddenly worried that Dom might go now that he’d recovered a little.

     Dom smiled and kissed him gently again, saying, “Of course not.”

     “Good,” Harper murmured, offering her a weak grin.  “You keep the nightmares away and I sleep better.”

     “Then I’ll stay right here until you wake up.  The better you sleep, the quicker you’ll get back to being yourself,” she said, stroking his cheek gently.  He let his eyes slide shut.  “I miss you being all talkative and hyperactive.”

     “I love you,” he whispered out, feeling consciousness begin to wink out on him again.

     “I love you too,” he heard distantly, not certain whether the words were real or part of a dream.  It was all right, he thought as he slipped unresisting into sleep.  He had always known that Dom loved him.  He didn’t need to hear it to know it was true.

* * *

     Nelson watched from the next room as Doctor Babin spoken softly and lovingly to Harper, fed him tenderly, then caressed her young man’s face as he drifted back to sleep.  It had been worrisome at first, how much time Harper spent unconscious, barely aware even when he woke for a few moments.  However, as the deep, dark circles of exhaustion began to disappear from beneath Harper’s eyes and his color slowly improved from a pallor bordering on the gray that one normally saw only on corpses, the Admiral realized the unconsciousness was a good thing, that Harper had desperately needed it.  Doctor Babin stroked Harper’s hair and gave him a soft kiss on the forehead before taking a seat by him again.  She took a rosary out, prayed and watched over her ailing boyfriend.

     Jamieson had checked Harper over a just before he’d been fed and had been distantly watching over things until Harper fell back to sleep.  He seemed to notice Nelson then and was coming out, probably to give him a report.  It was good to see Jamie looking less haggard.  Since Harper had gotten over the worst of his lung infection, they had all slept more and had gotten back to normal a bit.  Nelson had actually gone home to sleep in his own bed last night, knowing that everything would be better here at the Institute when he returned, with no fears as to the contrary.

     “How is our young hero doing?” Nelson asked as Jamieson closed the Infirmary door behind himself, probably so that their talking wouldn’t disturb Harper.

     “Sleeping without me forcing the issue, thankfully,” Jamie said.  Nelson knew he still felt guilty about sedating Harper after he had nearly killed himself leaving the Infirmary.  “And I’m a little surprised that he managed to eat something and keep it down.  If Doctor Babin’s presence were to always have this effect on my patients, I’d prescribe her to everyone.”

     Nelson smiled, saying, “I think your current patient might object.  How are his lungs?”

     “He’s been coughing in his sleep, getting some of the mucus out of them.  I’ll keep an eye on things, but I’m hoping he’ll be all cleared out in a day or two.  I’m going to keep him on oxygen for a little while after that, make breathing as effortless as possible for him, let him really rest and heal and regain his strength.  So far, what I’m seeing is encouraging, so if we can keep things going the way they have, he’ll be better in no time,” Jamieson told him.  Nelson nodded, liking the sound of that.  “You could go in and see him if you’d like.  I don’t think Doctor Babin would mind.”

     Nelson shook his head, looking briefly into the Infirmary.  Everything was quiet and he’d just as soon not disturb things.  “Let’s let the boy sleep,” Nelson said.

     Jamie nodded.  “Yes.  I have the feeling that he doesn’t do nearly enough of that normally.  I think he might start waking up a little more often now, be a little more up to company.  Want me to give you a call if that happens later today, Harri?”

     Nelson smiled a little.  “If you don’t mind, Jamie.”

     “I won’t mind a bit when Harper’s well enough for visitors.  I think we’ll wait a few more days before we start letting anyone but you and Doctor Babin see him though.  No sense tempting fate,” Jamieson said, probably worried that Harper might be exposed to something if too many people started coming in.

     “Whatever you think is best, Jamie,” Nelson told the doctor.  He certainly didn’t want Harper to fall ill again any time soon.  Jamie nodded and gave Nelson a friendly pat on the arm, then went back into the Infirmary.  Nelson glanced back in for a moment, but after finding things pretty much the same, he decided he would go get some things done.

     When he got to his office, he was a little surprised to see Kensington there, holding a gift basket with balloons on it, the latter all bearing some sort of ‘get well’ wishes.  Just after Harper had been hurt, Kensington had come by meaning to take the boy and Miss Babin out to lunch to attempt to steal Harper from the Institute again.  When Nelson explain how terribly ill Harper was, that there was still the danger that he might slip away from them, the news had brought on an unexpected reaction from Kensington.  He had been as devastated as some of Harper’s friends were.  It had been necessary to convince him that Jamieson had everything well in hand because Kensington had been ready to summon specialists to the Institute, expense be hanged, to help with Harper’s care.  He had not reacted this way out of fear of losing the current round of their game.  He had been honestly concerned for Harper’s health and had sincerely wanted to help.

     Nelson and Kensington had talked long and sincerely after that about how much the technology magnate’s attention had been less than well received by Harper.  It was difficult explaining Harper’s feelings since Nelson couldn’t go into the boy’s past with Kensington, but the Admiral knew that part of what was angering Harper was the thought of being bought and owned by someone.  For a former slave, Nelson could only imagine how insulting and hurtful that must be.  Without getting into great detail, Nelson got Kensington to understand that rather than being flattered by the magnate’s attention, Harper had been deeply insulted and angered because his loyalty had not only been questioned, someone was trying to put a price on something that the boy gave freely out of love and respect.  The talk had not only made Kensington understand Harper a little better, it had actually made Nelson look more closely at his own relationship with the boy.

     Now Kensington stood and moved to Nelson.  “How is Seamus doing, Harri?” he asked as soon as they met.

     “Much better, Philip,” Nelson assured him, knowing that Katy had been calling to update Kensington every time there was news ever since his first visit.  “He’s sleeping most of the time right now, but Doctor Jamieson said that he might be up to visitors in a few days.”

     Kensington got a shamed look on his face.  “I wouldn’t want to upset the boy by popping in personally,” he said, sounding sincerely mortified at the possibility.  He gently twisted the basket in his hands.  “I thought flowers would be a bad idea, that pollens might irritate Seamus’ lungs.  I brought our latest handheld game player and some of the more popular games for it.  Something to occupy him while he’s recovering.  You’ll tell him there are no strings attached, won’t you?  That I’m sorry about upsetting him before, that I hope he and Dominique will forgive my foolishness.”

     “Of course,” Nelson assured his friend.  He had already told Kensington that he would talk to Harper on his behalf.  “I’m sure Seamus won’t bear you any ill will.  I know Dominica doesn’t.”  Nelson knew with absolute certainty that this round of ‘the game’ was finished and that Kensington might be rethinking any future rounds very carefully indeed.

     “I hope not, Harri.  You’ll tell me how it goes, won’t you?” Kensington asked as he handed the basket over to Nelson.

     Nelson clapped Kensington on the shoulder with a smile.  “Next week, you’ll come visit and you’ll see for yourself.  Take care, Philip.”

     Kensington nodded, then went off, still looking concerned.  Nelson felt a little bad for him.  Katy took the basket from him and put it off in one corner of the office, where some other get well gifts waited for Harper to be well enough to receive them.  That moment could not come soon enough as far as Nelson was concerned.  Katy had been wonderful, as usual, keeping everyone informed while also making Harper’s friends and well wishers understand that what he needed most was quiet rest and that the personal visits to the Infirmary should wait.  As far as Nelson knew, Captain Crane and Doctor Lorn had been the only two people to go to the Infirmary and neither of them had done more than look in on the boy from the observation window for a few moments.

     Thinking this, Nelson started over to the Marine Biology wing and found Doctor Lorn in one of the larger labs, pouring over part of the corpse of the monster that had come through the channel.  Much as it looked like somewhat like a heretofore undiscovered giant squid of some sort, Doctor Lorn had quickly found out that surface appearances had been very deceiving.  The creature’s physiology, when examined, revealed that the creature wasn’t even from Earth.  Nelson had frowned about that discovery and had wondered if the creature had been sentient, an accomplice of Barris’, or if it had been some hapless victim of the alien, like Harper.

     Doctor Lorn looked up at him as he approached, looking suddenly worried.  “You’re not here with bad news, are you?” she asked before he’d gone another step.

     “No, Beatrice,” Nelson assured her.  “On the contrary.  Seamus was awake and even ate a little something.  He’s doing fine.”

     “Not so fine that Dominica isn’t still staying close,” Doctor Lorn said with a frown.  “I can see I’ll have to take a hand in things.  Seamus is plainly like my Edward, thinking he can rush into a bad situation armored with good intentions and come out unscathed.  Don’t worry.  When you’re at sea, I will keep a very close eye on our boy.”

     Nelson grinned a little.  Plainly, he and Beatrice had adopted Harper, despite the fact that he was a grown man who hadn’t been consulted on the matter.  Still, Nelson doubted that Harper would mind.  “And what, exactly, is that going to cost me?” Nelson asked, still grinning.

     “Just don’t go putting any more heroic ideas in his head, Harri,” Doctor Lorn admonished him.  “It’s bad enough that you have Dominica tangling with aliens and spies, but at least she’s a perfectly healthy young lady and has a boat full of young men trying to shield her.  Seamus isn’t perfectly healthy or one of your trained sailors, so I’ll thank you to remember that in future.”

     “It’s not as though I sent him to do battle with this thing, Bea,” Nelson said, waving a hand at the creature.  “That was solely his idea.  If I had known what was going on before the Institute started shaking, trust me, Seamus would have been steered back to his lab, well away from danger.”  It had been very disconcerting, having the Institute tremble like an earthquake was starting.  Nelson remembered rushing down to the docks to see what was going on only to find Sharkey giving a soaking wet Harper CPR and a huge, dead creature on the quay.

     Beatrice gave him a tight-lipped, dubious look, but turned back to what she was looking at.  “Our trouble maker here is certainly a puzzle.  I wish Dominica wasn’t occupied and we could confer on this.  She’s so much more versed in xenobiology than I am, rather out of necessity.”  She gave Nelson another less than flattering look.  “I’m not at all sure if the brain functions and make up of alien creatures are anything like our terrestrial ones, but if they are, this fellow wasn’t too bright.”  She indicated a large jar with an equally large greenish brain in it.  Nelson thought about the size of the creature and in comparison, the brain was quite small, nodding to that assessment.  “He also hadn’t had much to eat lately, because his digestive tract was just about empty.  So why would something that was hungry and stupid go after your boat rather than simply munching on some sailors, Harri?”

     Nelson found himself grateful, once again, that Harper had been the only one seriously hurt by the creature.  He also began to wonder if Barris were somehow in league with the creature, if it had been under orders to behave as it had.  Nelson hoped that he never had to find out, that Barris might be gone for good.  “I don’t know, Bea,” he replied honestly, because he really couldn’t be certain about what had motivated the creature.

     Bea looked down at the bit of the creature in front of her, then around the lab at the other parts and shook her head.  “Such a waste,” she sighed.  “If this thing hadn’t tried to drown our boy, I’d feel sorry for it.  What is it about your submarine, Harri, that lures things like this to their doom?”  Nelson shook his head, rather wishing he knew the answer to that question himself.  Bea shook her head, then brightened suddenly, “You said that Seamus ate a little something earlier.  Do you know if he likes fudge?  Or pie?  That boy needs some serious calories shoved at him and I think that is one task I am more than equal to, even at my age.”

     Nelson smiled, trying to picture Harper plump, but not able to visualize it.  “If you can get some weight to stick to Seamus, I’ll be surprised.  He’s a human perpetual motion machine,” he laughed.

     “Then I’ll simply have to make the most of the time he’s forced to be inactive,” she replied.  “It’s bad enough that your other boys go wandering around looking like there’s a famine in this country.”  Nelson laughed again, knowing she was referring to Lee and Chip.  It was good to laugh, to not be worried for a few moments and Nelson decided he would spend the rest of his morning working with Doctor Lorn.  There had been enough gloom and worry the last few days.  The worst was over and it was time for things to get back to normal.  The only thing that still bothered Nelson was Barris.  If only he knew more about the alien, what he was actually up to, Nelson knew he could really relax.

* * *



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