Michelle Pichette


Chapter 46



* * *

     Lee walked into the cafeteria to an all too familiar scene.  Seamus Harper was sitting at one of the tables looking rather contemplatively at a glass of orange juice.  He didn’t look anywhere near as bad as he had the last time Lee had been standing in almost this exact spot a week and a half ago.  He was, however, still wearing pajamas and Lee wondered if he was supposed to be up.  Bringing himself to a quick mental halt, Lee told himself sternly that he was not going to approach Harper with confrontation in mind yet again.  The boy was sitting at a table, now drinking orange juice, not doing anything at all worthy of being reprimanded over.  Lee wanted to apologize and thank him for protecting the Seaview and her crew and he was not going to get sidetracked this time.

     He walked up to the table that Harper was sitting at and figured that he would be direct, saying, “Harper, I wanted to tha...”  Harper looked up at him and held up a finger, obviously wanting him to wait a moment.  Lee paused, perplexed, then Harper set his mostly empty glass of orange juice on the floor, gripped the edge of the table and slammed his head into it, hard, three times in quick succession.  “What are you doing?!” Lee exclaimed, alarmed by Harper’s weird behavior as the young man looked back at him as if nothing had happened.

     “Oh, nothing.  I just always feel like doing that when you talk to me and I figured I’d get it out of the way with early.  You were saying,” Harper said, looking resigned as he leaned forward on one elbow, chin on hand.

     “I...” Lee started, still a little at a loss over what Harper had just done, but shook himself out of it.  He knew that Harper was a strange person.  This was just another example of that strangeness.  He mentally shrugged and decided to just do what he needed to do and not worry about it.  “I wanted to apologize for having been so unfair with you and let you know that wouldn’t happen anymore.”  Lee paused, but Harper didn’t move nor did his expression change.  “I also wanted to thank you for saving my boat and protecting my crew.”

     “And?” Harper said, the resignation all over his face oozing from the word.  He was obviously expecting there was more and that it wouldn’t be anything even remotely good.

     “That was it,” Lee said, thinking he would keep things short and to the point, leaving no room for misunderstanding.  For once, he and Harper were going to part company with no angry feelings between them.

     “What?  You weren’t going to tell me to do a better job with doing a number on myself the next time?” Harper sighed out.  “I mean the squid thing only half drowned me and I only almost died of a lung infection.  What were you hoping for next time?  What sort of hideous, torturous death should I steer myself toward?  Ripped limb from limb?  Flesh eating bacteria?  Blasted into atoms and scattered across a far arm of the galaxy?  Just so I know what’s expected of me, you understand.  I do so hate disappointing people.”  His final words fairly dripped sarcasm.

     “I don’t want you dead,” Lee told him, rather taken aback that Harper would even think such a thing, much less in such varied and vivid detail.  “I never wanted that.”

     “No,” Harper conceded the point as he sat back in his chair and ran a hand back through his disorderly hair, but still holding Lee’s eyes.  “Just gone, and dead is a real permanent sort of gone.  I mean, every time I left in the past I kept coming back, which obviously irked you to no end.  I seem to have that affect on people, so it’s got to be entirely my fault somehow.  Well, I’m sure everyone here at the Institute knows that I’m sickly and frail now, so rest assured that something will probably do me in sooner rather than later.  You shouldn’t have to wait too long to be rid of me.  Good news, right?  Have a nice day.”  Harper gave him a very insincere smile and twiddling little wave, plainly waiting for him to leave.

     Lee closed his eyes for a moment, somehow internalizing the groan struggling to get out.  He should have known this wouldn’t be easy.  Well, he told himself, he’d earned a little grief.  He opened his eyes and said, “Look, I know we got off to a bad start and that it was my fault.  I’m sorry about that, but there’s really no reason that we can’t get along.  We actually have a lot in common.”

     Harper rolled his eyes.  “Yeah.  Sure.  I can see where we’re practically twins.”

     Lee was beginning to get really frustrated because Harper was being so difficult, but before he could say anything else, Dom appeared by them.  She had a backpack and a computer bag with her.  She gave them each a leery look, asking, “You two aren’t fighting again, are you?”

     “No, no,” Harper said quite cheerfully, beaming up at her.  “We’re best buds now and all is right in the world.  I ate a huge breakfast, so I get to play in the lab, right?”

     Dom gave him a distinctly doubting look and shot right back, “That all depends on what your definition of huge is.”

     “Oatmeal, eggs, toast, and some kind of orange melon cubes,” Harper ticked off with the same overly pleased grin.

     “Do you mean cantaloupe?”

     “I suppose.”

     “No coffee?”

     “Shunned as ordered,” he replied with a mock salute.

     Dom looked from him to Lee, then back to Harper.  “Did you accept Lee’s apology now that he’s making a sincere effort or were you making him squirm?”

     “Squirm, of course.”  Dom crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a cool, level look.  Harper sighed, “All right, all right,” then stood up and turned to Lee and looked him in the eye with an annoyed expression.  “My girlfriend wants us to get along and since she is wise beyond all other mortals, I’ll try not to be a total smart ass when you talk to me.  This does not mean I trust you or like you.  I was willing to give that to you when we first met and you threw it away as worthless.  Now you need to earn it.”  The annoyance disappeared off his face as Harper turned back to Dom.  “Satisfactory?”

     “Sufficient for now,” Dom said, then turned to Lee giving him the same steely look that she’d just given Harper.  “Don’t make me regret making Seamus accept your apology,” she told him.  Lee shook his head and held up us hands in surrender, not wanting to say the wrong thing.  Dom looked back to Harper and her face relaxed.  “Come on.  You get two hours, then it’s back to bed,” she told him, nodding him over as she turned to the door.

     “Can I carry your computer for you?” Harper asked as he moved next to her.

     “You’re supposed to be resting,” Dom reminded him, but took his arm carefully with her free hand.

     “Of course,” Harper agreed amiably, patting her hand where it rested on his elbow.  “I know that it probably hasn’t been the first thing on your mind, but you haven’t seen my rabbit’s foot, have you?”

     “It wasn’t very lucky the last time you had it,” Dom said with a giggle as they strolled off together.

     “Of course it was lucky,” Harper protested.  “Just think of what would have happened if I hadn’t had it!”

     Lee watched them go.  He was grateful that he really hadn’t needed to do anything extraordinary to get things at least partly settled with Harper, but that was thanks to Dom’s intervention.  At least she didn’t seem angry with him anymore, which was a little bit of a relief.  He had to admit he’d earned Harper’s little rebuke, but the engineer seemed willing to give him a second chance.  Lee was confident that things would work out between them eventually.  He went to get his breakfast, as he originally intended to do when he’d first entered the room, rather glad that every morning didn’t start this way.

* * *

     Patterson had been working on a glitch in the ballast pumps for most of the day.  He didn’t know what it was with him and the ballast system, but he kept winding up down in the bowels of the Seaview working on it.  Kowalski had been working with him earlier, but had been called off to help out with some problem with the diving planes.  That was actually a far worse job, so Patterson was happy to be carrying on doing what he was doing.  The problem was it gave him time to think and lately he had been thinking a lot about the same thing and he was beginning to think that he was obsessed.

     He was just trying to shrug off that very feeling when a throat cleared behind him and Pat turned a little to look over at the hatch into the small, dimly lit area.  There in the hatch stood one of the people he’d been obsessing about, Seamus Harper.  “Hey,” the engineer said with a hesitant grin.  “I’m not interrupting delicate repairs, am I?”

     Patterson shook his head.  “No.  The ballast systems were a little sluggish.  Not what you want to have when the Skipper orders an emergency blow.”

     Harper’s grin brightened.  “That sounds kinda dirty.”

     “It means drain the ballast tanks fully as quickly as possible,” Patterson told him, frowning a bit.

     “Actually, I knew that.  I was trying to make a joke to defuse a possibly tense situation and obviously failing miserably,” Harper replied, his expression growing sheepish.  “Look, I know you’re busy and I’m not supposed to be up, much less on the Seaview, but I wanted to thank you for saving my life.”

     Patterson shrugged, turning his wrench in his hands, growing self-conscious.  “Anyone would have done it.”

     “Yeah, maybe, but as it happens, you were the only guy that jumped in after me and that was when some hideous, gigantic, squid-like monster still had me in its tentacles.  Man, that took guts.  I wouldn’t have been that brave.”

     Patterson shook his head at the little engineer.  “You saved everyone on the dock and nearly got killed doing it,” he reminded him.

     “Yeah, but I thought the squid thing was going down hard and fast and wouldn’t have a chance to squish me, ergo, no implied risk to my person,” Harper told him.  “I’m a coward and I know it and I don’t try to convince anyone else to the contrary.  Well, women occasionally, but, you know, I think all us guys do that.”

     “Whatever you say,” Patterson said with another shrug, even though he knew Harper wasn’t cowardly, or at least hadn’t been in this instance, but figured it wasn’t worth arguing about.

     “So, I wanted to thank you and ask you why,” Harper said, sitting down cross legged in the hatchway.

     “Why what?” Patterson asked.

     “Why you’d risk your life to save mine when it’s pretty obvious that you’re totally in love with Dom and my being alive keeps you from having her,” Harper stated as if Patterson should have known that was what he was asking about.

     “Uh,” was all Patterson managed by way of response.  Harper barely knew him.  How would Harper have the slightest idea of how he felt about Dom?  Then he thought about Kowalski and his recent tirade about things and he felt like groaning.  Had Ski been bugging Harper about things that were none of his business when the poor guy had been deathly ill?

     “Look, Dom and I talk a lot, but lately, because I was basically getting oxygen pumped into me and couldn’t really contribute much, she’s been sort of talking at me instead of with me.  One of the things she talked about were her friends here on the Seaview, you kinda more than some of the other guys because you look out for her and stuff and you hang out a lot together.  She told me you confused her sometimes because she’d start to feel like something more than friends was starting with the two of you, but then you’d back off.  I’ve seen guys do that because they’ve got some sort of fear of rejection or feelings of inadequacy or something going on in their head.  Not that I’m saying that’s what’s going on with you.  You might have something entirely different on your mind.  I don’t have those sorts of problems, but then again, I used to get slapped a lot, so I can understand that sometimes it’s better to just walk away, not that I ever did.  The thing is, I’m kinda wondering if you’re gonna change your mind about things and all of a sudden you’ll be drowning me instead of some squid monster,” Harper said, though at the moment he didn’t look or sound afraid.

     Pat suddenly felt like beating his head against a wall.  He hadn’t meant to confuse Dom and had thought he’d kept a better lid on things.  That Harper was coming and talking to him like this meant he had to be concerned about what Dom had told him, so she probably knew more than Pat had intended her to.  “No, you don’t have to worry about that,” he told Harper.

     “For the time being, but my life has the nasty habit of changing for the worst on a regular basis.  I want us to be cool, for you and Dom to be cool.  She values your friendship.  I don’t want to mess that up for either of you,” Harper replied, sounding a little concerned about it.

     Pat looked up and met Harper’s eyes.  “You make Dom happy.  As long as that’s true, I’m not going to be anything you need to worry about.”

     “And if it stops being true?” Harper pressed, holding his eyes.  “Then you drown me?”

     “Then I will take her away from you and you will never see her again as long as I live,” Pat told him sincerely.

     Harper nodded, not looking at all bothered by the threat.  “I’m good with that.  Actually, I wanted to talk to you about what happens when I meet my untimely end.  I know that everyone probably knows I’m not the healthiest guy around.  Dom’s gonna outlive me, probably by a long, long time.  When I die, you’ve got my back, right?  You’ll take care of her and stuff, make sure she doesn’t stay sad for very long and things like that.”

     Pat didn’t know what to say at first.  Harper seemed so calm about his bad health and the very real possibility that he might not live to be very old.  Patterson tried not to think about his own mortality much.  It got him going down maudlin paths of thought that he didn’t care to visit.  “It might not happen that way.  You could outlive us all,” Pat said.

     Harper smiled a little, getting a far away look in his eyes for a moment.  “That’d be nice.  Not outliving Dom and everybody.  Being old.  I really would like to find out what old age is like.  But if I don’t?”

     “As long as I’m around, you don’t need to worry about Dom,” Patterson told him.

     Harper nodded again.  “Good.  That’s good.  Thanks.  I’d better get back before Doc Jamieson realizes I’m gone.”  He unfolded himself and started to rise, but wavered a second when he was half way up.  Pat started to get up himself, alarmed, but Harper caught himself on the hatch and seemed to shake off his momentary weakness.  “Gotta stop moonlighting as a punching bag,” he said with a grin.  “It’s not doing anything for me.”

     “You need a hand getting back to the Infirmary?” Pat asked, still concerned but trying not to let it show too much.

     “No, no.  I’m good.  I can stumble there on my own.  I’ve bugged you enough,” Harper said, then gave him a warm smile.  “You’re a really great guy, Steve Patterson.  I’m glad we’re not competing over Dom.  I’d lose.”

     “No, you wouldn’t, but thanks,” Patterson replied.

     “See ya around, okay?” Harper said.

     “See ya,” Patterson agreed and Harper gave him one last nod and moved off from the hatchway.  Patterson waited a few moments, wiping his hands, then followed Harper at a distance, making sure that he got back to the Infirmary all right.  Patterson stood there, looking at the Infirmary door, not knowing entirely how he felt about the conversation he’d just had with Harper.  He came to the conclusion that only one thing mattered.  They both wanted Dom to be happy.  As far as Pat was concerned, that made Harper an okay guy.  He nodded to himself and went back to the Seaview, suddenly finding himself grinning at Harper’s joke about emergency blows.

* * *



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