Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 52

 

 

* * *

     Dylan leaned back in his chair, letting out a long, deep breath as he let himself relax a little for the first time in days.  The Maru was on her way back, with some Lechak Bon no less, and everyone was all right.  They didn’t have Harper or a way to get him back as yet, but the Lechak Bon were going to try to convince Barris that he should bring the Engineer back.  The story that they told about what had happened with Barris seemed even stranger than the one that Rommie had found in her files, so Dylan didn’t know what the truth about that was.  Maybe he would never know.  As long as Harper got returned safe and sound, he found that he didn’t care.  Dylan only wanted to have his crew back together and to be able to go back to trying to restore the Commonwealth and thwart the Abyss and his Magog hordes.  That was more than enough challenge for one life time.

     Tyr was still missing, locked in his quarters with privacy protocols activated.  Dylan found strangely reassuring even if the Perseids didn’t.  Tyr had been fed up with the two scientists and chances were that he would do damage to them if made to put up with them any more.  Dylan had set Rommie to watching over the Perseids instead with internal defenses at the ready, just in case.  Barris had been sounding pretty desperate right before he’d disappeared the last time and Dylan wasn’t sure what to expect from the alien anymore.  He certainly wouldn’t rule out more kidnapping or violence, but he didn’t know what to do about it.  Beka couldn’t get back with her passengers soon enough for Dylan, but they had only just left the Lechak Bon’s planet.  It would take them a little time to get back.  Time.  It all came down to time.  Dylan was sure of that much, but he didn’t know if it was the future of the past that was giving him trouble. 

     “Dylan, Barris’ ship just disappeared,” the Andromeda said, breaking into his worried thoughts.

     Dylan blinked, not knowing how to respond.  “What?”

     “Barris’ ship just disappeared,” Andromeda repeated.  “One second it was there, then it was gone.  It didn’t move, it just vanished.”

     At first, Dylan got a little panic stricken.  “Contact the Maru,” he ordered, fearful that Barris had gone there to take out the smaller vessel before it could return.  He couldn’t get to them to help where they currently were.  He couldn’t get anywhere near.  “Is he there?”

     “They said he isn’t.  They’ll keep watch for him or any strange blips on their sensors and will keep in constant contact,” the Andromeda informed him.

     Dylan nodded.  “We should do the same.  He probably won’t stay missing for long.”

     “Where did he go?” the Andromeda asked.

     Dylan shook his head, at a loss.  “I don’t know.”

     “What if Barris left for good?  How do we find Harper?” the Andromeda asked, sounding worried.  “The other Lechak Bon said that they can’t track Barris, can’t time travel.  What do we do?”

     Dylan shook his head again.  It seemed like Barris had been sitting off the Andromeda’s beam forever.  Dylan had wanted the alien gone, but not before they got Harper back.  Barris wouldn’t just go, Dylan told himself.  He hadn’t gotten what he wanted.  This was some sort of trick or ploy.  “This isn’t over,” he told the Andromeda grimly.  “He’ll be back.”

     “But why did he leave?” Andromeda asked.

     “I don’t know,” Dylan repeated, feeling dread building in him.  Something was going to happen.  He was sure of it, just like he was sure it wasn’t going to be anything good.

* * *

     Harper had no regrets about his life, especially since he’d been thrown through time and found love and a home.  There had been dark times, bad times, but they seemed so long ago despite the fact that they were in the future.  As the years went by, there were so many good memories that the bad ones seemed to fade off into the distance, overshadowed by the brightness that came after.

     He was old now.  Well, older than he’d ever thought he would be.  Just as happiness and children and respect at work and all the other good things had come, so had illness.  He had fought it with all his might, tried to hold the inevitable at bay for as long as he could.  He didn’t want to let go of the wonderful thing life had become, but in the end, his body betrayed him and he knew that it was a matter of time.  He hadn’t been out of bed in months, hadn’t drawn a breath that hadn’t been assisted in longer than that.  He didn’t want to leave his family and friends, but he knew he was, and soon.

     As he thought this, the love of his life sat by him and kissed him softly on the cheek.  He lifted a hand to her face, meeting her eyes.  Dom’s eyes never changed.  They were the same eyes that had welcomed him to this time and place all those years ago.  Her face grew older and lined, her dark hair got strands of silver and white through it, but her eyes were always the same ones that he had trusted and loved since he’d first met her.  It was looking into those eyes that had given him true joy for the first time in his life.

     “How are you feeling today?” she asked, starting to go through typical morning rituals.  She bathed him and shaved him and dressed him and generally cared for his failing body.  She had always taken such good care of him, had never showed any bitterness or resentment when his health grew worse and worse.  She always smiled, never complained, always loved him even when he became a burden.  She didn’t know she was doing this for him for the last time.  It made him sad, thinking that he would leave her, but he didn’t have a say in the matter.  All he could do was soften the blow.

     “I feel like the luckiest man in the world,” he told her truthfully.

     She smiled at him, stroking back his thinning hair.  “That’s nice, but I meant more how were you feeling health wise.”

     “You know, I was always happy that the kids are so healthy.  Do you think they’ll remember the me from when they were younger?  The me that rode them around on my back making horsey noises and wrestled on the floor and taught them to swim and do math and run and made them laugh until they were out of breath?  I don’t want them to remember me old and broken.  I want them to remember me as the good me,” he told Dom worriedly.

     “How could they not?  You’re still that man.  You’re their dad.  They all love you,” Dom replied, smiling and shaking her head at him as she had so many times over the years.  “Kayleigh will be in after school to try and get you to do her math homework, as usual, and Davin and Niall will no doubt be in to regale you with tales of their triumphs at football practice a little after that.  Siobhan, Quinn and Declan will be on break from college a few weeks and Donal and Mary were planning to come by with the baby this weekend.  They love spending time with you, all of them.  What brought this on?”

     Harper shook his head, hating the feeling of the oxygen tubes that were pretty much keeping him alive.  Not much longer, he reminded himself.  He’d be free of them for good soon.  “I just want them to remember that I wasn’t always some lump in a bed, that I could keep up with them once upon a time,” he told Dom, then stroked her face again.  “I could never keep up with you, though.  Have I told you lately how strong and wonderful you are?  How I would be nothing without you?”

     Dom’s eyes narrowed for a second in suspicion.  “Flattery now?  What are you up to?”

     “Heaven, I’m hoping.  If I make it there, that’s ‘cause of you, too,” Harper said, feeling his strength slipping from him by the second.  “If not, I had a taste of it in this life.  You did that for me, made my life beautiful and joyful from the moment we met to the end.  I love you more than anything or anyone.  You know that, right?”

     Dom began to get a worried look on her face.  “Of course I do,” she said, returning his caress, but starting to rise.  “I think I’m going to call Doctor Gallant.”

     Harper caught her hand, but he was almost too weak to hold it now.  “In minute.  Please.  Stay here for just another minute,” he said, his voice growing feeble and beginning to tremble.  “I have to tell you.  I figured it out.  It was you.  When I was younger... the angel... it was you... telling me to hang on... that good things were coming if only I could hang on...  Thank you... Thank you for being my angel... My love...  My angel...”  With those words, the last of his strength was gone and he felt his life leaving him with that final breath.

     And that was when Harper woke up.  He was worn out from the intensity of the dream and didn’t open his eyes just yet.  He was disoriented, but not upset, surprisingly, even though he’d dreamed about dying.  It was the rest of the dream, the dream about having a wonderful life before the dying that made it all right.  Yeah, sure, he chided himself, like any of that would ever happen.  Women ignored him or treated him like trash.  How would he ever wind up with a strong, beautiful, intelligent, loving woman like the one in his dream?  He should get up and get to work, he told himself.  Rommie would probably be on him about not keeping up with general maintenance again.  It didn’t make a difference that he was one guy and that an engineering team of fifty was usually assigned to the task.  He was just so warm and comfortable at the moment.  He didn’t want to get up just yet.

     That was when he heard someone let out a sleepy little murmur and a warm body snuggled against him.  Soft hair tickled his chin and neck as his eyes shot opened in surprise.  Freakin’ hell!  What had he been drinking last night?  Who had he been drinking with and where the hell was he?  Someone was cuddling in his arms and he had no clue where he was for a couple of heartbeats.  Then his brain clicked back on and he remembered that he was in Dom’s bed at her house.  Shifting a little, he looked down at Dom, who was just starting to wake up in his arms.  A smile spread across his face as he stroked her back gently.  He had something totally awesome and it was real, not some story he had made up for Beka so that she wouldn’t give him that pity look.  As Dom began to open her eyes, he shifted again so he could give her a good morning kiss.  This was great, he decided.  He would be the happiest guy alive if he could have even a fraction of what he’d had in his dream.

     “Mmmm,” Dom hummed into his mouth as she woke up the rest of the way.  “Good morning to you, too,” she purred as she snuggled in closer to him.

     “Good doesn’t cover it,” Harper told her, squeezing her close.  “Awesome morning.  What’s better than awesome?  That’s what this morning is.”

     “I guess that you slept all right,” Dom commented.  “Did you have any bad dreams?”

     “No.  One long, excellent one, probably thanks to you.  You were in it, in fact,” Harper told her, thoroughly enjoying morning cuddling.

     Dom laughed softly against his chest.  “I sort of guessed that.”

     “Really?  How?”

     “Because of what’s poking me in the hip,” Dom giggled.

     “Err... It’s a compliment?” Harper ventured, glad that Dom’s head was down against his chest and she couldn’t see him blushing fiercely and that she wasn’t mad.  “And despite evidence to the contrary, it wasn’t a sex dream.  Honest!  I dreamed about us, about what things would be like with marriage and kids and getting all old and wrinkly together.  It was really great.”

     “Getting wrinkly is great?”

     “You and me together was great.”

     “Kids, ay?  What, a few dozen you’ve been threatening me with?”

     “Seven.  We named the first after my dad,” Harper told her, the memory of the dream making him feel warm and happy.

     Dom shifted until she could look up at him.  “So, we’re naming our first Donal then?” she asked with a soft smile.  That she remembered his father’s name made Harper even happier.  He was pretty sure he’d only mentioned it once in passing.  “And our second was Kayleigh for your mom?”

     “Our youngest, actually.  ‘Course, we don’t have to.  It was just a dream,” Harper said.  He didn’t want her to think she didn’t have a say in the matter.

     Dom stroked his face.  “Donal Andre, for both our fathers,” she cooed, then kissed him.

     A terrible thought struck as they separated.  “I... I don’t actually know if I can make babies.  I mean, I was sick a lot as a kid and I’ve been around a lot of radiation and other bad stuff.  Everything works, mind you.  It’s just, I don’t know if I’m shooting blanks,” Harper told her, feeling suddenly ashamed that he might not be up to that particular task.  Dom was great and she would be an incredible mom.  He didn’t want her to miss out on that because of him.

     Dom smiled and shook her head at him.  “You know, there are all kinds of fertility things these days, if there’s even a problem, that is.  I think if anything is lacking, you’ll make up for it with sheer enthusiasm.”

     Harper grinned.  “Want to make a test run?  Then you’ll know for sure if everything is functioning up to your standards.”

     “You’re going to be my first, so you set the standard,” Dom reminded him.

     “Oh, yeah.  Well, I’ll do my best to make sure you aren’t disappointed,” Harper told her.  “The you in my dream seemed pretty satisfied.”

     “I’m sure,” Dom said with another soft laugh.  “Well, I need to get up and get ready for work.  Big day today.  Can’t be late or I miss the boat.”

     “And that’s supposed to be some sort of incentive for me to let you up?” Harper asked, then flipped Dom onto her back and moved over her, kissing her passionately.  “I think maybe I’ll go back to sleep right here.  You can tell the Admiral your lazy ass boyfriend had you squashed under him and wouldn’t wake up so you could leave him,” he said.  He laid his head on her shoulder, pinning her beneath him, careful not to put his full weight on her so he wouldn’t actually do any squishing.

     “Now, cut that out,” Dom ordered him, squirming quite nicely under him.  She wasn’t going anywhere, but Harper was enjoying her attempts to.  “You promised to behave if I let you sleep over.  This is not behaving.”

     “Can’t hear you.  Too sleepy,” Harper murmured, snuggling comfortably against her as she went still.

     “I’m about to take punitive action,” Dom warned him.  She sounded pretty sincere, but Harper only smiled.  How bad could it be?  Then her hands were under his shirt, tickling mercilessly even after he got off her in an effort to escape, but she pursued him relentlessly.  He was laughing uncontrollably when he fell out of the bed, Dom staying on him, straddling him as she tickled him into total submission on the floor.  “Not so tough now, are you, Mister Sleepyhead?” she asked with a big grin when she finally stopped torturing him.

     “If this is punitive action, chain me to the wall, baby,” Harper giggled breathlessly, running his hands lightly up her arms.  This was not a position he minded being in.

     Dom shook her head at him.  “Back to bondage again, are we?”

     “Actually, you don’t need any restraints.  If you stay just where you are, I guarantee that I will remain helpless and totally in your power,” Harper replied, stroking her thighs, glad she’d opted for short pajama pants.  Ooo, she had such nice, soft skin.  He definitely wasn’t seeking escape from his current predicament.

     “Such a pity that I have to get up and get dressed, then,” Dom said, then gave him a very nice kiss before getting off of him.  Damn.

     “Spoilsport,” Harper accused as he picked himself up onto his elbows.

     “Hey, you have to get to work too.  Mister Fletcher will be waiting for you so you can work on your super secret project,” Dom said as she went to her dresser.

     “Space travel,” Harper said.

     “What?” Dom asked, turning back to him, looking confused.

     “We’re working on space travel.  Making the Flying Sub space worthy in particular,” Harper told her.

     “Well, now I know why the Admiral has been walking around looking so pleased.  Are you supposed to be telling me this?” she asked with a smile as she took some clothing out of her dresser.

     “Husband and wives shouldn’t keep secrets,” Harper declared in as sage a tone as he could manage.

     “Good sentiment, but we’re not married yet,” Dom reminded him as she went into the bathroom to dress.

     “Yeah, I know,” Harper sighed, thinking that as much as he’d enjoyed the cuddling and tickling, he could have started Dom’s day off really memorably if they were married.  His dream had showed him how incredibly great married life was going to be.  There were downs, sure.  He wasn’t so starry eyed in love that he didn’t know there would be sad moments to go with the good times, but mostly it was one long, sweet ride.  He didn’t like waiting for things.  He knew from bitter experience that a lot of things that he looked forward to didn’t happen because other things got in the way.  That happened a lot, like almost every time he wanted anything, and the longer the gap between him making plans and their actual fruition, the more likely it was that things would fall apart.  He didn’t want it to happen this time.

     “Hey, about that, how firm is that whole six month thing?” he asked loudly as he pulled off his pajamas and grabbed some clothes out of his suitcase, which rested, open, on the window seat in the dormer.  “Is there, like, a short cut or something that we could do to cut some time off there?  Some kind of test?  I’m really good at tests.  I could study up on Catholic stuff while you’re gone and I’d be able to ace anything they threw at me by the time we go to visit your folks.”

     “The waiting isn’t about knowing religious things, it’s about knowing each other,” Dom called back to him through the closed bathroom door.

     “Oh,” Harper said a little bleakly.  Did Dom think he was putting on an act or something, that he wasn’t the guy she’d come to know and love?  She was the first person he had trusted with the real him in a really long time.  He’d let down all his safeguards, torn down all his walls, trusted her not to hurt him like he’d been hurt so many times before, by family and friends.  Didn’t she know him?  He knew her.  He didn’t need six more months to know that she was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman and more.  She made him feel like he’d found missing parts of himself, ones that made him complete.  Didn’t she feel the same way about him? 

     He was just pulling on his pants, thinking that, when the bathroom door opened and Dom came out, dressed in her working on the Seaview stuff, saying, “That having been said, there are ‘short cuts’ as you put it.  For instance, did you know the captain of a ship can marry people provided they’re all at sea at the time?”

     Harper thought that over for a few seconds.  “So... I need to kiss up to Crane so he’ll marry us soonish?  Like this morning say?”

     “Zip your pants up, lover boy,” Dom teased him with a smile and Harper realized he was only half dressed because he’d been thinking too much.  “And there’s too much happening this morning already, not to mention that when we get married I’d like to be able to spend some private time together, not be parting company right away.  However, when we get back into port, the Admiral has some lovely yachts that I’m sure he would happily lend to the occasion.  I was thinking more along those lines.”

     Harper grinned as he pulled on his shirt.  “He’s my best man and everything, so, yeah, I bet he would.  We could do that!  The day you get back, we could, couldn’t we?”

     Dom chuckled, still smiling warmly.  “Well, maybe not the day I get back.  I’d like to get my parents and sisters here for the big moment.  None of them would actually believe I was married if they didn’t see it with their own eyes.  And we should see if Father Flaherty can bless the marriage.”

     “Father Flaherty?  Isn’t the priest at your church Father Barclay?” Harper asked, getting confused.  Both Dom and the O’Donnells had talked about Father Barclay.

     “Father Flaherty is the Chaplin at the Institute and I don’t think he’d be adverse to going for a little sail,” Dom told him.  “And we need to get a wedding license.  There might be documents we need or a waiting period.”

     “Not six months though?” Harper asked, getting momentarily disheartened.

     “No, I wouldn’t think so,” Dom reassured him.  “Maybe you could look into all that while I’m gone, then we’ll know just what we need when I get back.”

     “I’ll talk to the Chaplin.  I think he already gave me some sort of blessing or something when I was sick, so I can thank him for that and tell him that the Man Upstairs took good care of me and I’m good as new again.  He probably knows all the ins and outs about marriage stuff and I bet he can tell me what I need to do,” Harper said, nodding.  He’d be happy to do the legwork if it sped things along.  He also wanted everything all legal and permanent, the all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted.  Most of all, he wanted Dom to be happy with how everything went down, wedding day wise.  All the details didn’t matter to him, just the end result.

     “And if we leave now, we can probably run all this by the Admiral before things start getting hectic on the Seaview,” Dom said, grabbing a backpack from by the dresser.  Harper nodded enthusiastically, thinking this sounded way easier than all the things Dom had talked about before.  He buttoned his shirt as they went down to Dom’s garage, but after stopping on the landing, she looked at him and asked, “You really piloted the Andromeda?”

     Harper got confused again, but nodded.  “Yeah.  Not often.  I’m not a quarter of the pilot Beka is, so not much, but yeah.”

     Dom pursed her lips for a second, then said, “I know you don’t have a license, but... If I give you the keys to the Harley, you’ll promise not to speed and only to go straight from here to the Institute and back again?”  Harper smiled brightly and nodded his agreement, beginning to reach out for the keys she was handing toward him.  She snatched them back suddenly, a worried look on her face.  “And... and you’ll wear a helmet and not drive in the rain?”

     “I swear I will be the most cautious driver of all time,” Harper promised.  Dom reluctantly handed the keys.  “And I’ll make sure that I lock the house and that I don’t burn anything in the kitchen and all the other stuff I already promised.  Don’t worry about me while you’re gone.  I’ll be fine,” he told her, stroking her face.  Dom didn’t look much reassured, but she nodded and handed him a helmet.  Harper took it and went to straddle the Harley.  He was almost giddy he was so excited.  He’d dreamed of this back when he’d been younger, having found a book about motorcycles on one of his scavenging runs.  He’d never thought he’d actually get to ride one until recently and now Dom was actually letting him drive.  If Dom wasn’t leaving today, he’d say that today was great.  As Dom mounted the bike behind him, he thought maybe she was doing this so that he wouldn’t be so sad about her leaving, but even her loaning him the Harley didn’t begin to make up for her being gone.

     Still, he thought as he kicked over the engine and Dom snuggled in close behind him, things could sure be worse.  Much as he felt like opening the bike up and letting her fly, he’d promised Dom that he wouldn’t and drove at the speed limit to the Institute.  With Dom holding him around the waist and the Harley purring under him, Harper decided that he and Dom would go for a nice, long road trip once he had his license.  He could open the motor up on the highway and really get a feel of her.  They’d go some place fun or romantic.  It would be a just the two of them thing, cruising on the Harley.  He found himself looking forward to it and they were at the Institute way too soon.

     “See?  Perfectly respectable driver,” Harper said as he shut down the engine.

     “And you’ll always be that careful?” Dom pressed, still looking worried.  Harper didn’t think it was over her motorcycle.

     “I promised, didn’t I?” Harper asked as they walked toward the Institute.

     Dom smiled begrudgingly.  “Promise you’ll remember to eat and sleep while I’m gone, that you won’t work nonstop.”

     “If I understand the situation properly, I won’t have a choice in the matter,” Harper told her, rolling his eyes toward the sky with a little frown as they walked toward the Institute buildings arm in arm.  “Mister Fletcher and Doctor Lorn will be my keepers while you’re away and I don’t think they’re gonna let me do anything even remotely unhealthy.  I’ll be lucky if they let me drink my usual vat of coffee every day.”

     “I keep telling you, decaf is a perfectly viable option,” Dom said, squeezing his arm.

     “Decaf is vile and unnatural.  And I don’t need babysitters.  I’m twenty five, for Pete’s sake!  You’d think people would treat me like an adult,” Harper groused.

     Dom chuckled and patted his elbow.  “It could be worse.  Nobody’s whipped out a baby carriage yet.”

     “Har har.  Don’t give Jamieson any ideas.  He’s still giving me looks like he expects me to fall over any second.”

     “He’s just concerned.  You scared everyone.  Don’t do that again, okay?” Dom asked, sounding worried all over again.

     Harper stopped at the Institute door and turned to her, giving her a soft kiss.  “I promise to really try not to,” he told her sincerely, cupping her face with one hand.  “But I’m... I’m gonna get sick.  Bad sick.  I can’t help it.  I’m broken and stuff is gonna hit me hard.  That doesn’t mean I’m gonna give in to it any more than I did this time or that I’m not gonna do everything I can think of to keep it from happening.  I will not leave you, not willingly, not ever.  You’re worth fighting to stay with.”

     Dom laid a hand over his and forced a smile on her face. “I love you,” she told him.

     Harper gave her a tight, little grin, wishing that he could wipe that worried look away and keep it from ever coming back. “Feeling’s mutual.  Come on.  Let’s go find the Admiral.” 

     They’d barely gotten past the lobby when they ran into Ro coming from the direction of Nelson’s office.  She looked the two of them over, then commented, “You’re lucky my friend isn’t glowing, Harper, or you wouldn’t be looking so happy.”  With that, she moved past them, toward the Seaview.

     Harper looked to Dom, raising an eyebrow.  “What’s she gonna do when you’re pregnant with our first and she can’t keep telling herself that you’d never actually, willing let me touch you?”

     “Oh, she’ll probably get used to the thought of us being intimate around our third or fourth, I’d say,” Dom said with little laugh, hugging him close as they continued to the Admiral’s office.  As it turned out, he was in and finishing up a few final Institute things.  Harper only got to say good morning before Dom launched into her whole idea about what, maybe, they could do about becoming man and wife when the Seaview got back.  Nelson leaned back in his chair, listening to everything with a hand on his chin and a small smile on his face.  “So, we’re wondering what you think,” Dom said, looking to Harper.

     “I... I can pay you for...” Harper started, suddenly feeling like the Admiral had already given him an awful lot and that he didn’t want to Nelson to think he was trying to mooch a wedding off of him, too.

     “Don’t be ridiculous, Seamus.  It would be my pleasure,” Nelson said with a low, warm, rumbling laugh as he stood.

     Dom swept around his desk and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you so much.  You’re so wonderful to do this for us,” she said as Harper joined her.

     “It’s nothing,” Nelson scoffed, smiling at the two of them.  “Doctor Babin, I wonder if I could speak to your intended alone for a moment?”

     “Yea, of course,” Dom said, then turned to Harper, saying, “I’ll go to the cafeteria and get us some breakfast, all right?”

     “Sure,” Harper said with a nod.  “See you there in a minute.”  She gave him a kiss on the cheek and swept out of the room, closing the door after her.  Harper looked to Nelson saying, “I know I keep asking you for things...”

     “As I told you to,” Nelson reminded him in a patient tone.  “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.  Have a seat.”

     Harper nodded, feeling suddenly nervous as Nelson came around his desk and sat facing him.  Serious talk time again, Harper thought, dreading it a little.  Would it be something to do with his health or that he and Mister Fletcher had produced a bunch schematics for Doctor Lorn’s sound net and the cannon he’d used on the squid monster, not the shielding for the Flying Sub?  Harper could think of half a dozen other things the Admiral might want to discuss, none of them good.

     “As you know, I never married and it becomes increasingly possible that I never will,” Nelson said, then paused, seeming to consider how to say what he wanted to say.

     “I always thought I’d never meet anyone willing to put up with me and look how things turned out,” Harper replied, trying to be encouraging about matters of romance.

     Nelson smiled, patting him on the arm.  “Much as I’ve yet to find a soul mate, I’m never lacking female companionship if I desire it.”

     “I’m sure,” Harper said, thinking Nelson was so cool that he probably had a gal in every port.  “I bet you could give me lessons in...”

     “That isn’t what I wanted to talk to about though, Seamus,” Nelson said, and Harper nodded again, staying quiet.  Nelson gave him another pat and a reassuring little smile before continuing.  “I have a sister and a few cousins, so I have some family, but not the sort that you and Dominica will make together someday.  No one to carry on my name or my work, no heirs.”

       That made Harper incredibly sad suddenly.  The Admiral was the greatest person he’d ever met.  That he was the end of the line was a tragedy.  “You might meet someone.  It might not be that way,” Harper said, telling the Divine that if there was any justice to be had anywhere, matters would change.

     Nelson leaned forward and squeezed Harper’s shoulder gently.  “It could, but if it doesn’t, I’d like to know that someone will carry on what we’re doing here at the Institute.  Lee would keep the Seaview sailing and on course and I mean to leave that aspect of things to him when I depart this life.  The rest though, the work going on here at the Institute, it deserves to go on as well.  I want to leave it to you.”

     Harper blinked at him, not understanding.  “Leave it to me?  You mean... to keep coming up with stuff for people to work on?”

     “No, son, I want to leave the Institute to you,” Nelson told him, giving his shoulder another squeeze.  “There will be money for you as well, but the Institute, it should continue to exist.  It should become the place that you respected so much in the future.  I know that I can trust you to keep my vision and carry us forward.  Dominica will help you with the Marine Biology Department and the rest you can more than handle.  I know that our work and everything here will be safe under you.”

     Harper didn’t know how to respond to that at all.  “Me?” he squeaked out, not able to manage anything else. 

     “I know this might be a bit overwhelming...” Nelson began.

     “A bit?  Ya think?” Harper exclaimed hysterically as he stood.  “Me?  You want to trust all this,” he waved his hands around himself wildly, “to me?  Do you know who you’re talkin’ to here?  The ex-slave, barely a handyman, screw up boy?  I’m not you!  I’ll ever be anywhere near as good as you!  I’ll mess everything up!  I’ll...”

     That was when Nelson grabbed him firmly by the upper arms and looked him dead in the eyes, silencing him with that look.  “You are a brilliant, capable, resourceful, loyal, loving young man.  I would be a fool to trust my legacy to anyone less,” the Admiral told him with a calm, steady voice that held no doubts.  Harper was trapped in his gaze, not knowing what to do, but knowing he was totally unworthy of what Nelson wanted to give him.  Gently pressing Harper back into his seat, Nelson said, “And this won’t be for many years.  We’ll have plenty of time to get you more comfortable with the idea of taking over.”

     “A few hundred years?” Harper asked feebly.

     Nelson chuckled, giving him another gentle pat.  “We’ll discuss this more then I get back to port.  For now, Dominica is waiting for you.  You go eat and enjoy her attention for a little while.  You’ll calm down and see that I’m right about this.  Dominica and I both believe in you.  We are never both wrong about the same thing.”

     Harper stood up with him.  “I hope you guys won’t hate me too much when you are this once,” he murmured, looking down self consciously.

     “Go on, son.  We’ll talk again soon, but about the wedding.  Don’t worry about anything else for now,” Nelson said, nudging him toward the office door.

     Harper nodded, not trusting himself to say anything more at the moment.  He didn’t want to let Dom or the Admiral down, but him, Seamus Zelazny Harper, in charge of the Nelson Science Consortium.  It defied reason.  If he were still on the Andromeda, he would have given everyone a big, cocky grin and declared himself the obvious choice.  Here, though, here on this past Earth, in his new home, he had been honest with everyone, including himself.  Here, he was willing to admit to anyone that asked that the thought of it was terrifying.

     “Hey there, Shay.  The Old, old man tell you that you’re working for Portman now,” Chip said, appearing next to him, grinning as usual.

     “Huh?” Harper murmured in confusion, then shook himself out of his thoughts and realized that he probably looked like he’d just gotten bad news or something.  “Oh, no, no.  Nothing like that.  Just... life stuff, y’know?  My life just seems to be getting more and more complicated lately.  Not in bad ways, mostly.  So, the Seaview’s all set for action?”

     “Yes, she’s in A one condition.  Speaking of which,” Chip paused with what he was saying and reached into his shirt pocket to take out the tiny bulge there.  Handing the small, insect-like robot toward Harper, he continued, “Thank you for your help getting her there.”

     Harper looked at the tiny robot, then up into Chip’s eyes.  He had friends, friends that trusted him and kept his secrets and cared about him.  He would tell Chip about when he was from when the Seaview got back, he decided.  It wasn’t fair that Crane knew and that Chip, who was a real friend, didn’t.  “You keep it, okay?  I’ll make you a better one soon, but you should have that one until I do, just in case,” he said.

     Chip’s smile brightened for a second and tucked the robot back into his pocket.  “Thanks, Shay.  It’ll come in handy, I’m sure,” Chip told him, wrapping a friendly arm around his shoulders.  “I’ve got a few other trouble areas maintenance wise that I would love to talk over with you later.  Maybe we could work something up for them too.”

     Harper nodded, saying, “Sure thing.  Be careful out there.”

     “Always.  See you when we get back,” Chip said, giving him a friendly clap on the back before heading for the Seaview.  Harper watched him go for a few seconds, then turned to the cafeteria.

     Dom had food for him already at a table.  Some of the crew that were there stopped over where they sat to give their congratulations over the up coming wedding and their assurances that they would protect Dom for him.  Riley teased about how if Harper got sick again and couldn’t make the wedding, that he’d fill in as groom.  Kowalski cuffed him for it, scowling and telling him that he’d had his chance.  Patterson stood a little behind them, shaking his head without comment.  They were all good guys.  Harper knew he could trust them to take care of Dom, no matter what.

     All too soon, the room emptied out and Harper knew it was getting close to cast off time for the Seaview.  He came down to the docks and stood there, kissing Dom, holding her, wanting to freeze time so that he didn’t have to let go, so he wouldn’t have to be without her, even for the relatively short time that the Seaview would be gone.

     “Get a room,” Crane’s voice said in a teasing manner as the Captain passed by them.

     “Jealous much?” Harper taunted back.  Crane only shot him a wicked grin and disappeared below decks.

     “You two,” Dom scolded, shaking her head at him.  Harper knew it was time for her to get aboard the Seaview as well, but instead of releasing her, he pulled her more tightly to him.  “I’ll be back before you can miss me,” Dom said, kissing him gently on the cheek.

     “I already miss you,” Harper said bleakly.  Dom looked up at him, her features soft and caring, but the sadness forming there served as a slap to Harper’s face.  Man up, he chided himself, straightening his back and forcing himself to put a determined look on his face.  “But I’ll deal.  Just promise to come back, safe and sound, okay?”

     Dom caressed his face.  “Of course I will,” she said, smiling and shaking her head at him as if he were being silly.

     That was when the Admiral appeared by them.  “I’ll take good care of her.  I promise,” he told Harper.

     “And yourself, right?” Harper pressed.  They were leaving.  The whole reason that this was his home was leaving and he wouldn’t see them for three whole weeks.  He would see them in three weeks, he told himself firmly.  Nothing was going to happen just because they were going to be away from him.  The Admiral had the force lance and Dom had a hundred protectors.  They were coming back.

     Nelson smiled and ruffled his hair.  Harper submitted to the indignity of it, not wanting Nelson to see him scowling right before they parted company.  “I’ll call.  Soon,” Dom told him.  Harper nodded, afraid to speak, not wanting to show weakness again and Dom kissed him one last time, deep and long.  “Bye,” she said, stroking his face.

     “Bye,” he echoed, his heart aching at the word and as Dom moved from his arms toward the Seaview’s gangplank.

     “I’ll be in touch too.  And when we get back, we’ll have a wedding,” Nelson said, trying to be encouraging.

     Harper nodded, thinking he should salute, but he wound up hugging Nelson instead.  “Sorry,” he murmured, shame reddening his face as he released the older man and looked down.  “I know I promised not to.”

     Nelson lifted his chin and smiled warmly at him.  “It’s all right, Seamus.  I’ll miss you too,” he said, ruffling his hair again.  “Take care, all right?”

     “You too,” Harper replied as the Admiral moved away as well.  The gangplank was pulled away, mooring lines were released, alarm bells sounded and before Harper’s eyes, the Seaview slipped away, sinking under the water, moving down the channel, away from the Institute.  He stood there, watching the water as it swirled in the Seaview’s wake, slowly calming and becoming mostly still again.  He didn’t move even when it did.  He didn’t think he could move.  Time kept ticking by and Harper couldn’t make himself move away from the channel.

     “Sweetheart, why are you still down here?  The Seaview left over an hour ago,” Doctor Lorn’s voice came as arms wrapped gently around him.  She gave him a gentle squeeze, probably waiting for him to answer her.  For once in his life, Harper simply didn’t feel like talking.  “Are you going to stand here until they come back?”

     “Thinking about it,” Harper murmured quietly, still not looking away from the channel.

     “Don’t be silly, dear.  Of course you’re not!” Doctor Lorn declared as she gave him another hug.  “Come on, now.  Come along.  You have a lot to do and none of it is getting done while you mope down here!”  He let her turn him from the channel back toward the elevator.  “We’ll get you something to eat and go let Mister Fletcher know that you didn’t really vanish on him.  He thinks you stowed away!”

     Harper finally looked to Doctor Lorn.  “Do you think I could have?”

     She smiled and gave him another squeeze as she kept him walking.  “Don’t be silly, dear,” she repeated, this time with a laugh and a motherly kiss on the cheek.  Harper let her take him but up to the main level of the Institute, but part of him waited back on the concrete dock, waiting for the Seaview to return.

* * *

 

 

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