Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter Six

 

 

* * *

     Dylan had watched the visual logs of Barris and his crewman at least a dozen times apiece and knew every word they had said by heart.  He had watched the logs backwards and forwards, looking for any detail that could help him find his missing crewman.  Beka had started pacing the room after the first few times through, plainly upset about the lack of actual action.  “Dylan,” Andromeda’s voice interrupted the current play through of the logs, “I’ve analyzed all the data the sensor logs were able to compile on the phenomenon that transported Harper and have been unable to find a way to duplicate it.  Perhaps I could contact the Perseids and send them what we have.  They might be more successful.”

     “Not at this time, Andromeda.  Just... run the analysis again and see if you can find something we can use.  And keep scouring your memory banks for any mention of anything looking like Barris,” Dylan said, frustrated that it was the only thing he could do at the moment.  It would be that Barris had taken the one person that might actually be able to make heads or tails of the phenomenon.

     Beka just suddenly by his desk, slamming her hands down on it, livid.  “What do you mean not at this time!  Why the hell not?  Dylan, you do want Harper back, don’t you?”

     “Of course,” Dylan tried to assure her.

     “Then let’s go to the nearest Perseid colony and get them working on this.  I don’t know why we didn’t think of it in the first place,” Beka said.

     “Actually, I did, but we can’t do that until we settle the problem with Barris.  What if we went to the Perseids and Barris decided that they were ‘unworthy?’  I won’t put whole planets at risk.  Not yet.  It’s only been three hours...” Dylan said.

     “Three hours of slavery and possible torture,” Beka reminded him, as if he needed reminding.  Those thoughts had been very present in his mind since Barris’ last appearance.

     “I know, Beka, but this isn’t a simple rescue mission.  I think it’s very complicated, actually.  I’ve been listening to what Barris said, and I don’t think Harper is in our time anymore.”

     Beka’s brow knit.  “What?”

     “Barris said that Harper’s new master was kind to him.  Was.  Not is or will be, was,” Dylan told her.  “And I think he’s on Earth or an Earth colony.  The soldier asked Harper how he’d feel being killed by his own kind.  That means other humans.”

     “And the killed part isn’t worrying you in the slightest?” Beka questioned him.

     “No, because of what Barris said.  This ‘master’ couldn’t be kind to Harper and let him be murdered in cold blood,” Dylan replied.

     “Maybe he thought death would be a mercy,” Beka pointed out.  “Who knows what Barris thinks?  He’s insane.  That might be why he was referring to Harper as a dog or something and using past tense, because he’s totally nuts!”

     “That is possible, but I don’t think it’s the case.  Barris is very literal.  I asked if he was threatening Harper and he said that he wasn’t because he knew that his crewman was already beating the poor kid to a pulp,” Dylan said grimly.  He couldn’t stop seeing the blood all over Harper’s face, especially when he closed his eyes.  He’d make Barris pay for every drop as soon as he found a way to do it.  No one hurt Dylan’s crew like that and got away with it.

     “Fine then.  Let’s put Trance at the helm and go search colony worlds with lots of water,” Beka said, sounding exasperated.

     “Okay.  When?” Dylan asked, still managing to remain reasonable.

     “Right now!  When did you think?” Beka snapped at him.

     “No, I mean when do we look?  There have been humans around for quite a long time, even in space.  What year do we go to?” Dylan asked her.  “That is, assuming that Trance can actually manage to get us to a specific year and not just some random somewhere in the past.  It was an accident last time, right?”

     Beka glared at him.  “Look, are we going to do something or not?”

     “I’m open to suggestions,” Dylan replied.  He didn’t like sitting here anymore than Beka did, but he didn’t know how to find Harper.  Not yet, but he wasn’t done searching for an answer, not anywhere near done.  Beka stood there, trembling.  She wasn’t really angry with him, she just had no one else to direct her anger at.  “Look, I have Tyr prowling the ship, looking for intruders to capture and question.  I have Trance ready to assume control of the helm, just in case.  The Andromeda is searching her memory banks for anything that can help us.  I’ve been studying the logs, trying to find something that Barris or his crewman might have said or done to point us in the right direction.  I can’t fire on Barris’ ship on the off chance that he has Harper there, and they out number us twenty to one, so a boarding party is not advisable.  I don’t know what else to do, Beka.  I wish I did, but I don’t.”

     Beka’s hard expression gave way to one full of worry.  “I know, Dylan.  I just... I always thought I’d lose him, that he’d get sick with something bad, something he couldn’t kick, and I’d have to watch him slip away.  At least if that had happened, he wouldn’t be alone.  I could hold his hand and tell him it would be all right and Rev would have said all those comforting Wayist things.  Then, after the Magog attack, I hurt him.  He didn’t say anything, but I know I did.  I thought that was it, I was finally going to have to watch him die, and I was angry about it and I couldn’t...”  She paused, choking down emotion. “I couldn’t face it after all, so I just pretended like it wasn’t going to happen.  He was so depressed and lonely, and I ignored his pain and stayed away from him when he really needed me to hold his hand and tell him that he wasn’t alone and not to give up.  He’s part of my family and I did that to him and he forgave me and stayed my friend, even though I didn’t deserve it.  I told myself I’d make it up to him, then I went and made him sick again.  Now this!  I didn’t even get to say good-bye, Dylan.”

     Dylan stood up and gave her a hug, remaining silent for a moment.  He knew he was as guilty as she was of keeping Harper at a distance when he’d been infested.  Surprisingly, Tyr and Rommie had been the most supportive to the kid, shaming the rest of them.  Dylan wasn’t going to let Harper down a second time, though.  He wasn’t going to let Barris do this to all of them.  “We’re getting him back, Beka.  We’re getting him back, then we’re blowing Barris’ ship into tiny pieces so he never does this to anyone else,” Dylan promised her.

     Beka returned his hug finally, then stepped away from him, saying, “This ‘master’ better really be treating him all right, or I will personally kick his butt when we take Harper away from him.  It is a him, right?  Not a her?  He’s probably enjoying himself if it’s a her.”

     “Well, master would indicate a male individual, much as I’m sure you’re right about the other option.  Let’s think positive, though,” Dylan urged her.  “Think along the lines of a kindly old gent that’s happy for Harper’s company.”

     “I’d have a much easier time doing that if I didn’t know Harper’s luck like I do.  Even if this master was a woman, I can only picture him in chains, being tossed into the salt mines,” Beka said worriedly.

     “See?  That’s just the sort of thing we don’t want to say out loud in case Barris can hear us.  I don’t think he needs more ideas,” Dylan said.

     “I just wish I understood why Barris did this in the first place.  Why love us and hate Harper?  Sure, he’s not big and strong, but he’s smart,” Beka said.

     “I don’t think it’s as simple as strong or not strong.  After all, he complimented your piloting skills and Trance’s medical abilities.  Harper’s more than just a smart kid, he really is a genius, even if none of us ever admit that to his face.  Even the Perseids think so and they aren’t exactly slouches in the area.  But Barris never said anything about that, like it didn’t matter.  He and his crewman both called Harper defective or broken.  I’m thinking that might be more what we need to look at.”

     “So they’re like Nietzscheans?  Hung up on perfection?” Beka asked.

     Dylan shrugged expansively.  “I don’t know.  We don’t have a lot to draw information from.  I’ll keep working at this.  Maybe you could ask Trance if she knows what Barris is.”

     Again, Beka looked confused.  “You think she’d tell me but not you?”

     “I don’t know, but I want to cover all my bases, just in case,” Dylan said.

     Beka looked as though she was about to argue, but seemed to push that aside and said, “Think kindly old man desperate for conversation.  All right.  I’ll go talk to Trance.”

     Dylan watched her go, then returned to his desk and started playing the logs again.  He hoped wherever Harper was, he was using his intelligence and not his mouth and was staying as safe as possible until he could be rescued.  Much as he didn’t like to, he also had been thinking of Harper being chained and beaten, especially as he viewed the unprovoked attack on the kid again.  He shrugged those thoughts away, putting his full attention on the log.  There had to be something more to find.  There had to be.

* * *

     Harper bit his lip and didn’t say anything as the much bigger man standing over him rolled his finger over on the paper before him, making a fairly clear image of his left pinky finger.  “I really appreciate this, Jorge,” Dom was saying.  They were standing in one of the Santa Barbara Police buildings, one of the places that Harper had desperately been hoping to avoid ever seeing the inside of ever since he found out relatively where he was.  However, when they had returned to Dom’s house after lunch and Dom had spoken to her sister, Toni had requested that they get his fingerprints taken and have them and a DNA sample sent to her from somewhere official so that she could prove he wasn’t wanted for anything.  Harper didn’t mind Toni checking into his past.  He had no past for her to find, which would hopefully make things easier as far as establishing a new identity here.  He had pretty much come to grips with the fact that this was going to be his new home.  He worried about the look the Officer standing over him was giving him, despite the fact that Dom had vouched for him.

     “I still think I should just take him off your hands, Dom,” the burly officer said, his deep voice menacing as he continued to take the prints.  Harper forced himself not to the shake somehow.  He kept thinking of the Harley ride over here and the one that he would get to take back to Dom’s house.  Keep thinking nice, happy, non guilty thoughts, he told himself silently.

     “Jorge,” Dom said, her voice ringing with ‘shame on you.’

     “And you didn’t get a good look at the man that assaulted you?” Officer Jorge asked Harper for the fourth time, switching to Harper’s right hand and getting his fingers all inky.

     “No, sir,” Harper said quietly, but he was thinking, yeah, sure I did.  Big guy with facial ridges, no lips, and little, pointy teeth.  Oh, didn’t I mention that he was an alien?  Must have slipped my mind.  Harper was not stupid enough to say any of that out loud, though.

     “Well, you must’ve seen something.  You should swear out a complaint while you’re here,” the Officer persisted as he let go of Harper’s hand, then handed him a soft paper than smelled strongly of alcohol to wipe his stained hands with.  Good, Harper thought, that meant they were done and he and Dom could leave, since they had swabbed out the inside of his mouth for the DNA test first.

     “All I know was that he was a lot bigger than me and had a lot of repressed rage to vent,” Harper said, still keeping his voice soft, calm, and acquiescent.

     Officer Jorge gave him a dubious look and said, “Well, you stay out of trouble and be respectful to Doctor Babin or you’ll be seeing me again.”  Harper just nodded silently, focusing on anything but what he was certain was a very sincere threat.  Gee, Dom was a doctor of marine biology?  That was pretty impressive.

     “Jorge,” Dom said again in pretty much the same tone as last time.  She shook her head at the burly police officer, who backed off, then she smiled and said, “Thanks again, Jorge.”

     “Just don’t make taking in strays a habit, Dom.  There are a lot of dangerous people out there,” he cautioned her.  He had earlier offered to call and check on her or drive by to do the same on a regular basis, but Dom had told him not to be silly, that she was fine.  Harper was happy that Dom trusted him not to harm her or steal from her.  He wished, not for the first time, that he were in a position to reward her trust and kindness toward him.

     “I know, Jorge,” she replied patiently, still smiling.  “Sheila’s due pretty soon, isn’t she?.”

     “November twelfth,” Jorge said with a proud smile.  “You should feel the baby kick.  He’s gonna be a bruiser.”  Proud daddy, Harper realized.  So, all the protectiveness wasn’t a territorial thing.  Did Dom have a boyfriend, he wondered.  Who’s shorts had he been wearing?  Dom hadn’t mentioned a boyfriend, but she had talked about a lot of male friends, sailors on the submarine she worked on.  Harper smiled as he watched Dom chat with Jorge, thinking that she had a sweet, pretty face and that she deserved someone that would appreciate her.  He sure did.  Maybe he... Another mental slap.  Harper sighed.  It was so hard not thinking romantically, especially when Dom was treating him so nicely, nicer than any woman ever had in the adult portion of his life.  She was just finishing her conversation with Officer Jorge, so Harper stirred himself from his thoughts.  “Remember, I’m keeping my eye on you,” Jorge warned him as he took the now ink covered alcohol sheet from Harper’s hands.

     “Yes, sir,” Harper said.  He wanted to protest that he was and would remain the soul of innocence and good citizenship, but he could only see that rousing suspicion.  And Beka always said that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut to save his life.  The thought had started out smug, but ended up depressing.  He couldn’t believe he wouldn’t see Beka ever again.  He couldn’t believe he hadn’t gotten to say good-bye.

     “Jorge, stop that,” Dom told him.  They said their good-byes and Dom lead the way back out to her Harley.  Harper wished he could drive, but apparently he needed a license unless he wanted to already risk running afoul of the law, which he most certainly did not want.  It was still pretty cool, even as a passenger, and he got to wrap his arms lightly around Dom and not get slugged or tossed out of her house for it.  “See?  That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Dom asked once they were out of the building.

     “He wanted to arrest me for vagrancy,” Harper reminded her.

     “But he couldn’t because you have a home,” Dom pointed out in return.  That sounded so nice, felt so wonderful, having a home, even if it was only temporary.  He had to find some way of thanking Dom for that, if nothing else.  And maybe he could make things more permanent.  Beka hadn’t planned on keeping him either and yet he would still be in her employ if he hadn’t gotten shanghaied.  He’d have to see about endearing himself to Dom somehow so that she wouldn’t mind him sticking around.  “And next time you go into a police station, you won’t have to look so nervous because you’ll have identification and a job.”

     “I looked nervous?” Harper asked, feeling crestfallen.  He thought he’d put on a good act of being innocent and confident.

     “It’s all right,” Dom assured him with a smile.  “A lot of people are nervous about being in a police station, though I can’t imagine why.”

     “Yeah, but you probably never had any reason to be,” Harper said, then gave her a sheepish look as they reached her Harley.  “Thanks for telling him that you’d take responsibility for me.  I’ll try not to embarrass you or anything.”

     Dom smiled and handed him a helmet, then put on her own as she straddled the motorcycle, then kicked it to life.  “I wasn’t worried about it, Seamus.  Feel like looking at that VCR while I make dinner?”

     “Sure,” Harper said, still wondering what a VCR was.  “And you said something about yard work?”  He was going to work so hard for Dom that he’d make her wonder how she’d gotten along without him.

     “Tomorrow.  It’s too late today,” Dom told him as he mounted the Harley behind her.  “Hang on.”  He didn’t need encouragement and carefully put his hands lightly on her hips, though he’d much rather be driving with her resting against his back, clinging tightly to him.  He enjoyed zipping up the street back toward Dom’s house and he started thinking that he’d love to take Dom out on a speeder sometime and see if she liked that.  Then he realized they probably didn’t have anything like that this long ago.  Surfing, he decided.  He could take her surfing.  She lived right on the beach, too.  That was a better idea.  Dom was wearing a loose t-shirt and shorts, so it wasn’t readily apparent, but after getting to cling gently to her on the Harley, Harper knew she was slim and probably would look great in a bathing suit.  Again he had to smack his subconscious into submission as it imagined Dom wet and scantily clad, tossing her long hair back over her shoulder and licking her lips with a come hither look directed at him.  Not that it would ever in a million years happen, he thought with a little mental sigh.  That didn’t stop him from imagining those sorts of things constantly.  He was so hopeless when it came to women.

     When they got back to Dom’s house, Harper finally found out that a VCR was a video cassette recorder.  Dom had a nice array of tools in her garage, a gift from her father that she barely ever used, she admitted with an embarrassed laugh.  He brought some of them into the house to work on the recorder.  It was actually a very simple machine and he had it all figured out in moments.  Finding the problem was extremely easy, a connection having burnt out, and Harper fixed it and several others waiting to happen.  He hooked it back up to the view screen, ah, no, television Dom had called it, and tested a cassette in it.  He was pleased and proud when it worked perfectly.

     “Done already?” Dom asked as she looked in on him.  “You only started on it half an hour ago.”

     “Yup.  All finished,” Harper confirmed, looking at the movie that was playing.  It seemed to be a documentary about undersea life, which made sense considering Dom’s profession.  The picture wasn’t as crisp as he’d like, but he didn’t know how clear the flimsy tape in the cassette was in the first place, so he’d let it go if she was satisfied.

     “That’s wonderful!  The picture looks even better than before.”  Harper smiled at her praise, especially when she said that he’d improved on the VCR’s performance.  He had cleaned out the entire unit very carefully, hoping for that result.  “Well, that saves me the two hundred dollars I would have had to spend on a new one.”  All the groceries that she had bought had only cost one hundred and forty dollars and lunch had been eleven and some change.  Two hundred dollars in Dom’s pocket rather than some shopkeeper’s would feed him for good number of days.  Harper felt good.  He was already earning his keep.

     “Got anything else I can work on?” he asked, his confidence soaring to its usual high when it came to deal with anything mechanical.  The technology level was incredibly low in this time period if the VCR was any sort of indicator, somewhere below primitive by his standards.  He shouldn’t have too many problems unless he had to machine parts because he didn’t have access to the proper tools or materials to do that.

     “Sure,” Dom said, then lead him back out into the garage and showed him some shelves full of broken gadgets.  “All mechanical things hate me.  Everything I’ve ever bought breaks the instant the warranty is up, but for some reason I never can bring myself to throw anything away.  If you can resurrect any of this stuff, it would be great.”  There was a ringing in the house and Dom said, “I’d better go get that,” then went into the kitchen.

     Harper looked over the pile of things.  He saw two other VCRs and another television, then a lot of things that he didn’t recognize.  He could probably figure them all out, but he decided that he would fix the VCRs first, since he had been successful with the first one, but then frowned.  Dom had other bills besides food, he was sure.  Fuel to power her house and vehicles, water, perhaps payments on the house itself came to mind immediately, but he was sure there were even more.  Even if he cleared the shelf, he was only giving her back ups to existing devices that did work.  His frown deepened.  He’d fix everything happily, of course, but he wished he knew how to do something to ease the financial burden he was placing on Dom.  She said something about his needing a social security number to get a real job, one that would earn him money.  Dollars not thrones, he reminded himself firmly.  Maybe he could find a job doing repairs someplace.  He could do that.  He’d practice on the things on Dom’s shelf, then he’d be able to impress someone with his skills and he’d be able to start paying Dom for food and shelter.

     The only thing that worried him was when she had said that he’d be able to get his own place once he found work.  He wasn’t thrilled with the thought of living alone.  He had always lived with others.  There was safety with numbers, or at least that was what his uncle had always said.  Having his own quarters on the Andromeda had been unnerving enough because of the size of the ship, not that he’d ever told anyone about it.  His own house, he wasn’t comfortable with that thought at all.  Maybe it was because he didn’t know anyone else here, but Harper wanted to stay where he was, where it was safe and friendly.

     “That was my friend Ro,” Dom said as she stuck her head back out into the garage.  “You remember me mentioning her?”

     Harper nodded.  “The almost lifelong friend and engineer that’s dating the captain of the submarine you work on.”

     “That’s her.  She’s coming for dinner,” Dom told him.

     “Oh... uh... I’ll just... uh... take some of this stuff up to my room then and work on it there,” Harper said, thinking he could at least make himself useful while Dom had company.  He remembered when he’d first started working on the Eureka Maru.  Beka had literally pushed him into the crew’s quarters a few times and locked him in, especially when she had a perspective client or a date coming aboard.  He was glad she hadn’t locked him off the ship, thinking that she hadn’t done that because she knew how afraid he was that she’d up and leave him someplace back then.  He’d learned his lesson, though.  He wasn’t going to be in the way here.

     Dom gave him a funny look as she actually stepped into the garage.  “Why would you do that?”

     Harper blushed.  She hadn’t told him she was having company so that he’d make himself scarce, she’d just been telling him that she was going to have company.  “I thought that...”

     Dom smiled and shook her head at him.  “Seamus, you’re a guest, not the hired help.  I was thinking you might want to wash up before dinner.  You can poke at that stuff tomorrow.  I was just showing it to you.”

     Harper felt the tension in him bleed away again.  Guest, not employee.  He could live quite happily with that for now.  He’d convince her that he would make a great employee soon enough.  “Okay.”  She smiled as she let him back into the house.  He went into the bathroom on the first floor to wash his hands.  Dom had called it a bathroom, but it didn’t have any bathing facilities.  Another thing that confused him.  So many things did.  He’d been here all of one day and his head hurt from all the things that confused the heck out of him.

     He supposed he seemed strange to Dom.  He wondered what she thought of some of the questions he’d asked her.  She seemed to have assigned most of his confusion and strange questions to his being new to California and to having been hurt.  She asked him if he was feeling all right a lot, asked if he felt dizzy or nauseous or if his stomach was hurting him overly much a bunch of times.  Harper knew that she was worried that he was more hurt than he was admitting to, but she hadn’t brought up doctors again since she’d first spoken with him.  He was glad for that.  He didn’t like the thought of going near one, the threat that the alien had leveled at him was still too fresh in his mind.  He just hoped he could find out enough to function before Dom started to really wonder about him.

     Harper looked in the mirror over the sink as he gingerly washed his face.  The bruise on his temple seemed to look a little better, but the one on his forehead still looked nasty.  Maybe he’d ask Dom for a cold pack to put on it later.  He tried to neaten his hair, but brushing back what would behave only made the parts that wouldn’t lie down look worse.  He spiked it all back up and sighed.  So much for looking presentable for Dom’s guest.

     He went to the kitchen and watched Dom stir something on one of the burners on the stove.  Not a cooker, a stove, or at least that’s what Dom had called it.  All the food on the Andromeda just kind of came from the automated cookers.  Tyr cooked meals for himself from time to time, but the crew’s mess never smelled as good as Dom’s kitchen.  The whole house was starting to smell nice and Harper beginning to get hungry again.  “Can I help?” he asked.  He wasn’t used to having nothing to do.

     “You can help eat all this.  I think there’s been enough smoke in the kitchen for today,” Dom told him with a little smile, teasing him about his professed lack of cooking skills.  It made him smile in return.  “Actually, you can set the table.”  She directed him to dishes and cutlery, then told him how to use the coffee maker.  Dom didn’t drink coffee, but apparently Ro did.  Harper liked her already.  Dom said that Ro was as pretty as she was intelligent, leaving her in the dust in that regard, but Harper would reserve the right to differ.  He thought almost every woman he’d seen in Santa Barbara was gorgeous, including his hostess, so someone to make them all pale in comparison would have to be mighty hot.  Still, dinner with two nice looking women, that was pretty good by anyone’s standards.

     He was just helping Dom set the food on the table when a bell rang somewhere.  “Ro’s here.  Perfect timing, as always,” Dom said cheerfully.  “Would you get those last couple bowls while I let her in, Seamus?”

     “Sure,” he said, going back into the kitchen to fetch them.  He heard voices toward the front of the house as he put the bowls down on the table.  At first he wasn’t sure if he should go out into the living room or stay where he was, but the decision was made for him as the voices drew nearer.  He pulled down on his jersey, ran a hand back over his hair, then Dom walked through the archway with her friend.  Harper froze, stunned.  If this woman was as smart as she was beautiful, she was the most intelligent being that had ever lived!  Then his rational mind kicked back in and started beating his libido into submission.  This was Dom’s friend, she had a boyfriend, she was way out of his league.  His libido tried to voice a couple of arguments, but his survival instincts surfaced and knocked his libido out cold to keep it quiet.

     “Seamus, this is Ro Simmons.  Ro, this is Seamus Harper,” Dom introduced as they approached the table.

     “So, you knew Dom in college?” Ro asked as she moved to shake his hand.  She was trying to figure out how Dom knew him, so Dom hadn’t told her what had happened.  That ought to make the evening interesting.  Before he could reply, just as they clasped hands, she looked closely at his face.  “What happened to you?”

     “I got punched in the face repeatedly,” Harper told her with a crooked grin.

     “That’s pretty obvious.  Why was someone punching you in the face?” Ro pressed him, reminding him of Beka for a moment.

     “You know, I’d kind of like to find that out myself,” Harper told her with mock seriousness.

     “Someone mugged him, Ro,” Dom said, giving her friend a poke in the ribs.  “And I met Seamus when he collapsed in my backyard last night.”  That obviously caught Ro by surprise, for she stood there speechless for a moment, brow furrowed, looking him over again.  “Seamus fixed my VCR this afternoon,” Dom said with a smile as she sat at the table, indicating that they should also.  Where had that come from?  It didn’t really matter.  Harper didn’t want to talk about getting pulverized again anyway, so he sat down next to Dom without commenting on the change of topics.

     Ro gave Dom a funny look, then seemed to do a mental shrug and said, “You destroyed another one?” as she took the last set place at the table, across from them.

     “Whoever put it together wasn’t really careful.  A lot of the connections were loose and the solders were just plain sloppy,” Harper commented as he reached for platter of chicken.  He’d never had real chicken before, just protein supplements put together to resemble chicken.  This was the really real thing.  It was almost thrilling.  Ro looked at him and raised an eyebrow and he wondered briefly if was because of his comment or because he was letting the fact that he was almost giddy about eating part of a dead, domestic bird leak onto his face.

     “Seamus is good at fixing things,” Dom told her friend as she took the platter from him.

     “So... Dom took you to the hospital and you fixed her VCR as a thank you?” Ro asked.  Oh, well, back to embarrassing topics.  Harper decided he was just going to be honest about the whole thing and let the chips fall where they may.

     “Actually, she patched me up and put me up for the night,” Harper told her as he passed potatoes to Dom.  Everything looked and smelled so good.  Dom seemed to be a great cook, frozen pizza aside.  That had been his fault anyway.  He’d been distracting her.  Harper smiled to himself, thinking at least he could distract Dom in a good way.  He was really going to like staying here.  He just had to find a way to make it permanent and everything would be perfect.

     “Uh huh,” Ro said slowly.  She was beginning to look a bit confused.  It looked good on her.  He doubted that there was a look she couldn’t pull off and still look stunning.  “Dom, why didn’t you take him to the hospital?”  Ro looked closely at him and said, “Have you been to a doctor today?  You might have a concussion.”

     “Nah.  I have a really hard head,” Harper said another grin.  He didn’t want her to make a big deal out of his injuries.  He’d had lots worse and he didn’t want Dom all worked up about them.  And most of all, he certainly didn’t want anything to do with any hospitals or doctors.  Just thinking about it was scaring him.

     Ro’s brow knit and she ignored the vegetables that Dom was attempting to pass to her.  “Have you been feeling dizzy or sick to your stomach?  Has your vision been blurred or cloudy?  Have you felt unusually tired or...”

     “I don’t have a concussion,” Harper interrupted her, but he did it with an apologetic smile.  “I’ve had concussions before and believe me, I’d know if I had one now.  They’re no fun.”

     “Ro, let it go,” Dom said, shoving the vegetables rather pointedly at her.

     Ro pursed her lips in frustration and took the bowl, but said, “You should see a doctor.”  She was probably used to having men do what she said without questioning her.  Certainly, if he had met her in other circumstances, he would have.  He reminded himself once more that Ro was entirely out of his league and that she had a boyfriend, then smiled at Dom.  She was still sticking up for him.  Did she have a boyfriend?  Would she like one that was willing to do just about anything that would allow him to say that about himself?  He pushed the thought away.  He couldn’t pursue Dom either, he reminded himself firmly.  He needed a safe place to live more than he needed romance, but he didn’t have to be happy about it.

     There was silence for a moment as everyone began to eat, then Harper decided that he was going to let Ro know there were no hard feelings.  “Dom tells me that you’re the head engineer on your submarine.  That’s a tough job,” he commented.  What he wouldn’t have given for an engineering team some days on the Andromeda, he thought a little wistfully.

     Ro visibly bristled.  What had he said?  “For a woman?” she prompted him, but he couldn’t imagine why she suspected he was thinking that of all things.

     “For anybody,” Harper replied with a helpless shrug.

     “I told Seamus we’re the only two women on the Seaview and he didn’t bat an eye,” Dom told Ro as if it were surprising.  Why would it be?  Harper felt lost, knowing he was seriously missing something.  “See?  Not all men are chauvinistic pigs.”

     Ro eyed Harper suspiciously.  “So you think women can do anything that men can do?”

     “More.  Men can’t have babies and knowing what little I do of the experience, I for one am glad,” Harper said, then ate some more of his delicious dinner.  Everything tasted as wonderful as it smelled.  Even the vegetables were good.  He was in heaven!  He stuffed his mouth and eased back against his chair in a state of bliss as he chewed.  He was also starting to feel a little more relaxed.  “I worked for a woman captain for a long time on this freighter.  If anyone ever told her she couldn’t do everything a man could do, she beat ‘em senseless and look spectacular doing it.”

     Ro seemed to relax too.  “So you’re a sailor?”  Harper shrugged and half nodded.  He supposed that was the closest approximation there was to what he was in this time, that or handyman.  “What do you do on this freighter?”

     “Maintenance and repairs,” he replied with another shrug.

     “So, when do you ship out again?” Ro asked.  She was in a hurry to get rid of him.  He didn’t hold it against her.  After all, he wasn’t exactly looking like the catch of the century at the moment.

     “I sort of... lost my ship,” Harper said with pained expression.

     Ro gave him a funny look.  “You jumped ship?”

     He hadn’t left voluntarily, but the Andromeda hadn’t ditched him either, so Harper said, “They kind of left while I was busy getting my butt kicked and then tossed in the ocean.”

     “Why did they leave port so suddenly?  And with one of her crew ashore?  What were they carrying?” Ro asked, suspicion back on her face.

     Harper shrugged.  “Actually, they didn’t have any cargo that I knew of at the moment.  It was an accident.”

     “Seamus was working for the ship under the table,” Dom said as if it were very important.  What did that mean?

     “I hope you aren’t going to have tax problems from that,” Ro said, a smirk replacing the suspicious look.  Great, Harper thought a little sullenly, they had taxes here.

     “He’d have to actually get paid to owe taxes,” Dom said.  “They were paying Seamus with room and board.”  Ro looked like she had something to say about that, too, but Dom stopped her before she could get started.  “Seamus, do you mind Ro knowing your situation?”

     “That I’m homeless and totally and forever in your debt for trying to help me remedy that?  Nah, not really,” Harper said, giving Dom his best ‘you’re the greatest human alive’ smile, then turned to Ro, telling her, “Dom’s helping me get a social security number.  Well, her sister is.  Dom said that I could stay here until she did.”  Ro didn’t look very pleased about that news at all, so he didn’t say what he had planned to about finding a job as soon as he could so he could rent the room he was currently using, or go into how it would be a great idea because he could keep up Dom’s house and yard while she was gone as part of the deal.

     He wouldn’t have gotten a chance to get all that out anyway because Ro stood up, shot around the table, and grabbed Dom by the arm, pulling her up too.  “Dom, could I have a word?” she asked, but she was pulling Dom into the kitchen as she said it.  Harper watched, but didn’t interfere.  He’d caused enough trouble as it was, not that he’d been trying to.  He knew Ro was about to voice her displeasure, especially when the kitchen door closed and Harper heard a lock clicking into place.  “Are you crazy!” Ro’s voice came very plainly through it, none the less.  Harper sighed, then took seconds.  This might be his last decent meal for the foreseeable future.  Good bye nice, warm, friendly house.  Hello cold, unforgiving street.  At least he had plenty of practice living rough and Magog wouldn’t be trying to eat him this time.

     “Ro, Seamus is...” Harper closed his eyes and willed her not to say the word ‘harmless,’ “Sweet,” she finished without pausing at all, so she probably meant it.  Okay.  Sweet he could live with.  Her voice was lower than Ro’s, but Harper could still make out everything that she was saying, though just barely.  “And he didn’t ask to stay.  In fact, he wanted to leave, but I twisted his arm.  Ro, he’s never had a home.  Cut the guy a break.”

     “He’s telling you he never had a home.  He’s playing you.”

     “No, he’s not.  I’m not stupid, Ro.  I know a player when I meet one.”  You tell her, Dom, Harper cheered her on silently.

     “Great.  So tomorrow you take him job hunting...”

     “He doesn’t have a social security number.  He just told you that.  He was born into a homeless family, so no one even knows he exists.  No one cares.”  Dom sounded sad at the thought of what she’d just said.  She obviously cared, which made Harper feel wonderful for a moment.

     “There are agencies to deal with that sort of thing.  They do it all the time and I’m sure they’ll settle things far more quickly than you could.  I’ll help you locate the nearest one and they can pick things up from here.”  The thought of being turned over to the authorities made Harper’s stomach twist.

     “No,” Dom told her immediately.

     “You’re just going to let a strange man live in your house because... what?  You feel sorry for him?  You’re running a homeless shelter now?”

     “I’m not going to make a habit of this, if that’s what you’re asking.  Seamus wasn’t panhandling on the street, he collapsed in my backyard, lost, hurt and frightened.  What was I supposed to do?  Say ‘not my problem’ and turn my back on him?”

     “No, but you should have brought him to a hospital and...”

     “I couldn’t.  He’s terrified of doctors and hospitals.  I think a doctor might have abused him in the past, Ro.”

     “Fine.  Bring him to a shelter, then.”

     “So they can give him a hot meal and a grubby cot for one night then shove him right back out on the street?  No way.”

     “Then ship him home to his family.  It’ll probably be less expensive in the long run.”

     “His parents were killed when he was eight.  He didn’t go into details, but I think they were murdered.  He doesn’t have any other family.”  She still sounded upset about his family.  He’d have to talk about them a little, let her know he was okay, if he got to stay.  Dom seemed to really want him to, but Ro wasn’t willing to give up the fight.

     There was silence for a moment, then Ro said, “He can’t stay here.  It’s not safe.”

     “Yes, he can.  It’s my house and I say who stays and who goes.  And if Seamus wanted to hurt me, he’s had all day to do it.  He hasn’t laid so much as a finger on me.  He’s been polite and almost embarrassingly grateful since he woke up this morning.  And he seems to think he owes me slave labor for my extending a little basic human kindness toward him.”

     “Sure, now.”

     “Ro, ‘I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was hungry and you did not feed me...’”

     “Don’t quote scripture at me.  We don’t live in a parable.”

     Harper sighed.  They were going to keep arguing all night at this rate.  Ro wasn’t being cruel, she was just looking out for a

friend and she was right to do so.  Harper knew from bitter personal experience that there were plenty of people in the universe that would take advantage of you then toss you to the wolves if they didn’t eat you themselves.  He couldn’t bring himself to eat any more of the food heaped on his plate and he wasn’t going to let it go to waste.  Time to settle this one way or another, he decided.  He got up, walked out the front door, circled around the house to the back, then up the steps onto the porch to go in the back door, which he had been pretty sure was unlocked, then into the kitchen.  Dom and Ro stopped arguing and looked over at him in surprise.  Harper didn’t say a word.  He simply took Dom, very gently, by the arm and brought her to the door to the dining area, unlocked it, and guided her through.

     “Wait, Seamus, what...” she started, but he closed the door and locked it, then turned to Ro.

     “Let’s take this outside,” he said very quietly to her.  Her jaw tightened, but she nodded.  He lead the way, waited for her to get clear of the door, then he pulled it shut saying, “You have every right not to trust me or even like me, but I won’t let you browbeat the kindest person I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet because of me.  You want me gone?  Will that make you happy?  Because I sure as hell know it won’t make Dom happy.  She’ll worry something bad will happen to me and she’ll search for me and be generally miserable about it for a long time.  That’s the only reason I didn’t walk away the first time she turned her back on me.  Earlier today, she called me a friend, and I don’t hurt friends.  Not on purpose anyway.  I’ve had far too few not to know how precious they are.  But you’ve been her friend for a long time, so you tell me, is my staying here hurting her more than my leaving would?  You tell me it is and I’m history.”  He fought to keep a determined look on his face, even though his brain was having a terrified hissy fit while he waited for Ro’s response.

     Ro did not look happy about it, but she said, “I’m sorry if I sounded heartless.  You seem like a decent enough person.”

     Harper felt the tight knot in his stomach unravel a little as he shrugged, saying, “I have my moments,” as he waited for her to say the infamous ‘but.’  She surprised him.

     “We didn’t get off to a very good start, so let’s try this again.  I hear you’re a friend of Dom’s.  I’m Rowena Simmons.  Nice to meet you,” Ro said, extending a hand toward him.

     Harper smiled and took it.  “Seamus Harper.  Dom’s told me great stuff about you.  Look, I’m kind of hungry and I hear this place has the best food in town.  Want some dinner and we’ll get to know each other?”

     “That sounds good,” Ro agreed and Harper opened the door for them, motioning for her to precede him in.  He took in the rear view appreciatively.  Ro paused just within the door and turned to give him a narrow look of assessment.  “Dom told you I have a boyfriend, didn’t she?”

     “Almost first thing that she mentioned about you if I remember right,” Harper replied.  Oops, got caught looking.

     “Good.  Keep it in mind.  That and I don’t date shorter men,” Ro told him.  Definitely got caught looking and it was not at all appreciated.

     “Oh, you’re missing out.  Little guys try harder,” Harper replied as he unlocked the door to the dining room.  Dom was standing just on the other side, arms crossed over her chest, looking vexed.  Harper cringed a little.  “Sorry.”

     “Can we eat now or is there going to be more drama?” Dom asked giving both him and Ro a withering look.

     “Only if I catch him checking out my ass again,” Ro said, giving him a warning look.

     “Hey, I’m only human,” Harper said in his own defense, not that it was much of a defense.

     Dom dropped her arms and her angry expression and said, “Come on, Ro.  Name one guy you’ve met in the last five years that hasn’t checked out your butt the first time he got the chance.”  Ro was hard pressed to do so, which, when she sighed and looked defeated, made them all dissolve into laughter, after which they returned to the table.  Dinner turned out pretty well after all.

* * *

 

 

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