Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 68

 

 

* * *

     When Admiral Nelson had only begun to think about organizing some sort of memorial for Harper, he quickly found the matter taken out of his hands as he was spirited out to an Irish wake in Harper’s honor.  Apparently Harper had told several key members of the Seaview’s crew that if he met an untimely end, he wanted people to take Doctor Babin out, drink a lot of good alcohol, and tell funny stories about him until she laughed or someone went blind.  The men had taken it to heart and soon the majority of the Institute, the O’Donnells, even Kensington had taken over Dargan’s Pub.  The Institute’s Chaplin said a prayer for Harper, but afterwards those gathered told their tales of how a small, homeless young man who had been with them all too briefly had managed to touch so many people’s lives.

     Chip came to him at one point to confess him about a small robot Harper had made for him to help with their major rewiring effort that the two of them had kept secret.  Nelson had told him to keep the tiny, insect like robot, that Harper would have wanted him to have it.  Andrew Fletcher, with tears In his eyes, swore that he would make Harper’s barely understood at best designs for shields and propulsion units work no matter how long it took.  Mister O’Donnell lead the story telling off, roaring with laughter while crying unashamedly over the loss of his young friend.  Funny, touching stories flowed as much as liquor did after that.

     Nelson watched Doctor Babin most of the time.  Ever since the day they’d met, he had never thought of her as anything but strong and capable.  Now, as she sat quietly to one side, never alone, she looked so small and fragile that it pained Nelson.  She hadn’t wanted to come out, but somehow Kowalski, Patterson and Riley had convinced her that this was what Harper had wanted and that its meaning would be diminished without her.  Though she had barely sipped at the drink someone had given her, she had tried to tell a story about Harper, but had wound up weeping, unable to finish.  Nelson cursed Barris silently for hurting her so deeply as her friends tried to comfort her.  Riley declared himself the lightest weight drinker in the room and told her that he was the one going blind for sure if things kept going on the way they were.  He got a tearful hug for his efforts.

     Miss Simmons stayed by Doctor Babin’s side most of the time and Lee hovered protectively, glaring at Kensington in particular.  The technology magnate had only offered his sincere condolences to the girl, then sat at the bar with a large bottle of whiskey, keeping his own company for most of the event.  It wasn’t until things finally began to break up that the Admiral found out that Kensington had paid for the entire affair.  Nelson had tried to reimburse him several times afterwards, but Kensington waved him off, refusing to hear a word about the matter.  He never pursued Doctor Babin after that day, nor did he try to lure away any more of Nelson’s employees.  “It’s all I can give him,” was all he ever said about it.

     Beatrice Lund and her husband had tried to get Nelson to come home with them when things finally ended and people began to drift home.  The Admiral refused, thanking them for their concern and waving them on their way before turning to thank the others that had come.  When Doctor Babin finally left, her face was pale, exhausted and still grief stricken, Miss Simmons’ arm around her.  She stepped away from her friend and looked up at him with tear reddened eyes.  “He said that he never got to keep anything that made him happy, that it always went away,” she said, more tears threatening to spill onto her cheeks as she spoke.  “He got to keep us, didn’t he?  He knew we loved him?”

     Nelson cupped her face, offering her a forced, lacking smile as he nodded.  “He knew,” he said.

     Doctor Babin hugged him and then gave him a kiss on the cheek, saying, “Thank you.  Thank you for being so good to him.”  The Admiral meant to respond, to say something that would take all that sadness away from her, but she turned from him and went off almost absently.  Miss Simmons nodded quickly to him and caught up to her friend, sheltering her in her arms once more as they walked away.

     “She won’t be alone, sir,” Kowalski promised as he came forward to shake the Admiral’s hand.  His two shadows for the evening, Patterson and Riley, nodded solemnly to his words, each shaking the Admiral’s hand in turn, murmuring their condolences. 

     “Thank you,” Nelson replied sincerely, never more grateful for the fact that he employed such good men.  The sailors followed Doctor Babin and Miss Simmons off to where the women were getting into a car.  Riley took the wheel, which was probably for the best because Nelson had never known Riley to drink.  The Admiral watched the car pull away from the curb, thinking that Doctor Babin would be well cared for by her friends, that he didn’t need to worry about her.  He also wished that their group hadn’t kept the pub opened well past its normal hours because he suddenly felt like he hadn’t had nearly enough to drink.

     “I’ll drive you home,” Lee said as he came out of the pub last.

     “No.  Thank you, no.  I’m fine,” Nelson replied, thinking that he wasn’t ready to go home just yet, but that Lee didn’t need to know that.  He’d only worry.

     Lee gave him an anguished look.  “You called him your son,” he said, his voice matching his expression.  Pain lanced through Nelson at Lee’s words, the pain that he’d been trying to hold at bay since everything had hit home in that moment back on the Seaview when Nelson had fully realized what had happened.  Seamus, gone, just like that, taken brutally away.  Worst of all, the boy was dead because of him.  He’d lived a long, good life.  He should have been the one to die, not Seamus, not when the boy’s life was only just beginning.  Lee reached out and put a hand on his arm.  “I never realized how close you’d gotten to Seamus until you’d said that.  I wish I’d known him better so that I’d know what to say now.  I treated him badly a lot of the time and he didn’t deserve it.  I’m sorry for that, really.  I’m sorry that... that I never got to make it up to him.”

     “Lee, don’t,” Nelson said, seeing how Lee was tearing himself up over this.  “Seamus told me more than once that his time at the Institute were the happiest days of his life.  He knew you were an important part of my life and it bothered him when he thought you disliked him, but you set things right when he got sick.  He joked about what happened in the cafeteria afterwards, so I know that he bore you no ill will after that.  I think in the end, he enjoyed sparing verbally with you.  The two of you would have been friends if... if...”  Nelson paused and winced back tears.  He refused to mar the evening with them.  Harper had wanted everyone to remember him with laughter, not weeping, and Nelson intended to honor that wish.  He shook off the pain and said, “So, you really shouldn’t upset yourself.  You did make things right, Lee.”  He patted the younger man’s shoulder, giving him a forced smile when his friend nodded.

     “I’d still like to drive you home, Admiral.  Dom has all her friends around her.  You shouldn’t be alone,” Lee said, looking a little worried.

     “I’d feel better if you’d go home and get some sleep.  I don’t need my Captain run ragged.  We are going to try to ship out again in a few days after all,” Nelson said, a little sincerity leaking into his still forced grin.

     “Hang the mission.  You’re what matters right now,” Lee blustered.  He never liked being the center of attention, much as many people thought the contrary.

     “I’m fine, really.  Don’t worry,” Nelson assured him.  “I’d like a little time to myself.  I know everyone means well, but I think Dominica and I both need a bit of time alone with our thoughts.”

     “All right,” Lee relented, the look of concern still etched on his face.  “But if you need anything...”

     “I’ll call.  I promise,” Nelson told him, patting him on the arm again.  “Good night, Lee.”

     “Good night, Admiral,” Lee said, then he turned and walked off to his car.  Nelson watched him get in, then went to his own sedan.

     He sat behind the wheel for a few moments, remembering the driving lesson he’d given Harper fondly before driving to the Institute.  He felt the need to do something and decided that clearing out Harper’s quarters and anything that the boy had been working on in the lab that Fletcher shouldn’t see would have to suffice.  It turned out that the dorm room that Harper had used was empty and tidy.  That made Nelson’s heart ache.  The boy’s entire life could be fit into a suitcase and Harper had been grateful for that pittance, telling him he was being too generous with him.  Nelson grew angry with himself.  He should have given Harper more, and now it was too late.

     Still feeling dismal, Nelson went down to the lab that Harper had been sharing with Andrew Fletcher.  Nelson stood at the drafting board, looking at the diagrams, recognizing Andrew’s neat lines and small, perfect printing in the legends.  The designs were all Harper though, and Nelson marveled at the genius in them.  Pain surged through him.  He would never get to enjoy the comradery they had shared while working together on things like this again.  He missed the boy so terribly.

     He moved to the work areas and looked at some of the preliminary models of components for shielding arrays and improved life support systems.  He didn’t move any of them, intending to let Andrew do as much as he could with what he and Harper had started.  Frowning, Nelson cast his eyes around the lab.  Where had all the little devices Harper had been tinkering with gotten to?  The gauss guns, which he had confiscated and locked in his personal safe for the time being, were one example of how dangerous some of the items might be.  Snapping his fingers, Nelson bent to the safe.

     Opening the door gave Nelson a bit of a surprise.  Yes, some gadgets were there along with some schematics, but sitting in the back as a brightly wrapped present.  Nelson pulled it gingerly out and was even more surprised to see the tag made out to ‘the best man, not just mine.’  Tears misted Nelson’s vision briefly, feeling touched that Harper had gotten him a gift and grieving that the wedding had never had a chance to happen.  He thought about not opening the box, but then found himself desperately wanting to hold something from the boy.  Popping off the ribbon and carefully opening the paper and box, Nelson found something resembling a bell jar set onto a black base and filled with some astoundingly complicated looking machinery.  He lifted it carefully out and found a note underneath it.  After carefully setting down the device, he took out the note and read:

 

     For the best boss in the universe.  Don’t argue the point, okay?  I’d know better than you, right?  I’ve seen more of it.  Anyway, I wanted to thank you for so many things that I can’t list them all.  I don’t have that much paper.

 

Nelson chuckled fondly, sadly, almost able to hear Harper’s voice saying the words on the paper.  He read on:

 

     The biggest thing, and I guess it kind of covers everything else, is for how good you’ve been to me.  You treat me like I’m special, like I matter, like I’m worth something. That still blows me away, feeling like that.  You and Dom, you both are the best things that ever happened to me.  I can never repay either of you for everything you’ve done for me, but I’m going to try.  This is just the first of many things I want to make for you.  Put it in the center of the room on the floor and say the word display.  When you’re done, just say stop.  The sensor is in the fish tank in your office.  Your can put it anywhere, even the bottom of the ocean so you can feel like you’re there, even though you can’t be.  Maybe someday, I’ll make it so you can.  I hope you like it.

 

     With all my love and gratitude,

 

     Seamus Zelazny Harper

     Your faithful lackey

 

     Nelson smiled and stroked the signature on the paper.  He would treasure this forever, no matter what the device did, because it was Harper on paper.  After carefully folding the letter and setting it into his jacket pocket, the Admiral picked up the jar and set on the floor as instructed and said, “Display.”

     Beams of light lanced out of the jar, coalescing around Nelson until they formed a group of fish and aquarium plants exactly like the ones in the tank in his office.  Nelson looked around himself, astounded as the fish holograms swam lazily around the room and plants waved slowly.  Nelson was awed.  It was as if he were standing in his aquarium.  He reached out a hand tentatively, poking a finger at one of the passing fish, wondering what would happen.  When he touched the image, it froze and magnified, giving him a closer view of the fish, with a legend stating the actual fish’s dimensions, as the original swam on.  Nelson touched the larger image and the part he touched was magnified further.  He waved a hand through it and the image disappeared.  Nelson stared around himself, still amazed, thinking this was the most magical thing he had ever seen.

     Suddenly, anger boiled unbidden in him and Nelson snapped, “Stop!”  As all the images faded away, Nelson moved purposefully to his office.  This was wrong.  Harper being dead was wrong.  He would make things right, he thought as he went to his own safe and quickly got it opened.  He reached inside and took out the Pem device that Harper had repaired.  He was about to go back in time, but realized that wouldn’t solve anything.  Warning Harper about what was going to happen wouldn’t change a thing and there was no way for Nelson to destroy Barris to stop him from taking the boy’s life.  “Forward then,” Nelson muttered under his breath and set the device very far forward indeed.  Maybe he had to do more than give Harper a warning.  Maybe if he changed the entire chain of events, if Harper had never been on the Andromeda, things would not happen the way they had.

     It took a few tries to get the place and timing of things right, but soon he was standing just outside time, watching himself beat a Nietzschean thug into unconsciousness in a filthy slum just outside of Boston three thousand years into the future.  He watched himself vanish a few moments later, Harper’s mother looking around, confused and a little frightened when he did.  Nelson had thought to pop back before her and tell her what he intended to that day before Barris had spirited him away.  She and her son should come with him, that he would make a safe place for them.  She didn’t wait where she was, though.  She hugged her son to her chest and hurriedly carried him away from the unconscious Nietzschean.  Nelson followed her, remaining invisible to her and the other people she passed by staying just outside of her time.  Nelson didn’t want to terrify her further and he would wait for her to stop and talk to her then.

     After dodging through the crowded streets for a while, Harper’s mother was accosted by a man that kept her from running further.  Nelson was about to step fully into the scene he was watching, but before he could, she sank into the man’s arms weeping again and Nelson fully saw the man’s face.  Nelson felt his breath catch.  The man was almost the spitting image of Harper, only with bright green eyes instead of blue.  He had to be Harper’s father.  Of course, calling him a man was stretching the definition.  He looked like he was barely twenty, if that, not that Harper’s mother was any older.  Nelson felt his heart ache at the pain he saw in the man’s face as he cradled his wife and injured son against him.  Harper’s mother sobbed something to him, but he hushed her, stroking her hair as he began to lead her away, looking around nervously.

     Nelson frowned, looking around the crowd himself, knowing that he had inadvertently put the couple in danger, but then found himself shaking his head at himself.  He would take all three of them with him.  That was what needed to be done.  It was better that way.  Harper would have both of his parents with him as he grew to adulthood.  That was for the best.  Nelson would take all of them to Edith and his younger self and tell them, possibly even show them why the young family needed sheltering.   It would be easy to explain to the authorities that Harper’s parents were runaways or refugees.  His own family would sponsor Harper’s, get them safely settled into the twentieth century.  He would work out all those details once he had them away from this horrible place.  His younger self would take care of them, would make sure that Harper had the best medical care and education and everything else that he needed.  Harper would still be at his side as time reordered everything, still be his protégé, like a nephew rather a son, but that was good enough.  He would be at the Institute when Doctor Babin came to work there.  They would still meet.  They would still fall in love.  Nelson was certain of it.

     That was when a commotion started in the crowd and a group of Nietzscheans began to shove their way in the direction of the Harper family.  Alarmed, Nelson started quickly after them, but before he could reach them, some other people gathered around them, the men glancing angrily at the approaching Nietzcheans as the women bundled the young couple into cover, out of sight.  As the Nietzscheans passed where they were hidden, Nelson looked carefully at their rescuers.  Was he seeing a family resemblance or just imagining things?  In some, perhaps, but not all, though the men bravely covered for the fleeing family, taking shoves and blows to protect them, be they relations or not.

     “Can’t we save all of them?” came the unbidden memory of Harper’s plea.  These people were Harper’s family and their friends, Nelson realized suddenly.  Everyone here was suffering, not just the boy and his parents.  Nelson felt his jaw go tight and his fists clench as he remembered promising the boy he would somehow save all the ragged people before him.  There were too many, Nelson thought helplessly.  It was impossible.  The only way to save them was to stop the Earth from being invaded in the first place.  He closed his eyes, drawing in a pained breath, knowing that Harper had believed in him, trusted him to do this. 

He felt as though he’d failed the boy again, even before making the attempt.

     He thought about going forward, about catching Harper before he joined Captain Valentine on the Eureka Maru, but shook his head at that thought.  Harper had told him that at that point in his life, he’d been a different person, feral and sickly, that his time with Maru and on the Andromeda had not only made him healthier but had returned his ability to trust people again.  Then he thought of finding the Andromeda and saving Harper from Barris at the last second, just as Harper had snatched him away from Barris’ deadly touch.  He looked down at the Pem device and realized that Harper was right.  When should he go?  Where?  He didn’t know.  He didn’t even know where Barris’ world was or what it was called.  He looked up into the muddy colored sky and felt hopelessness press down on him.  Saving Harper from Barris was as impossible as making that sky blue again.  He squeezed the Pem device in his hand, cursing the unfairness of all of it.  He held almost unimaginable power in his hand and it wasn’t enough.  It just wasn’t enough.

     Nelson stood there, a phantom watching the battered people of Earth press on with their lives, struggling to survive because that was what humans did.  Nelson felt a strange sort of calm and pride in his species settle on him.  Even in this terrible time and place, the humans of Earth did not give up.  They carried on, dimly hoping that somehow, they would find a way to make things better.  He stood watching the flow of life for a while, then saw the Harper family emerge from their hiding place and begin to move cautiously out of town.  Nelson followed them, moving time forward more quickly once they reached their hovel of a shelter outside of the settlement.  He watched them go about their lives in fast motion for a little while, days flying by in seconds, thinking as he did, growing sad as he came to a final conclusion about things.

     He waited for both parents to leave the shelter, making sure that they would be away for a while before rolling time back to when the small boy that would grow up to be his Harper came out to sit outside alone, playing with a little, tin whistle.  Nelson stepped fully into time again now and stood listening to the mournful song the boy was playing.  The boy realized he was there after a little while and looked up at him, wide eyed with fright as he lowered his instrument.  “That was lovely,” he told Harper, smiling softly at him, not wanting him to be afraid.

     Harper stared at him for a while, his eyes moving to take in Nelson’s arms especially, then he blinked, lowered his eyes respectfully and murmured, “M’ma and da ain’t ‘ere, Mista.”

     “You’re here,” Nelson replied, moving a little closer.  “Don’t be afraid.  I don’t want to hurt you.”

     Harper looked up a little, his eyes narrowing a bit.  “Y’d ‘ave t’catch me fer dat.  Yer old and I’m quick.  M’da says I’m quicker‘n anytin’.”  Nelson felt his smile ease unexpectedly toward sincerity.  His brazen boy, he thought warmly.  Harper bit the inside of his lip as his eyes searched Nelson’s face.  “Does it ‘urt?”

     Nelson felt his smile flag at the question.  “Hurt?  Does what hurt?” he asked in return.

     “Bein’ old,” Harper replied, searching Nelson’s face.  It dawned on Nelson that this child probably hadn’t ever known anyone his age before, at least not anyone human.

     “Sometimes,” Nelson told him, thinking how no child should be growing up in circumstances like this, how unfair it was that after braving all this, the boy would die so young.  He shrugged off that melancholy and took a casual step forward.  “Can I talk to you for a while before I move on?”

     “Yer talkin’ t’me now, ain’t ya?” Harper asked, tilting his head a little to the side and giving Nelson a look like he thought he was wondering if Nelson was all right in the head.  That made Nelson smile again.

     “I suppose I am,” he said, stepping a little closer.  “I... knew someone that you remind me of,” Nelson told him, struggling to keep the soft smile on his face.  “I miss him.  I miss him so much that it makes my heart ache.  Maybe, if we talk for a little while, I wouldn’t miss him so terribly.”

     The boy nodded slowly, not looking like he understood what Nelson was talking about.  How could he?  He was barely more than a baby.  “Yer friend?  ‘E a spacer too?” Harper asked, curiosity starting to take the place of the wariness Nelson could see in his body language.

     Nelson felt his smile ease again as he moved a little closer.  “And what makes you think I’m a spacer?” he asked.

     “Yer all clean, like, an’ you ain’t no Uber’r nothin’,” Harper observed, the rest of his fear seeming to fall away.  “And y’talk slave talk, but all nice.”

     Nelson smiled at the interesting compliments and moved casually next to the boy.  “Yes, he was a spacer,” he said.  “He was a ship’s engineer.”

     “W’as dat, a engin ear?  Why would a engine need a ear fer?” Harper asked, his brow wrinkling.  His face was dirty, bruises peeking out from beneath the filth, more most likely hidden by the rags serving as clothing.  Nelson wanted to wipe the dirt away and treat the boy’s injuries, but he settled for sitting next to him.

     “An engineer is someone that works with machines, maintains them and fixes broken ones.  He keeps a ship able to function.  You understand?” Nelson asked.  There was another slow nod, but Harper’s blue eyes were glittering with interest now.  Nelson longed to stroke the child’s cheek, but he was afraid that even the attempt would make the boy run from him.  It was enough to be close, he decided.

     “Space’s real big,” the boy said, looking up at the mud brown clouds in the sky with a far away expression.  “Did ‘is ship git lost’r sumptin’?”

     Nelson shook his head a little, saying quietly, “He’s dead.”  No matter how he said those words, they hurt like a knife plunging into him.

     Harper looked back to him, his little face going grim.  Nelson wasn’t sure if he understood about death.  He was a tiny child, after all.  “Yer friend, ‘ow’d ‘e die?  In battle?  The Ubers do fer’m?” he asked quietly, sounding sympathetic.  Nelson wanted to stroke his head and reassure him, thinking that of course Harper knew about death.  It was all around him.

     “He died saving my life,” Nelson said, suddenly finding tears hanging in his eyes.  Distress lit on the boy’s face and Nelson was about to stand and make some excuse to go before he really upset the child.  Before he could, Harper fairly threw himself at him and he found himself being hugged tenderly.

     “Don’ be sad.  Gran’ got killed savin’ ma from d’Magog.  Da says it was ‘cause ‘e loved her more’n bein’ alive ‘is own self, dat ‘e’s watchin’ us in heav’n ‘n all, waitin’ fer us.  Yer friend, ‘e probly loved ya d’same way, like.  ‘E would’na wan’ ya to be sad when ‘e’s watchin’ ya,” Harper told him, still hugging him, his tiny body settling into his lap.  Nelson closed his eyes, feeling tears spill out onto his cheeks as he carefully returned the embrace.  The boy was so small and felt so fragile, like a bird nestling against him.  He wanted to take the boy away from here, away from all the terrible things that would come and scar him, try to strip away the sweetness of this beautiful, giving child.  He couldn’t, though.  All of that was part of Harper, he’d realized.  Surviving all the pain and fear of his childhood had made Harper resilient and resourceful as an adult.  That it had failed to totally crush the generous, empathic spirit the boy was displaying even now only made Nelson prouder to have known him, to have been cared for by him.  He stroked the boy’s matted, dirty hair, cradling him gently in his arms as Harper continued to hug him tirelessly.  Nelson cried quietly for the loss of him as an adult.

     “W’as it like?  Space?  Is it clean, like?” Harper asked after a while, cuddling comfortably against Nelson’s chest.

     Nelson wiped his face, then shifted the boy so that he could look at him.  “It seemed like it was.  I spent most of my life exploring oceans, though,” he told him, offering him another forced smile.

     “On a water ship?  I like d’ocean.  I cin swim!” Harper told him proudly as he perched on Nelson’s thigh with a huge, sunny, dimple filled smile.

     Nelson chuckled softly and ruffled the boy’s hair gently.  “I’m sure you can,” he said, wanting that sweet smile to stay where it was.  He wanted to give Harper as much joy as the boy had given him when he grew up, but he knew that wasn’t possible.  He could give him something, though, and began to tell him about life his life as a Marine Biologist, knowing how much the adult Harper had seemed to love those stories.  Nelson told the boy about exploring the ocean’s depths, about fish and whales and jellies and mountains and chasms and everything he could think of to keep the rapt, attentive look on the child’s face.  Harper sat there on his lap, cuddling against Nelson’s side comfortably, looking up at him almost worshipfully, listening silently, his blue eyes glued to Nelson’s face.  He could have spent his life this way, telling stories to this child, watching him grow up strong and brilliant and warm and wonderful.  He wished this sweet child could be his to keep forever.  He wanted that, but he knew it wasn’t his to have, even if he took it for himself for just a little while.

     “Seamus!  Shay, lad!” came a distant call, rousing Nelson from the blissful moment he’d been sharing with Harper.

     “Da!” the boy called, then smiled angelically up at Nelson as he hoped off his lap.  Nelson didn’t want to let him go.  It was too soon.  He wanted more, but he knew his time was up.  “Dat’s m’da.  Cin ya stay?  Tell’m and m’ma all the wunnerful stories?  Please, please!”  He looked up at Nelson, excitement dancing across his soft, relaxed features.

     Nelson felt good that even if he couldn’t do more that he had given the boy a little while away from the pain and fear of his world, that he’d made him happy.  He longed to tell Harper yes, that he would stay, that he would never leave.  Maybe he could help them, protect the Harper family here somehow.  He cast those thoughts aside.  He knew he had his own life to get back to.  He couldn’t stay and they couldn’t come with him and it broke his heart.  “No,” he said, trying not to let it show.  “I have to go now.  Thank you, though, Seamus.  Thank you for sitting with me and listening to me for a while.”

     Disappointment wiped the excitement away from the boy’s face.  “No!  Don’ go!  Jus’ say hi, please?  Ya’ll like m’da.  ‘E’s like me, only big!  Please, stay jus’ a minute,” the boy begged, then ran off, yelling, “Da!  Da!  Come quick!  Come see!”

     “Good bye, Seamus,” Nelson murmured at the child’s back as he took the Pem device out of his pocket.  “I love you.  I miss you so much.”  And with that he pushed the button that returned him to his office.  He dropped back into his chair, unable to stand under the wave of grief that crashed over him.  “Good bye,” he murmured, then let his face fall into his hands and he mourned the loss of what could have been, of what should have been.

* * *

     Dom stood in her kitchen, washing dishes at two in the morning.  It was a mindless task, which was good, because she didn’t want to think about anything at the moment.  Everything reminded her of Seamus, even washing dishes.  She had just had a dream about him, that he wasn’t dead, that he was lost and needed her, but she couldn’t get to him even though she could see him.  It had upset her so much that she’d wound up sitting in bed, crying as quietly as possible because Ro was asleep on a cot she’d set up in the room.  No one would leave her alone and it was beginning to border on ridiculous.  Dom thought she might be able to cope a little better if people would just let her do it without an audience.  She had told everyone as much, but no one would listen.  At least the boys had gone to their respective homes tonight and she could come downstairs and have some peace in her kitchen.  They were shipping out with the tide tomorrow and Dom supposed she should go back to sleep, but as exhausted as she felt, she didn’t think she could.

     Once the dishes were clean, she went into her living room and sat back on the sofa.  She took the dragon toy that Seamus had given her and held it on her lap, staring at it, not even bothering to open it. just wanting to hold it.  Seamus had made her world magical and now he was gone.  He’d died trying to protect her.  Dom closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry.  What was wrong with her?  Seamus would hate seeing her like this.  He’d feel responsible, even though he’d had no say in the matter.  She couldn’t bear the thought that he might be feeling guilty about her grief right now.  She opened the toy and looked at the tiny, red dragon, snuggling back into the sofa cushions and letting the repetition of its movements calm her down.  It was almost hypnotizing and stopped her from thinking all those depressing thoughts.

     She didn’t realize any time had passed until the image started to flicker.  She closed the player and rubbed her eyes tiredly before glancing at the clock.  It was almost seven.  Hauling herself up, she went into the kitchen and put on some coffee for Ro, who would probably be rising any time now, then went to the drawer and got some fresh batteries for her toy.  This was the third set she’d put into it since Seamus’ death.  She could only hope that it wouldn’t break down, at least not until she felt more steady.  It was one of the few things of Seamus’ that she’d kept.  Mister O’Donnell had been kind enough to bring Seamus’ clothes to a homeless shelter that his Knights chapter helped to support.  She had thought Seamus would approve of that.  His rabbit’s foot was on a chain around her neck.  She had found it tangled in some other things and had spent half an hour holding it and crying because he hadn’t had it when he’d really needed its luck.  She hadn’t taken it off since except to shower.

     Ro shuffled in as the coffee was finishing brewing, saying, “When did you get up?  Why didn’t you wake me?  I can make my own coffee.  You don’t even drink the stuff.”

     “I’ve gotten used to the smell,” Dom said.  Seamus smelled like coffee and cola, tinged a little with the scent of the air during an electric storm.  She realized she was staring off into space and shook herself out of it.  “What would you like for breakfast?” she asked, thinking she needed something to do.

     “I can do that.  What would you like?” Ro asked in return.

     “I just want a glass of milk,” Dom replied, going to the cupboard to get a cup for herself and a mug for Ro’s coffee.  She’d had no appetite at all, but had forced herself to eat from time to time just so that people would leave her in peace.

     Ro frowned at her.  “You’ve got to eat,” she scolded predicably.  “I’m going to be frantic the whole cruise wondering if you’re eating.”

     “Well, I’ll try to meet you in the mess so you won’t be distracted,” Dom said with a shrug as she handed the mug toward Ro.

     Ro hesitated, giving her a funny look before taking the mug. “You’re on leave for this cruise,” she said finally.

     Dom frowned as she turned to her refrigerator.  “No.  I need to get out of my house and do something other than feel sorry for myself,” she told Ro, knowing that her face held nowhere near as much conviction as her voice.

     “Dom...” Ro started, her voice sad and unsure.

     Dom forced herself to put a determined look on her face as she turned back to her friend.  “Look, I’ve been moping around for days and it hasn’t made me feel any better.  Everything here reminds me of Seamus right now.  Besides, he’d hate seeing me all out of sorts like I am and I’m not to happy about it myself.  I don’t even know me right now.  I don’t behave this way.  I’m not some fragile, weepy little girl.”

     “Of course you’re not, but you’ve never lost anyone this close to you before,” Ro said, sympathy all over her face.

     “I was devastated when your parents died,” Dom told her, tears coming to her eyes again and Ro looked she was going to join in if she let them fall.  Dom chided herself for saying that.  Everyone was upset enough without her dragging more depressing things into the mix.

     Ro seemed to shake things off though, and came over to Dom and took the cup of milk from her to set it on the counter, then hugged her.  “I know you were, but all I saw was this shining pillar of strength that I could cling to.  You took care of me and got me through it.  I don’t know what I would have done without you.  I’ve been trying to do that for you, but I’m not as good at it as you are.  You made it look effortless.  Maybe you could go home, see your parents while we’re gone.  It would probably ease their minds if you did.”

     Dom returned the hug, saying, “You did fine, but I’ve cried my eyes out and now I need to get back to my life.”  She eased from Ro’s arms and gave her the most determined look she could manage.  “I’ve talked to my parents every day and they’ve offered to come here, but there’s no sense in them doing it.  I’m not going to miss Seamus any less here or in Massachusetts than on the Seaview and most of my friends will be there.  Besides, the Admiral probably isn’t going to take any time off and, knowing him, he’s been keeping to himself the past few days.  We can console each other.”

     Ro frowned a little and said, “You don’t have to look after the Admiral.  He’s a grown man.  He can take care of himself.”

     “But he probably won’t,” Dom told her, thinking that Ro probably already knew that but was trying to convince herself it wasn’t the case.  Dom knew better.  The men of the Seaview never took care of themselves.  All that aside, she’d had about as much downtime as she could stand.  Even standing here arguing with Ro was making her feel better.  It was definitely time to get out of the house.  “Look, I’m going to go get my things together and go to the Institute.  You can drive me or I’ll drive myself, but I’m going.”  Dom picked up her glass of milk and drank it down without pause, then marched up stairs and took a shower.

     When she got out of the bathroom, ready to go one way or another, Ro was sitting on her bed, dressed and giving her a displeased look.  “I called Lee.  He’s going to drive us both to the Institute,” she said.

     Dom rolled her eyes.  “In his tiny car?  How’s he going to manage that feat?  I’m not riding in the trunk.”

     “We’ll take my car,” Ro groaned out in frustration, still frowning.  “Lee thinks you should take some time off too.”

     “I’m sure he does.  Of course, he get’s beat half to death constantly and won’t even stay in Sick Bay for more than five minutes, so he’s one to talk,” Dom countered, going to grab the backpack she’d tossed onto her bed before starting her shower.  Her toy was still in the kitchen and she would get it before she left.  She reached up to stroke the rabbit’s foot and closed her eyes for a second, then hefted the pack onto her shoulder.  “I suppose I need a ride.  My Harley’s already at the Institute, so I can take that home again when we get back.”

     “How did your Harley get to the Institute?” Ro asked, sounding confused as she followed Dom out of the room.  “You usually bring your jeep when we’re going out one a cruise.”

     “Seamus was using it while I was gone,” Dom replied with a little shrug, blinking away tears again.  He’d loved the Harley.  Dom stroked his rabbit’s foot again, thinking that shouldn’t upset her.  The Harley had made Seamus happy.  He’d deserved to be happy.  If only they’d had more time.  She was sure they would have been happy together.

     “Well, maybe I’ll give you a ride back and one of the guys can bring your motorcycle around.  You shouldn’t ride it when you’re distracted,” Ro said.  Dom sighed.  Everyone was going to try to coddle her forever.

     Lee showed up at her door half an hour later, Ro trying to get her to eat something almost the whole time, going so far as to wave muffins and bagels under her nose.  Dom was actually glad when her door bell rang.  “You know, my other friends just walk in,” Dom told Lee after opening the door for him.

     “You should lock your door.  There are dangerous people...” Lee started to berate her, then got a stricken look on his face and was suddenly looking down and rubbing his neck, a blush creeping up from beneath his hand.  Dom sighed.  Not Lee too.  “I, uh, I was here to pick up Ro,” he said uncertainly.

     “And me,” Dom added, crossing her arms over her chest, giving him a look that dared him to deny her.  Wisely, he nodded, but he didn’t say anything.  “I’ll move my jeep out into the drive so that your car can be safe in the garage.”

     “You don’t need to bother.  I’ll just put up the top,” Lee said, still looking uncomfortable.

     “Trust me when I say that my jeep can take on any nasty weather that comes up while we’re away a whole lot better than your little chick magnet car,” Dom told him, taking out her keys.  What, were people going to protect her beat up old jeep too?

     “I’ll take care of it then,” Lee said, snatching the keys from her and walking purposefully away.  “I’ll lock up the house, too.  You ladies go get settled in Ro’s car,” he said as he headed toward the kitchen and the garage door therein.  Dom shook her head at him as she stated to reach for her pack.

     “I’ve got that,” Ro said, grabbing it and her bag and bustling them both out the front door before Dom could protest.

     Dom closed her eyes and rubbed one side of her forehead, muttering, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to stand this for very much longer.”  She heaved another sigh and went out to Ro’s car.

     She was glad that she lived so close to the Institute because the ride there was silent and uncomfortable.  She grabbed her pack from Ro and retreated quickly to her office to escape any more sympathy that might be coming her way.  Once she was there with the door closed, she collapsed into her desk chair and rubbed Seamus’ rabbits foot again.  “Seamus, I wish you were here to make a joke about all this,” she said quietly into the empty room.  “I just feel like screaming at people, which would be unfair.  They mean well.  They’re just driving me crazy.  I miss you.  I wish you were here to make me laugh again.”

     She had barely gotten the words out when there was a knock on the door.  Dreading the thought of what was going to come at her next, Dom half considered not answering.  Sighing, knowing that would be rude, she called, “Come in.”  When the door opened, she wished she had been rude, because Greg Portman came strutting in like he owned the place, smiling his clueless, attempting to be charming smile at her.  Dom was in no mood for dealing with him, but she did her best to rise to the occasion.  “Oh, Greg.  I’m sorry.  I thought you were the Admiral,” she said, rising from her desk and grabbing her pack again.  Plainly, this was not a safe place to hide.  She’d go to her cabin on the Seaview and avoid everyone there.  “I probably got my signals crossed.  I was supposed to meet him at his office, I guess.  I’m keeping him waiting, so I’d better hurry.  See you around,” she said as she shot by him.  She hoped he’d take the hint and leave her alone, but Greg turned and scampered after her.

     “I’m sure he doesn’t mind.  You’ve got your mind on other things, after all,” Greg said, doggedly keeping up with her even when she walked a little faster.  Dom glanced at him, wondering if he was attempting to offer his condolences.  He smiled warmly when he saw her look his way.  Maybe he wasn’t such a terrible person, Dom tried to tell herself.  Maybe he’d just been jealous of Seamus and that’s why he’d been so mean.  Maybe he was trying to apologize.  Whatever it was he wanted, she found herself not caring and wished he’d let her be for once.

     “I’m sure you’re busy, Greg.  I’ll...” Dom started, thinking that he might take the hint for once.

     “Oh, busy doesn’t begin to cover it!” Greg lamented.  “Poor Andrew is in a state over everything that’s suddenly been dumped on him.  I’ll probably have to hold his hand a lot, like I’ve been doing, quite frankly, practically since I started here.”  Dom felt her face go hard.  So, Seamus was totally right.  Greg was an utter bastard.  Imagine picking on poor Mister Fletcher, especially now!  He was a sweet man and Greg was plainly a vulture, looking to prey on him while he was mourning.  Dom was glad she was heading toward the Admiral’s office.  She certainly had something to tell him once she got there.  “I know you’re feeling very turned around right now, but you’ll see that everything that happened was for the best,” Greg babbled on glibly.

     “For the best!” Dom shouted, coming to an abrupt halt and glaring at him.

     “Well, yes.  I mean, if the Admiral had been killed instead of Harper...” Portman started, falling back a step, looking suddenly frightened.

     “Seamus saved the Admiral’s life and mine!  He gave his life for us!  How dare you?!!” Dom screamed at him, livid, barely able to think.

     “I know you’re upset...” Greg said, making calming motions with his hands now as he started to slowly back away from her.  Dom was having none of it.  He’d started this.  She would finish it.

     “Upset!  You think I’m upset?!  I saw the sweetest, most loving man I’ve ever known murdered right in front of me and you think upset covers it?!  You toad!  That alien thing ripped out my heart when he killed Seamus!  How dare you talk about him like his life was an acceptable price to pay for anyone else’s?!” she shrieked at him.

     “Now... now Dominica... Really...  I know you cared for him, but you have to know that he was nothing compared to...” Greg tried to reason with her.  Dom was beyond reason, though.  She heard Greg call Seamus nothing and she went insane with fury and grief.  She shrieked and threw herself at him, pummeling him viciously with her pack and kicking him and even punching him as she howled inarticulately at him, she was so enraged.  She didn’t stop until someone grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides and pulling her off of him.  Only then did she realize anyone else was even there and that there were raised voices all along the corridor.

     “Calm down.  It’s all right,” came Chip’s reasonable voice trying to sooth her.  She didn’t want to be soothed.

     “He called Seamus nothing!” she shrieked, then felt like something in her had suddenly broken and all the strength went out of her.  “He was everything to me.  Everything,” she sobbed and found herself being turned around and cradled in Chips arms and gently hushed as he held her.

     “What’s wrong with you, man?  The girl’s been through enough and you do this to her?” Nelson was demanding, sounding furious.

     “Me?!! She was the one hitting me!  I think she broke my nose!” Greg was whining petulantly.

     “You insensitive clod,” Ro’s voice came.

     “Get security.  I want him escorted off my property,” Nelson snapped, but Dom didn’t know to who.

     “I’ll do it myself,” Lee’s voice came, full of quiet fury.

     “I’ll help,” Ro said, her words followed by the sound of knuckles being cracked.

     “But...” Greg tried to argue, sounding alarmed.

     “You are fired, Mister Portman.  Leave quietly and quickly before someone else decides to give you what you deserve,” Nelson snarled.  Greg continued to sputter, but it was growing more distant by the second.  Dom felt a hand gently rub her shoulder and the Admiral say far more softly, “Here, now.  Don’t let someone as petty minded as him do this to you.”

     “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry,” Dom sobbed, not sure what she was what she was apologizing for.  She felt like she had let everyone down, Seamus especially.  What must he think, seeing her like this?  He must be so ashamed of her.

     “There, there,” Nelson said, petting her again, gently taking her from Chip’s arms and settling her into his own.  “I’ll take care of Dominica, Chip.  You go help Lee and Miss Simmons take out the trash.”

     “It would be my pleasure, sir,” Chip growled, then was gone.  Greg would be lucky to make it to the gate alive by the sound of things, not that Dom felt a bit sorry for him as the Admiral led her away.  She didn’t resist in any way.  She could only imagine what he must be thinking right now, aside from that she was not the same strong person he’d come to rely on.

     “Admiral!  What...” Katy’s voice came a moment later, sounding alarmed.

     “Katy, please see to it that we’re not disturbed,” Nelson told her, not stopping until they were in his office.  There he only paused long enough to shut the door, then took her to the sofa off to one side of the room and sat down there with her, still sheltering her in his arms, and said, “I’m sorry that happened.  I should have gotten rid of Mister Portman a long time ago when I saw what sort of man he was.”

     Dom shook her head, unable to speak, just sobbing for a while.  “Seamus wasn’t nothing.  He was a good man,” she managed after a while, hiccupping it out.

     “I know,” Nelson assured her, stroking her hair.  “People like Portman would never see that, though.  They’re too wrapped up with unimportant things, trying to put a price tag on people like they’re things.  We would be better off without men like Portman in the world, but they seem to survive when better men are taken from us.  It isn’t fair, is it?  It isn’t right.”

     Dom nodded against him, then sat up a little to wipe her face.  Nelson rose and returned with a damp wash cloth and towel from his private bathroom.  “Thank you,” she sniffled, wiping her face again.  “I’m sorry.”

     “Don’t be, Dominica,” Nelson said with a dismissively wave.  “I probably would have shot the man if he’d said that to me.”

     Dom looked up at him, thinking he’d sounded awfully sincere.  “No, you wouldn’t.”

     Nelson pursed his lips a moment, then said, “I don’t think anyone would have objected,” before giving her a little grin.  Dom didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh or cry and ended up doing a little of both.  “It would be all right if you decided to go home, you know.  I’ll struggle on without you if I must,” he said, stroking her head affectionately again.

     Dom looked up at the Admiral and he offered her a soft, compassionate smile.  “I thought I was all right.  I don’t blame you for not wanting me to come with you,” she said, feeling miserable.

     Nelson frowned a little and said, “Of course I want you with us, but only if you’re ready.”

     “I just want to do something besides miss Seamus,” she told him.  “I miss him so much.”  She was broken, she thought.  She would never be all right again.

     Nelson stroked her cheek.  “So do I,” he told her.  “I doubt I’ll ever stop missing him entirely and it’s all right if you don’t either.  Seamus was a very special young man.  We were fortunate for the time we had with him.”  Dom nodded and rose to hug the Admiral.  He patted her back gently.  “We’ll wait a while, let things in the Institute calm down a bit, then go to the Seaview together,” he told her, when she drew away from him again.

     “Thank you, Admiral,” Dom said, grateful that he was such a good man.

     “You’re quite welcome, Dominica,” he told her, then got a contemplative look on his face.  “Did Seamus ever tell you about his first time flying the Eureka Maru?” he asked.

     “He told you about that?” Dom asked in return, rather surprised he had.  Seamus had blushed with embarrassment describing how he had nearly crashed the freighter into a rather large planet on that first attempt.

     “Oh yes,” Nelson said with a smile and a laugh.  “You know, I do think I’ll have a drink.  Would you like one?”

     Dom shook her head.  “A ginger ale?” she asked, thinking her twitchy stomach could manage that.

     “Coming right up,” Nelson said going to the small bar nearby.  “How about the casino on Denah Drift?  Did he tell you about that?”

     “No, I don’t think so,” Dom said as she sat back down on the sofa again.

     “Ah ha.  Good.  That was quite the story, really,” Nelson said, returning with their drinks.

     The Admiral told the story, quite a funny one really, about Seamus’ first attempt to bluff at cards.  Knowing his expressive face, Dom couldn’t picture him having any more success than he had in his story.  She told Nelson a story in return, one about his first meeting with Trance.  They shared stories that no one else would appreciate because they alone had shared Seamus’ confidence about where he was really from.  Dom stopped feeling so alone and she hoped that the Admiral felt the same way.

     They talked and laughed and cried a little together about Seamus until they almost missed the Seaview’s launch.  Nelson asked Dom to stay with him in the nose as the Seaview set sail and she didn’t mind doing so.  As they stood at the bow together, watching as the Seaview sank beneath the channel’s waters.  They would be at sea soon.  Seamus loved the ocean.  They had sat out on her back porch watching the waves often.  Dom reached over and silently took the Admiral’s hand, knowing that he loved Seamus as much as she did, that neither of them would forget him.  Nelson glanced at her, offered her a small smile and squeezed her hand gently before turning back to the Herculite windows.  She looked up at him for a moment, then back out at the water and thought that she might be okay after all.

* * *

 

 

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