Title: Perceptions
Author: Mercury's Winter mercurys_winter@yahoo.com
Archive: Yes, ask first please.
Disclaimer: This is all in fun, no money is coming my way, Andromeda and it's characters belong to Tribune Entertainment.
Rating: PG-13 for a couple of minor swears
Setting/Season: Set sometime in the third season, after Shards but before A Rev Deferred
Spoilers: TWG, TSOR, Little tiny one for the big "O"
Comments/Feedback: Yes PLEASE! It's the only reason I write LOL Love it? Hate it? Let me hear about it!
Summary: Harper contemplates his fate after a disastrous mission. Did I mention he's in the shower? *eg*
A/N: Our boys still has NO self-worth ;)

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"Singin' in the shower, just singin' in the shower!" Harper crooned in the loudest, most horribly off-key voice he could manage. If Rommie and Trance were gonna eavesdrop on him, he was determined to give them an earful. Angrily he grabbed the shower gel and spurted a generous dollop into his palm. The bottle made a rude sound to signal that it was nearly empty. Harper smirked childishly at the noise, the first hint of his normally bubbly personality breaking through the depression that had plagued him since waking. "Second verse, same as the first!" Harper yelled and kept on serenading his makeshift guards. He replaced the bottle on the rail and brought his hands up to his face, deeply inhaling the fruity citrus and jasmine all-in-one body wash. He let his breath out in a sigh. He was determined to enjoy his shower and keep his mind from the events that led to him requiring an audience. He was finally able to wash the stench of sick from his lean body and he wasn't about to let a crummy thing like guilt ruin the first shower he'd had in...well, longer than he cared to remember.

Harper slowly rubbed his hands together, relishing the soft feel of thick, rich lather. Almost absentmindedly he began his washing ritual. Arms first, no tan left from his last shore-leave on Infinity. He sighed again, such was life in space. Beka could never figure out why he would enjoy subjecting himself to radiation strong enough to bake the outer layer of his skin but she never failed to mention how good she thought it looked on him. Beka was funny that way, a study in contradictions. The only thing that was constant about Beka was the thing that really mattered, her loyalty and her heart. Harper knew that he could always count on Beka, no matter what and that, to him, was what family meant. Up until this latest escapade that is. Beka's face flashed through his mind. She was yelling something at him, he pushed her out of the way. He *pushed* her and then he'd...well, he couldn't remember what exactly he'd done next but he knew it must be pretty bad because Beka hadn't come to see him since he woke up. Would this be the final straw? Could he have broken her heart and trust for good this time?

Harper slammed a mental wall around that line of thinking. Turning his attention back to the business at hand, he breathed deep the thick fog of steam enveloping him, hiding him from Rommie and Trance's baleful gazes. Thankfully they couldn't see him but they could still hear him so he decided to switch tunes.

"I have a sad story to tell you,
it may hurt your feelings a *bit*.
Last night when I walked into my bathroom,
I stepped in a big pile of ssssshhhhhh....aving cream."

He snickered as twin groans floated across the steam to his ears. Encouraged that this particular song would evoke the desired response, he pressed on.

Allowing the lyrics to slide mindlessly from his mouth, Harper re-lathered his hands and turned his attention to his sinewy chest. Not what he'd call muscular but a far sight better than when he'd first left Earth. His recent trips to the gym and self-defense lessons with Tyr had definitely toned the muscles of his entire body. He could even detect the first signs of a 'six pack' dimpling his midsection. Almost reluctantly he stepped into the scalding spray and watched the rich lather slowly melt from his body and swirl down the drain. A stubborn dollop of lather lodged itself in his navel. Harper watched, transfixed as rivulets of water beaded on his skin and ran wandering patterns through the numerous scars on his chest. The gathering streams appeared intent on attacking the suds in his belly button. The river plunged into the depths of his umbilicus and engaged in a short battle with the rogue bubbles. The brilliant white suds squirmed and writhed under the onslaught. They looked almost grotesque in their actions almost like...Harper shuddered *don't go there* he thought to himself. The larvae were gone--for good, for-ever. Harper shivered and wrapped his arms protectively around his abdomen.

"Harper?" It was Trance. Harper heaved a shaky sigh and realized he'd stopped singing and that Trance was worried he'd drowned or something. He concentrated a moment on slowing his heart and erasing any trace of tremor from his voice before he continued singing, louder if that was possible.

"An old lady died in the bathtub,
she died from a terrible *fit*.
In order fulfill her wishes,
she was buried in six feet of
ssssshhhhh...aving cream."

Harper sensed rather than saw Trance move away from the translucent shower door and resume her post next to Rommie at the entrance to the med-bay bathroom. Once again Harper tamped down the feeling of resentment that automatically rose to the fore of his emotions. He knew he deserved guarding after the stunt he pulled, actually, he was pretty certain that if he was well enough to shower, he was well enough to be going straight from the shower to the brig. He'd deserve it too after what he'd done. He couldn't understand how Rommie and Trance could even *care* whether or not he drown in the shower.

Redoubling his efforts to enjoy what may be his last shower for awhile, perhaps even his last moments of freedom, Harper grabbed at the shower gel again and stabbed it at his palm, squeezing for all he was worth. The bottle gave a wheezy sigh as it spat and farted pathetic little droplets into his hand. Frustrated and angry Harper threw the bottle against the wall with a snarl.

"Harper..." Rommie said, drawing out the last syllable of his name in warning.

"I need more soap." Harper sighed. Suddenly all the anger drained from his body and was carried away with the waste water down the drain and off to the recyclers. All that remained was despair. What had he been thinking? In the past week he had destroyed equipment that was worth millions of thrones, managed to single-handedly destroy any possibility of the Europans ever joining the Commonwealth *and* get himself sick as a dog in the process.

His self-recriminations were interrupted as a fresh bottle of gel was thrust over the door of the shower. Harper mumbled what he hoped passed for a thank you and dejectedly flipped the lid of the soap. The same invigorating scent of citrus and jasmine wafted through the steam and filled his nose but he didn't take the same pleasure from it that he had just minutes before. Applying minimal pressure to the full bottle brought forth a deluge of gel and Harper immediately righted the container an placed it on the rail as he attempted to keep the large puddle in his palm from spilling. Unceremoniously he dumped the contents onto his head and began to massage it into a frothy lather.

More scars met his probing fingertips and more memories assailed him. He squeezed his eyes shut tight in a vain attempt to close out the visions his mind brought forth. He and Tyr fighting valiantly side-by-side against the onslaught of Magog. What did Tyr think of him now? Would he look on him with disdain once again? Harper turned his face to the spray as his fingernails raked his scalp, trying to force his mind away from the thought of the Kodiak's soulful dark eyes filled with contempt. Tyr had once called Harper his blood brother. Did one act of stupidity erase such a bond? Harper recalled hearing Tyr's voice over the com as he'd set about destroying the planet's power system. He didn't know what the Nietzschean was saying but from the panicked tone Harper knew it wasn't good and probably threatened the man's very survival. Sheesh, was there anything worse you could do to a Nietzschean?

Harper turned his back on those thoughts as he turned his back to the jets of water and allowed them to rinse his now aching head. He reached for the soap for the last time and began working on cleansing his lower body. As he reached his legs he spied a jagged white slash of puckered skin. The scar he had received when he and Dylan were on their quest to retrieve the Shards of Rimni. After whats-his-toes had been reduced to a blubbering mess when the shards didn't work, he went absolutely apeshit and attacked Dylan with a shard from the vase. Dylan jumped out of the way and was about to restrain the psycho when Harper decided he needed help. Well, turns out Harper just got in the way and ended up with the shard stuck to the hilt in his thigh. Harper had been mortified, he had held his own the entire mission, finally showing Dylan that he could take care of himself away from the Andromeda. Then he had to go and get skewered. The damn shard nicked an artery and Harper nearly bled to death before they were able to reach medical attention. The fact that Dylan hadn't let Harper on another away mission since had not escaped Harper's notice. Not until a week ago that is. God, what was Dylan going to think of him now? All the respect Harper had tried so hard to earn flushed down the toilet along with trust and friendship. Damn!

He was beginning to tire. His muscles weak from days spent fighting for his life on a cot in med-bay. At least that's what he'd been told. He could see the weary expression on Rommie and Trance's face that meant he'd given them a big scare--again--and that they were getting a little more than tired of constantly patching him up. He tried for one last verse to show Rommie and Trance that he was fine, that it didn't bother him if they hated him. That he would be fine, he would survive just as he always had even though this time he knew it wasn't true. The people on board this ship, hell, the ship itself had become such a huge part of his life, he knew he would die without them. He sucked in a lung full of steam and bellowed for all he was worth:

"And now folks my story is ended,
I think it is time I should *quit*.
If any of you feel offended,
stick your head in a barrel of
sssshhhh...aving cream, be nice and clean.
Shave every day and you'll always look keen!"

Harper finished with a flourish as he turned off the faucet and slid the door of the shower open far enough to reach his had through. He groped blindly for the towel he was sure he left on the bar next to the door only to have it placed gently in his hand. Surprised, he yanked it back into the cubicle with him and dried off as quickly as possible. Now that his shower was over, he was in a anxious to get the next phase over with. He plastered on his best cocky grin, wrapped the towel around his waist and slid the door open. Steam billowed out with him, obscuring his view. He cautiously made his way across the slippery tile, his hand on the wall to steady himself. The wall felt cool under his touch, too cool. It raised gooseflesh on his arms and he shivered from the combination of scalding hot water, cold tile in his feet and hand and the lingering fingers of fever he had suffered. Stumbling slightly as the strength he had gained since awakening that morning slowly left him, he reached the spot where Rommie and Trance had been. He couldn't decide if he was relieved or disappointed that they had vacated their guard posts. Harper peeked into the med bay, certain he would spot their disapproving stares but he was greeted by only beds and medical equipment.

He gave a shaky laugh as he gauged the distance to his bed and decided it looked about as far away as Tarn Vedra. He gazed at it longingly wishing it would wheel itself over to the bathroom so he wouldn't have to trudge the millions of light years that separated them before he could lie down. Harper cocked his head to one side, something on the bed caught his attention, something dark and out of place in the sterile white room. With curiosity as his motivation he abandoned the security of the doorway and struck out on his journey to his cot. He made it in record time, considering he was as strong as a newborn kitten when he reached his goal. He fell face first on the cool sheets with a groan of exhaustion. Sweat beaded his forehead and his hair scrunched on the pillow. He nearly let himself be swept away to dreamland-not always his favorite place-before remembering what had pushed him to cross the great divide.

Slowly he pushed himself up and examined the parcel on his bed. Clothes. Damn. He didn't know what he'd hoped to find but it sure as hell wasn't clothes. He sighed again and wondered what was to become of him.

As if reading his thoughts, Andromeda's hologram flickered to life beside him. Harper nearly jumped off the bed. "Ya know, you'd think I'd be used to that by now." He muttered as he pretended to examine the slacks that were left on his bed.

"Uh-huh." Andromeda crossed her arms and scrutinized her engineer. Harper squirmed as her electronic gaze bore into him. "Dylan wants to see you on Obs deck in 15 minutes."

*Oh no* Harper thought. *This is it. Time to face the music* He felt his face go a few shades whiter than normal. He refused to look at the hologram lest she see the fear and pain in his eyes. He dutifully nodded his head and only moved his eyes away from the pile of clothes when he heard the distinct sound of the hologram leaving. He blew out the breath that he hadn't been aware of holding and ran a shaky hand through his still-damp hair making it stand up higher than normal.

All his attention focused on what punishment he was about to meet and what scorn his friends would greet him with, Harper dressed on total auto-pilot. He shoved his weariness and a rising bout of nausea aside, determined not to let his unease--fear--show.

Slowly, with one heavy, dragging footstep after another, Harper made his way from the med-bay toward the Observation Lounge. The doors were closed when he arrived and he silently thanked Andromeda for the opportunity to compose himself. He leaned against the cool metal wall, savoring it's support as he struggled to rein in his ragged breathing and pounding heart. Gradually he felt his strength return even as his resolve waivered. Bright spots of fever and exertion colored his cheeks while the rest of his skin was pasty and covered in a fine sheen of sweat. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve and sighed heavily when it came away damp. Quickly Harper ran his fingers through his hair in a futile attempt to tame its many spikes. Feeling himself as presentable as possible considering his condition he touched the pad and the doors wooshed open.

He tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat while straightening his shoulders and tilting his chin in what he hoped passed for a dignified posture. He was going to face his punishment but he was going to face it like a man. He still wasn't sure *exactly* what he'd done but he from what he'd pieced together, it was Bad with a capital B. Taking a deep breath, he crossed the threshold.

To his utter surprise, the room had been cleared of its normal furniture and replaced with folding chairs. His legs froze when he finally took in the fact that every seat was filled. Harper managed to thaw his rebellious limbs when he realized that most of the 'guests' were Europan citizens. They were easy to distinguish from the others that had come to witness his humiliation in the fact that they were all totally bald...even the women. He had to concentrate hard on not shielding his eyes from the glare of so many chrome domes. A hysterical giggle tried to force itself past the lump in his throat. Harper pretended to brush some lint off his trousers while he brought himself under control.

He fixed his gaze on the floor as if it held the meaning of life. He moved one foot and then the other, slowly padding his way down the isle. He could feel every eye on him, condemning him, blaming him. He knew he deserved such scrutiny but that didn't make it any easier to withstand. He risked a glance at the podium that had been set up in front of the large windows which currently displayed the beautiful planet Europa slowly rotating beneath them. *Well, at least it's still there, no thanks to me* Harper thought ruefully. For the first time he noticed chairs on the platform which held the podium. They were filled with his friends. Beka, Trance, Rommie, Tyr and...was that REV? *Oh my God! They dragged Rev here just to see me sentenced to a million years hard labor?* Harper's legs turned to jello. This was *way* worse than even he could have imagined. *Maybe they're gonna let him eat you* His sneaky, traitorous inner voice whispered. He began to shake with nervous fear, the quaking causing his legs to nearly fold. *Rev wouldn't--couldn't--that's just ridiculous!* He mentally shook himself and attempted to think rationally. He was at the platform, Dylan was standing beside the podium, apparently waiting for him.

"Mr. Harper." Dylan said calmly. "Would you please join me next to the podium?" Harper's knees locked, it took him a couple of tries to lift his foot the six inches up to the platform. Dylan shifted, ready to assist the young man should he require it.

Finally Harper gained the platform and stood facing Dylan. He couldn't meet the other man's eyes, his gaze wandered to his seated friends but found them all studying the floor, apparently not able to even look at him. A wave of dizziness swept across Harper as he realized just how deep he was in. Dylan wasn't looking at him anymore, that was good. He was addressing the crowd. Harper couldn't make out what he was saying, the blood pounding in his ears doing a fairly good job of drowning out all sound. The room did a crazy loop and Harper was sure he was going to loose his breakfast all over the Commonwealth symbol emblazoned on the podium.

Harper closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing slowly, in and out. His version of slow breathing was actually a lesser degree of the hyperventilating he'd been doing since he entered the room but it was doing the trick. Gradually the dizzy sensation lessened and sound began to filter back into his consciousness. Dylan was still talking, couldn't he just get it over with already?

"...and for meritous conduct becoming an officer of his unofficial standing, I have the distinct honor of bestowing the highest award the Commonwealth has to offer, the Honor of the Empress, on Seamus Zelazny Harper."

Huh?

Dylan turned to Harper and placed a ribbon around his neck. Hanging from the ribbon was a gold medal with the emblem of the Commonwealth wrapped in the protective cocoon of the emblem of the High Guard. Harper's brain still hadn't caught up with the strange turn of events. The next thing Harper knew, Dylan grabbed his right hand and pumped it enthusiastically. "Congratulations Mr. Harper, and thank you from the people of Europa and from all of us." He waved his left hand over the crowd and for the first time, Harper recognized the other attendees, all of which were all on their feet applauding. Persieds, humans, representatives from the Sabra-Jaguar pride, and several other member world delegates interspersed through the crowd of cheering Europans.

Suddenly Harper was being crushed, panic bubbled to the surface and he began to squirm helplessly. The pressure on his ribcage eased slightly and through the gray at the edge of his vision swam Beka's face. She was smiling and tears were streaming down her face. She reached up and ruffled his hair affectionately and was promptly pushed aside by a certain golden pixie convinced that Beka was hogging all the fun. Once again the air was forced from his lungs this time it was from Trance's embrace. She smiled at him at gave him a peck on the cheek before she moved aside and let Rommie have her turn.

Harper winced as he thought of what the android's arms could do to his ribs but he was engulfed in a gentle hug. He felt her soft artificial breath on his neck as she whispered something to him. It was lost in the din of the celebration that was taking place all around him. Then she was gone and Harper found himself staring at a chest. Slowly he dragged his eyes up and up and up until they met the suddenly over-bright brown eyes of Tyr Anasazi. Harper froze for a second when he saw what he thought he would, contempt, but it was just a trick of his very confused mind. He blinked rapidly and all he could see in the Kodiak's eyes was respect and pride. Tyr clapped his hand to Harper's shoulder and pulled him into a brief and very unexpected one-armed hug. Just as quickly he was gone and Rev stood before Harper.

Harper jumped back at the sight of the magog, again flashing to his thoughts as he entered the room, still not entirely convinced any of this was real. He didn't get far in his retreat however, he bumped into something solid. He risked taking his eyes off of Rev for an instant and realized Dylan was behind him, ready to support him again. Turning back to face Rev, he plastered on a shaky smile. Rev bowed deeply and said something about the Devine leading all our paths.

Harper felt hands on his shoulders, he flinched and turned. He knew it was Dylan but he still couldn't look him in the eyes, afraid of what he would see there. "Harper," Dylan said. Harper studied the latches on Dylan's uniform as if they were a new puzzle for him to decipher. "Harper." Dylan said a little more forcefully. Fearfully, Harper raised his gaze and blue eyes met blue. Harper sagged with relief when he saw friendship, trust and respect reflected back at him. "Harper?" Dylan was looking at him oddly now, concern lining his face.

"S'ok, 'm ok." Harper said, the room was doing that annoying looping thing again and this time no amount of breathing was going to stop it. He was confused and relieved and...confused. His vision swirled to a pinpoint as he felt strong hands guiding him to the floor. *Hmmm...for a warship, Rommie, you sure have comfortable floors* Harper thought as he passed out.

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Epilogue

"What's wrong with him?"

"He's still getting over the virus he got on Europa."

"I knew it was too soon for the ceremony."

"Well, Beka, we have to leave orbit in order to reach Sinti in time for the election and the Europans weren't about to let us go until they thanked Harper."

"Well, they damn near *thanked* him to death...TWICE!"

The voices slowly filtered their way through the cotton that was apparently stuffed into Harper's brain. *Oh boy, Beka's mad, maybe I can play dead for awhile longer, just until she calms down* Harper thought and tried to fake being asleep. Unfortunately for him his curiosity once again got the better of him and he risked slitting one eye open to see what was going on around him, not to mention find out where the hell he was. Bright light stabbed right to his brain and he let out an involuntary moan as he slammed his eyes shut tight.

Silence greeted his moan for about two seconds then everyone started talking at once, causing his head to throb even more violently. He groaned again and they stopped. *Hey, I just figured out a way to shut them all up, gotta remember that one*

"Harper, how are you feeling?" It was Trance and from the nearness of her voice and the sudden dip in the mattress, Harper figured she was making herself comfortable for the duration.

"Too bright." He mumbled, apparently the cotton that was stuffing his brain had leaked into his mouth, talking around it was difficult to say the least.

"Oh, sorry." Harper could feel the harsh light against his lids dim. "Here, have a drink, but only a small sip." A cup materialized at his lips and he let the cool liquid absorb the cotton and slide soothingly down his throat.

"What happened?" He croaked. He finally risked opening his eyes again and much to his relief was able to blink yet more cotton away without much pain and bring the room into focus.

"You passed out at your award ceremony." Dylan supplied.

"My what?" Gradually the events of the last week filtered into his consciousness. "What the heck was that all about?"

"Don't you remember?" Trance asked innocently.

"Uh, I remember thinking I was gonna get 50 years hard labor and then the next thing I know you all were hugging me and the Europans were cheering..." Harper let the sentence hang in the air.

"You thought *what* exactly?" Beka asked, her hands on her hips in her patented, 'I can't believe you just said that' pose.

"Ah, I thought you guys were pissed at me for blowing the Europa power grid, ruining the alliance and getting myself sick--again." Harper murmured, his face turning bright red.

Tyr threw his hands in the air, "Of all the ridiculous...Boy! Where would you ever get an idea like that?"

"Well, Tyr," Trance interjected, "You have to remember, he was already sick when he saved the planet so his memory might not be entirely reliable."

"Saved...ah, saved what exactly?" Harper stuttered, he resisted the urge to pinch himself, certain that this was all some weird, fever induced dream.

Dylan sat on the bed opposite Trance. "Exactly what she said, Harper, you risked your life when the grid went down and threatened the entire planet. Without regard for your own safety you jacked into their system and aborted a total meltdown. Getting yourself a nasty shock in the process."

"You gave us quite a scare there shorty." Beka laid a cool hand on his forehead. "I'm glad you're gonna be ok."

"We should let him rest, he's going to need his strength back if he's going to help the Europans repair and rebuild their power grid." Trance smiled sweetly and gave him another peck on the cheek before rising and shooing the others from the room.

Rev bowed his goodbye, Dylan shook his hand again and Tyr merely grunted apparently having had his fill of 'touchy feelies'.

Left alone at last, Harper let all the new information soak in. It was amazing what perceptions could do to a person. He thought that he had made the biggest mistake of his life and turned out he had saved millions. He had let his perception of the events of the last week rule his mind and his actions. Harper shook his head and snuggled down into the stiff blankets of *his* med-bay bed. He drifted off to sleep already planning the improvements he would make to the Europan power system.

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The End