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Summary: Sick of Harper getting sick all the time? Me too. Curiously enough, so is he. And so is she. (GoldenTrance/Harper)
Note: A continuation of a string of fics where Golden Trance and Harper are together late Season Three/early Season Four – no more Tyr, but not yet Telemachus. See 'Weak Attractors' and the follow-on, 'Spoons' (at Silverlake or Andromeda Uncovered). Props courtesy of the Bard.
Spoilers: Odds and sods - Harper 2.0, Dance of the Mayflies, Its Hour Come Round At Last, Ouroboros.
Feedback: Is a very caring, sharing thing to do.
Come forth, thou fearful man.
Affliction is enamoured of thy parts,
And thou art wedded to calamity…
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Baby, I got sick this morning…
Again (and again and again). He's always sick. Fact of life – suns burn, planets turn, life goes on, and he gets sick. That's the way it is, get over it. He is.
Over it, I mean.
"I am lying down."
"No – properly."
"So what is it? No, don't tell me, lemme guess." Teeth chattering. "Uh, lemme think – Zynne fever. No, that was last month. Uh, what about –"
"Correllian flu, really – well that's just perfect. Peachy. Peachy perfect, in fact –"
"Seamus, lie down."
"I am lying down."
"Unless it's warmed-up Sparky I'm not –"
"Drink…thank you. Now hold still."
"Ah, the shots. This is the part I love."
"No, this is the part you love."
Her hand resting gently on his shoulder, and her lips, all seasons rolled together. She's right – this is the part he loves. He just prefers it when the love isn't immediately prefaced by the breakdown of his parts.
Four days– shaking and sweating;
Two days– aching, feeling generally crappy;
Two days- improving steadily;
One day– blurred around the edges, basically okay
= 9 days altogether, making a total recovery average of between 6-8 days, means tested over the last quarter. An overall improvement over the first quarter, with an average of 9-12 days, although you need to factor in Magog infestations, brain-scrambling library databases, etc. Attacks by scions of the Abyss count for extra points, and he thinks the crew have been taking discreet wagers while his back is turned.
On the up side, the figures have been looking better since he and Trance started sleeping together.
But it's kind of irrelevant too, because he still gets sick again four weeks and three days later.
In the beginning, your nose starts itching, and then your brain. Hair on your arms rises with the corridor breeze. Add jacket. Add sullen aching at the temples, stir restless in your sleep to combine, wake up with sore muscles and God's Own Patented Headache from Hell. Slap your own cheek to get your attention, water your eyes liberally. Swear under your breath with a dry mouth, until you get the dry heaves, and call it a day.
Ah crap, not this. Not again.
He's starting to think of his body as a traitor.
Turncoat. Coward. His immune system pivots and takes flight at the first sign of trouble.
'How many times do we have to go over this, Mr Harper – your immune system sucks.'
No fucking kidding.
Trance pulls his t-shirt over his head. She is behind him. The lights are dim. Evidence of his poor genetic ancestry is written on his skin – lines and scars from old beatings, striations from whippings, the thick raised tremulo where he was sliced up by a Nietzschean once. He was fourteen. He's nearly thirty now, and his body still hasn't recovered.
It wasn't so bad when he was fourteen. He wasn't the only one breaking down. Everybody gets sick, Seamus, and that might've been true in Boston when his mother said it once, but now, not so.
Not everybody. Just his body.
He doesn't want to take his meds. She tells him she'll administer them with an injector if necessary.
"Will you stop treating me like a child?"
"Will you stop acting like one?"
I want to, he thinks, but this fucking stupid flesh won't let me.
He thinks of his body as a traitor.
She crawls under the covers to curl against him. She has no fear of illness – human cycles of disease and immunity are beyond her. She strokes his bare shoulder and feathers his hair, watches him snuffle down, eyes screwed up tight. He's listless, uninterested. She finds it curious, that it is on the two warring planes of sex and illness that all human bodies come alive to sensation so intimately. Feel your insides out. Hard, on these days, to convince him that his physicality is worth something more than just a regular ticket to medbay.
She sighs, tucks the blankets around them. His face is flushed and fiery, and his cheek on her stomach is hot as an oven.
He's getting tired of people calling him 'kiddo'. It's some comfort that the only crewmember who ever called him 'boy' is now gone forever.
He feels fine, he does not want to rest, thanks all the same. He is not small, weak, vulnerable, helpless, young, or any other damn thing. He is a grown man, and he can suck it up and get over it.
A treacherous rolling in the gut. Your arms get itchy – you scratch, under the sleeves, but this is unhelpful. Skip lunch, go on a liquid diet, encouraged by the smell of your own sweat and grease and ozone in machineshop. Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it - until ignoring it becomes impossible, and you have to grab a drip-tray so you don't throw up on the floor. Old screws and oil smears re-decorated by the contents of your stomach.
He can't stand the feeling that he's letting the side down again.
Not everybody. Just his body.
It's not like it was before – he's already acknowledged that he can't subsist on Sparky and ration bars. He eats real food, with a greater degree of regularity than he ever thought possible. In fact, of the whole crew, he's probably the one with the best appreciation of steady meals. Breakfasts, hot lunches, solid dinners – all served to order, with cutlery even.
He remembers the first meal he ever had on the Maru – he ate until he puked. So the luxury of food on tap is not lost on him, quite the opposite. It took him a while to get used to the concept of good nutrition – authorised gluttony – when he first came aboard. So he savours the consistency of the meals, the consistency of each mouthful, and somewhere in the back of his mind he tucks it all away, in case everything falls to shit again.
Food on table. You eat, three times a day. And this is normal.
Saving the memory for the lean times.
Old habits die hard.
On the down side, sex usually gets ruled out of the equation when he's sick. It's hard to feel libidinous when you're vomiting and feverish. Maybe it's a part of the natural scheme of checks and balances – when he's not sick, he's insatiable.
She recognizes the pattern of excess – work 'til you drop, binge and purge, fuck to exhaustion, then bam, he's out of commission for days or even weeks at a time. Feast turns to famine, flood to drought, glut to lack. Clench and release. His energy is all tides – flows and ebbs, and swirling maelstrom in between.
The symptoms of it are inscribed on his physiology. Tabled in his psychology.
An easy illustration – the talking. She used to think he talked non-stop because of simple arithmetic – put nervy, hyperactive, extroverted Personality (A) in direct contact with Isolation (B) and you can (C) the result. Or, if you don't mind, hear it.
She also assumed it was because of a natural tendency for performance – after all, even when nobody else is around, the ship's AI is still a constant. Andromeda as captive audience.
But now she's realised that he actually talks all the time. To the ship. To the crew. To himself. In the conduits. In privacy mode. In the shower. In his sleep.
Like living inside the computer – a constant dull subsonic hum. He's pushing the surfeit energy out of every pore. No 'off' switch.
She wonders if he will ever develop any balance, if she should even bother trying to impart any. She does try. Much as she likes his tattoo, she hadn't really planned on being the yin to his yang. A division of labour – is that the nature of human relationships? The attraction of complementary opposites. She imagines that there'll be a leavening on either side – when they lie in bed together, curled up like seashells or twin foetuses, she thinks of osmosis.
As his lover, she muses over his behavioural extremes. As his physician, she realises the benefits of understanding his rapid swings and changes, knowing how to read them. Take the previous example. The talking is a red flag – when the noise subsides, it's an indicator that something is horribly wrong.
"Seamus? Seamus, can you hear me? No, don't close your eyes – damnit. Rommie can you hold this? Here –"
"I can't tell you what happened. He was checking the local security grid, we left via the palace grounds – I was there – he seemed fine –"
"Hold on –"
"He's convulsing again –"
"I know that – hold him, don't let him fall off the bed –"
"Adrenal spiking, his heartrate's going up –"
"Wait, I'm getting a reading – hold him, I need to get this shot in his neck –"
"There. Is that a serotonin peak?"
"Yes. Good - now we know. But I need some clues here. Rommie, please think – I need the trigger."
"I-I don't know. It could have been anything. We had lunch at the palace, there was a quick tour of the grounds –"
"Plants, insects – it can't be the food, the reaction was too delayed –"
"He went to see the grid, then we cut through the gardens back to the Maru –"
"That has to be it. Can you do a memory cycle? I'm looking for anything, anything at all –"
"Search for known agents?"
"No – anything. Remember, this is Harper. He could have an anaphylactic reaction to daisies, for all we know –"
"Searching… Isolating visual. Subtracting known variables, what he's had consistent contact with before… Are we sure it isn't a built-up response?"
"Positive. Acute, sudden onset, exaggerated reaction. Hyper-sensitivity. Keep searching. I'm giving him a broad anti-histamine, but I need something specific."
She gives him the shot, then stands beside him and strokes his hair. His face is clammy and his lips are white. She wishes he didn't get sick so often. She wishes she didn't feel it so hard when he did. She wishes that he would open his mouth and say something, something really stupid, something she could berate him for later.
It doesn't happen, of course. Not for a good three hours, anyway.
Harper, descending staircase.
"You're looking better. How do you feel?"
"…you don't wanna know."
"Here – no slowly, sip slowly…"
"…thanks…what time is it?"
"About 2130. Do you want to know what happened?"
"Not really. Later. Am I here for the night?"
"I'm not sure yet."
"…god. Ah man…"
"Here – some more water…"
"…Trance, I wanna sleep in my own bed."
"I don't know… Let me check."
"Well, you'd be more comfortable there. I just don't know about the walk."
"How did we get from 'I just regained consciousness' to 'I'm fine'? Oh, alright – wait let's get you sitting up…"
The corridors are long and his feet seem very far away. Even leaning on her for support, he has to stop at the half-way mark to prop against the wall and catch his breath. His throat is sore – respiratory swelling from the anaphylaxis.
But his quarters are warm and dark, and he can lie on his side in bed with the covers tumbled around him and watch her undress in the corner – her skin all burnished smoothness and dark rosy highlights, and she lifts the sheet and slides in, tucks into him like a bud in the vee of a branch. He sighs deeply, and thinks of the two snakes twining together on a medical caduceus, and can't imagine anyone else healing him but her.
Funnily enough, it turns out that it was the daisies after all.
His face, grinning, the dimples popping out shyly. His face, eyebrows lifted, smirking at something that only he could find entertaining. His face, pale and exhausted, red-eyed, stubbled. His face, smooth and open, mouth a quiet 'oh', panting with pleasure. His face, contorting, screwed-shut eyes, jaw-locked, suffering.
His face, in which she is imperfectly reflected.
She finds it hard to imagine – him, dying. On one level it's inescapable; he is not immortal, and it's not as if she isn't constantly reminded. But it's an awareness that is largely academic. Even when he touched hands with death, with the infestation, she remembers thinking that they'd find a cure, that it would work out, that he'd be okay, he'd continue, the same colourful feature of her life.
It's a terrible thing that she takes his existence so for granted.
And when she came back, ensuring that it really happened, there was still this sense of his continuity, in spite of her knowledge that somewhere, in another stream, he was screaming as his body jerked, diaphragm splitting, an agonised mess of blood and splintered bone and slithering blue intestine as the larvae fought their way free.
The moment she lifted his head into her lap and checked his pulse in one world, was the moment she closed his eyes, weeping, in another.
On the evening before he gets injured in the Drago-Kazov bombing raid she sits behind him, elevated by the pillows on the bed, and wraps her bare legs around his bare waist. He is absorbed in a flexi, fingers busy tapping , as they were busy in other ways only minutes before. She rests her chin on his shoulder and sticky-beaks.
"Yeah. This new coil array is driving me nuts…it just won't…aiaiai…forget it." He frisbees the flexi to the floor. "Later. It's just been on the brain, y'know."
"I know." She knows. Binge, binge, binge. "You're trying to get everything done before you're due."
He twists to face her, wrestling in her legs.
"What? Jesus, where'd you hear that expression?"
"Beka has a big mouth."
He looks sour. She puts two fingers on his lips.
"Don't. She cares about you."
He moves her hand.
"Well I'm not Beka's bitch. And if she, and everyone else, would just stop worrying their little heads about the state of my health, then maybe –"
"I care too."
He fights and grimaces. He's being childish again. Shit. Old habits.
She watches his face for the right moment.
"You work too hard, Seamus."
He sighs and gives up, settling himself sideways along the length of her, his head on her stomach, rubbing his thumb on her knee.
"There's a lot of work."
"But only one you."
"Can't change that."
"You can't change the circumstances – you can only change yourself."
"You wanna try for less cryptic?"
"Time out for good behaviour – give yourself a break."
"And will the Spaceship Fairies do the repairs?"
"Train an apprentice."
"They work while I surf. Gee, that sounds fair."
"And who do you think picks up the slack every time you get sick?"
He mulls this over. She may be onto something.
"Good behaviour, huh?"
He smiles slowly, and lets his fingers wander off her knee to scout surrounding territory.
She grins, knowing him so well, leaning over his now-upturned expectant face.
"Pretty damn good."
And this will have to serve, until the next day, when sirens sound and Rommie calls incoming.
In dreams he rolls with the tide, rolls with her body, rolls with the explosions in the ship's hull. In dreams, he is only spirit, pulsing in and out quietly while the medbay monitors tick over in time. He feels pain, but only as a rhapsody. He moves, but only with the music of his own blood, keeping pace and rhythm, one, two (and the third in your bosom). His minum rests are the ghost hands on his flesh, the sprays of light overhead, air on his bare feet, the choir of soft voices. He is in/out of his body so exactly that returning is a dull ache of sadness.
"…okay. Oh. Oh god."
"It's alright, Trance."
"Oh god, I thought we lost him."
Sometimes, when she is at the point of pulling out her hair, she thinks that this is fate, this is karma. She spends all her time avoiding future checkmate, playing with impermanence, Alice-Strings beneath her fingers as she tweaks one, tunes another, tightens a third. Hazy possibilities become concrete realities, hallelujah. And here, here she is - she's tied her destiny to this man who is the universe's example of ephemera at its very best. He is the chaff on the wind. See dictionary reference, 'transitory', and there is a picture of Seamus Harper doing his best goofy face.
And this is what makes her so angry, this is what makes her upset, that it's so inevitable, and that he seems to be doing his damndest to help the process along, and she chose this, she chose it –
Love is so stupid.
Harper Descending Staircase Mark II, tripping over his own feet, whoops – no, no, it's okay, grabbing the banister just in time, making it to the bottom, looking slightly sheepish.
"Hey, you're back."
"…ah god. Yeah. I think. What time is it?"
He reaches up, hand wobbly and inaccurate, to touch the bandage on his face.
"That's for your eye." She lifts his head a gentle fraction. "Here, sip slowly…"
"…mm. What's with my eye?"
"There was debris in it. It'll be fine. Don't play with the bandage."
More water. There's a reason for his meek acquiescence.
"Trance, I wanna –"
"Not a chance."
"Ah, c'mon. I can make it."
"What, you and the stretcher you rode in on? Nice try, but no cigar. You're here tonight and tomorrow, and don't tempt me for tomorrow night."
"That's forever. And you gotta stop reading those holonovels, I think the expression 'no cigar' went out with the –"
His coughing interrupts. She frowns at the wheezing.
"Like I said, tonight and tomorrow…"
He holds his chest and grimaces.
"If it's any consolation I'll stay the whole time."
Like she'd ever been planning on leaving. He's grouchy.
"Sadist. Bed's not big enough for two."
This is true. Tried it once – disastrous. She's unmoved.
"All the better. You need rest, Seamus."
"Rest, rest, right."
"I mean it."
She thunks some of the medical paraphernalia onto a tray and turns side-on. He reaches out blind, but she pulls away.
"Ah, hey…Trance - " Abashed. "Hey – babe, don't – I'll rest, really –"
She turns back, not looking at him, smoothing the dermplast near his ribs. He catches her fingers up, intertwining.
"Trance, I'll rest. Promise."
She swallows before she can speak.
"You have to…stop doing this."
His weak smile.
"Hey, not my fault this time – under attack, remember?"
"I almost lost you, Seamus."
His grin fades. With his good eye he watches her face as she spins through the emotional spectrum. To him, she is always spinning, a star in motion.
"I want you to be indestructible."
She says it like wishing. He laces their fingers tighter, warmth on warmth.
"You picked the wrong guy."
"Yes," she admits, then softens. "No. And anyway, that's not how it works."
"So, how does it work?"
He's curious, but still mushy from injury and drugs, and she side-steps easily.
"It works…" Folding the blanket up to his middle. "…like this: you rest and get better, and I keep busy making sure that happens."
"Ah. Avoidance techniques." But with his head swimming he hasn't got the energy to chase her around.
"I love a lady of mystery…" he yawns.
She grins. For this, he makes a final effort.
"Trance – I'll train an apprentice. First thing."
She stops for a moment to honour the breakthrough, then nods at him.
"Good. But not first thing. First thing is –"
"Rest. Right. I know."
"With feeling, please?"
"Cross my heart…"
She finishes the line in her mind and shivers, quickly converts it to a penalty shot.
"…or I'll poke you in your unbandaged eye."
"Will it keep you in bed?" she asks, sweetly threatening.
"I can think of nicer ways…"
"But none of them quite so effective."
He snorts and grins sleepily.
"No, Seamus…" She hovers over him for a bedtime kiss, gazing into his face. "…that would be you."
A/N – Fixed layout probs after original post