Keep Me Company

True was finally asleep, snoring slightly. Danziger shifted his daughter from her back to her side, but it didn't make any difference to the broken-radiator noises. Sounded like she was getting a cold.

Shrugging into his coat, he went to the main part of the biodome. "Hey, Adair, where's Julia? Wasn't she with you?"

Devon glanced up from her charts. "Oh, she went out to keep Alonzo company on guard duty."

Danziger's brows shot toward his hairline. "Did she."

"Did you need her?"

"Nothing urgent," he said, digging out his gloves. "True needs a decongestant in the morning, that's all. Did you tell Julia she could go out there?"

"She doesn't need my permission to sit and talk with someone. I wanted to ask you about that, actually."

"About what? And ask while we're walkin', lady, I was supposed to relieve him ten minutes ago."

"About Julia and Alonzo. You don't seem to like the idea of them one bit." She found her coat and pulled it around her. "You scowl every time you see them holding hands at dinner or something. Why?"

Wasn't it obvious? "Because it's gonna lead to trouble."

"Trouble," she echoed.

"Yeah, trouble." He held the biodome door open for her, and bitter air rushed around them. The snow underfoot had half-melted that day and refrozen when the sun went down. It crunched beneath their boots.

"Okay," she said slowly, "trouble how?"

She was humoring him. He hated when she did that. "Look, Adair, this is a tiny group. Everything's high drama anyway. When two people in a tiny group are knockin' boots, it gets . . . weird. Messy." Danziger skirted a patch of ice in the middle of the path. "And that's just while they're together. It'll be worse when it ends."

She jumped on that. "You're assuming it'll end."

He looked at her incredulously. "What, you're assuming it won't?"

"Anyone can see Julia's in it for good. Nothing else would have brought her this far."

"And that's my point. 'Lonz doesn't do the long haul. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am--that's more his style."

Devon stopped in the middle of the path. "I thought he was your friend."

He turned around to face her. "He is my friend. Means I don't have any illusions abut him. Nothing wrong with that approach, just that it won't work so well with Julia. When he breaks it off, it's going to be ugly. We don't need any more ugly in this group."

Her hair fluttered into her face, and she brushed it away impatiently. "You're saying Julia would make everyone miserable?"

He rolled his eyes. "Not on purpose, but she'll take it hard, especially if he's still around." He started walking again, peering around for Alonzo.

"I think you're underestimating Alonzo's feelings," Devon said, running to catch up. "This place has changed him. Julia's changed him."

"Not that much. And even if by some miracle, they're still together by the time he leaves, that's going to be a lot of trouble for you, having a heartbroken doctor around."

"And not for you?"

"Hey, that colony ship's my ride back too, remember?"

Her teasing smile faded. "Right. Yes." She was silent for a few moments as they walked, their breath coming out in puffs. "You don't think maybe . . . Alonzo would change his mind about staying?"

"He belongs on the stations. He was never supposed to set foot on this rock in the first place." Danziger looked around. "Where is he, anyway?"

"Somewhere on the perimeter. We'll find them."

Wind gusted around them, and he hunched his shoulders against it. "You really think that was smart, Adair, letting her go?"

"I told you," Devon said, pulling her collar up around her ears, "she doesn't need my permission. And just what do you think is going to happen?"

"She's gonna distract him."

"By talking?"

"Talking. You think that's what's going on? That's cute."

Devon rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on, John, it's Julia. She's not only trained, she's genetically skewed to be calm, level-headed, and in control. What can happen?"

Danziger glanced over at a tree, then stopped. "Well--that."

He caught her arm and swiveled her around to face what he saw. Alonzo sat at the base of the tree, their calm, level-headed, controlled doctor nestled in his lap. She appeared to be performing an emergency tonsillectomy with her tongue.

"You were saying?" Danziger said.

"Uh," Devon said faintly.

"That look like talking to you? Do you see where his hands are?"

"I'm trying not to." She gave a loud, instrusive cough.

Danziger could have predicted the effect that had--absolutely none. He leaned down and picked the MagPro up from the ground. Still, the couple didn't notice a thing except each other. He looked at Devon. "See, this is what I mean. Distraction."

She shot him a look and leaned forward. "Julia? Alonzo?"

They carried on. When one of Alonzo's hands left her butt and snuck up under her coat, Danziger had had enough. Cocking the MagPro and pointing it at the heavens, he pulled the trigger.

At the sound of the blast, the couple leapt apart as if they'd been struck by lightning. Alonzo scrabbled wildly in the snow.

"Looking for this?" Danziger asked, tilting the weapon slightly.

Wild-eyed and panting, the younger couple stared up at them. "Danziger?" Alonzo asked in a voice that was higher than normal. "Did you do that?"

"You realize that if we'd been penal colonists, your heads could be six feet from your bodies by now?"

"John," Devon murmured scoldingly.

A few shouts came from the tents, people asking what the shot had been for. Danziger yelled back, "It's okay! 'Lonzo shot off by mistake."

Alonzo glared.

Danziger smirked.

Julia pushed at her wild hair. In the reflected light from the biodome, she looked beet-red. "Devon, I'm so sorry," she said. "It--I--things got out of hand."

Danziger raised an eyebrow. "Out of hand? Looked just the opposite to me."

Devon elbowed him. "Understood, Julia, but you probably shouldn't be--uh--" she glanced at Julia's partially unbuttoned shirt. "Keeping Alonzo company on guard duty anymore."

"No," Julia said, pulling her coat closed. "No, you're right."

Alonzo said, "Hey," but in a mournful way.

"Go to bed, 'Lonz," Danziger said, reaching down to help him up. "Your own."

Julia, still blushing furiously, set off toward her tent, and Alonzo left off glaring to jog after her. Catching up, he slipped an arm around her waist and bent down to whisper something in her ear that elicited a reluctant laugh.

Leaning the MagPro against his shoulder, Danziger shook his head. "I hate to say I told you so, Adair, but--"

"No, you don't," Devon said. "You love saying I told you so."

"Well, yeah," he conceded. "But anyway, you see what I mean?"

"She really just meant to talk," Devon said. "I'd swear to it."

"I don't doubt that. Maybe 'Lonz just meant to talk too. But it's a cold night, and guard duty is boring as hell. When a pretty woman's around to warm you up and keep you busy--" he indicated the patch of crushed, half-melted snow at the base of the tree. "It's just obvious."

"You are a cynic, aren't you?"

"Realist," he corrected. "Trust me on this one. A man and a woman, alone together on a freezing-cold night? Even if they weren't sleeping together already, something would have happened."

She laughed. "By that logic, John, you're having a hard time keeping your hands off me."

Lightning-fast, his brain produced a fantasy of Devon Adair, straddling his lap, hands deep in his hair and tongue deep in his mouth. His laugh came out harsh and overloud. "Cut me some slack, lady. I'm fifteen years older than him, biologically if not in real time. I'm long past the stage where I listen to the little head first." He held up one hand, wiggling the fingers. "I'm keepin' these to myself."

She shook her head, smiling a little, and started back toward the dome.

He set off around the perimeter, hitching the MagPro a little higher on his shoulder, his mind still on that hot picture that had darted into his head just a few moments ago. Not that he'd never passed the long, chilly duty rounds with harmless fantasies. That was only natural. He hadn't been kidding when he'd told her guard duty was boring. Shit, it was just about as exciting as watching water freeze. You had to do something to keep yourself awake and warm.

He'd deliberately kept himself from putting a face on the nameless woman in those fantasies, knowing that if he got too fixated on any one woman in the camp, it'd be trouble like the kind he was predicting for Alonzo and Julia. But now that he thought about it, the body writhing against his had become slim and strong, the skin under his hands water-soft, the hair silky-straight, glowing deep red when the sun hit it right.

Without knowing it, he'd been whiling away the hours thinking about fucking Devon Adair.

Speaking of trouble . . .

No, no, no! This didn't mean anything. Not a thing. Fantasy, right? Meant not-real. Meant never-gonna-happen. Like she'd ever shut up long enough for him to even kiss her, much less get her clothes off.

Not for the first time, he wondered how she'd let any guy get close enough to knock her up. Maybe she hadn't. Maybe Uly'd been conceived in a lab, not a rumpled, hot bed like other kids.

Or, in True's case, up against a bulkhead on the one day he'd forgotten to take his suppressors. John grinned dryly at that. Talk about listening to the little head . . . He'd known exactly what Alonzo would do because he'd been Alonzo, a little more than a decade back. Not love-'em-and-leave-'em, but reckless and impulsive, and so blind crazy for Elle that when he got her alone for thirty seconds, everything went south.

He'd been young and stupid, a redundancy as far as he was concerned. But he couldn't regret it. Not really. Not ever. Not just because of True, but because of Elle.

He frowned, wondering if Adair had a good memory like that. Muffled laughter and greedy hands, good-natured wrestling, love and lust so tangled up you couldn't even tell them apart, clothes rumpled up, sneaking touches under her shirt and down his pants, can't keep my hands off you, I know we've got ten minutes until the end of lunch but I gotta have it now gotta have you now--

Snow crunched. He whirled. Devon stopped dead a few feet away. "Whoa."

"Sorry," he said. "Startled me."

"Nice to know you're alert," she said, and came closer. "I brought you some coffee." She held up a thermos.

"Thanks." He reached for it, and they stood close for a moment. He found himself staring at her mouth. It moved, and he said, "What?"

She tucked her hands deep in her pockets, snugging the coat around her body. "I said, don't freeze to death, John. We need you around here."

He pulled the thermos close to his chest, shifting the MagPro to the crook of his arm so he could wrap both chilled hands around the warm container. "I won't."

She crunched away, back to the cozy biodome and her snug, solitary bed. Danziger let out his breath. Just because it had been Devon's breasts in his hands in those fantasies, it didn't mean anything, he argued with himself. He was a man, wasn't he? And she was a good-looking woman--one who held the all-time record for getting on his nerves, sure, but still not hard on the eyes. Plus, he hadn't been laid in over a quarter of a century. Even if most of that time had been spent in cold sleep, it was still a hell of a long while. He just had to start varying his fantasies a little more, before he lost his mind and did something stupid like falling for the real woman.

He wondered what the skin at the base of her throat would taste like, then shut his eyes.

It was going to be a long night.

FINIS