Part Eight

They didn't actually talk about what had happened. They talked about did she see his pants anywhere, and when did her bra get all the way over there, and how could they have lost her shirt in a tent this size?

After several minutes of looking for this final article, John finally said, "Never mind. Borrow one of mine." He rummaged in his things.

"Oh, god," she said when he pulled one out. "Not that one."

"What's wrong with this one?"

She looked at the tumultuous black-and-white geometric pattern and wrinkled her nose. "Do you have an hour?"

"It's laundry day, lady. At least this one's clean." He tossed it at her, and she managed to catch it before it hit the ground.

"Words cannot express," she said firmly, shrugging into it, "how awful this shirt is." The shirt, much too large, swirled around her body like a cape. Softened by countless washings, the faded cotton rippled whisper-soft against her skin.

"Nobody's going to see you in it except me."

She started fastening the mismatched buttons from the collar down. "Which is the only reason I'm putting it on."

It sounded so much like one of their usual amicable skirmishes that she should have been surprised when he slid his hand inside the faded cloth and rested his fingers lightly on her stomach. Should have been. Wasn't.

If he moved his hand up an inch--less--he could cup her breast in his palm.

They looked at each other, remembering that things had changed. He wanted her again, she could see it in his eyes. She wanted him, too. But they were both hesitant, remembering that they had children to get to bed, they had a long day tomorrow, it was still a long haul to New Pacifica. A pile of excuses that, underneath, meant that in spite of what had just happened, neither of them knew what to do with themselves or each other, and now was the worst possible time to decide any of it.

After a moment, he pulled away and sat down on the cot to stuff his feet into his boots. She finished buttoning the shirt.

When they left his tent, she looked around for the moons and saw with surprise that they'd already set. "It's later than I thought."

"Yeah, we fell asleep for a little there."

"Hmm," she said, for lack of a better response.

In her tent, a dim lumalight served as a night-light. By its anemic glow, she could see her son, curled under his blankets. True was splayed on her stomach on Devon's cot, snoring very slightly. John bent over her. "Hey. Kiddo." He shook her shoulder. "True-girl." He looked up. "Down for the count."

"Don't wake her," Devon said, checking Uly. She decided he could sleep in his clothes this once, and pulled the blankets up over his shoulders. He sighed and burrowed into his pillow like a mole.

John turned, his daughter cradled in his arms. "You see her shoes anywhere?"

Devon crouched and retrieved them from under her cot. "Yale probably took them off when he found them asleep," she said. "I asked him to check on them every so often." She tied the laces together and draped them over his shoulder..

"Thanks."

They stood that way, his daughter asleep in his arms and her son snoring behind them. "I'll see you in the morning," she said.

He nodded, shifting True to a more comfortable position. "Yeah."

She impulsively reached out and took his hand, squeezing lightly.

He squeezed back for a moment before letting her go. "Get some sleep, lady."

She smiled at him, and he smiled back before ducking through the tent flap.


The light of dawn woke her, as it always did. And, as she always did, she got out of bed, changed, woke her son, bothered him into the basics of hygiene, and started packing her things for the day's trek. Normal. Normal, normal, normal.

How was it possible to be this normal today?

She tried not to dwell on the questions that flooded her mind--what now? and when again? and the old favorite, so what does this mean, really?--and told herself that they would not be magically answered the instant she saw John again, because life and people just didn't work like that.

Although if he tried to pretend nothing had happened, she was going to run him over with the Transrover.

She leaned over to pick up a stray sock and saw John's shirt half-buried in her sleeping bag. She'd slept in it, telling herself she was too tired to hunt for her night clothes, and had been very careful to tuck it out of sight before her sharp-eyed son could wonder about it.

Sock forgotten, she picked it up, slowly tracing that awful zebra-on-drugs pattern. She brought the shirt to her face and breathed in the scent that clung to the worn cloth. Engine grease, metal, sun, soap, dust--John.

He loved her. He'd never said it, but every stroke of his fingers and brush of his mouth the night before had told her he loved her. It took a special kind of cheat to lie with the body, and John just wasn't it.

Devon sat on her cot, holding his shirt in her lap. She'd meant to shake him up a little last night, push him out of the place he'd gotten himself stuck in. But what had happened between them had rocked her to the core.

She couldn't believe she'd slept with him. Not merely the euphemism for sex, but the literal interpretation of the phrase. She'd never fallen asleep in a man's arms before. She'd never trusted a man enough. But with him--

The tent flap rustled.

She leapt to her feet and whirled in one movement, and saw him standing in the opening. She felt wobbly and silly, overflowing with shyness, nothing like herself. Last night's intensity and clarity seemed very far away. The world was different by daylight.

"Hey," he said, and something in his voice made her wonder if he was suffering under the same oddness that she was.

"Good morning," she said, in a voice completely lacking the briskness she'd tried to inject into it.

"Can I--"

"Oh. Yes. Please."

He took a step inside, closing the flap behind him, and opened up his hand. Her shirt unclumped itself and fell half out of his grip. "Found something of yours."

"Oh. Where was it?"

"Foot of my sleeping bag."

"Well, that explains why we couldn't find it. Thank you." Reluctantly, she held out his shirt. "Here's yours back."

They traded shirts. He studied a button on his as if it held the answer to all of life's mysteries. Devon hugged hers to her chest, staring at him.

He took in a breath and let it out with a whoosh, still not looking at her. "Look, Adair, I--"

"I love you."

His head jerked up like a puppet's on a string. If she'd smacked him broadside with a frying pan, he couldn't have looked more stunned. His mouth opened and closed a few times without a sound. He finally managed to say, "Yeah?"

"Yeah." She shrugged, feeling a blush work its way up her throat. "I thought you should know that."

"Oh." He stood, apparently considering this, for a long time.

She bit her lip, then hiked up her chin. The ball was in his shankin' court now. She had her pride, dammit, and if he decided to walk away from this, well, she was definitely running him over with the Transrover.

Then he took one quick step toward her, cupped her face in his big hands, and kissed her, hard.

She kissed him back, her fingers digging into his shoulders before she wrapped her arms around his neck, dragging him closer. Their bodies molded together, fitting curves to hollows like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He was warm and solid and hers.


Nobody was the least bit surprised.

Devon was still working through this as they loaded the last few things and got ready to go. She'd been prepared for shock, maybe consternation. Instead, everyone acted as if they'd been waiting forever to hear something like this. Even the kids weren't surprised. Uly was thoroughly delighted, True was . . . reserving judgment, but it didn't seem to be news to either of them that their parents had fallen in love.

When Julia walked up and presented John with a month's supply of suppressors, Devon said, "Did you just make those?"

"No, of course not. They take three hours. I've had this batch set aside ever since the winter." Humming to herself, Julia strolled off.

"Son of a bitch," John said, studying the pills for a moment before stashing the bottle in his pocket. "Did everyone know about us before we did?"

"Looks like it," Devon said. "I just can't figure out how. I mean, they had a fight scale."

"Yeah--about that." He scratched his brow. "I found out who started it."

She covered her eyes. "Don't tell me--Bess."

He put a few bundles together and took the length of rope she held out. "Got it in one."

She started laughing. "I give up. I just--I give up."

He tightened a knot with one hard yank. "Goddamn pain in the ass."

She crouched to get the other end of the bundle. "It could be worse," she told him as they carted it toward the Transrover. "We could have to sneak around like some twisted Romeo and Juliet." The image tickled her momentarily. No what light through yonder window breaks balcony scenes from John Danziger. It would be more along the lines of, Awright, Adair, get your butt down here.

"At least we wouldn't have to deal with the smirking," he grumbled.

He was grouching mostly for form's sake, she knew. Only a little of it was actual displeasure at the unwanted publicity. Still, she took her part. "They're happy for us."

"I'm happy for us, too. I just don't know why our sex life has to be a matter of public record." He heaved the bundle up into the cargo bin, then climbed up to tie the last ropes.

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," she said, and leaned against the wheel. Everything looked ready to go, she noted automatically. The tents were all packed into the Transrover. Magus and Mazatl were just hefting the last of the water containers into the rail. Even Morgan had his boots on.

When she caught his eye, Cameron made a face at her, and she laughed. He'd lost a bet with Baines--he'd predicted they wouldn't see the light until New Pacifica. Those two would bet on which moon came up first.

True chased Uly through the center of camp. Yale caught them both and sent them off to make there were no carelessly abandoned lumalights or discarded pieces of trash anywhere in the clearing. Walman and Denner walked by on either end of the folded-up light stands, taking them around the side to cushion them in bundles for the day's ride.

Alonzo, packing medical cases into the ATV, glanced up and grinned at her. No, smirked, Devon thought ruefully. John was right about that. It could get old fast. Even faster than the looks Bess was aiming at them, half-gooey, half-smug, just as if this had been all her doing.

Still, she smiled back.

Once upon a time, she'd believed that strength was a solitary thing. That admitting pain or weariness to other people was a weakness, that reaching out would reduce her. "All the king's horses and all the king's men," she murmured.

John leaped down beside her. "What was that?"

She shook her head. "Just remembering a nursery rhyme from when Uly was little."

"You know, I never got that one," he said. "What good would a horse do, putting an egg back together?"

"Don't know," she said, taking his hand. "All I needed was the people who loved me."

He gave her a quick, warm, crooked smile. "Yeah, and don't you forget it."

She leaned against him for a moment, and his lips rested on her temple. She'd wanted her old life back so badly, but she liked this better. Much better.

She straightened up and called, "Okay everybody, let's move out!"

FINIS

(A/N) You can credit (or blame) Sarah Cutter for the inception of this fic. I watched her three D&D videos, and I was struck by how very tactile Danziger was with his favorite people. He doesn't say a whole lot, but he always seems to be ruffling hair, picking one of the kids up, or putting his arm around someone's shoulders. I don't know if this was written in or if Clancy Brown chose to play it this way--the latter, I suspect. As the series went on, I also noticed that Devon was accepting this casual physical contact without a blink or a murmur when it didn't seem to me as if she'd let just anybody put their hands all over her. That got me thinking, and this is the result. Thanks to everyone who reviewed and encouraged, and thanks to everyone who just read and enjoyed.