The Open-Handed Price
Rating: PG (Minor Futuristic Bad Language)
Disclaimer: Amblin and Universal can keep 'em. I just want to borrow them for a while.
Feedback: Is my reason for living in this un-reality.
Author's Notes: Allison McDonnell is my personal savior. When I die, I want my ashes scattered on her Canadian front lawn.
Timeline and Summary: A Bess and Danziger friendship fic-- "Stranded on this planet, everyone was lucky to have what they had. So why did it seem like the Danzigers still had less than everyone else?"
Danziger had never raised a hand to a woman in his life. In fact, in his thirty-five years orbiting earth, the thought had never even crossed his mind. Wait, okay, that was a lie--the time True crumbled her green paint pot into his shampoo bottle and he'd almost lost it completely. The cheap soap had completely absorbed the green dyes, and for a brief moment as he stared into the old taxi hubcap he'd polished to use as a mirror, he'd entertained the thought of hauling his beloved eight year old into the shower unit and giving her a matching style. He'd wanted to see how she'd like her long, blondish locks- so straight like her mom's- in a shade that resembled the overcooked vege-protein packs recent pay cuts had forced him to shovel down her unwilling throat. That thought alone, however, made him instantly contrite, and as he'd tried his best to rinse out the olive tone out of his mess of curls he decided it was a good night to splurge on a treat from the vend-stop. They'd been at their wits end that month.
And now as he sat there listening to Devon drone on and on about his flaws and shortcomings, the vid-reel playing in his mind was a vicious array of goof ups and complete misses from his days on the station as well as their trek across G889. Wasn't he trying his best? He didn't often let Devon's ranting get the better of him but, not only was he was cold and miserable, he had fallen on the slippery rocks at the mouth of the Grendler cave he'd found on his scout and sliced open his thigh. Plus, he felt more tired than he could remember in a long time. Maybe it's because you keep offering to take over night watch, he reminded himself.
The camp was underwater and, for the last three days, they hadn't been able to move on due to the torrential rain. Everyone was starting to feel the oppressive weather. Danziger couldn't decide what he hated more: sitting outside all night in a storm that even a Grendler wouldn't venture out in, or lying on his cot--kind of dry, kind of warm--while someone else was out there doing it instead.
The whole exercise of even having a night watch in this rain was pointless, they hadn't seen a living creature since it had begun, but Adair wouldn't have it any other way. Most of the men--he grimaced as a flash of Morgan Martin's useless face interrupted his thoughts- had graciously taken over the shifts that belonged to the ladies. It made more sense to double up on shifts. This way only a few members ran the risk of contracting whatever archaic earth-infection brought on by the inclement weather Julia and Bess kept rambling about. It was something strange sounding for an illness, something like 'pneumatic,' and supposedly it used to drop earth-res' like flies if they spent too much time outside when it was cold and wet. No one had gotten sick yet, but Danziger agreed with the doctor and Bess that it wasn't a risk worth taking. Whatever the case, sitting on a sticky log next to a non-existent fire in the pitch black wasn't a place for a woman, even a meticulously dry looking Devon Adair. It was better if the guys just sucked it up for the time being.
Of course, Walman had just worked up the balls to admit his feelings to Magus, and amen to that! It was about time that someone other than Martin got laid on this godforsaken planet and Danziger didn't have the heart to deprive the lovebirds of the only alone time they could be afforded. Then, they had good old reliable scared-of-the-dark Baines who, without a fire to keep him company, was sure to wake the entire camp at least six times during the night with false alarms. And finally there was 'Weasel McUseless' Martin who was claiming to be too under the weather to be up and around, yet had been in some VR game for nearly two days straight. What all the bullshit added up to was Danziger on night watch going on three nights in a row, this time with a shankin' gouge in his leg.
He hadn't intended to be away from camp so long, but thanks to the unrelenting rain, the scout's travel time had been lengthened when he was forced to circumvent several newly formed ponds. Now, he doubted that he had enough time to stop by and see Julia before he was supposed he was due to take his post. Luckily, the fabric of his well-worn pants was so soaked through it hadn't torn with the skin of his leg, and he was able to steer clear of True's recently overprotective appraisal of his general well-being. Apparently, he'd reached his quota of 'Mysterious Dad Ailments' and she wasn't too keen on letting him out of her sight. Even that damn Koba he'd been reluctantly letting her 'keep" couldn't keep her distracted in the evenings if he sighed too heavily or if she caught a tell-tale grimace.
That shankin' Koba was a topic he didn't dare dwell on and he knew Devon resented him for not trying harder to get rid of it. But True had always wanted that damn cat so badly and he felt miserable that, day after day, she was so lonely when he was off doing whatever it was that kept him from being a good father. As long as she kept in in their tent, he figured the only person it could harm was him. And if it did end up under his pillow one day, well, at least he'd get a few days rest.
At any rate, he wasn't going to see Julia anytime soon. To go now, or more accurately, whenever Devon was finished holding him captive, would mean forking over his nightshift to someone else and that's what he was trying to avoid. He grimaced as she continued to ramble. Yessiree, it didn't look like he was going to get that cat nap he'd hoped for before watch duty either, not with his teeth chattering and his leg smarting, and not with Adair standing over him. He took a good look at her and wondered, not for the first time, how in the hell she got those laugh-lines when all she did was frown,. Still, she was certainly pretty enough, and it occurred to him that he'd been on G889 too long when he couldn't decide whether to kiss or kill Ms. Adair fir--
"Are you even listening to me, Danziger? I don't think you understand how stupid exploring that Grendler cave really was! What if…if there had been another spider tunnel we were unaware of, and…"
John wasn't listening again. He was a peaceful guy, really, always looking out for everyone else, putting himself and his needs last. It struck him that, for someone who was trying his best to be selfless, he sure caught a lot of flack. He'd been doing it for so long it was almost second nature. When Alex was in the hospital again, he wouldn't think twice about getting his pay docked to stop in midday, when he was sure she'd be awake, with a humble bouquet of real, macrobiotic flowers. Or when True kept outgrowing her threadbare pants he'd spend his savings shopping up on level three, all the while ignoring the pounding of an infected tooth that would probably never see a doctor. He sighed, tongue unconsciously probing the long vacant spot behind the first molar on the left side of his jaw. It had fallen out anyway, and he'd saved himself the cost of having it pulled. He'd always managed to get them though the tough times and he counted himself. It was so damn hard to be happy in the Quadrant. And he couldn't be happy when someone he loved was suffering. He's just as soon suffer himse--
"Did you just call me irresponsible?" He sputtered, the word he loathed more than anything ringing in his ears, launching him from his thoughts to the soggy cot in he and True's sagging tent, the flap of which was refusing to keep out the pouring rain. Unconsciously, he made a note to make sure True tucked herself in with the blanket from his bedroll as well as her own to keep out the damp.
"So you weren't listening! I could have guessed from the way your eyes glaze over whenever I have something important to say." Devon shot back. Apparently, she was really angry. What a nice change
"Adair, can it. I'm serious. Did the word 'irresponsible' just come out of your mouth? Because, if it did, I'm pretty sure you can leave now."
Danziger stood, trying his best to be a formidable, if not downright intimidating presence, despite the squish of his thoroughly soaked-through boots and the shooting pain in his leg. He wished that someone would call for her. They certainly did whenever they were in private and things between them seemed to be headed in the right direction, so why not now? He just wanted her out of his face, so he could have some time to gather himself for the long night head of him. Wasn't it time for dinner? An important question? Wasn't there incoming fire or something? Anything!
"What would you call it, Danziger? You're out there pretending to scout just to get away from camp--don't think I don't know what you're doing-- in the pouring rain with gear you refuse to turn on, while the rest of us are here worrying, as usual, if we're gonna have to come find you before you starve to death or freeze to death or explode from a bullet in your side!"
She was practically screaming in his face and, as if he wasn't angry enough about her tirade, now he knew for sure that the entire camp could hear her every word. Well, Ms. Bitch, you're not the only one on this planet with a set of lungs!
"Pretending to scout? Pretending? That insult wouldn't be as mind-boggling if it came from someone who maybe, I don't know, was even a little wet and miserable! But I don't think you have the right to insult anyone from your comfy little throne over there in the nav-station. Especially someone who spends their day busting their ass to bring you back a new batch of clothes and enough fruit to feed camp for the next few days! In case you haven't noticed Adair, your troops are suffering from an increasing lack of morale. And if I have to go spelunking around some goddamn cave to get your son a pair of pants that aren't ripped to shreds, well, then I think it's worth it. Hell, it's even worth standing here like a drowned Station Rat listening to you going on like--"
"Don't you dare bring Uly into this, Danziger! You know we're grateful to you for the supplies, but at this point I'd rather have one afternoon where you actually checked in on your gear--"
"Adair, when are you gonna figure it out? I don't report to you! I never have and, damnit, I'm never going to. So if you expect me to fix your damn vehicles and do everything else you toss at me like I'm your hired help, then you're just gonna have to learn to trust me. Even a little bit!"
He was getting out of line, he knew, but he was just so sick of looking at her mug with that condescending mask that she'd been wearing so often lately. He moved a few paces, hiding a grimace as he worked his stiff leg and, in a desperate attempt to find something to do, he began straightening up True's belongings. They were, as usual, strewn all over her cot and the crate they carried filled with meager toiletry supplies. Normally, he figured she could be as messy as she wanted to be, as long as she took care of her belongings. Her stuff was her own. He just hoped he didn't find that damn Koba in the process. That was the last thing he needed.
"Danziger…" Devon sighed. Her tone had been taken down a notch, thankfully. "John, I'm not suggesting that you report to me. But would it kill you to have the courtesy to let us know that you're not lying in an overturned ATV in a ditch somewhere? I don't have to tell you you're a bit accident prone."
He snorted derisively, bending to search for a the mate to the purple-striped sock he'd found next to the toothpaste.
She continued, "And since we've been on this planet, you've managed to get yourself nearly killed way to many times. Damnit, you get hurt more than anyone else in camp combined! We need you in good working order, Danziger."
He chose to believe that he imagined the slight shift in her voice as well as the tenderness he'd often hoped to find somewhere in her countenance. He was just too frustrated. Her previous remarks had just cut too deep.
"Me? Big, clumsy, irresponsible me?" He shot back, giving her a glare as he fought the urge to sit for a moment on True's cot. Yup, the sticky log waiting for him out there in the deluge was looking more and more inviting. "Sorry, I didn't hear you 'cause I was looking for something to hurt myself with. You know how much I love--"
"Danziger, knock it off! You know what I'm saying!" She huffed and stood straighter, attempting to meet him eye to eye. "You should be more careful. Don't you ever think about True when you're out there getting yourself clobbered?"
She'd been trying for levity, he could see it in her eyes and her slight smirk. Unfortunately, her words hit him like a fresh bout of freezing rain and he stood there, staring for a long time, saying nothing. A fit of nervous laughter rumbled in his chest. Didn't he ever think of True? He'd assumed that, being a parent herself, it was evident to her that every action and every breath he took was for his daughter. Didn't he ever think of True? For the first time in a very long while, John Danziger was completely speechless.
Finally, after a small eternity punctuated only by the sound of rain steadily drumming on the roof of his listing tent, he strode past her. Maybe it was warmer outside after all.
"Danziger, you know what I meant!" Devon floundered, realizing too late the effect her careless words had on him.
Desperate to stop him before he got away from her again, she reached for his jacket and stepped in front of him, nearly colliding with him in his haste. He looked down at her impatiently, unable to his a slight flinch when her knee bumped his sore leg.
"Aren't you going to tell me about what you found out there?" She asked.
He was silent again, still inwardly fuming. He was pleased to see that his lack of a response seemed to irk her more than any caustic comeback he could have managed.
"Are you okay, Danziger?" She finished, more softly than she'd intended. The old earth phrase "too little, too late" sprung into his mind.
"I'm fine. Looks like I managed to leave your sight without moral injury, after all. Now if you'll stop interrogating me, I gotta get out there so everyone can get some rest."
Jerking his arm from her hold, he left her there in his soggy tent and limped imperceptibly into the storm.