FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Rating: PG (mild language)

Disclaimer: Amblin, Universal, blah, blah, blah, legalcakes.

Author's notes: A huge thanks to Manuela and FCB Kate.

Timeline: Post-'All About Eve.' Devon has been healed and the crew of Eden Advance is only a few weeks from reaching New Pacifica.

Summary: Devon and Danziger do what they do best-- get on each other's nerves.

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Thank God for solo scouting missions and ATVs, Danziger thought to himself as he halted the aforementioned vehicle to survey the desert terrain directly ahead of him. Earlier that morning while still in camp, he had barely made it out of his tent before Devon had cornered him and insisted on giving him yet another pep talk. Of course, in Devon's twisted world, the words 'pep talk' was defined as 'a way to supposedly motivate someone by telling them everything they've been doing wrong and then heaping a bunch more work onto their already beleaguered shoulders which must be completed in an impossibly short time-frame.' And there was no complaining permitted during these 'pep talks' either, nor could there be any throwing of tools or of anything else within arm's reach. And God help the poor soul who attempts to walk away from Devon while she's in the middle of one of her speeches. One is apparently expected to stand there as quiet as a church mouse and occasionally nod their acceptance until she is completely done.

And Devon wonders why he takes off whenever she's not looking?

After what he'd considered to be his dressing down by Devon, John had immediately ducked back into his tent to let True know that he wouldn't be traveling with them that day. Next, he caught Magus while on her way to the camp's makeshift latrine and asked her to watch over his daughter to ensure that she ate a full breakfast and was packed up and ready to go in time to leave. Danziger then hastily gathered his gearset, a compass, a pair of jumpers, a Mag-pro and a handful of berries from the portable fruitcart before hopping into the ATV and speeding off before anyone could stop him.

Now, several hours later and after he'd been able to confirm that their chosen course for the next several days was indeed navigable for the Transrover, he decided that it was time to turn on his gearset and check in.

"Hey there, True-girl," he welcomed as the image of his daughter appeared on the screen.

"Hi, Dad," she answered, her hand fussing at her hair as she adjusted the unseen gearset on her head. After relaying her coordinates, she added, "Devon just called a stop and we're about to set up camp for the night."

Her voice took on a bit of a scolding tone. "She's been trying to get ahold of you."

John shrugged before lying through his teeth. "Yeah, I forgot to turn on my gear," he tried to say with a straight face. True just rolled her eyes as he asked, "What does she want now?"

"I dunno. I think that she's just mad because you left without tellin' her." The word 'again' was added in True's mind, but she didn't say it out loud.

"I'll deal with her when I get back," he said matter-of-factly.

"Are you close?"

"Yep, I should be home in time for dinner." His hand involuntarily brushed against his empty stomach. "And not a moment too soon because I'm starving."

True suddenly looked awkward. "Oh."

Her sudden change in mood put Danziger immediately on edge. "Somethin' the matter?"

True averted her gaze and began to fidget uncontrollably. "Not really. I mean, um," she began before pausing again. "Well, it's just, uh-"

Now John was downright concerned. "What's wrong?" he interrupted.

True trudged uncomfortably onward. "Um, nothing yet. It's just that, uh, Devon realized that she hadn't been on meal duty in a while and she sorta-"

Something caught True's eye and she looked down to notice a shadow appear just a few feet away from her position. She ever so slowly turned her head to discover that Devon was standing directly behind her.

"Is that your father?" Devon half-whispered as she hastily threw on her gearset and began to use the keypad to break into their transmission. Her movements were animated enough to attract the attention of several other members of Eden Advance. They tried to act as nonchalant as possible as they collectively grabbed their own gearsets and punched in the audio feature in order to listen in. Some things were too good to miss.

Of course, Danziger had no idea that others were now eavesdropping on the conversation. Besides, he was too busy ranting.

"You gotta be kidding me," he groaned. "Has everyone there gone nuts? You all know better than to let her near that meal tent!"

No sooner had the words left his mouth than the screen was evenly split into two parts and Devon's face appeared adjacent to his daughter's image. Danziger immediately switched the discussion to directly address the object of his ire.

"Don't you have enough to do, Adair? Jesus Christ, when are you gonna realize that you can't micro-manage everything!"

Devon's eyes narrowed to the point that John could no longer detect any blue in them. "What is your problem, Danziger?"

As usual, John didn't feel the need to mince his words. "My problem is that you can't boil water without endangering the eco-system. And you know damn well that we don't have enough food for you to be wasting it on new recipes for botulism. And we certainly don't have enough medical supplies to deal with the aftermath."

So many scenarios flashed through Devon's mind at that moment, most of them ending with the enormously gratifying image of the disposal of John's body. Maybe poisoning him wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. But no, Devon inwardly rationalized, cooking something that would hasten Danziger's death, while rewarding on many levels, would only end up proving him right. Hell, he'd probably even die wearing that same infuriatingly smug look on his face. And she'll be damned if she was going to give him that satisfaction.

"You just wait, Danziger," she told him in a voice that made her words sound suspiciously like a threat. "I'm going to create a feast that's going to knock your socks off."

John didn't miss a beat. "I'd rather eat my socks than your cooking, Adair."

Several words, all of them containing four letters, filled Devon's head and she was just barely able to keep from spilling them all out of her mouth one quick succession. Not for the first time, she wished that there was some sort of an electroshock mechanism on John's gear that she could put to good use. Instead, she could only bestow on him one of her patented death glares.

"Adair out," she spat through gritted teeth as she ripped the equipment from her head and stomped off toward where the meal tent would soon be erected.

John's gear screen was retaken over by True who gave him a tsk-tsk look at his rather tactless behavior.

Danziger had the nerve to look oblivious. "What?" he shrugged.

The other members of Eden Advance who had been listening in let out a chuckle before switching off their gears and returning to their scheduled tasks. True could only shake her head.

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Although it wasn't exactly what one would call a culinary masterpiece, absolutely no one could deny that Devon had succeeded in preparing a wonderful meal. In fact, she would challenge anyone who would dare to make such an inconceivable charge. Of course, because they were in the middle of nowhere and ingredients were in short supply, there had been several intense moments for her as she struggled to create her feast. But luckily for her, three days before, Cameron's keen eye had spotted several dozen pieces of fruit which resembled small pumpkins growing on vines which were nearly concealed by a large patch of overgrown shrubbery. To their later dismay, the fruit tasted more like a rhubarb than a pumpkin and they had not been especially popular among the members of Eden Advance. However, Devon hoped that combining the 'rhupkin' (Cameron's name for his discovery) with Bess' most recent unearthing of several edible roots including one which closely resembled the sugar beet might provide her with a recipe for a potentially tasty dinner.

After slicing the sugar beets into tiny pieces and then boiling them at a high temperature, Devon was able to combine the results with strained berries and water to concoct a syrup-like substance. She then poured the thick liquid over the rhupkin, which she had already cut into small squares, giving the tart tasting fruit an ultra-sweet flavor.

Once she had called Bess in to ensure that the finished product met with her approval (and once Bess had secretly pocketed a small sample to bring to Julia who confirmed that nothing in the food could be considered harmful if ingested by humans), Devon happily proclaimed that dinner was served.

The leader was downright proud of her creation and she insisted on being the one to dole out the portions to the various crew members. As she did so, she couldn't help but inwardly laugh a bit at the thought of her doing what would be considered a menial chore like this back on the Stations. Her father would have had an aneurysm if he'd ever lived to see Devon performing the duties of a cafeteria worker, much less doing things like washing her own clothes and driving her own vehicle. And he definitely would have disapproved of her giving so much credence to the recommendations of an Immigrant Worker like John Danziger.

This made Devon wonder all the more as to why John showed such continued recklessness by going off on dangerous solo-scouts. Didn't he understand how much she relied upon him and how integral he'd become to the success of their mission? This morning's conversation with him was a perfect example of her seeking him out to let him know just how important he was. She'd assigned him several tasks which only he could do. Sure, it was a lot to achieve, but she had no doubt that he could pull it off. In fact, she often wished that she'd met Danziger long before hiring him for The Eden Project. As difficult as he was to deal with sometimes, Devon would have gladly placed him in charge of other Adair Industry job-sites where, in many cases, she'd ended up being saddled with lazy and incompetent workers. She sighed at the thought. The things that the two of them could have accomplished together. And with each passing day, the disappointment in her mind and the sadness in her heart increased at the thought that she would be losing John in less than a year's time when the Jamestown arrived and took him back to the Stations.

As Devon shook herself back to the present, she began to ponder about what exactly could have set Danziger off this morning, especially knowing that he usually only disappeared from camp whenever he was angry or upset. He'd seemed perfectly fine when they'd talked earlier, though he was a tad on the quiet side. She made a mental note to ask True if something had transpired between her father and another crew member after their talk which had caused his quick exit.

And speaking of True, she was finishing off the last of her meal along with the rest of the group and was seated between Uly and Yale near the opposite corner of the canopy tent. Devon called out to her over the murmurs of the other discussions.

"True, when your father shows up, please let him know that I've set aside some dinner for him."

"You don't have to save anything for him," the girl informed her, her mouth still half-full. "He said that he wasn't hungry and to go ahead and eat without him."

Devon's posturing went ramrod straight and her eyes went wide. "Wait, you mean, he's already here in camp?" she questioned in astonishment.

The room went quiet and there were many looks exchanged.

"Uh-huh, he got back 'bout an hour ago," True answered as she swallowed her last bite.

Although there was no way to prove it, several of the crew members would later claim to have witnessed actual steam billowing out of Devon's ears at that moment.

Her words were spoken slowly and in a clipped tone. "Where. Is. He?" she asked, her voice deceptively neutral.

"The med-tent." Alonzo was quick to chime in.

Devon's face quickly transformed from anger to terror and she turned as white as a ghost, presumably fearing that John had been injured in some way.

Julia paused to give her lover a chastising look before alleviating Devon's fears. "There's some sand in my Diaglove which has been causing problems with the circuitry, so John offered to clean it out for me."

Uly also wanted to help his Mom feel better. "Yep, Mr. Danziger said that he'd better fix it now because Julia would probably need to use it on all of us after we ate."

The boy let out a small yelp as True gave him a swift elbow to the ribs. The others tried their best not to laugh out of their fear of Devon's retribution. Of course, she would never publicly dress them down in front of her son. However, there were other forms of punishment and it was certainly within her power to schedule any and all guilty parties for latrine-digging duty for the next month. It was best to stay on her good side, just to be safe.

Meanwhile, Devon was no longer pale. In fact, her cheeks were downright crimson as she all-too-calmly responded to Uly's comment. "He said that, huh?"

After Uly nodded in affirmation, she added, "So do you think that he's still there now?"

"I'm pretty sure that he is," Bess happily interjected, not even attempting to hide her grin. Digging latrines wasn't so bad. Plus, the Earth-res knew that she could somehow talk her way out of it, if needed.

For the benefit of the children, Devon plastered an almost painful looking smile on her face. "Well, if Danziger won't come to the food, than I'll just have to bring the food to him," she rationalized as she loudly and roughly scraped the remnants of the meal onto a large plate.

As she filled a thermos full of piping hot coffee and grabbed a fork, only the people sitting closest to Devon could hear her mutter through gritted teeth, "And he's going to eat every bite of it, even if I have to pry open his mouth and force it down his miserable throat."

It was only after Uly had watched his Mom hurry out of the tent and make a straight bee-line for the med-quarters at the other end of the campsite that he finally turned to True.

"What'd you poke me for?" he asked, confused and irritated as he rubbed at the sore spot on his side.

As the tent began to rock with laughter, True could only roll her eyes and shake her head yet again.

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Devon was still moving at full speed and she certainly wasn't going to bother with unnecessary formalities such as knocking when she arrived at the med-tent's threshold. Because her hands were full, she gave the tent-flap a swift kick and deftly turned sideways to barrel into the dwelling before the fabric had resettled to its normal placement.

She skidded to a full-stop only after one or two steps when John came into view at the other end of the quarters. He was seated on a crate which had been turned upright to serve as a make-shift chair and he was deep in concentration as he worked on repairing Julia's Diaglove at one of the smaller tables. Despite Devon's noisy and rather theatrical entrance, he hadn't even twitched. If John had bothered to look up, he would have noticed the genuinely shocked expression on Devon's face. There had been a part of her that hadn't expected to find him there and, in Devon's mind, the claim that he was fixing the equipment could very well have been nothing more than yet another excuse to get even further under her skin.

"Adair," he finally muttered with a slight nod of his head, still not diverting his eyes from the job in front of him.

To Devon, he seemed almost completely blind to her presence. Little did she know that John's intense focus on the Diaglove along with his lack of acknowledgment of her arrival was just his way of getting in a quick, indirect jab at her expense. In truth, he had heard "Hurricane Devon" almost as soon as she'd left the meal tent. In fact, with all of that stomping that she was doing, Danziger wouldn't have been all that surprised if their downstairs neighbors, the Terrians, had started banging on their ceiling with their staffs to let her know that she needed to quiet down.

After standing there in awkward silence for several moments, Devon slowly made her way across the enclosure to Danziger's work station and sat down on the closest solid surface that she could find which just happened to be Julia and Alonzo's cot. She sat there quietly for a few seconds and observed him as he worked. The Diaglove's main panel had been removed to reveal a countless mess of rainbow-colored wires which seemed to travel in every direction possible. But Danziger didn't appear to be the least bit intimidated by the daunting task. His one hand held a pair of tweezers while the other hand gripped an instrument which looked much like a standard sewing needle, but about three times the length, and to which he had fashioned a small amount of adhesive at the very tip. Devon watched both in awe and in appreciation for John's talents as he used the tweezers to expertly usher the wires aside to enable him to get to the crux of the problem and then very carefully aim the other instrument at certain spots for the tape-like substance to grab the grains of sand.

"How's it going?" she asked.

Danziger's head was still buried in his work and he didn't glance up as he answered, "Could be worse."

He seemed to realize that his comment sounded rather optimistic, so he felt the compulsive need to balance it out by adding, "Could be better, too."

There were a few more seconds of stillness.

"I don't suppose that you could just hold the thing upside down and then shake the sand out of it, huh?" Devon suggested with the hint of a smile.

John let out a small chuckle and unknowingly matched her grin. "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" he said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

His nose finally detected the aroma of the food wafting in his direction and he yanked his attention away from the Diaglove toward Devon. There was no way for him to hide his bafflement.

"Did you bring me dinner?" he said incredulously, motioning to the plate and the thermos which she'd placed on her lap.

Devon paused as she searched her mind for an answer. Of course, the main reason for her impromptu visit had been because she was angry with him. But those feelings had dissipated, or at the very least, had been reharnessed until the next time John did something to infuriate her (which could be any second). Now, she suddenly felt rather silly for being there.

At last, she offered, "True said that you might be hungry." The word 'liar' danced in her brain as she spoke the words.

She braced herself for one of Danziger's typical boorish responses which would undoubtedly lead to yet another argument. But instead, he sat back a bit on his stool and observed her with great interest, as if trying to figure out exactly what her angle was. Now, both of them looked equally uncomfortable.

Another few moments of uneasy silence passed until John nodded his approval. "Okay. Thanks," he said, sounding suspicious of the gesture.

He gingerly set aside the Diaglove and his tools in order to create some room at the table. Devon almost sheepishly gave him the food and the thermos, along with the silverware which had been tucked under the plate.

Famished, John wasted no time and stabbed his fork into the largest piece of fruit. But as he lifted the utensil to his mouth, he paused midway when he noticed that Devon's eyes were focused solely on him. She seemed to be waiting for something... probably for the next opportunity to snip at him about something that he was doing wrong, Danziger inwardly suspected. Or perhaps he'd finally pushed Devon too far this afternoon and she was there to poison him.

His head arched backward. "Are you gonna sit here and watch me eat?" he asked, his expression and voice conveying his ever-growing uneasiness.

Devon shrugged and did her best not to look challenging. "I just want to get your honest opinion on how it tastes."

John was still visibly unsettled by her inquisitive gaze and he took another good whiff of the meal, perhaps to see if he could detect the faint scent of arsenic, before accepting his fate and shoveling the food into his mouth. At the same time, Devon held her breath and tried to appear as though she wouldn't be affected in the slightest if he wasn't pleased with what she'd prepared.

The verdict came quickly. "You know what?" he exclaimed in genuine surprise, his mouth still half-full. "This is pretty damn good." A small smile formed on his lips as he speared two smaller pieces which were bathed in syrup.

Devon matched his grin. "Thank you," she said, her eyes now sparkling with pride.

Although it was a gradual process, the pair simultaneously began to relax a bit. After enjoying another few bites of his dinner, Danziger reached off to his side to grab a supply crate similar in size to the one which he was sitting on. He flipped it upright and set it next to the small table before subtly motioning to Devon to join him.

As she took the seat across from him, Danziger relayed, "It's just as well that you're here because I need to talk to you about somethin' that I noticed on today's scout."

He poured a cup of steaming hot coffee and slid it into her hands, keeping the thermos for himself. "Don't get me wrong, the course you've chosen is fine, but you should know that those maps of yours show those northeastern mountains as a lot steeper than they actually are. Plus, the area had several clusters of trees and plantlife, some of which is bound to be edible."

He paused briefly because the next part was what Devon would most likely take issue with. John's face reflected his determination as he leaned forward. "I wanna take the Dunerail and check it out first thing in the morning," he said in a persuasive tone. "If the Rover can make it over those hills, we'd probably shave at least three days off of our travel time. Plus we could restock our supplies."

Now, it was Danziger's turn to hold his breath and wait for her decision. There was a part of him that wished that he'd kept his mouth shut and had just snuck off without asking again. However, he inwardly acknowledged that Devon was steadily changing the way in which she led the day-to-day activities of Eden Advance. In fact, over the past few months, she'd often acted as though she was actually listening to his advice on various matters. Of course, she'd still usually go off and do whatever the hell she damn well pleased, but it was a start.

Because John had already concluded that Devon was going to shoot down his suggestion of another potentially risky solo-scout, he almost choked on his rhupkin when she instead answered, "That's a good idea."

She was quick to add, "But if you do this, you have to promise me that will go straight there and back. That means no extra exploring or foraging. And if you see even the slightest sign of trouble, you will immediately turn around. And you'll keep your gear on at all times and you'll make sure to check in every hour on the hour. No exceptions." She tilted forward and matched his serious expression to show him that she meant business. "These terms are nonnegotiable, John. Understood?"

Danziger contemplated Devon's additional stipulations and quickly decided that he could live with them. However, he purposely took his sweet time before agreeing to her conditions. After all, he didn't want to make it too easy.

"Understood," he finally said, giving her a resolute nod of his head.

He broke their staring match and reclined back to resume his meal. But before doing so, he noticed that Devon's coffee cup was only half-full, so he grabbed the nearby thermos and refilled it to the brim.

After swallowing another bite or two of food, he suddenly switched the topic of conversation. "So have you been having any trouble with gettin' Uly to do his homework?" he asked. "'Cause I'm striking out left and right with True and I think that Yale is starting to lose his patience."

Devon eased back and resettled her frame on the hard, metal crate. Although the piece of equipment made for a rather uncomfortable chair, she barely noticed it. Also forgotten, or at least moved to the back of her mind for now, was that Danziger was going to be embarking on another scout in the morning which could again put his life in peril. Instead, at that moment, her thoughts were centered on sharing her knowledge with John about various incidents involving her son and his schoolwork. She took another sip of her coffee and started talking.

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Several hours later, Devon and Danziger remained conspicuously absent from the crew's nightly campfire. This brought on some knowing looks and a few suggestive comments from several group members, most of which, luckily, went over True and Uly's heads. As the evening stretched to a close, the crowd slowly began to dissipate and they headed off to their tents to get some much needed shut-eye. Yale took responsibility for the children and eventually ushered them off to their respective quarters. Likewise, Julia and Alonzo made their way back to the med-tent at the opposite end of camp to turn in for the night. And, of course, the couple was also more than a little interested in seeing what had become of Eden Advance's first and second in command.

As they reached the dwelling, Julia was a bit nervous about what sight would greet them.

"Do you think that one or both of them will need medical attention?" she asked in a low voice, her tone half joking, half serious. "Devon seemed pretty ticked off."

Alonzo smirked. "Nah, I think the only thing that we have to worry about is the two of them getting mad at us for breaking up their romantic dinner," he declared with a twinkle in his eye.

She nodded her agreement and both seemed to silently acknowledge that it might be in everyone's best interest to listen in on the activities going on inside the tent before attempting to enter. Happily, the pair heard both Devon and Danziger's voices, and it was clear that they weren't yelling. In fact, they sounded downright complacent.

Devon was clearly in mid-conversation. "So you pointed out all of those safety violations?"

"The place was a death trap," they heard Danziger exclaim. "There was no way in hell that I was gonna endanger the lives of my crew just so he could meet a deadline, especially for a building that everyone knew was going to be used as a love-nest for him and his various girlfriends. So I refused to sign off on it and I sent everyone home."

"And Blalock fired you for this," Devon replied in amazement.

"Yep," John relayed. "He terminated my entire team and then brought in scab workers to finish the job. He also refused to pay us over a month's worth of back-credits that we were owed. It was no secret that he was a high-ranking Council member and we'd have to have been crazy to file an official grievance against him. He knew that no one could touch him... at least on paper."

There was a brief pause. "But I can tell by the look on your face that you found a way to get even with him," Devon said, her curiosity obviously piqued. "What did you do?"

"The day after he canned us, I broke into the job-site and installed a small remote in the main electrical panel. I hid it deep in the hardware, too, so only someone who knew exactly what to look for would be able to find it. I was able to trip the breaker for the entire unit with the push of a button."

He let out a self-satisfied chuckle. "I waited until after the job was completed and Blalock had moved his belongings in before I started trippin' the power. I'd do it every few days. In fact, I gave a copy of the remote to my friend, Wentworth, so she could join in on the fun. Sometimes we'd wait a week or two to give him the false impression that the problem had righted itself on its own before we'd shut it off, again. He ended up bringin' in all sorts of electrical specialists to try to fix it, but as far as I can tell, no one was ever able to figure it out."

Now Devon joined in with her own chortles. "Remind me never to make you angry."

Julia and Alonzo had to almost physically restrain themselves to keep from bursting into laughter at hearing Devon's comment.

"You can make me as angry as you want," Danziger was quick to answer. "Just don't ever endanger the lives of my friends and family or try to get outta paying me what I'm owed. When it comes to those two things, all bets are off."

At this point, Julia hated to disturb Devon and John because they seemed to be enjoying each other's company so much. She found herself wondering how frequently the two leaders had the opportunity or the inclination to talk like this when no one else was around. More often than not, whenever anyone witnessed the two of them together, it was in a group setting and they often ended up locking horns. It was nice to see them getting along so well by themselves.

But the doctor realized that all good things must, at least temporarily, come to an end, especially when she was exhausted and needed access to her cot. She pulled back the tent flap and she and Alonzo entered. Devon and Danziger looked a bit surprised by the unexpected interruption and both involuntarily straightened up and sat back in their chairs to increase the space between them. Julia noticed that the dinner plate had been picked clean and they'd already gone through the entire thermos of coffee and both had been stacked on a nearby monitor. Along with those items was the Diaglove which had long since been repaired.

"Sorry to intrude," Alonzo lied, not even trying to hide his delight at seeing them squirm. "But it's after midnight and Danz is already ten minutes late for guard duty. Mazatl took your place until you can get there."

Devon and John's heads shot back. "It's that late?"

Devon gasped as they simultaneously checked their chronometers which confirmed that, sure enough, the two of them had been talking for over four hours straight. It certainly hadn't felt that long. Where on earth had the time gone?

"I guess that we'd better get the kids to bed," Devon suggested as they both flew to their feet.

"Yale's already taken care of it," Julia informed them with the hint of a grin.

John was embarrassed; firstly, because Yale had been forced to take over his parenting duties and, secondly, because he was about to shirk another of his responsibilities onto Devon's shoulders.

He looked a bit sheepish as he turned toward Devon. "I'm gonna go grab some more coffee and relieve Mazatl," he said. "Would you mind checkin' on True to make sure that she's settled in? She might be waiting for me to come and tell her a bedtime story before she falls asleep."

Devon didn't hesitate before answering, "If she's still awake, I'd be happy to tell her one."

Danziger couldn't resist another gentle dig. "Why don't you tell her the story about the Evil Queen who accidentally food poisons everyone in her court," he deadpanned.

Julia and Alonzo chuckled and looked to Devon to gauge her reaction to John's suggestion. She hadn't flinched and, instead, she gave it right back to him.

"Hmm," Devon nodded, feigning deep contemplation. "Actually, I was thinking of the tale about the Beautiful Queen who kills only one of her subjects, a lowly knave with a big mouth."

Danziger folded his arms in front of his chest and scoffed. "Do I need to remind you that the Queen also has a pretty big mouth of her own?" he said smugly. "And, besides, she also needs this lowly knave to keep the vehicles in her royal entourage runnin' long enough to get to the distant land where her kingdom is."

Devon matched and then far surpassed Danziger's self-righteous expression and voice. "Ah, but that's just another one of the many annoying traits of the knave...his delusions of grandeur. He fails to realize that there are others in the Beautiful Queen's company who can perform the very same task... and with much less complaining than the knave in question," she volleyed back.

As Julia and Alonzo watched the two leader's verbal tennis match, Devon's body language gave them the impression that she was thoroughly enjoying their banter. And, although John's face and overall mannerisms were a bit more difficult to read, they could tell that he was having fun with the exchange, too.

Meanwhile, Danziger's eyes tracked Devon as she strode across the room toward the tent's exit.

"And my favorite part of the story is the end, after the Queen poisons him," Devon expressed, her voice now taking on a teasing tone. "There was much rejoicing throughout the land. The subjects partied for days. In fact, there was a parade, if I remember correctly."

She reached the door and pivoted back to face Danziger. Her mouth was twisted into a small, but almost playful grin as she finished her tale. "I believe that the day was even declared a holiday."

Devon then turned her head slightly to address the dwelling's other amused occupants. "Goodnight, all," she said brightly, obviously pleased with herself as she slipped through the tent's crease and disappeared into the night.

Danziger stared after her, not moving or saying a word. It was only after what looked to be a few moments of intense reflection on his part that he grabbed the empty thermos, said his hasty goodbyes to Julia and Alonzo and hurried out the door before they could say anything.

As soon as he left, Alonzo seemed to suddenly become intrigued by something located at the opposite side of the enclosure.

Julia gave him a nudge with her elbow. "What are you doing?"

The pilot's smile was ear to ear. "Just checkin' to see if our bed has been slept in," he exclaimed with a wink.

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Despite the often sweltering days, the temperature was almost always much lower after the darkness had set in. And it was the brisk, night air hitting Devon's face which struck her back to reality. With every step that she took toward the Danziger tent, she began to feel more and more uncertain about the performance that she'd just given back in the med-tent. She began to mentally chide herself for what she now deemed to be her irrational behavior. It was bad enough that she had lost track of time and had let four hours slip away, but much worse was her role in the conversation which had taken place as she had left.

What were you thinking, she inwardly scolded. For God's sake, you were practically flirting with John. How could you have acted so foolishly? Why did you let your guard down like that? And as if that wasn't horrible enough, how could you have been so reckless as to behave that way in front of Julia and Alonzo?

To them, seeing her and Danziger together like that must have looked suspiciously like a date. The mere thought of such a thing made Devon a tad light-headed. After all, this was a man who seemed to derive pleasure from challenging her every decision. A man whose bull-headed stubbornness and passive aggressive mood swings would sometimes drive her to the brink of insanity and the consideration of committing homicide. A man who understood-- and never let her forget-- how much Devon had come to depend upon his expertise in order for the group to survive its arduous journey to New Pacifica. And, most importantly, this was a man who, despite knowing how vital he had become to the success of Eden Project, was still planning to abandon her and the others and return to the Stations when the colony ship arrived.

After reaching the Danziger tent, Devon's eyes were filled with sadness as she peeked in to view True. She was already out like a light and was curled up on her cot and wrapped securely in one of the blankets they'd acquired during Bess' latest trade with a local family of Grendlers. Devon was going to miss the little girl, too, and she wished that there was something that she could say or do to persuade John to stay. But Devon knew that any intervention on her part would only be an exercise in futility. The mechanic had made it abundantly clear from day one that he'd hated life on G889 and had no qualms about leaving at the first available opportunity. Therefore, it was best for everyone involved that Devon faced and accepted the idea that nothing could be done to change John's mind. It was his decision to make and she'd might as well learn to live with it.

Devon moved much more slowly now as she plodded toward her quarters. She didn't have very far to travel because, as was their habit since she had been restored to good health many months before, the Danziger and Adair tents were always erected next to one another. As she reached out to pull back the flap and enter her quarters, she was given quite a start when a deep voice rumbled from behind her.

"Adair," John whispered, his thermos still in hand as he closed the distance between them.

She rotated back toward him and opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off before she could say anything. He tone remained low so as not to disturb the nearby sleeping Edenites.

"I got another ending for that fairy-tale of yours," he relayed, and it was only then that Devon noticed the seriousness in his voice and expression.

"How 'bout the Beautiful Queen chooses not to poison the knave and lets him live. After a while, the two of 'em get to know one another better and they become good friends. In fact, they end up gettin' along so well that, after they finally make it to that kingdom of hers, the knave decides to stick around for good. That way, they can drive each other crazy for the rest of their lives."

Danziger nervously waited for Devon's response and he honestly wasn't sure what her reaction to the thinly veiled disclosure of his future plans would be. Just in case, his poker face was firmly in place and he steeled himself for the very real possibility that she would react less than favorably to his announcement. He hoped that he would be able to hear her reply over the sound of his loudly thumping heart.

At the same time, Devon had been caught completely unprepared to hear this and she could only stand there dumbfounded, unable to move or even breathe as she processed the monumental significance of John's words. Her knees became so weak that she feared that they would collapse beneath her. Was he actually saying what she thought he was saying?

It was only after many moments that Devon was able to compose herself enough to finally give him an answer. She swallowed hard and her voice trembled a bit. "I think that's a great ending to the story," she said with absolute sincerity.

John let out his own shuddering breath and relief, along with several other emotions, quickly flashed across his features before he forced his expression back to its usual stony demeanor.

"I thought so, too," he expressed in a quiet tone.

With his free hand, Danziger extended his arm outward toward Devon and she involuntarily exuded a surprised gasp at the possibility of physical contact with him. But John never touched her and, instead, he reached behind her and took hold of the tent flap.

"Get some sleep," he told her as he parted the crease and held it open to allow her entrance into her quarters.

As Devon soundlessly stepped into her tent, she realized that all of the misgivings which she had harbored about her actions earlier that evening had melted away only to be replaced with something altogether different. Once inside, she turned back to face Danziger.

"Good night, John," she said. Although she hadn't intended for her words to be uttered quite as tenderly as they had come out, she wasn't all that concerned about it.

As much as Danziger tried to fight it, the warmth in Devon's voice caused his veneer to crack and his lips curled upward to form a small smile. "'Night, Devon."

With a final nod of his head, he drew back his hand and allowed the tent's fabric to fall to a close.

Devon stood in the blackness of her room, mesmerized by the diminishing sound of Danziger's footsteps as he crossed the camp to take over his scheduled shift as the group's nightwatchman. When she at last felt like she could move again, she glided over to Uly's small cot to confirm that he was sleeping soundly. After retucking the blankets around him and brushing back the bangs from his eyes with her fingertips, she made her way back to her own bed. She removed her shoes and slipped under the covers still fully clothed, practically in a daze as she tried to wrap her brain around the knowledge that John Danziger was planning to remain on G889 and of what that could mean to her, both professionally and personally.

On a professional level, having Danziger there to assist her in the general duties of running New Pacifica would be an invaluable asset. Although it sometimes wasn't delivered in the most diplomatic way, John always told her the truth and he worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of those whom he cared about. Devon trusted him implicitly, both with her life and with the life of her son. And now that she knew that Danziger would be there at her side, Devon realized that she felt more confident than ever that the colony would be a resounding success.

And although she hesitated to read too much into John's words and she was still more than a little bit confused by her own emotions on the subject, on a personal level, she had to admit that making an effort to get to know one another better as friends was an intriguing prospect, to say the least. She wondered where embarking on such a path with John might lead them regarding their overall relationship.

As Devon closed her eyes, one of the more pleasant possibilities was converted into images in her mind and she began to create a brand new bed-time story... one with a fairy-tale ending fit for a Queen.

"And they lived happily ever after," she whispered to herself as she drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

THE END