by Joan Powers
(1) This story was originally posted in 1996. It is part of series which was nominated for a Koba award for Best Earth 2 continuous series. It starts with" Grieving Time", and then "Stepping Stones". "The Road Not Chosen" is the final installment.
(2) This story follows "Stepping Stones", which described how Eden Advance rescued Devon from her cold sleep crypt. It primarily focuses on Devon and John's relationship as the group continues their journey to New Pacifica.
(3) Special thanks to Vicki, Tracy, Maxine, Rosa and Paula for their helpful advice and support.
Type: drama, D/D angst, D/D romance
Summary: When Devon is frustrated by her slow recovery, along with Danziger's behavior towards her, she takes matters into her own hands, only to end up in a dangerous situation.
Timeline/Spoilers: Post "All About Eve" follows my story "Stepping Stones"
/ I'll never understand grownups. When Devon collapsed and we had to put her into that cold sleep chamber on the spaceship, Dad was miserable. I thought it was like what happened with my mom so I prayed that she would get better and that he could be happy again. Now Devon is back with the group, but Dad still isn't normal. For a while he seemed better, but lately he's been as grouchy as ever. I don't understand what's bothering him./
Morning sunlight filtered through the sparse needles of twisted pine trees which offered painfully little shade to the Eden Advance camp site. Once again, the travelers were in the midst of performing their daily morning ritual, breaking up camp in order to continue their seemingly endless trek to New Pacifica. Moving almost mechanically, the crew had managed to strike most of the tents, with the notable exception of the Martin's. Even that seemed to be part of the routine. Magus and Denner shot annoyed glances in the Martin's general direction, hoping to convince the couple to speed up their packing.
Dr. Heller supervised as Alonzo, Walman and Baines grunted under the strain of lifting crates of medical equipment onto the Trans Rover, while other crew members hustled to stow the remainder of their gear. Conversation was minimal, for no one was especially looking forward to yet another long hot day of traveling.
Amidst the bustle of activity, Danziger rounded the corner of the Dune Rail to ensure that its cargo was securely stashed. As he bent to check the placement of a crate, out of the corner of his eye he spied Devon attempting to lift some large plastic containers of water. Taking a few broad steps, he swiftly moved to intercept her efforts. Standing directly in her path he sternly asked, "What are you doing?"
Upon hearing his deep voice and nearly colliding with the solidly built mechanic, Devon was startled but immediately schooled her features to disguise this. Determinedly fixing her chin, she looked him squarely in the eye and confidently responded, "Trying to get this group on the road."
It was difficult to cover much distance in the hot weather, which was taking its toll on the crew members as well as the vehicles. Yesterday, Magus and Cameron had collapsed, nearly succumbing to heat stroke. Both were feeling better but would be riding in the back of the Trans Rover, shaded by an awning -- Dr. Heller's orders.
Last night, Devon had urged the group to get an earlier start so they could travel more in the cool of the morning, but...much to her displeasure and intense embarrassment, since she'd been ill she had difficulty waking up in the morning. She slept so soundly that she had to be physically roused.
Danziger wasn't moving to allow her to pass, so she curtly commented, "You're in my way."
While lesser men had been intimidated by her carefully honed dismissive tones, the mechanic was undaunted and refused to budge. In fact, his blue eyes sparkled with amusement and he grinned wryly as he cocked an eyebrow. "Hasn't Dr. Heller restricted all lifting activity for you until further notice?"
Inwardly Devon cringed, she hated being reminded of her recent illness. And Danziger knew it. The fact that she wasn't back to her former level of vigor irritated her to no end. She rose to his challenge and retorted, "Oh come on. She's being too conservative. I'm feeling much better."
Not to be dissuaded, she stubbornly bent to pick up her containers, but the tall man beat her to them, her palms bumping into the tops of his large hands. Immediately she withdrew, disconcerted by even the slightest brush against him.
"Sit down Devon. We'll get everything packed - without your help" John responded.
He spoke firmly, but there was another emotion thinly masked within his voice as well. One which captured her attention, yet frightened her. Still uncomfortable but not about to lose face in front of him, she coolly replied, "Fine, I'll go check on the kids." She turned on her heal and resolutely strode towards Yale and the children.
It'd only been two and half weeks since Devon had returned to camp, to the world of the living. During the first days, she'd been so physically drained she'd welcomed the opportunity to rest. Her unused muscles ached and a chill permeated her body despite the warmth of the summer weather. She was grateful that Danziger had insisted upon leading the group as she recuperated.
But now, over twenty days had passed - much too long for her to comfortably permit others to shoulder her responsibilities.
She watched as Danziger barked out advice to the throng of the Eden Advance who were busily packing up the remnants of their equipment. A sliver of resentment twinged within her. Who does he think he is? This is my group, not his.
And since when had he taken charge of her?
In the past, though it had taken considerable effort, she'd usually managed to get her way. A smug smile crossed her lips as she recalled that she hadn't allowed him to interfere with her plans to invite Shepard to join their group or with her attempts to negotiate with the Terrians for Yale's life. Danziger hadn't dared to override her authority under those circumstances.
But that seemed to have changed. Along with the look in his eyes.
The desert terrain passed before their eyes, seemingly endless and unchanging. One rolling hill rapidly became another as they traversed a virtual sea of sand. Predominantly small shrubs and bushes dotted the monotonous landscape and the distant mountains they were headed towards. Appearances were deceiving in the vast arid country - for while the mountain range seemed close, it would take the caravan more than a week to reach their base.
Parked in the Trans Rover beside her Dad while enduring the growing heat and boredom of the day, True dangled her legs over the bench seat. She'd long since given up on her attempts at conversation with her father. His vacant stare was beginning to irritate her, and her annoyance only grew as she followed his gaze to a certain female with auburn hair who was walking several feet ahead of them. She heaved a sigh of frustration yet she knew it was useless to broach the subject with her Dad who would only once again deny that he was behaving oddly.
As she listlessly swung her legs, she began to occupy herself by imagining how her life might be once they reached New Pacifica. It couldn't be as boring as traveling - the same routine day after day. Or as dull as school. Even though she'd progressed rapidly with her studies, just thinking about sitting around doing lessons prompted her to yawn. She was more of a hands-on person who learned by doing, like her Dad. She frowned as she realized that there'd probably be just as many rules at New Pacifica as there'd been everywhere else on the planet.
However, True remembered how impressed her father had been by his first glimpse of the ocean on the eastern coast. His voice had been filled with excitement as he described it to her, his words drawing her in - she was anxious to see it for herself. She wanted to dive into the water and feel the crash of those waves against her. To smell and taste the salty air. To see the beauty of the sun's rays shimmering on the distant horizon.
While she'd experienced re-creations of oceans in VR, she had to admit that the real thing would be better. Riding Pegasus had been much more fun than the synthetic broncos in the arcades at the Stations. And while her previous virtual visits to planet's surfaces to examine flora and fauna had been interesting, those programs just couldn't convey the smell of the air and the flowers, the feel of the sun warm on the back of her neck or the wind whipping through her hair, or even the pain inflicted by those annoying bugs which nipped at her ankles as she walked through tall grass. After experiencing reality, VR was a poor substitute.
With some surprise, she realized that she would miss this planet if her father chose for them to return to the Stations. While she was afraid of the many dangers presented by the planet, it was exciting for her to climb real trees, to dance in non-toxic rain, and to breathe fresh non-recycled air. She had no idea what her father planned for their future for he wasn't one to waste time discussing decisions which didn't need to be made for at least two years. When it was time, then he'd tell her.
Two hundred fifty families. There'd be lots of new kids to play with. And even if they were unable to retrieve the remainder of the Eden Advance cargo, the Colony ship would be ferrying many creature comforts from the Stations. New Pacifica might not be so bad after all. True continued to amuse herself with her plans.
Unfortunately, time was not passing by so pleasantly for her father, who continued to track Devon with his eyes. Annoyance simmered within him, he couldn't believe that Julia had permitted her to walk in this sweltering heat. Devon was mending but she certainly wasn't completely back to normal.
He was all too aware of how easily she tired and of her stubborn refusal to acknowledge her weakened condition. To keep her from over exerting herself, he and Yale had conspired to wake her in the morning only after the group had started to break camp. As Uly or True assisted her with breakfast, the two men quickly dismantled her tent and packed up her belongings. He wasn't sure how much longer they 'd be able to get away with their ruse, Devon was a poor patient and couldn't stand having people do things for her.
As he noticed Devon stumbling, he instinctively reached to his gear, which was draped about his neck. With his fingers on the button about to activate it, he paused. No, it's too soon. She'll never buy it. He reluctantly returned his grip to the steering wheel.
He tried to distract himself by thinking about other concerns. Food was a major issue. The dry terrain produced little but brush and small shrubs and their vast supply of preserved food was dwindling rapidly. The mountain range they were headed towards contained forests, but even a scouting team would take several days to reach it.
However, there was a smaller oasis of sorts - a grouping of taller trees to the north which captured his attention. Perhaps they should detour there to attempt to forage for some edibles? His practiced eye gauged that they could reach its perimeter within a few hours. He made a mental note to confer with Yale when they stopped to take a break.
Almost automatically, his gaze returned to Devon. He squinted, Was she slowing down? From this distance, it was hard for him to tell. Even if she were tired, he knew that she wouldn't acknowledge it unless she were pressed.
Danziger silently laughed at himself. Devon's persistence - her continual pushing of herself and others, was a quality that he'd admired in her. Her drive alone had made this mission possible and saved her son's life. It'd sustained them after the crash. And it could possibly save over two hundred fifty other Syndrome children as well. It'd kept the two of them alive during their disastrous trip for water. When he was ready to lie down and die, she hadn't let him.
Now that very quality was driving him crazy.
The next time Devon faltered, grabbing Yale's arm for support, Danziger instinctively activated his gear and said "Okay everybody - time for a break." He brought the Trans Rover to a halt and climbed out, while avoiding his daughter's questioning glance.
Immediately Devon was on his trail. "Danziger, why did we stop?" She breathed heavily, "It's too soon. We have to keep moving." Her face was flushed and she dabbed at sweat trickling down her forehead with a cloth.
Knowing better than to mention his concerns about her health, he simply replied, "Rover's heating up, can't push it too hard. These are the only vehicles we got Adair. Let's give them a break." He walked past her, not giving her a chance to respond.
The group huddled about the Trans Rover attempting to cool themselves in the limited amount of shade provided by the vehicle. Julia and Morgan doled out water rations as the others paused to rest. Baines and Walman attempted to rig makeshift fans to circulate the air as Yale, Danziger, and Alonzo slipped away from the group to speak privately.
After resting for fifteen minutes, Devon was impatient to get back on the road so she rose from the ground where she'd been sitting and rallied the group, "Come on everybody. Let's go again." She motioned to them with her arms. Most exchanged weary glances and issued unenthusiastic groans as they prepared to leave.
As the trio of men broke apart from their discussion, Danziger strode over to Devon and grabbed her forearm, "Come on Adair, you're riding with me."
She laughed nervously, surprised by the force of his grip, "Danziger, I'm fine. Leave me alone." Her eyes didn't quite contact his, focusing just past his shoulder. She grimaced and twisted her arm to try to break his grasp but he held firm as he proceeded to escort her to the Trans Rover.
"What are you doing?" Devon protested. She continued to follow him only because she was half afraid he would pick her up and carry her if she resisted.
"Making sure you get into the Trans Rover."
As they arrived at the passenger side door, Danziger loosened his grip and Devon snatched back her arm. Since Alonzo and Walman were already staring at them with knowing smirks, Devon lowered her voice and hissed, "I don't need to rest. I'm feeling much better."
The tall man shook his head, "Doctors orders." He opened the door and motioned to it, "Get in." With a hint of sarcasm he added, "Or will you require assistance?"
She scrambled in, anxious to avoid attracting any more attention to the two of them. "Danziger, why are you treating me like a child?"
"Because you're acting like one." He slammed the door shut.
Devon leaned against the passenger door of the Trans Rover, intending to maintain as much distance as possible between she and Danziger. How dare he treat me that way. And in front of the entire group. She forced herself to look out the window as he slid onto the drivers seat.
As she thought about why Danziger may've acted as he did, conflicting emotions battled within her. Emotions she wasn't sure about and didn't want to deal with at the moment. So she tried to concentrate on the scenery as their caravan proceeded.
After several minutes of traveling, she quickly glanced towards Danziger. Despite herself, her gaze lingered on his profile. When had she first noticed how handsome he was? That golden unruly hair, that strong jaw line with just a hint of beard, those blue eyes, those full lips. Stop it.
She jerked her head around, forcing herself to return to scanning the distant horizon. A patch of trees loomed in the distance, breaking up the monotony of the rolling hills covered with low brush.
"Danziger, why are we heading north? This is out of our way."
The mechanic gruffly responded, "Thought it might be a good place to restock supplies."
Her eyebrow rose, "Why didn't you ask me about this?"
He shrugged, feigning nonchalance, "Didn't think it was a big deal."
She sighed and mentally counted to ten. Once again, a decision had been made and she hadn't even been consulted. Being left out infuriated her. She leaned her head back against the seat of the Rover and closed her eyes with the intention of resting for a moment. Then she'd tell Danziger exactly how she felt about not being included in important decisions.
However, within minutes, she was sound asleep.