What a difference a day can make.
It was hard to believe that just slightly less than twenty-four hours had gone by since Eden Advance had abandoned their camp for their Terrian safe house. So much had happened. So much knowledge gained, both about themselves and about one another.
Although Julia had greatly appreciated the crew's efforts to lug the majority of the Med Quarter's contents to the cavern, luckily for her and for John, most of the equipment wasn't needed. However, she was eternally grateful to have had enough of her supplies there to set up a triage for Danziger and to run the necessary tests to confirm that the mechanic's oxygen deprivation had apparently been brief enough that he didn't appear to suffer from any permanent neurological damage. After cleaning and lightly wrapping his still open wounds, Julia decided to transport her patient back to the Med Tent to continue with his needed medical treatment. Not only was it a more sterile environment with better lighting, she knew that John would feel much more at home regaining consciousness back at camp laying in a comfortable cot, dressed in fresh clothing, and surrounded by his friends and family.
The doctor had spent several hours dutifully attending to Danziger's many injuries which sometimes required Baines' assistance. She had stitched up a half a dozen gashes, including the deep cut on the back of his skull. It had been necessary to shear a small portion of hair surrounding the injury in order to address the wound. However, John had more than enough overlapping curls to cover the temporary bald spot, as well as the permanent scar which would no doubt be left in its wake.
Over the past months, Julia had diligently worked to develop a much-needed bone healer vaccine for the members of Eden Advance, even going so far as to modify and improve upon the formula so that the treatment took effect almost instantaneously after being injected. However, because supplies and storage space were limited, she had chosen not to keep too much of the vaccine in reserve, in case those same ingredients might need to be combined to produce a different remedy at a later date. As such, the physician did not possess enough of the treatment to attend to all of Danziger's fractures at once. Instead, the decision was made to concentrate on healing the mechanic's ribs, right hand and right wrist while both broken legs would be addressed later the following day, once Julia had been given the opportunity to create another batch of the vaccine. The upside of this was that Danziger had to adhere to Julia's orders of bedrest, having no choice but to remain in his cot until the final injection could be administered.
John's forced rest period had been beneficial in several ways and was particularly important in Julia's eyes because, simply put, he needed to be watched. Although she had optimistically proclaimed that the mechanic would ultimately be fine, there was still an unspoken, lingering concern over the possibility that he could suffer the prolonged effects of a concussion. Once Danziger had regained consciousness, True, Devon and the others were placed in charge of testing his alertness as well as to check for any long term memory loss. They were also told to immediately report back to Julia if Danziger exhibited a substantial increase in irritability. However, given the mechanic's usual prickly demeanor, the crew quickly realized that there was really no way to tell the difference, so they threw up their hands in surrender and concentrated instead on the former directive to test John's overall awareness of his surroundings.
This consisted of asking him over and over again basic questions ranging from his name and birthdate, his daughter's name and birthdate, and even to elaborate on things such as performing general repairs to the Transrover. Every once in a while, Alonzo would also throw in an inquiry about how to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, eliciting a snicker from the rest of the updated group, causing Devon's cheeks to turn crimson, and generating the first genuine confusion from John.
Even after the bone healer had taken effect and his more serious lacerations were sewn to a close, Danziger still looked like a mess. Both legs remained fractured and blankets had been tightly gathered and placed around and in between the two limbs, keeping them stationery to prevent further damage. Bandages as well as bags of synth-ice were strategically applied to the most affected areas of his body and his badly bruised throat had been thoroughly packed in the latter material.
Although Danziger was putting on a relatively brave front, it was obvious to those around him that he was in a great deal of pain due to his lingering injuries. His appetite had waned and the act of swallowing food in itself was a difficult venture. Still, the mechanic insisted that he was in good enough condition to entertain visitors and had Julia stack several pillows behind him in order to prop him up approximately forty-five degrees so that he was in a partially seated position instead of flat on his back. To him, spending quality time with True was the best medicine on the planet.
The sun had long ago set and, despite Danziger's exhaustion, he was having trouble falling asleep due to his continuing discomfort. Therefore, Julia made the executive decision to clear the room of guests and then administer a large dose of painblock into his system in order for him to get the rest that he desperately needed. The tactic worked like a charm and only minutes later, John was out like a light.
It had been a difficult task to pry True and John away from one another, but the younger Danziger had grudgingly agreed to follow Julia's orders and spend the remainder of the night sleeping in Devon's tent. In fact, Devon had insisted on taking charge of the little girl, making sure that she had eaten a full meal and helping to move her belongings into the Adair quarters until John was well enough to retake over his parental duties. And it was only after confirming that True and Uly were sound asleep that Devon redressed and slipped out of the tent and quietly made her way back to John's side as she'd promised herself that she would.
She entered the room and was extra careful not to rustle the tarp, so as not to call attention to herself either from Danziger or from Magus who was on sentry duty and stationed just yards away. The enclosure was dark, save for the dim glow cast by two lumacones, each set at the head and the foot of John's cot. She could hear his raspy snores as she neared his bed and wondered if his almost pained breaths were part of his normal sleep pattern or were the direct result of the trauma inflicted on his throat. Her eyes never left Danziger's sleeping form as she carefully seated herself on the mattress directly next to him, instead of choosing to sit on one of several nearby overturned crates that were currently doubling as makeshift chairs. Devon continued to watch John sleep for a few moments, looking at him maybe not with new eyes, but perhaps with eyes that had grown wiser because of time and experience.
Devon then did something that she would never dream of doing under normal circumstances. Fully realizing that she couldn't have stopped herself even if she'd had second thoughts, she reached out and gingerly smoothed back the dirty blond curls from Danziger's forehead to enable her to see his face. She then began to gently stroke his hair, weaving her fingertips in between the thick strands and ever so lightly grazing his sensitive skin.
Not much time passed before the snoring ceased and Danziger gradually started to stir awake. Devon's hand fell back to her side, causing an avalanche of the mechanic's previously subdued curls to tumble downward and recover his bruised brow.
"Hello, John," Devon whispered as he slowly opened his eyes.
"Devon," he muttered back, appearing a bit puzzled. For some reason, he'd just experienced the strangest sensation. It had almost felt as if someone had been running their fingers through his hair. But when he'd opened his eyes, it was Devon sitting with him, so he quickly rationalized that he must have been dreaming. Though he did find it rather odd that the woman was seated so close to him. Not that he minded.
John's voice had been considerably weakened due to his ordeal and his words lacked the punch which they normally held. "What are ya' doin' here?" he mumbled.
"I wanted to check on you one more time before I went to bed," she told him. She wore a kind expression, but even in his drug-addled condition, Danziger could tell that she seemed to be a bit nervous.
"Are you in any pain?" she asked.
He thought about it a moment. Although parts of his skin felt pulled tight, most likely due to the sutures, he had to admit that he felt pretty darn good. Beyond a slight tingling, he couldn't sense his legs at all and there was an overall numbness coursing through his body that simulated warmth, despite the fact that a good portion of him was covered in synth-ice.
"Nah, I'm fine. Can't feel a thing. Just groggy," he slurred in a hoarse voice. "This medicine's got me feelin' kinda strange. You know, out-of-it."
Devon leaned in close to John, her face hovering just inches from his. "That's sort of what I was counting on," she whispered just before planting a delicate kiss on his lips.
It was brief and feather light in nature, and her senses savored every aspect of it. But as wonderful as kissing him felt, Devon was immediately concerned when Danziger barely returned the gesture. She supposed that his lack of response could be due to his overall surprise or perhaps because his reaction time was delayed due to his highly drugged state. But she also couldn't help but consider that John's lack of response to her advances was simply because they were unwanted. And that worried her greatly.
She began to retreat backward in order to view his expression and gauge whether or not she needed to quickly implement some sort of damage control plan. But to Devon's infinite delight, as she eased her head back, Danziger's newly-healed, but slightly unsteady, hand caught her at the nape of her neck and drew her back to him to continue the embrace, this time more forcefully, evaporating her worries as well as most of her inhibitions.
John pulled her as close to him as his injuries would allow as their kisses deepened with each dizzying second. But as much as Devon may have wanted their embrace to last forever, she knew that it couldn't. It was paramount that she kept in mind that Danziger's condition provided her with a unique opportunity which would doubtfully be repeated anytime soon. As such, that night's visit came with a very important objective. One that she was determined to see through, no matter what the outcome might be.
She pulled away just enough to break their kiss, her mouth still lingering dangerously close to his. "I love you, John," she revealed in a breathless gasp.
Devon did her best to steady her composure and calm her racing heart. As good as it felt to finally say those words to Danziger aloud, the most important part of their information exchange was yet to come.
The leader arched her head back to enable her to look John directly in the eye as she posed the question that had all but dominated her innermost thoughts for the past several months.
"And you're in love with me, too," she ventured, her voice shaky, yet purposeful. "Aren't you?"
Danziger didn't move a muscle and his glazed eyes stared at her both in shock and confusion for several moments, and it wasn't too long before Devon fell back into damage-control mode. But just as the phrase 'plausible deniability' started to dance a repetitive jig in her head, John gave her the answer that she'd waited far too long to hear.
"Yeah," he confessed, mildly shrugging his shoulders and suddenly averting his eyes downward, as if he was almost embarrassed by the admission. One side of his mouth curled upward to form a lopsided, goofy grin which Devon found to be both infectious and completely disarming.
She let out a small laugh. "I'm very glad to hear it," she expressed, her own smile beaming brightly. "That's going to make things much easier for us down the road."
She reached up to gingerly caress John's discolored jawline, compelling his sheepish gaze to return to hers. "This sort of thing isn't easy for either of us," she acknowledged. "We're both stubborn as mules, but that's only part of the problem. Maybe we're just too concentrated on raising our kids or maybe we're too focused on completing the mission... or on staying alive, for that matter."
A sarcastic snort rumbled from Danziger. "Or maybe we're just two very screwed up people," he interjected, somehow managing to sound blunt and endearing at the same time.
Devon joined in with her own light chuckles. "That could have something to do with it, too," she nodded, amazed that Danziger could so easily obtain such a deeply buried admission that she was less than perfect out of her. There was also a sense of relief that John seemed to be able to see right through the unbending strength and stability which she proudly wore as a protective shield against those who would dare to question her resolve. It was clear to Devon that Danziger understood the woman who she really was, and better yet, he truly accepted her, flaws and all.
After the laughter subsided, Devon let out a deep exhalation, before continuing, "I know that I'm in love with you, John, but I also know that I'm not ready to tell you this for real yet. Obviously, you aren't ready either and, believe me, I understand completely. Maybe what we're doing, or not doing, is the best way for us to handle how we feel about one another, at least for a while. It might take us two days or two months, or even longer. In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we make it to New Pacifica before one of us finally gets up the nerve to tell the other the truth."
She leaned in close to him and lowered her voice, as if she was about to say something risque. "Or maybe one night in the not-so-distant future, the two moons will be perfectly aligned in the sky, and we'll look at each other in just the right way and, before you know it, we'll be ripping each other's clothes off."
A flirtatious, loopy smile extended across Danziger's face as his hand went to her shoulder. "How 'bout now?" he suggested, clumsily pushing at the fabric of her shirt.
"Nope, not yet," Devon declared, grinning in spite of herself as she took the offending hand into her own, delicately lacing her fingers in between his. "You've got two broken legs and you're covered from head to toe with cuts and bruises. You're not exactly in mint condition right now."
The mechanic rolled his eyes, inadvertently causing his head to drunkenly flop to one side before he quickly rebounded. "You gotta point," he grudgingly acquiesced, his words becoming increasing slurred.
Never one to accept 'no' for an answer, especially when that 'no' came from Devon Adair, Danziger decided to concentrate all of his efforts on his free hand as it slyly made its way back to Devon's shirt, this time where the material met the waistband of her pants.
"But it still might be worth a try," he said with a mischievous twinkle in his unfocused eyes as he untucked the fabric and slipped his hand around her waist.
The touch of his hand against her soft skin sent both of their senses reeling. Devon didn't offer any resistance as Danziger's fingers dug into the small of her back and eased her to him and they rejoined in an impassioned embrace. There were several frenzied moments filled with roaming hands and devouring mouths before Devon was able to regain enough control of her faculties to put a halt to their activities before there was no turning back.
It took most of her emotional strength, not to mention a good amount of her physical strength, to pry herself from Danziger's powerful grasp. "No, John, this isn't the right time for us," she insisted.
As she straightened back up to the sitting position, she mentally chided herself for briefly attempting to work out the mechanics in her mind of how to successfully make love to a man who was heavily drugged and sported multiple lower limb fractures.
"Besides," she added, still searching for a full breath, "if anything happened between us tonight, you'd be too medicated to remember it. And you don't want to forget something that important, do you?"
"Uh-huh, I wanna remember," came the garbled reply.
"And it will be memorable. That, I can promise you," she pledged as she repositioned some of the synth-ice around John's throat which had become dislodged during their fervored exchange. He didn't hinder Devon's doting efforts, and watched in silent appreciation as she delicately rearranged the previously cast-aside blankets in order to make him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
Once the task had been completed and met with both of their satisfactions, Devon furthered, "I can also promise you that I'm going to do whatever it takes to keep you from returning to the Stations."
She cupped the side of Danziger's face, and lovingly traced the line of his stubbled cheekbone with her thumb. "I honestly don't know what I'd do if you left. You and True have become a part of my family and I can no longer imagine my life without you in it," she whispered with such warmth and sincerity that it caused John's heart skip a beat.
Her words hung in the air for several seconds and it slowly became apparent that Danziger wasn't going to answer her, prompting a new wave of concern from Devon. Although she now had John's affirmation that he cared for her, there were many other factors to consider, and his admission didn't necessarily translate to him living the rest of his days on G889.
"This is where you belong, John. I want you to stay here and make a life with us," she added, attempting to encourage him to respond or at least react in some way to her proclamation.
Danziger's continued silent treatment along with his undecipherable expression propelled Devon's anxiety into overdrive.
"Are you okay with that?" she asked with more than a hint of hesitation in her voice.
Several more uncomfortable seconds elapsed before, finally, the lopsided grin returned. "Yeah," John mumbled. "That's what I want, too."
Devon was overcome with emotion and was barely able to fight the urge to break into elated laughter and tears as well as to scream for joy. Her mission for that evening had been accomplished. And not a moment too soon, because it was obvious that John was beginning to drift back into unconsciousness
"I'm so happy to know that we're on the same page," she said warmly, her voice still trembling, though it was no longer due to frazzled nerves.
Danziger's eyes had already receded into two slits of blue under heavily weighted lids as he let out a weak chortle. "'Bout damn time we agree on somethin'," he slurred. "Probably won't happen again."
"Probably not," she concurred, wearing a loving smile. The reluctance to leave him was clearly evident in her mannerisms as she began to climb to her feet. "You need to rest, so I'm going to go."
John's hand found her wrist and gave it as much of a squeeze as he could muster. "Devon?" he whispered as his grasp slipped and his arm fell back to his side.
"I wanna remember this," he murmured so quietly that Devon could barely understand him.
"But you won't," Devon informed him as she leaned in to brush her lips across his one last time. "Sweet dreams, John."
As she pulled away and stood to her full height, a symphony of guttural snores emanated from the deepest regions of Danziger's chest, signaling that he was fast asleep. Devon remained there in the darkness for several moments, greedily studying John's face and noting the surprisingly peaceful expression under his bruised and battered skin. This time, she was able to resist the urge to touch him, despite her sadness knowing that she would unlikely be able to conduct herself so intimately with him anytime in the near future. But she took great solace in the fact that she at last had confirmation that Danziger was not planning to abandon her for the Stations at the first available opportunity. She also knew the truth about the depth of John's affection for her and it had felt so very good to finally voice her own love for him.
On many levels, John's accomplishments were almost inconceivable to Devon. In just a few month's time, this man had somehow managed to demolish the walls that had taken the leader nearly a lifetime to build. Danziger had become her most trusted friend, her unyielding ally and had proven himself to be her equal in every way possible. Moreover, he had continually risked his life for her. And now she no longer had any reservations about risking her heart for him.
One day very soon, perhaps after their lives had somewhat settled down, they would finally overcome their lingering personal issues and openly express and act upon their feelings without hesitation. They would embark on the more intimate relationship with one another that they both secretly desired and would join their two families as one.
She could barely wait for that day to come. Now, in the meantime, if she could just keep John from doing something stupid and getting himself killed.