Title: Just a White
Notes: Done for phrentis for the ddficathon over on LJ. She wanted inclement weather, lost, and comfort. Also, huge sorry about how late it is. Huge thanks to Inga for the beta.
Summary: In winter, everything slows down.
Devon wakes up to a cold nose and Uly's warm and heavy weight against her legs. It takes her a moment to remember where she is. She doesn't know why, but ever since Eden Advance found winter shelter, she's been having dreams.
Not Terrian dreams, she thinks. The dreams aren't exactly scary. There are no portents or strange beings or even people in these dreams. Just... snow. Kilometers and kilometers of unbroken snow with her right in the middle.
She hadn't know what snow really was before she'd come to this world. She does now. It's cold and wet and nearly impossible to tramp through without the odd shoes that Danziger threw together. In her dream though, it isn't cold or wet.
It's just there. And it's all that's there in every single direction.
She sits up, taking in the quiet of the morning – she knows no one's up yet – and stretches. Unsurprisingly, she's still tired. Walking through fields of snow in your dreams, trying to find anything, anyone, will exhaust someone. It exhausts her anyway.
Uly mumbles something incoherent and curls into the groove in the cot left by her body. The last few months have been a bit of a revelation for her as a mother. Before, Uly had always been too weak or too sick to do something as simple as sleep next to her. She knows she's pushing it now, him dashing happily towards the age of nine, but it's been cold enough that shared body heat had been a necessity. And for as much as the dreams have been driving her a little mad, it's been fantastic to feel him curled into the front of her body.
Despite her aching body and tired mind, she smiles as she tucks him back in. Runs fingers through the curl of his hair, brushing it away from his face before stretching again and shoving on her boots.
She stumbles out into the much warmer main room, sleepy-eyed and rumpled, but it's not a surprise when a cup of hot something is dumped into her hands.
"Bout time you got up." She snorts at Danziger's irreverent grin, but happily wraps her hands around the mug. She watches it steam in the air of the dome, and shrugs.
"Wasn't my night for surveillance."
"Lucky." He stretches his arms up above his head, letting his vertebrae pop and settle. She watches as his shirt rucks up, exposing a small, white slice of stomach. She doesn't look away, just takes a few sips of her drink and lets herself enjoy the experience.
He catches her, just like she knew he would. Smirks and makes a face before turning to pick up his breakfast. "Any plans for the day?"
She shakes her head and wanders over to flop down on one of the benches. The mug has warmed her hands, and she blows on the contents for want of something to do. "Not really. Cameron was making noises about clearing out some of the upper level. Figured he could use an extra set of hands."
He grunts and flops down next to her, sucking on another spoonful of porridge. She smiles lightly as his shoulder brushes hers. It's an odd sort of relationship they've wandered into. Fighting, talking, and sharing their days. This isn't the first morning, and she's sure it won't be the last, that they've plotted out their day in the empty common room.
"Let me guess," she cocks her head and eyes him. "After some sleep, the purification system's got your name written all over it."
He grins, bright and wide. "That a hint?"
She snorts and bumps him with her shoulder. Even six weeks ago, that hadn't been something she'd ever consider doing. But this was different. Winter was different. Things slowed down in winter, she was finding. They were a bit easier, in spite of everything.
He bumps her back, and takes another spoonful. Offers it to her. She shakes her head. "No. You know I can't even look at food until after I've finished this tea. Tell me what you have to get done?"
In quiet moments like this, this thing between them feels good. Natural. Probably because these quiet moments don't last long. But then, isn't that always the way?
She smiles into her mug and listens to him talk about charcoal.
Devon spends the day sweating and dirty and hauling plants and waste from the upper levels. Cameron is a fairly strict taskmaster, and by early evening there are obvious signs of improvement. By dinner, she is pleasantly sore and listens to Uly and True go on about their day and lessons and who stuffed who in a snow bank.
She listens quietly, ignoring the increasingly odd looks from Danziger because of it. She still hasn't shaken off her dream. Even elbow-deep in plant refuse, surrounded by living, growing things, the snow fields stretched out in her mind.
She tunes back in to hear her son and True begging and cajoling Yale for a story. In the background, she watches Denner and Mazatl nodding eagerly and smiles a bit when Eben voices her agreement. If asked even three months ago, it wouldn't have been a scene she'd ever imagine. But the voices and tone are warm and when Yale begins the tale of Ali Baba and his forty thieves, she snuggles back against her chair and lets herself watch and listen.
She goes to sleep that night, curled around her son, hoping that images of far off deserts and wily jinn will color her dreams.
"Are you okay, Adair?" It's three days later when Danziger asks this. His face is drawn and careful and he is hauling a piece of equipment into the dome, presumably from one of the storage tents. It's something bright and plastic, and she flinches just a bit at the color. There hasn't been a night in the last four that she hasn't dreamed of the snow, and the brightness is just a bit too much.
She's curled up at the table, going over figures that aren't adding up. They'll never add up, but she can't stop herself from trying. It's in her nature. She knows that she's being a stubborn idiot about it, but no one is ever going to call her on it, so it doesn't matter. "I'm fine."
Danziger sets the thing down gently, making sure that the buckles face up. It always surprises her to see him be gentle with something. Usually it's True or a piece of particularly cranky equipment. She mentally snorts at the idea of him ever being that way with her.
Not that she wants him to be.
"You're lying," he says, absently. He polishes one of the buckles and gives it a puzzled look.
"I am not." Her tone is quiet and unconvincing, even to her own ears. "Really."
"Whatever," he shrugs, and turns to stare at her. "You've been sulking in here for the last couple hours, glaring at that pad like it killed your best friend and then threw a party. But nothing's wrong."
He raises an eyebrow. She stares back at him, evenly.
After a few seconds, he shrugs
"Let me know when you're ready to talk, okay?" His hand is warm and strong on her shoulder, and it takes everything in her not to turn and watch him walk away. Instead, she listens to his ringing boot-steps until he disappears out the door.
The columns still don't add up.
The next morning, she wanders into the main room and out towards the doors, only to find half a meter of snow piled up next to the doors.
She stares out at the quiet, serene camp, taking a breath. Her fingers are already aching.
They don't stop when Baines tramps in, stamping his feet to remove the snow from his boots and pants. She just hands him a mug of hot tea and listens while he gives his report.
Probably a good idea to get everyone in the same dome tonight since the sky looks like it could dump more at any time. Woodpile is fine.
She just nods, agrees, and sends him off to bed.
When Danziger finds her later, she's still staring out the door, her mug cold in her hands.
She never works out quite how he managed it – Walman and Danziger had argued out the schedule weeks ago – but later that evening, she ends up on sentry duty with Danziger. It's cold and dark, and the sky is overcast so the moons are hidden away. Her cheeks are stinging with the cold by the time she's trudged out to the fire-pit behind the Transrover, and she's got her hands stuffed as deeply into her pockets as she can manage.
He's already parked on the best log but he's also got the coffee pot going, so she doesn't bother with anything stronger than a mildly surprised eyebrow.
"Hey." He nods a greeting. "Kids okay?"
She sighs and flops down on the next log, wincing as she jars the leg she'd twisted earlier. Stupid random box. "Yeah. Sleeping like the dead when I poked my head in earlier. Sledding is, apparently, hard work."
He snorts and pokes the fire with a stick. "Everything seems pretty quiet tonight. I checked the fencing earlier today and everything looked sturdy. Plus, all the extra snow has put a dent in how often the Grendlers walk by. Sturdy as they may be, all this extra powder would slow anybody down."
"Yeah," she agrees, hating that she can hear the dip in her voice. She needs to get over this. Cope with it and move on because she's starting to depress herself. She can't wince or flinch every time someone mentions snow. It's not practical.
But it's not like she can help it.
"Okay, that's it."
Confused, she looked up, straight into a trademark Danziger-glare. It wasn't quite at angry-strength, but it was getting there. Almost unconsciously, she leaned away from him and proceeded to blink. "What?"
"This is over. You're going to stop avoiding the issue and tell me what's going on." He stared, not breaking eye contact. "You've been in a funk for days."
"I have not," she scoffed, hunching her shoulders just a little. "I told you, I'm fine."
"You are not fine."
"I am too!" She sputters, feeling a bit like a cranky five-year-old in the process. Still, she really doesn't want to talk about this. It's stupid and dumb and every other related adjective. It'll just take a bit of time and everything will be fine. Really.
He snorts, smirking as though she's proved his point for him. "We haven't had a screaming match in close to two weeks, Devon."
That stops her cold. She thinks about it. Realizes that he's right, and that the last time she remembers really losing her temper at him was the last time the water regulator for the showers had busted.
"Oh." She offered, and slumped down again. "Okay."
"We're lost out here, John." Her words are quieter than she expects them to be. Soft and careful in the dark of the camp. She leans closer into the fire, trying to take all the heat she can. She doesn't want to look away because the only thing behind her is trees and snow. So much snow. "I have no idea what I'm doing. What we're doing. I don't know if this is going to work or if we're all going to die or if I had any damn right to do this in the first place. I'm just... lost."
His laugh is like a slap. Something unexpected and completely shocking for the mood. She whips around to glare at him, ready to jump up and stalk off. He's shaking his head at her, rocking back and forth on his log, just laughing. She really has never met anyone so serious, but so inclined to laugh.
"Well," she practically growled at him. "Good to know that my concerns are so funny."
"Sit down and cool it, Devon." He reaches out with one of those long arms to snag her sleeve before dragging her down next to him. She's annoyed, but he's stronger, even in an awkward position, so she allows herself a controlled fall before punching him, hard, in the arm.
"What the hell-" is all she manages before his arm is up around her shoulder and she's squished against his side. She squeaks a little, but shuts up because he's warm and confident and they're the only ones on duty. And it's not like this is the first time he's hugged her.
"Adair, I'm going to tell you something my first project manager told me." He's large enough that tucked into his shoulder as she is, he can run his hands up and down her arms without much effort. "Everybody's lost. No one knows what they're doing, ever."
She glares at the underside of his jaw. "That's his great wisdom? That no one knows what they're doing?"
"That's completely idiotic."
He snorts and gives her a quick squeeze before leaning back and looking down. "Why, because before we landed here you always knew what you were doing?"
She thinks about that, face still closed. "Yes. I always knew what was going to happen back on the Stations. I was the one telling people what to do."
"And you never felt like this? Like you had no idea what was coming next?"
She turns her head away, biting her lip and staring into the crackling fire. "Yes. But that was different. That was Uly..."
His voice is warm and deep, and she can feel the vibration of it all through her body. "There aren't many things in this world, Devon, that are completely real. Children? Are real. Everything else is just a schedule or a routine that we've put together to make us feel better about the chaos of our lives. Those rules aren't real or natural. They're made up."
The fire is bright and hot in front of them. One of the larger logs towards the top pops suddenly, splitting and falling while sending up a small shower of sparks. She takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. In the distance, she sees the snow on the hillside. Bits of dark poke up around and in it, rocks or dirt that isn't quite covered.
"So I should just keep going?" She whispers. "Doing what I'm doing?"
She feels him nodding.
"That is, officially, the worst pep talk in the history of the world."
He laughs then. Deep and long, and by the time he's stopped she's smiling and sitting up straight on her log. She doesn't get up though. Lets herself lean on his arm while they, ostensibly, keep an eye on their camp.
Later, after Baines and Magus have relieved them, and she stumbles back to her cot and bed, and the warm body of her son, she doesn't dream of snow.