"Brave New Pacifica"
Day 88 (21:53 S.T.)
"The wrong damn coast," Danziger mumbled from the ground. Julia couldn't help but grin at his exasperation, if not his predicament.
It had been one hell of a long day, and her head was pounding courtesy of her over-zealous Grendler friend and the teeth-rattling jolt of the space fold. She'd been held captive underground, man-handled and addled with stress. She'd been lost, reunited, slighted and tossed back home again all because of a shankin' spider.
Leave it to John to figure it out.
Granted, they'd worked out most of the specifics together- an easy team- with Danziger always eager to serve as Devil's Advocate should it be required. Still, the the leap of logic he'd taken to realize that the webs were controlling the warp tide staggered her.
Considering it was her field, as John himself had put it, and she would never in a million years have concocted such a hypothesis...
And how the hell had he been right?
Julia was curious about his intuition, about his hunches; his singular ability to uncover the heart of the matter. Emotion was a powerful force- science had shown the correlation between one's thoughts and one's reality- so why shouldn't Danziger's iron will find a way? Or did he simply think in circuits and currents? Fit together the pieces of a cosmic machine until he coaxed a spark?
At any rate, they'd made it back in four pieces and True and Uly had bottled the sand from their parent's pockets. Any thoughts of cabin fever and long range scouts had been unanimously abandoned. Julia was ready for a few hours alone to ponder what had been said on the east coast- and what hadn't- and why the sprawling, shirtless man lying before her had felt the need to sock Alonzo in the face.
"Are you alright down there?" Julia asked wearily, her tone rife with amused sympathy.
No one, not Devon- anxiously perched like a worried sparrow on the edge of his cot- nor Alonzo, Adair's newest and former number one fan- had bothered to mention that while they'd hurtled to a stop on the beach, Danziger had landed inside of a mountain. She'd learned the specifics from True on her harried sprint across camp.
"I'm gettin' old," came his gruff reply, sardonic and pained at the same time. Julia shook her head, fetching a nearby crate, and gently elevated his feet. He was wearing only one sock, and his right foot was sandy and bare. She absently tried to remember if Danziger had taken his shoes off at the beach in the first place. Wouldn't she have noticed?
"I want to hold off on a--"
"The pain's fine, now that I'm flat," he assured her, skipping their usual repartee, and she could tell from his relaxed grip on his daughter's hand that he spoke mostly in truth. Regardless, he'd be getting a block, whether he wanted one or not, as soon as Julia finished her scan. "I just wrenched it. Zigged when I shoulda zagged."
True knelt when John tugged her hand, smiling reassuringly as he brushed his lips across her fingertips. Since her father's return, with tales of adventure and the ocean to boot, she'd been climbing him like a jungle gym. Come to think of it, that probably hadn't helped matters.
For maybe the hundredth time, Julia found herself wishing John had come in for treatment before something got out of hand. And yet, the anger was tempered with the pain of regret, of disappointment that he hadn't confided in her. Not long ago he'd been looking for any excuse to duck in, always heaving the same muted sigh of relief to find the med tent otherwise unoccupied. There had been no more stolen moments, no Florence Nightingale heroics, yet…despite their mutually agreed upon boundaries, his presence warmed her like a second glass of wine; made her feel safe and strong and completely understood.
With Alonzo she had privacy, intimacy…what John offered her was company.
Julia had done her part by spending more time with Alonzo. She hadn't slept in the med tent in almost a week and did her best not to seem curious as the icicles melted between Devon and Danziger. Despite the awkwardness of their position, whatever had come between them out there in the storm had lost its power to the constant, throbbing togetherness of the Bio-Dome. Still, they seemed guarded again, polite, like their first few days of timid outbursts...back before they'd really locked horns over one thing or another and never backed down again.
Maybe last week had been a wake up call in more than one sense. Maybe she and John's…interlude had given them both a new beginning. Julia liked to think that it had.
Despite whatever the hell had gone on in that cave earlier-- Alonzo's labs had come back clean, she'd run them twice while she was cleaning up his bruise-- the pilot had told her he was thinking of staying on G889. He wanted to live in New Pacifica with her, for her, and it was a gift she hadn't ever thought she would receive.
"We have some time to figure it out…"
Ironically, mercurially, Alonzo's intentions to stay rapidly sent her back-pedaling. The instant he'd said the words she'd been longing to hear, Julia knew she'd gotten carried away.
She'd been a wreck at the thought of Alonzo and Danziger's long-range scout. It scared her to think that such a long absence was merely a flight test, one step closer to Alonzo flying away for good. Not only that, but John had fallen back on the promise he'd made her the night they'd escaped the Z.E.D.; that they would make it by staying together.
Julia still hadn't gotten used to the alien, gut-twisting sensation of panic.
Danziger had mocked her for it. He'd insisted that her feelings for Alonzo were clouding her judgment when it came to okaying his scout. It had upset her, not only because he was right, damn it, but because it had been an accusation. He'd used her fledgling emotions against her and it was terribly unlike him. She'd never seen him so frustrated with her, and she shook to think she'd seen a tinge of jealously in his glacial glare.
Conjecture would get her nowhere. It had never been more difficult to decipher John's intentions, but then, she'd never had to second guess herself before. She was finding it harder and harder to remain objective.
Danziger made it a point not to touch her anymore.
No occasion had particularly called for it, but she was acutely aware of its absence. It was what John needed to do…to focus on himself and his daughter. It was what had given him the opportunity to center his thoughts on Devon, whatever they may be.
No helping hands. No strong hands, no brushes across the small of the back. It was a sacrifice Julia was perfectly willing to make, but it hurt her pride. John and Devon seemed to be on the cusp of articulation, two runners neck and neck sprinting to the finish, pacing themselves for miles until the end was finally in sight.
Only Julia knew the race was fixed. The Scientist was always happy to remind her that she could have just as easily won the race herself.
It had almost worked, their experiment in sentimental rewind, until Julia had found herself barreling across the sand, finding her friends safe, alive…swinging out of Alonzo's embrace and into Devon's arms. It had almost worked, until she'd looked up John-- hanging back-- shining in the sunlight with apologies in his eyes.
The falter in his smile was only there for a fleeting second but, as she watched his nervous fingers tugging at his sleeve, Julia couldn't stop herself from throwing her arms around his neck before he could force himself away.
Which, Goddamnit, probably hadn't helped his back either.
"You know, Danziger," she sighed, winking at Devon and True, who shared twin looks of apprehension, "I'm getting sick of True bursting into my med tent shouting things like, 'Julia, my dad's back is broken!'"
True giggled, her concern seeming foolish now that the doctor was in and playing it cool. Julia's preliminary scans were showing no skeletal trauma, and the sudden onset of pain clearly pointed to nerve and muscle damage, most likely sciatica or a severe sacroilial strain. Serious lumbar radiculopathy seemed unlikely.
To put it simply, John had most definitely zigged when he should have zagged.
"Least she didn't scream," he snorted, wincing as Julia bundled a blanket under his thighs and typed in a nuero-code.
"No, John, you did," Devon quipped, as alarmingly relieved at Julia's presence as she'd been uncharacteristically worried. "I heard you all the way from the nav tent!"
When it came to Danziger's well-being, Devon's reactions were always too raw. Too worried, too blasé, too blunt, too smug…her hands upon him were always a little too rough. It was as though, in times of weakness, the leader sought to convince herself that her giant- her companion and cohort and defender- was still as unbreakable as she wanted him to be.
Julia could see shades of herself in them; these little fits of tumultuous sentiment that plagued Devon. She knew all too well of the disconcerting wrongness that swelled inside at the sight of John's very human frailty. She, too, suffered from the waves of discordant emotions that fought their way past The Scientist- that base, unfulfillable need to mother him, coddle him, or else slap him across the face. Rationally, Julia knew that both she and Devon were being terribly unfair.
Maybe she'd been wrong to assume that something had happened between Devon and John on the beach, just before they'd left the wrong damn coast. Devon suddenly seemed every bit as uncomfortable in her skin as she had when she'd returned from the Elder's commune.
Timid was not a word she would use to describe Devon Adair, but despite Danziger's posturing and entendre, all the seaside strolls and the disappearing out into the night- leaving Julia, suddenly, inexplicably alone with her groggy Romeo...despite the fact that punching the guy who's looking at your woman is a pretty good way of spelling out your intentions, Devon seemed as unsure of John Danziger as she'd ever been.
"Yeah," he mumbled, admitting defeat. "Maybe I did scream a little bit…" With a beep, Julia's test confirmed evidence of a mild disc herniation and inflammation of the sciatica nerve, which explained all his symptoms, as well as the screaming.
Danziger, despite his precarious position and the tongue-between-the-teeth grimaces he kept casting her way, grinned up at Devon fondness Julia recognized too well.
Julia knew that the life he'd taken still weighed heavily on his mind and his heart. Still, despite the fact that sickness and exhaustion had left him shaking and devastated there in Julia's med tent, Danziger had recovered his faith in his relationship with Devon- or at least the desire to push past the ugliness and come out together on the other side.
Julia was abruptly reminded of her insuppressible grin at Alonzo's petulant refusal to be bitten again in hopes of finding their lost spider. Devon had glared daggers at the reminder of Danziger's violent outburst. John had ducked his head with penitence, yet it had taken Julia only the slightest glance to realize, with satisfied certainty, that all that hair hid merely an impersonation of remorse. It was an acceptable facsimile of shame, unless you were close enough to catch the quirk in his lower lip.
Unless you were in on the joke.
Of course Devon was angry at John for defending her honor, Julia wouldn't have expected anything less. But at that moment, when she'd returned to the cave to find Alonzo reeling from John's fist, Julia had known- even before they'd realized Alonzo was cured- that Danziger had been defending more than just his feelings for Devon.
It had been his way of atoning for his earlier indiscretions regarding her feelings for Alonzo. He'd been defending her honor as well.
Maybe something had happened with Devon out there on that beach, after all.
And, more importantly, it seemed Danziger's gut reaction had been on the money yet again…not that she could logically believe assault was any manner of panacea.
Where there's a will, there's a way…
"You kinda sounded like a little girl, Dad," True informed him gravely from where she knelt at his side. John grinned, beaming with parental pride. Devon laughed a little too loudly.
"Sorry I gave you the willies, baby. Your old man's fallin' apart," he sighed, closing his eyes when his daughter's small hand fell upon his cheek.
True's hesitant, desperate where's my dad? had been the first voice to cut through the muddle of the crew's congratulatory welcome home. In the few seconds before Danziger and Devon had followed them out of the cave, Julia had acknowledged the toll that Danziger's constant, unintended abandonment was taking on his daughter; the true love of his life.
Watching John study True's palm from his crooked repose, like it was a porcelain work of art, Julia knew he felt the effects of such separation just as keenly.
"Out of curiosity, Danziger, which part of 'he said he landed in a dead end' made you think you shouldn't get yourself checked out?"
With a smug grin of her own, Julia signed off on her scans and swiftly injected Danziger with a pain block.
He sighed with relief, nodding gratefully as she loaded her Hypo-Gun with an epidural cortisone boost. His heavy lidded stare made Julia conscious of the weight of Devon's presence behind her.
With gentle pressure, Julia hefted John's shoulder and hip and eased him onto his side. His head came to rest on his daughter's lap, and he purred like a cat as she wove her fingers through his hair.
"He seemed fine," Devon barked out. Her tone was harsh, but her expression was brackish; regret at war with self-defense. Julia had no clue whether it was the midnight stroll or the screams of pain that had done it, but John had definitely gotten her attention.
"Honestly, Doc," he implored, hissing at the strange sensation as she administered the injection between his L3 and L4 vertebrae, "I felt fine until I got to lookin' for my missin' sock--"
"It was under the cot," True informed her stoically, petting her father's face tenderly.
"It was under the cot," Danziger repeated with flippant cheer, gritting his teeth as Julia gently eased him up into a sitting position, supporting his weight until she could be certain he wasn't going to keel over.
"I'm kinda tingly," John murmured too softly for Devon to overhear, his expression once again obscured by his curls. He was obviously annoyed at the trepidation in his voice, but startled enough by the sensation to mention it.
"That's normal, it'll pass in a few minutes," Julia ensured him. When he looked up at her, inches away, his eyes were a pale, translucent blue.John's eyes were changing all the time; though she knew this shade all to well. This was the color of exhaustion, of gratitude…or relief. John's eyes implored her, dissected her, and revealed to her a deep, unspecified want, running deep within his icy irises.
With Devon hovering, watching and waiting, Julia lost her final shred of professionalism.
It seeped out of her, the ability to lay hands on the man before her. He needed to be horizontal, certainly not on thefloor, and yet Julia found herself trapped. She suddenly felt out of her element; as foreign and small as an arachnid trying to blend in on another spider's web.
"I'm sure whatever Julia gave you will have you feeling better by morning," Devon assured her mechanic with benevolent certainty; another iron will attempting to shape reality. She looked to Julia for confirmation as she wrapped herself around John's shoulders and supported him, not like he was made of stone, but with a tenderness that exposed her.
There was no roughness anymore, no brush off. Devon had finally realized that her man of steal was made of bone, just like everyone else.
"Well, you've got some minor wear and tear I'd like to keep an eye on, but yeah…" Julia agreed, clearing her throat as he flew out of her line of vision- levitating but for the sturdy, slender fingers holding on tight. Devon's skin was pallid against his sun-bronzed bulk. "Devon's right. You should be feeling a lot better by tomorrow, but that's only if you rest now, understand?"
Danziger nodded with child-like resignation, focusing most of his efforts on guardedly reclining. With Julia still on the floor, Devon loomed over them both.
"I owe you an apology, John," she bleated, her voice tired and strained. "I don't know what I was thinking, just dragging you out to the bea--"
"You were thinkin,' 'gee, he seems fine,'" Danziger reminded her with a weak chuckle, his bruised knuckles brushing across the small of Devon's back as she pulled away. True scrambled onto the end of his cot with the recalcitrant sock, diligently tugging it over his toes. "And you were right…don't sweat it, Adair. Like you said, I'll be fine by mornin.'"
Julia watched as Devon's hand lingered on his arm, skittering down to take his hand for a moment, delivering a reassuring squeeze as he settled tiredly onto his cot.
"Hey, Dev, I'm fine…I promise," he softly added, and Julia looked away, fiddling with her Diaglove in a parody of usefulness while Devon and True fluffed pillows and smoothed blankets.
Suddenly Julia realized she had no right to bedside manner in the Danziger tent.
"Off the bunk, kiddo," she admonished True softly, hefting the girl's soft, gangly weight from her father's bed. True stretched like a cat roused from it's patch of sunlight, and again Julia was struck with a pang of bittersweet affection. She and True were in the same boat, it seemed. They shared the same fierce concern for dogged man with too little to sustain him and they both recognized that somehow, right now he had to make a change.
True frowned a bit, straightening her shirt before her hand flitted back possessively, griping the toes of John's right foot as she scrutinized the scene before her. Julia wondered what she saw in her dad's sweet, sleep-chasing expression and in the eerily similar look on Devon's face. Looking down at Danziger, her hands clenched in her lap, Devon had a sort of edgy softness to her. She looked both perfectly content and desperate for more, and it was painfully clear that True didn't intend to let her have it.
At least, not tonight.
"What do you say," Julia knelt and took the girl's hand, "to you and I bunking in the med tent tonight, huh?"
She found herself unable to resist plucking at a strand of hair that had caught on True's lip, a gesture that prompted a roll of the eyes. Sometimes observing True was like looking at a vid of her father, but tonight- despite the resemblance- Julia could see only her own reflection.
"Sounds like fun…" came a garbled, drowsy reply from the wrong Danziger.
Julia's diaphragm hiccupped shut. The burning in her cheeks almost instantaneous; a sensation that registered long before Devon laughed and Julia's mind assessed that John couldn't possibly had meant what he'd meant, or at least what she'd thought he'd meant.
Glancing quickly at Devon, Julia realized that the woman was oblivious to any insinuation. Danziger seemed just plain oblivious, so the logical, rational conclusion was that she wasn't being in the least bit objective about anything today. And why not? So far everything else had been backwards…
Julia could tell by the twinkle in True's eye that John's approval had sweetened her already enticing offer, but the younger Danziger weighed her options as she eyed the competition. Taking a deep breath, Julia did the same, and was surprised by what she saw.
"He's out like a light," Devon informed them softly, but not before Julia caught a fleeting glance at her unguarded expression. The affection and concern that she saw in the leader's face made the doctor ashamed of her one-sided appraisal of the matter at hand. In the instant before Devon tore her gaze away from John's relaxed features, Julia realized her mistake.
Devon's feelings for John were profound. She'd been fooling them all.
Despite the decrees and the schedule and her persistent nature…and maybe because she was over-confident and at times a bit anal, Devon Adair had somehow found herself in a peculiar position. She was inarguably, tangibly, devastatingly reliant on John Danziger.
She put up a fuss and wore a mask of indifference, but in that instant Julia saw how much Devon needed for him to be okay. Even now her eyes were brimming, her body language awkward and incriminating despite the frosty façade that was back in place. True studied Devon's appearance pensively, and Julia wondered-- not for the first time-- how much a child from the Quadrant, John Danziger's quick-witted and sharp-tongued progeny, understood about the ways of love.
"So…should we go fool around with some medical equipment?" Turning back to True- to what mattered to Danziger most- Julia managed a smile. She was thankful to have such a bright and inquisitive distraction.
"I don't know…what if he needs a drink of water?" True studied her father's peaceful face, her voice whispered-thin and weary beyond her years. "Sometimes he kicks off the covers and then he shivers in his sleep and if I don't keep an eye on him he'll try to get out of bed. He always does."
Shrewdly, True leveled her stare on Devon, challenging her to stake a claim. Julia knew that look. It was the apparently hereditary smirk of jealousy her father had worn earlier as he shook off the pain in his fist.
True had already realized that Devon's presence in her space could only lead to one thing, and she was obviously uncertain as to whether or not she was going to let it happen, much less let Julia distract her from the prize.
"He needs me," True reminded them both, and Julia could see the understanding dawn in Devon's features. It saddened her, to watch the ramifications of the situation crash like waves, dissolving her wishful thinking. Julia couldn't really blame Danziger and Devon for working so hard to bury their feelings. It was one thing to put yourself on the line, but something else entirely when there were children to protect from harm.
True was always Danziger's prime directive, New Pacifica be damned, and Devon would be wise to tread lightly. For all her bark and bluster True was still a little girl. She had so much to gain from Devon's affection, but she was terrified of loosing the one sacred constant in her life.
Studying the beautiful child now, Julia knew that Danziger had raised her with enough love to make up for the things she lacked. True's eleven-year-old life as she knew it was already complete, except for maybe a cat.
Julia hoped Devon fully appreciated that there was more than one heart on the line.
"Of course he does, True," the leader assuaged, leaving Danziger's side with a final, craftily detached assessment. "If you'd rather spend the night close by, you could sleep next door with me and Uly." There was kindness in her offer, an olive branch to calm the girl's fears. "We could camp up on the platform-"
"Do you think we'll see the ghost?" True was instantly captivated and thoroughly relieved that Devon had no intentions of staying for the night. Julia figured it wasn't so much the thought of sleeping away from her father that was causing the little girl's hesitancy, but the fact that someone else might be with him instead. Besides, she and Uly had been bickering over who was brave enough to spend the night where Devon had seen the specter of Mary's parents, and although there had been no more sightings in recent weeks, the haunted platform remained a place adolescent intrigue.
Julia knew the loft still terrified Devon, and was surprised at her selfless proposal.
"I dunno," Devon speculated with an easy smile, smoothing the same unruly lock of hair from True's face. This time, True didn't scoff. "But I bet we'll have our own scary story to tell at the campfire tomorrow night. And we'll be close enough to hear your father if he starts screaming like a girl again."
Maybe True would forget this conversation someday, living with her family beside the Sea of Antius, but Julia would file it away. She figured there might be a time when True would wonder about the moment when Devon had looked at her as a daughter for the first time.
"Julia, will you check on him, too?" True asked as collateral, incase she found herself having far too much fun to fret.
"Absolutely," she promised, rising to her feet. Meeting Devon's eyes, Julia silently made her the same promise. She couldn't be sure if the message was received; Devon's mask was back in place. "I'll bunk in Alonzo's corner, I'll be nearby."
Devon gave her a small nod.
"If you need me for any reason, we-"
"He'll be fine, you two!" Julia admonished with conviction she didn't feel, "go find some ghosts!"
True patted her father's foot one final time, as an afterthought, and took hold of Devon's hand, tugging her towards the exit.
"Wish me luck!" the leader called softly, chortling at True's zeal as they rounded the corner.
The Scientist reminded Julia that luck had nothing to do with it.
With a sigh, Julia slowly wilted to the ground. The tidal pounding in her skull flared as she bent to gather her equipment. She recognized her panic for what it was and tried her best to imagine she was already back in the med tent. If she ignored the rumpled, discarded flannel shirt and the half-full mug of stone cold coffee - the small, scattered intimacies of the Danzigers' space- maybe she could distance herself from the man that lay sleeping an arm's length away.
And yet, all Julia really wanted to do was find Alonzo; to abandon all pretense and cower in his arms. She wanted him to tell her that everything would work out for the best, for all of them. And she wanted to believe him.
She didn't think she could do it if she laid eyes on John again.
Tomorrow it would be easier, after Alonzo had filled in the missing pieces of the puzzling events of the day. He would give her that Cheshire grin that made her weak in the knees and massage her back until she fell asleep. She would pass the buck and ask her lover to check in on Danziger before heading out for second shift.
With each piece of equipment back in its own well-appointed cubby, Julia felt a good deal more rational. She searched under the bed for her missing hypo-gun, and found a third, mysterious sock instead. With an incredulous smile she set the giant, redolent, threadbare thing aside, glancing up to find her hypo gun resting on the mattress beside Danziger's right hook, as it were.
Though he hadn't said a word- and she doubted that he'd dare- the knuckles were swollen and split. Chewing her lip, she stared at the contusions, examining the weapon as she pondered the man. What on earth had Danziger been thinking? What had he been so scared of?
"You should see the other guy," John whispered, his tired drawl startling her. Before she could blink, Julia found herself trapped in his gaze again and terrified that she was about to ask him.
Objectivity was key.
"I'll bet you knocked loose a few teeth," she quipped acerbically, reminding him that as a physician, she found the unnecessary roughness less than funny. "And I'll bet the other guy didn't even see it coming."
Danziger snickered, amused at her attempt to play angry. When she didn't break, he sighed, closing his eyes and tucked his stiff hand beneath the covers; a groggy attempt at out of sight, out of mind.
"Well, I hope he has a good doctor."
Sighing herself, Julia rose from her crouch and tossed the hypo-gun haphazardly atop the contents of her kit. She was too tired to fend off his crushing kindness and, after her scrutiny of Devon's behavior, equally disenchanted at the prospect of accepting it.
"Go back to sleep, Danziger," she dismissed him, turning before his inquisitive brow wrinkled with hurt. Latching her case shut, she turned to leave the tent.
She was so close to making a clean break, inches away from leaving Danziger to the memory of the beach in the moonlight. She was seconds away from hunting down Alonzo and kissing him on the mouth, and John seemed wise enough to let her go.
They both just needed to let it go.
"Can I have a drink of water?"
John's timid request stopped her in her tracks, tugged at her emotions and her determined grimace until the tension eased away. Julia thought of his daughter using the very same words, loathe to leave. She thought of her own promise to keep watch.
Someone had to take care of him.
"I mean, if your other patient can wait a little longer."
Julia turned to study his face. The certainty and the strength that had etched his features earlier now was gone. She suspected that maybe Devon had taken them with her.
John winked, a nervous reflex, but nevertheless Julia found herself on auto pilot, heading back to the bed with compunction. The smile that greeted her proved that maybe John needed some honest company just as much as she did.
"Only if you let me see your damn hand," she grumbled, returning his contagious smirk.
"True with Dev?" Danziger's exhaled question confirmed his relief to have some quiet.
"Yeah, they're going to camp up on the platform. True's hoping to see the ghost." Without ceremony she emptied the contents of a nearby canteen into a mostly-clean cup and delivered it into his damaged hand.
"Thanks," he whispered, slowly sipping the contents. Watching as she curiously eyed his fist, he wiggled his fingers around the mug, his forehead lined with amused disregard. "See? Right as rain."
Julia shook her head, huffing with exasperation, half-wondering if Danziger's belligerent willpower might actually be potent enough to facilitate spontaneous healing.
"Absolutely, you're a picture of health," she ribbed, her touch gentle as she decided to let the Scientist have a look, just to be sure. With the cool, metallic feel of the jug in her left hand and John's calloused warmth in the right she felt awkward, suddenly unbalanced.
She set down the water, but the feeling didn't pass.
"God…one yelp and I'm a cripple! I understand why True was so upset, but Adair makes no sense at all, sometimes." Julia cracked open a synth-ice compress and sandwiched it between his hand and her own, watching a new series of concerns swirl in his gaze.
"She worries about you, Danziger," she reminded him softly. The candid sentiment came easily, now that Julia knew the man she'd come to care for wasn't heading for heartbreak. "More than you know, she worries about you."
He pursed his lips, nodding wordlessly, his fingers flexing against the cold.
"Yeah," he finally whispered, enigmatically, "I know…" He looked away for a moment, out over an invisible ocean. "I know that now."
Much like her own reaction to Alonzo's offer of permanency, John seemed addled by his mysterious certainty of Devon's affection. He wasn't sure what to make of it.
"She called me Mr. Stubborn," he suddenly gruffed, and Julia chuckled at his petulant non-sequitor.
"Well, you have been a bit confrontational lately, John," she scoffed, squeezing his hand as a memorial. He laughed hard and with a bit too much glee and, despite the fact that Julia knew it was wrong to find humor at Alonzo's expense, John's wheezing fit of hysterics proved to be communicable.
Finally he winded to a stop, collapsing against his pillow with watery eyes and a lighter heart.
"It has been one long damn day, hasn't it, Heller?"
She shivered a bit, realizing there was no reason for her to still be clutching the cold pack, and objectively forced herself to deposit his hand back on the mattress.
"Well, when you space-fold yourself thousands of miles, you tend to pick up a few extra hours, here and there." Looking for any and all distractions, Julia spotted a pair of wrinkled, damp-looking little girl pants, and she smoothed them across her lap, folding them carefully. "And thanks for noticing the direction of the sun, by the way. That could have been a disaster."
John rolled his eyes, and Julia's first Pavlovian instinct was to smooth the hair from his face. Like daughter, like dad.
"Listen," he spoke with his eyes closed, "I may have abandoned this whole 'scout ahead to save time' idea, but I draw the line at addin' more time to the trip."
Julia patted his arm, tickled but reminded that an arduous journey may no longer be required.
"Well regardless, these spider tunnels could shave months off our trip," she mollified, still uncertain of how exactly Eden Advance should go about testing such a powerful phenomenon.
"No way," Danziger lethargically decreed, shifting his weight as if reminded of the hazards. "We keep right on walkin,' Doc. It's the safest way. No more splittin' up."
He cracked an eyelid to show her he was serious, and Julia floundered at the inability of John Danziger, of all people, to see the merits of such an opportunity.
Of course she was going back…this was an amazing chance to study G889's uncanny architecture. Getting to New Pacifica was imperative, but using the warp as transportation was secondary to the matter at hand. Here was a scientific marvel of great importance. Was Eden Advance going to just walk away from such a wealth of vital information about their new home?
"I'm aware of the dangers, Danziger, but think of how-"
"Aww, c'mon, Heller, you got caught in that current! You disappeared!" Real anger flared in his exasperated expression, though the tick of his clenched jaw was the only thing that gave him away. "We had no understandin' of what we were dealin' with back there. The fact that any of us lived to tell about it is pretty remarkable, dontcha-"
"Danziger, this is a unbelievable opportunity! We have to-"
"It's not worth losin' someone over, Heller," he insisted, tossing aside the ice to grab hold of her arm. "Which part of 'he landed in a dead end' makes you think I'm ever puttin' my daughter in one of those tunnels?"
His serious question may as well have been rhetorical, for Julia saw nothing but steel-gray resolution in his eyes.
"Danziger, that Grendler brought us an alternate food supply!"
Julia was suddenly furious, unconscionable considering how rarely she and Danziger didn't see eye to eye. They'd always ended up on the same side before, but maybe familiarity had bred contempt…maybe their ability to cut each other to the quick had been working overtime.
"Look at your hand, John," she insisted, taking hold of his swollen paw and holding it up for inspection. "There's way too much bruising. Look at the scrape on Bess' knee that refuses to heal; at how tired Yale gets when he tries to keep up with Uly and True! I'm already observing the signs of malnutri-"
"Then you should've let me and your boyfriend go on our goddamned scout!"
She could see the battle inside him at the mere mention of his daughters name. He appeared to be sticking to his guns about the tunnels, but there was a trace of the fanatical guardian skimming the surface. For a moment, John looked ready, willing and able to jump right back into the space fold himself.
She hated him for it: his unending commitment to self-sacrifice, his blatant disregard for safety and the simple protocol that could save him all the agony. If True needed it, he would get it. Danziger didn't see the point in worrying about how, though she didn't know how this could continue if he kept adding people to the list. The last thing Julia had intended was to give him anymore rash ideas.
"We're all going to stick together, John," she told him softly, fishing for the ice and reapplying it gently. He ducked his head, and this time it was genuine remorse that he sought to conceal. Julia took his hand in both of hers, hoping her warmth against his palm would sooth the sting of the frigid slurry. "You've chosen to keep that promise, and I owe you the same. I'll forget about the tunnels. For now," she added, "at least until we've settled New Pacifica."
He quirked a smile, his stiff fingers closing around her own.
"Hey, we live that long…go wild, Doc," he sniffed. Julia felt a sting of guilt, knowing she'd put dark thoughts in his head, yet to her relief she found they were back on track, rebounded in an instant, caught in the current again. It seemed that even when they argued, they wound up at the same conclusion. How different it must be for John, to let himself be swept away by Devon Adair, never knowing if he'll end up in her arms, or committing murder, or buried in rubble.
Julia wondered what he was saw in Devon, what elemental power, that made him want to lose himself with her anyway.
"This morning you were willing to leave your kid with Morgan Martin, Danziger. I don't think I'm out of line in asking what's so suddenly changed your mind."
Julia may just as well asked who, but they both already knew the answer. What she was more interested in was what he was going to do about it. Poised on his bunk, she gently removed the packing to inspect his hand.
"It was a stupid idea." Flexing his fist and scratching his chin he brushed her off, mentally and physically. "Like you said, it was cabin fever. It wouldn't be right to leave True. I'd miss her too much."
His answer- at once a lie of omission and the truth of the matter- rang in the hush, and she patiently waited for him to continue. When he didn't, she carefully squeezed his shoulder, goading him to open his eyes.
"Did you tell her, John?"
"Naw. I was waitin' till we had clearance before I crossed that bridge, but I've left her for spells before, with Alex and Les, and Bess promised she'd--"
With a dismissive shake of the head and a knowing smile, Julia rephrased her question.
"Did you say something to Devon? Did something happen out there--"
"On the beach?" His far away look crept back, "Naah, I mean…maybe…I dunno, maybe somethin' did. I can never tell what she's thinkin,' Julia…I never quite know where I stand- if I'm by her side or if I'm in her way."
Until now, she and Danziger had skirted the issue-- discussed his feelings for Devon without saying much of anything at all. It was a comfort, as much as the circumstances aggrieved her, to hear the frankness in John's voice. His soft explanation came with the ignominy of a shameful confession, yet his trust warmed her. This time he didn't avert his gaze or hide behind his pride, he merely accepted Julia presence, like a second self.
The Scientist knew the role she was meant to play, physician control thyself, but Julia wondered if it was intimacy that bred such faith, or if was simply that John's feelings were no longer conflicted. Had the tension that had plagued them for the past weeks dissolved in the wake of…whatever had changed between he and Devon? Or had she just gotten so accustomed to the hum his presence generated that it had faded into the background?
Despite the eerie simpatico that she and John shared, surely Danziger had realized by now that he couldn't have it both ways. Hadn't he?
"You question her, John, but you're not standing in her way," Julia declared with certainty, content to be the voice of reason if it would help him sleep a little easier. "She's up to the challenge, she thrives on it. It's in her nature to push the envelope as much as it's in yours to do the same."
"I 'spose…" he murmured, obviously hesitant to reveal anything more. This time, however, he pushed through without any prompting. "When I told her about the plan for the scout, she barely even flinched. A big part of her thought it was a good idea, I could tell. It would speed her mission along, that's for damn sure. She understood that the advantages outweighed the risks, which is what I was countin' on, but…hell, Bess gave me more grief when I first approached her with the idea."
It occurred to Julia that if Danziger had been a different person, this whole scheme might have been a ploy to evoke some sort of reaction from Devon, some clue he was heading in the right direction. While she knew John well enough to be certain he wasn't intentionally testing Devon, it was also plain to see he wasn't exactly reassured by the results.
"We've had a rocky few weeks, Danziger," Julia reminded him, "we're all feeling the effects of being cooped up here, maybe--"
"I'm bein' silly," he shrugged, attempting to close the topic. "Besides, it's not like you and Lonz. There's nothin' between me and Dev to lose…hell, she didn't even want me around this afternoon. Said I came along to spite her," he sighed, reaching for his mug and pausing for a pensive sip. "Maybe I did. Maybe I'm just waitin' around for her to finally try and stop me."
"Well, I hate to disappoint you, Mr. Stubborn," Julia smiled at his sour grimace, "but I think Devon probably realizes the futility in such a gesture. I think you're looking at this the wrong way."
"Yeah, but…" he shook his head as she carefully wrapped a dermi-bond around his ring finger, studying the physician's hands as intently as she was studying his own. "I'm sorry, Doc. You gave 'Lonz a good fight…I shouldn't have called you out on it. You were doin' what you needed to, what you thought was right. It was none of my business."
Julia sighed herself, noting his dead, blacked pinkie nail, the remnant of some tumble or collision that was slow to heal; another bad omen.
John still hadn't realized how important it was to Julia- to all of them- that he remain just as safe from harm as every other member of the group. Despite the sudden appearance of fifteen friendly faces with no intentions of leaving, Danziger still saw the world around him in pairs. He'd led a introverted existence, living and breathing for his baby girl, and he'd just started thinking of himself as a person again. The Scientist scoffed, reminding Julia that she herself had only recently done the same. She loved Alonzo, she did, but she didn't want to define herself by him.
"You know, I didn't like the idea of you out there, either, John," she confessed, realizing that maybe his own objectivity, or at least his tattered self-esteem, was just as clouded as her own after the events of the day. "Yes, I was upset that Alonzo had so readily agreed to go along, but I still would have tried to stop the scout, regardless of who was trying to leave. Besides, you of all people can't seem to leave this camp without some sort of trauma."
"You should come with me," he blurted out, instantly regretful, though he continued on if only to backtrack. "I mean, not long term, but we should organize something together. I dunno, I just think we make a good…I'm always out there, wishing you were…" he trailed off, closing his eyes in mortification.
"After this next storm Yale is predicting we'll go out looking for food together, okay? That way we can pool our recourses." She wasn't sure exactly what she was offering, only that it was probably what Danziger needed to hear and that she meant it.
"Yeah, that's what I was tryin' to…I need you out there with me to fill in the blanks." Danziger seemed relieved that she'd glossed over his slip-up, and he did have a point. They definitely got more accomplished when they went out into the field together. "If we can figure out those spiders, we sure as shit oughtta be able to find somethin' edible. I mean, together."
"We will," Julia promised, indulging in a rare bout of idealism. She rubbed his arm amiably, hoping the friction would somehow transfer even a shred of faith. "Everything will work out for the best."
Once spoken out loud, the pointless placation seemed vapid. Regardless of how nice it would be if it were true, Julia wasn't fooling anyone. She wondered how the thought of it tumbling from Alonzo's lips had seemed so appealing earlier.
"Yeah, and Walman will finally tell Magus he loves her, and Bess will have a bouncin' set of identical twins."
Though his expression remained somber, Danziger's voice was filled with sarcastic indulgence.
"We'll arrive at New Pacifica to find that Grendlers have already built the hospital-"
"And Mazatl will finally get around to writin' that novel he's been spoutin' about," John added, grinning evilly.
Julia guffawed. She could see it now.
"Uly will declare himself Terrian King," she informed him, bouncing on the edge of the bunk with his quaking laughter.
"Baines'll grow a pair, and Martin will finally just start wearin' Bess' underwear," Danziger hiccupped, full-out giggling now, looking roughly five-years-old.
They were exhausted, the pair of them, but it felt good to laugh. If felt good to share this moment of brutal honesty with the one person Julia knew appreciated the irony of it all as much as she did.
"Let's see," she continued, "Cameron will invent a time machine-"
"That'll land me somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Antius, probably, treadin' water," Danziger chortled, "but I'll find an island, and I'll build a two story unit out of palm trees and-"
"-using only sand and Grendler spit, oh God," Julia gasped, clutching her stomach as her other hand flew to Danziger's thigh, gripping with approval.
"Eben and Bess'll round up the syndrome kids and form a choir-"
Before he could finish, a spasm of laughter sent Julia from her perch on Danziger's bed, plopping to the worn textile floor as she struggled for breath.
Danziger exploded then, his mirth erupting in high-pitched twitter that only fueled her own hysterics. Finally, Julia let her head fall back against the mattress, getting control of herself to find the pounding had stopped. Danziger squinted at her with a ridiculous amalgam of delight and concern.
"Jesus," he whistled, the reverberation of his laughter against her melted the tension in her shoulders. Julia felt lightheaded, like she'd had too much to drink, giddy as she'd been at the wind whipping off the ocean, seeing Alonzo racing towards her, watching John force himself to hang back.
No one on this planet laughed nearly enough.
"You okay, Doc?" Danziger rasped, his fingers finding her hair.
"Yeah," she managed, exhaling the stress of the day. Danziger harrumphed once, and she heard him do the same.
"It will all work out, you know," he murmured, respectful of the sanctity of such bold statements. He tilted his head towards her, narrowing the distance. "Someday, before you know it, we'll all be at the beach again. This time to stay."
"I suppose you're right," she raised a brow lazily, her eyelids drooping and her body blessedly inert. "And it's not as though there won't be enough distractions to keep me occupied, if your track record is any indication."
"I'll do my best," John murmured thinly, inches away. She nodded contentedly, "and I'm sure Adair will come up with some gargantuan chore to monopolize my time."
"Well, I'm sure she'll try," Julia jibed, feeling Danziger's breath on her cheek.
Opening her eyes, she found him perpendicular, examining her as intently as he had the spiders spinning their web, as fondly as he'd memorized the lines of True's palm. His eyes were almost lapis.
Julia wasn't sure what that meant.
"I'm sure getting there won't be so awful-"
On any other day, in any other circumstance, Julia would have been much more observant, but it wasn't until John was actually kissing her that she realized that, all this time, his cramped quarters had been rife with concupiscence.
Their argument had been a precursor; intellectual foreplay that neither John or herself could had been equipped to see coming. Still, the softness of his lips, crooked against her own as he strained to meet her mouth, stirred her sluggish senses. The brush of his hair across her cheek reminded Julia that they'd crossed a line, their line, but John's ravaged hand kneading her scalp made her moan and shift from the ground to accommodate him.
"I know," he confessed, showing no signs of stopping. She pulled away, her teeth catching his lower lip of their own accord, which only served to encourage him.
He tasted of burnt coffee, and Julia remembered his mug; where she was and how many rules she was breaking. Her own, unwritten rules, as well as her medical code of ethics and all of Danziger's noble intentions, gone in an instant.
"I know," John growled, his teeth nipping at her jaw, her earlobe, before his lips finally settled against her brow. Julia held her breath, her heart racing, scared that the slightest shift might crumble them both.
Slowly, Danziger managed to get control over the endorphin-fueled emotions flooding his powerful frame, and Julia pulled away as he eased back down to his pillow, the embers of lust still smoldering in his gaze.
He shook his head once, a silent refute, his right hand curled in a painful-looking fist.
"I'm sorry," he breathed, "Julia, I'm sorry…"
She nodded, equally contrite, though she refused to indulge his misplaced expiation.
"The injection I admini-"
"Stop it. That's no excuse for me takin' advant-"
"I let it happen," Julia argued, before amending, "I wanted it to happen, John."
"It isn't right--"
"Well, it's not wrong either," she insisted, picking herself up off the floor with shakey knees.
"Bullshit," Danziger spat, his eyes clamped shut. "Either you're with Alonzo or you're not, Heller, just like I'm in it with Adair. We're actin' thick as thieves here and we got no right." Finally, he met her gaze and Julia realized that he'd spoken the truth. The Scientist was gone, her ascetic principals had failed her, and she was alone with John Danziger for the first time. "You made your choice, Heller, and I made mine. This has to stop."
He was stronger than she was, filled with conviction and reason, and all Julia wanted to do was to kiss him again.
"You're right," she finally got out, the words catching in her throat. This time there was no stopping the panic. Danziger was sitting up then, pulling aside the covers, even as flight conquered fight and Julia found herself propelled towards the exit.
"Don't you dare get out of that bed," The Scientist snapped, returning with a vengeance as she beat her retreat.
"Julia, wait…" Danziger pleaded, frustrated at his impairment, "Don't run, please, it'll be okay-"
With a metallic symphony, the hinged doors to Danziger's quarters slammed shut behind her, and Julia rushed out into the bitter night, away from the godforsaken, overbearing proximity of the Bio-Dome.
John wouldn't come after her- couldn't really, for more than one reason- and she hurried towards the far end of camp, to the med tent and it's endless supply of the tangible and organic mysteries waiting to be solved. Once Julia got behind her microscope her mind would clear and she would convince herself that this whole mess was over and done with.
And she would stay there until she believed it.