a/n: Well, I just couldn't resist the siren song of a Julia/Danziger pairing any longer. :) I hope those of you that have been following this series can get behind it, and that those of you that can't will at least appreciate that I kept it PG-13. I started Redemption as a personal challenge to see if I could make a J/D relationship work within the existing cannon, and I'd love to know if my theories hold water. Flame away, but prove me wrong, I dare ya! Thanks, as always, to my FCB for keeping me an honest woman!
"After The Thaw"
Day 109 (22:49 S.T.)
Julia couldn't remember ever feeling as cold as she did tonight.
It wasn't just the unrelenting bitterness of winter camp, where the jagged wind rushed off the mountains and doused her like a wave as she made her way back to the Bio-Dome. It was the haze of apprehension that still flitted through the structures like a hummingbird, hovering silently, fooling hungry minds and aching bodies into fearing each other. The world around Julia seemed stunted, too dark, though the recent snowfall reflected negative images. Trapping the artificial light of camp in silhouette, it tricked the eye; skirting the cusp of peripheral vision.
In the pit of her stomach, staunched below the cramping pangs that heralded starvation, déjà vu tugged at Julia. The way that camp had felt these past few nights, despite the fact that everyone was cramped together against the cold, was eerily reminiscent her of the only night she'd ever spent alone on this planet.
If Julia hadn't been there to witness the…extinctionof the ancient terrian's energy with her own two eyes, she'd be born again; penitent enough to insist the entity she had so vehemently fought to discredit was still among them. There were no answers, only the Elder vague assurance that the spirit was gone and Devon's insistent assertion that their Danziger back.
Julia was their physician, but that didn't mean the lack of nutrients and the strenuous lifestyle weren't muddling her own mental facilities as well. It was beyond her to convince the group not to be afraid of John, not while she was equally terrified for him.
The Martin's had agreed to move their quarters inside with the rest of the Edenites, despite the fact that she'd had to trek twice from med tent through the cold to scold them for procrastinating. Morgan was scared and she didn't begrudge him that, but she would feel better once everyone was safe inside. At the very least, she'd be able to focus her attention where it was needed.
She'd been avoiding Danziger.
Julia couldn't even begin to dissect what she'd seen underground; the way John's reassuring bulk had turned against her- against them all- or the way his eyes had burned… She had no diagnosis and a few hundred symptoms. She had a thousand questions, questions that Danziger himself would want answered. The man she'd come to care so much for would need those answers in order to survive this…whatever this was.
The hour was late, but even Uly- snug in his bunk- was too keyed up to sleep. Instead, he'd been barraging Devon with endless questions that reverberated through the structure, buzzing like a gnat.
Alonzo was unconscious, unwittingly so, in his corner of the dome. He'd been mostly unhurt, a few bruises and abrasions, nothing that had taken longer than the ride back to correct. Julia had worried about exposure and frostbite but, perplexedly, his basal temperature was perfectly normal. She wondered if it was part of his connection to the Dream-Plane, his ability to circumvent the physical ramifications of extrasensory activity, and come out no worse for the wear.
When they'd first landed on G889, his body had shown evidence of whatever exploits had transpired in psychic space, but sometime around Mooncross she'd noticed that Alonzo's dreaming now seemed to have the opposite effect. If anything, his exposure seemed almost curative.
Conversely, Danziger was shivering and pale and insisting he was fine. Devon was hovering like a mother bear, strangely protective of the fragile man who'd recently tried to kill her. Julia had done her best to compartmentalize her concern for him, smiling woodenly as she worked on Alonzo, feigning concentration as she struggled to make out the hushed, lullaby whisper of Devon's account of the last few days.
Julia sat directly behind John, staring at her Dia-Glove, unable to bring herself to scan him without consent. There was something in his ravaged posture that demanded her deference, and something inside her that was too terrified of what it might find. So she gave him space; she'd put on the brave face just like everyone else and let Danziger shuffle off with his daughter.
It wasn't until she'd helped Alonzo inside that she learned the details of the supernatural battle he'd faught. He was shaken to the core; rattled as much by his own demons as the one he'd had to face. He'd been exhausted and concerned-convinced-that John had been hurt during their struggle, and Julia had found herself incapable of reassuring him otherwise.
She seriously doubted Alonzo had given Danziger any worse a beating than he himself had sustained, but while split lips and goose eggs could wait a few hours, there was a terrible array of internal injuries that Danziger may have suffered when the same energy that had eviscerated that grendler tore itself from him. Julia's head spun at the lack of science to defend what had gone on inside that cave today. Perhaps even less diagnosable was what had gone on inside the man.
So Alonzo had come first. He was obviously physically exhausted, and he'd spent too much time out of doors with inadequate protection. Alonzo was the victim here, wasn't he? If not of Danziger's unwitting wrath, than certainly of Julia's suspicions against him. She'd been frustrated by his reclusive demeanor, annoyed that she found herself looking to Danziger for solutions and answers when she'd been trying her best to stay away. Alonzo's silence had driven her to cheap shots, like suggesting he lock himself in the Transrover with Baines, anything get a rise.
Didn't logic, even Danziger's logic, dictate that she should have sided with Alonzo? There was no point in implicating the person with whom she was closest. Sure, he'd been behaving erratically but, then again, so had Danziger. Why had Alonzo's pensive streak aroused her suspicions when John Danziger was sneaking off in the night, cremating her scientific discovery?
Both men's behavior had felt personal, something Julia honestly hadn't encountered until this moment. She'd believed Alonzo had been keeping secrets from her, not the group, just as she'd seen John's rash decision as a personal slight, rather than the omen it was.
Still, Alonzo had just stared at her sweetly as she'd bandaged his hands. He should've been furious with her for jumping to conclusions, for denying what was taking place right under her nose. Instead, he seemed at the very least unaware of her blatant transgressions or else undeterred by them. Either reaction unnerved and saddened her, though she couldn't say why.
She'd called him a coward, and he hadn't even flinched…as if her opinion of him was of no consequence at all.
Julia wanted to comfort him, but Alonzo wouldn't be consoled until he spoke with Danziger. John, she suspected, simply wouldn't be consoled, and sitting there by Alonzo's bedroll- still in her coat- Julia knew in her heart that it wouldn't stop her from trying.
So she'd done easy thing, for once, for both of them. She done the only thing she could think of to do. She kissed Alonzo's brow and put him to bed. Chemically. A traitor's version of kindness.
Now, crossing camp for what felt like the twentieth time this evening, Julia finally let her thoughts of Danziger creep back into focus. As a medical doctor, she had no way of explaining how a foreign…entity could propel a physical being, much less how it had somehow known its host in a thousand intimate ways. Until the ancient force had tipped its hand and begun careening out of control, until the sight of him was suddenly, obviously wrong…the ghost inside John Danziger had fooled Eden Advance. It had even fooled Julia, with all her gadgetry and intellect. His physician, his confidant…
The one person who'd been sent here to fool all the others.
Julia was a member of the elite, a council operative trained at the highest levels of espionage. Despite her chromo-skewed, predestined medical achievements, she had excelled at subterfuge by her own merit and it had made her proud. Her infiltration of Eden Advance had proceeded flawlessly until her ill-fated experiment; so seamlessly that she'd become her persona…this suddenly soulful, living, breathing Julia Heller- the only version of her that had ever truly existed on G889.
For all she'd gained, she left some things behind. Her senses had softened since she'd begun to live each moment instead of cataloguing it. She was truly at ease now that she'd regained the trust of the people in her keep; out to pasture with only her nightmares to remind her of who she'd been. With all the hardships the group had encountered since, it seemed like light years since she'd thrown caution- and her communication device- to the wind. Still, Julia hadn't realized how completely her analytical edges had blurred.
Maybe she had suspected Alonzo because he'd been so indubitably by her side, quick to forgive, never pushing her for more than she was willing to give. She'd taken it for granted, maybe, because held her close through those nightmares, unquestioningly, and always lulled her back to safety.
Maybe Julia suspected Alonzo because all those months ago, when she was trapped in the waking nightmare she couldn't out run, it had been John Danziger who had set her free. Alonzo was her prince charming, and he treated her like royalty, but it had been John's kiss that woken her up.
She had filed it away as a misstep, but now Julia could see how it had clouded her judgment. It had stripped her of the very things that made her an asset to Eden Advance, her keen eye and her objective viewpoint. What good was medicine when the injuries were not based in science, but in wonder?
What good was a spy who couldn't spot a double agent?
Of everyone here, she and True should have seen the change in Danziger…his daughter and The Impostor.
His True, who Julia could see up ahead sitting on an overturned crate by the entrance to the dome. She knew the girl and her father well enough to know that he'd pushed her away. She'd be by his side, otherwise. True's pointy green hood was pulled tightly shut and her mittened hands were stuffed tightly in her pockets, but her cheeks- even from the distance- were rosy with cold.
Why had no one realized that John was upset and his daughter, as always, was lost without him?
It infuriated Julia that True always found a way to sneak out of camp or wander off the path. She was resourceful, sure, with a brilliantly inquisitive mind. Despite Yale's perpetual lessons, True suffered from a constant boredom that could only satisfied by adventure. Julia smiled sadly, the wind biting at her chapped lips, knowing that True's learning curve had well past exceeded conventional teaching. In strange a way, True reminded Julia of her former self, nearly a teenager, realizing that even if she didn't try, she would still finish top in her class. Looking, always, for something to do.
It was obvious that both she and True were teacher's pets; you didn't get to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted by breaking the rules. In True's case, however, her primary instructor tended to fall off cliffs and leap through time and get good, old fashioned shot in the leg. And her teacher always came home, because he promised he would.
Julia feared that one day the cocksure, curious Danziger way would get teacher- or pupil- killed. John had once told her that there was no stopping True when she had her mind set. "She's a kid from the Quad," he'd said, "they learn real quick how to slip through the cracks." There was no doubt in Julia's mind, studying the little girl as she approached, that her mentor had done the same.
Danziger was obviously not inside the Bio-Dome, brooding while his daughter froze ten feet away. He'd surely left the structure with his daughter warm inside, where they'd all been until Julia had gone to round up the Martins. Nine adults in one room…Julia knew there was no stopping Danziger if he wanted to leave, but had no one stopped bickering long enough to notice the eleven-year-old sneaking out to catch her death of cold?
"Hi, True," she called out, alerting the girl to her presence. Close enough now to see the tears welled in her beautiful brown eyes. "Aren't you cold out here?"
"I'm waiting for my dad," True declared solemnly, her whisper-soft voice carrying on the wind.
"You are, huh?" Julia perched beside the girl, wrapping her arm around her protectively. "Well, I for one wish he'd come inside. It's so cold even Morgan's coming in, and you know how he feels about other people breathing all his air."
Not her best joke but definitely not her worst, Julia rationalized, studying True's downcast expression. Poking fun at Morgan was usually a sure shot.
"Sounds to me like one more reason why he left."
She'd done it again. Julia had failed give True enough credit where credit was due, and her bluff had been called.
Lately, talking to True had become prickly, more reminiscent of conversing with the girl's beleaguered father than seemed fair. True was beginning to see herself as an adult, and the harsh reality was she needed a new role model. She would forget what it meant to be a Drone, in the wistful, fleeting rush of puberty. She would look back with nothing but awkward nostalgia, just as Julia thought back on her own life now. Everything about it was light years away.
Being a kid wasn't easy anywhere, it seemed.
Talking to True wouldn't be any easier than talking with John tonight, not when it was clear her worry for her father was as well-defined as Julia's own. She been fooled along with all the rest of them, and she was burdened by John's involuntary duplicity.
"You know, True…what happened to your dad was very frightening. It's okay to be-"
"Save it," True grumbled, a Danziger to the core. Unlike her father, however, she didn't duck her head in a show of embarrassment. True let her slip-up hang, staring off into the distance towards the deepening glow of the fire pit.
They'd taken to building the fire a few meters away from the Med Tent, seeing as Julia was the only one who needed warmth when all but sentry duty had taken shelter in the biosphere for the night. The doctor didn't mind tending it, and on the very long nights it sometimes gave her comfort to keep it blazing straight through until morning.
It appeared Danziger was stoking it now.
"I'm not scared," True disclosed, the exasperation gone from her tone. "I was scared, but I'm not anymore. Now I'm angry."
Julia studied the gruff little girl, chewing anxiously on her bottom lip, and found herself at a crossroads. Where did her physician's sense- not to mention her questionable skills as an interim parent- leave off and where did she become Julia, the person her father had taught True she could confide in?
"Well, angry's okay, too," Julia feinted, angling to sooth. "What are you angry about?"
"My dad," True deadpanned, her voice even. It wasn't hard to discern the brush off it implied. Julia knew True's mind was elsewhere, just as she found her own attention drifting towards the crackling pop of wet timber hitting the bonfire.
"Are you angry with your dad?"
True scoffed at her question.
"Of course not," she shot back, "it wasn't his fault."
"I didn't mean to imply--"
"That evil terrian did those things, not my dad. My dad doesn't remember any of it. The last thing he remembers is tuckin' me in two days ago. He doesn't even remember burning the body, or any of it, so leave him alone."
There wasn't the slightest deviation in True's calculated monotone as she delivered her obviously prepared statement. She seemed ready to go, guns blazing, at the first member of Eden Advance to challenge her father's trustworthiness.
Julia certainly hadn't intended for it to be herself.
"No one blames your dad, True. I promise you."
Julia squeezed the girl tighter, wishing John were there to carry her back inside and finish his story. Julia wished she could spare them both anymore anguish.
"If there's anyone to blame it should be me," she confessed candidly, unsure of where the words were coming from. "I was the one who insisted we study the body, who didn't see the danger. You're father was against it from the beginning. He wanted to leave it and get back to camp but I wouldn't budge. You should be upset with me, True."
Julia words ended with a hushed sound, a gut reaction to her own latest leap of logic.
All of this had been her fault.
Their future on G889 didn't matter anymore, not if they were going to find a way to survive the present. Hadn't she learned her lesson getting sucked into that goddamn space fold? No, she had insisted loud and hard on scrutinizing this discovery…as eager as ever to be sidetracked; to distance herself from the constant worry of starvation and things much worse. She'd needed to separate herself from Danziger, and the look in his eyes that reminded her that she was breaking her promise.
John was being driven forward by a relentless fixation on finding food. He had become a broken record, obsessing over numbers. sixteen bodies, sharing two hundred and forty eight rations at one point five rations a day equaled merely two more weeks of nutrients. Three before Eden Advance fell victim to starvation…one by one. The children would mostly likely succumb first.
Danziger had become the Scientist.
Julia knew he was right and just the sight of him reminded her that she was letting him down. Not him, specifically- though it felt that way- but the group she'd sworn to protect. She was letting them all down, but John had become the face of the struggle. He had become her emotional mentor, as well as True's, that night they'd faced the Z.E.D.. Whether Julia admitted it or not, it broke her heart to disappoint him.
Ironically, when they'd found 'Danziger' last night in the woods, beside his makeshift funeral pyre, John had seemed calmer than Julia had seen him in weeks. She wondered what it must have felt like, to suddenly be filled with empowerment; a rush of relief after months of nothing but crushing disappointment and vulnerability.
Maybe it was better that he couldn't remember.
"I'm not mad at you, either," True sighed, tears in her voice as she snuggled closer, as though fretful at Julia's own lack of faith. She sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve, and Julia's heart swelled with empathy.
"Then why are you angry, sweetheart?" She murmured, flinching at the sound of a branch snapping. Across camp, thousands of angry embers sailed on the wind.
"I'm mad because it fooled me," True whispered, her voice thick. She was giving it the good fight, but her chin was trembling in a way that made Julia's throat tighten. "I'm his True-Girl…I shoulda known."
If anyone knew the anguish of genuine remorse it was Julia. She'd done horrible things, unpardonable things, and yet here she was with this group of stragglers on the same crooked path. Their forgiveness still hurt her sometimes; made her joints ache with penitence as she plodded along beside them, grateful for a second chance.
Such emotions weren't meant for people like True…a child. An innocent victim.
Yet, Julia's mind raced with a hundred unsettling scenarios; countless horrible ways True might have realized that the being inside John wasn't her father at all. Silently, Julia was thankful for a diagnosis she could remedy. No matter how upset True was after the fact, she was safe now and she hadn't even known he was gone.
Julia had the answer to Danziger's most burning question.
"It fooled us all, True. It fooled Devon, and me, and even the Elder at first…and you know how sharp he is, right? He talks to the terrians all the time." True nodded, her pout wavering. "That spirit was very clever, and somehow it was able to know your father very well. So well that it knew how much your dad loves you. So much that it wanted you to be safe, just like your father does. You're not responsible, True. None of us realized what was happening."
In fact, that terrian spirit had been often the most level-headed adult in the whole damn group.
Looking back, Julia still couldn't calculate the precise moment when Danziger's body had become inhabited. To be truthful, after their last encounter in John's quarters- the night they'd seen the ocean- their interactions had been frosty, at best.
She still felt terrible about the way she ran off like a teenager, leaving John to misconstrue her intentions. He was right, they'd both already made their choices, but Julia was positive this burgeoning attraction this was something they could hash out, if he would just talk to her. Instead, he'd locked the safe, bottled his anguish so thoroughly that even Julia couldn't begin to guess the password. She'd just gotten used to knowing what he was thinking- how could she miss it already?
Julia had gone so far as to orchestrate her promised post-storm scout, even arranged for the two of them to go off on their own and get back to the working partnership that suited them best. Angry or scared- probably both- Danziger had skittishly invited Walman to tag along. She knew John was tired and hungry, but the way he'd treated her that afternoon had shocked her. He'd been snappish…distant. He'd let her trail so far behind that she'd nearly been lost. Even Alonzo, perpetually aloof, had commented on Danziger's sour demeanor, oblivious to its source.
Julia didn't know if it distressed her or not, that she and Danziger had somehow managed to keep their secret in the midst of Eden Advance's daily chaos. She wondered how long they might have gone on in just that way, how long it would have taken for one of them to snap and give it all away. With the perspicuity of hindsight, Julia realized what upset her was that, until the demon had revealed itself, it had shown her more kindness than the man it had cast aside.
Maybe a man like Danziger was the ideal host for a primitive being; buzzing like a beacon in the night with pent up passion and frustration. Despite all Julia had learned about him, despite all they shared, the impossibility of their relationship had driven John away from her. He'd made himself scarce, and the group's situation got bleaker, until Julia felt lost without his hands to steady her own. Over the last few weeks she'd been forced to succumb to his calculated unflappability, and under such conditions, Danziger's terse, solitary demeanor had been a cunning place for the terrian ghost to hide.
Julia hadn't noticed the spirit inside the man. She'd been too distracted by the ghost that he'd already become.
"Your father wasn't exhibiting erratic behavior, True. He was calm, just like he always is when there's something scary happening, right?" She swallowed hard, tamping down her anguish. "Devon spent the whole day with him and she didn't notice a thing."
True pondered her words for a moment before trusting herself to speak.
"He wouldn't braid my hair," she whispered finally, guilty. "I asked him to this morning but wouldn't . He said I would be warmer with it down, but it was kinda like…like he didn't know what I was asking, or he couldn't remember how."
True's frown was back.
"And he was having nightmares, I think, along with all the rest of them- even though he said he wasn't. I shouldn't have kept it a secret, but he…" she floundered, looking up at Julia with those coffee brown eyes. "He always has nightmares-"
"There you are!"
Yale's worried timbre carried on the wind as he appeared behind them, Devon in tow. She looked flush, almost embarrassed, and was clearly straining for professionalism.
"It's too cold out here, little one," the tutor fretted as he quickly lifted True from her perch, ever the mother hen. "Come, come! I have something marvelous to show you and Uly. It is called the Amazon Rain Forest and, before it was destroyed by deforestation, it contained over two million species of insects!"
True's face lit up, and Julia was oddly relieved to see that Yale's diversion was right on the money. Perplexedly enough, True Danziger was endlessly fascinated with bugs, an entomological passion that came and went with the seasons and terrain. It was a quirk that only an educator as devoted as Yale would recall tonight, in the dead of winter. Yale pulled her close to his side, producing a handkerchief, and True didn't fight his fussing. She was exhausted from a day's worth of worry and seemed relieved to have a diversion.
Eden Advance was becoming True's family. Though she would never seek paternal comfort from anyone other than John, True was learning to accept it when Yale offered, and it had become a blessing for them both. For Danziger, too, tonight.
"You're just trying to distract me," True informed her him frankly. She quickly wiped her eyes, clearly already won over.
"Indeed I am," Yale smiled sympathetically, patting her head. "Am I correct in thinking I've succeeded?"
True cast a final look at Julia, one that said all it needed to, and headed through the door that Devon held open.
"Devon, leave Julia to her work," Yale prompted as he slipped by them, a gentle but cool reminder of some previous discussion. Tossing her head, Devon remained silent, waiting until the outside door, then the inner door, slammed shut behind them.
"I brought a thermos of coffee," she started, clearing her throat. "For Danziger. I, um, I thought I'd tell you, ask you, um…to check his teeth." Devon finally finished, enigmatically, as though it wasn't at all what she'd meant to say, but it would do. "It's, uh, the upper right hand side. He's definitely been worrying a tooth."
"I was just about to go check him out, Alonzo mentioned something about getting a few punches in."
Julia wondered at this turn of events, at Devon Adair deferring to her, seeking her assistance instead of just going to Danziger herself. It was obvious by her physicality that there was no where else the leader would rather be.
"I, um…I think," Devon continued to sputter, "we think, that the night before last when he nodded off-"
"True mentioned that," Julia broke in, ending Devon's halted discourse, saving her the agony. "Telling her a story."
Devon nodded quickly, shaking off her uncertainty with a shrug.
"He was right there in the dome with the rest of us. That's the last thing he remembers. Other than that he's hardly spoken, even to True." She hung her head, forcing Julia to lean closer to make out the words. "I don't think he knows how to process this."
Even as she spoke, Devon seemed to be holding herself back, both in heart and mind. Rubbing her arms for warmth, she gazed longingly towards the bonfire, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
"How could we not have known?" She asked suddenly, her despondent gaze suddenly boring into Julia, demanding answers.
"I just finished explaining to True that-"
"Because I look back…and I know now, Julia! It's so obvious now, the little things. The way he…listened. He waited for me to voice my opinion before he voiced his own, John never does that. He was watching…learning his cues. He always let me make the decisions, take point- he let me drive."
The spirit had certainly singled out the group's leader, though rather than strike against Devon it had realized that there was much to be learned from her. The being inside Danziger must have realized, instinctively, that Devon could be easily swayed by the form it had chosen. Also, because of her physical size she hadn't posed a threat. It had obeyed her and let her actions lead it to its prey. Maybe Julia hadn't just been mincing words with True.
Maybe it really had been clever.
"It said it had no plans for Morgan, and actually meant it…" Devon continued, berating herself for all she'd overlooked. "It even reassured him, like the kids…like it knew he wasn't a danger."
The Scientist inside Julia, what was left of her, was rapidly forming a theory- sketching a pack hierarchy. Morgan Martin definitely wouldn't pose a challenge to such a powerful entity. True and Uly, too, were off the radar, deserving of protection for their submission.
It had been the males in the group, the others of mutual size and strength, that sensed the danger. The spirit was more aggressive towards them, sensing challenge, antagonistic if necessary. Walman was admittedly terrified by the wailing grendler, even more so when things began happening within camp. Baines had locked himself in the Transrover, for shank's sake!
Alonzo had made himself a knife.
Logically, Alonzo's tie to the terrians made him the perfect scapegoat for the demon trying to cloak itself. He should have been the obvious choice, and it had been an easy theory to defend. No one would have guessed the game afoot, and that reliable, if not laconic, Danziger housed an entity plotting against the only person capable of destroying it.
But Julia sensed a deeper truth; one she'd seen in John's eyes when he'd grabbed her by the shoulders and shook…the briefest glimpse of an emotion she'd seen John battle with before, on the nights when medicine brought him to her side and sentiment kept him there. Julia had seen the want he buried so deeply, a considerable passion only amplified by the insatiable force that had taken over.
Julia knew there had a been another, more carnal motive for eliminating Alonzo from the group.
Devon's disclosure had fallen silent and Julia, too, found herself thinking of the little things. Of the fact that the demon had spoken to her, directly, for much of its interactions with the group. It had even apologized to her for destroying its original form. She thought of the curious phrase you're just risking yourself for no reason, of the way he'd growled her name before Devon's back in the cave, a guttural sound Julia had felt more than heard.
This primeval John, this being comprised of eons of animal instinct and thirty-four years of a working man's memories…it didn't lie. Unlike the man she'd come to cherish, it couldn'tlie. Studying the concern etched in Devon's flushed features, Julia made an instinctual leap of her own, one that filled her with base satisfaction in the instant before reason interceded. What if the spirit had broken the code, unlocked the secret that Danziger had thought he'd successfully hidden beyond Julia's reach?
Maybe she was the alpha female.
"We've all been under stress," Julia bleated, aborting her reasoning, frightened by where it may lead. "Everyone's been acting out of character, Devon…no one's been normal."
Devon's cheek twitched with a melancholy smile that spilt free a tear. The wind took it, etching a scar across her cheek, reminding Julia that Devon was no exception to the rule.
Over the last few months, she'd been slipping out of gear herself.
She'd had a tryst with a penal colonist, while John was clearly in need of Julia's services not two hour away. She'd gone to blows with Danziger like never before over the Geo-Lock fiasco, and maliciously questioned his character in the matter of Yale's failing brainwash. Still, Devon had stood with John thousands of miles away, watching the tide, and had realized something…something that had, in turn, resolved John's intentions. And now here she was shivering beside Julia, instead of repaying the favor.
It was hard to point blame, when Julia was stalling herself.
"No." Devon agreed. "No, we certainly haven't."
She heaved a giant sigh, wiping furiously at her splotchy cheeks.
"I should get inside to Uly and True. They have so many questions…" she let her statement trail off, painfully aware that she had none to give. Trembling in the cold, Devon handed Julia the carafe, distracted by the aurora of the fire.
"You're not coming with me?" Julia tried her best to hide her incredulity.
Devon flinched again, her brave façade wavering.
"Danziger asked…he needed some space."
Julia took a moment to wrap her brain around the irony of Devon's predicament. Why would the woman before her, the woman who had made subverting Danziger's advice an art form, choose this of all nights to suddenly heed him?
"I know it's a flimsy excuse," Devon sighed, shaking her head at her own weakness. "Yale, of all people, convinced me not to go after him. He made me see."
Julia's hands, warmed by Walman's bitter brew, itched to trace the battered curves of her waiting patient. Despite the potential train wreck her impending examination presented, she would know what to do when she to saw him. Her mind was set, and she knew that to look into the brackish blue of John's eyes and see him there again, that was the only missing piece of the puzzle.
"Believe me, there is nowhere I'd rather be than with John right now," Devon mumbled, interrupting her reverie.
"But I think…" Devon struggled to explain herself, having sensed Julia's judgment despite her attempts to conceal it. "I know…that it's me he's avoiding. Yale's right, I need to respect his privacy. What happened to John, no one here can even begin to grasp. He's been…violated. He needs to wrap his mind around it, and I'm the last person to help him do that. I'm too close."
With a gut-wrenching sob, Devon turned to flee, her hand on the cool metal handle before Julia could react. She took hold of the leader's wrist, forcing her gaze.
"Danziger's emotional," she explained candidly in a hushed voice. "Not just not tonight, but by nature, Devon. He cares deeply about your trust in him and right now there's nothing you can say that will convince him that trust hasn't been damaged, because it has."
"It hasn't, Julia, that's what I'm trying to-"
"Danziger doesn't want you to lie to him." Julia hadn't intended to be so blunt, despite her impatience to seek out her patient. "He knows the way you think, he always has. He fooled us all Devon, we all put our lives in the hands of that thing that high jacked his body, and you can't ignore it. Yale only wants you to stop and accept that, because you'll never be able to convince John that you still trust him. You're just going to have to show him." Taking a breath, she rubbed the leaders arm. "Okay?"
Devon nodded, swallowing hard, nodding with furious compliance.
"Okay," she whispered, with a final glance towards the campfire.
She took a moment to steal herself and Julia wondered if Devon could sense the threat, if she knew that Julia's reassurances hid a secret intention, tinged each consolation with a dark stain. The Scientist reminded that Devon Adair seemed incapable of comforting John, in the simplest of physical respects; that Danziger would not or could not accept it from her. Her deeper self, the pieces of Julia caught up in an emotional renaissance- her heart, her gut, her common sense- wondered if Julia would be anymore successful.
"Help him, Julia." Devon whispered, issuing commands to the last. "Tell him what he needs to hear and bring him back home."
The Impostor, the sliver of cunning that Julia had all but thought she'd lost, acknowledged Devon's innocent syntax. Another curious turn of phrase: tell him what he needs to hear. Was Devon acknowledging Julia's ability to reach Danziger? Did she see the physician as an ally or an obstacle?
Devon's ability to make even a compliment sound like an order made it hard to gauge her intentions. Perhaps Julia was just an employee, a sycophant that had forged a tentative symbiosis. Still, she was tired of the riddles, of the song and dance of Devon's tortured affection for John. It wasn't her place to play matchmaker, and Julia refused to let Devon's best interests play into what Danziger had experienced today.
As Devon slipped back inside, blushing as if she'd said too much, Julia found that she'd already begun forward motion, rushing towards Danziger even as she realized that the Impostor was alive and well.
It was the same game, the same players, and it wouldn't be the first time she'd had her own agenda. Even as Julia bit down on her lip hard to correct such thoughts, she knew how easy it would be for she and John to make a new choice. With the copper penny taste of blood in her mouth, Julia recognized that she was no different from Alonzo, silently honing a makeshift weapon.
The wind whipped in again, as if to remind her of the prime objective. It was dangerously cold, and it was ludicrous that Julia's uncertainty had delayed her for so long. She'd been caught up in hypothetical circumstances, over analyzing, trying to prepare for any eventual outcome when it was clear to her now that not a single one was desirable. Someone would be hurt tonight, be it Devon, Alonzo or Julia herself. She only knew that it wouldn't be John.
She would make sure that it wasn't her patient.
As she approached the flickering light, Danziger's bulky frame blurred into focus. Nearly obscured by the slithering darkness that prowled the circumference of the fire, his face was hidden in shadows. From this distance, in such light, Julia found it impossible to decipher his expression, but Danziger's carriage alone radiated despair. At the sight of him crouched by the fire with his hands in his hair, gripping with seething emotion, Julia thought she'd never seen him look so…mortal.
"John, it's me…" she called softly, still a few yards away from the amber ring that seemed to emanate from the cold, dead earth neighboring the flames.
Danziger startled to his feet and out of the fire's aura, but the dingy gray of his heavy coat, radiating against the surrounding darkness, betrayed his position.
Squirrelly. That would be the word Danziger himself would use, if he were thinking clearly. And why would he be, when the last time he'd let his guard down he'd been taken unawares? One threat was gone, but another lingered; the threat of exposing himself and the consequences of the answers he sought.
It would have to be her, Julia decided at that moment. It would have to be someone who knew him well enough to anticipate his tactics, someone who he couldn't talk his way around. Of course John would try, and if she got caught up in his wet blue eyes he might succeed, but Julia had her ways of getting to the heart of things.
"I can't do this right now," Danziger beseeched her from the darkness, his voice raspy and teeming with emotion. "Not now, not with you," he openly begged, beyond the comfort of words and the effort it had taken him to hold himself together until now, for his daughter and for the group. "Please," he whispered, and she heard him clearly despite the wind and the distance.
Julia wasn't even sure what he was asking for; if he wanted time or space or maybe different company. She knew she would give it, if what he needed was something she could give, and yet the Scientist knew her place was to heal, not to enable his destructive self-diagnosis.
Two steps closer and there was no mistaking his motivations: pale and beleaguered and quaking to the bone, Danziger was a shell of the person she'd come to know. He'd come unstrung, and all he sought now was a secluded place to wait out the tempest of emotions that had battered the wind from his sails and breached the hull. He was stranded again, oceans apart and right back where he'd started.
Another turn for the worse, another crisis, another debt to be paid to his family and friends. Julia had been so selfishly sure she could help him, though she realized now, watching Danziger cower away from her like a trapped animal, that Devon's theory of closeness might not apply solely to her.
It was the way he said her name that brought the Scientist to the forefront. It was all there, in those two syllables, all the convincing she needed to stop thinking and act. John thought he was asking for privacy, that seclusion was the only way he could come to grips. But his eyes and his voice, his entire body was entreating her to say the right thing; to make him stay.
Julia was sure, watching as his hand crawled up to cover his mouth to choke off the traitorous instrument, that tonight she knew John Danziger better than he knew himself.
She took another step forward.
"You need to let me scan you," she instructed quietly, her tone rife with unintended sympathy. A co-conspirator, her own voice betrayed her, took away the only advantage she'd had: an objective presence. Primal entities aside, Danziger would smell her weakness and it would only remind him of his own. Catching a breath, Julia channeled all her focus on the physical body that trembled before her. Its newly-returned owner, the man Julia feared she was falling in love with, would just have to wait.
"No," he barked, his voice tight with feigned bravado. "You just keep that useless piece of junk away from me, you hear?"
He stood taller, adding a few inches to his height as he angrily gestured at her Dia-Glove.
Even irrational, Danziger knew that no amount of science could fix this damage. Short of putting him to bed beside Alonzo there was nothing Julia could give him that could possibly make him feel better. She hadn't even detected anything wrong in the first place.
Still, a slightly tattered bill of health couldn't possibly make him feel worse.
"John, it will just take a second. Please." He took a step back, a silent tell, the first implication of flight. "Let me just see that there's nothing urgent-"
"Stay away," he grunted, his threat colored with a ragged edge of despair. "I'm fine."
It had been months now that Julia had felt anything but dread at John's persistent use of the word fine, but what concerned her more was the longing in his voice. He wanted to take comfort from her, in the singular way she'd unerringly helped him chase away the demons in the past. Instead, he was holding himself hostage, terrified that- if he let her near enough- Julia would find a way find a way past his defenses. Sooner or later with she and John it always went from stitches and gauze to open heart surgery. As if he'd had just sensed this for himself, Danziger took another step backward, then two, stumbling.
"Let me see that for myself," Julia scrambled, desperate to keep him in her sight, irrationally afraid that she lost him to the darkness he'd be gone forever. "Let me scan you so I can tell True you're okay."
Danziger flinched at his daughter's name, as if he'd been slapped, and as if she'd been the one to do it Julia felt a tear spring loose. A gust of wind caught the fire, shifting the shadows like a search beacon, and all at once Danziger was bathed in light, his anguished expression ashen.
Julia felt her stomach drop. He turned on his heel, ready to bolt.
Julia barked his name with as much authority as she could muster. The result was decidedly smaller than she would have liked, but surprising and forceful enough to halt her patient's progress. He stalled with his back to her, broad and ramrod straight as the oaks that surrounded them.
"The John Danziger I know doesn't run away."
With a dazed expression he turned to face her, caught in her logic. She approached him carefully, reminded of the grendler she'd tried so hard to save, wounded while trying to deliver Dell Curry's message. It seemed like so long ago the way she'd sat innocently beside Danziger, courageously speaking to him harsh truths about his daughter. He stood motionless but allowed her approach, searching her face.
"What's that s'posed to mean?" He sniffled, obviously insulted but sufficiently distracted from flight. "It's gone. You watched happen, Heller."
John's unsuccessful attempt at a stoic answer sparked the image of True, minutes before, reading Julia the riot act. Danziger took such comfort in the confines of language, trusting it to conceal what his body could not. His bluster was returning, squinting at the light, testing with ticking fingers and furrowed brow its once and future home. Julia stood before him now, glove brandished and ready for battle, but it was her unadorned hand that reached out to rest lightly on his arm.
As if sensing her own confusion, her lack of solid proof of what had occurred back in the caves, Danziger let it rest there and didn't shy away.
"I'm me," he whispered softly as his gaze faltered to the ground. His hushed, despondent attempt to reassure her forced another step, and another, until Julia found herself gently wrapping her arms around him. Danziger towered as she encircled his unyielding frame.
"I know, John," she averred, feeling useless and small as she waited for him to accept her gesture. "That's why I'm here."
Slowly he began to thaw, his cheek falling to her hair. A huge breath went out of him, tickling her part, melting his shoulders even as he shivered in the cold, his fingers winding themselves into the warmth of her parka.
"True," he gasped, the slightest of sounds, and Julia squeezed him harder, supporting his great bulk as best she could. She was certain now he wouldn't run.
"True is waiting for you, Danziger. C'mon," she attempted half-heartedly, not really surprised when he refused to be budged.
"Did I…" he paused, swallowing thickly, "do somethin'?"
"No," she responded quickly, wishing she could coax him closer to the fire. Just as she'd suspected, Danziger was convinced that, in his absence, the demon pretending to be her father had somehow damaged True. "And neither did the spirit, John, True's all right."
"Was she the one who…figured it out?"
Again she heard his words, and again Julia knew what he was really asking.
"She didn't know, Danziger, she wasn't scared," she cooed, rubbing circles on his back, futilely attempting to warm his shuddering form. "She was safe the whole time, and warm like you should be." Again she tried again to move the mountain of him closer to the warmth of the flames, and with the help of a frigid gust of wind she maneuvered him, awkward embrace and all, to a nearby crate that seemed like a good enough seat as any. She sat down beside him when he wouldn't let go, his curls pressed against her cheek.
"She's just where you left her, she just wants to be sure you're not hurt. True's like me, she wants proof."
John sniffled again, half-embarrassed and half-beat, his face tucked with surprising innocence against her neck. It was the purist of human expressions- touching- as ancient and primitive as the clans of cave dwellers that had first populated Earth millennia ago. The Scientist candidly reminded Julia of her place here, and that John's aberrant physical reaction to such profound psychological trauma was predictable. The Impostor urged her savor his breath on her collar, the way his fingers had crept inside her pockets like saplings taking root. It would be too easy, now, to lose sight of her honorable intentions.
The Scientist insisted she let go.
"Let me show her some, okay?" Julia requested, comparably comfortable in the blazing heat of the fire. Carefully, she untangled herself from Danziger's arms, patiently waiting until he met her gaze. "Humor us."
Julia gave him her best smile, but John's grave expression caused it to falter.
"Did I hurt you?"
His whimpered question took Julia by surprise, though from his dismayed countenance it was clear that Danziger was somehow convinced he had.
"No," she faltered, knowing she spoke the truth and yet endlessly curious as to whether his conclusion was based on conjecture or memory. He hadn't hurt her, other than a good scare, and just the act of Danziger laying hands on her had been enough to alert the group to the wrongness of him.
Of course, John had no way of knowing that.
With a puzzled look on his face, he corroborated her hypothesis by slowly raised his arms to take her by the shoulders- a mirror image of his earlier violation. John's grip was the lightest of sensations, yet it threatened to undo him all over again.
"Are you sure? I feel…" he shivered, his eyes drifting shut in concentration, "awful," he finally finished. Julia's hand drifted unbidden to his cheek, smoothing away the stubbled tension. "S'glimmers…mostly just rage…anger…horrible things."
Suddenly his eyes shot open, his piercing gaze filled with certainty. Whatever vestiges the demon had left behind- sense memory, cellular recall- were haunting Danziger now. Julia had no way of knowing if they would ever leave him completely.
"Did I hurt you?" He asked again and Julia assured him, with certainty this time, that she was completely unharmed.
"Did I…kiss you?" He trailed off, not ashamed of his question but rather confused as to why he was asking it. A glint of something flashed across his tortured features, a genuine curiosity that jogged Julia's smile again.
"No," she laughed, her thumb pinching his cheek lightly- the gentlest of reminders. Danziger barked a laugh then, a single solitary rejection of his baser instincts, looking sheepish in the tawny light.
"Feels like I did," he mumbled into their laps, thick with chagrin, distracting both Julia and himself by arbitrarily pressing several buttons on her Dia-Glove.
Julia laughed again, sweetly reminded of her first encounter with the mechanic. He'd been fresh out of cold sleep and stretching his giant limbs like Atlas, rested and ready to hold up the world again. As she cancelled his commands and started a bio-scan she studied his distraction, the way his tongue fretted his bottom lip, lapping in time to the steady pulse of his racing thoughts.
She decided it was unlikely that John could remember that morning, minutes after being roused from a considerable cold-sleep and groggy as he'd been. Sitting with him now, both of them strangely at ease at this moment- the eye of the storm- Julia knew Danziger was not only back, but that he was the remarkably the same as he'd always been. It was a comfort- on tonight of all nights- as they sat in silence watching the glove flicker and whir, to know that there were pieces of Danziger that would never change.
He harrumphed once, his eyes fixed on the results panel, as though he could somehow decipher the numeric codes as they cycled and flashed. Studying his furrowed brow, Julia felt a similar pang of futility.
"It's important for you to realize, "She began softly, her equipment registering the expected deviances in John's readout- elevated blood pressure, perceivable drop in basal body temperature, increased brain activity, "that these feelings aren't your own. You're brain is still showing evidence of a connection to the Dream-Plane."
She was relieved beyond measure to have something, anything to present to Danziger as evidence that what he was feeling was out of his control. Julia thought it a victory, but he grimaced at the thought as if it caused him pain.
"You're theta-wave levels are reading at levels similar to Alonzo's, and what concerns me is that you haven't had his practice, so what you need to do right now is calm down, John. I'm going to give you a synapse enhancer to counteract the residual connection and help you feel like yourself again, but you need to let it go, okay? Release the connection, don't fight it."
Julia hated the patronizing tone that had somehow snuck up on her, as though she were consoling his daughter and not the man himself. Her coddling seemed lost on Danziger, who's drawn countenance made it clear that, despite his intentions, the emotions at war within him wouldn't be letting him off the hook that easily.
"You're wrong," he growled, his voice raspy courtesy of his brawl with Lonz.
It was a pale imitation of aggression, now that she'd witnessed what violence the substantial body in front of her was capable of perpetrating. If he'd honestly thought she'd be intimidated it didn't register. If anything Danziger seemed unfazed by the fact that she was on to him.
"I can't say for sure what the residual affects may be, John," she murmured to his profile, sticking to her guns at his heartbreaking confusion. "I'm sorry I don't know more-"
John flinched again, cutting her off with a sharp intake of breath. Julia knew he was biting his tongue. He was running damage control as best he could, and she shook herself loose of her destructive sympathy, Swallowing hard, she fished in her pockets, which were stocked with what she was starting to think of as the Danziger essentials. An enhancer, her most educated guess proved right, was already loaded into the chamber, and the patient in question met her eyes as she brushed aside his tangled curls and administered it without discussion.
"It's not your fault, Doc," he assured her as his eyelids drooped with instantaneous relief. "This damn planet has us all…comin' and goin.'"
She steadied his shoulder, bracing his soft, nodding weight as she switched out the cartridge, primed the dosage and injected the pain-block. Julia intended to make good use of the temporary respite; she figured she had three to five minutes before Danziger was clear enough to focus on round two, and she wanted to rule out as many potential internal injuries as she could manage.
For a moment, as her blood-gas sample spun and she programmed in a muscle resiliency scan, the John's drowsy bulk could have been that of any other patient. For no more than thirty seconds, somewhere between liver function and cranial displacement, she didn't think of it as John Danziger at all. Instead, she took solace in the perfect machine that was the human body, in the numbers that could be equated to fluid, which sped through the labyrinthine structure, veins and kidneys and spine. Pure science, all of which told her that despite an infinite number of factors, the body before her had somehow escaped serious trauma.
And that's when it hit her, how scared she'd been for the man inside it.
"You're wrong," Danziger attempted again, breaking through the fog as though no time had elapsed.
"How do you feel?" She prodded softly, brushing his hair away again, this time just to see his face. "A little bit clearer?"
When his eyes opened they were sad, and Julia floundered at the source of it. He searched for the right words, and all the while Julia was preoccupied with the translucent blue of his irises. They were lighter than she'd ever seen them and as impossible to read as they'd been earlier when they'd glowed with a fierce, golden light.
"Clearer. Sure…yeah, thanks, Doc." Danziger shuddered, and she reached for his long-abandoned blanket, the solar flannel thick with trapped heat from the flames.
"You've got nothing to be ashamed off," Julia pacified softly, wrapping him snugly in the fabric. He stole a look in her direction, before untangling his solid arm long enough to scoop her inside the cocoon, sharing the warmth. She accepted his embrace, though she fought against the illusion of safety it provided. It wasn't her place to be comforted by him, not when John himself was in dire need of the same. "You're the victim here, Danziger. You weren't in control of your actions and we understand that, okay?"
He sighed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand, struggling to verbalize an undefined sensation. As uncomfortable as it was to watch, Julia would rather he talk through the struggle than suffer alone.
"Why am I wrong, John? You can tell me the truth, I won't be upset."
She expected him to pull away, but instead he turned to face her, desperate to free himself this burden.
"The spirit is gone…it's gone, Heller, but my feelin's…its feelin's…they're the same."
"I'm sure that what you're experiencing--"
"You're not listening to me, Julia," Danziger snapped, just out of character enough to subdue the doctor's stilted rationale. "Turn off the damn glove and just let me…just listen for a minute. Please."
"Okay," she whispered, doing just that. Unfastening the glove, Julia let it fall to the ground, resigning herself to the shaky realm of emotion. "I'm all yours."
She took his hand firmly in an effort to dispel the notion of the blind leading the blind. He squeezed back faintly, oblivious of his tender fingers, blistered from the cold.
"It's like a dream," John began, worrying her palm as though Julia was the one in need of warming, "the kind that sticks with you. Where what scares you the most is somethin' that already happened, somethin' that isn't a dream at all, but you wake up…and it's new again." He cleared his throat, no doubt sparing a thought for True's mother whom, Bess had divulged to her, was trussed up in a stasis bay somewhere in the heavens. "You may not even remember havin' the dream, sometimes, but you remember the feelin'…you know it's real." Danziger stole a look at her, suddenly unnerved by her silence. "Am I makin' sense?"
"Yeah," Julia exhaled in reply, far too familiar with the feeling of waking up, sure that everyone she knew had left her behind.
"I think about Lonz, sometimes…'bout how he never dreams, 'cept with the terrians."
John looked self-consciously away, as though excusing her, giving her privacy to sort through her whatever inner conflict he was about to incite.
"I'm scared of what this planet has done to him. About how much he's changed. He fights it tooth an nail, but he's at home here, Julia. As much as I've ever seen him anywhere. I think…" he sighed, choosing his words. "It's impossible for a body to sleep that much and not dream. I think he's with them more than we know. Sometimes I think he's driftin' right there in front of me, even when he's talkin. Goddamn eerie."
He shook of the sensation, studying the platinum ring she wore on her thumb.
"He took Devon to her death down there in those caves. If you and Martin hadn't cracked that Geo-Lock those terrians woulda killed us all. He's not like Adair, givin' her speeches, pretendin' to be some kind of diplomat. Lonz isn't defendin' their rights, Doc, he's taken up their cause."
Danziger sighed, patting her hand softly, tracing the polished metal.
"I'm scared that one day he'll run off with those diggers inside his head and never come back."
It was jarring, his admission, though Julia felt nothing but a strange release to hear her deepest, unarticulated fears spoken so frankly. She filed it away as inadmissible evidence, unwilling to be distracted from Danziger's uncannily prophetic dissection of his emotional overload. He sounded lucid, and she knew by his breathing he was telling the truth, but she wondered if he weren't still feeling some residual aftershocks of psychic energy.
It was mesmerizing, watching him reboot.
Danziger was inching his way back to normal, running a careful diagnostic scan of his equipment, so to speak. Every word was considered, verified as true or false, and either uttered or sent out into the ether. It was the most basic of system recoveries and it assured Julia that, if she kept him focused, John would work his way back to her. Maybe not to her at all, maybe the brambled path would lead him to Devon instead, but she knew John would be okay. It would help if she could convince him to stop looking for motive when he wasn't sure of the crime.
"The demon was able to sense that Alonzo could destroy it," Julia reminded him softly, benevolently supplying a healthy dose of devil's advocacy. "Of course he was perceived as a threat."
John chuffed with derision, peeking down at her through his frazzled curls.
"Nah. I know Solace is no threat to me, Julia. Hell, he saved me." Another bulb flared, another circuit completed, "That just makes me more afraid."
Danziger shrunk a bit, his nerve faltering, and Julia knew it was hard for him to entrust her with such delicate subject matter. It was obviously something he'd pondered long before his unwitting actions tonight, though it was something they'd never discussed. Julia wondered if he'd been scared she couldn't remain objective, or if just he'd been weary to lay the seed of doubt regarding her intimate relations with the subject at hand. She knew Danziger expected a rebuttal, maybe even a furious denouncement of his fear or an impassioned defense for the sake of her lover.
She quickly decided that, inadmissible or not, Danziger's description of Alonzo's relationship with the terrians hadn't been far from the truth. The ease with which her lover could disappear down the rabbit hole weighed heavily on her mind.
"Afraid for him, or of him?" She finally answered, her question gently posed. She hoped to convince him that he wasn't the only person harboring such morbid doubts.
"Either way, if I'd been me, I woulda had him pegged."
It was Julia's turn to scoff.
"Danziger, that is absurdly hypothetical," she chided. She slipped the ring from her thumb, coyly forcing it over his first knuckle as a peace offering. Julia supposed there was no use pulling punches, not when integrity had always been their watchword.
She was also irrationally relieved to see that John's fidgets were back.
"Not really," he grumbled, not so much angry as disappointed with himself. "I woulda believed it was Lonz and, with the way things are goin' for us, the way everybody's breakin' down, I woulda acted on that belief."
With detached tenderness he returned the warmed metal to its home, twisting it around and around her finger. Julia's gut pulled at her with affection. Danziger's body had settled against her like a second skin, and she wore him with peculiar ease. Her hands were his hands, too.
"I don't like tellin' you this, Doc. I feel sick just sayin' it out loud, but we're almost outta time. It's life or death, now."
Julia noted the air of desperation in his voice, and leaned closer.
"I'll defend this group as long as I can, as long as it lasts…I will kill to protect you," he stammered, "all of you. But it's only a matter of time before people start turnin' on each other and, when that happens, I'm pickin' sides."
"I understand," Julia nodded, "and I know that what you did to protect Devon from Katrina still weighs heavily on your mind. But you'll always act, John, as long as there's breath in your body. It's what makes you so special. But it still doesn't mean you're anything like that terrian spirit. In fact, you have more in common with Alonzo than you realize," she mused, thinking of her lover's face, strained with guilt over the violence he'd committed against this very man.
"No Lonz, he's…a better person, I guess, at the end of the day." He glanced up sheepishly, quirking his cheek. "I could never have done what he did tonight. I don't have his…light."
Yet a third curious turn of phrase, a clue to some deeper truth John had discovered on the Dream-Plane.
"I destroy," he informed her soberly, his stare suddenly intense. "It's how I operate, I just…get scared and…that pile of circuits in there that used to be the radiometer, it's beyond repair. These hands crushed it, and I don't even care."
His eyes implored her to understand the deeper significance, but Julia found herself at a loss. She'd always seen herself and Danziger as two sides of the same coin, vessels of reincarnation, skillfully repairing and retooling what broke. It crushed her that he saw only defeat in a sea of successes, never sparing a thought for lives he protected or the hundred mechanical resuscitations he'd performed to keep Eden Advance alive.
"John, you have to stop assigning blame here," Julia implored, fearful of the anger that gnawed at the edge of his tone.
"It's a crucial piece of equipment and I don't give a shit that it's broken, because it's one less thing…" Danziger's voice grew deeper, laden with the fury he was struggling to repress. "It's one less distraction from our real problem. It's one more hour I can spend tryin' to keep Devon Adair and her kid alive long enough to miss the damn thing!"
"John, take it easy…"
"It's all just property! I'm an intergalactic groundskeeper for a woman who can't seem to realize that none of this junk will help us when we're dead. There isn't an instrument in this whole shankin' camp I haven't thought twice about smashin' to bits, and that's no deep, dark secret- "
"Danziger, stop it. C'mon," Julia interrupted coolly, wishing she hadn't ditched her Dia-Glove completely. It didn't really matter, she'd already done everything she could out here, but its heft always seemed like a reinforcement, reminder not to loose her sense when John had none.
"There's a hole in your theory," she benignly attempted.
"Stop it, Heller. Nothin' about this is logical-"
"You're wrong," she trumped him. He huffed, straining to silence himself. "You're the one who is wrong about this, and I'll tell you why."
His expression made it clear that he was struggling to find common ground, that he wanted her answers to be enough…that he was trying.
"We all have baser instincts, Danziger. We're animals, our goal is to live, to propagate the species: endgame. But we've evolved. We're sentient, stimulated by art and music and language, so much that we've practically lost our connection to the biological impulses that are ingrained in us. They make our choices. A person like Devon…she have no concept of Darwinian survival. She comes from a place where there are no needs, which means that no matter how educated and optimistic and well-meaning she is, for her it's a matter of want. It's winning and losing."
Julia didn't intend for her lesson to be punitive towards Devon, merely to demonstrate the differences between the two leaders and remind John of his place in the pack. He was listening intently now, peering into the flames as he mulled over her words.
"She has incredible vision and her intentions are pure, but Devon's been very lucky on this planet." Tugging the blanket tighter around him, Julia caught his eye. "She's lucky to have you on her side."
John smiled weakly as she fussed, his boot nudging the Dia-Glove.
"She's lucky to have you, too," he replied, shrugging off her praise. "She wouldn't have gotten three feet without a doctor. She would have lost her son."
Julia appreciated the sentiment, even though it was a stall tactic, meant to distract her from her from the matter at hand. She didn't want to dwell on the fact that her intentions for Ulysses Adair had been far from honorable, or even the role that Danziger had played in setting her on the right path. John knew all of it, and right now her goal wasn't to reaffirm his past but to help him move forward.
"The medicine I practice here is like nothing I was ever prepared to face. Technologically speaking, medical training in anatomy and physiology is about as obsolete as an old fashioned fire drill. With nano-science as advanced as it is, doctors on the Stations rarely ever see the inside of the body. And besides all that I wasn't even supposed to be playing for this team," she reminded him with wistful honesty, prompting a squeeze. "I understand the odds against us, in their clearest terms, black and white…alive and dead, but I don't have any more experience surviving than Devon. You, John, you're what's kept us all moving in the right direction. You're the rock."
"Why? Cause I'm a Drone?" He asked directly. Julia blushed furiously, more than a little embarrassed to have her words interpreted so bluntly. As if, somewhere in the maelstrom of his own emotions Danziger sensed her chagrin, she felt his lips brush against her hair, sweetening the sting.
"That's part of it," she shivered, despite the fact that the fire and shared body head had done wonders to thaw them both. His fingers, entwined with her own, squeezed tighter, as if to illustrate their recovery. "My point is that you've made it through, no matter what was stacked against you, on your own merit- not with money, not with chromo-science. I'm sure you've suffered fools far more self-important than Devon Adair, and I know this isn't the first time you've gone hungry. You're grounded by necessity, you're forthright, you never mince words. You refuse to ask for permission. You might see those things as flaws, John. Devon might do the same. But at the end of the day, when the decision must be made, those instincts will keep us alive. We need you."
Julia sat for a moment, trusting Danziger to digest her observations while she pondered her presumption. Her reasoning was sound, but somewhere along the way she'd missed a clue, derailed herself from the greater truth of the matter.
"If you propose that this entity was somehow acting on your own impulses, than how do you explain its reaction to Devon? You expect me to be so easily convinced that you see her as some sort of tyrant, and we both know that's not the truth, John. If you really felt unheard and disrespected, then why didn't the monster retaliate in some way?"
Close as she was, it seemed easier to gauge his physical response than to crane her head with morbid curiosity to see the effect she was having on him. He shuddered, and she could sense rhythmic waves of emotion breaking over him, and again the Scientist wished for her diagnostic equipment.
It was a scientifically irrelevant, vague word: monster. It meant anything unknown, anything feared. It wasn't even a practical usage, but Julia knew it was exactly the word John would chose. She hated pushing his buttons in this fragile state, even if it was crucial that she adopt Danziger's point of view in order to change it.
"Why don't you tell me, Doc? Huh?" He asked with hushed fury, pulling away from her, leaving the blanket to droop in her lap. "You tell me about how the big scary monster frightened Devon Adair, cause I can't remember any of it!"
He strode toward the fire, back to her as he examined the flames. Julia knew they were getting to the heart of the matter from the way he was grasping at straws, looking for the safest defensive maneuver.
"It didn't," she contradicted him, trying her best to remain calm, "she wasn't scared. I know how you feel about Devon, Danziger, I know what's in your heart. And if you genuinely believe that your emotions were the catalyst for the spirit's actions, then it only proves proves my point. You didn't hurt her, John."
"I attacked her! I tried to kill her with my bare hands," He attempted to refute, but there was a hitch in his voice, a falter that told Julia she'd inadvertently stumbled into something else. Danziger shook his head furiously, jamming the fists into his coat pockets.
The physician rose, inching toward his towering silhouette as she steeled herself to speak the harsh truth.
"The terrian may have tried, sure, but it wouldn't have succeeded. Devon and I were one step ahead of it the whole time. If it had pressed her hard enough, if Alonzo hadn't intervened, she would have shot you, Danziger. She would have defended herself the way you taught her to."
She was close enough to hear the tears tugging at his throat, then close enough to rest her hand on the small of her back.
"Why are you doing this to yourself, John?"
Julia finally had to ask, unable to rationalize why Danziger would insist on self-flagellation, why he refused to trust that she was telling him the truth. She was giving him the true answer, the one she'd thought he wanted, assurance that Devon- his partner in nearly all respects- hadn't been harmed. Why on earth wasn't it enough for him?
"Needs and wants…" He whispered cryptically, and she stole a peek around his broad shoulders to see him furiously blinking, his cheeks tracked with moisture.
"Danziger? Hey…" She tugged on his parka hard enough to startle him again, but he quickly recovered, his expression one of clarity save for the glint of panic in his eye.
"It didn't hurt her," he explained, as though he'd reached the conclusion on his own. It would have been comical, if not for the niggling doubt it insinuated in Julia's mind. He was in the midst of a revelation. "It knew… It knew better than to jeopardize…" He turned to her and Julia took him by the arms, concerned by suddenly erratic behavior.
He caught himself with a start, his expression that of her childhood dog when he'd been slapped on the nose.
"It wasn't worth the risk…"
It was Julia's turn to be taken aback, his intentions suddenly clear. Somewhere along the way he'd made another leap, a realization confirmed by his baser instincts. Julia discovered now that his true confusion had nothing to do with Devon's physical safety, but rather her respect. And now he had the answer to the question he'd been too afraid to ask.
"You're just risking yourself for no reason," she whispered, unsure if it was for John's benefit or her own.
Even as her lips traced the now familiar words, she realized it was the look in his eyes that had brought them to memory. It wasn't anger, she realized, her breath catching as Danziger took her by the shoulders for the third time that day. His question of motive had been a question of lust. It had always been, and Julia had been so ludicrously intent on implicating biology that she'd failed to see the clues. She'd taken herself out of the equation, when she should have known- should have sensed from John's first timid question- that he was at its mercy. They both were.
"Are you sure I didn't kiss you?" Danziger asked again, his voice low and resonant, seductive despite his uncertainty. He studied her face, every line of it, close enough now that Julia could see his dilated pupils despite the reflection of the dancing flames. His thumbs massaged divots into the fabric of her sleeves, each revolution goading her infinitesimally closer. This time, the question posed wasn't a question at all, it was an invitation.
Despite the ebb of Julia's hyper-rationality and the changes that had occurred within her since she'd stared Reilly in the face committed treason, she'd grown strangely accustomed to being scared for her physical safety. She found it easy now to cower, to shiver, to let her body react in the manner for which it was designed. She had been comforted, even while running for her life on occasion, in trusting her biological instincts to lead her brain to the answer, allowing her emotions to carry her safely to shore. In many ways, her new philosophy wasn't far off from the dissertation she'd given Danziger moments ago.
Good advice, for him. She'd convinced him to break down the walls, follow his gut, words meant to sooth and expiate. Now the Scientist was screaming for rescue, certain of where such intentions would lead, yet Julia found her hand, of its own volition, had come to rest against Danziger's chest.
"Needs and wants, John."
Her voice little more than a squeak, but she did her best to smile, hoping to assure him that the pounding tattoo beneath her palm was in the right place. It was a pitiful appeal to rational thought, a last call for objections from either party. Intellectually, rationally, they'd both agreed against this, but all lines of communication had led them to each other, again, and the burden of proof seemed impossible to bear any longer.
Julia would never hold biology against Danziger, not when he'd taught her so much about what it meant to be human. And by the same token her traitorous body began to breathe deeply, signaling compliance. Her back arched of its own accord as John's fingers traced the column of her neck.
She'd forgotten already who's turn it was to speak.
"I wanted to kiss you," Danziger murmured, finally brave enough to speak the truth. His head sweetly bowed to look her in the eyes, as though he thought he might frighten her with his size.
Julia nodded ingenuously, before the scientist implored her to clarify, "It wanted to kiss me."
"Same thing…" he exhaled, smiling like a wolf, cradling her head with surprising reverence. His thumb tickled the shell of her ear.
"It's not," she argued weakly, the Scientist surfacing for the last time, looking for something- anything- to hold onto. "Let's go inside, you're freezing…"
It was a blatant lie, and even if her voice hadn't betrayed her, there was compelling evidence to the contrary. Her hands were perfectly warm tucked inside his coat, pressed against the small of John's back.
"You're right, it's not the same thing…" he realized, ignoring her common sense without the slightest pause. His lips hovered against her bow. "I don't want this."
He kissed her once, softly, and Julia melted against him. It seemed impossible that he'd call her bluff at the last possible second yet, even as the Scientist struggled to recover lost ground, Julia observed the swell of his body against her.
Danziger was a liar, too.
"I know you don't," she ground out instead, managing to sound more confident than she felt. She waited for the earth to move, for the mountain to release her, but instead Julia felt his lips again, his breath fluttering her eyelashes. She wondered if John knew he was torturing her. "You don't. You want Devon."
The onset tears of paralyzed her, left her unable to look away for the cut on Danziger's cheek. It was the only physical reminder, except maybe a tooth, that anything at all had harmed Danziger tonight. In a day or two it would be gone completely, and he would seem the same again, to his friends and his daughter. He would bury it deep, more fodder for nightmares, and go back to keeping Eden Advance alive again. He would close himself off from her, as he'd been attempting for weeks to do, and this…whatever this was between them, would be over and done.
If he left her now, John would never be his old-self, ever again. Not if she left him alone with this. Not if he refused to confide in Devon.
"I want Dev," he confirmed honestly as he pulled back to meet her eyes. He sighed, his brow soft as he wiped her cheeks, and Julia witnessed another systems check, his expression conveying more than he could ever hope to put into words. His eyes open, watching her reaction, John ducked to capture her bottom lip in the lightest of kisses.
"I want her, Julia, but I…" He blinked once, his thumb tracing her jaw. "I need you."
It was John. Standing there wrapped up in him, Julia once again studied his ice blue irises and recognized the hue as the color of clarity. Danziger had caught up to her, in the present, and the final vestiges of the terrian spirit left him in a rush of certainty. Despite the circumstances, the politics and the good intentions, it all boiled down to biology. They were here, now, and they were alive.
John's passionate admission, and his decision to act, was the first real evidence of independent thought that Danziger, the man, had shown all evening.
Standing on tip-toe, Julia brushed his windblown hair from his eyes. They solicited honesty from her, demanded satisfaction in every sense of the word. Danziger required an intellectual accord; a mutual culpability. Even as his lips turned to catch her palm, his eyes begged her to understand the enormity of what he was suggesting.
"You're worth the risk," he whispered.
Julia thought of Devon and True and all that John stood to lose. She thought of Alonzo and how much she cared for him, and recognized with her own painful clarity that it would never be enough.
"Okay," she breathed, brushing her thumb across his wounded cheek.
She listened…for the protest from the Scientist or the victory cry of the Impostor, but strangely her mind was quiet. There was only Danziger's soft exhalations mingling with her own. The hiss and pop of the fire's static inferno, throwing waves of heat that seemed to blur the Bio-Dome in the distance. The wind had died down, and suddenly it seemed that all was silent. It was a familiar, momentous silence, as though the med tent was the only structure for miles on end, and she'd been left behind again.
John kissed her then, his fingers digging furrows through her hair, and Julia fell victim to the call of nature once and for all. His burning mouth was prompting absurd notions, shrinking Julia's universe as it snaked along her jaw. By the time it found her lips again, she wouldn't have cared if all the others decided to pack up and go on their way.
She and John had everything they needed.