Welcome To The Harem
Eschaton by Deslea R. Judd (Part 3 of 4)
Summary: You don't have to be mortal to love. You don't have to be human to feel. Knowle/Shannon backstory, pre-XF through XF and beyond. R for low-key sex and adult concepts.
Eschaton (3/4) (Chapter 5)
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
RATING: R for low-key sex and adult concepts.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF, through XF and beyond. Mainly Eve, Herrenvolk, One Son, Per Manum, Existence, NIHT II and The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Mytharc, Knowle/Shannon, Knowle POV. Pre-XF, post-col. Passing allusions to Shannon/Doggett UST, Doggett/ Reyes, Mulder/Scully and Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: You don't have to be mortal to love. You don't have to be human to feel.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com.
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible.
Eschaton: Last things, end times, pertains to the extremity of life and death. Koine greek: eschatos.
He'd never held a human child.
The thought came to him in a nondescript hospital room in Washington. Doggett's friend Scully was there, pale, sleeping, hands braced tightly around her belly. He didn't need the files, or even those hands to tell him of the life she carried. He could feel it, the way he felt the life in the plants and the soil and the bees.
He kept looking at her hands.
The life she carried was special to his superiors, but he didn't think that was the source of his interest. He puzzled over it in his mind, but enlightenment was not forthcoming. He was not practiced in the art of introspection, and he felt like he was going into a tactical manoeuvre without a map. It unsettled him.
He looked up. John Doggett was standing in the doorway.
"John," he said. "Good to see you. Come in."
Doggett did as he was told. He opened his mouth to speak, but Knowle held up his hand. "She's fine. She was frightened - hysterical. We had to sedate her. She'll be awake within the hour."
John's lips were tight, but he nodded. "You want to tell me what happened out there, old buddy?"
"Not much to tell," he said. "I took a team out to Walden-Freeman Army Hospital, just like you asked. Scully was there with the other woman you mentioned."
"Mrs Hendershot. Is she okay?"
"She gave birth while we were in transit, but she's fine."
"Any problems with the baby?"
"Healthy boy, six pound eight," he said, manufacturing a wide smile. He thought about the grey alien thing mewing like a kitten in his arms. About feeling oddly connected to it. He'd killed it - those were his orders - but he felt nagging disgust when he did it, and that was unfamiliar.
John nodded. "And Scully?"
"She was hysterical," he said again. "She overreacted to everything in there, John. It's to be expected. I understand she lost her partner recently."
"We're still hoping to find him. I'm not giving up on Mulder yet." John's voice was mildly reproachful.
Knowle accepted the reproof without comment. "Well, nonetheless. She's carrying a lot of grief. A lot of fears about this baby of hers. It's all she's got left."
John stared at him.
Knowle suddenly realised that John hadn't known Scully was expecting. He felt momentary, malicious satisfaction, and that was new, too. What the hell was happening to him?
"Are you telling me she's pregnant?"
Knowle nodded. "She had an amnio done while she was in there. They taped it onto an old tape. She saw the previous patient's name on it and panicked - said they were showing her some other woman's tape so she wouldn't know what was really happening. All sorts of paranoid stuff. Then she took Mrs Hendershot and ran, and you know, you can't do that after an amnio. If we hadn't gotten there when we did-"
"Yeah. I know." John frowned. Looking at Scully and those hands of hers. "This explains some things."
"You really didn't know she was pregnant?" He wasn't sure whether he was fishing for information or just trying to twist the knife a little. He hoped it was the former. The latter was beneath him.
John shrugged. "Maybe I did know. She reminded me of Barb sometimes, when she was having Luke."
Knowle nodded. He didn't know what to say. They'd never discussed the son John lost. He'd never known how.
John said abruptly, "You ever think about kids, Knowle?"
"I can't have them," he said. Hoping to nip that line of discussion in the bud. His thoughts were too out-of-focus, too disordered for him to make small talk about kids right now.
"Aw, hell, I'm sorry, Knowle. I didn't know."
"I was pretty young when they told me. I hadn't thought about having them, so it was pretty abstract." He shrugged easily. Trying to make light of it. This wasn't a conversation he wanted to have.
Clearly, he was unsuccessful, because John prompted, "But...?"
Shit. He grappled for something to say. Thought about that day with Lauderton. About that ache. That pang he'd felt.
"I felt displaced," he said after a moment. "Like I wasn't part of it any more."
"Part of what?"
"Nature. The life cycle. I dunno." But he did know. He didn't feel part of the bees.
Knowle cleared his throat. "I have to go, John. Take care of your friend."
"Will do." John held out his hand. "Thanks for getting her out for me."
He shook it. Mustered a smile. "Yeah."
He walked away, but the unease lingered.
By the time Scully came to term, he and John were no longer on such good terms.
John suspected him of complicity with the enemy, though he was not sure who the enemy was. And, of course, he was absolutely right. Knowle wondered if John had ever realised that he was positioned alongside Scully precisely because of his past association with Knowle. But he doubted it. John wasn't that paranoid - not yet.
But he was smart enough to know when he was out of options, and for that reason, he hadn't entirely cut ties with Knowle. He didn't come to him for help any more, but nor did he walk away when Knowle came to him. To Knowle, this dance of mutual caution was perfectly acceptable - hell, he'd done it for close to twenty years with Shannon - and the resentment he sensed in John bewildered him.
Shannon was keeping an eye on the case, too. He assumed that this was because of his own involvement, but now and then he allowed himself the nightmarish thought that perhaps she had been watching John all along. He told himself that it was stupid and irrational, that John was just one of a very long stream of men for her, but he was never quite able to erase the memory of her covering herself that night from his mind. And the fact that she was always close by when he talked to John did not improve matters in the slightest.
"Please tell me you're not going to kill that baby," she said one evening while he undressed.
"You and I have got to talk about doorbells sometime," he said, unknotting his tie and draping it over the chair.
"You don't have one," she said deadpan.
"That's because you never use one." He stripped off his suit and nodded to the washbasket on the bed beside her. "Pass my shirt?"
She complied, but said nothing. Waiting.
He sighed. "You don't know anything about it."
She got up and buttoned his shirt for him, as though he were a child under her care. This amused him somehow. "I know Dana Scully is on the run waiting to deliver and I know you're after her. And I know the alien race thinks her child is important. You do the math."
"For your information, my orders are to protect Scully - and her baby." He pulled away and picked up his trousers. Sat down on the bed a moment to put them on.
She stared at him. "What? Who from? Why?"
"The why, I can't answer," he said, peering in the mirror, more from habit than anything. "They need the baby alive - that's all I know."
He turned to face her. "Fox Mulder."
"Mulder?" she demanded. "Are you insane? Mulder's the father!"
"Mulder and Scully let her daughter die in 1997 to keep her out of the hands of the old Syndicate," he pointed out. "Mulder is prone to self-interest, that's true, but we can't count on that. There have been instances where he's put the big picture first, especially during his early years on the X Files. He can't be discounted as a possible risk."
She stared at him. Somewhat mollified. "What do you have?"
He came and sat down beside her. "We know their old Syndicate contact Krycek implied to Skinner months ago that Scully's baby needed to die in order to thwart colonisation. I tracked Krycek to Skinner's office - he was there with Mulder and Skinner and John Doggett. He's probably told them what he knows."
Shannon frowned. "So Mulder knows they need the baby."
He nodded. "Pretty much. The behavioural psych team are saying that if he delivers Scully's baby, there's a forty percent chance he'll kill it at birth and tell Scully it was stillborn. The numbers drop right off once he's seen Scully bond with it, but the birth is a danger zone."
She still looked dubious. "You don't really believe that."
"I didn't. But I learned today that he told Doggett not to tell him where Scully is, and now, I'm not so sure. I think he's afraid of himself. Of his own thoughts and fears about this baby."
"I don't like it." She got to her feet and paced a little. It annoyed him.
"Would you rather I killed it?" he enquired. "After all, it's starting to look like that might be in the humans' interests."
She glared at him. "Don't be an asshole."
His head hurt. "Jesus, Shannon, you're never happy. You didn't like it when you thought I was out to kill the kid. Now you're angry because I'm out to protect it. Just when am I going to measure up to your expectations? What the hell do you want from me?"
"I want you to feel!" she hissed. "I want you to stop calling that baby 'it'. I want you to acknowledge that we're talking about a life here. Something that matters, even if, in the end, it has to be killed. I want you to acknowledge that we live in a world of shitty choices and that's worth grieving for, even when we can't do anything to fix it. That's what I want." She made a sound of frustration. "You know what your problem is, Knowle? Your immortality. You don't value life because it isn't precious to you. You're so goddamn sure of it. Because you were never threatened. And you never let yourself love anyone who was."
That was rich, coming from someone who made a career of fucking up her own. "No, Shannon. It's just that everything I ever had that made it precious, you threw back in my face."
She gave a sharp, humourless laugh. "Don't you put that on me, you bastard. It wasn't my job to save you from how they made you."
"No. You just come back again and again to throw it in my face. As though I owe you being any different, when you were the one who walked away." He pinched the ridge of his nose. "I'm so fucking tired of fighting."
"You're tired?" she scoffed, leaning back against the dresser. "You don't even know everything they took from us."
"I know we can't have children, if that's what you're getting at," he said. He looked away.
She stared at him. Stared for a good half-minute. Her face was white.
"Oh, my God," she said finally, in a very different voice. "That's why you're doing this, isn't it? Why you want to protect it? It's got nothing to do with the mission."
He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. "I'm just doing my job."
He rose up and grabbed her by the wrist. "It's just my job, dammit, it's my job!"
She stared up at him. Ashen. She rested her free hand on his chest and patted him there. Trembling a little. "All right, Knowle. It's your job. All right."
He stared down at her wrist. If she'd been human he'd have broken it. He released her, ashamed of his outburst. "Sorry."
"It's all right." She said in wonder, "I've never seen you like this."
"I've just got a lot on my mind. I'm fine."
"I can see that."
The way she was looking at him. As though looking at him for the first time. He felt exposed, and he'd never felt that way with her before.
What the hell was happening to him?
"I need to go, Shannon." He grabbed his jacket. Not looking at her. "Lock the door on your way out."
"You know, it doesn't pay to leave your doors unlocked," Knowle said, sliding neatly into the passenger seat of Krycek's car. "I think you're slipping."
Krycek didn't turn a hair. "What do you want, Knowle?"
Knowle liked Krycek. No bullshit, no mind-games or ball-breaking. At worst, a wisecrack or two, but then it was straight down to business. Krycek was all about the work and that woman of his, and to hell with everything else. Knowle liked that. Krycek was the kind of guy Knowle would've liked to have under his command, if not for the fact that Krycek was essentially ungovernable.
Also, Krycek knew what he was, and that was oddly freeing.
"Just drive," he said.
"You know, I'd sure like to know what it is with you people. You're always telling me to drive somewhere. Are they too cheap to spring for a taxi for you guys these days?" There was no malice in Krycek's voice.
Knowle just smiled. He had been shaken when he left Shannon, but that was over now. He was serene.
"FBI parking garage."
"You want to tell me what this is about?" Krycek said when he parked the car at Knowle's request.
Knowle nodded towards the rear-view mirror. "See that car behind us? It's Mulder and Doggett."
"And I suppose there's a reason that you've blown your cover by having me drive up in front of them with you in the car?"
"I might go up in their estimation, actually. But as it happens, it doesn't really matter any more." He turned to face him. "It's all unravelling. They know the Purists have infiltrated the FBI now. Mulder's right on the edge."
Krycek frowned. "On the edge of what?"
"Finding out where Scully is. If he does, it's in your best interests to stop him. You know he's gonna kill that baby if he gets the chance. You can see it eating at him. Why else would he have given Scully to you? He wanted you to do it so he wouldn't have to." Knowle was less sure of Mulder than he sounded, but that wouldn't get Krycek moving nearly so well.
Krycek gave a sour laugh. "I've been trying to get someone to kill that kid for months. Why would I stop him now?"
"Same reason you didn't just do it yourself when you had the chance. You know it needs to be done, Krycek, but deep down, you don't want blood that innocent on your hands." Knowle looked at him, not without sympathy. "I like you, Krycek, but this is a war you can't win. You may as well try and salvage something of yourself if you can."
Krycek snorted. "Tell me, has that line ever worked for you?"
"I'm just telling you how I see it." Knowle looked away. He hadn't wanted to play this particular card, but it didn't look like he had a choice. "Of course, you could let him kill it. And then I'd have to tell the Purists that there is an alternative."
Krycek turned to look at him, face pasty and white. "What alternative?"
"That this is not the only infant you couldn't bring yourself to kill." He was thinking of a house by the sea in Mexico. A blonde woman who bore Krycek's name, though she was not his wife. Delicate, pale, heavy with his child. A secret Knowle had kept, even from his own superiors, and he didn't even know why.
Krycek swallowed. "Get out of my car."
"I haven't told them about her," he said. "And I won't. Not as long as Scully's baby lives."
"Just get out of my car."
Knowle felt vaguely dirty.
He thought about Krycek a lot over the next few days.
It wasn't just Krycek, who died in his bid to stop Mulder from going to Scully. It wasn't even Mulder himself, who put a safe distance between himself and his son just days after the boy was born. It was the whole picture. The mass of human contradictions. The killer who gave his life to keep two children safe, against all good sense. The father, torn between the instinct to protect his son and the inexorable logic that the boy must die. There was something oddly compelling about the human drama of it all.
Knowle puzzled over this, trying to make the pieces form a coherent picture, but he couldn't. It was too messy, the edges too jagged. And yet it was just a little too noble, too decent for him to completely dismiss as human trivia. He had the same uneasy feeling he'd had with John Doggett in Beirut: a kind of low understanding.
But even that wasn't the heart of it, because he had known decent humans before. They weren't the most common breed of them, but they were there. He'd known them in General Lauderton, in Mrs Pendleton, in the people he'd served with in the Gulf and Beirut. It was something deeper. Something to do with Mulder and Scully's son, maybe. Or maybe about how he would be used. He knew, deep down, that even if the child had died that day, he would never have told his superiors of the existence of the other one. As far as he was aware, they still didn't know, and they would never learn of it from him.
He was not sentimental about human life. Never had been. Human death was as inexorable as the rising and setting of the sun. Soldiers knew it, accepted it, and Knowle understood that. They were at peace with what they were, and with their ultimate fate, just as Knowle was with his.
But that was adults. Soldiers. And he counted Fox Mulder, Alex Krycek, and their ilk among those. Less formal soldiers, to be sure, but soldiers just the same.
But a child. Even he and Shannon had not been involved in war as children. Childhood was a time of formation, not a time for war. Even to Knowle's sensibilities (which were undoubtedly dulled by his upbringing), it was unacceptable. So was the taking over of the humans - so much worse than simply killing them. It was like skewering them on a stick and using electric shocks to make them dance. Alive, but subject to the whims of another, all choices gone. He knew it was wrong, the way he'd known instinctively that Kurt hurting Samantha was wrong, all those years before.
He was not devoid of human instinct, he supposed. Certainly, he had human appetites. Sex. Warmth. Comfort. Love. He could exist without them - maybe that was the difference - but he wanted them. Hungered for them. Hungered for Shannon, every goddamn day. Did it not follow that he knew other human instincts as well?
He abhorred waste, in all its forms. Wasted time, wasted energy, wasted life. He abhorred senseless violence. Violence with cause, with purpose, well, he could tolerate that. It didn't disturb him. But the petty, purposeless violence humans inflicted on one another every day - so needless. So reprehensible. He had no horror of inflicting death, but he still honoured life where he could.
It occurred to him, mulling it over, that he probably had more respect for life than Shannon gave him credit for.
But what did that mean? He didn't even know who to ask.
He could ask Shannon. Certainly, she would understand the things stirring in himself. And yet it seemed like ratifying every bad thing she'd ever thought about him. He wasn't ready to do that, because he didn't believe that. He'd had something to offer her, and she threw it away.
"Do you remember what I told you? About following the bees?" Lauderton asked him when he unburdened himself. He was eighty now, and he still loved his petunias. They sat there planting them in his garden while Knowle said what he needed to say.
"Don't yessir me, Knowle. I've known you since you were wiping your snot on your sleeve, for Chrissake."
Knowle laughed, and hot on the heels of laughter came nostalgia. He felt the unfamiliar taste of salt rising up in his throat. He looked away, blinking, and wondered again - what the hell was happening to him?
If Lauderton noticed, he didn't say so. He said in that rumbling voice of his, "Tell me something. Where does the queen get her authority?"
"She gives birth to the hive. She looks after them."
"Good," Lauderton said, as though they were back in the sunroom at the Ark with their schoolbooks again. "And are these Purists - are they looking after the hive? The ones who serve?"
He thought about it. Shook his head.
"They're eating them alive."
"There's your answer, boy," he said. Clapped his hand on his shoulder. "Follow the bees. You won't go far wrong."
Shannon came to him three days later.
"We have a problem," she said, closing his front door behind her. Wonder of wonders, she knocked first. He wondered if that was a good sign, or a bad one.
"We?" he queried, making room for her on the couch beside him.
"Thanks," she said, dropping down at his side. She helped herself to a piece of his pizza without asking. "The work that created us, and has created others like us, continues."
"That's not exactly news."
"No. But there are plans to get it into the water supply. To induce it as a mutation in children of human mothers."
He stared at her. Oddly outraged. Something flickered in him, perhaps an ancestor of a paternal instinct. Something he might have had if they'd been allowed to reproduce themselves. To conceive a child, and have it turn out to be something other than you both - the thought of it horrified him.
"How do you know?" he said at last. He felt cold.
"Two whistleblowers approached me," she said briskly between bites on her pizza. "I killed them." It occurred to him that for all her principles, Shannon never hesitated to kill when it suited her.
"You killed them?" he echoed. "Why? Why not use them to stop it, if that's what you want to do?"
She shook her head. "It's not that simple. There will be records about us. If it were to be exposed that way, we'd be exposed, too. At the very least, there would be cellular material people could study and use. Maybe even use it to craft some sort of weapon against us."
He stared at her. "You don't really think that's possible."
"Let's just say I don't want to find out." She looked down at her pizza. "This is good."
"You're buying the next one. What do you need from me?"
"I need you to track down the base of operations and rip it apart. Kill them, blow it up, whatever you need to do. I don't want it exposed, Knowle, but I want it to stop."
"All right." It was tantamount to working against the Purists, and he wondered if her curiosity would be piqued by his ready agreement, but she didn't seem to recognise that that was what it boiled down to. On the whole, he was relieved. He felt vaguely self-conscious about his growing disloyalty to the Purists. Was it just a fear of admitting he may have been wrong? Was he really that petty?
"There's another problem," Shannon said. "An assistant director at the FBI has been digging around the first guy's death. Guy named Kersh. Now John Doggett's in on the act. He's tried to contact me."
A wrinkle of irritation passed through him. So that was why she was preoccupied. "Wonderful."
"Don't worry about John. I'll distract him while you do what you need to do." He didn't ask how she intended to do that. He didn't want to know.
"All right," he said, swallowing his dismay. "Tell me what you have."
He woke to the salty, sour taste of polluted water. Baltimore water.
Gradually, as higher thought returned, he became aware that Shannon was tugging him by the hand. Dragging him ashore. She dumped him on the sand, and then she kicked him in the stomach. Hard.
"You son of a *bitch*!" she screamed at him.
"What the-" He stared up at her. Trying to make sense of it. He focussed on her face, looming over him in a perfect fever of fury. He remembered blowing up the ship and the evidence within it. John was there, he remembered - had he rejected Shannon a second time? - and then -
It came back in a rush. He'd tried to kill John. Shannon had stopped him. They fell into the water together. She must have taken his head off - that was why it was unclear. His memories were still reassembling themselves in his mind.
Did John see that? Shit.
"You bastard!" she yelled. "You were going to kill John!"
His head hurt. He stayed there on his back, grimacing. "You told me to blow it up and kill everyone. So we wouldn't be exposed."
"Oh, fucking bullshit! He didn't even make it in there before you tried to rip his fucking face apart, and since when are you that fucking brutal anyway? You're fucking jealous of him! You've always been jealous of him!"
He didn't think he'd heard her swear so much since they were in combat.
"You were the one who dragged him into this, Shannon. Don't lay this on me. Believe me, I'd have preferred it if you'd left him out of it altogether." He winced. The lights were hurting his eyes. They were brand new, after all.
"Bullshit. You wanted him there and you wanted him dead. I wouldn't be surprised if you led him down there to begin with."
"It was the goddamn ship's captain. He was the third whistleblower. Remember the whistleblowers? The ones who started all this? Jesus, Shannon, you've had a blind spot for him ever since fucking Lebanon. You whore yourself around to anyone human with balls and he's the one fucking man who didn't shove it into you, and you've been carrying a torch for him ever since."
Her face was flushed, hot and pink under the lights. Twisted with humiliation. "Fuck you, Knowle."
He pulled himself away from her. Sitting up. "No, fuck you. You demand my help after treating me like shit for twenty years, cost me my job - I can't fucking go back into a public position after this! - and then you throw him in my face like that? That's bullshit!"
Tears were flowing freely down her cheeks now. "You are half the man he is. Not even half. I thought you'd changed, but now you're worse. Because you know better now, and you're still doing that same old shit." Her voice broke a little. "You're an empty shell, serving an army of them. Everything I ever loved about you is gone." She turned and ran off into the night.
He slammed his head down on the sand and wished she'd damn well left him down there.
He went to Canada.
It was deserted now. The Samanthas and the Kurts were gone. He didn't know why. He didn't really care. It was a relief.
He went there on the basis that he had to go somewhere while Doggett turned his old stamping grounds upside down. He was annoyed by the loss of his work in the Pentagon. That had been a comfortable life. Still, he'd known that would end sooner or later. That wasn't what had sent him running to the shelter of the only home he'd ever known.
More than anything, it was the confrontation on the beach, but that wasn't the whole story either. There was something growing within him, rolling in lazily like the tide. Since at least that day in Washington with Doggett, but maybe even earlier than that. Maybe ever since the Purists came into power.
Whatever it was, it had culminated in the fury that had tumbled out of him, first with Doggett, and then with Shannon. Some of the things he'd said to her - he didn't even know where half of it had come from. There was a hostility, an anger of which he'd never been conscious in himself before.
Uneasily, he wondered if he were really so at peace with himself and his lot as he liked to think.
He spent a lot of his time in the shadehouse with the bees. Human neglect of their environment had been immaterial; they were self- sufficient. The ginseng germinated wild, and the bees continued down their simple, time-worn path. He let them swarm over him. He enjoyed their humming, droning sounds, and he found their labours soothing. Little by little, over the next few weeks, he felt his mind grow still.
He was in the shadehouse when she found him.
"Great minds think alike," she said.
He didn't turn around. Just kept on studying the bee travailing his palm. "I came here to be alone."
"Do you want me to go?"
He shook his head. "It's your home too." He deposited the bee onto a leaf and picked up another.
"How are they?" she wondered, coming over. She sat down beside him.
"Seem fine. They have a food source. Numbers are up."
She rested her hand on his shoulder. Fingertips brushing the ridges in his neck. "Knowle..."
He shrugged her off. "Shannon, I've only just stopped thinking about that night and I would really rather not revisit it."
"I don't think we should stop thinking about it," she said. "I think it needed to happen. I think we said a lot of things that had been festering for a long time. For both of us."
"And what does it change?" he wondered. "You don't want to be who you are. You don't want what I am, or what we have. You spend your life chasing pipe-dreams and men who let you down. I've been there all our lives, always done everything you ever asked, and it isn't enough for you. And no amount of talking is going to change any of it. It's just the way things are."
She sighed. "I love you, Knowle. I just can't live with you." She got to her feet. "I think I should go."
He swallowed hard. Sat there, cold and numb in the morning sun.
"I love you too. If it matters."
She nodded. "It does."
He didn't believe her.
The last time he saw her was the night before...before...
Before it. Whatever 'it' was.
She was standing there in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, just over the New Mexico border. Waiting. Hair and clothes all fluttering in the wind.
He sighed. Pulled over. Got out of the SUV.
"What do you want, Shannon?"
She walked around the front to face him. They stood facing each other in the middle of the highway. She looked at him, sad, wraith- like, face pale and thin in the dim light of dawn.
"Don't do this, Knowle. Please."
So she knew he was after Mulder and Scully. He wondered where she was getting her information these days. Doggett, maybe? The idea stung.
"I might have known you'd get involved," he said. "What with John and all."
"It isn't about John," she said. "It was never about John."
"Then what is it?"
"I love you, Knowle. I'm so sick of fighting with you."
He reached out. Squeezed her hand, let it go. Leaned against the SUV.
"I have to finish this one, Shannon," he said. Looking away. "It's my mission. I accepted it. I have...I have responsibilities."
She stared at him. "And after this one?"
He shrugged. Shifting uneasily. "A lot of things don't feel right these days. That's all."
"You'd really walk?"
"I don't know." He met her gaze. "Maybe."
She came to him. Eyes glittering with tears. "Knowle, you don't know what this means to me."
It pissed him off. This was exactly why he didn't tell her what he was thinking, what he was feeling a year ago. He felt like she was claiming his - his - his whatever-it-was as her victory. As though she'd finally succeeded in moulding him into whatever the hell it was she wanted. Somehow, her joy managed to take all her dissatisfaction with what he was and amplify it until it burned. "Goddamn it, Shannon, stop it. Just fucking stop it. This isn't about you. I'm not your knight in shining armour. I'm just the guy who wasn't enough." He pushed her away and went to the SUV.
He felt her hands on his shoulders. "Knowle, don't."
"It's my job."
"I don't mean Mulder and Scully. I mean - you didn't do anything wrong. I'm sorry I made you feel like you did."
He leaned his head against the door. "I'm just so tired."
"Do you sleep, Knowle?" she wondered. Her voice was kind.
He shook his head. "Not for years."
"You should," she chided gently. "It's good for the soul."
He smiled a little. "I only sleep with you."
"You should come see me when you're finished up here. We'll have a sleep date."
He laughed. A weary laugh, but a laugh just the same. "A sleep date?" he said, turning to face her.
She looked a little sheepish. "I felt bad about how we left things last time, Knowle. I'd like things to be better between us. One way or another, you're always going to be part of my life."
"Whether you like it or not, huh?"
"Sorry," he said. She was trying, after all. "I'm just-"
"I know. Tired." She nodded to the SUV. "Go do what you need to do. I'll see you back in DC."
He nodded. Kissed her diffidently. "I love you, Shannon."
He got into the SUV and left her.
CONTINUED IN PART 4