Act Of Contrition
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Sometime between One Son and NIHT. Spoilers for Herrenvolk and NIHT.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Vignette, Knowle/Shannon, angst, romance, Shannon POV.
SUMMARY: She always comes back.
NOTE: This vignette is an Eschaton missing scene, but can stand alone.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AUTHOR'S NOTES: At the end.
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible.
She always comes back.
The thought comes to her as she pulls into Quantico base. When she went AWOL days before their transfer, she thought she would never see the inside of this place. Now it seems like she sees it all the time.
"You can't run away from who you are," Knowle said to her that last day before she left. "Sooner or later you'll realise that. And you'll be back." Damn him to hell for saying that to her. Damn him for being right. She pulls over into the parking bay, switches off the ignition, and rests her head in her hands.
But coming back isn't the problem, is it? If she's really honest about it, the problem is where she's been while she's been away. That's what shames her, what makes her feel weak and small.
Does he know, she wonders? Does he smell it on her, or sense it? Does he know, when she comes to him like this, that she's -
Used, her mind supplies, even as she careers back from the thought like a frightened mare. She flushes with humiliation, but she doesn't dispute the assertion. Because you can't run away from who you are.
She gets out of the car.
It should be raining, she thinks, like the first time she came back to him like this. They made love that way on the hard wooden porch, rain beating on his back as he sheltered and warmed her, and she felt clean when they were done. She thinks he must have thought her mad that night, but he did as she asked. He always does.
But it isn't raining. It's a warm, mellow evening. Somehow that seems all wrong. It makes her wonder if tonight will be the night when he finally says no, finally closes the door and turns his face from her. That makes her want to get back in her car and go away and never come back.
She doesn't go.
She lets herself into his house. He won't be home yet. He works late every night, without fail. She supposes if she'd stayed he'd have left on time, and they'd have walked home together.
It's so sickeningly sweet. She wants to hate it. Wants to hate the future mapped out for them. Wants to look at that picture and see the bastards who made them, pulling the strings, using what they have together to put them in a little box and keep them there. She knows that's what it is, what it always was, why they were made the way they were. Why they were ever allowed that bond to begin with.
So why does she hunger and ache? Why, knowing that's what it was, why does she wish it could be hers?
She goes to their bedroom. His bedroom, really - she's never lived here with him - but she knows it by heart. It smells like him, feels like him, and she feels safe here. She drops her handbag on Knowle's bedside table, and for a moment, she imagines him with her, dropping his wallet beside it, vestiges of a life in common. She allows herself to imagine that she belongs in this room with him, and then the contents of her purse spill out, wallet, keys, condoms. Pulling her back, pulling her up and out and back into a life apart.
She picks up one blue foil packet with distaste. Condoms, she thinks. How fucking poetic.
She didn't use them at first. She wanted every touch. Every sensation. Wanted to feel the longings and stirrings those bastards tried to shape and mould, legacy of her human blood - she wanted to take them back, claim them and make them hers.
But that was at first. Before long, the longings turned on her, turned dark and bitter like poison in her blood, and in time she came to hate them.
She thinks that it isn't so much a mating ritual as a rite of war. Shannon is no stranger to war; she knows its ways. But this is a war she doesn't understand, a dance in which she is the hunted and not the hunter. Every time, her humanity betrays her. She starts out the predator, but she becomes the prey, and she hates it. She hates being claimed. She craves the warmth and despises the demand, the entitlement that comes with it. She takes them into her and wards them off her at the same time. She keeps them at bay with her hands, with stiffened countenance, with latex and tight shut eyes. When she comes, she feels used and ashamed, and she pushes them off her before she's finished. She hates her body, hates the void within her body and the void within her heart. The hate and the shame build up in her until they burn, tearing at her flesh and rising in her throat like bile. She goes on like that until finally her nameless hurts yield tears, and that's when she goes to Knowle.
She shivers lightly, tugging her shawl around her naked arms. She puts her pitiful belongings back in her bag. It's a little black thing with sequins, perfect mate to her little black dress and her little black shoes. The sexual hunt has become a metaphor for her life, and that makes her feel small and stupid. A parody of herself.
She feels sick.
She holds her hand to her mouth and makes her way to the bathroom, free hand grasping along the wall. She turns the hot water on full with a flick of her wrist and drags off her stupid black dress and her stupid black bra. Dumps them both on the floor.
She doesn't throw up, but she leans over the basin, trembling. Struggles with her stupid black suspender belt, and finally gets that off too. She tries to pull off her stockings, but in the end, she rips them off with her fingernails, crying out in rage. The sound echoes off the tiles and reverberates in her ears.
She dumps it all on the floor and steps into the shower recess. She stands under the scalding water, holding her head in the suffocating heat until the tears have been and gone.
Finally, she turns the water off. Stands there trembling in the cool night air. Watches her burnt flesh heal and fade before her eyes.
It doesn't help anymore.
She's so far beyond hot water. Acid, she thinks. Imagines it eating away whatever the hell it is that's corroded her inside. Bloodletting. Cutting open her body and letting the poison out of her veins. What will it take? Walking through fire? She's done that, though not for this, and even that wasn't enough.
It occurs to her that she knows how to regenerate, but she doesn't know how to be whole.
She gets out of the shower recess. Stares at herself in the mirror. No sign of what she feels. What she is. She can't see the ridges in the back of her neck, and even if she could, it wouldn't help. The problem isn't in her alien ridges or her alien genes. She used to think the problem was what they put into her, but now she thinks it's what they took out.
How many times has she been right here? Staring at herself and trying to understand it better? It doesn't help. It never does.
"Fuck it," she says, and she cringes at the harsh sound of her voice. She trudges back into the bedroom. Leaves wet footprints on Knowle's carpet. Doesn't care.
She climbs into his bed. Lies there on her belly, tugging the blankets over her. Buries her face in his pillow. She knows he doesn't sleep, but she tells herself she can smell him on it anyway. There are times when she can't remember, but when she's in his bed this way it all comes back, good hard work and good hard love and the silence when the day was done, and she wishes she knew why she ever left.
She thinks of their house.
She thinks of working the crops and tending the bees and making love in the ginseng and how fucking young they were, and she falls into a dreamless sleep.
When she wakes, his body is draped over hers.
His fingers stroke her hairline near her temple. They fall to her shoulder and cradle her there. She feels his weight on her, warm and strong and still. No urgency, no demand. A simple offering.
Relief settles over her. He understands so little about her, but he understands this. The quiet she needs. The comfort she craves.
"Knowle," she sighs. Leaning back against him, relishing the feel of his flesh moulded to fit with hers. Trembling lightly as his arm folds over her. He twines his fingers over the back of her hand, and she catches them, tugging him closer so that she can press her lips to the folds of his palm.
"I've been worried," he says. "It's been longer this time."
Heat rises, racing like pinpricks across her flesh. She doesn't often think of how all this must be for Knowle - she doesn't dare, it makes her feel horrible and small - but she knows it hurts. He knows what she is, what she does, and he's still there, and she doesn't understand it but she craves it, comes back to the shelter of his arms again and again. She thinks of him coming home and finding her clothes and she shudders, but he showers her with chastely tender kisses, the rain that douses the fire of her shame.
"I know you worry," she says finally. "I'm sorry." It sounds so inadequate. So empty.
She hears him swallow hard, but he makes no reply.
"Why don't you hate me, Knowle?" she wonders. Somehow it's easier to ask when she can't see his face. "Why don't you mind?"
He tenses a little, and too late, she knows the truth, that he minds very much. "Do you want me to hate you?" he asks finally. "Is that what will make the hurt go away? Is that why you come back and - and leave things for me to find like that?"
Oh, God. Does he really believe that? "No," she says in a wounded whisper, "oh, Knowle, no." She tugs him closer. "I want you to love me. Even though you know what I am." Hearing it out loud like that brings home how fucking selfish it is, how she hurts him and hurts him over and over, how much a mess of things she's made, and she breaks into sudden tears.
"Hey," he says. Turning her to look at him. "Shannon, don't." He strokes her hair, looking at her like she's something precious. She can't imagine what he sees to make him look at her like that. "What do you want me to do?" he says. It's such a strange thing to say, not like a lover, more like a little kid who can't work out what he did wrong. "Just tell me, Shannon. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it."
I want you to know without having to ask, she thinks, looking up at him, but she doesn't say it - not because it would be cruel, but because she suddenly understands that it isn't true. She grasps that a big part of why she can't deal with Knowle, why she can't live with him, is that he's the only one who ever asked her what she wanted, and she doesn't know the answer.
"I want..." she trails off. There is none of the reproach she'd feared in his gaze. Finally, she says, "I want you to be here when I work it out."
His eyes are grave in the dim light. "I'm not going anywhere."
Relief washes over her, sweet and fierce. She tugs him closer. Kisses him, slow and tender. "Knowle," she whispers, brushing against him with her lips, "I don't deserve you."
She sees the weary sadness in his eyes even before it escapes him in a sigh.
"It's not-" he pauses to kiss her in turn. "It's not about deserving. It's about belonging. Hell, Shannon, even predators bond." So unsentimental, she thinks. So thoroughly Knowle. And the logic is impeccable, because that is exactly what she is. She doesn't want to be, and yet here she is, preying on him, taking from him, just because she has nothing and he is willing to give.
"But why do we belong, Knowle? Because they choose it?" She searches his eyes for an answer. Searching for whatever it is that gives him his certainty, whatever it is that makes her enough for him. How many times has she used his loyalty as an indictment? How many times has she flung his pointless obedience to them in his face? Yet what if that obedience is the only reason he is hers?
"I choose it," he says, and his kiss is a whisper of warm breath on her lips. "I choose you."
Longing rises up in her. She wants that. She doesn't understand how she can want it when she hates it in all the others. Doesn't understand why that hurts her, why she can't just choose him too.
But she doesn't think about it. Can't think about it. It's too much, too big, too hard, and he's warm and gentle and he's there. She kisses him again and again. "I love you, Knowle," she whispers, "you know I do." She moves with him, finding his body with hers, joining with him without preamble. Not an intrusion, but a melding. Theirs is not the fiery passion of the humans - it never was. It's the gentle warmth of the embers the flames leave in their wake.
"But then why?" he begs her, settling into her, fingers burrowing in her hair. Slow rhythm, reverent hands. "Why? Why?" He's like a child sometimes, no comprehension of the complexities that drive their human cousins, but he loves her, and how she wishes that was enough. Wishes she knew how to make it enough.
"I don't-" she breaks off, shaking her head. "I don't know. I'm sorry," she whispers against his lips, "I'm sorry." She says it over and over, into his hair, his ear, his flesh, matching his rhythm with hers. A mutual offering, and it moves her that such a thing could come from either of them, mere predators both.
"I know-" he breaks their kiss. Pulls back a little to look at her. "I know they hurt you. I just...I don't understand why you keep hurting yourself."
"You mean why I keep hurting you." He looks away, quickly, but not quickly enough. She sees the veiled hurt in his face - in drawn cheeks and the creases around his eyes. Their rhythm falters, and she can't stand it - she draws him back down to her, cradling him against her. Sadness and pity wash over her, but who is it for? For him and his simplicity and his bewilderment? He understands so little - just love and death and the hurts along the way. Or is it for her, for her own complexity? For understanding more?
"You think too much," he murmurs at last. Moving inside her again. "Can't you just let it all go? Just now and then? Can't you just let me - let me -" he breaks off, shrugging, clearly fumbling for something he grasps at but doesn't really understand.
She musters a smile. "I'll try." And it's a lie, because her thoughts are in turmoil when he smiles at her, when he dips his head to kiss her on her forehead and her temple. But when his lips and his fingertips find their way to the corners of her eyes, then her eyelids, she feels herself sinking, drifting into the warmth and tenderness he has for her. She feels herself responding. Her body opens up for him. Her heart as well. He fills her mind and her senses. Just darkness and warmth, holding her, pulling her under, and she clings to him and whispers his name and shivers lightly with longing.
Her release is not in her climax. It is in coming to rest with him when it ends.
They drowse together for a while, but in the end, she rises. She dresses in his clothes. Covers herself in his scent. The warmth and the peace he brings her will lift in the cold light of day, but she wants to hold on to it for as long as she can. She balls up her fuck-me clothes and stuffs them in the trash.
She looks down at them reflectively for a long time. She knows there will be others - this cycle they have is too entrenched - but this time, she senses an infinitesimal shift in the balance. For the first time, she truly longs for it to end, truly ponders what might make it end.
She thinks that the destruction of the military might do it. The government who made them, the faceless father-figure who forced them on one another for its own ends - if that were to be destroyed, maybe, just maybe, she could accept him of her own accord. They are, after all, immortal, and it may take centuries, but this force is a human force, a mortal force, and it will pass away. When that day comes, they will face each other as the people they could have been.
She longs for that.
But her secret terror is that it will take not only the destruction of her abuser, but of its means. She fears that it will take losing Knowle for her to be able to embrace him at last. That she will never learn to be with him until she drives him away. That they will spend all eternity like this, just missing each other, their love for one another awkward and streaked and foundering in this world of predation and hurt.
Please, she thinks, turning away from her sad little pile of clothes. Please, not that.
She goes back to Knowle's bedroom. He's still asleep - probably hasn't slept since the last time she was here, months ago. She wishes he slept more. It's good for the soul.
She stands there watching him for a while, smiling a little, but then she goes to him. She drops a kiss on his forehead. And then she leaves him.
Until the next time.
Because she always comes back.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: The Act of Contrition is essentially a prayer of apology. It is used in the Rite of Reconciliation (Confession) in the Roman Catholic church. Making an act of contrition is a necessary step in order for the penitent to be able to accept the forgiveness God offers. The Rite, and this step within it, reflect and ritualise what we know of how people reconcile to one another. The Act of Contrition is basically to do with how we own our actions and the hurt we inflict on others - not self-hatred and negation, but a mature taking of responsibility, and a reaching out to accept the love of those around us. And I guess that's what Shannon's grappling with here.
I see a lot of religious truth (not specifically Christian truth, but more general truths to do with the human condition, I guess) in the Knowle/Shannon dynamic. I've always liked the tendency in the X Files universe for characters, created or engineered to be predators, to turn their efforts towards what they believe to be good ends - to break free of the shackles of their circumstances or origins and exercise human (or not-quite-human) freedom. I think it says interesting things about the life force - whatever we perceive it to be - and the way it moves. I believe that generally we're kind of wired to face the light, even when the odds are against it, and I think that's got a lot to do with the appeal this pairing holds for me.
Probably the earliest thing to capture my attention about Knowle and Shannon was the way they were made to be predators, but in fact, Knowle maintained an ordinary life and friendships for many years, and apparently was a model soldier. This is despite the fact that he is clearly powerful enough to do anything he pleases with impunity. I find that really interesting, and I guess that ties in with the ideas I've played with in the Eschaton universe about their inner conflicts. On one hand there's their predatory nature, cultivated by those who made them, and on the other there's their innate goodness - particularly their sexuality, their highest and most pure instinct to bond and form attachments. That was cultivated and manipulated as a means of control, and it grew dark and self-destructive in Shannon as a consequence, and yet its basic goodness continued to shine through and eventually emerged triumphant in both.
So I think this journey was profoundly painful for Shannon, probably even more so than for Knowle. I've wanted to explore that a little, because she inflicted a great deal of hurt on Knowle in the Eschaton universe (however unwittingly) and I had a sense that, because of the limits of his perception, I'd never quite been able to do her journey justice. I had a nagging feeling that something more needed to be said, something that captured in small how all of this was for her, and I think this little fragment does that.
Oh, and one of these days I'll write an author's note that isn't almost as long as the story. No, really.