Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Pre-XF. NIHT II spoilers.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Pre-XF, vignette, Knowle/Shannon UST.
SUMMARY: It's December 1983. Good friends. Good wine. The night before the change.
THANKS: To Spica and Kristen for comments.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible. Recommended at Sam Houston Motor Lodge.
"Consider the boysenberry."
It isn't the first out-of-context thing Shannon has said tonight, and he doubts it will be the last. The music is smooth, the lights are low, the wine is aged, and Knowle is agreeably mellow.
"I'll bite," he says, turning onto his side to face her. "What about it?"
She leans past him to pour more wine, passing within a hair's breadth of him. Flickering light glances off glossy black hair, touching it with amber. He thinks if things were different he might try to kiss her. It's that sort of an evening. They're young, no ties, and she's beautiful.
"It was made sixty years ago by Rudolph Boysen," she says. "Part raspberry, part blackberry, part loganberry."
She nods. "Like us."
"We're not hybrids yet," he reminds her. "It might not work."
"And on that charming thought," she says, "I think I'll get some more wine." She gets to her feet (bare, he notes, he loves bare feet) and makes her way, a little unsteadily to the kitchen.
"So why are you doing it?" he calls out to her after a moment.
Her face appears in the hutch opening. "I'm dying," she says matter-of-factly.
"Let me guess. They found it in the physical after we got back from Lebanon."
Sounds of drawers opening and closing. "Heart condition. You too, then?"
He nods. "Cancer." At her questioning look, he adds, "Breast."
"I didn't even know men could get breast cancer," she says, openly curious, then goes back to whatever she's doing in there.
"Neither did I. Found out the hard way."
More clattering sounds. Familiar curse words as she grapples with the corkscrew. He bites back a grin. "So did they bother to operate?"
He shakes his head. "I was drafted the same day."
"Recruited," she corrects, but she stops grappling with the bottle to smile at him through the hutch.
"Right. And wouldn't have made it out of the building if I'd declined," he says complacently. "Once you're that classified, you only get out in a body bag."
"Tell me about it." She wrestles the cork out with a satisfying pop. "Shit," she says, "I can fix a goddamn tank, and I still can't work a fucking corkscrew."
"Don't have the balls for it, McMahon," he teases.
"I've got bigger balls than you have, asshole," she says, coming around into the lounge. "How 'bout I open this with your head?"
"You would, too."
"Damn straight." She drops down on the cushions beside him again. "Where were we?"
"Boysenberries. Got any?"
"I have, actually," she says. "I was keeping them for - you know, afterwards."
"Hybrids for a hybrid, huh?" he says, and she raises a wry grin. He sobers a little. "There might not be an afterwards, you know."
"I know." She shrugs. "I only had a few weeks left anyway. Nothing to lose, right?"
"Right. Still, might be worth eating them now, you know?"
There's a shift in her expression, so fleeting he could have imagined it. But he didn't, he's sure of that. A crack in the veneer, he thinks. You can think you're at peace with your fate, but all it is is a thin membrane over a great big ball of fear.
They're too fucking young to die, he thinks. He hasn't seen enough. Hasn't done enough. Hasn't made love enough. And even after years in the corps together, he doesn't really know her, but she was there the very worst days of his life, and she's so goddamn beautiful.
"Yeah," she says. Pale. Short breaths. "We should. I'll get them."
He catches her arm. "Hey," he says. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"
"I know," she says. "It's okay." Starts to get up, but he tugs her back, tugs her towards him. She leans in, just enough to let him know she wants him to kiss her, and he does. Just once, slow and diffident, like it was their first date and not most likely the final night of their lives.
She touches his lips, smiles a little, and gets up and leaves him there.
She comes back with berries in a cut glass bowl, and two martini glasses on a tray. Dark liquid, a berry in each, lemon twist on the rim. She sets the tray down on the hearth beside them.
"It's called a boysenberry kiss," she says, handing him a glass. "Try it."
He does. The taste fills his senses. Strong and sweet. Intoxicating. He closes his eyes. It occurs to him that maybe she tastes like that. That he wants to know before they die.
"S'good," he says at last. Opens his eyes.
"It's the end of the line, Knowle," she says. "Even if we survive tomorrow, it'll never be the same. We won't be the same."
He swallows a little, and nods.
She nods too, as though in agreement. Raises her glass. "Well," she says. "To hybrids. And kisses."
He touches his glass to hers. "Hybrids and kisses."
They drink, and they kiss.
That's how they spend the final night of their lives.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story assumes Shannon was telling the truth in NIHT II about when and how she and Knowle became supersoldiers. In fact, I doubt she was. But it's an interesting idea to play with, just the same - what might have prompted these two young, vibrant people to agree to such a physically and ontologically risky process. I'd tried to write this scenario several times in past tense, and it tended to become too angsty, and it stalled. Present tense, where neither has any real understanding of what their lives will become, seemed to save it.
Well, you know. That, and the boysenberries.
Makes 2 cocktails
6 tbsp. Vodka
2 tbsp. Chambord, (Blackberry Liquer)
2 tsp. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
Whole boysenberry for garnish
Lemon peel twist for garnish
Place the vodka, Chambord, lemon juice and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake to combine. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass, drop in a boysenberry and rest a lemon twist on the rim of the glass.