Don't Stop Swaying
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: NIHT 2 post-ep.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Vignette, Knowle/Shannon.
SUMMARY: "She can live with the way the wind keeps changing, as long as she keeps on swaying."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just an odd little something for Mish. Happy birthday!
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2003 eligible.
"You ruined my sweater."
She stands there, knee-deep in water, stretching out the offending article so she can see it. Loops of knitted stitches unravel. The blood is just a pinkish stain under the narrow streams of light that filter through the boards above. Shadows fall, then dirt, as people tramp about on the pier overhead.
"Shut up and help me," Knowle says. "We have to be sure there's nothing left they can use." When she doesn't reply, he looks up at her. "I'll buy you a new sweater, Shannon. Will you please just help me?"
She sighs, smoothing down her ruined clothes, and walks further into the putrid water, wading from pylon to pylon to meet him. She picks past driftwood and oddments from the ship and random bits of litter besides. Baltimore water at its best, she thinks, as the stench of industrial waste and human remains invades her nostrils. A glass beaker floats by, whole and unmarked, and she marvels that it was spared by the blast.
"How long do you think we have until the divers get here?" she wonders, peering over his shoulder at the documents in his hand. Lights flicker, red and blue on ink-streaked pages. She sees the bloodstain on his collar and remembers that she was the one who put it there. Was that only an hour ago? It's not the first time their alignments have changed so quickly, but it feels like longer.
"Not long," he says, casting the useless papers aside. "Those are heavy-duty floodlights. I don't think they're planning on waiting til daylight. Tough break." He spots something out on the open water. He waits for a lull in the floodlights scanning the coastline, then dives down beneath the surface to get it. She keeps on looking.
"How's your head?" she wonders when he surfaces again beside her.
"The one you knocked off, or the one that grew back?"
"It's fine," he says shortly, opening his prize, a scorched manila folder. He flips through it. Draws out a data CD - warped, but whole. He holds it out to her. "The real question is whether the other one survived the blast. I bet your friend John would have a field day running forensics on it."
She takes the CD and pockets it. "He was your friend, not mine. He only came to me to look for you."
"You should have let me kill him," he says reflectively, still flipping through the folder's sodden pages. "He's seen too much."
Just once, she wishes they could get through a conversation without switching sides. She finds herself counting on her fingers. Apart. Together. Apart. This is, what, the third time tonight? "We served with him, Knowle. It could have been handled."
He shakes his head. "I've already let him live much longer than I should have. He's a danger to us now." Together. That makes four. "How much did you tell him, anyway?"
"I told him what we are."
"Let me guess. 'I'm a bio-engineered combat unit.' Did that make it into the sermon?"
Apart, if only on basic principles. "Don't you fucking mock me, Knowle. I can still whip your ass from here to Annapolis. I'm not the one who came out of this without a head."
"Which is why we're in the lovely, scenic waters of the Baltimore docks at midnight looking for it," he says, rubbing his face. "Aren't we lucky?"
"Shut up and keep looking," she says. Pissed off.
They carry on searching in silence.
Presently, the spray of light intensifies over the water, and they draw further back beneath the docks. His hand closes protectively on her arm, and she doesn't have enough bloody-mindedness left to shrug him off. "They're getting ready to drag the water," he says. "Let's go."
She breaks her silence to make a grudging sound of agreement, and follows him down beneath the water.
They swim a while. Their ultimate destination is her house further down the Bay, but by unspoken assent, they linger around Baltimore a while first. Cleansing themselves, ridding themselves of rancour, and of the filth of smoke and death. Aches clamour for her attention, not physical aches, but mental ones from which even she is not immune. She lets him lead her. Lets the water draw out her nagging hurts, and leaves them all behind.
They break the surface at the south end of Hanover Street Bridge. She follows him out of the water and sits with him on the rocks. She tugs her pitiful finds from her pockets - a few CDs and other oddments - and she breaks them one by one, flinging them back into the river where they can do no more harm. When it's done, she sits there, shivering lightly - funny how her body responds to the cold even now - and she nurses her head in her hands.
"Get those things off," he says, not unkindly. "They'll only pull you down going home."
She looks up at him for a long moment before getting to her feet with a sigh. She drags her saturated clothes off her skin, and they fall to the rocks with hard, slapping sounds that echo in the still night air. Water laps at them, seeping into them, waiting to claim them with the tide. She gives her sweater one last regretful look before dropping that on the rocks as well.
"I really will get you another one," he says, stripping his clothes off beside her. His tone is conciliatory.
"I should never wear clothes I like with you," she says in resignation.
He shrugs. "Hey. You lop a guy's head off, he's gonna act on reflex." She laughs a little at the sheer ridiculousness of it. "Sorry."
She finally spares him a smile. "It's okay."
His hand closes around hers. "Come on. It's cold."
She follows him back into the water, and they stay there a while. Divesting themselves of their hostilities as easily as their bloodstained clothes.
Together again, she thinks. That makes six, maybe seven. She's lost count.
They watch the lights of the cars coming and going on the bridge. Splashing a little. They swim in shallow, easy strokes. The water is cold, but they meet it, move with it, and it warms them anyway.
"I wasn't mocking you, you know," he says after a while. No preamble. As though there had been no break in the conversation at all. "You're not a combat unit, Shannon. That's just what they did you. It isn't who you are. It makes me mad when you talk like that."
"Knowle, you just grew back your head. You can't seriously sit there - float there," she says, pre-empting him, "and say that we're human beings."
"No," he says. "But I'm not a fucking combat unit, either."
"Aren't we?" she demands. "You and I switch sides with the changes in the wind. We do whatever they want, or whatever survival requires. There's no big picture for us. We shift and sway to meet it, and then it changes all over again."
"That's what we do," he says. "But it isn't who we are."
"Then what are we?" She finds his hand beneath the water, searching his eyes for an answer, as though he knows any more than she does. He doesn't, but she needs to know what he sees in himself. What he sees in her.
"I don't know. What we want," he says. "What we need. That doesn't change." It's incomplete, the way he says it - he was never blessed with eloquence - but she knows how he thinks, how the dots connect up in his mind. He means that it always boils down to together and apart for them because that's the only yardstick left that matters. He means that they sway back and forth this way because it's better than being blown away.
It isn't the answer she was looking for, but it's enough. She can live with the changes in the wind, she thinks, as long as she keeps on swaying.
"What do we need?" she asks him at last, moving closer, though she knows the answer already.
"I need..." he begins, and he trails off, stroking back her hair. Close enough that his breath is a fall of warmth on her face.
She feels him, wants him, acknowledges again their inevitability. From the day they became whatever it is they are, different and alike, there have been only two options for them. Apart is what they do. Together is what binds them and grounds them while they do it.
"Yes," she murmurs against him, and closes the space between.
She meets him, adrift yet tethered with him through the love and through the need. Through the darkness and the chaos and the sadness, she stays with him, melding with him in the dark, and she keeps on swaying.
"Hansel and Gretel are holding hands deep in the forest. They are lost. This is their own story. The two have fallen in love, and so, after a long quietness amidst the creatures of the night, they begin to kiss. Travelling like heat through each others' bodies, they pass through centuries of insecurities, and into a rhythm where they are not afraid. Mama has led these children into the wild unknown for reasons, known, with father's help, of course. They tried very hard to get back home, but of course, they could not. And so they find themselves, through the darkness, through the sadness, making love, making peace, making music. They find themselves through the chaos, making sense. This is what they want. This is who they are. These are the things they need."
-- Sophie B. Hawkins, Don't Stop Swaying