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But the mists of fall have hidden you, and the threshing floor is clean.
Your laughter is an echo, and our kisses live in dreams.
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Downtown DC - near the Potomac River
Dusk, that evening
 

Byers eased the car into one of the parking spaces that lined Independence Avenue near West Potomac Park where she wanted to stop. Now near twilight, the tourists were retreating back to their hotels and the after-work joggers were making their way back to the offices. Despite his efforts to get her to open up about what was troubling her, Susanne had remained silent during the drive, only to occasionally whisper, 'when we get there'.

He turned off the engine and shifted in his seat to turn towards her. "Tell me what's going on. How can I help you if you won't tell me?"

"You don't understand, John. *I'm* helping *you* . . . by keeping quiet."

Byers' grip on the steering wheel grew tighter. "Is that why I never heard from you? Why you never tried to contact me?" He could feel the anxiety growing in his chest with each quickening heartbeat. Had she consciously broken contact with him? Why? "Did you even try? Did you even *want* to try?" He heard the pitch of his voice rise.

"Thousands of times. Every day. Every minute. But I couldn't. If they knew . . . if they suspected that I had spoken with you . . ." Susanne broke eye contact with him and looked out of the window, towards the river and the bridge in the distance. "You would be dead. You and your friends would be killed."

"I'd have wanted to know. Susanne, I *needed* to know. I'd have risked that . . ."

She jerked her head back and cut him off. "I wouldn't. Don't you see? It doesn't matter what they do to me. Knowing that you are alive is all that matters." She reached over to cradle his jaw with her hand. "I could have stayed away, been missing for the rest of my life. . . as long as you are alive and safe, John. I love you. I know what they could do to you, to Mel and Langly. I . . . I just couldn't . . ."

"Then, why? Why did they release you?"

Susanne outlined his lower lip with her thumb before withdrawing her hand. She had already decided that she would tell him the truth - or at least, most of it. "I was to search your database systems and make copies of some files."

"What files?"

"I don't know what's on them," she replied, shaking her head. "I only know that if I agreed to this, then I would be allowed to see you again . . . if only for a few weeks . . ."

Byers was visibly startled at that last statement. "Susanne, what are you talking about?"

"It's all been prearranged. They're coming here . . . now . . . to pick me up and take me back."

"No. No, I can't lose you again." He was having trouble finding his voice, let alone trying to breathe, with what he was hearing. "No. We've made plans, the guys and I . . . well, just in case anything really bad should ever happen . . . Listen to me. We can leave, the four of us. We can get lost, and they'll never find us."

Susanne choked back a sob as Byers reached out for her.

"No, they *won't* find us. We have bank accounts and safe houses - we can create new identities. You don't have to do this, Susanne; we can protect you."

She peered back through her tears and her bangs at this man, her husband. He did not understand. What she had done in the past had been done willingly - she had cut herself off from him with little protest once the alternative had been laid out for her. And she could do it again. But they would be back. Back with another proposition. Back with another black ops biochemical weapons project. Back again with the threat of his safety, or even his life in question. Her life as a marionette was no longer worth protecting. But his was. The work that he and his friends were doing was too valuable to endanger. *He* was worth too much to her.

"John, you have to stay in the car. You can't go with me. Don't make this any more difficult or dangerous than it already is." She leaned in and kissed him, quickly and quietly like she had done on that Baltimore street. "Always know that I love you." She exited the car and quickly crossed the street, heading for the FDR Memorial.

Byers allowed her the time to turn down the sidewalk towards the granite murals before opening the car door and getting out. He looked around to be sure that no one else was following her or waiting for her before he, too, crossed the street and traced her steps. He turned the corner and, true to form, ran right into her.

"John," she whispered in hushed tones, "you have to go."

"I can't let you -- I won't let you go back to them."

"John, leave. Leave now."

"No, I won't. Not unless you come with me."

"They'll kill you if they find you with me."

Anger flared in Byers' blue eyes, and he raised his voice, not caring if he was overheard. "I don't care, Susanne. I'm not leaving without you. I can't let you do this." He caught a sharp, pained breath, the pressure on his chest making it difficult to speak. "Please, Susanne," he whispered, barely audible. "Don't leave me like this. Don't let them take you away. I would rather die than lose you again."

"John, don't do this. You *have* to go. These men are serious, and they *will* kill you without hesitation. Don't get in their--"

A lone figure approached from the steps that led down to the Tidal Basin. Alex Krycek surprised the two in mid-argument, not just by sneaking up on them but also by slightly moving his right arm and allowing them to view the pistol he was carrying in his hand for effect. Byers began to retrace his steps backwards, reaching out to Susanne to make the retreat with him, but she broke free from his grasp and took a few steps towards the intruder.

Susanne appeared puzzled. "They sent *you*?"

Krycek shook his head. "No one sent me. I'm just here for the files."

"I don't believe you."

"Just give me the disks, Susanne, and then we can both disappear."

"It's true, damn it." Without thinking, Byers whispered it just loud enough for Susanne to turn toward him in surprise. His stomach knotted hard and he gaped at her in disbelief. "What the guys said was true."

Susanne looked from Krycek to Byers and then noticed that Frohike and Langly were also standing just out of range. She had been followed on two separate fronts and had not even caught on. With one of the granite waterfalls depicting FDR's contribution to the TVA program behind her, she was now physically surrounded and grounded by panic. This was not going according to plan, she thought. They were not supposed to be here; they were not supposed to see this; they were not to know.

Krycek broke the silence and raised his pistol. "We don't have any time, Susanne. The disks."

She realized that she had indeed run out of time. She had had her two months, her promised lifetime on the outside. She felt for her purse, unzipping it while never taking her eyes off of Byers. Rummaging around, she found the object of her search and paused to find her courage.

A silently mouthed 'I love you'. A quick turn away from the men on the perimeter. A gun shot. A fallen body.

"Susanne!" Byers raced towards her, sliding those last few feet on the concrete before dropping to his knees.

He lifted up her shoulder and grimaced at the sight of her face; blood, bone splinters, fragments of brain and hair intermingling, some scattered on the pavement, some splattered on his clothing. Another unintelligible cry left his lips as watched the blood spill over his fingers as he cradled Susanne's head. It was everywhere, more than he could imagine she might contain. He gently turned her over onto her back, brushing the hair away from her eyes and recovered his voice. "You've killed her."

"I didn't shoot her." Krycek pointed towards the weapon that had fallen beside her. "She did that herself."

Byers had quickly passed by rational thinking. This man had killed her. Maybe not with his own weapon, but if he had not appeared, Susanne would have eventually agreed to come away with him and his friends. Byers rose to charge Krycek, determined to kill the man with his bare hands, as though this would somehow miraculously set things right again. His normally calm eyes iced over with rage and hate, and his voice was shrill and shaking as he lunged, shouting, "You killed her, you sick bastard."

Langly caught Byers first from behind and, with a chokehold, dragged him backwards. Frohike also rushed forward, placing himself between his partners and Krycek, should the latter decide to advance. The threesome began a difficult retreat from the immediate area, with Langly pulling and Frohike pushing and Byers between them, cursing and squirming to break free.

The awkwardness of Byers' struggle with his friends and their efforts to restrain him without seriously hurting him led to missteps, and the trio tumbled noisily to the ground. Byers cursed violently, spewing invective and threats against Krycek as his friends held him down.

Krycek aimed his weapon at the squirming men and walked over to Susanne's purse lying open next to her body. He tapped it a few times with his foot, forcing a few items to spill out. Glancing back at the Gunmen, he gambled and decided that they couldn't advance on him too quickly even if they wanted to.

He reached down with his right hand still clenching the gun and dumped the remaining contents out of the purse.

One DAT backup tape and several disks were among her belongings, and he scooped them up and jammed them into his jacket pocket.

"They'll be here in a few minutes, you know." Krycek eyed the Gunmen who were still on the ground, still trying in varying degrees to process what was happening around them, Byers still shouting incoherently. "To *sanitize*," he emphasized. "They won't be so forgiving a second time around."

Multiple closings of car doors were heard in the distance, startling the men.

Byers continued to struggle and shout, trying to get to Krycek.

The wild-card Russian retreated back down the steps towards the Tidal Basin and vanished from sight among the low-hanging trees along the walkway, his echoing footsteps fading on the concrete. Frohike rose first and then pulled Byers up, freeing Langly from the pile up. Byers, still screaming at the top of his lungs, made an attempt to return to Susanne's side but his two partners grabbed him again and dragged him away to the van parked quite near his car.

None of them had any need to look back to see what was going on; they had seen a similar crew in operation before. They had managed to pile into the vehicle and peel out, with Langly driving and Frohike pinning a sobbing and still struggling Byers against the bench seat. After turning down 15th Street and checking to see if anyone may have followed them, Frohike eased his hold on Byers. It was then that he noticed that his partner had grown silent.

Upon closer examination, it appeared that Byers was going into shock, and he urged Langly to drive faster. "Get us home, quick."

* * * * * * *

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
late the next evening

BYERS:

I don't know how I got here.

It's as if I've just woken up in my bed, curled up, but I don't know how long I've been here like this. Is it evening still? Daylight? I throw the unruly bedsheets off of me and I notice that I am still dressed, shoes and all.

What on earth did I do? I should have taken them off; now I've dragged mud onto the sheets. And then I notice my hands.

That's not mud. It's dried blood. Susanne's blood.

I hear it. I flinch at the sound.

Again. And again, I hear that sound. I see the blood.

The sound. It doesn't even register with me as to what has happened until I hear something scrape across the concrete. I follow the object until it stops and note the form and the metallic coloring. A gun. It's a gun.

I glance back up just in time to see Susanne complete her slow-motion fall to the ground. The vision repeats itself obscenely, over and over, and I can do nothing to stop it. I can only cry out helplessly in denial of this horror as it unfolds around me. I twist my hands around in front of my face, noting the staining of my palms and fingers, and I flash back to the lifting of her shoulders and her mangled head . . .

It is her blood on my hands.

Any hope that I might have had that this has never happened fades into the shadows of my room. I look around for a trace of her, a remembrance to cling to, anything to push the horror of that scene away. And then I notice, by the lampbase, an envelope bearing my name. Written by her hand. I tear it open and find her wedding ring wrapped in paper. And then I notice that the paper has writing on it.

//My love - This may be my only chance to tell you good-bye. My time is running short.

//My fate was determined long before today. The woman who was your wife died nine years ago when I chose to remain hidden. It was not a difficult choice - I could either stay and work for them and never see you again, or you would be killed. There would be no point to my existence if you were dead, so I willingly sacrificed myself. And for this, I have no regrets.

//I was approached some months ago with an offer of release for a short period of time. I would be allowed to see you, to live and be with you - but with strings attached. And of course, I would have to leave you again.

//Forgive me. Forgive me, my love, for if I were to be separated from you again, I could not bear it. I knew that I would have to leave you to protect you from them, but I would never be able to go back to where I was and what I was for these past nine years. I must leave you, but I will never return to them.

//On the back is a list of files that I memorized as being copied to the disks and then deleted. I do not know their need for this information, but I must make the attempt to comply with their wishes if you are to remain alive. I hope that I can destroy these disks before they fall into the wrong hands.

//Forgive me, John. And always remember that I love you.//

Oh, my God.

Susanne.

end Part 3

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