Title: All of These are Nothing
Author: Luperkal (luperkal@grapefruithead.com)
Rated: It's violent In a "my, that's odd" sort of way.
Disclaimer: Umm, not mine How's that?
Spoilers: Takes place after Without.
Category: No lifeguard on duty Read at your own risk.
Please ask me before archiving.

Summary: "Each thing hostile / To every other thing..."


(the first night)

Pick an apocalypse, any apocalypse. It's all the same, really, every which way you turn. Shards of broken glass glittering dangerously, reflecting a million fractured photographs of humanity ripped and torn. Even the screams have the same tone. There is something hollow about the sudden absence of a future, the sudden end of what was presumed to be an endless span of time and space.

They think they're screaming in pain, lost in their own terror, or screaming for one another. It's only in the blend that comes at a distance that the true meaning rises, singular and inescapable. Now, after all these years, once more it wells to its predetermined crescendo.

The sharp, single scream from the mouth of billions, so crystal and solid you could fall forward and stab yourself on it.


(day one: 6:12 P.M.)

"Dammit!" The tiny indent on her finger quickly filled with blood, swelling out of the cut and growing. She shook her stinging hand, cursing under her breath. The knife had fallen on to the patterned floor; she bent and snatched it up, moving with unnecessary force. The tip of her ring finger was streaked garishly with blood, as if she'd been finger-painting. She turned to rinse the cut off in the sink full of carrot and cucumber peelings, letting the offending knife drop again with a clatter.

"Dana? Is everything all right?" Her mother's voice wafted over the canned golden-oldies music and idle holiday chatter of the party in the next room. She must've been standing next to the kitchen door, waiting for a reason to come check on her daughter.

Scully resisted the urge to swear as the rinsed cut brimmed with blood again. "Fine, mom," she called back with what she hoped was a voice of good cheer. The cut had gone deep, the tip of the paring knife sharper than its cheap plastic handle would indicate. She rummaged through her mother's cabinets for a Band-Aid.

She was caught up in daydreams again. More like waking nightmares, really. She wanted to shake the thoughts loose from her mind, or shake herself for letting a dream get to her so much. But she could still see it, the burned in image of the world spinning crazily on its tilted axis, framed by a chorus of screams growing into one.

"You don't have to do this." The voice was no longer disembodied; Scully whirled from the cabinets with a start to face her mother "There's plenty of salad. Come and join the party, Dana." She was almost pleading. "Your family wants to see you."

She felt like a petulant child again, the gawky girl with arms too long for her body, hiding in her room to avoid comparison with beautiful, air-headed cousin Molly Her family wanted to see her, Scully was sure So they could steal glances at the undeniable bulge in her sweater and watch this newest drama unfold Her mother was doing it again, gazing at the swelled curve of her daughter's abdomen and trying to hide her look of wonder.

It was hard for Scully to share her mother's wonder when she couldn't make the echoes of the nightmare screams fully leave her ears. Even worse was the memory of the sensation, the impossibly real feeling of Mulder being next to her. Murmuring in her ear, a narrator of nightmares. Mulder right next to her, so close she could taste his scent in her mouth when she woke up.

Scully squeezed her eyes shut, willing her mind to clear. Just a dream. "Do you have any Band-Aids?" She was bleeding on the carrot peels, the vibrant red on orange clashing like one of Mulder's neckties. "I'll go in, mom. Just let me finish up in here." On impulse, Scully reached out to hug her.

When they pulled away, she pretended not to notice the tears filling her mother's eyes. "Like hugging a bird," her mother said quietly, more to herself than to Scully.


(day three: 5:13 P.M.)

Scully set her coffee down on the counter and rummaged in her purse for seventy-nine cents in exact change. The two sugar packets slipped from her hand onto the battered 7-11 floor. She slapped the change onto the counter and bent to retrieve the sugar, aware of the impatient shuffling of the customers in line behind her.

The cashier called down to her. "You know, the average person in this country consumes their body weight in sugar each year."

She froze, bent down over the dirty floor with her three-inch heels threatening to slide out under the force of the angle. The voice, that strange mix of smooth and rough, like the words were riding along a bumpy path Mulder's voice, gently teasing, undertoned with love.

Too stunned to look up, she heard it again from where the cashier should be, and yet somehow it sounded both further away and closer than that. "Two will die, you can't save them. They'll be dead in a few minutes, but no one will find them for another three days. They are the warning, but no one will pay attention. No one will listen. You are the last, you alone have the immunity."

Her hand was shaking; the sugar packets slipped back out again. She rose slowly to her feet, not sure what she expected or wanted to see.

The face of the boy behind the counter was twisted in anxiety; he looked like he expected her to pull out a gun. Pimples stood out on his pale face like red Christmas lights against snow.

His voice was a squeak, cracking over the words. "Ma'am, are you all right?"


(the tenth night)

Pale boys with bright hair and dull eyes, red hair glowing in tree-filtered sunlight. As the older boy holds a sparrow down against a sidewalk, his eyes gleam with adrenaline and surprise - he didn't expect the tiny bird to fight this much. The persistent flapping of its tiny wings slaps at his wrists. His little brother stands next to him, openmouthed and wide-eyed with fear and a different sort of surprise. He didn't know his big brother could be pointlessly cruel. He doesn't understand the thrill of hurting something that can't possibly fight back.

[Sunlight pours down - bright torrent of light. The blood trickling out of the sparrow glows, shines in the unfelt warmth of it.]

The tragedies of everyday life, the horror occurring at every moment, lurking in every single person's memory. Monsters in ripped blue jeans at age ten and grown-up monsters who stopped hurting sparrows long ago. The small tragedies and the larger ones, the ones that we're all supposed to feel sad about, that fill the air between people with nervous energy. The World's Not Safe Anymore tragedies that steal a little bit from everyone.

All of these are nothing.


(day eleven: 9:32 A.M.)

"It *is* a big deal, Scully." Doggett's voice was a slow hiss, flinty and menacing. She resisted the urge to take a step back, swallowing to steady herself as his hot breath slipped across her face. Memory clouded her mind with the sensation of John-not-Agent Doggett's breath, warm and soothing on her naked thigh, and she blinked to clear the image.

He thought she was ignoring him. "I don't understand what's going on here I thought we had a working relationship, as partners. I thought I'd earned your respect, if not your trust."

Trust. The magic password, the catchall of everything in this office for the past seven years. She bit back hollow laughter; let it die silenced in her throat. Her finger was bleeding again where she'd picked the scab off.

"Trust can only carry so far, Agent Doggett. Let me assure you, the fact that I withheld this information from you is by no means a sign of disrespect." She let the uncomfortable eye contact break, allowed her head to slide down so a sweep of her hair could shield her. "I know this isn't going to make sense, but...". She braced herself for the glare she could feel directed at her and looked up again. His steel blue eyes were staring unblinkingly at her, the pinprick black pupils aimed like rifle sights. "There are some things you're better off not knowing And I'm asking you to trust me about that."

She'd known that he wouldn't understand She didn't want him to; it was better this way. For her, life was just time. Just a steady counting down, and one of the few things that still made perfect sense was the importance of not inflicting this on anyone else. If she couldn't save him, she could at least spare him from this burden of knowledge. The truth couldn't save anyone now - but she could Mulder had shown her how. She was the last.

Doggett paced back and forth, fuming. Anger and frustration warred across his features. "I don't like playing these games with you, Agent Scully. I don't-" He stopped himself, paused for a long, tense silence. She started counting backwards from thirty in her head. She had to tune him out; she couldn't let herself lose it and tell him. "You're not protecting me, you're protecting yourself. You won't tell me what's going on because you don't want me to see you scared." Fourteen, she counted. "I can *handle* it, Scully."

He kept talking. "I'm not letting you do this alone. You're not going off to the middle of god-knows-where by yourself, and frankly, I'm offended that you think I'd let you." He glanced meaningfully towards her belly. She pretended not to notice. He didn't understand how meaningless it was; he didn't realize that two lives in one body meant nothing anymore. "Now be reasonable here, please. Tell me what's so important that you had to hide it from me for the past three days. A couple of dead bodies and some rocks the FEMA guys won't let anyone get near. Why are you in such a hurry to get out there?"

Tell me why you used me, she read in his eyes. She couldn't tell him that, either. He didn't want to know that she'd used him so that she'd have someone to hold her when she woke up screaming in the night. So she wouldn't be alone with Mulder's message.


(day ten: 2:43 A.M.)

The sheets rustled as John twisted, turning to drape his arm over her stomach. Their sweat-slicked skin clung together, binding them. He kissed the top of her head, kept moving downwards to trail kisses down to her neck. His lips pressed over the scar and she shuddered.

He spoke softly, close to her ear. "Do you ever wonder how it works? It's some sort of computer chip, right?"

She tried to swallow the anger rising up in her throat. Of course he knew, he'd read the case files. Still, she felt thrown off balance - he knew things about her that she hadn't told him yet, things she had chosen not to tell him. The chip had nothing to do with him. Mulder had brought her the chip.

"I try not to think about it at all." She thought, but did not say, I'm not sure I could stop myself from cutting it out, if I thought about it.

He leaned further over her to kiss her flushed cheek. "It's an amazing thing A tiny piece of circuitry, something completely inhuman, keeping your body working. It makes me realize how much I don't understand."

The back of her neck felt stung where his lips had been.


(the thirteenth, fifteenth, and eighteenth nights)

[Hand on her wrist, grasped so-tightly-too-tightly bones caved in on themselves.]

There is a difference between emptiness and starting over. Emptiness is a personal thing - he/she can be empty.

[Narrator of nightmares. Voice of honey poured slow over gravel. Hand on empty wrist; skin closed over blank-bent-gone bones and loose tissue. Blinding light where his face should be, liquid light filling all the space between and around them.]

The world is never empty It just starts over. There is no moment with the clarity of absolute nothing, there is no blank page. Eternity stacks up on old eternity, and nothing is eternal in the way we think it should be.

[Pulling her forward, Mulder of soft eyes and strong hands, the narrator of nightmares. Pulling her up and away and she could see it from here; see the live predator with ever-changing shape. Shot down straight through a hole in the sky, black gloss shifting and writhing in bright liquid white light, shot down straight into every crack of earth. Into every tiny ripple of skin.]


(the last day: 11:34 P.M.)

"Oh, fer cryin' out loud We've *always* had this policy, ma'am." Pellets of rain bounced violently off the wide brim of the Ranger's hat. They caught the light from his flashlight as they traveled the wrong way, shooting back electrified like splinters of glass towards the sky for a brief half moment before falling back again.

Scully kept her badge out, holding it up to his face while the rain rolled off his hat and onto the clear plastic encasing her credentials. She said nothing, felt more than heard Doggett shifting on the damp forest ground behind her. Less than an hour, she thought. Less than one hour of her life left. She'd be dead in less than hour for these men, and if she did it right they'd never know the horror she'd saved them from.

The Ranger switched tactics, clearly hoping to find a rational ear in Doggett "It's nothin' personal. Just the way it is. Past this line ain't public property anymore, its government regulated. And unless you're with FEMA or you've got one of those special passes they give out I can't let you go any further." He glanced down at Scully, clearly annoyed by her persistence. "I'll call the cops if I gotta."

She shook the rain from her badge before pocketing it. Not stopping to acknowledge Doggett, she pushed past him and marched away from the incongruous fence, her feet slipping on the muddy ground of the Oregon forest. Her shoes made sickening noises as they sank into and tore out of the ground Doggett's voice trying to placate the Ranger was distant, muffled by the glassy rain pounding upon a web of leaves. The gash on her upper arm ached, torn by a tree branch as she was walking without stopping to see obstacles.

He had to run to catch up to her; she barely felt her legs as she walked in unnaturally long strides. "I'm getting in there, Doggett."

He muttered something under his breath; she doubted it was complimentary.

"It doesn't matter to me how I have to do it I'm getting in. If you've got a problem with that, take the car and leave I won't need it."

With a grunt, he stepped in front of her and stood still. Rain dripped down and off his nose. She stared at him, only vaguely feeling anger. Not nearly enough to summon a glare. Drained of emotion, left only with purpose, she stared at him.

"You're not making sense," he said. "There's nothing in there that could possibly be worth busting through a fifteen-foot fence. We can go back to the motel, call the Bureau and get someone to pull a few strings. Come back out here tomorrow with the right name and waltz on through."

Rain dripped off his nose She couldn't shift her line of vision from it. Slow movement, sharp broken edges of reflections sliding and falling.

Less than an hour left to live, either way she went with this. She could feel blood rushing in her ears, felt her body swaying slightly. She could still leave this place, she could still choose not to go through with it. Go back to the motel with Doggett and lie nestled in his arms again. Let him wrap his body around her like a shield as the world fell apart. Let it all crash down and not be alone.

She'd be alone if she kept going, but no one else would ever have to see what she'd seen in her dreams. If she kept going, it could be like the alternative Mulder had shown her. Still dead, but not with a stab of apocalyptic fire. She was the last one.

She walked around him, moving too quickly for him to block her path. Her voice was a stab, cutting furiously through blank space.

"Don't follow me."


(the seventeenth day: 1:23 A.M.)

When she noticed him in the dark corner of kitchen, she wasn't even startled. The hand pouring boiling water into a mug for tea didn't waver. She was getting used to impossible things.

His voice was everywhere and nowhere. Inside her head and far above her at the same time. "You're the last one. Everyone else with the vaccine is dead; you're the only one left who can end it. The oil is evolving again, and this time it's ready. This time it will end the world, if it doesn't end in you."

Mulder moved slowly out of the dark shadows, his face coming closer and closer into the light where she'd be able to see it, finally see it.


"Scully! Jesus, what the hell's going on?" She whirled, saw Doggett looking panicked in the doorway at the same moment she felt the boiling water burning her hands. She jumped back quickly; the cup was overflowing and spilling off the counter onto her feet.

Doggett rushed over, grabbed the pot from her and directed her towards the sink. "Come on, you need to run your hands under cold water. What on earth were you thinking about?"

She looked back to the corner and saw only shadows.


(the twentieth through the last night)

Things make more sense from a distance. Without names, without words, it's obvious which events come next. There are no options, no good or bad, no right or wrong. There is only what exists now, and where it must lead.

[Empty circles. Bare blank brown earth below clear clean crystal sky.]

History in motion is beautiful in its unflinching perfection This is where we go next; why wonder about how it could have been prevented? The past is rapidly becoming this moment, this perfect moment that is rapidly becoming the future. This moment that determines the future.

[Live predator pouring down, live oil pouring in a black rain straight down into wide blue eyes. Poured down till the end - straight down through. Gone, live rain swallowed in unblinking eyes. Sweep of eyelids closing.]

Nothing to cry about It all makes perfect sense.


(the last day: the last hour)

The night sky, deep in its silent purpose, blanketed the earth she stood on. She'd reached it, the blank circle of bare ground. The tree limbs were bent back impossibly, held at angles by something unseen. The peeled-back forest, with the trees ripped away to leave a huge empty circle of sky. It loomed above her, huge and empty and waiting for the glossy black creature to fill it.

Caught with her face tilted up, she was unable to blink while fake tears of rain spilled out of her open eyes. Forever open. Neck bent back at an impossible angle, held there so her open eyes were staring straight up at the empty sky. Only vaguely aware of the cuts and deep slashes on her arms and legs where the barbed wire had pierced. Like she was seeing them on someone else's body and feeling hazy pain in sympathy. Sound, sight, taste, and touch - all were separate from her. No need for them now.

Her thoughts had slowed, random strings of words spinning through her mind without connecting End of nothing * start of nothing * coming back * coming next * never leaving * always going * never feeling * always hurting She willed her eyes to blink, knowing they would not.

Doggett's screams lashed at the murky air between her and a reality that no longer existed. He still didn't understand. She would die and he would be empty and he'd never understand. Of that she was sure Finally now, she had certainty, in this absence of anything else.

"Step away from her! Scully, get away from him!"

He was screaming for her, of course. He didn't understand. None of this was about her. If she could stay here just a little while longer, she could save everything. Two lives in one body for everything; all she had to possibly offer for the rest of the world.

"I said step away! I'll shoot!"

The light should have been blinding, but her vision was a wash of rippled edges. The light made the edges glow. The back of her neck tingled, a sharp hum of heat just under the skin. Sensation pulsed there in time with the light, rise and fall of warmth like she was being pulled upward. Coming next * coming back * never going. Sharp rips of light, solid in bursts of instant moments then gone. On their way to somewhere. On their way to what comes next. Where she was headed.

"Get the hell away from her!" Nothing worth screaming over. Just a touch on her wrist It didn't hurt. "You son of a bitch, I'll kill you! Don't touch her!" He didn't understand. Nothing in touch, not anymore. No point to any of it. Just what happens next, this touch on her wrist leading to the next moment, this moment she'd been headed towards all along. The light rippled, her eyes filled with rain and seeing only emptiness. She didn't need to see. She knew.

They had to be together. There was no other way for it to end.

Thoughts leaked in through, trickled into her like the rain that filled her open eyes. Can't really be him, she thought. Mulder wasn't next to her, she only wanted to believe that Mulder was dead. He couldn't visit her in her dreams and still be alive, both possibilities couldn't be true.

It should have hurt. His hand on her wrist, reaching through layers of skin and muscle and bone. Pinning her down like the dead sparrow. Down to the end. That was where she was headed. It made perfect sense. They were together, just like he'd told her. It could end now.

Doggett's scream cut the air, solid as crystal. Sharp metal stabbed at her chest, her body finally folded in on itself and she fell to the muddy ground with his hand still on her wrist. Her head stayed tilted towards the sky, eyes open and crying fake tears. She saw it, saw his face with its features rolling and twisting, Mulder's face twisting in the light. And she knew it was wrong, all wrong.

It wasn't supposed to be him; it was supposed to be a silent army pouring down from the sky. Like the rain, pouring down like the rain. He'd shown her that, he'd told her how it would happen in her dreams, and she'd believed that it was him. A chip in the back of her neck and still she hadn't doubted that it was really him.

She'd been wrong. It was about her It was only about her. It was a clean-up project, and they'd used Mulder's face. She was the last one and they wanted her gone. Nothing saved, nothing ever in danger except for herself and her child. All of the things she was willing to sacrifice - all of these were nothing.

She wasn't breathing anymore. Dead air clogged her throat and she would have coughed if she could.

She heard Doggett scream. He would have to start over.


"Land, sea, air, were all there But not to be trodden, or swum in. Air was simply darkness. Everything fluid or vapour, form formless. Each thing hostile To every other thing..." -Ovid's Metamorphoses


Author's Notes

For wen, a thank you for almost two years of friendship (and all those improvs I never wrote) For Caz, a thank you for the inspiration And for Yes Virginia, a thank you for everything.

Beta thanks - a *lot* of people helped with this story. EpurSeMouve endured multiple revisions, and several AIM!beta sessions in which the plot of this thing evolved JET contributed major plot help and multi-beta Magdeleine and Caz also put up with multiple drafts M. Sebasky beta'd draft #1 and said to keep going Syntax6 and Cofax let me put them through the does-this-make-sense test Token saw it when it was halfway written and said it was worth finishing Everyone put up with my whining I can't thank any of you enough.

Feedback greatly appreciated at luperkal@grapefruithead.com. If you're feeling the need to flame, I apologize in advance. ::dons fireman's helmet::

http://grapefruithead.com/luperkal

 

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