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The Ways The World Ends

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As white as milk,
And not milk;

Her face was white as milk, there on the asphalt. She'd been pale in life; dead, her skin had blue undertones to it. White as skim milk instead of cream, perhaps, and deathly white against the coarse black of the road.

Her hair was nothing special -- medium brown that she'd streaked with blond and red at some point, but that had been more than a month ago and the roots had grown in and the color had faded out. It didn't matter anymore. She was very, very dead there on the pavement.

White as snow, brown as baked earth, black as tar where blood had caked around the remains of her neck and chest. The claws had taken out her throat, leaving veins so far open they'd collapsed in hydrostatic shock, shutting off oxygen to the brain. Her heart had probably stopped at that point.

White as snow, brown as earth, black as tar, yellow as honeycomb where the fatty layer under the cheek lay exposed. She lay there, sprawled loose as a discarded puppet, legs slightly spread by gravity and the inner workings of tendons and bones, her arms flung wide by impact. Her head lolled back because her neck was largely gone. Veins were gone, and tendons, flesh and muscle, leaving an exposed windpipe and the vertebrae showing through yellow-white below that.

Her eyes were pale and nearly colorless: now blue, now grey, now green, depending on the angle of the light, and the eyelashes were thin, untouched by mascara.

Something here was very, very wrong, and Mulder didn't simply mean the violent death in front of him, or the anonymous call that had sent him to mile marker 174 on Highway 67. He hadn't called the police yet for several reasons. No cell phone signal out here was one. An inability to explain this death, or his discovery of it, was another one. He was a very new FBI agent, but he wasn't a complete fool.

Mulder stared at the woman, at the scene, at the woman again... and found himself back-peddling away from her, gun coming out of its holster into his hand as his mind finally found the incongruity.

The air was too clean. No reek of decaying blood, of the tallow smell of fat, of the musk of predators circling for their dinner. No tooth marks on the body, no insects crawling out to explore the small pools of drying blood, no serum separating from the plasma.... He snarled something incoherent, even to himself, and kept backing away.

Another few seconds would have saved the situation; might have saved the world. Another few moments to catch his breath, to regain his footing both mental and otherwise. Instead the corpse sat up and Mulder's hand tightened on the trigger.

Bubbling green liquid flowed out of the chest as the woman's features flowed into those of a man. Its words rasped out as the green fumes seared a very permanent rasp into Mulder's lungs where he stood downwind. Within moments he couldn't breathe, lungs raw from fumes and throat swelling in reaction to the corrosives. He fell before he could reach the emergency kit in the trunk, died well before the engine finished cooling.

The state troopers found him the next day. The FBI identified him that night. The funeral was later that week. His parents didn't live long past the death of their only remaining child, for that matter.

In later years, when the aliens invaded, Samantha Mulder's disappearance had long ago been closed pending new leads. No one from the FBI opposed the aliens, or disrupted laboratories by showing up unexpectedly. No one pushed odd theories forward to account for discrepancies, and Alex Krycek didn't have to leave the Bureau under a cloud.

For that matter, in later years, corpses along the roads became too common to merit comment or description.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As green as grass,
And not grass;


The rain came down in torrents, in gutter-clearing drenches that seemed one solid mass, in sheets billowed by the wind until they looked like linen shaken over a mattress, and painted the streets in ripples and waves. Grey, and grey, and more grey, over grass that had been green a week ago, and might be again, given sunlight. Water poured down off the edges of roofs in solid sheets, chuckled out of drainpipes with the deep note of overfull pipes, arced from the mouths of gargoyles that had sprayed like fountains for days.

The music stations had given up on playing "The Sky Is Crying," and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". Now the songs were "I Can't Stand The Rain" and "Who'll Stop The Rain?" and "Let The Sun Shine." Three days of that had driven Krycek to BBC 4.

He was becoming perversely fond of "The Archers."

The nurse came in again, carefully ignoring Krycek's presence in the comfortable wing-backed chair, and checked her patient's pulse, his blood pressure, his color, the pupils' reactions to light, and updated the chart. Only when she went to trade out the nearly empty bag of glucose solution did she acknowledge Krycek's existence, holding the new bag out to him.

He stood up, careful to make the motion as flowing and dangerous as it had been each day before. The device in his hand was the size of a mouse-trap, and he used it to catch other rats. This time the reading was clear: water, sugar, some salt. Nothing that worried him, or would worry the rebels. He nodded to her and handed the IV bag back to be hooked in, watching as she did to make sure that no additional tampering took place in the transfer.

The sooner the rebels got one of the shifter/healers to the English gentleman, the better. They desperately needed the information currently locked away inside his mind; until he came out of the coma, they had weapons they couldn't find, agents they couldn't tap, and defenses they couldn't activate. Keeping this man alive and intact until one of the (requested, and requested, and requested again) aliens got there was urgently necessary.

Set a thief to catch a thief. Set an assassin to prevent an assassination. Alex Krycek had been on duty for a week now, with only catnaps to keep him going, and coffee that he carefully checked for poisons, using the same sensor the aliens had given him. Black coffee looked wrong, but he needed the caffeine, and he had the chemical compounds memorized. Food was simply too complex; he was eating army rations he'd brought in. Water was easy enough; if the trace chemicals changed, he purified rainwater and took his chances.

The weathermen were calling this 'the storm of the century,' though, and it made Krycek wonder if the aliens were controlling the weather. The downpour over Ireland and England seemed to have settled down to stay; another one hovered over the southeastern coast of the United States, pouring from Cape Canaveral to Washington, D.C. without letup. From the reports on the radio, other centralized storms had set up and the timing, to put it mildly, was suspicious.

Come to that, Krycek wasn't willing to bet the Englishman hadn't been poisoned. The timing of his stroke was also fortuitous.

He checked the window again, frowning. The rain showed no sign of letting up, damn it. Roads were washing out, and railway tracks.... The world wasn't going to end in fire or ice; it was going to wash away and he was about ready to look for some fool in a five hundred foot long ark.

He had turned away to check the monitor again when the flash came, visible even through the pouring rain. The power went out immediately. Seconds passed and still the thunder didn't arrive.

Krycek checked his watch and realized it wasn't working; checked his poison detector and realized it wasn't working either. He left the shunt in, but took the IV off and bundled it up faster than the nurse would have approved. Bags of glucose/saline went into a backpack, along with antibiotics, and he strapped that on before setting up a wheelchair.

He was going to have to get the Englishman out, find a safer house, and radioactivity counteragents... but he couldn't stay here. There'd be ways to contact the rebels or there wouldn't, but this was no longer a safe location.

The storm had arrived; time to run ahead of it. It was that or drown. What the hell, he was only playing for the world. Might as well bet it all. Everyone else already had.

# # #

The second round of nukes took out the manor while he was turning the key in the ignition.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As red as blood,
And not blood;

Her hair had been red before she darkened it with henna. For that matter, her face had been pale before she hid on a commune and spent the last half of her pregnancy collecting eggs and shelling peas on a porch, chasing goats out of the vegetable garden and patching up cuts and scrapes for twenty children. She's spent less and less time sitting outside as winter rolled on, although the fall tan's not gone yet. So, brown, and tan, and within that tan her eyes startle her every morning with their more vivid shade of blue.

So many ways Scully doesn't recognize herself now... they call her Donna here, not Dana. Donna Sullivan, with her brown hair and brown skin who worked part-time for a coroner's office and left when she got pregnant because the chemicals were bad for her baby. Donna, who can be counted on to keep calm and keep her lunch down when they find a squirrel in the rain barrel or when Manny lays his leg open to the bone trying to reap the hay with a scythe. Donna who doesn't talk about the father of her baby, and doesn't join into the kitchen discussions, or the late night chats her two cabin-mates hold. Donna who pulls her share and a bit but gives no explanation of why she's there other than saying she wants someplace healthy to have her baby.

Dana Scully, who emptied her bank accounts in Maryland and Virginia, who hunted a commune through the internet access at libraries across North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee, and settled in Missouri after pushing her car into the Mississippi River -- Dana Scully is gone. For now, anyway. Maybe permanently.

She can't seem to think ahead farther than the baby just now. The baby who has, to her knowledge, no father. Dana certainly isn't a virgin, but there's no way any of her old lovers had anything to do with this child -- it's been too long since she's had sex. She doesn't believe it's an immaculate conception, because she's simply not worthy (not seeing an angel doesn't enter into it although it would also do for a negative proof), and it surely isn't a virgin birth... but her faith won't let that niggling wonder escape for more than a few days at a time. It's annoying, really.

She was a med student, and then an FBI agent, and now she's a refugee because she saw the same five watchers too often over the first trimester. She doesn't think they were wise men. She ran because of them, and because she doesn't trust many of the other agents. The men were too condescending or too open-minded; the women almost as bad, in different ways. Mostly, however, she didn't like how easily the tall brunette watcher followed her into FBI Headquarters. She turned in her resignation that evening, after clearing what few belongings she wanted to keep into an old department store bag and dumping everything else into the basement incinerator.

Mulder might have been able to track her -- she learned quite a few things about eluding surveillance from him -- but she'd helped commit him to an asylum and he'd died there in five point restraints. Alive and furious that night; a hollowed-out husk by morning, with the same small puncture wounds he'd wanted her to check for on the last victim. He'd tried to assault a man in front of Skinner, but Scully still winces over the commitment, and her involvement. Crying for his death... that she hasn't done yet. She wonders if she can't, sometimes; others, she suspects she'd never stop if she started.

She hasn't seen the Smoker since Mulder died, has barely talked to Skinner... but then her period didn't show, and the pregnancy test came up positive, and stalkers found her. So she ran. Taking care of herself -- protecting her child -- has taken all of her energy since then. She can't seem to sort out what she thinks of Mulder's death, how much guilt she does or doesn't bear, right now. What Skinner must think, or her mother, doesn't bear consideration either. She has a child to protect, or she wouldn't be hiding in the middle of a commune of friendly, 'back to the earth,' conservationist, unreconstructed hippies.

They're good to her, letting her take the jobs that won't leave her back any more sore at the end of the day than need be, and three of them give very good back- and foot-rubs. Donna/Dana is very grateful for the hiding place, and the people around her to remind her that she's human -- and only human -- and to reassure her that she won't be alone when she gives birth. But there's something about all this that's so right it must be wrong. She's Catholic; she's pregnant without a father for or of her child; and the baby is due in late December, as far as she can tell. Admittedly, first babies are never on time, from all the stories she heard in the office, but still... it disturbs her.

She's been cleaning an unused corner of the old stables for the past few weeks, though, and getting more than a few amused comments about 'nesting.' It has better caulking than her cabin, and what little of the north wind comes through only clears the smell of hay out of the air. Still and all, though, it was a stable, and they've been meaning to turn it into quarters for the next married couple -- or her and her baby -- and well... she'd like to be prepared. Just in case.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As black as soot,
And not soot.


The sky lay along the ground, or the ground had stolen a cloud and refused to return it. Wisps of moisture trailed behind Skinner as he strode into the wind-swept clearing on the Mall, but the fog enveloped him again as soon as he'd crossed between the Hirshhorn and the Air and Space Museum.

It was the kind of day that soaked you to the skin within minutes despite a lack of falling precipitation, and left you lost on streets you knew full well in sunnier moments. Steps around Skinner echoed oddly, near and far simultaneously, and the sky hadn't darkened or lightened since the ostensible sunrise. It was a dark, cold, damp day, and he didn't want to be out here consulting with a museum curator who'd just rather deal with someone he knew. No matter how much Skinner's schedule was strained this week, though, arguing with the Smithsonian wasn't something Skinner could do, especially when it was technically a late lunch with a fellow board-member.

The sudden appearance of Alex Krycek didn't make the morning any better. Skinner physically ran into him... and bounced off. In dress shoes, keeping his balance on the slick pavement was impossible. He went completely off the ground with his arms windmilling for balance before he landed on his hip with an impact that foreboded old age and drove home 'I've fallen and I can't get up.'

Krycek stood there and watched him for a long moment, head tilted to the side at a curious, nearly painful-looking angle. His whole posture was relaxed: one leg forward, hands open on his thighs, shoulders down and loose, face oddly expressionless. He advanced on Skinner with three fast but unhurried steps and knelt on his bottom-most arm, folding his upper arm in against his chest.

Skinner had just time to see the black swirls across Krycek's eyes before the man's mouth came down over his. He tried to fight and only succeeded in flaring his nostrils further open for the slick mass that choked the breath out of him and rolled over h--

# # #

Krycek lay on the pavement, soaked to the skin through denim and silk, bundled in leather that reeked of nothing terrestrial, and shivered, scrubbing the back of his arm across his mouth. The leather was already black, nothing showed on it, but Krycek shuddered again and planned to throw the coat away as soon as he could steal another one.

He wanted to stand up. He wanted to get well away from what was going to be a complete disaster. He wanted to get away before the Oil/Skinner thought to turn around and shoot him. Above all, he wanted to get off the concrete and get warm. He wanted something hot and not black to drink -- he might never be able to drink coffee again -- and he wanted to run.

He was shivering too hard, and there was... his mind shied from it, then he made himself think the word... Oil caking his eyelashes and the lobes of his ears, drying down his chin and throat. He was filthy, had no idea when he'd last had food or water (too long from the cotton-dryness of his mouth and the watery feel of his muscles), or if he'd had money... and Washington, D.C. was going to be completely closed down by midnight. So was New York City, probably, and Philadelphia, and every other airport on the East Coast.

The Oil liked him, maybe. Maybe. He didn't know about food or water for himself, but he knew that the Oil had taken information from him, as easily as he'd have rifled a desk or computer, and it had left him a tidbit.

The leaders from the G-8 nations were meeting in Washington for the next week. The Secretary-General of the UN was having dinner with them tonight. And somewhere between the polite greetings and the final sips of coffee and nibbles dessert, between the rounds of 'How do you do?' and 'Good night,' the largest nations in the world, and the main peacekeeping force in the world, were about to lose their leaders.

Krycek couldn't even stand up. He couldn't get past the Secret Service into the White House tour, much less into the kitchen, not in this shape. He didn't dare try. All he could do was try to salvage some of this with the Rebels. If he could get them to talk to him, after Oil had been rifling his memory, and his cells.

After he got out of Washington, D.C. After he remembered how to stand up.

He wasn't sure it was going to be in time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


Skinner just stared at them, trying not to use a few words he'd picked up from drill sergeants on Paris Island and hardened criminals who thought that profanity would do instead of an alibi.

Mulder was grinning at him, a large glass of iced tea by his hand. Scully kept trying to repress a smile behind her own mug of coffee. Frohike, Langly, and Byers were sitting there swilling -- well, sipping in Byers' case, but he was also the only one of the three who wasn't drinking alcohol in a federal office -- from bottles: whisky, beer, and root beer.

"I don't believe it," Skinner said flatly. "I mean, I'd believe the end of the world--"

"--and it's clearly the end of the world if we saved the planet?" Langly snorted, slugged more of his beer, and pushed his hair out of his face with the back of his hand. "Bite me."

"Don't," Mulder advised. "They bite back. And you'd need shots afterward."

"The aliens--"

"--that you don't admit exist?" Frohike mentioned and swigged from his whisky.

"Here," Skinner growled and passed him a glass. "I can't do a damn bit of good locked up in a white jacket. Fine. The things I don't admit are real are gone?"

Byers sipped his root beer and smiled. "They are."

"How?"

"We can't tell you how--"

Frohike cut over Byers to point out, "--because then we'd have to kill you--"

"Frohike, please. But we can tell you what worked, Assistant Director."

"Skinner. If you're right, I'm retiring."

"It won't be the same without you," Langly said sarcastically. "Anyway, we just did what no one else had--"

"Langly. Please quit interrupting." Byers was getting frustrated and Mulder grinned at him sympathetically and handed over another root beer.

"I don't care who tells me," Skinner growled, "and I don't even care how because I'm sure I'd hear things I'd have to ignore or charge you for, just tell me what kills the bastards!"

"Absinthe," Byers said quietly. "To be more precise, wormwood."

"We figured it killed poets; it had to be able to get rid of Oil," Frohike said sarcastically.

"Well, and it was a vermifuge, and they were vermin," Langly added.

"That's worms, Langly," Byers murmured.

"My way sounds better," Langly argued.

Skinner stuck to the point. "You poisoned the aliens with wormwood?"

Scully nodded. "They did."

Frohike snorted. "It was that or bombard them with hours on end of that purple dinosaur, and clearly that hasn't worked yet...."

"It's poisonous to humans, too, isn't it?" Skinner sat down abruptly, and Frohike passed a filled glass over to him. Skinner drank it without comment. "Wormwood?"

"It worked." Langly said it flatly, not bothering with sarcasm. "Haven't you noticed the way government leaders are vanishing everywhere?"

"You're serious." Skinner stared at them. "It didn't come down to the FBI, or MI-5, or..."

"It came down to the geeks," Frohike said cheerfully. "What did you expect?"

"To the geeks," Scully said, raising her glass and smiling now.

Mulder raised his glass looked around and toasted them all. "To the end of the world, as we knew it." He grinned at Skinner and said, "And for the record: you can't fire me. I quit."

Scully laughed. "No, no, no, Mulder -- I quit."

Skinner roared with laughter. "Hell, I want the pleasure of filing your resignations right before I quit."

Frohike watched them argue over who got to resign when, and in what order, and he ignored them to tilt his bottle back up. "I just want another drink."

Byers and Langly just grinned at him and clinked bottles again. They intended to be smug for weeks, maybe years.

They were entitled.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

 

Comments, Commentary, and Miscellanea:


Written for the Nursery Rhyme X-Files Lyric Wheel. Rhymes kindly provided by Marcia Elena, and I used five of the six she sent. The lines of verse at the top of the final section are, of course, from T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men. But I have to admit -- I didn't know until I wrote this that I'd always wanted to destroy the world a few times.

Let's see, in rough order: Yes, if you start losing too much blood out of major veins, they will simply shut down, or so an EMT friend once told me.

I make no comment on Krycek liking "The Archers." If you disagree, take it up with him and please invite me to come and watch. The electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear bomb would most certainly arrive well before the winds and rubble and noise, if you weren't near the impact point (yeah, I know, duh!); they'd also take out only the electronic devices which were turned on. A car battery, on the other hand, should still start up.

Mulder being put into five-point restraints is canon; in the episode ("Folie A Deux"), Skinner showed up before Mulder could be drained dry by the creature. Not here. Um. And I'm afraid I couldn't resist having the image of Scully having her child around Christmas in a stable. Sorry.

A woman in high heels managed to lift Krycek by the throat while possessed by the Oil; I have no trouble believing Krycek, while also possessed, could be sufficiently immobile to bounce Skinner back that way. Poisoning the G-8 conference was suggested by Alyss and my husband, and I thank them both for the inspiration. But I had no trouble believing that the Oil doesn't pay enough attention to feeding/watering their rides. What joyrider fills up the tank? (Well, actually, the idiots who stole my car a few years back, but other than that.)

Absinthe was in fact made with wormwood, which is (in large enough or frequent enough doses) poisonous. Why a vermifuge would kill Oil I don't know, but it seems reasonable at the moment. And well, I wanted a different kind of 'end of the world.' I'm not sure it works as well as I'd have liked, but I was tired. Sorry, folks.

The section headings are from the first rhyme/riddle:

As white as milk,
And not milk;
As green as grass,
And not grass;
As red as blood,
And not blood;
As black as soot,
And not soot.

Thanks to Malthus, I now know that this is a Gaelic riddle, and that the answer is blackberries. White flowers to green buds to red (unripe berries) to black. Thanks!

The first section, 'As white as milk,' is from this rhyme:

One for the mouse,
One for the crow,
One to rot,
One to grow.

The section for 'As green as grass,' came from this:

It's raining, it's pouring;
The old man is snoring.
Bumped his head
And he went to bed
And he couldn't get up in the morning.

Rain, rain, go away;
Come again another day;
Little Johnny wants to play.

The section for 'As red as blood' came from these:

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then,
Poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing.

Last and hopefully not least, 'As black as soot' was based on this:

One misty, moisty morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man
Clothed all in leather.
He began to compliment,
And I began to grin,
How do you do?
And how do you do?
And how do you do, again?