Title: Of The Dust
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Richard, Ben, Alex
Spoilers: implied aspects of episodes through S4
Prompt: "time" at lostfichallenge
Disclaimer: Not mine; just like playing with them.
Notes: My first LOST fic in freaking ever. All feedback welcome.

Teaser: Not everything changes.

-

And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust; and thy voice shall be as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.
- Isaiah 29:4

-

He's the first child born after they settle there.

As soon as he's walking, he spends his spare time exploring, driven by a pull inside.

When he hears the murmurs, he listens to the warning and goes back to the group.

He's an obedient child.

-

They realize slowly that the island wants sacrifices to praise what it gives them, demands bodies of flesh and bone instead of rock and dirt for payment, masks to wear and voices to speak with that carry more strength than whispers.

He's sure that he understands that when he chooses to offer himself to honor the island (when he believes he's making the choice) but the people are killed anyway. He doesn't know for sure what happens after that, remembers that time as fragments, shattered pottery and burnt flesh and then heavy growth that swallows him, hides him and comforts him with whispers that were screams moments before.

-

It occurs to him only slowly that there were sounds around them all before voices he recognized joined them.

He had always known it, been aware of it, but only now does the knowledge hold significance.

But the world is dark through his grief and he doesn't try to understand.

-

Yet.

-

There had been places forbidden to go once, places where the whispers rose to a fevered pitch in warning.

Voices now a comfort instead of a terror, he cautiously begins to trace those areas, slowly at first then more calmly.

There are places where the ground is gray, where the light that falls against the grass looks wrong and when he moves deeper, he finds rooms of stone, dips in rock where moss should grow but never does.

He never tires now, hears nothing but echoes of what came before, imprints that can't be erased.

-

When he sees footsteps in the grass, he decides he's gone mad.

Then he sees movement, hears a quick breath and watches legs carry a body through the trees, and knows he isn't.

At least not more than he was when the world left him behind.

-

He's nothing special, one of a small handful.

Each one is different but all tell the same stories, what they left behind when their world burned down to gray.

They all have names for the voices that they remember.

-

Much later on, as he watches new bodies move onto the island to start new lives, he does understand.

The new ones come and die and the sacrifices are left behind, bodies that remember voices that are now whispers.

They are sacrifices for the island, not in honor of it.

It doesn't just want them.

It needs them.

-

With understanding, comes acceptance.

-

It always ends the same way.

In the distance, there's screaming but they've stopped listening.

Because he understands it now in instinct if not definition and he's explained it to them.

When another one finds them, he brings voices of his own to join the din.

-

The only ones who know his name are the ones who speak to him in the night, near silent words that repeat broken promises like songs in the dark, patterns of sound that bring remembrance that aches a little less each night.

He stops minding, loses interest in using it anyway, doesn't need it anymore.

Besides, names among his people were meant for those who belonged to them and he no longer does.

Just as well, he thinks without words and listens to the sounds.

-

The shape is massive, dark in the night, and he watches from the shadows, listens to shouts inside.

But when the first strangers begin to explore, they leave others behind, metal sounding against metal as he recoils, recognizes the practice through stories told through his own people and now through the others he is surrounded by. Metal is used now instead of rope, and they wait until the others are gone away, torches vanishing in the distance, before they leave the shadows and creep onto the shape.

But there are only bodies left, noises in the shadows when he reaches out to touch a body.

Someone whispers into his ear, a voice he knows but can't recognize, and he jumps, jerks back.

For the first time, he makes the decision consciously, grabs them and pulls them away, heart moving hard inside.

On the island, the strangers ignore the warnings and disturb the world.

-

The man stands at the edge of his camp and stares at him through the distance.

None of the others seem to see him as he follows them, are too busy working, but this man does.

He knows what he is, remembers this, but still—

As he watches, the man tilts his head as if listening, shifting slightly, mouth twisting.

Staring right at him, jerking his chin, the man mouths something, grins like a wild dog.

Then he turns and heads back to his tent.

-

Richard, the man calls him before he leaves, reaching out to curl fingers into his shoulder, twist them deep like talons.

This isn't possible, this man finding him, but the man has him cornered, grinning sideways, head tilted.

Things change, Richard, and he steps back, rolling his neck on his shoulders.

And he turns and walks away, leaves the island as it trembles quietly in fury.

-

Humor, amusement, speaking even when he doesn't have to—

Things he didn't need before (after he chose, no, was chosen).

He remembers them with the new name, thinks more clearly because he remembers curiosity.

Not the wariness he slid into after so many years, but interest, the ability to question.

It brings grief, sadness, losses that he had understood but never fully absorbed.

He'd had sons, a wife— they were gone, had been gone for lifetimes.

He's one of the voices even as he isn't, understands the other voice now.

He's gone but he's here.

Richard waits, and listens to his voice warn him in the dark.

-

There are new voices that haven't spoken yet, and he memorizes them, considers as he waits and keeps the others around him steady.

-

New ones finally come, just as he knew they would, heard the echo.

He doesn't scare; he reacts and then acts as things begin to change.

There will always be new ones.

-

They're amusing, disturbing, the way they attach words to things that existed before the words were created for them.

They come up with theories and speculations, twist layers of the world into a form that they can understand in their own language, generate controlled experiments that can't be controlled, manipulations that were never allowed before.

The island trembles in irritation, lines tangled into new knots that shouldn't be possible.

But Richard's always been more patient than the island— it's why it lets him lead.

-

There's an incident—

Beneath him, the island is silent, the world bending into a forced stillness.

When it ends, the knots have become chains and desperation that isn't his burns away what's left of his apathy.

-

Some of them abandon their own to join them.

The new ones are not like them.

But they hear the sounds that matter, react as they slip past a fence leaving their shoes behind, come searching for the "hostiles" (the way they use the word leaves him laughing every time he hears it) with open eyes and a driving curiosity. They're not like him, not in the way that he's beginning to think matters, but they're prepared to die, prepared to sacrifice.

Things are changing.

-

The boy inside the fence stares at the growth and sees deeper than the rest, watches the world and sees the design even as he doesn't understand it. He hears things in the distance, murmurs that he carried here like a weight across his back, watches Richard and his people prowl the edges of the new world and search for the weak link.

He's not like the special ones.

But he's important and patience is Richard's strength.

-

Ben doesn't understand what he is but he understands Richard, puts the pieces together until he has a vague idea.

Trusts him, but never shows his throat.

It's just as well because while Richard has patience, Ben adapts, survives, understands how to keep the island safe.

Ben leads and they follow, glancing to see if Richard agrees with each decision.

He does.

Ben is better at this part than he is and besides, Richard's already made his sacrifices.

-

He's gone for long months, moving the pieces in the game that Ben is a master in.

(He wonders if the man still grins like a wild dog.)

He comes back one time to find Ben holding a little girl in his arms with a smile on his face that Richard's never seen before, letting her bounce in his lap with a grin, catching her when she staggers and pressing a tender kiss to her crown, steadying her as she pushes to her feet again, keeps bouncing.

Richard stares at her, an existence started somewhere else but given life on the island.

And he swallows and he turns away, unsettled.

Not everything has changed.

He goes back to his own work, restless.

-

Before the plane crashes, he finds her squinting up at polished stone, eyes narrowed and mouth quirked.

She stares back at him calmly when she notices him, chin jutting out in a familiar look of determination.

"You're not allowed out here without somebody with you, Alex." He glances at stone, reaches out and presses fingertips against it, hears a murmur under the silence that she can't, a language only he understands even if she could hear it. "Your father won't be amused."

"You're here."

For a long heartbeat, he stares at her, takes her in, a lanky girl born on the island, a girl that's explored the island since she was old enough to walk. He remembers the end of his world as it bled into the island, thinks of watching her dart through the trees, doe eyes and an easy speed, tranquility on her face that will one day be steadiness.

Not everything changes.

And he shows her the way to move through the deeper parts of the island without disturbing it.