AN: This story was originally written for the Day After Tomorrow Crossover Ficathon in 2004. When I was writing this there was still a lot of speculation about what Rambaldi's endgame would look like, and this story reflects that.
"So," she said, staring out at demolished earth in front of them, "heads this is my fault." She pulled a quarter out of her pocket, and smirked at the small, raised face on its bright surface. "Worthless now, of course," she continued smoothly, and flipped the coin.
It fell to the bright marble floor beneath their feet. Heads.
"The fates have spoken," she sighed. "It always comes back to me, sooner or later."
He ignored her patter, choosing instead to calculate the numbers, as he had been doing for the past few hours. Each round brought about greater odds and smaller totals. He suspected that the next quake would be the one to pull them into the earth, or perhaps the one after that.
The world was split before them. In other places there were blizzards, hurricanes, floods- or so he had heard before all connection to the outside world was lost. Here, earthquakes. In the past hour alone he had watched entire buildings disappear before his eyes, all swallowed by the greedy maw that was humankind's mother.
The next, he knew, would bring them back into her arms.
Irina paced behind him, footsteps echoing off the stone, amidst the dust and wreckage that testified to the immense strain the building was under. Clearly, if they somehow managed to survive the next round of quakes, the building would not.
"You're overdressed," he commented, his first words to her in over an hour.
She raised a brow and tugged off her long gloves. They were streaked with dirt, much like the rest of her, and her hair had long ago escaped the hold of its pins to tumble around her shoulders.
"I was set for a night at the opera, Jack, not the end of the world," she replied coolly, tossing the gloves to the floor.
She smoothed her hands over the fabric covering her hips, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that her dress was no longer as respectable as it had been a few hours ago. He, in standard CIA black, had fared better. Unlike hers, his outfit did not possess long lengths of delicate fabric, ready to tear at any instant.
"You look like you were, though," she noted with a wry smile. "Who gave you the information? Rambaldi?"
He shook his head minutely.
[The machine had been huge when completed, and it emitted an inconsistent, pearlescent light. 'As the phoenix rises from the ashes,' Sloane had raved, 'so also does the one, the one who is called, and the machine shall offer the one a rebirth, and an end.']
Rambaldi had ceased to be the source of all problems years ago. Now, nature was the player set against them, and for many the turning of the tide was completely unexpected- and undeserved, they said.
Irina paused beside him; her face barely inches from his. "She's gone," she said, in a facts-are-facts kind of tone. "She was with Elena in Tokyo."
Underwater now, of course.
From this distance he can better see the white abundantly threaded through her hair, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She's grown old, he suddenly recognizes, but if his mirror could be believed, so had he.
['I'm going,' she had said, young and vibrant before them, and unreachable. 'It is what I was born to do, and I will finish this.'
He tried to protest, they both did. She hadn't been born to be anyone's chosen savior; she had been born to be their daughter. Children were created to be loved, and to care for their parents in turn.
'But I am,' she replied gently. 'This is me, taking care of you. Both of you.']
He realized later that for Sydney, being the Chosen One and being their daughter had, in truth, been one and the same.
The earth danced again beneath their feet, and the already cracked floor broke into a deep crevasse. They stood together on one side, silently staring into the breach of earth before them.
"I never feared a bullet," she said nonchalantly, sliding her fingers into his hand. "I always feared being buried alive."
[She leapt into the light, which at contact contracted briefly, and then exploded over all who were in the room, flaring a brilliant, opaque white. He could barely make out Irina beside him, but he could hear her groan as she dropped to the floor. Like labor, she told him later, only 'greater than I had remembered it, yet still familiar.'
The light, like the snap of a rubber band, rushed back to the machine almost as quickly as it had left it. There was a moment when time and space seemed interchangeable and the earth shook beneath them, and then, there was nothing but what had been before.]
"The fates laugh," he replied curtly as they backed away amidst further tremors. The great quake, when it came, would leave no time for further discussion, and nowhere to go but down.
She laughed dryly, trying to keep her balance in the heels she still wore. "I don't suppose you'd offer up one last kiss for the road?"
They exchanged a measuring glance, and slowly Irina relinquished her grip on his hand. They took a step apart, and both stumbled as a bigger tremor rolled beneath their feet, the floor buckling beneath them. A substantial part of the ceiling crashed to the ground on the far end of the room, raising clouds of dust and sending shrapnel their way.
He smiled unexpectedly, though neither had fared well in the sudden bombardment. "You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever known, Irina."
She dragged her fingers across her face, and they came away a brilliant scarlet. "Am I?" she asked, and the floor dropped.
[A cry split the air, and Irina, her face white and pinched, crawled into the bare bones of the now useless machine. A baby lay amidst a pile of ashes, and he noticed that blood had soaked through Irina's clothing to streak the floor. She plucked the squalling child from amidst the ashes, and cradled it against her chest.
'Sydney, Sydney,' she wept, her tears dropping onto the infant's face.
A rebirth, he remembered.
And an end, yet to be seen.]