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Viewing Single Post From: V4 Epilogue: Peace Accords
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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
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July 2-3, 2008

All too soon after Kimberly's return home, she'd found herself in the car, speeding towards Saint Joseph's Hospital. She'd protested, had said she was fine, she'd been treated already, she hadn't died in the past month so clearly there was no big rush, but it hadn't convinced her grandfather. What had followed was a litany of tests and prodding and examinations in the emergency room. She'd at least managed to convince her grandfather to go home and get some rest in case she needed a ride in the early morning, though it had taken about an hour to get him to see the logic there. Maybe she hadn't been arguing very well. After so long away from her family, the last thing she wanted was to be separated from them again, but her grandfather wasn't exactly a young man, even if he was far from venerable.

Of course, while Kimberly had spent a good while being checked out, it had turned out she'd been pretty spot on in her assessment. The doctors on call had told her she was pretty much as fine as one could be about a month after getting shot and starved. She was the object of general interest for a time, as the end results were of the game had turned up online around the same time as she'd turned up in the hospital, but the staff managed to keep her presence from leaking to the media. Kimberly knew that she would have to deal with the press sooner or later. She also knew that the government would almost certainly want to talk to her at length. A big advantage to being dropped off before things had entirely been revealed, however, was that nobody had their shit together enough to give her any trouble yet.

Before long, Kimberly had found herself dozing off in an examination room. It was probably technically morning now. It was hard to say. Her sense of time was still completely broken. She heard a few people talking outside, chatting idly with each other. Nurses, maybe, or orderlies. It didn't really matter.

What did matter was what they were saying. They were talking about her, about how they'd heard she'd been hurt in that awful game. That didn't matter. They were saying how tragic it was, though, how it hurt so many people, like the poor girl down the hall who'd lost her brother.

That was enough to get Kimberly's attention. She waited until the coast was clear, then slipped out of the room and made her way along the corridors, reading the names outside the doors. While she was trying to be a bit sneaky, she was dressed in clean clothes from home, so she didn't stand out too badly. Still, she was pretty sure visitors weren't allowed here, at least at this time of day. Getting caught would be pretty awkward to explain. It would probably win her some time getting psychiatric help.

She was lucky. A name outside one of the doors stood out early into the expedition, and well enough for her to feel fairly certain she'd gotten it right: Natalie LeMonde.

Kimberly hadn't known Nick particularly closely, but she had known him. It seemed hard not to. He was friendly, helpful, kind. She couldn't remember what had happened to him on the island. The announcements and the deaths she had not personally witnessed seemed like another lifetime now. All she knew was that he hadn't been one of the lucky ones on the boats.

She considered leaving well enough alone, but she just couldn't turn away, not now, not when confronted with another little piece of the pain and destruction sown by the game.

Slowly, she opened the door, checked for a nurse, and—seeing there was none present—slipped inside.

In the room was a row of beds sporting clean white sheets, like so many other rooms in the hospital. The room seemed to be scarcely occupied at first glance, with only an elderly woman in a bed near the door. For a moment, Kimberly entertained the notion that it might not be the right room after all. However, upon closer inspection the sheets of the bed furthest down the hall and closest to a high window were lumpy with the shape of a slight figure. Covered entirely by the starchy hospital blanket was the fetal shape of a curled up person, whose evidence of life was a slight up and down motion of the blanket.

Kimberly moved quickly but quietly through the room, hoping she looked enough like she belonged that the old woman wouldn't raise an alarm. Looking down at the shape, she wondered for a second just what she could say. "Sorry you lost someone, but, hey, I made it"? That would be about the worst thing possible.

She settled for saying, "Are you alright?"

Her voice was quiet, a near-whisper, and still the figure flinched. A bandaged hand came out from the sea of white and pulled back the cover enough for some tangled red hair and a pair of puffy eyes to be visible. The figure's long fingers curled around the edge of the sheet and it—no, she—tried to speak, but her voice cracked and her eyes teared up.

"N-n-no," she sputtered. In a flash she pulled the sheet tightly back over her head.

Kimberly considered that. She'd said much the same to Erik, back on the mountain. The honesty of the response almost brought a smile to her face. As it was, though, she was feeling a little bit awkward, like maybe her own emotional damage was keeping her from realizing how badly she was fucking things up. She didn't want to be traumatizing this girl. If anything, she thought she could maybe do some little bit of good, make some token effort at righting some shit. It wouldn't make up for anything she'd done, not in any real way, but that didn't quite matter.

"I'm sorry," she said. She paused only for a moment before continuing on. "I, uh... Is there anything I can do to help?" She then realized that, just maybe, this girl had no clue who the fuck she was. Fuck. How to explain? There was no easy, gentle way. It seemed better to just jump in with both feet.

"I heard you lost someone. I was, uh, on the island." Not graceful, perhaps, but informative enough.

It seemed to work, at least. The girl reemerged, and now her whole face was visible. She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "The i-island?" she asked. As she said, it her body contracted even closer into itself. She straightened out for a moment and wiggled until she was in a half seated position. She looked at Kimberly for a moment, as if searching for recognition. Her head was tilted to the side, studying Kimberly intently.

"My brother... he d— was... on an island," she responded quietly. She seemed to get her handle back on speech, though tears were streaming down her face. "The same one?" A pause. "Do I know you?"

"Uh," Kimberly said, trying to figure out what order to tackle things in. "I, uh, went to school with your brother. I don't think we know each other." She took a deep breath, swallowed, then continued. "Yeah. That island."

She had to fight an urge to take a few steps back, to cast her gaze anywhere but on the girl before her. Kimberly had not really expected to be embarrassed by what she had been through, but now, inexplicably, she found that was the feeling most prominent in her. She found herself hoping the old woman was asleep.

"I just got back," she mumbled.

"W-wu-welcome back," Natalie pushed out. The girl took a few sharp breaths and hastily passed her hands over her cheeks, making their damage more evident now. Slight spots of red had stained some parts of her wrapped hands. She pulled her knees up and hugged them.

"I'm glad you made it back, I am, though I don't know you. I don't know why you're here talking to me, I haven't spoken to anyone since I last saw my—my brother on the TV... I guess we don't have a TV anymore. I broke it."

She buried her head against her knees, letting out a slight whimpering which tailed into a soft exhale.

"I would break everything if I could. I don't want to go home. I can't imagine going home. I can't imagine that such a big part of my life is just gone like that. W-we didn't always get along or hang out and I thought he was a dork who used up all the milk before I could get to it, but he worked the snack counter at all my volleyball games and I can't imagine even just looking down at the little cup on the bathroom sink and only seeing my toothbrush. It'd be like..." she trailed off. "...if the stars went away. They're not something you think of much during the day or even really notice when they're there, but sometimes if you remember and you look up, they make you feel happy. They're just up there and you never think of a world without them because that's just stupid and if there wasn't stars in the sky at night it wouldn't be the same place. I probably don't make any sense," she said, her voice shaking.

Kimberly considered that, considered the girl in front of her with her bandaged hands and her pain which so clearly had nothing to do with her physical injuries. She wasn't sure what to say for a moment. Her stomach felt twisted.

Some of what Natalie said made a lot of sense. Kimberly knew what it felt like to want to take something and destroy it, to set the world on fire to make the hurting stop. She knew what it was like for things to change in an instant, for everything to be turned upside down and stop making sense. She didn't know what it was like to lose a sibling—fuck, she didn't know what it was like to have a sibling—but she could understand the loss of a friend, a constant part of life.

She didn't say that. She didn't want to condescend to this girl, to tell her that they were anything alike. It probably wouldn't help anyways, not in the long run. At some point Natalie might look her up, might find out what had happened on the island, what Kimberly had done, and that might not be a positive experience for the girl at all.

"I'm sorry," Kimberly said instead. "I'm... I hope it'll be alright, someday."

She marshaled her thoughts, then continued.

"Breaking stuff helps, sometimes, for a little. You just have to make sure you don't break anything too important. And... the world is changed, yeah, and maybe it's not as good, but it's still there, you know?" She didn't know if this was helpful, didn't know if it was even true. She hoped she wasn't being entirely useless. The last thing the world needed was one more victim of Survival of the Fittest.

"I broke a big screen LCD TV," Natalie said shyly. "And an antique glass side table," she added, sniffing.

After a moment of silence, Natalie nodded a bit, then continued. "Yeah. I guess. I don't feel like I'm ever going to stop being sad though. You-your friends died? On the island? How do you deal with that? How do you stop being sad?"

"I don't know yet," Kimberly said. She wanted something better, some words of wisdom, some way to make what had happened to Erik and Dutchy and Roland and Hermione and Peter and all the others make sense, but there was nothing. "I guess maybe you never stop feeling sad all the way. You just try to keep going, because that's what they'd want you to do. They wouldn't want you to suffer forever just because they couldn't be with you."

Again, Kimberly wasn't quite convinced of her own words. She'd thought a lot, about the game and the deaths, but she'd been focused on other things as well. She'd spent her time in the terrorists' care not quite sure she'd live to see each morning. She'd tried to hide her own pain, to push it aside and deal with it later, maybe once she really believed she wasn't going to be dying soon.

"Just because they couldn't be with you," Natalie echoed. She considered that for a moment.

"You're right," she said, a bit surprised. "Nick never wanted people to be sad. He was always happy and sometimes I thought it was annoying, but he just wanted everyone to be happy too. That's why he was always helping people. He's up in heaven and he'd want me to remember him with love, and he wouldn't want me to be sad because that was his least favorite thing. I have to try really hard on remembering the really nice things about him and be grateful for the time I got to spend with him and see him in all the things around that make me cheery, because it's what he'd want."

Natalie was still tearful, but now she was smiling as well. She scooted to the edge of the bed and gently hugged Kimberly.

"You're really nice. I'm glad that you made it. I'll think of you in my prayers."

Kimberly awkwardly returned the hug. She didn't say anything for a time, didn't elaborate on her own thoughts, her doubts and misgivings. She hoped once again that she hadn't done damage here. She bit back the urge to protest that, fuck no, she wasn't nice at all. She choked down her natural inclination to decline the offer of prayers. She'd probably need all the help she could get in the coming weeks, and having someone thinking nice things about her, no matter how temporary or religiously-tinged it was, well, that was something positive. It was something to remember, to hold close to her.

"Thanks," she said. "And... and I'll think of you, too. You're a very strong person." She paused for a moment, realizing that she wasn't supposed to be here, that getting evicted was probably not the right final impression to leave.

"I should probably let you and your roommate get some rest. You'll need your energy."

Natalie blushed and looked down. She slid back down into her bed, becoming engulfed in the sea of white once again. She rolled onto her side and held the sheets tightly, then sighed deeply and looked at Kimberly just before closing her eyes.

"Try to remember that you aren't on the island anymore, and I'll try to remember that you weren't just a morphine dream," she said softly.

Her breathing was deep and her look was peaceful.

"Thank you."

Kimberly nodded, considered, and finally said, "Thank you too."

Then she slipped back into the hall, back to her own room. Luckily, no trouble came of her jaunt, and it wasn't long before her grandfather returned to pick her up and take her home. This time, she was going to be staying there for some time.
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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