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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 10, 2008

It had been a little bit difficult for Kimberly to work herself up to the idea of seeking out surviving classmates. She knew who was left, of course. She'd run over the list in her mind, had matched names to faces as best she could. What was most shocking was how few survivors there were. Twenty-nine kids getting rescued sounded like a lot, until compared to the number who had set out on the trip in the first place.

From the ranks of the twenty-nine, it hadn't been hard at all to figure who needed approaching first. So much had happened since that day near the start of the game when Kimberly had left the group. Two of its members had died. The three survivors had each faced their own battles and trials and losses. Kimberly couldn't begin to guess how Sarah was feeling after all that had transpired. To have been left in suspense for so long, to only find out the fate of a loved one after the fact, must have hurt greatly. Kimberly wasn't entirely sure what sort of reaction she could expect. She had not parted with the other girls on good terms. More than that, there had been negative feelings flying everywhere later on. She'd resented them so badly after their escape, had hated them for things that they had done and for things that they had not done.

She knew now that a lot of that had been misplaced. Everyone had made mistakes. She'd also been so very jealous. That might not win her any points, though, not with the little present she'd left them in the recordings. The awful thing about being taped was that you could never escape your choices, could never revise your own personal history. Kimberly liked being honest with herself most of the time, but some of her actions she felt she could do without.

She could live with it. She'd have to. And, now, she had to talk with Sarah and Bridget, to figure everything out and try to get some closure for everyone.

She approached the house slowly. She wasn't sure which girl's family it belonged to. That didn't really matter. She was showing a little trust by coming to meet them on their territory. At the very least, she was proving that she didn't expect Bridget to attack her or something.

So she stepped up to the door and knocked, loudly and clearly. It was time to get this meeting underway.

Sarah laid in bed. Her eyes were red from crying and she hadn't left the comfort of her blankets since waking blearily that morning. Thoughts of all the people she'd failed and the friends she'd lost circled in her head, same as they had every morning of the past week.

Despite being distraught from her experience on the island, leaving Reiko behind, and being twice held down and heavily sedated during the "rescue", she'd somehow managed to will herself through the time between her return to Minnesota and when she'd heard the news about Reiko. She'd stumbled to the front door, collapsed into her mother's arms, sobbed for several hours, slept off the overwhelming fatigue and drug-induced drowsiness, had tea for the first time in weeks, and got to work.

In that time, she'd attempted to contact anyone with even the remotest chance of increasing the possibility of a rescue. To be honest, it was nothing her parents hadn't already done weeks before, but—unlike them—she'd known the general area the island was situated in since day two. And now there weren't any collars to stop her from sharing it.

First she contacted people in her own government. She received some sympathy, but no promises from anyone who wasn't already arguing for intervention. At that point, there seemed no reason to hope for a wholesale change of heart from the group that had failed them for weeks, and their predecessors for years.

She called the Chinese consulate, and the Canadian, Japanese, Korean, and Russian ones as well. All were close enough to act, and she did all she could to encourage them to do so. All had words of pity, sympathy, condolences, apologies, but no-one wanted to risk getting American blood on their hands now that the terrorists had made their ultimatum.

She contacted every relevant protest group she knew of, finding support from both old comrades and surprising allies. The people who knew her told her she should be resting after her ordeal, that they were glad she was safe, to leave it to them and that they were doing all they could. For others it came totally out of the blue, but words of support were appreciated despite the political gap. She even, barely, managed to make some use of the paparazzi, at least when family members managed to shut them up long enough to speak. She wasn't able to make much in the way of speeches, but the message was simple, though as time passed it became more and more desperate: "Do something. Please."

When screening started again, she knew it was too late. For a few more days she clung to the hope Reiko had survived, and when that one, small, remaining hope was taken from her, she crashed. Hard.

She'd come close to taking her life several times since then, stopped short each time by fear or thoughts of her family and Bridget, who'd since taken it upon themselves to keep her company in turns. She hated herself even more for being a burden on them, Bridget especially. It was her fault Raina was dead, and she didn't understand why Bridget thought she deserved looking after. It was her fault Dutchy, Roland, and Reiko were dead. Her stupidity, her weakness, her failures. She'd tried to do everything right, tried to protect them, and in the end, she'd been completely useless. She didn't deserve to live. And yet here she was, lying in bed being a useless burden on those around her, too pathetic and cowardly to even remove herself from the equation.

There was a knock on the front door, faintly audible through the quiet air of the house. Bridget got up to leave. Sarah didn't move.

As the door opened, Kimberly took a deep breath, still not entirely sure she was ready to face this. It was far too late to back out, though, so she instead tried to keep as close control of herself as possible. Still, she could not quite manage to blank her face.

She was met by a woman whose resemblance to Sarah was clear even at a glance, who, by her age, could only be Sarah's mother. The woman was slightly lighter-skinned than Sarah, and a bit more slender, but she had a similar spark of intelligence about her features. It was impossible for Kimberly to tell whether the expression the woman wore was pity or wariness, and for a second Kimberly was afraid she would just shut the door, but a moment later she welcomed Kimberly inside.

Kimberly followed the woman, feeling a little bit like an intruder. They'd only gone a few steps, however, before she was distracted by the sight of someone else moving down the hall in their direction.

It felt like it had been a long time since Kimberly had seen Bridget. They'd parted ways only a few days into the game, and the game itself felt like a past life now. Kimberly realized how uncomfortably different her perception of events probably was from that of the rest of the world; things she had lived through nearly a month ago had become known to the others only in the past few days. She'd had a lot of time to come to terms with everything, but for Bridget and Sarah the wounds would most likely still be quite fresh.

"Hi," she said. She didn't want to take it much further than that, not without knowing what Bridget had seen, what she knew. The girl had agreed to meet her, but that didn't tell her much about where they stood, whether they were friends or enemies, whether any old grudges were still valid.

"We should probably all talk together, if that's alright," she added. She didn't want to go through an awkward series of greetings, to have to guess again and again and to recap everything when she saw Sarah. Better to rip off the scab all at once. Her phrasing included Sarah's mother as well, if she wanted to be present, though Kimberly privately hoped she didn't. It would be easier to talk openly if it was just among those with the shared experience of the island.

Everyone seemed to agree, and they walked further into the house. They soon cleared the stairs and came to a door: Sarah's room, judging by the posters and the sign hanging at a 10 year old's eye-level. Thankfully, Sarah's mother seemed to feel the same as Kimberly and spoke as she opened the door for the two.

"I think it's best I left you three alone," she said, smiling tiredly at the room's occupant. "I'll be just outside if you need me." Kimberly had the feeling that last portion had been directed more at Sarah and Bridget than herself.

Sarah was sitting at the side of her bed, affixing her glasses and pushing hair out of her face. She looked terrible, distracted and poorly-rested. It wasn't hard at all to guess why.

Sarah tried to say something as Kimberly entered the room, but choked on her words before she could even stammer a greeting. She'd tried to work out what to say in the minutes before, but when she was actually faced with the girl who'd left their group weeks before, her brain tripped over itself trying to reconcile sorrow and fear and the lingering, senseless resentment she felt that it was Kimberly who'd survived, and not Reiko. She hated herself for feeling that jealousy, even fleetingly; Kimberly had been through far worse than she had, and that she could slip into resenting her survival for even a moment disgusted her. At least Kimberly had helped Reiko through to the end. Sarah hadn't even been there.

Sarah really couldn't handle those thoughts without getting upset, and she rose unsteadily as she felt her tears welling up. She crossed the short distance between them and hugged Kimberly tightly just as the crying overtook her. Unable to string together more than "I'm sorry", she muffledly said it over and over again through racking sobs. She was sorry for Kimberly, for all she'd been through and all the undeserved blame she'd have placed on her; for Dutchy and Roland and all the others she'd failed and lost; for not saving anyone, for failing, for her indecision, for her stupidity, for her uselessness, for her undeserved escape, for STAR fucking up their chances of a real rescue and leaving Reiko and Kimberly and the others behind, for their being on those buses in the first place, for the way the world was and for failing to change it in time, for it being them, and not some other school group, as horrible a thought as that was.

Still unable to put her reasons into words, she expressed her sorrow physically, continuing to hug Kimberly as she apologized.

Kimberly returned the hug stiffly, trying not to let her discomfort show. She had been prepared for many things, but not for this. She could not tell if Sarah's actions were born of forgiveness or of ignorance, and the distinction between them was very important. She didn't want to open this up in one manner only to fuck Sarah's life up even more a few days down the line when she watched the recordings. The last thing she felt the need to do was cause more pain to these girls.

Kimberly took a few deep breaths, then shifted a little, trying to signal that she was ready to be released.

Sarah broke off the hug, speaking as awkwardly as if she'd just mindlessly committed a faux pas.

"S-sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have... sorry."

She retreated the step or two backwards to the edge of the bed, clasping her hands as her tears continued to roll gently.

Kimberly regarded the girl who was trying to pull herself together for a few moments, then began to speak, carefully and deliberately.

"After you left, I said some... rash things. Things I don't really mean."

Sarah had managed to stem her crying momentarily, and a Kimberly-wards look of blank lack of understanding had intermingled with the grief-stricken expression she'd had since Kimberly first entered. After a moment she looked to Bridget, who had an expression on her face as if she'd been keeping something from her, then back to Kimberly, oblivious still. It was quite apparent that Sarah had no idea what she was talking about.

"You haven't seen it?" Kimberly asked.

Sarah shook her head ever so slightly, still confused.

"Good." Kimberly chuckled a little bit, almost nervously. "I'd feel better if you kept it that way."

Sarah had the feeling that whatever Kimberly had said, she'd probably deserved it, and the way she transparently avoided Kimberly's gaze made it obvious something was up.

Kimberly frowned.

"You okay?" she asked.

Sarah remained silent, emotion and tears quickly welling up as Kimberly showed concern for her. Her care was more than she deserved, and even such a small gesture of kindness was enough to set her crying again in earnest.

Kimberly's frown deepened.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Sarah could barely get the words out, starting and stopping several times between sobs before finally stuttering, "I-it's my fault."

"What is?"

"E-everything... Dutchy and Roland and the rest... they d-didn't... I-i c-could have..."

Kimberly caught her lower lip with her teeth and said nothing for perhaps a half second too long. Still, she managed to speak fairly coherently.

"You didn't kill them," she said. "And, you know, could you have done something? Probably, yeah. I could've too. The police could've stopped all this shit from happening. They didn't, because nobody can see the future. It's easy to look back now and come up with all the shit we'd've done differently, but, you know, what matters is that you did your best at the time. That's all anyone can ask."

"I guess..." Sarah tried to agree out of politeness, wiping her eyes as much to conceal them as to stem her tears. But the tone of her voice betrayed just how little she believed that reasoning.

Kimberly's face went blank for a second, then settled into a frown.

"You guess?" she said.

Sarah tried to conceal and keep her thoughts to herself, her blood rising as the facade crumbled despite her wants.

"I-It's nothing." She couldn't look Kimberly in the eye.

"Bullshit," Kimberly said. "Come on, Sarah. You're better than this. You know what you think, and you know how to say it, and, fuck, you know what's true."

Pressured, Sarah began to show the first emotion other than depression since Kimberly had entered the room. Clamping her teeth and digging her nails into her hands, she tried to think of anything to say apart from how much she hated herself and her incompetence. She stopped and started several times before she finally gathered words together and they spilled carelessly from her mouth.

"I-it's my fucking fault. I don't deserve to be alive. Dutchy and Roland are dead because of me. Everyone from day three on could've lived if I'd taken one fucking risk and not tried to save my skin first like a fucking coward."

She'd risen to her feet without thinking as her anger boiled over. Sarah was practically shouting at herself now, though her eyes were focused on Kimberly's.

"And if I'd listened to Roland and campaigned we could have avoided the whole fucking thing al-to-fucking-gether but no, I didn't listen to him, and we got kidnapped, and now he's dead. And I ran off on a wild goose chase, and I lost Dutchy and Roland, and I let everyone else die and I couldn't even protect Reiko because I was too fucking stupid!" By the end of that Sarah was almost screaming the words, but finally she came to a stop, tears streaming and catching her breath heavily.

Kimberly considered that for a second. When she spoke again, her voice had gone calm and quiet.

"So?" she said. "So, I think you're wrong, but let's pretend you're right. Let's say you fucked everything up. Well, what the fuck comes now? You can't just sit here and feel sorry for yourself. I mean, if you do that, you're wasting your life just as bad as if you'd died, and that's disrespecting everyone who wasn't as lucky as we were. You wanna feel like you're a bad person, or do you want to be someone better? If you're going to waste your life, at least spend it doing something that'd make them proud."

That pretty much killed the conversation. Everyone went silent, Kimberly shifting a bit and glancing back and forth between Sarah and Bridget, unsure if she had perhaps stepped over one line too many, while Sarah was too exhausted and too uncertain of her position to formulate any kind of a rebuttal. Finally, when the tension seemed to be on the edge of breaking, Kimberly took a deep breath and then said, sounding almost regretful, "Well, thanks for seeing me."

Kimberly turned, about to leave, but stopped short as Sarah spoke once more, quiet again.

"Uhh." Sarah looked down to the floor for a moment, collecting her thoughts before she started to talk uncertainly.

"Bridget... Bridget said you were with Reiko before, an-... Thank you."

"I tried," Kimberly said. "It was the least I could do. You were with me."

And then, just like that, she'd turned and was on her way out. She'd figured that would be it, but it wasn't quite so simple. It seemed like nothing ever was. Bridget followed Kimberly out of the room, passing Mrs. Xu and leaving Sarah behind. Kimberly had a pretty good idea that Bridget knew a lot more about everything that had transpired. She thought, just maybe, that there were things that lack of ignorance might make tougher to ignore.

Better to be straightforward, to get things out of the way.

"If you hate me, that's fine," Kimberly said.

Bridget couldn't help but grin wryly at the bluntness of Kimberly's statement. It would be so easy to hate her, to push her away and never have to deal with her again, to say all the words that had popped into her mind as she watched things proceed in the game. It would be so easy, but she wouldn't take the easy path.

Bridget said nothing right away, merely walking down the hallway and down the stairs. Kimberly fell in behind her and followed, her steps unhurried and her facial expression muted, despite the strong language she'd used.

Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, sure that she was out of earshot of Sarah, Bridget turned back to Kimberly.

"I don't hold you accountable for anything you said while out there," she said in an even voice, trying not to betray any hint of emotion. "I know what the island can do to a person. It changes you. Usually not for the better."

Taking a deep breath, she continued.

"I lost my best friend to that island. Raina Morales. Known her all my life. She was killed by Reiko sometime during the first few days. I thought of Reiko the same way I'm sure many people thought of her. I thought she was a monster, a murderer who was taking the opportunity to kill with glee. I spent many hours plotting ways to kill her once I met her. Even did some things that I'm not very proud of to get closer to Sarah, since I knew that if I followed her I would eventually get my chance to get to Reiko."

As she spoke, Kimberly simply stood, her face neutral. Bridget continued after a brief moment to gather her words.

"At the time, I focused on nothing else. When Dutchy and Roland came on the announcements, the names just kind of washed over me. Maybe I could have done something to prevent their deaths. Maybe I would have just ended up a corpse next to them. In the end it was my blind desire for revenge that lead me to push them aside."

Bridget paused again for a moment, half-expecting some sort of response. Kimberly stayed quiet, however, so Bridget allowed her thoughts to run their course.

"When I finally met Reiko, I realized she was just a scared girl who had lost her sister and was trying to get home. It wasn't easy, spending all that time thinking of revenge and when I finally got there realizing that the person I had been plotting revenge on was not the same one who stood before me. If I can forgive the person who killed my best friend, then I can forgive someone for saying some things. After all, they're just words."

Kimberly chuckled, having to work to restrain herself, to not crack up completely. It wasn't the time or place. It seemed, though, that a few odd little truths were rather more universal than she'd imagined. So that was why Bridget had done what she'd done. It made as much sense as anything on the island. It was so strange, hearing thoughts and impressions that she had felt voiced by a girl she'd at turns respected and loathed. It was funny to think how, in the end, their paths had not been so different.

"Revenge is overrated," Kimberly said. "Or, shit, maybe it's what they say about the journey meaning more than the destination."

She paused for a moment, then decided to keep going.

"You're right about the island. I think what matters now is remembering how to come back, you know? That's the way to beat it.

"And... I'm glad that you're here with Sarah. I think she'll need you. She needs to remember how tough she is."

Bridget turned and opened the door, holding it for Kimberly. As Kimberly stepped through the entryway, Bridget nodded. "See you around."

"See you," Kimberly said, shooting Bridget a smile and a nod. She wasn't sure if she was telling the truth. She'd lied a decent amount today.

She considered what had been said as she headed down the block, towards her pickup point.

The idea that the island changed people, well, Kimberly was pretty sure that was bullshit. It was an excuse, and she could maybe understand why Bridget fell back on it. It wasn't so nice to look in the mirror and see a malicious little shadow staring back. Really, though, what the island did was let people reveal themselves. It took away all the little restraints which kept people behaving like civilized individuals for any reason besides personal preference.

Whatever. Bridget could rationalize however she wanted. What mattered was that she do the right thing now, and it seemed like she was going to. Kimberly would have to settle for that. Maybe, if she got a chance, she'd check in again. Maybe she'd have some choice words if the girls veered off course. For now, she was content that all of them were trying. They'd all fucked up badly, but maybe that could stay in the past. Maybe the future would be brighter.

When Bridget returned, Sarah was sitting at the side of the bed again, quietly resting her head on her mother's shoulder. Bridget couldn't tell whether she looked calmly thoughtful, or thoroughly defeated.

"You okay?"

Sarah nodded, a small, tired noise affirming her confirmation. And, for once in a long time, she kind of meant it. She felt spent, but at least she was thinking a little more clearly now.

Kimberly was right, of course, and she knew that. Really, she should have understood those things already; she probably would have said similarly a few weeks before, but she'd been too wrapped in mourning and self pity to think her way out of that dead end.

Confining herself to bed and contemplating suicide, whether justly deserved or not, wasn't doing the friends she'd lost any good. Anything was better than selfish pity, and as much as she felt it was unjust of her to live, she couldn't imagine those friends condoning her self destruction.

She didn't know what she could do, though. It still felt like she'd already failed them absolutely. No matter how much she begged, she couldn't go back in time, couldn't bring them back to life or sacrifice her life for theirs in a way that was meaningful anymore... Or maybe that wasn't entirely true. She couldn't bring them back, but she had a mind and a body, and if she could put them to some use, live her life in homage to them, maybe she could fulfill some small part of her duty to those she'd failed.

Her mother squeezed her gently, comforting her as well as she could. It wasn't fair on her, the rest of her family, or Bridget either. She had to progress for their sakes as well, and even though she felt undeserving of their love and care, she didn't want to imagine her parents having their daughter taken from them a second time. Annihilating herself was only betraying all of their efforts and rendering them in vain.

And, well, if Bridget and Kimberly could continue functioning then she had to at least try.

She sighed and began to speak, sounding quietly exhausted. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." The tone of her mother's voice was caring, and it took all her effort not to start crying again. It was harder still to say the next few lines.

"And, Mum, I... think you're right. I'll talk to a psychologist."

"Good." Her mother squeezed her again and kissed her forehead affectionately. "I'll make us some tea."
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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