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Everybody Loses; V4 Endgame
Topic Started: Nov 5 2011, 02:26 AM (10,425 Views)
MurderWeasel
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((Kimberly Nguyen continued from We Can Live with the Sadness))

Tomorrow was a strange word. For most of her life, Kimberly had taken it entirely for granted. Tonight, it was the most important word in the world. It was everything she wasn't quite sure what to do about.

Kimberly was hiding between two houses, crouched behind one of those big plastic trash cans you rolled to the curb every Tuesday, trying to ignore the faint smell of sour milk that emanated from it. It was strange, how a mundane odor could now cut through the jaded fog of her senses and turn her stomach in a way that rotting people could not.

She was on one knee, bad arm limp by her side, good hand on the gun in her pocket, like she knew what to do with it. Reiko was close, she thought. Good. She had to keep track of everything. The situation had changed dramatically in the last ten minutes.

Until now, Kimberly had been working on some basic assumptions. The first and greatest was that she was going to die on the island. This had shaped her choices ever since that day on the beach, every since Kris put a bullet in her shoulder. It had colored her decisions in ways she was only beginning to understand.

The truth of it all was that Kimberly did not want to die. She never had.

Death was a difficult thing to grapple with. Even before the island, she'd been a bit squeamish about the whole thing. That was a big part of what drew her to the goths and the emos. She had been able to talk about the futility of life and be taken seriously. She had never delved as deeply as her thoughts went, but that was to be expected. No social group could be perfect. It was also a part of what had, from time to time, driven her to get drunk or stoned, just to avoid dwelling too deeply on things that made her uncomfortable. Still, death had always seemed like a far off fear, along with getting old and living in poverty and all her other sources of hypothetical angst.

Since the kidnapping, things had not been so theoretical anymore. Dying—and, more, dying soon—had seemed inevitable. That simple thing was, in large part, the reason Kimberly had spent so much of her time on the wrong end of various weapons. It was why she had taken insane risks, why she had constantly pushed against the people she met. Lurking in the back of her mind, this whole time, had been the idea that she was doomed to die here.

This was part of why she'd spent so much time trying to goad people into killing her.

Death was a hard thing to face even in the best circumstances. As a helpless victim, it would be flat out intolerable. Better, she figured, to do it on her own terms. It was possible to die without being defeated, as long as it was all part of the plan. As long as she died how she chose, without regrets, she could go out believing she had won, no matter how stupid the reality.

But now, all of a sudden, there was another option, an option that didn't involve telling Liz to shoot her in the face, an option that didn't involve taking Steven hostage to provoke a psycho, an option that didn't involve a dance of death with Kris.

Maybe she'd always wanted this. Maybe that was why she'd taken such great pains to extricate herself from the crazy situations she'd ended up in. Maybe that was why she'd lashed out so severely when she heard that Sarah and Bridget had made it. Maybe she'd just been jealous. Maybe that was why she'd been willing to calm down when she was with Erik. Maybe that was why she could still be hurt by what happened to her friends.

Maybe none of that mattered, compared to the moment.

Kimberly had come to her decision. She wasn't going to play it their way, wasn't going to murder the others without provocation, but she sure as fuck wasn't going to roll over and die for them.

It was time to take stock of her resources.

She had a Molotov cocktail in the hand warmer of her sweater, all gasoline fumes and sloshes to match her steps and fidgeting. Its twin lived in her backpack, slung over her right shoulder. In her right pocket was a cheap bic lighter, a disaster waiting to happen. The combination suggested by these items was her only real means of self defense.

She had a fake gun, but it looked real enough that Reiko hadn't caught on yet. It was worth jack shit in a fight, but it was a tool, just like everything else. In this case, it was a tool for forcing a stalemate. Kimberly was the only one who knew she couldn't actually shoot anyone. She planned to keep it that way.

She had a grappling hook tucked into her belt. Without its rope, it was now nothing more than an awkward metal claw, one that might be able to hurt someone or jerk a weapon out of the way, but was unlikely to come anywhere close to lethal.

She had her boots. Long ago, when she'd walked out the door, when she'd called her last goodbyes, her grandmother had looked at them and asked her if she was sure she was wearing the right clothing for a camping trip. Yeah, Kimberly had said, her boots were fucking indestructible. Two weeks later, she'd altered her opinion only a little. The leather was scuffed, the laces frayed and worn, the soles ground down, but they were still holding together. She couldn't even begin to guess what kind of blisters and infections she had going on under them, but her boots still made her feel strong, even if it had taken her twenty minutes last time she'd retied the fucking laces, thanks to the fact that she couldn't use her left hand.

She had her secrets and her attitude, her suspicions and her determination.

She had Reiko, who she was trusting not to shoot her in the back of the head, and who was trusting her in the same way. Kimberly didn't like trusting people. In her experience, almost everyone was a liar. There were no other options, though, not now. Besides, Reiko was Sarah's girlfriend, and even if Kimberly sometimes hated Sarah a little, she still owed the girl her life. The least she could do was extend a little bit of confidence.

It wasn't a lot to work with, but she'd done more on less before.

Beside the trash can was a house, painted pale green, with nice wooden paneling. Kimberly had almost suggested hiding in it, but had changed her mind at the last second, figuring that the others were likely to search the houses first. From her current location, she could see the center, could see the statue and the flowers and the ground that was a grave. The light was not perfect, but the moon was casting enough of a glow that she would easily be able to see anyone traversing the open area. At the same time, it was dim enough for her and Reiko to lurk in the shadows cast by the other house (brown, dull except for the bullet holes in it).

They hadn't discussed their plan of action. Maybe there was none. Maybe they were just going to wait things out and try to pick off whichever of the other three came out on top. Maybe Reiko planned to go hunting. Kimberly wasn't about to start murdering people just because they were in her way. She hadn't shared this with Reiko, and hoped it wasn't going to become a point of contention. At the same time, if Reiko wanted to go on a killing spree, well, Kimberly didn't have the power or inclination to stop her. Everyone left was a killer. Everyone left had done horrible things to get this far.

Aislyn, in the water.

No time for regrets.

Kimberly kept her hand on her fake gun, kept her profile low, kept a watch on the section of the expanse of concrete she could see.

At the same time, she tried her hardest to enjoy the evening. There was a damn good chance it would be the last opportunity to do so she'd ever get. Tomorrow was still a night away.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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The whole world was still and silent for a moment, as Kimberly inhaled the stench of garbage and leaned against a house whose occupants had probably been massacred and waited with a girl who had murdered more people than Kimberly could count on her good hand. Fate was a funny thing, sometimes. How strange that she should finally feel like a person again, that she should finally feel like she knew what she wanted. How strange that life should once again be a possibility. In the brief space of time they had been standing in silence, a lot of things had become clear. Kimberly had come a long way towards finally figuring herself out.

The complications were still mind-numbing. Kimberly wasn't cut out for murder. She was no instinctual killer, not the way the others must have been by now. She had the reflexes, sure. She'd sent Liz's knife spinning off into the darkness under the mountain. She'd ducked and dodged and dropped Rhory into the dirt. She'd slammed her knife into Aislyn's gut, on nothing but adrenaline and a split second to react. What she lacked wasn't the means, but the will. Self defense was one thing, but setting out to murder just because she was afraid, that was just becoming the same thing as Kris.

And it was funny, because she'd hurt people for just that reason, hadn't she? She'd spread pain and suffering for her own amusement, for her own benefit, because, fuck, hurting other people was a great way to feel like she still had some control over her life, like she was still in charge of her destiny instead of hurtling helplessly towards her end. The real thing, though, the real difference was exactly what Kimberly had told Liz, all those days ago. The awful people, the evil people, they weren't bad because they caused pain and death. It was that they stole futures, stole choices, stole options. Shooting someone meant they'd never get to grow up. It meant they'd never have the opportunity to better themselves, to realize their mistakes and turn their lives around. It also meant they'd never have the chance to become truly terrible themselves. Still a pity. People could be evil if they wanted, maybe. Perhaps sometimes it was even the right choice.

This was the wrong time for musings. It was the worst time in the world to second guess herself. Kimberly had a truce with Reiko. She had three people at a minimum who were hoping to end her life. She wanted to keep living. The differences were irreconcilable. Too bad. Some people were going to be damn disappointed by the end of the night.

She shifted, half-stood and shuffled her legs a bit, relieving some of the stiffness and tension. It'd be fucking awful to get killed because her legs fell asleep and she tripped over her own feet. She wasn't going to make it easy on the people who wanted to put a bullet through her head.

Somewhere, she thought she heard a noise, maybe a shattering of glass. That was ominous. Somebody was preparing something tricky, most likely, or arming themselves in some manner. These people would be tough. They would be the ones who had made their way to this point through luck and skill, through ruthlessness and careful thought. Maybe some of the others were flukes like she was. More likely, they were like Kris, just scared kids wanting to go home and willing to do whatever it took to get there, but horribly dangerous for precisely that reason.

Kimberly wondered about their families. She wondered who was watching, who was hoping that she would die so that their son or daughter could come back and nestle in their arms. She wondered what her grandparents thought. There was the possibility that they still cared, that even her parents still cared, in that strange detached way they must have viewed her in. She'd been a mistake, yeah, but they'd loved her anyways. They'd always loved her, even when she screamed in their faces, even when she cursed at them, even when she was twelve and wouldn't answer them on the phone for a month, even when she greeted her mom reeking of tobacco. Had she finally broken that, back at the groundskeeper's hut, like she'd hoped at the time? Had she alienated everyone? What would they even do if she came home? Would they throw her on the street, brand her the murderer she was?

How were Kris' and Aislyn's parents coping?

Didn't matter, not now, maybe never. Deep breaths. Don't choke. Don't fuck up. Don't let the tension become overpowering. No regrets.

It was clear, now, what she had to do. It was exactly the same fucking thing it had always been. She had to live like it was the last moment of her life, and she had to live without regrets. She couldn't throw her self away any more than she could throw her life away, survival be damned. She couldn't give up, either. She would take each moment as it came, and she would fucking own it. She would keep herself as safe as she could, and, if the time to die came, she would die laughing.

She pulled the gun from her pocket and straightened a bit, then moved forward a little and peered around the corner of the house, into the town center. Still empty. Were those footsteps echoing, or was it her imagination? A cricket chirped, probably from the flowerbed. The breeze raised goosebumps on her exposed arm. She should have picked more flowers for her hair. Too bad.

A glance at Reiko, then. She wondered what the other girl was thinking, wished she could know. She wished she could be Reiko, just for a second, to see what exactly she had fought so hard for, whether they had more common ground than she imagined. She wished she could be smarter, could be better, could walk into the middle of the square and raise her voice and say fuck it all, she had a way, she had it figured out, she knew how they could all go home and be happy and not have any more deaths.

Silly hopes and longings, but she could indulge the fantasy. She could endure. She had her fake gun, and she had her incendiaries and her little plastic lighter, and she had her hopes and dreams and, yes, even those little regrets she kept saying she'd avoid, and she didn't need anything else. So maybe she couldn't save anyone. So maybe she couldn't get everything she wanted. She would do her best, and it would be enough. It always had been so far.

She was smiling, though she doubted Reiko could see it with the shadows in the alley. The only thing she still didn't have was patience. It was going to start soon, and she was going to have to do something, to take some action. She couldn't sit and let the others tear each other to pieces, couldn't pick off whoever was left. It just wasn't right, wasn't her. So she waited, and she prepared, and she wondered just who was going to make the first move, and how long it was going to take.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
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Turned out Reiko wasn't the most patient girl in the world either. She curtly informed Kimberly that she was off to investigate the noise. Bullshit. She was off to find and eliminate whoever had had the misfortune to slip up and make a sound. She was on the hunt again. Everything else was just rationalization. It was interesting, in its own way. Kimberly had never entirely understood the mentality of the players. She'd not been able to correlate Reiko's generally decent personality with the list of names under her belt. Now, though, it all made sense. Kimberly wouldn't have been surprised if Reiko had spent the entire game going off to check out noises, then finding people who were dangerous or who became dangerous when faced with someone with a player's reputation. From there, it was all self defense.

That was a good bit of information to have. Kimberly knew it would likely not be particularly long until Reiko decided that Kimberly was a threat too. That little self defense insight could be something to spin, to use to cause doubts. Attempting that could also be a huge mistake, had she misread the situation. It could get her head blown off.

That was all assuming they ever ended up in conflict.

At the moment, Kimberly found herself faced with a bit of an ethical dilemma related to that potentiality. Reiko had wandered off, presumably with murder on her mind. She had not invited Kimberly along. Kimberly had no intention of assisting in random killings. She was not Reiko's ally. She sure as fuck wasn't Reiko's partner. There were three people out there gunning for Reiko, though. More than that, there was a good chance Reiko was about to stumble straight into a trap, given how crafty the others must have been to make it this far. Kimberly suspected that she was better prepared to figure that out, to assess the situation and make a good call. Reiko was a killer, but Kimberly was a survivor. She'd come through plenty of awful situations relatively unscathed. She had a knack for knowing when to cut and run. She could probably do a great deal of good for Reiko's chances.

On the other hand, by staying back, she could increase the chances that Reiko would get killed, ideally doing some damage to the others, and thus making her own survival more likely. She could weaponize Reiko and discard her when she was no longer useful.

And then there was Sarah, Sarah who was Reiko's girlfriend, Sarah who had saved Kimberly's life, Sarah who Kimberly didn't quite know if she hated anymore, Sarah who was almost certainly still alive somewhere. The key factor was the first day. Without Sarah, Kimberly knew she'd have died in the sand, screaming and crying and trying to stop the bleeding, cursing Kris with her last bitter breath and wondering how it had all gone so wrong. Even had that not happened, without Sarah's care Kimberly's wound would surely have become infected and killed her. Hadn't some boy died from that a few days in? Kimberly was, in the end, only here because of Sarah's kindness. Yeah, sure, Kimberly had said all debts were paid when she held Dutchy as he bled out. She'd covered up for Sarah's fuck up. That didn't really make them even. Not even close. It had just been a convenient way to wiggle off the hook, a way to die without regretting failing to pay her debts. Circumstances had changed since then. Kimberly owed Sarah her life, and now she actually had a chance to repay that debt. She couldn't do it at the cost of her own morals, though, not without throwing her own interests away entirely.

In the end, she settled for a compromise. Peering out of the alley, she saw Reiko vanishing into the darkness. She couldn't follow her, couldn't assist her directly, not without being an accessory to whatever the other girl was planning to do. What she could do, though, was stay here, stay here with her fake gun and stand sentinel. Unless the others were working together on whatever had caused the sound, they could be anywhere. Kimberly could keep an eye out for them, could get a warning out somehow, could give Reiko time to prepare herself without actually fighting her battles for her. That seemed fair enough. It seemed a noble enough pursuit, a decent middle ground.

She hoped like fuck she wasn't rationalizing, wasn't twisting her own thoughts to justify what she knew was wrong. Once, the world had been simple and morality had meant nothing. It would have been easy, oh so easy, to just go back to that time. It would have been wrong, would have made her worse than Kris.

This was too complicated. Kimberly gripped her gun, drew back into the shadows once more, and focused on listening and watching. The tension was stretched too thin. It wouldn't be long now before something broke.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
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Kimberly was right. It wasn't long at all before something happened. She heard the gunfire, a quick burst, echoing from somewhere in the direction Reiko had gone. The girl had been carrying some kind of machine gun. It wasn't hard at all to draw conclusions. The lack of return fire or secondary shots told Kimberly that someone had probably just died. It was quite likely that someone wasn't Reiko. She didn't know if she should feel bad about not intervening. Now wasn't the time to ponder the ethics of her situation, though. Now that the violence had started, there would be no shoving the genie back into the bottle. There were at least two people out there who would likely shoot Kimberly on the spot. There was probably Reiko, who would merely do her the courtesy of shooting her last.

Time for a plan, for a hunch, for something, anything. Time to figure out how to do this, how to come through this last hurdle with her body, mind, and morality intact. It was going to be tough, but she'd been in tough situations before. This wasn't holding another friend as they died. It wasn't screaming and bleeding in the sand. It wasn't being talked down to and treated like a helpless burden. It was just spending a little more time avoiding death. She'd gotten pretty good at that so far.

But of course, something just had to fuck it all up.

Kimberly was up against the wall of the alley, hiding in the shadows, keeping an eye out in front and back. She still nearly missed it. A flash of movement down at the end of the alley got her attention, though. Someone had passed nearby, and they seemed to be headed in roughly the same direction Reiko had gone.

Part of her wanted to be relieved. That was that, then. This person would go shoot Reiko, and Kimberly wouldn't have to worry about any eventual confrontation. Besides, there was no doubt the other girl had it coming. She had almost certainly kicked off the murder this time. She'd been killing since the first day. There had been breaks, but Kimberly wasn't about to assume any reason for them besides pragmatism. Reiko had probably just figured out that being a high profile threat wasn't a good way to stay alive. Kimberly's little hunt for Kris, much as she hated to admit she was at all like any of her classmates, had almost definitely not been an isolated incident. Payback seemed to be pretty damn universal common ground.

So now Reiko was probably about reap what she had sown. Maybe she'd even take the others out while she was at it. Maybe Kimberly wouldn't have to make any tough calls. Maybe she could just sit back and go home and try to pretend none of this had ever happened.

No.

There was no hiding from the past, and dodging responsibility would just mean survival wasn't worth it. She'd killed Aislyn and Kris. She'd hurt people. She'd done a lot of awful shit and a lot of better things. She'd never sat idle. Now wasn't the time to start.

Sarah had saved her life, and Sarah cared about Reiko. Kimberly still owed her one. Even if she couldn't see the other girl's appeal, even if she found Reiko at best refreshingly forthright yet moderately appalling, she could still do this for Sarah. She was moving before she could talk herself out of it, slipping from her hiding place, holding her fake gun in her trembling right arm. Down the alley, around the corner, and there he was. A boy. Not wiry enough to be Ilario. Ivan, then, the other one who might not be playing, the one who had lost someone. He was being very cautious, being so very sneaky. He was holding a gun. Kimberly's heart was hammering. This could well be the final few minutes of her life. There was still time to back out.

No.

Once, Kimberly had seen a western starring Clint Eastwood, one of those famous ones that everyone knew. She couldn't really remember the name right now, but one bit stuck damn well in her mind. This thug was walking along the street, when there came a whistle. He turned, and then Clint Eastwood shot him. It was a pretty badass thing to do, giving your opponent warning. Nice, dramatic, honorable. She hoped Ivan would appreciate the effort. She hoped he'd be confused enough not to shoot right away. She hoped he'd realize that he was stuck in a standoff because she was holding him at gunpoint.

She hoped he wouldn't call her bluff.

She pursed her lips and blew, but no noise came. Her lips were dry, chapped. She ran her tongue over them. It took a couple goes. She was a bit dehydrated. Nothing critical, just an itchy throat and a prickly tongue. In a few minutes, it probably wouldn't matter. She was probably about to make the biggest mistake of her life, for the sake of a girl who didn't come close to deserving it.

"Where the FUCK do you get off with this pretend badass act? It DOESN'T. FUCKING. WORK. And I hope to fucking GOD that you realize that by now."

Words from the past, coming back to haunt her now, to give her last second doubts, to make her wonder whether she was throwing her life away, whether she was giving up for something silly just because it was easier than actually trying. Words she had heard while lying in the dirt, after being kicked for daring to stand up for herself.

Thanks for nothing, Jeremy. Guess I'm pretending one more time. Just one more time.

Her hand was completely steady, the fake gun pointed straight at the boy who looked like he might be about to turn to check behind him. There was a good distance between them, plenty of room so Ivan could have his personal space, so she could get a head start if he wasn't feeling reasonable.

Last chance to turn back.

She gave a loud, two note whistle.

"Hey, Ivan," she called. "Didn't your mother ever tell you it's not polite to sneak around?"
V7:
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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For a time, the moment lasted. It stretched, and Kimberly thought that maybe it would stick and things would all be fine. Maybe Ivan would just back down in some manner. Maybe he would lower his rifle and offer to wander off and fuck someone else up instead. Maybe she could strike a truce with each of the others, somehow, and not have to worry about anything until right at the end. Maybe there would be a happy ending after all.

It was nothing but a dream, of course. This late in the game, it seemed everyone was playing for keeps. She didn't know if she'd been expecting Ivan to be an exception. She didn't know if she'd held some sort of unconscious prejudice, some odd suspicion that anyone who could care deeply enough about someone else to merit taunting on the announcements wouldn't be tough enough to be willing to escalate a situation. Perhaps some last little drop of optimism had escaped being wrung out of her in her time on the island.

Before Ivan fired, though, Kimberly knew. She saw it in his eyes a split second before he even started to move. Kimberly had been on the wrong end of guns many times in her stay on the island, but she had been fired upon only twice. The second time, with Brook, she'd been too busy running to really appreciate the moment. With Kris, on the other hand, Kimberly had seen and felt it all unfold. She'd known then, too, that things had gotten serious.

Back on the beach, she'd still been pretending, and Kris had already had her gun at the ready. Here, neither of those factors were present. Kimberly wasn't all that strong or fast or tough in any physical way, but she had damn fine reflexes. The finger of her good hand, the one supporting the gun, instinctively tightened on the trigger with absolutely no result, even as she was spinning on her heel and running. In the end, it was probably the shitty traction on her boots that saved her life, as she slid and stumbled and lurched out of control and heard the crack of gunfire behind her. She'd moved in time, had dropped her profile low enough and moved unpredictably enough, that she was not caught in the spread of shot.

Of course, she wasn't completely without troubles. The sudden movement had wrenched her bad shoulder again, and it was hurting like a bitch. Things hadn't felt this nasty in days. She was off balance, scrambling for purchase with her feet, flailing her good arm and trying not to fall, panicking and hoping that her life wasn't about to end in a spray of blood and bullets.

She made it back around the corner of the building. The entire process, from the time she had realized that things were going to go bad to the present moment, had taken less than two seconds. Ivan would probably be after her. He would want her dead. Everyone wanted her dead now. It was just more naïvety to think otherwise. She knew way, way too much for that now. She was scared, terrified. She fucking hated this.

She didn't slow down. For once, Kimberly was at a total fucking loss as to how to turn this situation around and regain control of things. She had a shitty fake gun and a couple Molotovs and a lighter and only one good hand to juggle them all. She almost regretted not trying to light Ivan up, but the thought of him screaming, of flesh burning, of him not having a chance to even fight back or maybe of him emerging disfigured and livid from the flames like some monster in a bad movie, that was all too much, too awful. She didn't want that. She didn't want any of this.

All she wanted was to get away, to breathe and calm down and pull her composure back together. Maybe that was why she kept clinging to the house's wall, making her way towards the door. Maybe it was just one of the last vestigial pieces of her social conditioning. Houses were base when you played tag. Houses were warm havens in those cold Minnesota winters. Houses were cookies and blankets and safety.

She reached the door, sure she could still hear Ivan behind her.

If it was locked, she knew she was fucked.
V7:
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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Kimberly was panting, panicking, trying to manage the fake gun and the door handle (and thank fuck it was one of those handles where you pushed down to open the door. A knob would've killed her) with just her good hand. Ivan was coming. He was behind her, closing in for the kill, and she was trapped, forced to hope the door was unlocked if she wanted even a chance. How had her life spiraled so far out of hand? What had gone wrong?

Those questions could wait. Luck was with her. She got her grip right and shoved, stumbling inside and immediately ducking to the right. She swung the door back, thinking to close it and put some space between herself and Ivan, but a spray of shot tore through it, sending splinters of wood in all directions. Kimberly shrieked and hated herself for it. She shouldn't be scared, shouldn't be reduced to this. She was no victim, no defenseless invalid. She was here by her own choice, and she would fucking deal with the consequences of her actions. She had not yet run into trouble she couldn't work her way out of. She just needed a little more space and time.

She kept moving. The foyer branched left and right. She'd gone right at the start, and changing directions now would mean crossing in front of the open door again, giving Ivan a clear shot at her. No. No way. Fuck Ivan. If he wanted to make trouble for her, if he wanted so badly to kill her, that was his problem. Her concern was making it as hard for him as possible. That was something she could still do, even as she tried to get a start on the longer-term goal of staying alive. Kimberly didn't want to kill the boy who was chasing her, but that did not mean she wasn't prepared to do all she could to make his life hellish in retaliation for his acts. He was making her mad again. She didn't really blame him for his actions, but this whole thing was pissing her off again. Some of the fire that had lurked around the concept of Kris was being rekindled and repurposed.

There were a few little problems, though. The direction she'd taken led into a hallway. It was fairly straight, with doors on the left and right, all closed, maybe leading to rooms. Any of those rooms could be a dead end. The house was fairly spacious, wood-paneled and carpeted and nice. It cold have been homey at some point. Now, Kimberly wondered if she had backed herself into a trap. At the end of the hallway was the foot of a staircase, leading up to the second floor. It, too, most likely led to a dead end, but at least it was one a few dozen feet beyond those promised by the doors. At this point, even extra seconds of life were worth fighting for.

She ran. Ivan was still following, she was sure, but she reached the staircase quickly and it ran perpendicular to the hall, so a wall shielded her from further gunfire. That would last seconds. The staircase did not swerve again. It was a straight shot to the second level. If she didn't hurry, she'd be pinned in, unable to maneuver at all. That meant death. Even with all the concerns on her mind, Kimberly dimly noticed that the staircase was very narrow, probably poorly designed and unsafe even in better times. She didn't slow down. Better to die after tripping than to die due to being too cautious.

It was when she was halfway up the stairs that Kimberly realized Ivan would be forced to follow the same path in pursuing her. He'd be stuck, too. She didn't have a gun. She didn't need one. Never had yet, probably never would. The fake fell from her hand as she reached into her too-small hip pocket, searching for the little plastic lighter from the first aid kit. She found it, pulled it free three steps from the top. Kimberly had never liked lighters. No fucking class. Now, she'd take what she could. It had been a stupid choice to throw her matches away, but she could cope.

The Molotov cocktail was still there, still nestled in her sweater's handwarmer. It had maybe leaked a little bit, had maybe been jolted and jostled quite a lot during the game, but she was pretty sure it'd still burn nicely enough. Having only one hand made setting things up a real bitch, especially with a boy with a shotgun behind her. It was gonna be close. She hoped she wouldn't have to set herself on fire to get it done, but, hey, sometimes sacrifices had to be made. She had a way to back Ivan off. That was enough for her in the moment.

One flick of the lighter's wheel: nothing.

A second flick: sparks, a flame. She was standing at the top of the stairs, looking down. It was darker in here, much darker without the stars, except that now there was a flame in her hand. Was that the barrel of Ivan's gun she saw at the corner at the foot of the stairs? Was that his hand? She touched the lighter's flame to the fuse of the Molotov, then dropped the lighter and clawed the incendiary free. The rag in the top was burning really fucking fast. No time to play around. No time to decide. Ivan was rounding the corner. She didn't want to kill him. She wanted him to leave her the fuck alone. She wanted him to back off. He hadn't been too reckless so far, hadn't been abnormally ferocious. She was willing to bet he wasn't all crazy.

Certainly, she doubted he was crazy enough to run through a fire just to get another chance at killing her. She doubted he was crazy enough to gamble that he could outpace a bomb.

Kimberly dropped the Molotov, gave it a little kick to get it rolling, watched it bounce down the steps, spilling gasoline which ignited instantly, tracing a line of flame along the carpet which was now catching too. She ducked back, around yet another corner, not waiting to see the further results of her actions. At this point, she just didn't care.
V7:
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Above, Kimberly did not hear the voices at the start of the encounter, but she heard the gunfire. It was a distant concern. At present, there were more pressing problems. Kimberly was not feeling well. Ivan had not followed her, had not shot her, but the whole situation was wearing her down in a very real way. There was a splitting pain in her side, a stitch like she'd gotten on those rare occasions when she ran too much in the real world. Her left shoulder was being an absolute bitch, stinging and aching. Somewhere in her running and stumbling, she'd torn through the right leg of her jeans, leaving a nasty gash on her leg right above the knee. Maybe she'd caught against a door or something. Fuck, didn't matter now.

None of that was important.

What was important was that Kimberly had been planning a step at a time, a second in advance. She had been focused not on winning the game but on living just a handful of minutes longer. It had served her well in some respects. She had escaped Ivan. She had survived a standoff that by all rights should have killed her. She was away from the action, secluded in her own little world. That was also the problem.

A few seconds after seeing the flames leap up and cast their flickering glow along the staircase, a few seconds after the entire thing had started burning, Kimberly had slumped against the wall only to realize that something was trickling down her back. She'd panicked, had assumed she was going to die like Dutchy, pretending to the last that she had only fallen in a puddle, but no pain had materialized and she hadn't felt any weaker than was to be expected. She had only figured out what had happened after dropping her pack to the ground.

The pack had contained another Molotov. She didn't know if she'd slammed against something too hard or if one of the pellets from Ivan's spray had found a lucky target or if the damn thing had just gotten fed up and shattered for its own perverse amusement, but the glass bottle had completely come apart, leaving her backpack and the back of her shirt and sweater completely soaked in gasoline.

That hadn't been too bad, until Kimberly realized that there was only one staircase to the upper level. She'd planned ahead enough to get away from Ivan, but now there was gunfire below her and flames spreading up the stairs and into the house and the whole thing burning and she was soaked in gasoline. It was spreading more quickly on her level. Fire moved upwards, right? She remembered that. She'd been camping once, really camping like they'd all been supposed to, and they'd lit the fire at the bottom. Ivan was probably fairly safe if he hadn't been shot to death. Kimberly, on the other hand, was in a very different position. She was hurting and so very tired. She wanted nothing more than to just crawl into one of the bedrooms and lie down and go to sleep. She wanted to rest, to wake up and have this all a dream. Dawdling was not an option, though. A slow response here would mean death.

In a fire, Kimberly knew, most deaths had little to do with being burned. The biggest danger was smoke inhalation. Had she read that in a newspaper? A Stephen King novel? Didn't matter now. There was a lot of smoke filling the air for her to inhale, more and more of it billowing up the staircase every second. Smoke rose too. The fire was spreading really, really quickly because of the fucking wood paneling and the carpet. It was surreal. The world was silent except for the crackle of the fire and the gunfire. Someone must have taken the smoke alarms out, probably to deny the students access to the batteries they ran on. Liz might have appreciated that little piece of insight. Kimberly didn't give a damn. She just didn't want to die here.

She'd always figured she'd die in a manner of her choosing, as a consequence of her own actions. She had absolutely not counted on it being because she fucked up like this. Once, what seemed like forever ago, the worst thing in the world had seemed like dying alone, in the cold. Now, she'd give anything for a little place to herself, maybe up on the top of the mountain again, looking out over the island and the ocean and listening to the breeze and not the sound of fighting. She wouldn't mind shivering so very much.

She wasn't going to give up, though. Not yet. She'd been leaning against the wall for half a minute, maybe, trying not to breath so much, trying to ignore the horrible stinging in her eyes. She was trying to pretend that her lips weren't cracked from dehydration, that her leg wasn't bleeding, that she wasn't almost certainly going to be dead before the hour was up.

What were you supposed to do in a fire again? A mask. That was part of it. You were supposed to try to filter the smoke. Kimberly darted into one of the bedrooms, went to the bed, and yanked a pillow off of it, ignoring the urge to rest for even an instant. She shook the pillow out of its case, then hurried back to the bathroom. On the way, she started laughing, a wheezing, choked sort of chuckle. She'd thrown her cigarettes away. She'd thrown her cigarettes away and she was still going to die of fucking smoke inhalation.

In the bathroom, she cranked the handle of the faucet. There was still water, right? Somehow she thought there would still be water.

She was right. It was delayed a couple seconds, and it came out lukewarm and tinged with brown, probably rust, but there was water, at least for the moment. It looked disgusting, but now was not the time to be picky. She shoved the pillowcase into the flow, let it get soaked, then put it to her mouth. She was pretty sure she was supposed to tie it on, but she couldn't tie it with only one arm. Fuck. Okay, she'd be holding it, then. It seemed to help, at least a little. It took more effort from her lungs to actually suck air through, but it didn't make her hack and choke so badly. The damp towel felt cool on her lips. She'd been supposed to wring it more than she had, probably, but fuck it.

What next? Crawl. She was pretty sure she was supposed to crawl. She couldn't crawl without the use of her fucking arms. Okay, fuck that. No crawling. The smoke wasn't too all-consuming yet. She could still see. It was mostly contained to the upper parts of the rooms. She'd just get down on her knees and knee-walk or something. Fuck. She was going to look pretty damn ridiculous. The cameras were probably still rolling. She suspected they'd be one of the last things to go. Maybe the smoke would impair their view of her. Maybe they had some sort of setting that would cut through it.

Didn't matter. Time to think back on those safety lessons she'd had from wherever.

What next?

Wait for the rescue crew.

The firemen will come and break the windows and carry you to safety. You'll hear the sirens and you'll know that everything will be alright. You'll fill out insurance forms and hug your family but it'll all be okay in the end.

No one was coming to save her. Rescue was as much a pipe dream as it had always been on the island. Lightning wouldn't strike twice. Reiko wasn't going to charge up the stairs to carry her to safety. No, Kimberly knew that anyone, no matter what the state of their moral compass, would be insane not to sit by and watch a competitor burn at this point.

This was what she'd wanted, right? Relying on people, that was for weaklings. Wasn't that what she'd thought, again and again, all the way since that first day on the beach? Hadn't she yearned to be self reliant? Hadn't she spat in the face of kindness and rejected offers of charity?

It was funny how these things could come back to haunt her.

But no. That wasn't what she wanted. Maybe it hadn't been for a long time. She wanted to be safe. She wanted her friends. She wanted Erik back. She just wanted out of this fucking game.

Kimberly was on her knees, in the bathroom, trying to figure a way out of the house she'd lit on fire but also trying one more time not to cry.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Upstairs, with the smoke and fire, Kimberly was wheezing and choking through her improvised filter. She'd almost given up there for a moment, had almost just sat in that bathroom to burn to death. It'd have been easier. Everything since arriving here had been so fucking hard, and she'd known since the very first day that she was totally fucked, and now she didn't have anything left to even defend herself with. The entire sum of her worldly possessions amounted to the clothes on her back and the hook on her belt. Meanwhile, it sounded like everyone else was lighting each other up with machine guns and shit. Reiko had one, right? That would be the fucking perfect way to die, stumbling out of the flames with half her skin burned off only to get popped in the back of the head. It'd almost be better to breathe the smoke until she passed out, to just get burned up nice and quietly.

Kimberly had never been any good at giving up. She let go of things, sure, but only because it was another way to keep control of the situation. If she threw her gun away, she could say she'd chosen to lose. She'd known this for days. She was done with that bullshit. Choosing to give up was still losing control. The only difference between that and getting beaten honestly was that if she let herself get burned she'd also be dying as a coward.

No regrets.

Kimberly forced herself to her feet and ran out of the bathroom. Things were getting worse by the second. The smoke was thicker, stronger. She could see the orange glow of nearby flames. Not much time now. She certainly wouldn't get the chance to go back down the stairs. That was the epicenter of this madness, and she was still soaked in gasoline. There was only one other way down, and Kimberly did not relish the thought of taking it.

It still beat dying. She retreated to the bedroom, relying on memory to help her find her way with her vision impaired and forcing herself not to panic. Her eyes were stinging and tearing up, but only from the smoke. Only the smoke. She was fine. She found a window, right about where she'd figured it'd be. She wanted to hesitate a moment longer, to work herself up for this, but there really wasn't time. The window began at about waist height. It took some doing, but Kimberly positioned her right leg for a kick. Better to use her right; it was already fucked up with that cut from who-knew-what.

She kicked the window. Kimberly didn't have any idea how to kick something, but she sort of just assumed that it would be like in the movies, that the thing would shatter and she'd break the remaining glass out with her heel or something. What actually happened was that the window didn't give at all, and Kimberly was thrown off balance. She flailed her good arm for a second and almost managed to remain standing. In the end, she fell to her knees, but it was a slow, controlled fall, one that didn't hurt. It still wasted time, time she didn't have. Fuck. Okay, this was bad. She tried to take a deep, calming breath. It was a mistake, since in her attempt to stay upright she'd taken the cloth away from her mouth. She coughed again, hating that she had ever found anything even remotely romantic about the idea of fire.

She was crying for real now, not even bothering to pretend that she wasn't terrified. She was going to die. All this, and she was still going to die.

Kimberly stood and stepped forwards once more, planning to try again, ready to throw herself against the window again and again until the last bit of strength left her body, when, while feeling along the side of the window for cracks or something to prove that her last effort hadn't been a complete fucking waste, she noticed something that caused her to laugh along with her tears. Hinges. The window had fucking hinges, and one of those stupid little crank handles to open it up. It also had those locks along the unhinged side. It took a few seconds, but she unfastened them, then started cranking the window open. The smoke was bad, but she was holding her breath now. In under half a minute, Kimberly had the window open and was leaning out, blinking the tears out of her eyes and breathing as deeply as she could. If these were going to be her last breaths, fuck, she was gonna enjoy them.

Of course, she wasn't in the clear yet. She could breathe again, so some of the urgency had passed, but she was still on the second story of a burning building. She thought she could hear gunshots somewhere below her, but maybe it was just things popping from the heat. Kimberly really hoped the terrorists had done a good job disabling the utilities in the house. She wasn't at all prepared to deal with a sudden gas explosion if there was residual fuel in the pipes behind the stove or some shit like that.

She looked down to the ground. It probably wasn't more than twenty feet. Fuck, it was probably less. Didn't matter. The fact of it was, it'd have been a really good time to have a grappling hook with some rope on it. Too bad Kimberly had finally decided the rope was fucking useless and thrown it away. That had been a pretty damn poor use of resources. It was just another mistake in an endless line, stretching all the way back to deciding that, oh, no way would the senior class at Bayview ever play this game, that was for those other freak schools.

There wasn't time to worry. Kimberly leaned out the window, looking for other options.

She didn't much like what she found. There was a little ornamental space of roof separating the floors, but it was maybe eight inches wide and heavily slanted, ending in one of those thin metal gutters. Still, it beat standing in a bedroom, surrounded by billows of smoke. She grabbed hold of the window frame and hoisted herself outside, clinging tightly as she sought stable footing.

She nearly fell right away. The shingles looked rough, but the traction on her boots was shit after two weeks of constant wear after three or four years of frequent use. She slid, but her grip, fueled by adrenaline, was enough to keep her upright.

The problem was, there weren't really many places left to go except down. Kimberly figured she could edge around to the front of the building, but she'd still have to drop to the ground. Nobody would be there to help her; if anything, anyone who saw her would shoot her while she was distracted. Maybe Reiko would give her a fair chance, if she was still alive. Ivan certainly wouldn't.

Best, she thought, to get it all over with. Slowly, Kimberly let go of the window frame and knelt down, figuring she'd turn herself around, grab hold of the edge with her good arm, let herself hang for a second, then drop. It wasn't like she'd never jumped off a roof before. Her grandparents had a nice home in Saint Paul, two stories, and Kimberly's room was on the upper floor. She'd never been afraid of heights. She'd done this exact thing a dozen times during her childhood. The only difference was that now she was tired and sick and malnourished and dehydrated and only able to use one arm. It wouldn't be so bad. Not impossible, at least.

Further stalling was rendered impossible when Kimberly shifted her weight, causing her boots to slip again. Her arm shot out, seeking purchase, but the window was too far away. She managed to catch onto the edge of the roof, her fingers hooking the edge of the storm gutter, but that slowed her momentum for mere moments. Then, the gutter, never constructed to hold a person's weight, was peeling away from the roof.

Kimberly screamed. She was sure of it. She screamed and she closed her eyes and she figured she'd die, but she didn't. She hit the ground hard, but she must've hit it at a pretty good angle, because while her right ankle was flaring up with pain and her shoulders both felt like someone had been tugging them in opposite directions she was pretty sure she wasn't bleeding from anywhere new and she was able, after a few seconds, to hoist herself to her feet again, using the nearby wall of the house as support.

Smoke was still pouring from the window above, lit by a glow that seemed to grow ever brighter. The stars and moon still provided illumination, though Kimberly's eyes were not adjusted to the dark again yet so she couldn't really make much of her surroundings out.

She hobbled away from the house, trying to figure out what to do next. Really, though, there was nothing. She was unarmed. Rushing into the fight now would get her killed. She didn't have the stomach to go after whoever was left and try to kill them with her hook. Absently, she pulled it off her belt and let it fall to the ground. She figured she wouldn't need it, not anymore, not ever again.

She didn't go back to the center of it all, to the statue and the fountain and the flowers and the grave whose occupant she still could not identify. Instead, she moved to the house opposite the burning one and lowered herself into a squatting position. She hadn't been quiet. For all she knew, someone was coming to kill her now. For all she knew, she was already dying, past the point of no return. It didn't matter. What was important was that, from here, she could look up at the sky and could see the stars and could enjoy it, just for a little bit longer.
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Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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For a good while, Kimberly's peace held. She looked at the sky and tried to wrap her head around the idea that the world would just keep spinning tomorrow, regardless of what happened to her or anyone else on this island. She'd never much liked taking a broad and universal perspective on things, except when it served to justify her desires or prove her points. Now, though, she figured it was about time to think a little more deeply. Odds were good she wouldn't have many more chances.

She coughed twice, the ghost of the smoke still weighing on her lungs a little, and moved her good hand to scratch her head. It felt wet, and she paused, then pulled her hand away.

There was blood on it. For a moment, she panicked, afraid she'd caved her skull in and somehow not noticed, but closer inspection revealed a thin, shallow cut along the inside bottom joints of her first three fingers, probably from the gutter. Fuck. Just what she needed, especially since after noticing the minor injury she realized it was stinging. She felt like she was slowly falling apart, dripping blood and dropping pieces of herself all over the place.

Then there was someone else, and she had to pay attention again.

Ilario. Lots of kills. She remembered him from around school. It was kind of hard not to at least know of the Fiamettas. Even in Bayview Secondary, something like a set of triplets aroused interest, especially with the antics the girls got up to. Ilario, he'd been the straight-laced one, hadn't he? Kimberly had always felt a bit bad for him, having to deal with shit about his sisters and still holding everything together. Now, here he was, looking far worse for the wear of the past few days. He was stumbling, fumbling with his gun, almost using it as a crutch. The whole scene was colored with flashes of Kris, of a grenade launcher and an explosion and fear and pain and blood, of a knife and closure.

Kimberly had left her knife on the mountain. She wouldn't have raised it even if she hadn't. Ilario wasn't Kris, and she didn't hate either anymore. She exhaled, waited, wondering when it was coming. She wondered if he even had ammunition left. Maybe he'd run dry. Maybe he'd have to attack her unarmed. Would she have a chance then? He wasn't doing well. Neither was she. Didn't matter. This was not the time to be thinking of these things. Ilario was getting closer. Kimberly considered fleeing. Could she hobble faster than him? Her ankle hurt like fuck. She was pretty sure she could stand, at least.

No, if this was it for her, she was going to face it head on, looking him in the eyes. No way was she getting shot in the back. Not after all this time.

Ilario stooped or fell. She couldn't tell which, but he was kneeling on the ground, level with her. She couldn't read his eyes, but his words were clear.

He told her Ivan was dead.

What the fuck did that mean? Was this supposed to be distressing to her? Was it a taunt, showing her that he'd killed the person who had had her on the run, meaning he was even more dangerous? Was it an apology? Had he failed to save Ivan and now decided to finish the other boy's work? Was he expecting her to be grateful, to greet him as a savior before he put a round through her forehead? Was he expecting a lack of resistance as a reward, like now that Ivan was dead she didn't have anything left to exist for?

Kimberly couldn't figure out how to approach Ilario's statement, so she went with what came naturally.

"Good for him," she said. She didn't have a cigarette to use to justify a dramatic pause, so she just fell silent for a second. It didn't work quite the same. "Where's everyone else?"
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Kimberly was quite surprised by Ilario's assertion that they were the only two left. That wasn't something she'd been expecting, not at all. She'd rolled the idea of making it this far around in her head, but never really expected it to happen. She'd known she was fucked since the first day, with her bad arm and the blood she'd lost and all the other shit that had gone down. More than that, the others being dead just didn't fit with her image of them. She'd been so worried about how things might end if Reiko killed everyone else. She'd never even seen Ericka. They couldn't just be gone.

Kimberly wondered what had happened, but not enough to ask. She knew where this was going, knew she wouldn't get a chance to find out what she'd missed. Too bad. Show's over. Time to pack it up and go home.

Ilario was pleasantly forthright about the whole thing. Oh, sure, there was an edge of self-justification in there, that little part where he said he had to kill her. Bullshit. He was right about one thing, though: then everything would be over. Maybe at one point that idea could have held some appeal for Kimberly. Sometimes it had seemed like everything on the island was suffering and pain and violence, but there had been good points too, so many of them. She wanted more time, wanted to enjoy the cool air and see Erik smile and eat a chocolate bar and just keep existing.

The beach felt so long ago now. She could remember how she'd wished she could do it differently, how she'd wished she could start again and play, anything to hang onto her life for a little longer. She remembered hooking her fingers under her collar, considering ending it all just to drive home some more pain, buying into everything just to hurt some fellow victims who'd been a bit luckier than she had. She remembered all the times she'd been on the wrong end of a gun before this, saying she didn't care if she died or not. She'd never really expected to get shot. Maybe, just maybe, for a second she'd thought Liz might pull the trigger, but that was all.

She didn't doubt that Ilario could do it. At least he wasn't a psychopath like Brook. He wasn't doing this for fun. He was hurting too. They were all hurting, and they were all fucked up now. Once again, she wished she could have done something, could have yelled truce at the start of this five-way showdown or something, could have tried to change the way it all happened. Fuck, she was half ready to ask Ilario to let her run the clock down, to ask him to wait and see if maybe they'd let them both go, to risk his own life to call their bluff.

No. Kimberly looked at her fingers, at the blood, starting to clot and scab over now. No, better someone lived. She wouldn't have thrown her life away to give Ilario more comfort.

Fuck, she was just scared. She was terrified of dying. She still wasn't ready, and she was furious that she had to think about these things. She was angry at the world, but she wasn't angry at Ilario. She wanted to hurt something, but not the boy sitting in front of her.

He'd moved into a more comfortable position while speaking, so Kimberly shifted, lowering herself to properly sit. She could see the ragged hole in her jeans, could feel the sting as denim brushed the cut underneath. There had been silence for a few seconds.

"Too bad," she said, and she was surprised because her voice was calm. Instincts were carrying her now, words forming along the old familiar lines of interaction. "I was just getting used to being alive. Kinda liked it. Thought maybe it might be worth keeping up for a while."
V7:
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Ilario offered Kimberly some time, and she was grateful for the thought, even if she wasn't really sure it was making things easier. All waiting did was cause her tenuous grasp on coherency and dignity to deteriorate. She was doing her best not to think about how it was going to be, to ignore the idea of bullets punching through her and to not consider how long it would probably take for thought to fade into nothing. She wondered if it would be in bad taste to ask him to make it clean. Hard to say. Ilario couldn't be completely sane at this point. Nobody could. Kimberly figured talking like this was pretty good evidence both of them were completely off the fucking deep end.

She didn't mind. What was it Erik had said? Some types of crazy, they weren't so bad?

And then, Ilario was talking again, and this time he wasn't talking about killing her, and that automatically made the topic a whole lot more accessible and interesting, a nice little chance for Kimberly to distract herself from everything. That wasn't really why it gripped her attention, though. Ilario had her from the third word: Rhory.

He said it was her, that she'd been connected to him somehow, that he'd struggled over what to do with her but had eventually decided to save her. He said he'd just been trying to help, that he'd been trying to be good, to be a hero, but then at the end he'd lost his sisters and everyone else. He'd been reduced to trying to protect Rhory, and that was something Kimberly could understand, something that could actually make her feel sorry for him. Rhory had been a disaster waiting to happen. Kimberly's interaction with her had nearly ended in the girl's death, and not by Kimberly's choice. She'd thought she'd talked Rhory down. Fuck, she'd felt guilty too when she heard that announcement. She'd thought that maybe there was something she could've done, some way she could've helped.

But, in the end, she suspected nothing she could have said or done would've changed a damn thing. Rhory had been bent on self destruction. Of course, that was only an intellectual realization. It didn't mean shit when it came to what her emotions had to say on the subject.

"I'm sorry," Kimberly said, not sure if she meant to convey sympathy or apology. "I met Rhory, right after she... won her prize. We didn't get along so well at the start. She tried to make me kill her."

Do it. That was what Rhory had said. Those two words, bouncing around in Kimberly's mind.

Do it. Funny how situations came around again. Funny how things looked from the other side. No matter how she'd been feeling, Rhory had been brave to say that, braver than Kimberly was.

"At least you tried," she continued. "You tried to be a hero. You tried to help people. Fuck, that's worth doing. I spent most of my time trying to find someone and hurt her, and I hurt a lot of other people, and when I finally caught up with her I didn't even hate her anymore."

Kimberly twisted her good arm a little, stretching it, working out some of the accumulated tension. The action was reflexive and probably pointless. She was feeling pretty stressed. Her muscles would probably bunch right up again.

"Were you with Rhory in the end?" The question was sudden, something Kimberly hadn't really planned to ask until she realized that she didn't have anything left to lose. It was important. With Liz, she'd known. The context, the way she'd died—it had told her all she needed to know. Rhory had been different. She'd had to guess.

"Was she happy?"

That was all anyone could ask for, right? A death without regrets? Kimberly'd come pretty close. She'd fucked up here and there. There was the one thing she wished she could take back, and the multitude of things she wished she could do, but she'd tried to make the best of all of this. She'd have to settle for that.
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Ilario said he didn't know, and Kimberly, she didn't know either. She appreciated that he wasn't playing games with her, at least. No need to shelter someone who was gonna die anyways. What he said after, though, that was the important bit. Rhory had seen it as a way out. She'd gone on her own terms. She didn't want to be saved.

That sounded pretty damn familiar. He could've been talking about someone else, no, so many other people. Kimberly'd always thought she was special, always figured nobody understood. She'd sensed a kindred spirit in Rhory, but hadn't really figured the depths that went to.

Then again, maybe it wasn't so true after all. Maybe they were nothing alike. Kimberly had always been a poser. She'd known it on some level even back home. The island had driven it in, but she'd just replaced one form of acting with another. She'd let herself get drawn into self destructive patterns, and now all she wanted was out. Too late now. Too late to back down, to pull away, to change who she'd become. Too late for regrets. Too late for worries. Too late to apologize, to figure things out, to ease off a little bit and trust someone and say thanks.

Ilario reached into his pocket and pulled something out. It was a scrunchie, a little hair tie. No way it was his. Before Kimberly could speak, he explained. It was Ivan's—no, it had belonged to the girl Ivan had been protecting, the one whose death he had been taunted about during the announcements. He'd wanted it to get home. He'd wanted to get home, too, to deliver it. He'd wanted to go home for someone he'd cared about and Kimberly had fucked up his last few minutes of life to protect someone she only kind of liked because of some bullshit debt she'd coaxed herself into believing in. No point regretting it, though. He'd tried to kill her. Nobody had been right. There was nothing right about this, any of this.

The only thing right was what Ilario was saying. He said that none of them had asked for this, and that was true. That was the crux of the matter. Nobody had asked to be taken, to be shot and tortured and killed. Nobody had wanted this. Nobody had deserved it. The biggest jackass in the school, the most crazed killer on the island, none of them could have possibly wanted this over happy, normal lives. Kimberly had known that about herself for a long time. She'd known that she'd have traded just about anything to have gotten the flu the day of the trip. She'd had an old boyfriend in her grade, once, and he'd been gone that day, had just missed the bus and was probably sitting at home watching this. It'd have been better, so much better, to be like him.

Ilario locked eyes with her, and Kimberly did not turn away. She did not flinch, did not cry, did not panic or weep or beg. Fuck that. She'd lived so long planning for everything to end on her terms that she wasn't about to back down now.

He said he wasn't sorry. He said he'd done what he had to. That made one of them. It was probably admirable.

Ilario's eyes shut, just for a second, as he moved. He was pointing the gun, but not at her. It was a big gun, but he handled it like he knew it. Kimberly hadn't ever really understood guns, so it took her a second to realize what he was doing. By then, his eyes were open again, and he told her it was going to be okay, and there wasn't time to say or even think anything except for the stupid sense of wonder she felt at the fact that a gun that big could be turned around like that and still look almost graceful, and then he smiled, and he pulled the trigger and there was a loud noise, so much louder this close by, and he fell backwards, dropped to the ground, the gun falling from his grasp.

He was wrong. It wasn't okay.

Kimberly sat in shock. Across the street, something fell with a crash in the burning house. She could still hear the fire, the crackling. It was dark. Even with the light from the flames, the world was a little bit fuzzy. It was almost natural seeing things without her glasses now.

She glanced at Ilario. He wasn't moving.

Five seconds later, the voice crackled from all around her. She screamed, drowning it out, not wanting to hear it, not ready to cope yet. She wanted to cover her ears, to fall unconscious and never have to deal with the world ever again, to somehow make things better or make up for everything she'd done and had not done.

They waited thirty seconds before trying again. By that time, Kimberly had fallen silent.

"Congratulations, Girl Fifty-Nine," the man's voice said. It was not a voice she knew. It sounded surprised and irritated in equal measure. "You are the winner."

Kimberly didn't feel much like a winner. She'd thought about this, fantasized about it, even, but all of a sudden she'd didn't have any idea what the fuck she was doing still being alive. Nothing made sense. Maybe she'd finally made actual peace with the notion that she was doomed. Maybe she'd just been holding herself together only in the context of the island, and now that she had a way out her entire reality had suddenly been reshaped. Maybe—and, at the moment, this seemed closest to right—she was just not seeing what she'd done to deserve to still be standing here. She hadn't done things right. She hadn't even tried, not until the last few days. She'd been one awful fuckup of a person until Erik.

"The danger zones have been deactivated. Please proceed to the docks for extraction," the voice said.

Kimberly didn't move. She didn't stand up. Everything felt unreal. It was like the first day again, like back at the beach, facing something she didn't know how to deal with at all and maybe didn't quite want to accept. Maybe this was worse. It was terrifying. All her time on the island, the one certainty in her mind had been the end. The only given had been death. She'd done some repulsive, evil shit. She'd said some horrible things, not just to her now-dead classmates, but to people who had escaped, to people back home, people who had never been part of this and couldn't even possibly begin to understand.

It had seemed so smart at the time. She'd figured she was doing her family a big old favor, making them hate her so that her death would be easier on them. She'd figured they'd recover quicker that way. She'd thought maybe someday they'd realize that she really had loved them. Maybe they'd bring some flowers to whatever empty patch of land bore her gravestone.

Now, the island wasn't some crazy Valhalla anymore. It wasn't some fantasy land where she could do whatever she wanted and never have to worry about things again. It was no longer a place where consequences didn't exist. She'd hurt a lot of people, and now she was going to have to do the one thing she'd never planned on: return and face the music.

"Quickly." The voice wasn't sounding very pleased. Kimberly could relate. Fuck them. Fuck the terrorists and their little games. She reached out and braced herself on the house and pulled herself to her feet. Her left leg had fallen asleep from the knee down. Her right was tingling with a different sort of pain, from the mysterious cut.

She realized she could look this all up on YouTube or something and figure out what had really happened. She'd get to sit down in front of a computer again, get to eat shitty fast food and sleep in a real bed. It didn't make her feel better.

She could just imagine the guy stuck talking her to her, probably bored out of his mind the past few days, sick and tired of the slaughter, now forced to deal with her attitude and hating her a little more every second. It was a nice thought. Fuck the terrorists. She could hurt them. The ideas she'd been bouncing around in her head, the realization that she'd been awful to her classmates, that she'd been sadistic and wrong, none of that was in play here. If she could hurt the people who'd put her—no, them, all of them—through this, if she could fuck up their days in any little way, fuck, that was something worth doing. Nobody would fault her for it.

"Come on," the voice said. "We know you can still walk."

"Fuck you."

She turned, feeling her lips curve into a grin. She felt a rush, a returning boom of energy, as her mind made a few little connections. She knew what to do, knew how to do it. She could do it. She could make a difference, could change the world. There was a camera nearby. Had to be. It took five seconds to find it. By then, Kimberly had her good hand hooked under her collar again, just like she'd done all those days ago when she'd wanted to ensure they'd show her, when she'd left Sarah and Bridget that spiteful little message.

"Fuck you. You want me to hurry? How come? What'll you do if I don't? Kill me? You think that can scare me now?"

The breeze had picked up. She could feel her hair being pulled by it, not smoothly like it once might have been. It was a matted mess after two weeks without seeing a brush, probably with blood and dirt ground into it. The stench of gasoline about her was the only thing sparing her the smell of her own sweat and grime. Funny. She'd lost her deodorant somewhere along the way, but she'd gotten a replacement after all. It was enough to get her laughing, a crazed cackle.

"You can't hurt me anymore. You can't make things worse. Don't you get it? After this there isn't anything worse. You saw what happened to everyone. And the funniest thing about it is you can't even kill me. People got away this time. I know they did. They got away and that means you can't kill me. You took the guy back who won the first time, and you made him do it again and he died. The second guy, I've got no clue what the fuck happened to him, but that means a lot of other people don't either. That means you've got one crazed, torturing fuck and me. That's the only reason anyone has to play, just the two of us as the bait you can dangle, and I'm pretty fucking sure nobody wants to be him. I can kill myself now, make it a clean sweep, and what the fuck's anyone gonna do next time? They'll sit down and wait. Just like I said they would."

At some point, she'd stopped laughing and had started crying. Her nose was running, remnants from that little cold or whatever she'd had a few days ago. Didn't matter. No way in fuck this was going to be dignified.

"You'll lose. No matter what happens, you'll lose. You lost this time. So many people fucked you over, and—" and then she stopped talking, just froze mid-sentence, as her collar gave a loud, clear beep.

"Greynolds here." This was a voice she did know, but it sounded more relaxed now, not worried in the slightest. "You're not on the air, so you can stop trying to martyr yourself. You're the last one left, so you've got the right to go to the docks and hitch a ride, but only for the next"—a short pause, as if maybe he was checking his watch—"fourteen minutes. If I was you, I'd get moving. You're leaving the island then no matter what. Only question's whether your head's attached or not."

Kimberly stood for a second, completely taken aback. Her fingers were pressed against her neck, tucked under the her collar, still burning from the cut across them.

"And one more thing," Greynolds added, still sounding cheery and a bit bored. "You say another word before that collar comes off, you die. I've had a rough week, and I'm too tired for this nonsense. See you soon."

For a moment longer, Kimberly considered pushing her luck, shouting something at the cameras or going ahead and yanking anyways, just to spite the fuckers. The impulse rapidly died away, though, leaving her standing there in her ragged clothes in the middle of the night, crying and shivering and scared and lonely and wanting nothing more than to wake up and find out everything had been a dream.

She wasted five more seconds just trying to wrap her head around the past half hour, then gave up, knelt, and picked up the hair tie Ilario had shown her.

Sorry, Ivan.

She looked back at Ilario, at the boy who had given her a chance, who had been ready to kill her and had instead saved her life, who had maybe staked everything on the fact that she wasn't Rhory after all, the boy whose sacrifice she had nearly thrown away on some last stupid vestige of a rebellion fantasy.

Sorry, Ilario.

There wasn't any more time for her to stand around. The docks were close by, but her ankle was fucked up and her sides were aching and she just couldn't seem to catch her breath. Fourteen minutes was doable, but not if she didn't get moving right away.

She hobbled past the fountain, towards the docks, but turned back and paused once, right when she was on the edge of being out of sight of where she and Ilario had talked. She wanted to say something, but figured it was safer to just mouth out "Thanks." It wasn't like anyone would hear her either way.

((Kimberly Nguyen concluded in V4's Epilogue))
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