Because Of Me


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Scene Title Because of Me
Synopsis After a heartbreaking encounter with Peyton, Kain tells Elisabeth the truth.
Date November 5, 2018

The Pelago

Getting Kain away from the Palisades wasn't so bad. He wanted to go and was more than willing to be led out. He's spent the better part of the month drunk as a skunk. Even to the point that Aurora has only stopped in his vicinity when he's passed out to watch him with sad little eyes. He said "go 'way" one time. It's the one time in all the time that they've traveled together that Elisabeth wanted to rip his head off…. Until she realized just how bad off he had to be to have said that to the little girl that he seems to have taken a serious shine to in spite of himself.

Getting him back to the space that he's been calling his own — a corner of one of the two bedrooms in the apartment that they've all been using — she wraps a silence field around them. Once he's dropped into the bedroll to either lay on the floor or sit against the wall, Liz moves to park herself against the wall. Pulling one knee up, she rest her elbow on it and stretches the other leg out, seemingly not going anywhere anytime soon. She lets the silence drag out, just to see what he'll say. Silence can be an entity all its own, after all. Maybe it'll work on him and get him talking.

“Ah’m fine,” is Kain’s sullen lie he tells the walls, because they might be the only thing in the room that's believe it. Something happened in the Wasteland, Elisabeth’s been sure of that for a while, but Kain’s refused to talk. To her, to Ling, to anyone.

Elisabeth has known something was wrong since they were heading to the Deveaux Building after the fall of the dome, when Kain showed up out of nowhere without a packed bag, suddenly ready to leave a world he'd planned on staying in. Now, here, in the musty confines of a damp apartment, he's feigning ignorance all over again.

“Moonshine’s basically turpentine an’ saltwater here,” Kain continues, trying to pass it off as a bad reaction to alcohol. “Shoulda’ known better when even Izzy wouldn't drink it.” Kain slants a look over at Elisabeth, brows furrowed and lips downturned into a frown. “Yer munchkin probably needs you.”

She lets him tell the wall he's fine. He's said he's fine this whole time. She doesn't look at him when he talks about the turpentine — he's probably not wrong. It's not until he looks sideways at her that she cuts her eyes upward to meet his bloodshot ones head on. "I think my friend needs me more." Elisabeth's tone is quiet. A simple acceptance of the fact that he's going to keep trying to be stubborn about this. With her wrist dangling off her knee, she has a casual posture that belies her worry for him.

"You know," she offers, leaning her head back to look toward the ceiling, "I've spent a lot of years faking it. Pretending that I've got my shit together, keeping up the face for everyone." Rolling her head on the wall to look at him, she says softly, "Usually you're the first person to call me on my bullshit and tell me to get my head out of my ass this past year. You hide behind the mask of not caring about jack shit. But I see you, Kain."

Elisabeth is somber in her words but no less fierce for the low volume. "I have my suspicions about what happened in the Wasteland. And I can't just keep ignoring that you're hurting so goddamn much." Her blue eyes are serious on him. "You don't have to tell me anything. But I'm not going to just leave you here and let you keep carrying it alone. So… here we are."

“Did Ah’ ever tell you that yer nosy, too?” Kain says with a side-eye. “Ya’ll might wanna add that one t’th’ ol’ Zarek phrasebook.” Scanning the room, Kain is at first confused by the lack of people to be found before realizing that it's not exactly late in the day. And here he is already shitfaced and an emotional wreck. “It's a new high score,” he mumbles without context.

“Look,” Kain directs to Elisabeth, “it's not that Ah’ don’t appreciate everythin’, because yer’— right. We are friends, an’ Ah’ ain't got many’f them left these days.” He settles down on the corner of the mattresses stacked on the floor, hunched forward with his forearms resting across his knees. “Ah’ just need t’get off this puddle, an’ t’whatever world it is ya’ll are headed to. Ain't nothin’ fer me here except scurvy or whatever old timey pirates get.”

The faint grin she shoots him is unrepentant. "Yeah, yeah, you've told me that a time or two," Liz retorts mildly. She is quiet for a time and then asks, "What do you think the next shithole is going to hold? I mean… besides less water?" She gestures around them. "We stopped this fucking shithole from happening, but assuming we do make it on the next jump to my world … it's not a paradise." She's never lied to them that it was; it's not nearly as bad as three out of the four worlds he's seen… but it's maybe not as good as the fourth. And if there's one thing they've all learned, a new place doesn't make the old baggage disappear.

Elisabeth picks up a piece of lint front the floor next to her and starts to shred it absently. "I'm … worried for you," she admits softly. "I don't know what's become of Peyton in my world. I'm pretty sure Richard would have made sure she was okay, but that's about as far as I can tell you. I never knew Ling's alternate in my world." She doesn't bring up Kaydence's name specifically — her suspicion about the possible role that Kay played in Kain's decision to continue on, well… she's not going to pick at his wounds excessively. "Are you going to be okay if we get there and what you're looking for isn't there either?" she asks in a gentle tone.

“Don’t know much of what choice Ah’ll have,” Kain admits dejectedly. “Yer friends told me somethin’ about a war there. Looks like there’s always a war, just changes who it’s with. Vanguard, Pinehearst, the Government…” Kain looks up and around the room, then down to the floor. “Vanguard… again?” He seems uncertain of that one. “Whatever. Ah’ve made it this far, right? Ain’t gonna just lie down because Ah’ don’t like th’ results.”

Then, in a spat of helpless ignorance Kain says, “Maybe if Ah’ don’t like your world Ah’ can just bribe Ruiz t’sling me off into another one. Just play Russian roulette until Ah’ hit one where it rains Whiskey.” There’s a ghost of a smile there.

"I'm the last person to discourage you traveling… Cassandra may want to try to get back to Arthur's world too," Elisabeth muses softly. But she sighs heavily. "I don't know that it'll work the way you're thinking, but hey… I won't give up on trying to get you where you want to go, if that's what you want. Ain't gonna rain whiskey, though, I'm betting you." The last idea makes her smile too.

Considering the odds of potentially landing in a worse world, it's not a pleasant thought that he'd want to sling his way out again. But well… not like she can stop him either. Pursing her lips thoughtfully, the blonde is quiet for a time. "The war in my world is over… it ended last year, based on what Dessa's alternate told me in 2014." She shrugs. "Doesn't mean it's great there, but… there's no Volken and there's plenty of opportunity for people with the stubborn to make something of it." Elisabeth slants him a grin. "You're nothing if not stubborn, Cajun."

Kain’s silent for a good long while, just looking down at his hands where he sits on the corner of the bed. There’s a question he’s been holding on to for a long time, something Elisabeth could see in his eyes but never really pin down the nature of. “Back b’fore you an’ the others came crashing into our world,” Kain says quietly, “heck, back ‘fore any of that even happened — the virus, the Hub — Ah worked for Daniel Linderman.” He squints, grimacing, then looks up to Elisabeth. “Ah wasn’t a particularly good person.”

It isn’t that Kain is haunted by his past indiscretions during his time with the Linderman Group, however. “Ah’ve been wonderin’, ever since we got t’that first world past mine… when Ah’ saw myself stealin’ Danny’s empire out from under him, when Ah’ saw what power an’ money did t’me…” Kain closes his eyes and shakes his head, then looks up to Elisabeth. “Did you know who Ah’ was when we met? Y’all acted like you’d known me before, but there wasn’t really time t’talk about it then. An’ now… Ah’ve been afraid. Back in that last timeline… Ah’ found out Ah’d sided with the government, an’ hurt people.”

Wringing his hands together again, Kain looks away from Elisabeth. “Who’m I back where you’re from? Am— am Ah’ always a monster’f a man?”

She doesn't seem surprised by his comments that he wasn't a good person. If he had any idea how many people she heard that from who turn out to be the most decent people of all, under the choices they got shoved into, he'd probably choke. "I knew who you were," Elisabeth tells him evenly. "The you that I knew in my world was friends with Cardinal there. I'm…" She pauses, trying to remember back. Her brows furrow slightly over blue eyes as she considers. "You worked for Linderman there too." She looks at him. "But Richard always trusted you. And I trusted him. The only thing I really remember about the you I knew in my world was … he approached us for protection because he had proof that Linderman was crooked. He wanted us to help bring Linderman down. Which… we were planning to do, and then he was killed. I can't remember if I ever knew exactly the circumstances, aside from what was in the paper. I expect Linderman found out what he was doing."

Tilting her head, she says, "Listen… we all have the capacity to be monsters." Jesus, she just had this conversation with Isabelle, interestingly enough. "You got handed a shit deal in life… it looks to me like it's happened in a lot of places. And often enough, Linderman's shady ass was in the mix somewhere." Elisabeth's tone remains gentle, but there's a hardness to her gaze.

"You can tell me you're not a good person all you fucking want. And sure, I've seen versions of you do shitty things. I've seen you do shitty things. But at the end of the day… I see a man who had no reason to grab my ass off the street in Virus and make sure that I made the extraction point. The people who were necessary for your escape were already up there on the Deveaux Building. I see a man who carried my daughter out of the so-called 'Bright' world and made sure nothing touched her even though she's nothing to you. Enlightened self-interest maybe, but… I see a man who also sat with that same little girl when she cried over missing the only family she ever knew and who had endless patience when she asked questions, and not because you had any obligation to her. And I see a man who has stepped up every goddamn time I've asked him to when it doesn't honestly benefit him in any way to do it. Whatever you were before all this? In these worlds, in the aftermath of all this, you choose who you are."

Her shoulders rise and fall in a small shrug as her gaze slips just left of his face, as if she's not sure she wants him to see too deeply. "I'm no angel, Kain. Believe me. I've flat-out murdered before." She pauses a long moment. "And let's not talk about the utter chaos I leave in my wake trying to get home." When her gaze flickers back upward, there's a pained vulnerability to it. "Am I a monster?" She definitely has days where she believes it of herself.

Quiet, Kain doesn't seem to recognize Liz’s own criticisms of herself. Or at least, he doesn't outwardly acknowledge it. “Ah’m worried about what's waitin’ for me when Ah’ get t’wherever it is yer goin’,” he says in a hushed tone of voice, staring down at his hands.

“Ah’ve killed people fer Danny. People who didn't deserve it.” Kain goes quiet for a long moment, stare distant and somewhere else. “Lizzy, Ah’m a stone-cold murderer. Who the fuck knows what else Ah’d cocked up before Ah’ died back in your hometown?” As if they were just driving from New Jersey.

It isn't really any of that bothering Kain. Maybe somewhere, maybe a little, but not like this. The truth is something more personal, because that's the one thing he won't ever open up about. “Doin’ somethin’ right by somebody ain't gonna change all the wrong. Ain't gonna bring back the dead. Ain't gonna make it easier t’sleep at night.”

"No," she agrees quietly. "It won't." Sugar-coating things hasn't been her way, and she's not about to start now. She moves, though, shifting from her casual seat against the wall to turn and face him where he sits on the mattresses, coming up to sit on her knees in front of him. She reaches out and puts both her hands over the ones he has clasped between his knees like that, and although her voice is gentle with empathy because she has her own demons, she gives him no pity.

"I don't know what you did or didn't do in your own world that's eating you alive." He asked her once about Kaydence Damaris. She doesn't know that's what this is about, but she's no fool either. Only loving someone and failing them somehow makes you hurt this bad. And the hints are in what he says — about not bringing back the dead or changing the wrong. "Whatever it was… Look at me." Her insistence is still in a soft tone. Not until she has his eyes, though, does she tell him quietly, "Whatever happened, you can tell me anything or nothing at all and it doesn't fucking change what I think of you. I see you, and you're my friend for good, bad, and fucking ugly, Kain. It doesn't matter what world I take you to if you can't find a way to forgive yourself." Whatever happened, obviously it was the worst of the worst.

She squeezes his hands tightly. "Please let someone in. It doesn't have to be me; God knows I don't have all the answers. But I can't… I'm watching you destroy yourself, and I've damn well left you alone because I'm scared to death if I push you, I'm going to just lose you anyway." They have lost so fucking many people along this path, and she can't help the visceral reaction of gut-wrenching fear that he's imploding. Elisabeth cannot lose one more person she cares about. It's got a lump lodged in her throat. "I can't make it all better…and I can't predict what we'll find in my world that HE fucked up. So what can I do to help you get through this day? We'll deal with tomorrow when it gets here."

Sliding his tongue over the back of his teeth, Kain closes his eyes and Liz can feel his hands threatening to pull away from hers. They start to tremble, but it’s with anger more than anything else. Jaw unsteadied, teeth nearly clattering together, Kain is like a percolating coffee pot. “I ran,” Kain says as an exhaled breath.

It isn’t clear, at first, what it is he ran from.

“When the Vanguard came, those first few weeks…” Kain’s fingers curl tightly, posture squirms, jaw clenches, “I was with Kay. We… it…” Kain’s tongue flicks out over his dry lips, brows furrow and his mouth is an upturned horseshoe of a frown cut deep into his face.

They died because of me.

Lower Manhattan

April 11th


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C’mon, get yer ass movin’!”

Backpack over his shoulder, handgun tucked into the back of his pants, Kain Zarek stands in the doorway of a Manhattan brownstone, looking out onto the street where lines of cars are packed bumper to bumper. Screams, shouts, and honking fills the air. “Kaydence c’mon!

Thundering down a flight of wooden stairs, Kaydence Lee Damaris has a backpack snug over her shoulders and is slapping a magazine into the bottom of a handgun all her own. Behind her, a young girl of no older than seven carries a backpack as well, not really processing what’s happening. As they reach the door, Kaydence tucks the gun into her backpack and leans down to scoop the girl up into her arms.

“Chopper’s only gonna wait so long for us,” Kain grouses as he looks at Kaydence, then Colene, and hustles for the steps down onto the street. “We’ve gotta go four blocks!” He shouts over the noise and chaos on the road. “Manny’s gonna have it gassed and ready t’go on the top of a parking garage on 5th.”

Stopping, Kain turns and holds out an arm. “Gimmie her, it’ll be faster.” Kaydence looks to the gridlocked traffic, then hands Colene over to Kain, who shifts her around to a piggyback. “Ya’ll hang on there, tinkerbell.” Colene nods, pressing her nose into the back of Kain’s neck.

What about the quarantine?” Kay asks as she and Kain break into a jog. Kain doesn’t seem to recognize the reality of that concern. “Kain— will they shoot us down?”

“We ain’t got time t’worry about that. Manny says he has a path out, an’ Ah’ll trust that big galoot with mah’ life.” As they weave between idling cars, Kain glances back at her. “We’re gonna be ok. Promise.”

As they reach the other side of the street, they’re pushing their way past pedestrians hustling from uptown. Sirens are blaring elsewhere in the city, choppers roar overhead. Kain’s so single-mindedly focused on getting to the parking garage he hasn’t noticed the oncoming crowd getting thicker. Kaydence, buffeted and battered by the people running toward them stops and looks around.

“Kain— ” Kay’s eyes are wide, “Kain— KAIN!” Kain stops, pivots and looks back at her. “Kain, they’re— running from something.” The revelation hits Kain like a sack of bricks, and when he looks back uptown he hears the concussive shockwave of something explode, unleashing a beam of corsucating red light that blasts upward with a stunning kinetic force. People are screaming a Colene has her arms tightly around Kain’s neck as the first piece of rubble crashes into the street.

Kain doesn’t see Kaydence get hit by the debris. He hears her yelp, turns back to see her crumpled under a piece of the building struck by the beam. Colene’s scream drowns out everything else. She kicks, struggles, and writhes until she fights her way off of Kain’s back and hurries over to her mother. Kaydence’s lower half is pulverized by the huge piece of concrete and twisted rebar. There’s so much blood already, and she’s struggling to do anything but moan and paw at the ground.

Staggering backwards, Kain looks down at the horrible wreck of Kaydence’s body with unfathomable horror. He dropped his bag somewhere in there, can’t look away, can’t feel his hands, can’t feel his legs. Screams are coming from up the street, horrible, unintelligible screams of pain, confusion, and anger. A riot of a crowd howling like the mad. Kaydence reaches up for Colene, who is sobbing in confusion and terror.

“Go— with Kain,” Kay rasps, trying to shove Colene but she can’t move close enough. Colene doesn’t budge, and Kain takes another half step back, looking up and over Kaydence to the sounds of the screaming. “Kain— K-Kain— take her.”

Kain doesn’t look at Kaydence, just trembles in shock and steps back again.

“Take her! Kain! Kain you son of a bitch, take her!” Kaydence’s hair is plastered to her face by blood, pinned beneath the concrete rubble. The sounds of gunfire and screams echo down the street, and Colene stares down at her mother, sobbing uncontrollably.

Blue eyes wide, Kain bends down and picks up his backpack. The chop of helicopter rotors getting closer. He’d have to carry her. He can’t save Kay. “Kain you selfish motherfucker take her! Colene go, go with Kain!”

Colene continues to sob over her mother, “Mumma, mumma!” Her face is spattered with Kaydence’s blood. But Coleen’s screaming is nothing compared to the mournful scream that erupts from Kaydence when Kain turns and runs, when he flees the sound of approaching helicopters as fast as he can, leaving Kay pinned beneath the rubble, and her daughter screaming for her dying mother.

The Present

“…there wasn’t no helicopter waiting fer me.” Kain says, face streaked with tears, voice hitched in his throat. “There wasn’t nobody.” He can’t look Liz in the eyes.

Ah ran.” Kain says again, the story told. “Ah fuckin’ ran.

She has not moved since he began talking. It explains so goddamn much about the man in front of her. The horror of what he and Kaydence faced is unimaginable… except that it's not. She can see it in her mind's eye while he talks, because she's lived so much of similar horror. Her blue eyes fill with tears and overflow, the trickle of them constant through his recitation of what happened, but her grip on his hands is strong and she never releases him. Though he can't look at her in his shame, there is no judgment in her gaze. Or in her tone when she rises full height to her knees in front of him and wraps her arms tightly around him.

"I'm so fucking sorry, Kain." The whisper is hoarse. With her forehead against the side of his face and her hands hard against his back so he can't flee the contact, she doesn't try to give him platitudes or excuse what happened. Instead, she offers simple acceptance — for the good, for the bad, for the fucking ugly. He is human. He made a very human choice… an error, yes. Maybe. Probably. A nightmare decision that he lives to regret every night in his dreams. She has made her fucking share of those. Burning babies haunt her dreams these days. She just holds him as tightly as she can, giving him whatever comfort he can derive from the fact that she isn't judging or blaming or turning away in disgust or whatever it is he expected.

Kain tenses up like a dog prepared to be scolded when Elisabeth embraces him. There’s one, short, uncomfortable noise that escapes the back of his throat. But then he’s just still and silent. He doesn’t raise his arms to reciprocate the hug, he doesn’t do much of anything except stare off into space and look guilty. “Ah’ve ruined her life on so many occasions,” is how he chooses to follow that story up. Because what he told Elisabeth isn’t enough.

“Her husband,” husband, “was a cop. Homicide detective. Nice guy.” Kain looks away from Elisabeth. “He sniffed too close to Danny’s work, so Ah’ got asked t’bring him in and flip ‘em.” Kain slides his tongue across his teeth, fidgeting nervously. “It went sideways. He had dirt on me. He knew things.”

“Ah killed ‘em.” Kain says quietly. “Ah’ killed ‘em and buried his fuckin’ body by the side of a highway out in Yonkers.” Swallowing audibly, Kain seems to be waiting for Elisabeth’s reaction. “Ah’ went t’his funeral, Ah’ pretended t’mourn him with his widow an’ his baby. Then, when his body weren’t even cold in the ground Ah’ took his wife from him.”

“Ah’ ran. After Ah’ put them through all that.” Then, more strangled than the last time. “Ah’ ran.” He looks up to Elisabeth, finally, with a shame and guilt in his eyes that paints a picture of the possible how’s and why’s of his death in her timeline. “That’s the man you’re friends with,” is his self-destructive side coming out. “A stone cold murderer.”

Slipping back to give him space to finish talking, she never flinches. She knew who Kay's husband was (at least in her world), though they never met. Kaydence in her world worked with her for a time. There's plenty of sadness in her expression, but Elisabeth simply pulls in a breath and nods slowly at each revelation. Her eyes never leave his face, even when he averts his. And when he hurls the last at her like a challenge, she tilts her head slightly. "If you're expecting me to spit on you or to call you names… you're going to be waiting a long time," she tells him softly. "I told you. I. See. You. If you were the monster you fear, it wouldn't rip you apart like it does. Everything you've told me just makes you human, Kain."

Her face still streaked by the tears she's been shedding on his behalf, Elisabeth purses her lips and then offers him a faint half-quirk of a smile. "When I met you, my impression of you … was of a man who'd do whatever it took to survive. I didn't trust you then, when we landed in your world. I knew who you'd been in mine… and honestly, I rather expected to be stabbed in the back at some point because Edward would tell you to do it and you're a survivor. All I hoped was that I would see it coming so I might have a fighting chance to not die because of it." She looks down for just a moment. "Doing right by someone else may not clear your slate, Kain. You might still have amends to make. That's between you and whatever God you believe in. Here and now, in our worlds? You choose who you will be. You don't want to be that guy? Then don't." It really is that simple, as far as she seems to be concerned.

"I'm not your judge and jury." She aborts a move to reach out and touch his cheek, uncertain about whether it's the right idea, but the movement is there. "I trust you with my life. And more than that… I trust you with the person who matters most in my world. You've never failed me. You've never betrayed me." She shrugs very slightly. "Will you, someday? Only you get to decide that. But I choose to have faith in you."

Kain’s silence is deafening when the room was full of so much talking a few moments ago. There’s nothing Kain has to say in the moment for Elisabeth’s comparative optimism, for her encouragement about the future in spite of the sins of the past. The sigh that escapes him makes it sound like he’s deflating, and for all that he leans against the wall at his back he may be.

Something inside of Kain Zarek broke a long time ago, probably further back than the death of Spencer Damaris, and it’s never been fixed. The damage never even addressed. “Thanks,” is how Kain chooses to end the conversation, staring at a point in space on the wall with his brows creased together and a frown cutting deep into his stubble. “Ah’ think Ah’ just need some space now,” comes afterward, a less monosyllabic refusal of further discussion. “After everythin’, maybe Ah’ just need a nap. Maybe it’ll all make better sense in th’ mornin’. But…” He looks up to Elisabeth, managing a faint smile, for her. “Thanks fer’ makin’ sure Ah’ got mah’ dumb ass home…”

Such as it is.

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