Mutual Acquaintance


elisabeth_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title Mutual Acquaintance
Synopsis Peyton and Elisabeth discuss a mutual acquaintances and the concept of life after regrets.
Date January 18, 2021


Sitting at the small bistro table, Peyton watches the world outside the window. The little wine bar doesn’t seat many, but the ambient conversation is such that it seems fuller than it is — perfect for allowing private conversations to feel private, buffered as they are by the surrounding sound.

Her view of the sidewalk will alert her of her “date’s” arrival before her arrival is likely to see her, though Peyton isn’t trying to be covert. She was the one who asked Elisabeth to join her, sans children and sans significant others, away from work and school. It’s the first time she’s reached out to Liz for anything other than school-related activities, something that pulls her mouth into a small moue of regret as she reaches for the glass of Pinot Grigio she’s already had poured for her.

Elisabeth was a little surprised to get the request, to be honest. Although she and Peyton do fine together, there is always the undercurrent of things left unspoken, regrets that have lingered through the years. It can make things a little awkward sometimes.

As she steps into the bistro, though, it doesn't really look like Elisabeth is uncomfortable with being here. Her blue eyes skim the interior and once they alight on Peyton, the woman moves in that direction with purpose. Her smile is genuine, if small, as she greets quietly. "It's good to see you."

Lowering herself into the chair across from Peyton, Liz takes the moment to really study the other woman's face. The years have been more kind to this Peyton than to the last one she knew, but this one has seen her share of hardship too. "You look good."

Seeing Liz approach, Peyton has time to pull her expression into something warmer, friendlier, though altogether sincere. It broadens into a bigger smile when Liz’s gaze finds her, and she lifts a hand to hail her over to the seat. Out and away from the eyes of students, employees, and parents (other than Elisabeth), Peyton looks a little less like her public self, polished and professional, and a little more herself. Her chestnut hair loosely tumbles about her face and she wears jeans and boots and a sweater rather than anything resembling a suit.

“You always look good,” Peyton counters, compliment for compliment, and she taps her glass. “I swear I didn’t get too far ahead of you. This is the first glass.” She grins, handing the wine list to Liz so she can prepare herself for the inevitable server’s approach.

“Thanks for meeting with me. I should have asked a long time ago,” Peyton says, and while she doesn’t apologize in so many words, the smile she gives Liz is a rueful one. “I promise I’m not here to pressure you into school booster duties.” That would probably be easier.

"Oh thank God," Elisabeth breathes out in relief. She grins, though, to show she's mostly kidding. Accepting the wine list, she glances over it and when the waiter arrives she asks for a glass of whatever Reisling they have available. When he leaves, she settles in to really chat.

"And don't worry about not doing this sooner," she remarks quietly. "Things are …" she shrugs slightly. "They're always busy. Whether it's work or kids or whatever else. I should have reached out sooner too, so we're both at fault for that." They haven't really spoken in great depth in the months since Liz got back. "How are you doing? Things going okay?"

“Always busy,” echoes Peyton. “If I’d known there was this much work to do running a school, I never would have had the energy to even begin it, to be honest. I’m glad I did, don’t get me wrong, but it’s way more work than I realized. Ah, to be young and naive again.”

The brunette laughs, but there’s still something on her mind, and she looks down into her glass, swirling the pale liquid for a moment, looking up to smile up at Liz again. “I’m great, honestly. Nothing’s wrong. But…” Her brows draw together, and she reaches into her purse, pulling out a folded piece of paper, unfolding it carefully, like it’s something dear, then laying it down on the table facing Elisabeth.

It’s a letter in messy, slanted handwriting, from Kain to Peyton.


This belongs to you, even if it never did. I’m not supposed to say anything, but fuck it. You saved my life, multiple times, whether you realize it or not. I don’t know what I was to you here, because I’m not the man you knew. I’m just a shadow on the wall cast by a light that’s gone out.

Everything in this bag is all I have left of the you I loved like a sister. She was family to me and I failed her. I failed every single one of you.

Don’t look for me, because I’m already gone. I just wanted you to know how strong you were, in case you ever had doubts. Because you were strong enough to face the end of the world and not break.

I never knew what family was before her, and deep down I hope there’s a part of you that has that strength.

- K-Mart

She watches while she lets Liz read it, her dark eyes barely keeping back the tears that well up in her eyes. “Kain Zarek. But not the Kain Zarek I knew. Can you…” she swallows. There are many questions, all competing to be spoken at once, and some are harder than others to ask. She settles on the simplest, which is already impossible and complicated in itself.

“Is he one of the ones who came back with you?”

Reaching for the note, Elisabeth quickly folds it when the server brings her wine back. After he's left again, she reads more slowly. She can hear him saying the words in her head and her heartbreak is evident. Folding it again before sliding it back to Peyton, Elisabeth chooses to take a sip of her wine before answering.

"Yes." The simplicity of the answer is stark, and it was obvious in the sheen of tears that came to her eyes even before she replied, but Elisabeth also seems to be struggling with what else to say. "He saved my ass more times than I can count," admits softly.

Peyton’s dark eyes well up with tears as well, and she nods at the simple answer, pulling the letter back, holding the folded paper in both hands. She takes a long moment to compose herself and the words she says next.

“I saw him when he left this. I don’t think he meant for me to,” Peyton begins, her voice hushed. “It was like seeing a ghost, but the look he gave me — the Kain I knew, we weren’t that close and I was most definitely not like his sister.” Her cheeks flush a little, thinking back to how she had and hadn’t known Zarek the last time she saw him in this lifetime.

Peyton looks down at the letter, then back up at Liz. “It’s hard to imagine. That I was that important to him, that I was someone he saw as strong…” her voice cracks on the last word and she shakes her head, a raw laugh that’s almost a sob following.

“Not I. Not me,” she corrects herself. “Another Peyton in another life. She died?”

How much should she say? Elisabeth honestly isn't sure, and her gaze moves down to the glass she's holding as she tries to figure it out. "She… was killed trying to get the kids out of the underground to the portal," she finally says quietly. Her memory of those last moments of another Peyton are shrouded in the ringing disorientation of an explosion that nearly deafened her.

Tipping her head, her brows pull together slightly. "Do you…" No. Never mind. This Peyton has come so far from the young woman Elisabeth first met. "Some souls, I'm firmly convinced, are meant to travel together." She smiles just a little and looks up. "In that place and time, she was friends with Kain and Richard and some other people you might have known around here. She loved her Richard, and I think… in the end, he realized he loved her too."

Maybe she shouldn't tell Peyton that. Elisabeth absently toys with the diamond band on her hand as she muses softly, "I hope that coming to see you helps him… he's having a tough time of acclimating to the idea of staying here, I think. He's… got a lot of demons."

Peyton’s brows draw together, not understanding all of the context — underground and portal mean nothing to her, except for as disparate definitions that have little to do with her. The talk of another Richard has her eyes widen slightly, and she shakes her head. “That must have been weird for you to see,” she murmurs quietly, worried not for her own feelings but Liz’s. “I’m sorry.”

As the topic returns to Kain, Peyton looks back down at the letter in her hands, before tucking it into her purse again. “I hope so,” she says quietly. “I tried to help him. I… you know how I can show what I see now,” she murmurs. Liz was there the day she discovered that aspect of her ability, brought on by the emotions of seeing the woman returned from her trek across the universes.

“I wrote him a letter back, told him I was leaving money for him, told him I could get him a job or something if he needed. He looked… rough.” Her expression turns to one of worry again, and Peyton sighs, reaching for the wine glass. “He didn’t come back for the money though. If you’re in contact with him — I know I’m not the friend he knew, but…” she trails off, then starts again. “If some version of me was that important to him, and vice versa, then I feel he’s important to me, too, you know? She may be gone, but I can help him for her, if he’ll let me.”

"He won't," Elisabeth replies with a heavy sigh. "He's fighting himself — the demons he carries make him feel like he doesn't really deserve a new life." Elisabeth's tone says she thinks it's bullshit, but there's resignation to it as well. "I've been trying since we got here to help him cope with the ghosts and find a way forward, but he keeps telling me I ought to let him go and calls himself a dumpster fire."

She sips from her glass again and rolls her eyes. "He still doesn't seem to get it — I don't give up on family. And no matter what else he was before he followed me into a portal of light, he is part of my family. He kept my daughter safe when I couldn't and he has never let us down when I needed him."

The other topic is harder. The smile she offers Peyton as she looks up is a sincere one. "When I first saw them… it was like a hit in the gut," she admits. "I'd just landed there… didn't know if you guys had managed to get out, didn't know Aura was coming yet, and was looking at a world where we'd never stopped the virus. When he looked at me, he had no recognition in his eyes. I think… it broke something in me." It's raw honesty at its best.

But she doesn't leave it there. Instead, she offers, "But when I saw him with that version of you… honestly? I was glad that at least one version of you had found your way to him." After all, she never really did here. Sadness lurks in the words, given both of their endings in that world. Peyton's death was one loss too many for him, and Elisabeth doesn't want to think about the man who now walks a nearly deserted dead planet.

Peyton looks down, brows drawing together as she listens. Her cheeks grow rosy again, at the mention of the other Peyton, the other Richard. After a moment, she reaches out to catch Elisabeth’s hand in hers, squeezing, then looks up at her, dark eyes on blue.

“What I felt then was a lot of hero worship, honestly. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was in love with him, but I was never going to act on it. Just so you know. I couldn’t be like the others were — Harmony and whoever else — when I could see that you were always going to be the most important person. But,” she laughs, “that was the first time I ever cared about anyone as much as myself, you know? And I wasn’t going to fuck that up.”

She sighs. “And then of course I did.” In a way much more devastating, but she doesn’t add that. She doesn’t have to.

Her hand retreats and curls into itself, while the other reaches for her wine. “As for Kain… I don’t know if he cares who I am here, but if you see him, maybe tell him it’s possible to start fresh. I know something about not thinking I deserve a good life, but being able to get past that. Most days, anyway. I still have my demons and there isn’t a moment I’m not reminded of my mistakes.”

She laughs suddenly, tears filling her eyes again, but the laughter and smile are just as real. “Jonah makes that impossible, but he also makes the living part possible, too.”

Elisabeth is the one who reaches out even as Peyton retreats, squeezing gently. "You were very young. And your feelings were yours, Peyton, you never have to explain them or your choices to me." She understood why the young woman had turned to the other version of Richard Cardinal and believed him. "No matter the heartache that came with that situation, Jonah is worth every single moment." She smiles. "There are plenty of mistakes in my life too — but I'd make them all, every single one, again if the cost of not making them was not having Aura."

Heaving a long sigh, Elisabeth too retreats into her wineglass for a moment. Kain's story is not hers to tell, so she says simply, "We… did a lot of things we will always live with regret for." There are things she'll never quite forgive herself for either. "My favorite priest told me not long after I got home… that beating myself up continually was just another form of abuse. Sometimes I don't feel like I deserve to be happy either," she admits in a quiet voice. "I feel guilty for having everything I have because other people paid prices for my fight."

Absently swirling the liquid in her glass, she looks up at Peyton. "It's taken me a long time to understand that forgiving myself for the mistakes isn't the same as saying the results of those actions are okay… it's accepting myself for the horribly imperfect being I am and trying to do better every day. I'm not sure Kain will ever find his way to forgiving himself even that much. And no matter how much I love him or Aura loves him or anyone else loves him, he has to find that part inside himself."

She rolls her eyes and grins wryly. "Only don't tell him I love him — he'll get weird about it and shit." She can just totally see his uncomfortable squiggling and Kermit-flailing already.

Peyton turns her teary eyes to the window as she listens, sipping the wine now and then, before turning back to Elisabeth. “To tell him, I’d have to see him again, and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want that. But…”

She sighs, looking into her wine glass, mostly empty now, for a moment, then back up to Liz’s face. “He’s obviously got good in him still. To seek me out and thank me, even though I wasn’t the same Peyton he knew. His words are kind and helped me even if they were meant for her.” She wipes a tear that slides down her cheek and laughs a little, softly.

“I swear I don’t cry as much as I used to, but you’ll have to take my word for it,” she says, eyes rolling at herself.

“Anyway. If you see him, tell him… “ she thinks for a moment, and shakes her head and sighs again. “It doesn’t really matter, I guess. When you’re in that headspace, nothing gets through. I’ve been there myself a few times in my life.”

Lifting the glass, Peyton considers what’s left in it. “I guess just that if he needs help, I’m here and I care. And I’m not her, but if he’ll take my forgiveness on her behalf, I doubt there’s anything to forgive, but I do.”

Elisabeth sets her glass down, three-fourths empty due to the intensity of the conversation — good thing Peyton asked to meet for wine — and leans forward to simply slide her hand into the other woman's. "When I see him next," because she's not letting him just chuck out their friendship — it's just complicated with him. But he's not chasing her off, "I will tell him that you wouldn't mind the chance to get to know him. There is nothing for you to forgive, Peyton. There was nothing for her to forgive. The demons that chase him are… they just cut really deeply. But I'll tell him, I promise."

The only person Kain might accept forgiveness from and maybe start dealing with his own grief is maybe the one person who Elisabeth isn't entirely sure ever would forgive him. "No matter what world he's in… Kain somehow always has a really tough life," she sighs. "He's a survivor in a hundred ways… but I wish he'd let himself do more than just survive."

“I didn’t imagine he really does owe her an apology,” Peyton says softly, fingers curling around Elisabeth’s, thankful for the touch. “But maybe it’d be helpful to hear. I don’t know. I don’t think she and I could have had that much in common, not from what he said. Not from the personal effects he brought to me.”

She smiles a little, thinking of the ugly orange nail polish, but shakes her head. “Actually, she did have good taste in music,” she says. “But if I’m at all a surrogate Peyton to him, maybe it could help. To see there’s life after tragedy.”

Her shoulders lift. “Or if he just needs a job, something to make himself feel useful in some way,” Peyton says softly. “For me, motherhood helped me not focus on my own damn self for the first time in probably my life. And then the school. I can find him something at the school. Your recommendation, the fact Aura loves him, is good enough for me.”

She looks thoughtful as Peyton comments about focusing on something other than himself, and suddenly Elisabeth laughs softly. "You know… I have always thought that Aurora brings out all the best parts of Kain," she admits. "For the years we were running, he made her feel loved and safe under circumstances I can't begin to describe." Kain held her child through gunfire, murders being committed around them, and robots. And Aura came out of it all intact.more than that… Kain had a reason to keep going and no time to get lost in his own head.

"I'll tell him about the job. I honestly doubt he'll take it, but I promise to tell him." Elisabeth pauses and shakes her head. "Who'd'a thought Kain Zarek would be amazing with small kids, hmm?"

“Just be sure Cat knows he’s not the old one,” Peyton muses, lifting a finger for another round to the server as he passes by.

“SESA probably already has, though. I would hope. Did he get the official welcome committee or is he one of the ones who landed elsewhere?” She knows more about it than most civilians, but then she’s also living with one of SESA’s own and good friends with a lot of people in SESA and other high places. “If he’s got cleared paperwork, that would make it easier but if he’s off the grid, I can still find something for him to do.”

She quiets again as the waiter approaches with bottles to refill their glasses. He nods silently to Peyton’s murmured thanks before slipping away.

Peyton chuckles a little ruefully and shakes her head. “As if he’s going to accept it. He didn’t even come back for the envelope full of money I left for him. But it’s worth being prepared for.”

"He landed with me." Which means his paperwork is cleared. Elisabeth will never forget the terror of watching Kain take her baby through that portal, unsure if it would survive long enough for her to follow, or the relief of knowing that the final jump wouldn't leave Kain alone to care for the little girl in a world not their own.

"And no, I doubt he'll accept it, but it's always good to know people will help if you let them," she replies evenly. A brief smile is shot at the server for the refill, and Liz settles back to relax a little. "So tell me how things are going besides visits from people you thought gone?" she teases. "Is Bradley holding up all right?" Last summer's events weren't easy for anyone.

Peyton nods to Elisabeth’s words. It’s the most she can do, offer help to this stranger who isn’t quite a stranger, even if he won’t accept it. She smiles at the question and nods. “We’re all well. Busy, with the relocation of the school and all the added work he’s had to do. He’s in Kansas City — well, Washington — a few days each week, which isn’t great, but we’ve managed worse.” Her smile is rueful at that.

“And you? Married life is treating you well? The kids all seem very happy, so you’re doing something right,” she adds. If they weren’t, the stress would show in the children’s behaviors and schoolwork, she’s learned in the years of being an administrator.

"Married life is… strange," Elisabeth admits, though her smile really tells the tale. Affection, exasperation, a kind of soul-deep contentment that the blonde has never really had. She toys with the slim sparkling band on her left hand and shrugs a bit.

"It's different than I expected. Just… mundane, I guess? I never thought being quiet at home would make me happy. As stupid as it is, every single moment of playtime with the kids, baths, homework, stories, and those quiet hours we get after they're asleep? Every one of those moments, they're like treasure that I hoard." Because as always, there is something horrible around the corner and she's storing those moments to last her a lifetime if they have to.

"He laughs at me — mushy talk!" Liz makes a horrified face in imitation of Richard. "But every time he looks at me and smiles, my heart still skips a beat and I know I'm really home."

Peyton’s eyes shine now with something that isn’t sadness for the past or worry for their mutual friend, if she can call Kain that. Instead, she smiles at the happiness she sees in Elisabeth, and she nods her understanding, having found much the same with Brad and Jonah.

“I know what you mean. I can’t imagine the wild kid I was being so happy to get a night in with dinosaur toys all over the coffee table while we watch some Pixar movie or something. Oh, that reminds me.” She laughs, pulling out a trio of envelopes to hand to Elisabeth, with all the kids’ names on them — because all kids like getting their own mail.

“Jonah’s and Pippa’s joint birthday party. Those two are practically twins, but we try not to say it too often in case they end up married or something. Which is just a joke but the weirdness of it would be about fitting for the lives we live, right?” She laughs and shakes her head. “No gifts necessary, but all the kids are invited, and I’ll open the sound-proof panic room for the adults.”

The last is probably a joke.

Elisabeth reaches out to take the envelopes, laughing outright. "As long as it's stocked with wine, we are set," she agrees. "And God knows, they'll all be intermarrying like mad — did you see how many Ryanses came back when time jumping happened??" That, too, is a joke though there's an undercurrent of truth to that too. "We need all the wine we can get to raise this group of little boogers — I am already shuddering to imagine the Shenanigans when they're teenagers."

But she does get a little more serious as she says, "We will definitely be there. Pippa needs as much extended almost-sort-of-family as she can get right now, I'm sure. And the kids always love hanging with Jonah and Carl and Walter and whoever else turns up." She grins.

“I think we all can,” Peyton murmurs. “To weird extended-almost-sort-of family.” She smiles, clinking her glass against Elisabeth’s even if they’re both almost through their second glass. “I’m glad you’re part of mine.”

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