Something to Hold On To


elisabeth_icon.gif kayla_icon.gif

Scene Title Something to Hold On To
Synopsis Even those most determined to be alone sometimes need the solace of another human presence.
Date March 2, 2009

Thomas Jefferson Trailer Farm

Before the bomb, this was Thomas Jefferson Park. Some of it still is, stretches of grass and trees that far fewer people visit than once did.

Some of it is not.

Faced with the sheer number of people displaced from their homes after the bomb, but too stubborn - or without the means - to move from Manhattan, this is one of the many places the city and various federal agencies have given over to shelter the refugees. As such, what was once meticulously maintained greensward has been turned into dirt road and trailer lots. The grass has been worn thin by the repetitive passing of hundreds of feet. Trailers sit all but side-by-side, with room only for a car and perhaps a few chairs to be parked in between. Younger children run around underfoot, seemingly undeterred from their games; older ones might slink behind the trailers with hungry eyes, resentful of those who have more, while the adults seem more heart-weary and worn-down than not. These are the people who have nowhere else to go; some have jobs, but many do not, surviving on as little as possible. Alcohol and drugs are common; so is suicide, for those who have passed from desperation into surrender.

Just another morning in Thomas Jefferson. Slightly before noon, it's cloudy and cold, the temperature somewhere just barely above freezing. The sun is nowhere in sight; earlier this morning, a new layer of snow dusted the ground. A bunch of refugees with nothing better to do than gawk cluster around the hastily-erected barrier of crime scene tape, having long since trampled the snow into muddy slush; a very few men and women in the uniforms of the NYPD go about processing the scene.

It was called in as potential Evolved action; over two-thirds of all incidents in the Trailer Farm are blamed upon Evolved, regardless of whether or not anyone Evolved is actually involved. (They usually aren't.) To many in the park, Evolved are to blame for every bad thing that happened since man first discovered fire.

The actuality is as dismal and dreary as the day's weather. Suicide may not be as common as rain (or snow) in the trailer farm, but it comes closer than anyone likes; even here, it's not that hard to get your hands on a gun. And the vultures circle around the spectacle of someone else's final surrender to desperation, seeing in it unkind echoes of their own circumstance.

Kayla isn't one of them. She sits a distance away, beyond the perimeter, beyond the asymmetric crowd of onlookers, a brown bag akilter at her side. No one's noticed it yet, distracted as they are — but if she continues to stare at a scraggly stand of skeleton-branched trees across the way, one hand pressed against lips and jaw, someone's bound to steal it.

SCOUT was called in to it because someone said 'oh, it was an Evolved'. It wouldn't shock Elisabeth, honestly. She's seen so many domestic disturbances and suicides that are Evolved, she's actually surprised to learn when she gets on-scene that it's not. Especially here in the trailer farm. Because, let's face it…. it's easy to be nameless and hide out here. She ducks under the tape, heading away from the grisly scene with a faintly green tint to her expression. She's been told you get used to it, but this is not what she thought she'd be doing, that's for sure. She pauses near a trailer looking back toward the police tape, not too far from where Kayla sits. She looks … saddened. Regretful that the person inside saw no other way out. She leans on the tree and looks upward, just… trying to shake it off a bit. And then she glances around to make sure none of the uniforms saw her. That's when she spots Kayla, and she remembers the woman from the precinct… she brought Bo's dog back. Making her way in that direction, she stops far enough away so as not to intrude too much. "Hi," she offers quietly.

Whatever private world Kayla has retreated into conveys no warning of Elisabeth's approach; she doesn't realize she has company until the woman speaks up, and even then there's a momentary delay before the word sinks in as addressed to her. The younger woman's head snaps around to focus on the cop; she lowers her hand quickly, trying to hide the way the fingers shake now that they're no longer supported by the framework of her skull. The tear-tracks down either cheek, she doesn't even really realize are present. Slightly glassy blue eyes narrow, recognition setting in after a couple heartbeats' worth of study. You. "Hi," Kayla replies tersely.

The expression on the woman's face makes Elisabeth step back. "I'm sorry," she offers quietly. "I didn't mean to intrude." She turns to step away again, and then pauses, looking back. "You going to be okay?" She sounds like she sincerely cares, though Kayla's given her no encouragement to pause there.

Kayla's shoulders rise and fall. "Public space." Stay if you want; go if you want. She looks away as Elisabeth turns to leave, failing to see her turn back. Though the final query makes it evident she has. "I'll be fine." Will be, not is; and whatever 'fine' is worth, in this place. Kayla tilts her head back, closing her eyes; in that moment of unmistakable inattention, there's the sudden appearance of a small head around the corner of the trailer behind them, the crinkle of stiff paper beneath a snatching hand; both preteen and paper bag instantly disappear. Kayla looks down at where the bag was with a small sigh, evident more in the compression of her shoulders than in actual sound.

It's not as if she could miss the snatching hand, but Elisabeth doesn't move from her spot. "I hope that was a friend of yours," she says mildly. "Or else they just stole you blind."

"Welcome to life in Thomas Jefferson," Kayla remarks dryly. She folds her hands in her lap, making no move to get up. "I don't have friends." Not so much a complaint as a badge of pride. The woman turns her head, looking over towards the crowd, the crime scene somewhere beyond them, hidden by interposed bodies. Her hand lifts again to her lips, less in shock or grief, and more like she's making sure everything's really there…

Leaning on the tree, Elisabeth says quietly, "It didn't used to be this bad… did it?" It's an honest question, the tone of it one of sadness. "It was never easy or fun, but… I just don't remember it being this bad." She looks toward the crowd, shaking her head. "The suicide rate has skyrocketed. So many people afraid." She's probably less talking to Kayla than herself now.

She can count them. Some of them. Each one an invisible and indelible scar her power can't get rid of. Rather the opposite. "It wasn't at first," Kayla says quietly. "Not until despair set in. When people figured out there isn't really a way out. After that, yeah, it got quiet." When everyone who was going to give in to despair had. "Now…" Now things have been shaken up again. The healer shudders, drawing her arms in close.

Elisabeth nods slowly. "Yeah… now." Elisabeth isn't blind to it, nor is she indifferent. Like the lucky 'everyone' else, she has a job to do. But the suicides — both Evolved and non — are grinding down at her day after day. She looks toward Kayla and says, "Is there anything I can do for you?" She gestures toward the tape. "It'd be real nice to be able to do something for someone today."

Kayla eyes Elisabeth sidelong, weighing the request. Gauging how much is pity and how much is really sincere. And although her expression remains set with irritation, something in the plea strikes a chord. The healer looks away. Climbs to her feet, initial unsteadiness quickly smothered by stubborn will. "I'm going home," she says abruptly, in lieu of an actual reply. She doesn't look at Elisabeth. "You can come if you want," Kayla adds, before she starts walking on a route that will take her to her trailer while giving the site of suicide a very wide berth.

There's a faint frown as Elisabeth moves to follow the woman. She doesn't offer to help her move — though she's watching carefully because of Kayla's unsteadiness. In truth, she's not even sure why she's going along. "I'll walk you home," is all she says as she falls in. "You sure you're okay?" she asks.

Perhaps because what amounts to an invitation, however brusque, from the generally unfriendly woman is recognizably rare. "I said I'll be fine," Kayla asserts — which is not the same as I am okay. Not at all. But she has some measure of tact, evidenced by the clicking of teeth to hold back the almost automatic it's not your business, anyway follow-up. "Just… a bad day." Does Kayla have good days?

Elisabeth bites her tongue on the very same question. "All right," she says quietly. She walks Kayla back to her trailer and doesn't really help her inside, just… keeps an eye on her. She's not entirely sure how to talk to this prickly woman. "Been a bad month. A bad couple of years," she comments softly.

"Yeah." Can't exactly disagree with that. Kayla pauses outside the door, rubbing at her eyes. She looks down at her gloved hand, then, realizing it's come away damp. Her face crinkles; slowly smooths back out. She won't cry again. Not with Elisabeth watching. In turn, Kayla watches Liz, albeit from the corner of her eye. Second thoughts, third, fourth… self-imposed protective isolation clashes with the reminder that solitude is alone, and because the death is the more recent, loneliness is the stronger. Opening the door, the refugee looks a little more directly at Liz. "Do you want some tea?"

She regrets the moment of vulnerability as soon as it passes, but the spoken words can't be rescinded. And… right now, Kayla doesn't entirely want them to be.

Without commenting on the tears, Elisabeth merely keeps pace until they reach the trailer. Her expression is neutral, and even a touch subdued. Tilting her head at the other woman, she pauses over an answer. "Sure… I'd like that," she finally says quietly. The woman is far more prickly than perhaps is required, but something about her at this moment screams her own form of despair, and Elisabeth just can't bring herself to turn her back on that. She follows Kayla into the trailer, pulling off her gloves as she does so.

Thomas Jefferson: Kayla's Trailer

Five feet wide. Fifteen feet long, two and a half of them behind a flimsy door. The trailer is anything but noteworthy; it's as plain as they come. A dull gray couch curls around the front section, just to the right of the entrance; walking in puts a person at the kitchen sink, two-burner stove just to its left, a tiny little refrigerator beside that. Overhead cabinets hold dishes. Past the fridge is a narrow single bed, thin blankets rumpled. The wall across from all of these things features overhead cabinets for storage space, two shallow closets, and lengths of mostly-bare shelving. One shelf sports a varied collection of feathers; another a haphazard set of creased and torn paperbacks. There's nothing personal; nothing identifiably sentimental. The trailer says nothing about its sole occupant, except perhaps that she has nothing left to say.

Kayla looks in through the doorway as Elisabeth replies in the affirmative, and nods briefly, acknowledging the response. "You can sit wherever," is the neutral observation she makes as she steps up into the trailer. Though 'wherever' amounts to either 'on the excuse for a couch' or 'on the bed', in this cramped space. And getting to the bed requires passing Kayla in the narrow walkway, where she's paused to fish down a slightly dusty kettle from the overhead cupboard, along with a small enameled tin that's seen better days and currently holds an assortment of tea packets. The tin is placed on the counter's edge, where Liz can sift through it for whatever variety she wants.

Elisabeth moves gingerly to sit on the couch, offering a small smile. "Whichever you like best is fine," she says quietly. "Did you know her well?" It's painfully obvious to whom she's referring.

Kayla glances sidelong at Elisabeth, then shrugs. She fills the kettle with water and sets it on a burner to begin heating; rather than sit on the couch by Liz, which would perhaps be more polite but also enforces proximity, the woman retreats to perch on the corner of the bed. In the little trailer, that isn't exactly beyond easy conversational range. She shows no inclination to take her own gloves off, if she even remembers they're still on. "No," Kayla replies. "Not well. She'd been here longer than I have. She used to be one of the more optimistic."

Nodding a bit, Elisabeth says, "I'm sorry. That can't be easy for you … even when you don't know someone, watching them take that slide downhill is terrible." She's seen it — lived it — enough to know how it eats at your guts, the fact that there's just nothing you can really do to make things better sometimes. Not even for yourself, much less for anyone else. Her own inadequacy is more than a stone weight today… it's the anchor that's drowning her, given last night's hostage situation gone south. "Is there anything I can do for you?" she asks quietly, studying her hostess. "Can't do much, as you saw the night of the riot here, but…" she grimaces. "The offer stands, for whatever small amount it's worth."

"Sometimes you have to wonder what makes you different from them," Kayla remarks softly, attention distracted. Turned inward. Her hand lifts to her face again; the shock of vicarious death is not easily dispelled even now, and her fingers shake. "Sometimes you know you aren't." Elisabeth's repeated query pulls Kayla out of the recent past, a deep breath restoring some semblance of equilibrium. "No, I don't think so." Stiff pride crossed with resignation; there's nothing to do. And yet, she asked Liz here; asked for the company. That in itself is 'something', even if Kayla won't ever admit it.

The officer pulls in a deep breath and unbuttons her coat since they're sitting in the house at this point. Pushing a hand through her hair, Elisabeth comments softly, "The only difference between those of us who hang on and those of us who don't is how we handle the darkness." Her eyes skim away from Kayla and she looks at the room. "Sometimes optimism is a good thing … Hope is the thing we cling to when the world splinters around us, when we feel like we should have been able to do more and couldn't. But sometimes optimism is … just a mask. Just… a way of denying how bad things have gotten for us. Most of us rely on our own inner reserves — the thing that drives us and makes us help a friend or even a stranger in need, the thing that drives to keep trying. But I guess sometimes when your inner reserves are so depleted that they can't sustain you and you don't have something to hold onto… whether it's faith in whatever flavor suits you, or someone to just hold you and let you cry out the despair, or whatever thing it is that gets you through… when all of that's taken… maybe there isn't anything left." She looks back at Kayla and says softly, "I'd like to think even at the end of all that, there's still something left worth living for. But some of us, I guess, are more afraid than others of how hard it's going to be to get from here to there."

Kayla listens to Elisabeth's minor monologue in silence; her gaze drops to her gloved hands, but she does seem to be listening. But whatever mark it leaves, whatever introspection it invokes, is interrupted by the kettle's piercing whistle. The healer gets to her feet and turns off the burner, removing the kettle from the heat; she pours two cups of water and puts a bag of chamomile tea into each. "You make it sound like there's somewhere to go." Certain disbelief, expressed as if it were some kind of lodestone, a pivotal truth. Maybe it is. One cup is set by Liz; then Kayla retreats back to her seat. "What do you do?"

Elisabeth shrugs, somewhat embarrassed that her thought processes rambled out of her like that. "What do I do?" She takes the tea and smiles a little sadly. "I try to talk people out of jumping… or slitting their wrists… or blowing their brains out all over the living room wall. Or killing their kids because they'd be better off somewhere that's not here," she says quietly as she looks into her tea.

A thin-lipped smile meets Elisabeth's reply; grim commiseration. But then, anyone in the trailer park has seen their share of death and more; that makes the empathy seem reasonable. "I'm sorry," she says softly, the understanding perhaps surprising coming from someone as prickly as she tries to be. "Is the rest of the city that bad?" Kayla asks. Sure, she gets out, but that's not the same as keeping up on the news. News is depressing, because it covers either everything that's bad or everything she no longer has.

Looking up, Elisabeth considers the question. "It's pretty bad," she says quietly. "It was bad after the Bomb… it's worse now. The Registration acts and the paralyzing terror of being disappeared because they have an ability is making people who've got even the most benign powers feel helpless, powerless, and terrified of being outed. The tests being rolled out, the idea that medical confidentiality is about to go out the window… that's not helping much either." She shrugs a little. "There's a sense among the population that we're already living in a police state, so…" She smiles a bit. "You can guess how welcome a cop appearance is to anyone about now." She shrugs. "You don't need to hear my little tale of woe, though. Seems like you've got enough going on around here to more than keep you wading through them."

The set, thin-lipped expression that flickers across Kayla's face as Liz brings up the trials and tribulations of the Evolved is one the policewoman doesn't need much help to interpret; the sort of reflexive suspicion and reactionary dislike common amongst the refugee population in particular. Those who suffered as a consequence of the actions of someone Evolved. But Kayla isn't vocal about it; she lets Elisabeth go through her little story without interruption. And in the end, the healer shrugs again. "I'm not living yours," she points out, a faint snap to the words as if that point makes any difference at all. It doesn't. Everything's bad, getting worse; different day, same old story. Kayla looks down at the cup she holds in hands that have started shaking again, watching the liquid's surface tremble. And abruptly leans over to plant the mug on the nearest horizontal surface with an audible thunk, before it can spill more than a little.

Elisabeth nods slightly. "yeah…. sometimes somebody else's seem easier to handle." She used to think that, til the past month. "You could tell me about yours… if you felt like it. I can keep my mouth shut," she says quietly. "As a gesture of good faith here, I was hoping you could tell me something. The night of the riot, I took off from here with four very small children, all related. You wouldn't have any idea who they belong to, would you? I'd really like to send their parents to them."

"Children." Kayla isn't sure why that subject counts as a 'gesture of good faith', but she grabs hold of it like the lifeline she hopes it'll prove, folding her arms across her chest and tucking her hands out of sight as if that will make them behave. Right. "I don't. Probably not from this section. Kids go everywhere." Her voice is almost level. It surprises her. "You might… might ask someone in… in…" Almost. The ongoing uphill battle to present a normal facade for her guest finally fails entirely; Kayla presses gloved palms against her lowered face, where they do nothing to stop her from crying. Again.

Elisabeth moves now, leaving her jacket sitting on the couch. Though Kayla may rebuff the movement, Liz puts a gentle hand on her shoulder and lowers herself to sit next to the woman. When the gesture is not rebuffed, she slides her arm around Kayla's shoulders silently. She doesn't offer platitudes, nor does she try to make the other woman stop crying. She merely lets her cry, gives her the space and the physical comfort, for whatever it's worth, that she's able.

Initially, Kayla stiffens at the contact; she can feel the new bruises, the older scars, and the reflexive snap of don't touch me is not far from being invoked. But it isn't quite, not when the necessary evil of stubborn, stiff isolation is no solace at all. The healer's young enough yet to surrender to the temptation of offered comfort; to bend her reserve and lean against Liz's shoulder, if not overmuch. Not enough to risk a stray brush with skin. It isn't very long before her tears are cried out; there's only so many left. At which point she gives Elisabeth a sidelong glance more wary and guarded than grateful.

Elisabeth waits until Kayla seems calmer, and she gently releases her, standing up to give the woman some space. "I always hate it when I do that," she says quietly, her gaze holding no pity, only sympathy. "When it gets so big and ugly that I can't keep it in and it decides to explode all over whoever happens to be nearest." She shrugs a little. "Happens to everyone, it's okay."

Happens to everyone. Kayla's lips twist in a smile that fails at humor. "Not really." She eyes the cup of tea, debating whether or not she should pick it back up. Or if she even wants to move that much right now. Not really. The younger woman draws in a breath; expels it again a moment later, the more vulnerable words that inspired it left unsaid. She pulls the top blanket up from its place on the bed instead, folding it around her shoulders along with less-visible bits of pride and dignity. Gray eyes settle on Liz. "You can sit back down now," Kayla says dryly.

There's a faint chuckle and Elisabeth resumes her seat in the puddle of her jacket, which she left on the couch when she got up. "You don't let too many people in, do you?" Shaking her head, she says, "'sokay… we're not friends or anything. Anyway… the reason I mentioned the kids is because …" She hesitates and then says, "At least one of them is Evolved — the seven-year-old. She tried to 'blink' all the kids out of custody when I was putting them in the car the night of the fires. There were too many, though, they landed about 50 feet away. So I took them someplace where they'd get some help… without extraneous interference. The trouble is, by doing that, I effectively cut them off from their parents — they're not in the social services system. So… if you wouldn't mind asking around, I'd really like to reunite them all. I haven't asked around out there because I don't want to draw attention to the family or myself." That's what she meant by a gesture of goodwill, at least — she's telling Kayla something that will get Liz herself jailed if certain people find out. "I figure maybe you're in a better position to help with that than I am."

The younger woman's expression is mulishly stubborn. As she said earlier — she doesn't have friends. Kayla grimaces when Elisabeth describes the situation with the children. Evolved children. A teleporter. "You assume I want to help them," Kayla points out sourly. She leans back against the wall, looking across the trailer at the shelf with its battered, well-past-secondhand haphazard collection of books. "Ask in section 5 or 6. They probably belong there."

Elisabeth grins just a bit. "Only because they're kids, not because they're Evolved," she says quietly. "Anyone who can still feel badly enough for the despair around them to cry? I can't imagine would want a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and an 18-month-old without their mother for very long under any conditions. The only reason I even told you about the kid's status is because… well, they're not in the social services system and no one out there's going to talk to me." She shrugs and pulls a card out of her pocket, leaving it on the counter next to the couch. It has nothing but a phone number on it, no names, no identifying marks. It's not one of her department cards. "They don't have to give me their names, they don't have to come to the police station. Just… if you find someone who can pass it on, have them call the cell number, okay? I'll meet them wherever they want and take them to their kids." She moves to stand up. "I'll get out of your hair, okay?" She pauses and says quietly, "You're welcome to use the number if you ever need it, too."

She has it all wrong. Kayla's expression twists, but she doesn't laugh; doesn't explain, either. She looks down at the card, and shrugs ungraciously. "I won't," the young woman assures Liz. Need it? Possibly. Probably. The way her luck is. Use it? Surely not. At this point, she doesn't protest Elisabeth's departure, not even obliquely. Her interest in having company, it seems, has come to an end.

Without being sure the woman won't just flat-out burn her, Elisabeth shrugs on her jacket. What's life without taking a few chances? She's uncertain what Kayla's issues are, and well… she might be able to try to compel her to tell, but ultimately, if the other woman wants to trust Liz, it'll come in its own time. "Try to… be well," she finally settles on. And then she steps out of Kayla's trailer.

Kayla doesn't respond to Liz's well-wishing, but remains where she is as the officer walks away. She moves only enough to pick up her cup of tea, cradling the cooling beverage in both hands and gazing out the window at an overcast sky. Self-recrimination sets in easily; it's not like it was very far away. She should never have… but… the death. It could have been her.

It was her.

Everyone, in the end, dies alone. Not being alone, however briefly, reaffirmed that Kayla is indeed still alive.

See Kayla's journal for an entry that may clarify what happened right before this scene and why Kayla acted the way she did throughout.

March 2nd: Half-Hinged
March 2nd: Unlike Cowardly
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