Where The Smoke Blows


vf_kain3_icon.gif ling_icon.gif

Scene Title Where The Smoke Blows
Synopsis A reunion multiverses in the making.
Date August 2, 2019

It has been a long handful of months for Ling Chao.

Everything happens by chance it feels like. It was chance that had brought her to New York, letting her awaken in what had been her and other's destinations for what felt like years previous. Alone and more scared than she would ever care to admit, and shaken by what she had seen in her travels between time's lines, it had been days before she finally left the roof of the Deveaux Building.

Weeks spent drifting almost literally on the wind, barely slipping out of her smoke from just long enough to eat and sustain herself.

Weeks spent engaging in whatever petty theft she could chance into, all of which felt leagues below her. She knew, though, that it didn't make it any less necessary to put her in a position to acquire new clothes, money, anything else she may need to present to the denizens of this world as just another bystander.

Days spent coming up with a name to use when she chanced upon someone willing to hire someone with little to no documentation, and as she had presented, knowing limited English. But now, Sun Xiaolu is employed for what feels like pennies at one of the delis, a register jockey that is a far cry from what she had been doing before. Before the Virus. Before the heist. Before anything.

Months spent researching the world around her. Buying newspapers, sneaking into libraries after closing, anything else she could do to help her understand the world she had found herself in. It was a shithole, but a shithole that was better than some of the other worlds she could have found herself stranded in. It could be worse was a common refrain in the back of her mind, one that at least made her a little bit less frustrated about how things had turned out.

At the same time, this change of pace… it almost felt welcome. She didn't relish living payday to payday, with little to no record of her existence - and after how things had gone in Pinehearst's world, she was unwilling to look up herself, pose as them, or make use of their resources. But she has somehow come to enjoy the more quiet existence. It leaves her wanting, like she's not fulfilling her purpose… but maybe her purpose isn't what she thought it once was.

Everything happens by chance, and it is chance, as she's out walking and mulling over the thoughts that constantly turnover in her mind that she spots and almost horrifyingly familiar day laborer. Kain Zarek, a construction worker. Was that the fate of this world's version of her friend?

…or was this actually him?

There was only one way to find out, and now as the work day closes, Ling waits, a haze in the air that blends with smoke, cigarettes, and more from the worksite.

Jackson Heights

36th Ave at the Roosevelt Island Bridge

August 2nd

4:48 pm

“C’mon Optimus, pick up th’ pace!”

Across the street and practically a world away, Kain Zarek stands amidst the steady and slow pace of a massive construction site. Gone are the tailored suits, gone is the grizzled wasteland fighter, gone is everything Ling had found familiar about Kain. Now he wears a hunter orange vest, a hardhat, and boot cut jeans. Kain is surrounded not only by human laborers, but also bipedal automatons of steel draped in safety-cone orange clothing and paint. One of whom carries a several hundred pound steel I-beam with both its human-sized arm and a pair of construction limbs that extend from its back.

“Ah’ swear t’god these things get more cantakerous every goddamn day,” Kain grouses, reaching for a pack of smokes in his back pocket, lighting one up and walking backwards away from where the robot trundles. In the distance there was once a bridge, one that crossed the river to Roosevelt Island. It was small, laid in the shadow of the mighty Queensboro, but now even that great bridge lies in ruin, its back broken and sunken into the Hudson. But the Queensboro — the Queensboro is being rebuilt.

Fresh steel rises up across the river, tall cranes and excavators, workers on raised platforms and machine-men with glowing blue eyes welding tirelessly. Kain continues his departure, cigarette in hand as he weaves between tall forklifts and backhoes, trudging to the trailers at the periphery of the construction site. The chain-link fence that partitions off the street from the work site has a steel sign mounted on it, showcasing a digital rendition of a verdant island of glass buildings and tall trees:


  • The Winslow-Crawford Academy
  • Yamagato-Roosevelt Power Plant
  • Public Parks
  • Affordable Housing

Slipping through an opening in the chain link fence, Kain lingers in front of the sign, finishing his cigarette lazily.

The smoke that wafts up from the cigarette seems to almost pool in the air at first, a subtle change to how it acts in air that carries just the slightest breeze. And then it begins to thicken and trail back down towards Kain - a familiar trick to him at least, and in this moment a greeting card of sorts. Something to proceed the sound of a whisper on the wind.

"Kain Zarek." The voice is familiar, firm - at least at first. "I hope." Those words are soft, uncharacteristic of the speaker.

Ling doesn't waste any time in letting smoke seep between links in the fencer, just out of sight. She doesn't yet coalesce into her more recognisable form, but this is not a reunion she has any intention of putting off.

"Orange suits you," is probably meant to be mocking, but just comes off as a quiet admission instead.

She waits to see how he reacts. If she has the right man or not.

The look in Kain’s eyes is absolutely one of recognition. His cigarette falls right out of his mouth, drops to the ground and is forgotten by the time he’s taken one step forward. But Kain takes several, moves with a swiftness he hasn’t felt much need to in a long time. His eyes scan the smoke, mouth hanging agape.

Smoky?” Kain whispers sharply, suddenly looking past the swirling smoke back to the construction yard, back to where onlookers might be. But there are none. No one to overhear her use of his last name, no one to say one way or another whether the smoke is talking to him or not. For a moment he worries none of this is real.

He’s had this nightmare before.


That's all Ling needs to hear. If nothing else, it confirms that this Kain knows a Ling Chao, or someone like her. The reaction, well. That tells a more complete story. Smoke swirls upwards, mingling with cigarette smoke, before funneling downwards. It swirls around at ground level before rising back up and coalescing into a much more familiar woman.

She looks a bit thinner than Kain remembers her, dressed in plain clothes that would have her blend in anywhere other than outside a construction zone. She narrows her eyes as she stares at him, before reaching down into her pocket and producing a familiar pair of round, red tinted glasses.

Flipping them open, she slides them on to her face and stares at the man across from her. "I was not sure it was you," she states inb a flat tone, watching for a moment as she tilts her head. "I'm still not sure I should," she adds after a moment. Her posture is familiarly off put, weight favouring one side as she crosses her arms, likely still glaring at Kain behind her almost reflective glasses.

And then, something much rarer happens.

A smile.

"It is a good thing you still look like a fool when something catches you by surprise," she asserts, her posture relaxing some bending down to retrieve his cigarette from the ground, as though he might still want it.

Sonuvabitch,” Kain snarls through his teeth as he lunges forward and—

— what is this —


“Ah’ thought you were dead!” Kain hisses, arm's wrapped around Ling in a fucking hug, shaking his head, brows raised and eyes filled with worry. “Ya’ll went missin, like Izzy an’ Shaw an’ Humpty Dumpty with Puppets. Ah’ thought— ” Kain’s voice cracks. “Ah’ thought Ah’d lost you. Ah’ thought it was just me left.”

Ling had expected a reaction, to be certain. This, though. This wasn't it. Kain knows well that she isn't much of a hugger, so for a brief moment, she just stands there still, like a mannequin. Certainly she looks almost as foolish as she proclaimed Kain had moments before.

The rose tinted glasses slide down her nose, and the first movement she makes is to slide them back up.

And then, maybe to both their surprise, she returns the hug.

"I had assumed the same," she admits in a low voice, hoping not to draw too much attention towards them. "I woke up in what passes for Manhattan here, in the place we had always been meant to land. Where we had left other… places," timelines, "from."

She lets out a sigh as the glasses slip slightly down her nose again. "Months ago," she clarifies. "I had assumed none of the rest of you had made it, until I saw you here." And now, here she is.

And then she falls quiet. She doesn't squirm like she normally might in a hug. She seems to have accepted this. And as a small smile creeps back on to her face, maybe even be enjoying it?

“We almost didn't,” make it, Kain means. Slowly disengaging from the hug and glancing in the direction of the work site, he seems disinclined to break away from Ling. “We landed at some building in New Mexico. All sorts of government people there. Dickie was there. Runnin’ the whole damn show like some kinda’ Wizard of Oz. Ah’ barely got mah bearings ‘fore shit went sideways. There was all this red… electricity. Tore a bunch'a them suits to ribbons, it…” Kain looks down, “whatever it was killed Elaine.”

Kain breathes in deeply, then exhales a slow sigh. “Nearly all'f us made it. Kaylee — this world’s Kaylee told me that Mateo and Lynette survived. Somehow. Ain't seen many people, by design…” he makes a face, awkward and uncomfortable, and looks back up to Ling.

“They got us all under false names. Ain't lettin’ is tell who we really are or where we’re from. Goin’ by Kain Leblanc these days. Ain't nobody around Ah’ve seen who remembers the Zarek a’this world. They told me he died in a riot or some shit.” He seems unsettled by that, still.

Cardinal?” Ling’s surprise is perhaps understandable given what she remembers of the Richard Cardinal from her timeline. She listens intently, shock showing on her face when Kain tells her that Elaine is dead. “What? How?” This even though he just told her how.
“I…” Her shoulder slouch. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Not her… Not Magnes.” Yes, even not Magnes

She frowns. “What of Isabelle and Shaw?” For one of the few times in his life, Kain can see that Ling is, in her own way, sad. “Cardinal, Peyton, Bowie, Elspeth, Kaylee, Ygraine, Elaine, Isabelle, Shaw…” She shakes her head before looking more directly at him. “Are we the only ones that made it? Us, Lynette, and Ruiz? What about Mala?”

Taking a deep breath, she lets herself be visibly unsettled for a moment before her expression hardens again. “I have been going by Sun Xiaolu. After our… misadventure in Pinehearst’s time, I am unwilling to afoul of this world's version of myself, where ever she may be.” She looks back at the construction site. “Is this how you spend your days?”

“Ya’ll sure do talk a lot more now,” Kain interjects with a crooked smile. He looks in the direction of the construction site, shrugging half-heartedly as he looks back to Ling. “Yeah, this’n odd jobs, sometimes I do salvaging work with this guy named Raul. Ain’t bad work, basically what Ah’ did back in our home, ‘cept for money…”

The other topic is harder for Kain to address. “Ain’t seen anythin’ about Izzy or Shaw. They might not’a made it. They didn’t show up at th’ facility they had us all at, so Ah’ ain’t sure where they’d be hidin’ out now if they made it like you,” he motions to Ling, “who apparently couldn’t even follow th’ rules of interdimensional travel properly.” His smile grows.

“Th’ fuck’r you doin’ fer’ work? You just robbin’ from the whomever?” Kain asks, one brow raised. “Or is Sun Xiaolu a dancer?” It’s been too long since Kain risked being slapped for a good jab at Ling’s expense.

The stare Ling gives Kain should answer that question well enough, but instead of letting it sit at that she decides to offer an answer verbally instead. "No," she states flatley, in a more familiar tone and verbosity. Crossing her arms, she shakes her head - some things about neither of them ever change, it seems.

"Occasionally," answers the second question out of order. "The deli doesn't pay much," answers the first. Her expression, hardened at the mention of dancing, finally softens back down a bit. "It isn't easy finding work without proper identification in this…" Her lips thin and she looks off to the side. "This world." Even after all these years, sometimes those words feel a bit strange. "And the people in this world don't seem to believe in tipping," she adds after a moment, a statement the irony of which is not lost on her.

Her shoulders rise in a small shrug. "If I made it… perhaps I should go looking for them."

“Almost did m’self,” Kain admits, “look for’m.” Brows knit and eyes downcast to the ground, Kain shakes his head. “But that’s… it ain’t anythin’ anymore, y’know? Magnes an’ Elisabeth, they got home. They dragged us with ‘em like they said they would, an’ we got the ol’ welcome wagon an’…” Looking up, Kain spreads his hands. “Congratulations. Th’ nightmare’s over.”

Silence hangs over the two for a moment, save for the distant sounds of construction at Kain’s back. “We climbed right up outta’ some sort’a dream… an’ wound up back in th’ real world, what like Alice did. Or Dorothy. Yeah…” Kain says quietly, “more like Dorothy, ‘cause there’s a lot of familiar faces what don’t recognize me none. So we get this,” he throws his hands in the air, “our little slice of mundane life. Ah’ get t’work an honest man’s nine t’five, go home an’ sleep an’… do it all over again.”

There’s an emptiness in Kain’s expression. “We won, got what we wanted an’…” he forces a smile. “What’s th’ point’n lookin’ for anybody else? It’s over.”

Ling is quiet for a long moment after Kain lowers his arms. Her expression flattens considerably, and she hangs her head slightly. “You’re right,” she remarks in a resigned voice, one uncharacteristic of her. “I suppose there isn’t.” Her shoulders rise in a shrug, looking up at Kain and then to the sky.

“Perhaps it was time to retire anyway,” she adds, spreading her hands. “Settle down, work a quiet life. Raise some kids.” The name Rei echoes in her mind for a moment, a smile briefly fluttering on her face. Her tone makes it hard to judge if she’s being sarcastic or sincere, lowering her gaze back to down to Kain. “So what now then? Talk to the government and get properly placed? Domesticate?”

She reaches up and taps her chin. “I’m not sure that sounds so bad at this point.”

Still uncertain where she actually stands.

The stare that Kain fixes Ling with when she mentions kids is a long one. The look in his eyes remains momentarily haunted, then cools as he takes a few meandering steps away from her and runs his fingers through his hair. “It ain't bad,” is the easiest thing for him to admit. “Y’take one look around and yeah, shit’s busted here, but everything’s alive. There ain't no virus, no floodwaters. It's what we dreamed of every day in Eddie’s bunker.”

Mention of Edward and Consolidated Edison makes him momentarily silent. He shakes his head and the thought away, looking back to Ling. “Findin’ a place t’live here ain't hard if you've got a legal ID. Got mahself a boat, just in case Ah’ need t’haul ass. Might not be a bad idea in’a long run t’come clean t’Uncle Sam and just go through the motions Ah’ did.”

Ling's expression as Kain stares at her is unflinching, crossing her arms as she listens to him."It was a joke," maybe. Probably. "It certainly is not as bad as it could have been." She, too, takes a moment to look around. "Though you know full well it would take a lot to be worse than where we've been." Than where they came from, at least."

Letting out a breath of relief, Ling lowers her head. "But it's not, you are right." She thinks for a moment, and then nods. "Who would I speak to? It would be nice to live a bit more comfortably." After all, even when on the run, Ling got used to a certain degree of comfortability in Arthur Petrelli's world. "Though," she adds after a moment, "perhaps not on a boat. I never pictured you as the nautical type." She grins and shakes her head, trying to let a little more humour through. It feels awkward.

“Ah’ ain’t,” Kain agrees, brows raised, “boats make me seasick. ‘Specially after our own little personal Master & Commander bullshit.” Pacing a half circle in the dry dirt, Kain kicks up a rock from the soil and then knocks it with a booted toe into tall grass further off the road. When he turns back to Ling, there’s a hint of guilt in his expression. “But if Ah’ gotta bug out, it won’t be on no roads. World’s gone straight t’hell, and if Ah’ need t’get goin’ while th’ gettin’ is good… boat seems like the fastest way between Point A an’ point Gone.”

Kain’s blue eyes dip down to look at the ground, to the broken asphalt at the edge of the road leading into the construction site, to the flattened beer cans sticking up in the dusty earth like artifacts of a lost civilization. Reaching into his jacket, Kain walks over to Ling and pulls out a card. It’s a little bent, a little dirty. He’s had it for a while. “This is who they said t’call, if Ah’ ran into anyone else…”

Kristopher Voss, SESA-NY Deputy Director

“They said anybody can take th’ ferry out t’Governor’s Island an’ ask fer him, an’ say it’s about Sunspot, New Mexico.” Kain’s brows raise, “It ain’t a code, it’s where we wound up. But you call this number, Ling Chao’ll never exist again. They’ll give you a new identity, a new life, and it’ll be like she’s dead.” There’s very little urgency in the way Kain says that.

Perhaps because, in a way, that’s what he’s always wanted. For Kain Zarek to be dead.

Ling looks at the card for a moment, her expression impassive as she lets silence fall between them for a moment.. Slowly she plucks it from his fingers, gingerly turning it over as she examines it. "I see." Her lips thin, before it begins to change into smoke, disappearing into the haze around her in a trick she is sure Kain hasn't seen in some time.

"She may already be," Ling remarks quietly. "In this world, at least. Who knows. If I have learned anything in our… time since the Hub, it is that maybe it's better we keep to ourselves." Rather than go hunting for their native iterations. She follows that up with a surprisingly casual shrug. The idea of changing who she is doesn't seem to bother her too much.

They already did it once in what could arguably have been considered a utopia. What was doing it one more time?

“Yeah,” Kain agrees. “Ah’ haven't gone lookin’ for nobody. It's just too much, y’know? Findin’ our everyone you know’s dead or…” He closes his eyes, remembering Valentine in the flooded world. “Ya’ll should… come by th’ old boat sometime.” He manages a somewhat earnest smile at that. “Got me a good op' fashioned bar-new-cue grill on it. We can grill up some burgers, drink beer, be boat trash people.”

Though the Hub was a change of life for everyone, this was the first real sign that Kain had been forever changed by their experiences. In one timeline he'd tried to rob not only Daniel Linderman but also himself, he'd been so obsessed with regaining what he lost that he wound up locked up on Riker’s Island after his luck ran out. But here, now, it was something else. Kain was working construction, living on a houseboat, and drinking cheap beer.

What will Ling see when that mirror turns back at her?
"Yeah." A single echoed word, a more casual choice than Ling normally offers, but it shows her level of agreement with her friend. She studies Kain for a long moment, assessing his demeanor and his words, head tilting slightly askew as she considers the many things now running in her head. If this conversation hadn't made it clear how changed, how tired Ling is after their multidimensional traversals, the way she lets her shoulders slouch may speak the remaining volumes of who she has become.

Even if she doesn't fully realise it herself.

"But be honest with yourself, Kain." A more familiar smirk creeps up on to her lips, smile widening as smoke begins to drift off her form, the air becoming increasingly hazy around them - and Kain knows what this means.

She's leaving, to do whatever it is Ling does alone. It's hard to say. It's changed constantly over the last few years.

"You were always boat trash people." As she dissolves into smoke, Kain can almost see that smirk still on her face - a joke at his expense to prove some things never change. The smoke pools at his feet, and he hears a whispery laugh in that strange, ethereal voice she has when she is transformed.

"I will see you at your boat." Eventually.

Once she's settled herself up… however long that takes.

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