One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Note: For background, this takes place in Season 2 between episodes 10 (Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point) and 12 (Alpine Fields).
"...n you hear me?"
"Uhhh," he moaned.
"John? Can you hear me, John?"
The voice was insistent, grating, painful. Instinctively he pulled away, only to come up short, gasping in pain when his head felt like it had exploded.
"Easy. Easy." The voice was softer now, not quite so insistent. "Can you open your eyes?"
He didn't want to, but a part of him believed that if he obeyed, the voice might go away. Opening his eyes was harder than he thought. The light in the room hurt his head; everything was blurry and when something moved right above him, the motion made him dizzy.
"Good. Very good. Can you tell me your name?"
Name? He couldn't concentrate. His head... "Hurts." Even speaking that one word was difficult, the pain in his head made it almost impossible to move his jaw enough to form the word. He blinked up at the blurry face leaning over him. Black hair, black face, blue clothes. The contrasts made it hard to focus.
"I know. You're in the hospital. You've been in a car accident. You have a concussion, a few contusions, hopefully there is nothing broken. We'll know for sure when your x-rays come back."
"C-car?" Accident? He'd crashed a car? That meant that maybe... "Anyone... hurt?"
"The person who hit you broke a couple of bones in his hand; nothing serious."
"Hit me?" He shut his eyes, trying to remember. He came up blank.
"DUI. He ran a red light. You are very lucky. A few more inches and they would have scraped you out of that Jeep." The person talking to him touched the back of his hand. "Now, can you tell me your name?"
Name? He knew... It was on the tip of his tongue...
"Your name? Can you tell me your name?"
"I... I don't know."
"When is your birthday?"
He groaned. He had no idea.
"Do you know what is today's date?"
"Tuesday," he said, suddenly certain of the answer. "December ninth, twenty oh seven."
The last numbers echoed oddly in his head and he had a flash of memory of someone saying the date, Eighteen November. Johnny? That's the code? Right, John?
The nausea caught him by surprise. One moment he was trying to process the memory, the next he was spewing, choking on vomit, trying to breathe while his stomach vied with his lungs.
Hands turned him onto his side and if he hadn't been too busy trying not to choke, he'd have screamed in pain. His leg, his ribs, his shoulder, his head, the movement woke up an agony that had been lying in wait, rumbling in the background, waiting for just this moment to pounce.
Helpless, he retched convulsively until there was nothing left to eject. Barely holding onto consciousness, he was aware of someone wiping his mouth and chin, rolling him onto his back with more gentleness than when he'd been turned on his side.
Exhausted, he heard the voice talking to him but he couldn't bring himself to answer. His eyes slid shut. To his credit, he did try to open them once, but the effort was just too great. He felt himself sliding down a tunnel - light, pain, and then sound disappearing one by one.
He woke up coughing; his throat was burning and his head was pounding.
"Here. This might help." The voice was back.
Something cold and wet pressed against his lips and he opened his mouth. Ice chips fell onto his tongue and he swallowed eagerly. They did nothing to rid the burning sensation nor the awful taste in his mouth, but it still felt wonderful.
"More?" he begged.
This time he crunched the ice slowly, let it melt a little before swallowing. He opened his eyes, squinting at the blurred face of the woman smiling down at him.
"Do you know where you are?"
He had a vague impression of being asked questions already by the same person; her voice was insistent, accented, definitely from the Islands. He looked around; from what he could see, he could take a pretty definite guess.
"That's right. I'm Doctor Evans."
"You were in a car accident. A drunk driver ran the red light. You are going to be fine; you have got a concussion and a bruised knee, ribs and shoulder." She held something in her hand, small, white, contrasting against the black of her skin. He couldn't quite make it out. "Do you want some more ice chips?"
"Your mother is on her way," the doctor said as she spooned some more ice chips into his mouth.
"M-mother?" He blinked in confusion; he knew the word, but couldn't associate a face or a memory to go with it.
"Yes. She should be here any time now."
"I... I don't remember... I should remember my mother." He tried to sit up but nausea and a knife-like pain in his head forced him to lie back weakly. "I don't remember."
"It's all right," Doctor Evans said softly. "You hit your head pretty good. It's normal to be a little confused."
"No, you don't understand. I don't remember my name. I don't know who I am." John gripped her arm. He could feel his hand shaking as she put down the cup of ice chips and placed her hand over his.
Her fingers were chilled, probably from the ice in the cup. "Okay, let's take this one item at a time. You don't remember your name?"
"No." He shivered; suddenly he felt alone in the world. Except for Doctor Evans, he had no idea who anybody was.
"Your name is John."
Yeah, she'd called him that earlier. John, he said to himself.
"John Baum. Your mother is Sarah. Sarah Baum."
Neither name rang a bell.
"You're sixteen years old. Your driver's licence says you just turned sixteen a few weeks ago. Do you remember your birthday?"
"No." His voice sounded shaky. "I don't remember anything."
"Okay." The doctor squeezed his hand. "I know it sounds silly to tell you not to worry over it, but believe me, amnesia due to a bump on the head is extremely rare. Now it's common to forget a few things leading right up to the accident and those usually come back after a few days. So the odds are of this being permanent are pretty low. And your headache is probably making it hard to concentrate. Right?"
"Yeah," he admitted.
"So try and get some rest. Once you are relaxed, it will probably all come back."
"I can't... my head..."
"Do you think you can swallow a few pills?"
Anything to get rid of the pain. "Yeah."
"Then hold on. I'll get you some Tylenol."
John couldn't stop shivering. He'd managed to turn onto his side, one knee folded up against his chest, the other one, the bruised one, hurt too much to keep bent. One hand was wrapped against his sore ribs, the other tucked in between ribs and mattress, for warmth. He fought the constant nausea, dizziness, headache, opening his eyes to look past the cubicle's opening whenever he heard footsteps, watching blurry people walk past, wondering if the next person passing by would be his mother.
So far he'd seen mostly medical personnel; he could tell from the color of their clothes. He kept watching, wondering how he would feel when he finally saw his mother, whether he'd recognize her or not.
He prayed he would; he didn't want to be so alone. Feel so alone.
Footsteps approached and he opened his eyes. Blue scrubs, black skin, and a voice he was beginning to associate with kindness.
"How are you doing?" Doctor Evans began taking his blood pressure.
"Okay." He had no idea what else to say. He lay there, miserable, waiting while she finished.
"Did the Tylenol kick in yet?" She unwrapped the cuff from his arm.
"Not yet." He shivered as he stuck his hand under his armpit.
"Can you tell me your birthday?"
"Do you know what city you're in?"
John blinked. "Los Angeles," he said tentatively.
White flashed in the dark visage. "Considering you haven't spoken to anybody but me, I'm pretty impressed that you didn't say Port of Spain." She held her hands out, and he slowly unfolded his arms, taking hers in his. "Squeeze my hands."
"You're from Trinidad?" John squeezed gently, not wanting to hurt her.
"Harder. And yes. Have you ever visited?"
He squeezed harder, and she nodded, gave a gentle tug and he released her hands. "No. I don't think so." Just like he knew he wasn't in the Caribbean, he knew he'd never visited, either.
After a few more tests, he was rewarded with a scratchy, woollen blanket, which while not the most luxurious, it was definitely warm. He sighed as he pulled the edge close to his chin.
He popped his eyes open, startled from a light doze. The voice was harsher, deeper, less melodic than that of Doctor Evans. An attractive, dark-haired woman, much slimmer than the doctor, stood in the cubicle's opening, watching him.
"The doctor just told me about your memory." This woman could be Sarah Baum, his mother, he thought as she cautiously approached his bed. "Do you recognize me?"
He stared at her, trying to focus his eyes, the constant back and forth blurriness was making him dizzy. Her gaze was sharp, worried, anxious.
"Are you my mother?"
She smiled and nodded. "I'm your mother."
She took another step, reached the bed and held out a hand towards him. Even with his iffy vision, he could see that her hand was shaking. She touched his face; her fingers were warm. The look in her eyes seemed to speak volumes.
"I don't remember you."
"I know. The doctor said this should be temporary."
John closed his eyes, relishing the touch. It did nothing to ease his headache, his nausea, his pain, but did everything to ease the fear he'd held in his heart. This was his mother. Someone who obviously cared for him, loved him, worried about him, even though she was more of a stranger right now than the doctor who'd been treating him.
"I was so scared. The hospital called me at home. Told me you'd been in an accident. That you were unconscious." Her thumb rubbed gently against his cheek.
She smiled again when he opened his eyes. "How do you feel?"
"I'm not unconscious." He tried to be funny, but the words sounded flat to his ears.
"No. Thank goodness."
"Mrs. Baum?" A nurse appeared outside his cubicle.
"Yes?" his mother said over her shoulder.
"I have some paperwork I need you to fill out."
"Can't that wait?" Her voice was gruff, impatient.
"I'm sorry. Doctor Evans wants to keep John overnight at least, seeing he was unconscious for so long. I need the paperwork completed so I can get him a room."
His mother sighed softly. "I'll be right there." She gave John another smile as she straightened up. The spot on his cheek where she'd touched him felt chilled.
He suddenly felt afraid of being abandoned. Without thinking, he shoved up onto his elbow, then fell back onto the bed, overcome with dizziness and pain.
And his mother was there, a hand pressed gently against his chest. "It's all right; I'll be back soon." She gave him another smile. "I promise."
"I, uh, don't even know what to call you." Embarrassed at his action, he stared at the blurry walls of the cubicle.
"Mom will do." There was a gentle touch to his temple, and then she was gone.
His mother was gone long enough that a nurse came by to check on him, did the same tests as Doctor Evans had, and asked the same questions. His headache was slightly better, and when he closed his eyes again, he dozed until he felt fingers brushing gently along his hairline.
"Sorry. I woke you."
John blinked tiredly. "No. Wasn't really sleeping."
"I called Derek and Cameron. They're on their way over."
"Derek's your – a friend, and Cameron's your sister."
There was something about the way his mother hesitated over the word friend that was strange. But he was feeling too unfocused to try and figure that out right now. It took him a moment, but he realized someone was missing.
"What about my father?"
"He's dead. He died before you were born."
John tried to feel emotion, and came up empty. Then his mom's face blurred and he had trouble getting it back into focus again.
"You're tired. Try to sleep."
"Not tired," he mumbled, even as he lost the fight to keep his eyes open.
"Yeah? That line didn't work when you were six, and it still doesn't work when you're sixteen." There was a faint teasing quality in her voice, and John felt his lips quirk up slightly in a smile.
Sarah wasn't sure which was worse; her son's rebellious attitude over the past weeks, or the current expressions of pain and uncertainty whenever he caught her gaze. He was sleeping now, a restless doze that wasn't giving him much relief.
"Does your head still hurt?" Sarah asked when John opened his eyes and looked around blearily. She readjusted the ice pack on his knee for the hundredth time as he shifted his legs.
John stared at her for a long moment, as if having trouble processing her words. "Yeah," he said softly.
"I'll see if I can get you something." Sarah stood, anxious to be doing something for her son than just sitting around watching him toss and turn.
"I think... I think I already got some."
"Then you need something stronger. I'll be right back."
Sarah headed straight for the nurses station. "My son's in pain. Could the doctor prescribe something stronger?"
"Your son is..."
"John Baum. He was in a car accident. Concussion."
The nurse passed her fingers over several medical charts on a cart, pulled one and opened it. "Doctor Evans has prescribed something stronger if Tylenol doesn't work." She gave Sarah a quick smile. "I'll see to it."
As Sarah turned to go back to John's room, she spotted Cameron striding down the hallway, glancing inside the rooms as she went by.
Sarah stopped outside John's room, waiting for the cyborg to catch up.
"Where's John?" She glanced inside. "Oh," she said softly when she spotted him.
Sarah blocked her entrance into the room by jamming her arm across the entrance. Cameron stared at her arm, then at Sarah.
"He doesn't remember anything," Sarah whispered.
Cameron's head shifted a fraction to the right. "Memory loss is an accepted symptom associated with a blow to the head."
"This isn't forgetting a couple of minutes leading up to the accident. This is forgetting his name, forgetting his family, his home. Forgetting who he is."
"I can explain everything to him, if you'd like."
"No. The doctor said it shouldn't last, that his memory will probably come back on its own. We just need to give him a bit of time. So don't say anything that'll confuse him or stress him."
"Memories are associative. How can John remember if we don't tell him anything?"
"I'm hoping he'll remember on his own eventually. In the meantime, don't push it." Sarah leaned closer to Cameron. "I'm serious. He's scared, alone and in pain. Don't make things worse."
Sarah held Cameron's gaze a moment longer before leaning away from the door, allowing her to enter. John opened his eyes, watching them as Sarah retook her seat and Cameron stood next to Sarah.
"The nurse will be here soon with something stronger," Sarah said with a forced smile.
"Thank you." John couldn't seem to take his eyes off Cameron.
"This is your sister, Cameron."
"Hi." John gave Cameron a tentative smile.
To Sarah's relief, Cameron's answering smile was wholly human and not forced, like she was sometimes wont to do. "I came as soon as Mom called." She turned to Sarah. "What happened? You just said John was hurt."
"I haven't spoken with the police yet, just the doctor. All I know is that John left with Riley just after lunch and then some drunk ran a red light and hit the Jeep."
"Was Riley injured also?"
Cameron's words shocked Sarah. So intent had she been on John, she'd totally forgotten about his girlfriend.
"Who's Riley?" John was watching them, a frown marring his forehead.
"A friend," Sarah answered vaguely.
"Are you, like, my older sister, or younger sister?"
"Younger," Cameron said, just as Sarah replied, "Older."
"You're younger," Cameron said smoothly, lying with an ease that Sarah found enviable.
The nurse Sarah had spoken to entered the room. "Hello, John." She put a small pill cup on a table near the room's entrance and moved around the bed, pulling out her stethoscope as she went. "I hear your still in some pain."
"My head's throbbing pretty bad."
They waited while the nurse examined and questioned John, made notations in his chart, and then gave him the pills she'd brought after pouring him a glass of water. "The medication may make him a little sleepy; which is good, he'll be able to rest better. Makes my job harder, though," she said with a smile.
"How's that?" Sarah answered.
"The sedation effect of the medication may mask worsening effects of a brain injury," Cameron answered before the nurse could. At the surprise on the woman's face, Cameron quickly added, "I saw it on TV the other night."
"Don't believe everything you see on television, sweetie." The nurse took the glass from John and gave Sarah a tight smile. "But she's right. I'll be back in thirty minutes. Try and get some sleep, honey." She patted John's arm.
Sarah walked back to John's room trying to temper her worry and frustration. The coffee was burning a hole in her stomach so she stopped to drop the barely touched Styrofoam cup into a garbage can, sorry she'd bought it when she'd gone outside to try to call Derek again.
She turned, startled to hear a familiar voice. When she saw Charley standing next to the cafeteria doors, dressed in his uniform, she realized of course, this was his territory. She froze a moment, feeling overwhelmed with guilt over his wife's death.
"Is everything all right?" he asked, walking hurriedly towards her.
"Yes," she said instinctively, then realized that Charley didn't deserve a lie from her. "No." She ran a hand through her hair. "It's John." She lowered her hand and held it out towards Charley when his face paled. "He's fine. Well, he's going to be fine. Car accident," she said with a frown. "Drunk ran a red light. He's got a concussion and some bruising..."
She made a face. She hated that Charley knew her so well, and didn't know her at all. "Amnesia. Can't remember a thing. Not his name. Not Cameron. Not me," she finished with a sigh.
"That's pretty weird."
"So everyone tells me." They started slowly walking together towards the elevators.
"Has he seen the hospital psychologist?"
"For a bump on the head?"
"Things have been a little dicey for him the past months—"
You've got no idea, Sarah thought to herself, pushing back the memory of John's hands around Sarkissian's neck, the look of intent on John's face until he broke the man's neck.
"And maybe the strain's gotten a little much for him," Charley continued.
"John's strong. He's dealt with worse situations."
"And maybe never truly understood the ramifications before," Charley added as they approached the elevators. "He's matured a lot since I've known him—"
"Funny, I'd say just the opposite," Sarah said, half to herself.
"Maybe it all just really hit him and this is his way of coping—"
"Charley, thank you for your concern, but first of all, you're not a psychologist." She smiled, trying to take the sting out of her words. "And secondly, John's known all his life what his future entails. He understands."
Charley gave her a lopsided smile, one that she knew so well and always sent her heart racing. This time was no exception. "I guess you know better. But it probably wouldn't hurt to talk to the psychologist."
"And tell him what?" The elevator doors opened and she hissed the words at him. "We can't exactly tell him the truth." She took out her frustrations on the button for the seventh floor.
"You're right." They went up two floors before Charley spoke again. "You could always say he's having a hard time with peer pressure or that your house burned down or something. I'm sure you can come up with some excuse. You seem to be good at that."
Charley always gave as good as he got.
Sarah lowered her head, averting her eyes just as the elevator doors opened. Charley's words hurt. A lot. She stepped through without a word, stopping only at a gentle tug on her arm.
"I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that."
She shrugged, still not looking at Charley. "Yeah, I did. Because it's true."
"I understand, Sarah. I may not like what you did, but I do understand."
She raised her head, meeting his earnest gaze. "Thank you," she said as he pushed a lock of hair that had fallen across her eyes back behind her ear.
He gave her that lopsided smile once more. "Just think about what I just said, okay? About talking to the psychologist?"
"I'll think about it." Were John a normal teenager, he'd at the very least be having regular sessions right now with Doctor Sherman's colleagues. For the same reason she couldn't give John the proper help with Doctor Sherman, she couldn't do so now.
John's voice, strained and high-pitched, was audible in the hallway right outside his room "I told you. I don't remember."
"He's told you already, he doesn't remember." Cameron's voice was threatening.
Sarah strode inside, nearly faltering at the sight of two police officers talking to John.
"Is there a problem, Officers?" she asked, giving them an appeasing smile and standing between the officers and Cameron.
"No, Ma'am," one officer replied.
"Are you Sarah Baum?" the other asked, glancing quickly at Charley before returning his gaze to Sarah.
"Yes. That's my son, John." And her son was lying there, eyes wide and panic-stricken, looking terrified. He'd raised a hand to his head, rubbing away at his temple. She frowned at the bruises around his wrist. "And my daughter Cameron," she added, relieved that Cameron was staying put.
"We came to ask him a few questions about the accident."
"My son doesn't remember anything." She gave John a hopefully reassuring smile.
"So we've just found out. Can we ask you a few questions?"
"Of course." She dipped her head in a quick nod.
"The accident occurred at the intersection of Cortland and Brava. Your son was traveling east on Cortland, and was struck on the passenger side by a vehicle traveling north on Brava. Do you know where your son was heading at the time of the accident?"
"He'd gone to visit his girlfriend."
"Thankfully there was no passenger in the vehicle at the time of the accident. According to witnesses, your son wasn't speeding, and he had the right of way. The person who hit him is being charged with driving under the influence; your son is very lucky, Mrs. Baum."
"I know." She glanced at John, who had calmed down considerably.
"Give us a call if your son remembers what happened." The officer who'd remained quiet throughout the questioning removed a card and handed it to her. "We'll send you a copy of our report. Don't forget to contact your insurance company." The officer leaned towards the bed. "I'm sure you'll get your memory back soon," the officer said gently to John.
She looked at the card, forced another smile at them, and sighed in relief when they left the room. "Are you okay?" she asked John.
"Yeah," John breathed, closing his eyes in obvious relief.
"Cortland is in the opposite direction."
"What?" Sarah spun around, glaring at Cameron.
"John wasn't heading home when he left Riley's house. He was heading in the opposite direction."
"But it's in the direction of the mall and the pier," Charley said, stepping closer to the bed.
"Are you here to question John also?" Cameron looked past Sarah, at Charley.
"No. I'm just here to say hi to John. But I guess that's a moot point right now." Charley smiled, pointing to John when Sarah raised her eyebrows at him.
She glanced at her sleeping son while Charley examined John visually, leaning over the bed, hands on the bedrail, watching him sleep.
"Derek's not answering his cell," she said tightly.
"So he doesn't know about John?"
"Like I said, he's not answering his cell."
Both of them moved away from the bed as a nurse entered the room, doing her hourly check up. The nurse shook John's shoulder, asking him to wake up.
John woke up groggy, looking around blearily, licked his lips and sighed. "No, I still don't remember my name. The date is December nine, we're in Los Angeles and I'm in the hospital," he said wearily before the nurse could ask a question.
"How's your headache?" the nurse said with a gentle smile as she raised a finger before his face. She moved it back and forth, and John followed it with his eyes.
"Oh. Um. Better. Thank you."
"On a scale of one to ten?"
"Good. That's good." She made a notation in John's chart.
"I have a problem," Sarah said, pointing to John's right arm, "with the ER tying him down. Look at the marks that were left."
The nurse flipped through the chart. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Baum. John was unconscious when he was brought in. He wasn't restrained."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I just thought..." Her cheekbones hurt as she forced yet another smile. "It must be from the accident." When the nurse left, she looked carefully at the marks, which obvious were from some sort of restraint. She met Charley's eyes; he more than understood what might have happened to John.
"Are you, um...?" John was staring at Charley, his eyes slightly glassy and unfocused.
"This is Charley." Sarah put a hand on Charley's shoulder. "He's a friend. A good friend."
"Hey, Johnny. Looks like you're doing pretty good here."
"I'm okay. I just hate the not-remembering, you know?" He blinked, his eyelids opening more slowly than when they closed.
"I can imagine."
John licked his lips. "Is there, um, water?"
"Here." Cameron stood and reached for the water jug on the roll away table, pouring some into a plastic cup. "The nurse said you could have water, but just a few sips at a time."
John reached for the cup, ignored what Cameron had said and drained the water in three deep swallows. "I'm still thirsty." He held the glass out hopefully.
"You can't have more. You'll vomit." Like a disappointed child, Cameron plucked the cup from John's hand.
"Try to sleep." Sarah refrained from touching John's face, missing the long hair and bangs, which had always given her an excuse before to fuss with.
"Not sleepy," John replied, even as his eyes shut. He opened them again two seconds later. "Okay, maybe I am."
She and Charley waited, watching, as John's breathing slowed into sleep.
"They gave him something for the headache." Sarah came to stand next to Charley. "It's helping him sleep."
"That's what he needs. Rest. Sleep." Charley whispered the words.
Derek's shout as he entered the room caused everyone, including John, to jump. Cameron was the only one who didn't react, except to glare at him and say, "Keep your voice down. John has a headache."
"I'm sorry." Derek went straight to John. "How're you doing?" He turned to Sarah before John could answer. "How is he? Your messages said he'd been hurt."
"I've got a concussion and my knee's banged up and my shoulder and ribs are bruised. And I don't know who you are because I have amnesia."
Derek laughed. "Oh. Good one. Better work on your delivery, though, because when you say that to a triple eight, he's going to take a lot more convincing."
Sarah grabbed Derek by the arm and hauled him out of the room, ignoring John's question about a triple eight. "He really doesn't remember."
Derek stiffened. "He has no idea who he is?"
"What about Judgment Day?"
"This is temporary."
"Like hell it is. I've read about people losing their memories and never getting it back. All those years of preparation—"
"Derek. This. Is. Temporary. John will be fine; he just needs to rest and get better. His memory will come back." She said it as if she believed it, trying not to think of what this could mean if by some fluke, John never regained all those years of preparation for his future.
She left Derek there and returned to the room, where Charley was talking with John, who was already half-asleep again. She gave John a reassuring smile, this time reaching out to touch his face, telling him to go to sleep. Once again John slid down into slumber with the help of the pain killers.
Derek, standing by the door, watched John with a frown.
"He'll be fine," Sarah whispered. "You guys should go. There's no need for you to wait around."
"I can sit with John." Cameron walked back to the chair she'd appropriated earlier.
"You can go find out what happened to John." She held Cameron's gaze for several long seconds, willing the robot to read between the lines.
"I'll go talk to Riley." Cameron strode out of the room, as if she'd never been acting like she was willing to spend the night at John's side.
Sarah followed her out. "Don't bring her back here," Sarah whispered urgently. "Don't even tell her about John being hurt." The last thing Sarah wanted was to deal with that girl tonight.
Cameron paused for a moment. "I won't.
Charley left John's room before Sarah could go back inside. "I have to go."
"Of course." She gave Charley a polite nod.
"Would it be okay if I called tomorrow, to find out how John's doing?"
She nodded without hesitation. "The doctors say he can probably go home tomorrow."
"Good. If you need anything, you can always call me—"
"That's not a good idea."
"You still have my number, right?"
"After what happened to Michelle—"
"I told you, Sarah. I understand." His smile was shaky, but his eyes held hers steadfast. "Call if you need anything."
She watched him walk down the hall, waiting till he turned the corner, before she went back to John's room.
"Where were you?" she hissed at Derek.
"You know where I was. I was doing research at—"
Sarah knew exactly what company Derek had been skulking around in, and it wasn't so cloak and dagger that he'd needed to separate himself from his cell phone. "So busy that you didn't have your cell with you?"
"I turned it off for a while. I couldn't chance it ringing while I was—"
"Fine." Sarah put a hand up to stop Derek's explanations. He looked and sounded like he was telling the truth but Sarah couldn't help but feel that he was lying to her. She'd gotten a faint whiff of perfume earlier off his clothes when he'd walked through the door. A perfume similar to what Riley wore. Not that she suspected he was trying to steal John's girlfriend from him but if he was having a liaison with someone, the least he could do was admit to it. It would make it easier trying to get in touch with the man if they needed him than go through these half truths. Maybe John's rebellion right now was easier to deal with than Derek's trysts; at least she knew when John was with Riley.
Despite John's reassurances that he was fine, Sarah noted how he was squinting through the truck's windshield in the mid-morning sunshine. Without a word, she reached over and lowered the sun visor, cutting some of the glare.
"Another fifteen minutes." She stopped at a traffic light and took a moment to look at him. He was pale, even the bandage on his forehead was darker than the color of his skin. "How're you holding up?"
"I'm a little nauseous." John licked his lips and swallowed noisily.
"Do I need to pull over?"
"No. I'm okay. Just a little..."
The light changed and traffic started up. She concentrated on driving; now was not the time to get into another accident. John sat with his head cushioned on the head rest, eyes closed, breathing deeply. She kept checking on him at every red light. He wasn't sleeping; he had those tiny lines between his eyebrows that bespoke headache.
It was with relief that she pulled into their driveway, parking next to a new Jeep. When she turned the motor off, John had his eyes open, looking at the house which, she had to admit, looked damned impressive.
"We're renting while the owners are out of the country," she said, opening her door.
"So I guess we're not rich or famous." John was slow in getting out of the truck.
"Who says we're not? I might have given the limo driver the day off."
John quirked his lips slightly before shuffling up the stairs, occasionally putting his hand on the bricks for balance. Sarah followed behind, wishing he were young enough so she could just carry him inside. The door opened just as they reached the top and Cameron stood there.
John entered the house, looking around with very little curiosity.
"Derek got another Jeep—"
"Not now." She ignored Cameron, her whole attention was focused on John. "Your room's upstairs. Do you want to go to bed or would you rather just lie down on the couch?"
John looked up the stairs with trepidation. "Couch," he said after a moment, heading for the couch in the den and sitting down gingerly. Sarah grabbed a couple of cushions, put them at one end of the couch and when John stretched out on it, she went to the linen closet and got a lightweight blanket.
"Thanks." He pulled the edge of the blanket she'd covered him with up to his chin.
"Do you want anything? Water? Are you hungry?"
"Maybe some water later?"
"How's your knee? Need more ice?"
"I'm fine. Thanks."
She was hovering, she knew it and couldn't help herself. She pulled herself together. "If you need to go, the bathroom's just down the hall, next to the kitchen." She pointed in the general direction. John's eyes followed her finger and he gave her a miniscule nod.
Despite his not wanting anything to drink, Sarah poured a large glass of ice water, topped it with ice cubes, and squirted some lemon juice into it. She placed it next to the couch without a word, John's half-opened eyes following her movements. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need me."
Sarah motioned for Cameron to join her. She moved through the kitchen, exiting the back door and stopping only in the middle of the back yard.
"What did you find out?"
"Riley Dawson's foster parents said John came to visit yesterday, but left after about twenty minutes and that he seemed upset."
"Did they have a fight?"
"I don't know."
"Did you talk to Riley?"
"She wasn't home."
"So we don't know where John was going after he left Riley's."
"Charley Dixon lives in the direction John was heading."
"And as Charley said, so's the mall and the pier. Until we know why he got upset, we can't really speculate."
"The marks on John's wrist were made by handcuffs."
Sarah held back a gasp. "Who would—" She stopped short when Cameron drew a pair of handcuffs from a back pocket of her jeans.
"I found these in Riley's bedroom."
Sarah wasn't even going to bother asking how Cameron had snuck into the girl's room. "You think she tried to capture John—" Duh. From the look on Cameron's face, the robot had gotten it before Sarah. "Bondage?"
"There were other sexual aids with the handcuffs."
As much as her son might be into experimenting with his sexuality right now, she was pretty sure that bondage, complete with handcuffs, were definitely not what he wanted to experience.
"These would explain why he got angry and left."
Sarah definitely couldn't argue with that.
Despite his nausea, his thirst was getting the better of him. John finally caved and reached for the water. One sip, he promised himself. It was cold, wet and refreshing and before he knew it, he'd downed half the glass, coming to a stop only when ice cubes smacked his teeth.
He reached over to put the glass back down and the nausea hit him full force. Scrambling to his feet, he nearly tripped over the blanket tangled between his legs. He lurched and limped down the hallway Sarah, his mother, had indicated, retching, one hand clamped over his mouth, praying he could find the bathroom before he spewed.
He saw the entrance, turned into it and would have made it to the toilet in the nick of time if he hadn't bounced off the doorjamb. He lost his battle with his stomach, missed the toilet with the first heave, splattered it with the second and hit a bull's eye as he crouched over it.
The vomiting ended as quickly as it began, leaving him light-headed, shaking and with a reawakening of his headache. He slid down onto his good knee and pulled a huge wad of toilet paper from the roll and began to wipe up his mess.
"Leave it. I'll take care of it."
He jumped, not having heard Sarah come into the bathroom. He continued trying to clean up, mortified at what he'd done.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
"John." Sarah stepped over his mess and squatted next to him. He only stopped when her fingers closed over his wrist. "It's okay. Believe me. This isn't the first time I've cleaned up after you when you've gotten sick."
"I..." He had no idea what to do, where to go. He dropped the soiled wad into the toilet and stretched, feeling the bruises along his shoulders and ribs flare up as he flushed.
"Let's get you upstairs and into the shower."
He stood, allowed Sarah to lead him to the stairs and slowly began the painful climb.
"Strip," she ordered as she reached into the shower and turned the water on. "I'll get you some clean clothes." She tested the water for a few seconds and then satisfied with the temperature, pulled the shower curtains back. "You'll be okay in there by yourself? You don't feel faint or dizzy?"
"I'm fine," he lied, his pounding head ready to explode.
"Just to be safe, make it quick. I don't want you passing out in the shower. I'll leave towels and your clothes on the seat." She lowered the toilet seat before going through one of two doors leading into separate bedrooms.
John undressed, left his clothes in a pile in a corner of the bathroom, and got into the shower. He approached the stream cautiously, first putting his hands out and splashing the warm water onto his face. Next he slurped several mouthfuls, swishing it around and spitting into the tub.
Mindful of Sarah's warning, he hurriedly soaped up, rinsed and turned the water off. True to her word, there were clothes and a towel waiting for him. He dried off awkwardly, barely glancing at himself in the mirror, unable to reconcile the stranger with haunted eyes and short hair in the mirror, and the person he felt he was. He put on the worn sweats, which clung to him tenaciously until he could shake them into place. Then he sat on the toilet, too spent to do anything more than stare into space.
"John?" There was a knock on one of the doors and Sarah opened it, her expression one of concern as she looked him over. "Everything okay?"
"Want to lie down for a while?"
His tentative nod was greeted with her stepping back and beckoning him into the bedroom.
John took two steps forward, then one backwards, pointing to the soiled clothes he'd tossed into the corner. "What should I do with them?"
"Leave 'em. I'll put them in the wash."
He entered the bedroom and was surprised to see a child's room, complete with single bed and a rainbow headboard, clouds and airplanes decorating the walls, and toys piled in a heap in a corner of the room. For a moment John couldn't even reconcile this as being his room, until he recalled they were renting the house.
He approached the bed, feeling drained and shaky.
"Are you feeling okay?" Sarah asked as she pulled the blankets back.
"Just tired." He lay down and let her pull the blankets over him.
"Get some rest. I'll be downstairs if you need anything." She reached over, upended a garbage can and put it close to the bed. "Just in case," she said with a smile.
She rummaged in the bathroom for a few minutes, and then went downstairs, leaving him alone. He stared at the wall until his eyes blurred, feeling like a stranger in a strange land. There was obviously nothing in this room except for clothes that belonged to him, unless he truly was an eight year old in a sixteen year old body. No photos, no memorabilia, no mementos, no knickknacks. Nothing to jog his memory, nothing to stop his mind going round and round, trying to find a connection with one John Baum and coming up blank.
He woke up feeling he was being watched. With a sense of impending danger, he twisted on the bed, searching for the threat. The only thing he found was his sister sitting at the foot of his bed, watching him. He gasped, both at the shock of seeing her there as well as the pain the movement incited.
"What are you... Did you want something?" He continued the movement, twisting his hips so he was lying flat on the bed.
"You're in pain. You should take more pills."
"What time is it?" He squinted around the room, looking for an alarm clock and coming up short.
"You slept for forty-three minutes."
"You sat here watching me for forty-three minutes?"
"No. Only for nineteen."
"That's... freaky," he said, holding back a shudder as he wondered what kind of dysfunctional family he was a part of.
"Did your memory come back yet?"
"No." John sat up, uncomfortable with her proximity. Even knowing she was his sister, he felt an attraction that definitely wasn't brotherly. And she was right, his headache was growing worse.
He had a terrible taste in his mouth and he was still thirsty. He'd stiffened up during his short nap; his knee was the worst and he limped out of his bedroom, taking the stairs slowly, his bare feet getting cold on the wooden steps.
Cameron followed him, mimicking his slow pace on the stairs as he went down them like a child, both feet planted securely on a step before descending to the next. "Where's Mom?" he asked, the word mom feeling strange on his tongue.
"I'm right here." Their mother came out from an doorway, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "Is something wrong? I thought you were lying down for a while."
"John wasn't able to attain REM sleep; he has a headache and it's preventing him from getting proper rest."
He couldn't help but get the feeling that Cameron, standing directly behind and one step above him, had been a tattletale most of her life.
"Do you need something stronger?" His mother waited for him at the bottom of the stairs as he finally made his arduous way down.
"I think so," he admitted.
"Cameron got your prescription filled. I'll get the pills. Why don't you go lie down on the couch?"
"I will. I'm... kinda thirsty." He hated asking, feeling awkward about it.
"I'll get you some water."
"Is there something else? Like, juice, maybe?"
"Sure." When his mother turned to go back into the kitchen, John put a hand out. "I'll get it. I should start getting familiar with the house, right?"
"Okay." His mother smiled at him. "I'll get the pills." She pointed towards the kitchen. "Help yourself. The glasses are in the cupboard to the left of the fridge."
John found the glasses, found the orange juice, poured himself a glass and forced himself to slowly sip his drink despite the urge to guzzle it down. He examined the pictures on the refrigerator until his eyes blurred. "Why aren't any of us in those pictures?"
Cameron glanced at the fridge door. "Because it's not our family."
"We live here, don't we? Why aren't there any pictures of you anywhere? Or Mom?"
"We lost all our belongings in a fire a few months ago," Sarah said, entering the kitchen with a pill bottle in her hand. She twisted the top open, shook one out and handed it to John. He stared at it a moment, took it from her and swallowed it down with the last of the juice.
"You should eat something with that." His mother snapped the cover back on the bottle and put it on the counter.
"I'm not really hungry."
"How about some toast?"
Five minutes later, John was sitting at the dining room table, munching on toast liberally spread with butter and brown sugar.
"Did we lose everything in the fire? There's nothing in my room except for clothes." He licked the corner of his lips where a bit of sugar-imbued goodness had stuck.
"We pretty much lost everything. We haven't had time to do any shopping except for the necessities." His mother shrugged. "Clothes, makeup, computer." His mother poured more juice into his glass. "The rest will come with time."
"But photographs. Keepsakes." John realized that his best bet of trying to drum up memories had gone up in smoke.
"I'm sorry." His mother walked past him and brushed her fingers against his neck. "We moved around a lot, we didn't have that many mementos. Most of our memories were in here."
She touched the side of his head and he stiffened, concentrating on chewing the mouthful of food. He hated that her touch made him uncomfortable, and he didn't know why it did.
"I know it must be hard, not remembering anything and having nothing to jog your memory."
John swallowed, then had to take a sip of juice to force down what got stuck in his throat. He was relieved when she left him to pour herself a cup of coffee.
"Then talk to me; tell me about us. What about our father? Where do we go to school? Do we have other family? Friends?"
Cameron seemed unmoved, staring out the window as their mother spoke about their father. It was like hearing stories about strangers, things that didn't affect him one way or another. He only perked up when she mentioned he'd dropped out of school.
"I don't go to school? But I'm sixteen."
"Home schooling. You were having too many problems with school so this was the best solution we could come up with."
Was he a troublemaker? A bully? A victim? He couldn't see himself as any of these. "What kind of problems?" He popped the last bite of toast into his mouth.
"You hate English. You think English is boring," Cameron supplied.
"So I quit school because I hate English?" John heard the sarcasm and quickly mumbled an apology.
"I wish it were that simple," his mother said. "You had problems with some kids."
John couldn't figure out why the explanation seemed contrived. He waited for more details and when none were forthcoming, realized that this might have been some point of contention between himself and his mother. He didn't push it. For the moment.
Food and drink didn't do much for his headache, but it seemed to have settled his stomach slightly. He watched as his mother took his dirty dishes, pointing towards the couch he'd lain down on earlier, with her chin.
"Why not go lie down?"
Somehow he felt that this last suggestion was done less out of concern, and more to get him out of her hair. He stood slowly, testing his weight on his leg, and limped over to the couch. He laid back, the couch somewhat too short for him to stretch out completely. He propped his leg on the bolster, and watched as his mother finished cleaning the kitchen.
Cameron came to him carrying an ice pack bundled up in a towel. Without a word, she placed it on his knee, her action surprisingly gentle.
"You should stay off your feet as much as possible."
"And you should rest." She straightened, looking down at him.
"I'm resting now, aren't I?"
She smiled at him, her face transforming from cold to beautiful in a split second. "You'd be more comfortable in bed."
"I'm fine here." He rested his head against the pillows, thinking maybe he could get some answers from her. "What about you? Are you being home schooled, too?"
"Then why aren't you in school today?"
"I don't need to go to school."
"Are you a genius or something?"
She didn't smile to give the impression that she was joking. John didn't press further, beginning to suspect that maybe Cameron wasn't quite normal and wasn't mentally capable of attending school.
"So, tell me about the other guy..." He struggled to remember the name. "Derek?"
"He lives here?"
"But there are only three bedrooms in the house."
"He doesn't have a bed here, but yes, he lives here."
"He doesn't have a... Where does he sleep?" God, his mother was shacked up with the guy?
"He used to sleep on the couch in our other house."
"He doesn't spend much time here."
"Is he and – Mom – an item?" He struggled with the word mom again.
"Are you asking if they're in a romantic or sexual relationship?"
"They're not sleeping together? But he lives here, doesn't he? Did they break up?"
"They were never lovers."
"Then why does he stay live here?" The thought hit him suddenly. "Is he your lover?"
John wasn't even going to ask the next obvious question. Derek hadn't acted like the worried boyfriend so he was pretty sure he and the man weren't together. Anyway, hadn't his mother mentioned he had a girlfriend?
"What about... What's her name? My girlfriend?"
"You don't have a girlfriend."
"But Mom said—"
"You don't have a girlfriend." Cameron turned suddenly, hair swinging wildly as she strode out of the room. It was more than obvious for anyone to see that she was reeking with jealousy.
"Oh god," John moaned to himself. "Please don't tell me my sister and I are sleeping together."
"Charley." Sarah smiled at the sound of her ex-fiancé's voice.
"Hi Sarah. How's John?"
"Stubborn. He won't stay in bed long enough to get some sleep."
"So, does that mean he's doing better?"
She leaned against a kitchen counter and craned her head to look into the living room, even though she couldn't see the couch from that angle.
"He's doing... okay. He threw up earlier but I think the car ride home aggravated his nausea."
"Dizziness and nausea are a symptom of PCS. He'll probably suffer from that for a while. As to the restlessness, I would think he's feeling a little anxious living with a bunch of strangers."
Charley was right; she hadn't really thought of that.
"How do I fix this? Make him more comfortable?"
"Well, normally I'd suggest you tell him all about yourselves, share stories about his childhood, but I think right now telling him the truth would make things worse."
"He has to find out sometime." She hated seeing a stranger looking out at her through her son's face. "If this is permanent, then we need to start teaching him again."
"Sarah. Give him time to recover."
"How much time?"
"I don't know." There was exasperation in Charley's voice. "I've been doing research on amnesia but so far haven't come up with very much. John's injury wasn't severe and this level of amnesia just isn't associated with that type of injury."
"But that's good, right? Because that could mean the amnesia is due to something else?"
"Is there something that you know and you're not telling me?"
Sarah struggled to find a way to tell Charley without divulging too much. She lowered her voice, making sure John wouldn't overhear her. "Cameron found out that John and his girlfriend might have tried to get a little kinky in the bedroom—"
"Sarah, should you be discussing this with that—"
"There were handcuffs involved."
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a good twenty seconds. "You think this has something to do with John's memory loss?"
"He's been under some stress lately—"
"Haven't we all?"
Sarah ignored the sarcasm in Charley's voice. "Cameron's chip being damaged. The FBI deaths. Michelle. It all started with Sarkissian capturing us and roughing us up. Tying us up. Could this have pushed John over the edge? The shock of the accident coming on the coattails of a fight with Riley—"
"John's a strong boy. He's been in other car accidents. Look at that day when the robot went crazy."
"He's changed, Charley. Over the past weeks. He's changed. A lot. Sometimes I just don't recognize him anymore."
"That's what teenagers do."
"Not John. Not my son. He can't change. I need him to..." She rued the innocence her son had lost. His growing up too fast, too sudden. She sighed, the sleepless and worry-filled nights were taking a toll on her. She thought she'd become inured to all of this but John's rebellion had begun to stress her out. And if she was stressed, she couldn't imagine what John was going through.
"Did you talk to the hospital psychologist?"
"No. But I'm thinking about it." If only Sherman hadn't died, she thought to herself.
"Don't take too long."
"Charley..." There was a sudden chatter on a radio.
"Look, I gotta go. If I find anything worthwhile, I'll let you know."
"Tell John I said hi."
"I'm going with Derek to have a look at the Jeep."
John opened gritty eyes, trying to see his mother, who sounded nearby.
"The police report stated that the Jeep was totalled."
He twisted awkwardly on the short couch as Cameron answered, also out of sight. While the couch was great to relax on, it wasn't the best place to sleep.
"It is. But I need to see if any personal items survived the crash."
"Oh. Thank you for explaining."
"I want you to stay with John. Make sure he gets some rest."
"I could go look at the Jeep and retrieve the personal items for you."
"No. I need to go." There was a pause. "It's a parent-thing," his mother said just as John started to believe she had already left. Then footsteps approached, and his mother was standing next to the couch. He blinked up at her sleepily.
"I'm going out for a little while. If you need anything, just ask Cameron."
"Okay," John answered, stifling a yawn. He stretched first one leg and then the other over the edge of the couch.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. The pills really helped."
"I'm glad. You might be more comfortable in your bed, though."
"Yeah." John yawned again, hating the groggy feeling the pills gave him but preferring that than the headache itself. "I'm gonna get something to drink and maybe go lie down."
"There's soda in the fridge. Juice. Help yourself. I can make you something to eat if you're hungry."
"Maybe later. I'm not sure if I'm hungry."
"Maybe something will catch your fancy." His mother smiled at him. "Derek and I won't be long."
John sat up after she left, trying to muster some energy. He picked up the now half-melted ice pack which had fallen onto the floor, limped to the kitchen and tossed it into the freezer. He searched through the fridge, finally decided on a bottle of Snapple lemonade and a chunk of cheese.
"Do you want the cheese things? The crunchy ones, not the puffy ones." Cameron opened a cupboard and pulled out a bag of orangey snacks. "You like the crunchy ones."
"Um, no. I'm fine." He twisted the cap off the Snapple. "But thanks." He took a sip, testing out the taste and finding that it wasn't bad, took a couple of cautious swallows. "Are there any crackers?"
Cameron seemed to think for a moment, then after tossing the cheese things onto the counter, began to search through the contents of the cupboards.
John needed a knife so he pulled out the closest kitchen drawer. The first one held dish cloths, the one below that held an assortment of spatulas and long handled spoons. He'd almost shut the drawer when something caught his eye, something that seemed like it didn't belong.
He picked up the metal casing and examined it. He figured out how to open it and it took a second for his brain to register what he was seeing.
Inside a gun cartridge magazine.
Inside the middle of a homey kitchen.
Where, if the photos on the refrigerator were true, was filled with children.
Someone here owned a gun.
"What's this for?" he asked stupidly even as he closed the magazine and waved it in Cameron's face.
She glanced at it, taking only a second from her search for crackers. "Ammunition."
"Yeah, I can see that. Why here, in the kitchen?"
"Why not?" she said over her shoulder.
John tossed the cartridge back into the drawer and continued his search for a knife. He found the cutlery drawer just as Cameron found him a box of Ritz crackers.
A few minutes later he finished his snack. After rinsing his bottle, he looked for the recycling bin. A moment later, he absently placed the bottle next to the sink as he took a good look at the rifle hidden under it.
"Are there are more guns around here?" he asked, the food in his stomach suddenly turning into a stiff, heavy lump.
Cameron dug out a pistol from behind several boxes of cereal in one of the cupboards. With the lack of expression on her face as she held the gun out towards him, resting loosely in her palm, John couldn't help the frisson of fear that crept up his back.
"Why not," John said dryly as she put it back behind the cereal boxes.
"They're for protection."
"Against what?" John asked sarcastically. "The Mafia?"
"No." She turned to stare at him and it was obvious no explanation would be forthcoming.
"I'm going to go lie down." He needed to get away from her. Away from the guns. His instincts were to get the hell out of the house itself but he had nowhere else to go.
He began limping out of the kitchen when Cameron put a hand on his arm. He jumped in fright at her touch. Her grip was strong, stronger than a teenage girl should have.
"Your pulse is elevated. You're afraid."
He couldn't deny that; his heart was racing so much that his heart was pounding and he wondered if he was going to throw up again. He struggled to find an excuse. "I don't like guns."
"Yet, you're proficient at using them." Her eyes moved up to glance at his left cheek for just a second. "Most of the time."
He couldn't believe what she'd just said, despite the fact that handling the magazine had felt almost second-nature.
"I'm going to, um, stretch my legs a little." He left the kitchen, making a pretense of walking around. Instead he began searching the house, checking nooks and crannies, trying to see if it was his imagination or if there really was something odd here.
He found two more pistols downstairs, hidden out of sight but in places of easy access, another upstairs in the bathroom as well as C4 behind the towels. There were chemicals of some sort mixed with bath and shower products. He made note of the names and then headed for the laptop he'd seen in the dining room.
Cameron, who was busy staring out the window, didn't even glance at him as he booted up the laptop. Several hard drives were piled up next to the laptop and he had to wonder who the computer geek around here was.
The search for the chemicals didn't come up with anything concrete; they could be used for making something called thermite. Then again, he didn't know women – maybe they were used for body softeners or something.
When the computer screen blurred, he knew it was time for him to finally take his mother's advice and go lie down. He limped up the stairs, then, before stretching out on the small bed, searched his bedroom. He found a pistol in a drawer underneath his underwear and a shotgun in his closet. He entered Cameron's room, intending on searching it, but froze at the sight of a lone pair of handcuffs on her otherwise bare bureau. He backtracked through the bathroom to his bedroom, found he was now too wired to lie down and relax, so he hobbled down the stairs once more and, ignoring his sister who was still staring out the window, opened the back door and went outside.
A lounge chair in the shade was calling his name. He lay back, stretching out his legs. When his knee started throbbing, he wished he had that bag of ice he'd tossed into the freezer earlier. He closed his eyes, trying to figure out why his family was living among an arsenal.
He'd gone straight from a few seconds' worth of contemplation, lulled to near-sleep in the mid-day heat. He opened his eyes and squinted against the bright sunshine as a very pregnant blond woman walked across the yard, coming towards him.
"I heard about the accident. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine, thank you." He raised a hand against the bright sunlight, which was sending spears of agony into his head.
She looked at his face and winced. "That looks pretty painful. How's your head?"
"Throbbing," he answered truthfully. "I guess the sun's not helping."
"You're looking a little flushed. Maybe you should go inside."
She was right. It was hot, almost unbearably hot now even in the shade. His head pulsed sickeningly and his stomach felt overly full. He shifted his legs to the side and when he stood, found out the hard way that his knee wasn't happy with him. He nearly fell, only managing to not fall flat on his face when the woman caught his arm.
"You really have no idea who I am?" The woman kept a grip on his arm, waiting until he was secure on his feet before letting him go. She stayed close, looking as if she was ready to grab him if he stumbled again.
"I'm sorry. I don't even know who I am."
"Please, don't apologize. To be honest, I didn't quite believe your mom when she said you'd lost your memory. I'm Kacy Korbin, your neighbor."
They walked slowly towards the house - John limping and Kacy watching him carefully. He earnestly regretted coming outside.
"Can you tell me something?" he asked, trying to word his question without sounding overly stupid.
"What kind of people are we?" He wondered if she knew about the guns.
She laughed, almost a nervous laugh. "Let's see if my words don't come to haunt me when your memory comes back. I have to say your mom's been a very supportive friend. She's very compassionate and caring. You - you've been a great help around the place, fixed a couple of things for me."
John listened to her talk, noting how her speech patterns were different than his and his family. He realized that they weren't from around here. Probably not even from California. She continued to praise his family, skirting over the issue that Cameron seemed to have some sort of social dysfunction.
She opened the door and when John entered the house, the wash of cool air sent goose bumps up and down his arms.
"Hey," Kacy called out to Cameron. "Can you make sure John lies down? He shouldn't have been out in the heat."
"I'm fine." He caught himself on the edge of the nearest sofa. "Honest." He turned awkwardly to face Kacy. "I just need a drink of water."
"And bed," she scolded, standing in the doorway.
"I'm going. Thanks for the talk." He smiled at her, and she smiled back. But he could see the worry reflected in her eyes.
"You shouldn't have gone outside," Cameron reprimanded as Kacy shut the door behind her.
"I was only outside for a little while." He collapsed onto a couch, lacking the energy to go up the stairs yet another time. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and massaged the lower part of his thigh with the other, trying to will the ache of his knee away.
"Your headache's back," Cameron said after helping stuff a pillow behind his shoulders. "I'll bring pills and water."
"Can you bring the ice for my knee?"
"You shouldn't have wandered around. Your mother's going to be upset."
Despite his headache, John raised his head to stare after her as she disappeared into the kitchen. "My mother? Isn't she your mother, too?"
"Yes, of course she is," Cameron called out.
"That's not what you implied."
"She likes you better." The fridge door shut with a jingle as bottles were smacked around. "That's all I meant."
"That's not what you meant. You don't seem like the type of person who'll say something she doesn't mean."
"I'm not." She came into the living room and put the ice pack on his knee.
"So what did you mean by that?"
"Simply that your mother will be upset seeing that you tired yourself out and overdid it."
"Who's your mother?" John demanded as he took one of the prescription pills with the opened bottle of water Cameron held out to him.
"No. I'm not."
John stared at her as he swallowed the pill with a sip of water. Even that bit of liquid made his stomach feel queasier.
"This family's weird." He held the edge of the bottle to his forehead, slowly moving it towards the bruised and aching edge of his temple.
"I'll get more ice for your head."
He watched her walk away - despite her attitude there was such assurance in her demeanour that John was confused by her.
The ice was a godsend, and by the time his mother walked in thirty minutes later, it, and the pills, had lulled him into a sleepy state.
From the moment Sarah saw the crumpled heap that had once been their Jeep, she was hard-pressed to hold in her anger. Her discontent wasn't aimed at her son, but at the circumstances that had led to this in the first place.
"It's a miracle he walked away from this," Derek said, slowly walking around the now-junk heap.
"He didn't walk away from this. He was carried out, in an ambulance."
"You know what I meant, Sarah."
"Yes, I know what you meant. He was lucky. Very lucky." She strode over to the driver's side and pulled the door open. "And ironic, isn't it, that he nearly gets taken down by a drunk driver, but manages to survive how many attacks by Skynet?"
She glanced around angrily, spotted John's cell phone near the gas pedal, and pocketed it without even checking to see if it still worked. She tried to open the glove compartment but the door was jammed. Several sharp raps with the heel of her hand got that sucker open.
"You can't blame yourself for this," Derek grunted as he opened the trunk.
"Can't I? If I had put my foot down, had stopped him from seeing that girl—"
"And what good would that have done? He'd have been even more determined to be with her."
She placed the contents onto the driver's seat, took out the few CDs John kept in the storage box between the seats, and then peered in the back seat to see if there was anything worth salvaging.
"I could have..." She stopped, hating to admit there was nothing she could have done to prevent this. No fate, but what we make for ourselves. This was her fault, not John's. Her search for the Turk had led Sarkissian to them. She'd underestimated the man, and John was the one who'd paid the price.
She realized she'd been crouched inside the Jeep, one knee pressed on the back seat, staring into space. A quick glance confirmed there was nothing here and she backed out.
"Got everything?" She gathered the papers from the front seat and walked away, not waiting for Derek. He slammed the trunk shut and she heard his footsteps coming up behind her.
Once in the truck, Sarah took out John's phone. On seeing that it still worked, she began scrolling through the last calls he made. Riley. Sarah. Riley. Riley. Cameron. Riley. Riley. Charley.
Sarah's breath caught in her throat. John had called Charley just minutes before the accident.
She checked his voicemail, listened to four messages from Riley, each one whining about him not calling her back. Feeling no guilt, she deleted the messages, wishing she could delete the girl right out of their lives.
"He's not going to be happy about that." Derek frowned as he watched her put the phone back into her pocket and started the engine.
She'd hoped the drive back to the house would have calmed her, but her anger continued to fuel her. It took all of her control not to honk at every idiot on the road and to keep to the speed limit.
She steeled herself as she went up the stairs, took two deep breaths in front of the door, and walked inside, hoping to exude calm. One glance at John, curled up on the couch which was several inches too short for him, called up the anger once again.
"You should have gone to bed. You'd be more comfortable." Her voice was curt and she pressed her lips together, trying to calm down.
"Stairs," John mumbled as she rubbed her fingers lightly against his too-pale jaw, testing for fever. He didn't pull away, just watched her with eyes that were glassy. That he'd needed another prescription pain killer added fuel to her fire.
"Right." She was so focused on his memory loss, she kept forgetting how banged up he was. "Go lie down in my bed."
John blinked at her, his eyes slowly going wide.
Damn. The poor kid had done nothing wrong; there was no reason for her to take out her frustrations on him.
"My bedroom's closer, and you'll be more comfortable if you can stretch out." She slowed her words, trying to make her tone lighter.
"That's okay. I can make it up the stairs." He pushed upwards, forcing her to move as he sat up. "I was just too lazy to go up."
"Don't. If you'd rather sleep on the couch, that's fine. Don't tire yourself out for nothing."
When he wavered, she tried coaxing. "Come on. How can you resist a king-sized bed over the Lilliputian one you've got?"
"I, um..." He seemed uncertain, and she realized with a virtual slap to the forehead that to him, she was a strange woman offering him her bed. "I'll wake you up for supper," she added lamely, her anger draining from her, leaving her tired and frustrated. "Come on." She put her hand out, waggling her fingers, and he stood and hesitantly took her hand.
"How was the car?" John asked as he limped next to her.
"It wasn't your fault." She let go of John and pulled a pillow out from under the comforter, slapped it a few times invitingly and watched as he lay down on her bed. He sighed softly as he turned onto his side.
Walking around the bed, she pulled at the comforter until she was able to cover her son with it.
"Who's Cameron's parents? She's not really my sister, is she?"
What the hell did that Metal tell John? "Of course she's your sister. What did she say?"
"Nothing. Just the way she worded a phrase." His eyes widened suddenly, as if he'd just thought of something. "You don't like her, do you?"
"Why do you say that?" She fiddled with the comforter, making sure it covered John's bare feet.
"Because you don't do anything like this for her."
"Maybe I'm doing this for you because you're hurt?"
"It's like you just tolerate her."
"John." Sarah sat on the bed, deliberating what to tell him. He needed to know the truth but if she threw everything at him, she knew, from experience, how people took the whole Judgment Day scenario and yelled for those nice, young men, in their clean, white coats... "Your sister has Aspergers." She'd done some research on the diagnosis Doctor Sherman had given Cameron and used it now with a smidgeon of guilt. "Which means she has problems with social interactions..."
"Is that why she's so..."
"I was going to say focused," John mumbled, seemingly more asleep than awake, fighting to keep his eyes open.
Sarah laughed softly. "Yeah, that's the reason why she's weird and focused."
"Makes sense now." He closed his eyes, mumbling the next words. "Because I was starting to think she was some sort of robot from the future."
Sarah froze, waiting for John to say more, or to turn to her and grin. But his breathing was slow and deep, and he was obviously fast asleep. She stared at him, willing him to wake up, to explain what he'd just said, but John continued to sleep on.
"How's John?" Derek was waiting in the living room, leaning against the bookcase.
"Any change with his memory?"
She shook her head slowly. "I don't think so." Cameron entered the living room, coming out of the kitchen. "What did you say to him?"
Cameron stopped in the middle of the room. "I said many things."
"He doesn't believe you're his sister. You said something to him."
"I told him he shouldn't have wandered around. He found the guns. He was concerned."
"He found the guns?" It hadn't occurred to Sarah that John might have been ambulatory enough find their arsenal. "What did you tell him?"
"That he was proficient with them."
"I meant about why there were guns in the house," she hissed, trying to curb the urge to yell.
"Oh. That they were for protection."
Derek winced. "Exaggerate much?"
Cameron gave Derek a look of pure innocence and confusion. "But they are for protection."
"How did he react to that?" Sarah demanded.
"He said he didn't like guns. He was scared."
"Damned right he would have been. How would you feel if you woke up with a bunch of strangers who had weapons hidden all over the house?" Sarah ran a hand through her hair in frustration. John didn't need this stress. She didn't need this stress.
"Maybe it's time to tell him the truth."
Sarah turned on Derek, crossing the few feet separating them, her hands fisted together in anger. "What do you think he's going to think if we tell him the truth? Do you think that's going to help him? Help us?"
"He's too vulnerable like this, Sarah. If Skynet sends more metal, he's going to be a sitting duck. He needs to remember, and we need to jog his memory."
"Yes, he needs to remember. But we're not going to put him through hell and scare the shit out of him until he does. Give him time to recover first. Maybe when the headaches ease, his memory will come back."
"I don't like this—"
"I don't care," Sarah snapped. "I don't want you saying anything else that'll make him suspicious."
"Derek's right." Cameron's head swiveled between Sarah and Derek. "John's life is in greater danger as long as he doesn't know the truth."
"Then you make sure he stays safe." She glared at Cameron, then gave Derek a hard look, driving home the direction that he was also included under that directive before stomping away. "I have supper to cook," she growled.
It took John a while to acknowledge that it was the knock at the door that had woken him, but it was the angry voices that brought him to full consciousness. He heard his mother arguing with someone else, someone young, someone not his sister. He turned onto his back, stretching on the comfortable bed, half-listening until he heard his name.
"John's sick and he's sleeping. What part of that don't you understand?"
"Too sick to answer his cell?" The stranger's voice held a trace of sarcasm.
"Too sick to answer his cell," his mother repeated, matching her sarcasm.
"He was fine yesterday."
"He's not fine today."
"You'll tell him I stopped by?"
"I'll tell him."
"Tell him to call me. When he feels up to it."
His mother mumbled something that John didn't catch.
"Bye, Mrs. Baum."
The door snicked shut, the finality matching the steel in his mother's voice. He groaned as he sat up slowly, his body having stiffened up again while he'd slept. He was in the midst of rubbing his gritty eyes with his knuckles when the bedroom door opened and his mother popped her head in.
"Hey. Been awake long?"
"No." John lowered his hand to stifle a yawn. He sniffed appreciatively as the aroma of something cooking followed her into the room. "Something smells good."
"Supper's just about ready. You hungry?"
His stomach gurgled at the thought of eating. He laughed. "Sounds like it is."
"This is really good," John said as he took a second bite of the spicy chicken concoction. With his headache nearly gone, his appetite seemed to have woken up and he couldn't get enough.
"You made this?" Derek was staring at the steaming plateful before him with what seemed like a doubtful expression. Cameron sat at the table with them but the space before her was empty of food and plate.
"Yes." His mother ignored Derek and scooped up some rice, dragged it through the sauce and ate it.
"It's really good," John repeated with his mouth full. He grabbed a roll and broke it in two, dropping it for a moment to take another forkful before buttering it.
"It was one of your favorites when we lived in Mexico."
"But you cooked this, right?" Derek hadn't yet picked up his fork.
"Are you insinuating there's a problem with my cooking?"
"We lived in Mexico?" John paused in surprise, the roll he'd brought up to his mouth forgotten for a moment.
"For a few years." His mother turned to Derek and pointed at his plate with her fork. "Eat. It won't kill you. Hell, if there's any bugs living inside your intestines, it'll more than likely kill them for you."
"Why did we live in Mexico?" John raised his eyes from his plate when his mother didn't answer right away and caught the tail end of a weird glance between her and Derek.
"I was tired of being a waitress and wanted a bit of excitement."
"Did you find any?" John was partially distracted at the sight of Derek carefully teasing a few morsels from the edge of his fork before chewing cautiously.
"No, not really."
It was almost comical to see Derek start coughing and reach for his glass of water, downing it in several gulps.
Cameron stuck a roll in front of his face. "This will ease the burning from the spices." With his face quickly turning red, Derek grabbed the roll and stuffed half of it into his mouth.
"Aren't you eating?" John asked Cameron, changing the subject because he couldn't help feeling that no matter what he asked, his mother wouldn't tell him the truth.
"I don't eat—"
"She doesn't like the spices." His mother's answer seemed hurried. "She ate earlier."
"How come he can eat that?" Derek gasped as John helped himself to seconds, tears running down his face.
"He was brought up on the stuff. Don't tell me you can go head to head by a triple eight and not be able to eat a couple of hot peppers?"
The food nourished John's brain cells and he was able to remember the reason he was awake. "Who was that who came by earlier?"
"While I was sleeping. I heard you tell someone I was sick."
"That was nobody."
John ignored his mother's obvious lie. "She seemed kind of concerned that I wasn't calling her back. You didn't tell her about my memory?"
"I don't want to deal with Riley right now so no, I didn't tell her."
"Why not? You told our next door neighbor." His appetite was suddenly gone and he put his fork down.
"Let's just say you and I haven't seen eye to eye over your girlfriend and I didn't want her to start pressuring you to remember."
Girlfriend? Now his curiosity was more than piqued. But he'd learned in the short time he'd been here to not try to force the issue. He tried a different tactic. "Maybe she's what I need to remember things."
"You've known Riley barely two months. You've known your family all your life." Cameron's voice sounded sweet, almost too sweet. "If being around us doesn't help you remember, then talking to Riley won't help."
John stared at Cameron a long moment, trying to figure out if he was imagining her being jealous. "I should at least talk to her."
"When you're better."
"I'm better now," he snapped at his mother. The moment the words were out of his mouth, his mother's glance went to the bruise on his temple. "I am better."
"Give it another day or two, okay?" His mother stood and took his plate. She came back for Derek's, which was untouched. Derek had made a dent in the pile of rolls; at least his face was back to a normal color again.
John helped clear the table, the chore coming easily to him, making him wonder if they had done this together routinely. Cameron, on the other hand, continued to sit there, watching them.
When John put away some of the supper items, he couldn't help but notice that the weapons he'd come across earlier this afternoon were gone. He didn't say a word about their disappearance but simply acted as if they had never been there in the first place.
They settled in front of the television afterwards. Despite his assurances, John tired quickly, having trouble concentrating on the game show they were watching. The questions suddenly were over his head, and even when Cameron kept answering them correctly and he realized post facto that he did know the answers, he couldn't come up with them on his own. He wanted nothing more than to go lie down in relative peace and quiet, without the drone of the announcer or canned laughter or having someone constantly looking over his shoulder.
"Are you all right?" His mother, who'd been curled up on one of the couches, leaned towards him.
"I'm fine." He fidgeted on the couch, trying to get comfortable.
"How's your head? Do you need some Tylenol?"
"I said I was fine." John had trouble holding in his irritability.
"You're tired. Do you want to go to bed? Are you feeling sick?"
"I said I was fine." This time he lost the fight, the words coming out angrily. Before he could spout something that he'd regret, there was a knock at the back door. Cameron was the first one up, heading for the door before his mother was on her feet.
"Is Sarah here?"
The voice wasn't familiar, but the way his mother sped up to meet the man at the door, he figured she was someone very familiar to her.
"I'm sorry. I said I'd call but today was just one of those days. I figured I'd drop by on my way home from work instead."
"Come on in."
"Better." She turned and smiled at John, and the man looked past her to stare at him. He began to feel like a bug on a stick.
"Hey, Johnny. You're looking a helluva lot better."
"Have we met?" There was something vaguely familiar now about the man.
"Yeah, yesterday, at the hospital. It's okay if you don't remember; you were pretty much out of it." Charley sat down on the couch next to him and peered at him with an intensity that was a little nerve-wracking.
"No, I think I remember." Then John noticed the uniform Charley was wearing – EMT – which explained the look-over he was getting.
"I'm Charley Dixon." He extended his hand, which John slowly took and shook. He liked this guy, liked the way he greeted him. Everyone seemed anxious or overly-attentive around him, but Charley seemed relaxed while being concerned. "Your mom and I, we..."
"We were engaged to be married a few years ago," his mother said in that tone of voice that made John think she was lying or covering something up again.
"Engaged?" His stomach twisted, and he wondered if he had something to do with their break-up.
"It was a long time ago." Charley sounded sad as he looked at his mother, who suddenly couldn't seem to meet Charley's eyes.
"Not that long," she whispered.
"So. John. How's the head? Having any headaches? Nausea? Dizziness?"
"He had trouble with headaches earlier today but he's a lot better tonight," his mother answered with a forced smile.
"Headache's better?" Charley repeated, speaking to John, and he nodded slowly.
"It's still there but nowhere as bad as this morning. The nausea's pretty much gone but I get dizzy if I move too fast."
"That's to be expected. You'll probably also get tired more easily. Also you might have trouble concentrating and remembering things." Charley laughed suddenly and John couldn't help grinning. "Wow. That was sort of stupid, wasn't it?"
"Just a bit." John couldn't help laughing again, collapsing against the back of the couch as he snorted.
Sarah watched John laugh uninhibitedly, something he hadn't done in her presence since his birthday. Something Charley had always been able to do – make her son laugh like he truly meant it. And here he was, obviously more at ease with Charley than with any of them.
She couldn't blame John; he knew something was up. She knew her son, knew his moods, his fears, his ways of thinking. Knew he'd noticed the guns were gone; knew he knew she was keeping something from him. He didn't trust them, and it was all her fault.
She sat back, enjoying watching Charley tease John about his memory loss, making John laugh, all the while assessing John. It was obvious John was tired; hell, he was almost as cranky as a six-year old past his bedtime. Charley coming over had been a pleasant diversion; she could only hope Charley noticed how tired John truly was. Because the laughter was slowly reaching a pitch where it was obvious John's emotions were reeling out of control.
Charley stopped teasing John, allowing the laughter to slowly die off. John sat there, giggling occasionally, leaning against the couch's cushions, arms wrapped around his ribs while he moaned and groaned, complaining that laughter was not the best medicine. She wished she could have made John laugh; made him this happy. She felt her lips stretch into a smile when John glanced at her and he smiled back, his eyes shining bright for a second, seeing happiness reflected that she hadn't seen in weeks.
Blinking back tears, she cleared her throat. She ignored Charley's gaze on her; next to John, he understood her and knew, obviously, something was bothering her.
"Now, I'm no doctor, not in the true sense of the word," Charley said, patting John's leg. "But I'd prescribe an early night and eight hours' sleep. A lot of times the memory loss and lack of concentration is due to fatigue rather than the concussion itself." He pointed to John's knee where John was slowly massaging the area around it. "Plus sleep helps heal the body. You might want to put some ice on it when you go to bed."
"I can get the ice." Cameron stood, like an obedient dog, just waiting for the order to go fetch.
"I can get the ice." John stood, nearly losing his balance and laughing as he steadied himself. As he limped into the kitchen, Sarah swore to herself for not insisting he ice his knee again.
"He's okay," Charley said softly as they heard John rummaging in the freezer. "It's the memory loss that has me concerned."
"Night, everyone." John waved the bag of ice at them as he headed for the stairs. He climbed slowly, laboriously, and once again Sarah wished that he was a child, small enough that she could carry upstairs and put to bed, tell him a bedtime story and watch him drift off to sleep.
After Charley left thirty minutes later, Sarah went upstairs and knocked softly on John's door. She poked her head inside and saw that he was fast asleep. She entered the room, picked up the ice pack that had fallen off his leg and pulled the blankets around her son's shoulders. "Sleep well." She kissed his temple, taking guilty pleasure in something she hadn't been able to do for months.
John came awake with a muffled cry. He found himself half-sitting and cursed in pain as his ribs and shoulder complained. Then cursed again when he fell back onto the mattress and bounced painfully again before settling.
His heart was racing and he was covered in sweat, but he couldn't remember what the dream was about, only a sense of fear. And danger. And needing to fight a war to save mankind. He tossed the blankets off and lay there, pulling his damp tee shirt from his chest, trying to get it to dry more quickly.
His head hurt, throbbing in sync with his pulse. He tried concentrating on his breathing until his heartbeat slowed. By the time the sense of fear dissipated, he was feeling calmer.
But now sleep eluded him. He was still tired but not sleepy. Tossing and turning, he finally gave up and got out of bed. The house was dark but he managed to make his way down the hallway to the stairs. Those were more difficult; his knee had stiffened up and he had to take them slowly. He found the ice again in the freezer, sat down at the dining table and powered up the laptop.
"What are you doing?"
John started so badly, he nearly fell off the chair. Cameron, still in her clothes, was staring at him in the dark.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" he hissed, willing his heart to settle down, again.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" she countered, handing him the ice pack that had slipped off his knee.
"I can't sleep. I just thought I'd do some research on amnesia. Maybe I'd find something boring and it'd make me sleepy again."
"Warm milk can make you sleepy."
John made a face. "Why don't you try it and let me know." He looked up at Cameron when she didn't move. "Mom said I could make myself at home. Is there a problem?"
"No. No problem." She turned around and left him in the dim room.
The laptop was ready and while he truly had been planning on looking up amnesia, now that he had privacy, he decided to check the contents of the computer. A huge portion of the files were encrypted, and those that weren't held information that meant absolutely nothing to him.
Previous searches on the internet had been for company logos containing three dots. He scratched behind his ear, skimming through the hundreds of sites someone had painstakingly googled.
By the time he had satisfied his curiosity and had moved on to his own reason for researching, the letters on the monitor were beginning to blur. He read a few articles, like he'd told Cameron he would, but his concentration was shot and he couldn't understand the medical jargon. Two hours after he'd gotten up, he decided to try for bed again.
He powered down the laptop and stood. The next thing he knew, he hit the floor with a spine-jarring thud, bringing down a chair which clattered over his legs. He raised his hands over his face instinctively and left them there in embarrassment when running feet pounded down the stairs. The overhead light was blinding when Cameron flicked it on.
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine." He repeated the words more loudly when his mother ran into the room. "I'm fine. I got up too fast and got dizzy."
"What were you doing down here?" his mother asked as she threw herself to her knees next to him.
John slowly got up onto one elbow and when the world didn't spin away again, sat up. "I couldn't sleep."
"He wanted to read about amnesia." Cameron crouched down, touched his wrist, kept her fingers there for a moment before standing. "He was using the laptop."
"Can you stand?"
"Can you stand?" his mother repeated.
"I can stand."
It took both her and Cameron to get him on his feet, and they held him steady until the room stopped spinning enough that he was sure he could take a step without falling flat on his face.
"C'mon. Let's get you back to bed."
It was embarrassing enough that he'd woken his mother up, but she kept a solid hold on his arm with a grip that was surprisingly strong. He baulked, however, when she tried to lead him past the stairs.
"I'm not sleeping in your bed." He reached out for the wall, locking his arm to steady himself and hold himself in place at the foot of the stairs.
"And you're not going up those stairs with that knee and vertigo."
"I'm okay with the stairs—"
"And I'm not okay with you on the stairs."
"I can sleep on the couch—" He turned quickly to go back and stumbled, hitting his bruised shoulder against the wall. "Ow."
"I rest my case. You can sleep in my bed and I can sleep on the couch."
"I don't want to take your bed." He averted his face, beyond mortified.
His mother's fingers were cool against his skin as she firmly took his chin and pulled his face towards hers. "You've been injured. You need to rest and it's just plain recklessness to have you go up and down those stairs." She smiled at him with a look of tenderness that touched his heart. "Trust me, it's not the first time you've slept in my bed."
"Can you at least take mine?" he asked, unlocking his elbow and giving in. He was too tired to argue.
"I'd rather take the couch; that way I'll hear you if you need me."
"I can sit with John," Cameron began, but quieted when their mother glared at her.
"Get the Tylenol and some water," his mother ordered as she sat John down on the edge of the bed.
He sat there, uncomfortable, until she gently slapped his legs. "Move 'em, and get under the covers."
Slowly he listed to the side, the room dipping around him dizzily until he put his head onto the pillow and raised his legs. His mother pulled the blankets over him then sat on the edge of the bed.
"How're you doing?"
"I'm not going to puke in your bed, if that's what you're worried about." He'd spotted the ensuite bathroom and figured he could make a run for it if the dizziness escalated into nausea.
"Good. I don't feel like doing laundry in the middle of the night." She reached over and pulled her garbage can close to the bed. "Just in case."
"I brought Tylenol," Cameron said, walking into the room. She handed their mother the bottle of water and upended two tablets into the palm of her hand. "These will help your headache but they won't help your vertigo. I brought Dimenhydrinate for that." She pushed out two tablets from a blister pack and added them to the Tylenol. "Here."
"Take them," his mother said when he hesitated. "The Dramamine will help the nausea and dizziness and the Tylenol will help your headache."
He raised his head just enough to swallow the pills with a few sips of water. He handed the water back to Cameron, who capped it and placed it on the bureau.
"Close your eyes," his mother coaxed.
"I'm not six." He stared at the two women who were looking back at him expectantly.
"I'm sorry. We're making you uncomfortable, aren't we?"
"I'll be just a call away, if you need anything. If you feel sick, if you need water or—"
"There's water right here if I need it." John pointed over his shoulder at the bottle Cameron had left.
"You know what I mean."
"I know. Thank you."
He dozed off almost as soon as they left him, waking up again from a dream that left him with a sense of fear and anxiety. All that he remembered were eyes, red, glowing eyes, staring at him from the dark, accompanied by the sound of metal rubbing on metal. He sat up, glad to see that his dizziness had eased as he squinted at the alarm clock which showed he'd slept for almost two hours.
John rubbed at his eyes, feeling groggy and dry-mouthed. He eyed the bottle of water, wishing he didn't have to get out of bed to go and get it. Moving sluggishly, he got up, staggered to the bureau and knocked over the bottle when he reached for it. He made a grab for it and managed a clumsy catch before it fell to the floor. He paused, waiting to see if he'd disturbed anyone.
He peered into the living room, the dim light from the windows exposing the edge of a blanket pooling over the edge of the couch. When the blanket didn't move, he chugged down three quarters of the bottle before coming up for air.
When he put the bottle back, he noticed two cell phones on the bureau. Curious, he glanced once more towards the living room, and when there was still no movement, picked up one of the phones and checked the address book. Cameron. Derek. John. Only three names.
He shut the phone, picked up the second one and checked its address book. Cameron. Charley. Derek. Mom. Riley.
He had voice mail, but had no idea what the code was to retrieve it. Instead he checked the list of received calls. Five of them were from Riley. All of them had been sent within the last several hours, the last one registered just past midnight.
Limping into the ensuite, he shut the door, turned on the light, and with a sense of intrigue, dialed Riley's number.
She answered on the third ring, sounding half-asleep and a lot worried as she whispered, "John. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I woke you. I'm sorry."
"No. No, it's fine. Although my foster parents might not be too happy with my phone ringing at four in the morning."
He suddenly felt horribly guilty for calling. "Am I getting you into trouble?"
"Trouble's my middle name," she answered with a soft snort.
John relaxed and leaned against the sink. "My mom told me you came by earlier," he lied.
"Is that why you're calling me in the middle of the night? So your mother won't know you're calling?"
"No," he fumbled for an answer. "I just wanted to..."
I was worried. You didn't answer any of my calls."
"I was sick." Not exactly a lie.
"I understand that you're mad at me. I'm so sorry, John. I should never have pushed the issue. The handcuffs were a stupid idea and I really thought you would get a kick out of them."
"Handcuffs?" He lowered the phone to look at his wrist; suddenly the bruises there made sense. Hurriedly he raised the phone again when he heard Riley talking, gently massaging the bruises with his free hand.
"—Sorry I got the wrong vibes from you, John. I was stupid and I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am."
"Is it? Is that why you sent your sister over yesterday?"
"And the handcuffs have disappeared."
"I didn't take them."
"I never said you took them."
"You think Riley—"
"I'm sure it's not my foster mother. She probably has her own set of handcuffs."
Even though John didn't remember the woman, he shut his eyes against that particular visual. "Look, Riley—"
"Just tell me that you're okay."
"Can we go out tomorrow? Maybe grab some lunch? Take a walk to the pier and visit that sex shop I was telling you about? Maybe we can find something a little less... threatening—"
"That's maybe not a good idea." He didn't know this girl but although she sounded sincere, he had a feeling she didn't know him at all even though they'd apparently been dating for several weeks. If he were to try and pinpoint his feelings, he'd say she made him uncomfortable.
"I thought you said we were okay."
"No, I said I was okay. You didn't ask about us."
"You know, after what happened in Mexico, I'd never have expected you to freak over a stupid pair of handcuffs." Her voice was sarcastic and even though John had no idea what she was talking about, it grated on his nerves.
"That's not it." John was suddenly sorry he'd called Riley. "I told you I'd been sick. I just don't feel like going out."
"I thought you said you were fine." The concern was back in her voice, overriding the derision of her earlier comment.
"I am fine. I'm just a little run down. Look, I'll give you a call when I'm feeling better."
"Call me anyway."
"I'm sorry I woke you up."
"Call me, John."
He hung up, trying to come to terms with his emotions. Apparently he'd been upset when he'd left Riley just before the accident. He couldn't help but wonder if his emotions had played a part to causing the crash. He looked at the bruises around his wrist again – he'd have had to have struggled pretty fiercely to have attained this kind of bruising. His other wrist wasn't injured so Riley had probably freed him of the restraints when he'd raised a ruckus.
Even as he peed and washed his hands, he tried to picture how he'd react if someone tried to tie him up. From the way his shoulders tensed at the idea, he figured most likely pretty violently.
He picked up the phone, positioned himself by the door, hand on the handle as he flicked the light off. Opening the door softly, he started to limp back to the bureau to replace the cell when he saw his mother leaning against the bureau, the lamp she'd turned on next to her illuminating the room dimly.
"Riley apologize?" she demanded, her gaze not even moving to the phone still held in his hand.
"Yeah." He tossed the cell onto the bureau and hobbled back to bed.
"Did you tell her?"
"About my memory?"
"Can I ask why?"
"Like you said, I didn't feel like dealing with Riley right now." He sat on the bed and sighed heavily. "What happened in Mexico?"
His mother's expression caught him by surprise, just like his words apparently did her. She raised a hand and rubbed at the back of her neck. "You ran off with Riley."
"We ran away from home together or we ran off for a weekend of hot sex?"
"I'm thinking weekend only, and trying not to picture any hot sex."
John couldn't help smiling at her words. "So you got pissed at us for taking off?"
"No. I got pissed at you for getting arrested in Mexico."
"I got arrested?"
"Some guy tried to take your picture and you shoved him away. He dropped his camera, claimed you broke it and you and Riley took off. Cops caught you, called us, had us come down to Mexico to release you."
"Oh." Somehow Riley's tone had made it seem like it had been something more. "Sorry."
"Water under the bridge."
"I seem to be quite the handful."
"Actually, Riley's the handful. You just get caught up in her schemes." She walked over, rubbed her hand over his hair and cupped the back of his head. "Go back to sleep."
He nodded slowly as she took her hand away. He let her tuck him in again, closed his eyes, and tried to picture himself in a jail cell in Mexico. As he drifted off, he pictured himself, instead, standing in a small church, a feeling of peace coming over him, as if he'd accomplished a goal that had been almost impossible to achieve.
Glowing in the dark.
No matter where he ran, they followed him.
He ran on.
Out of breath.
John gasped, coming awake, overcome with dread.
"John? Are you okay?"
He twisted sharply in bed, seeing his mother sitting on the bed next to him, reaching for him. He glanced around anxiously, searching for the three dots, the three harbingers of doom.
And saw nothing out of the ordinary.
"What's wrong?" he asked, still feeling the effects of his dream.
"Nothing's wrong. I came to check on you and you looked like you were having a pretty uncomfortable dream."
"Dream," he sighed, falling back against the pillow. "Yeah." He scrunched his eyes and rubbed them. "Weird dreams."
"Want to talk about it?"
"No. It's nothing, really. Just, images. Feelings."
"I seriously doubt it." He opened his eyes, noting for the first time that the sun was up. "What time is it?"
"Nearly eight. Hungry?"
"Yeah..." he said slowly, taking stock of himself. Headache was a dull throb; dizziness hadn't made itself known yet, shoulder and ribs hadn't twinged when he'd turned, and his knee wasn't hurting although that would probably change when he got out of bed.
"Go shower. I'll make pancakes." She nodded towards the ensuite. "I put clean clothes in there."
He slipped out of bed, feeling self-conscious as he slowly limped to the bathroom. It was a relief to shut the door on his mother. He glanced at the clothes she'd laid out – a pair of jeans, a well-worn tee-shirt as well as a long-sleeved one to go over it. Underwear. Socks. Boots. As well as deodorant, shaving implement and toothbrush. She'd thought about everything, he thought to himself as he checked himself out in the mirror.
Stuffed to the gills, John stretched out on a lounge chair on the shady side of the deck, enjoying the morning before it got too hot. He tried not to feel guilty about the cell phone he'd pocketed, tried to convince himself that it belonged to him, that he had every right to hang on to it. He could see Cameron through the curtained window watching him and he closed his eyes to her scrutiny.
He wasn't tired, he wasn't sleepy, but still, soon he began to drift. He let himself go, the sounds and smells of the neighbourhood slowly disappearing. The good feeling of relaxation disappeared when he found himself in a barren landscape of charred metal, the murky gloom of acrid smoke impeding his progress.
"John!" His mother's voice echoed dimly from his right.
"Mom!" He began walking in that direction, stumbling past melted steel girders. Something shifted and he froze as metal rubbed against metal.
"John, where are you?"
"I'm here." He climbed into the darkness between two demolished buildings, trying to peer into the gloom. He spotted his mother kneeling on the ground. He broke into a run, stumbling over debris as he threw himself next to her. "Mom. Mom, are you all right?"
"John." Bloodied and battered, she smiled at him, her split lip oozing blood as she raised a filthy, scratched hand to cup his cheek.
Something moved in the darkness behind her. Three red dots appeared out of the darkness and advanced slowly. The top two coalesced into the eyes of a metallic skeletal face, the third was a laser beam from a weapon held in skeletal hands, the stock of the gun against its shoulder, the sight aimed directly at him.
"Mom," John hissed as she became aware of the monster behind them.
Not his mother's voice as he jerked awake, but that of a teenager girl, her worried face next to his, just where his mother's had been a heartbeat ago. He looked around anxiously but there were no monsters anywhere in sight.
"Hey." The blonde smiled and he recognized the voice.
"Hey." He sat up and rubbed his hands through his hair, trying to shake the nightmare from his mind. His racing heart and sweaty palms, however, kept that from happening. "I thought I said I was going to call."
"Well, you know me. I'm not very good at waiting," Riley said as she sat down next to him. "I woke you. You really are sick."
"I told you I was." He refrained from looking into the window to see if Cameron was still watching. He hoped she hadn't run to tattle to their mother.
"I thought you were making up an excuse to stay away from me."
"Would I lie to you?"
Her silence told him that he had at some point.
He sat there, awkwardly staring at the panoramic view just so he wouldn't have to look at her.
"What happened to your head?"
"It's nothing," he said with a slight shake of his head, not wanting to get into the whole car accident scenario and resulting amnesia at the moment. When he finally gathered enough gumption to look at her, he saw she was staring at his wrist.
"This is my fault." She ran a finger lightly across the bruises and her touch sent a shiver up his spine. "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
"It's okay." He didn't move; he let her fingers trace a circle around his wrist.
"I thought you were tough. I mean, you broke us out of jail in Mexico. You went after the madman with the gun. You put me on a bus and never looked back. But a pair of handcuffs scared you to death."
He tried to hide his shock at her description of their sojourn south of the border. "It's not fear." Even now, the idea of being restrained put him on edge. He'd need to trust someone implicitly to allow him or her to tie him up willingly, and he had a feeling he'd never had it with Riley. He didn't realize he'd pulled his hand away from Riley's until he found himself rubbing at the bruises.
"You never explained about what really happened in Mexico, and I'm okay with that. I just want you to tell me you're okay with what I did."
"Why don't you tell me what you think happened? In Mexico."
She pushed back handfuls of hair from her face and stared at her feet. "It was the same guy who came knocking at your door the other week. The one that spooked you so much. I think when you lived in Mexico, your mom got into some trouble, with men, you know? And someone sent that guy after her to get, I don't know, revenge, maybe? That's why you changed your name from Connor to Baum, so he wouldn't find you." She raised her head to look at him. "So, am I right?"
Connor? Baum? He stood up, his knee twinging as did so. He ignored it as he walked towards the house, intent on confronting his mother.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Riley yelled after John.
He stopped, having forgotten momentarily about Riley. "I'll call you," he said simply as he walked through the patio door, entering the house.
"Everything all right?" his mother asked, bent over the dryer as he walked past her into the dining room.
"Fine," he said over his shoulder, searching for Cameron. He found her in the living room, reading a book. "What did you do with them?" he hissed at her so that his mother wouldn't hear.
"Do with what?" she asked, looking up from the book.
"The handcuffs you stole from Riley. Why did you take them?"
"So she wouldn't hurt you again with them." Cameron's gaze moved pointedly to his wrist.
"You don't think I can take care of myself?"
"I know you can."
"But still you stole them from her."
"She won't be able to use them on you again."
"What's stopping her from getting another pair of handcuffs?"
"Knowing you have a pair, too." Cameron reached into a pocket and pulled out the handcuffs, and held them out to John.
"This is such a fucked up family," he growled, raising his hands into the air in frustration.
"But it's your fucked up family," Cameron said calmly.
"Why did we change our name from Connor to Baum?"
"Why don't you let me answer that," his mother said as she entered the living room. "But first, mind telling me how you found out about it?"
"Maybe that tryst I had in Mexico might have included a little more than hot sex? Maybe a madman waving a gun? Breaking out of jail? Any of this ring a bell? Someone who might have held a grudge against you because you might have been, I don't know, sleeping around?"
"John, there's an explanation for all this and it's not what Riley told you."
"What did you do?"
"Everything I did was for you. To protect you."
"Am I even your son? Did you kidnap me, Mom?"
"You need to tell him, Sarah."
"I can't." She ignored Cameron. "John, I can't tell you now, because if I do, you're not going to believe me."
"And when. Am I. Going to. Believe you? When you've made up more lies to placate me?"
"I haven't lied to you."
"Baum or Connor?"
"Connor. But you've gone by many names—"
"Am I your son?"
"Is she your daughter?"
Both Cameron and Sarah answered simultaneously. Cameron's "No," was negated by his mother's "Yes."
"Good thing you haven't lied to me," he snapped at her.
"I never lied to you, John. You're probably the only person I was always honest with."
"I had to lie, because the truth is so far-fetched—"
"That I couldn't even tell Riley why we got attacked in Mexico?"
"You should never have taken her there in the first place—"
"Are you sleeping with Derek?"
"Then who is he? Who's she?" He tilted his chin towards Cameron.
"Friends of your father."
"And my father is..."
He deflated suddenly. He'd slept too much, but he was still exhausted. "And Charley?"
"A wonderful man who wanted to marry me and take you in as his son."
"And he and Derek know all these outrageous secrets that you won't tell me?"
"So if I went to Charley and asked, would he tell me?"
"John, they locked me up because I kept trying to convince people that I knew something about the future that they didn't. There's a look people get in their eyes when they try to be polite as they back away from the crazy woman spouting nonsense. I don't want to see that look on your face. I want to wait until you start to remember things on your own—"
"What if I never do?"
"It's only been a few days. Charley and I think your amnesia is more of an emotional issue than physical—"
"Your mind needed a break from reality, John." Cameron's voice was gentle, her expression warm as opposed to her normal vacant look. "We think the incidents with the handcuffs and the accident were your breaking point, and you've shut down for a while until you're ready to face everything again."
"What happened to me?"
"A lot of things. Stress, mostly." His mother tried to smile, but failed. She swallowed, her voice hoarse. "It's been a rough couple of months."
"Is it because my father died?"
"Your father died before you were born." Cameron's voice was back to being neutral.
"Please. Let's give your memory a couple more days. If it's not back by then, I promise we'll talk."
"You'll tell me everything?"
His mother looked away. "I'll tell you everything."
John turned to Cameron. "The things she was locked up for. Were they true or is she crazy?"
"They were true."
"One day. If I don't remember in one day, you'll tell me tomorrow."
"Two days. I'll tell you in two days."
John recognized her mind was made up. "I'm going to lie down."
He headed for the stairs, defiantly taking them recklessly despite the pain in his knee. He went to his bedroom, hating the tiny room compared to his mother's roomier one, and slammed the door.
He lay down on the bed, decision already made before he'd gotten halfway up the stairs. Using the speed dial, he called Charley.
"How's it going, Johnny?"
"Tell me what happened in Mexico."
"Mexico? We never went to Mexico."
"Me and Riley. What happened there?"
"Riley's your girlfriend? Am I right?"
"You don't know."
"Sorry. I don't know."
When Charley didn't answer, John pushed on. "Why did we change our names? Why was my mother locked up?"
"John, I don't think it's a good idea that I answer your questions. Your mother—"
"Wants to wait until my memory comes back. It's never coming back, is it? So why wait when I can know now?"
"I want to tell you—"
"You don't trust me with the truth."
"That's not true."
"Then tell me."
"I want to respect your mother's decision—"
"It's driving me crazy." He found himself yelling. He stopped, took a deep breath, took another, and went on more softly. "Not knowing is driving me crazy. All I've got are half truths and hints. Hell, Riley knows more about me than me. Please, Charley. Mom said you cared. Please. Help me?"
"Your mother is so going to kill me." Charley sighed and John heard the creak of worn springs as Charley either sat or shifted his weight. "I once told you I wished I'd known the truth and wished your mother had trusted me enough to tell me. You told me you did. That you trusted me. So now you have to trust me agai, when I tell you. Because it's probably going to sound so far fetched, you'll want to call 911 and have the crazy people arrested."
"That's what my mother said."
"Okay. Let me tell you what I know. I met you and your mother eight years ago."
"Mom said you were willing to take me in as your family—"
Let me finish. Okay, Johnny? Let me get through this and then we'll talk."
"Eight years ago. You were fifteen years old."
"Nice of you to show up." Sarah kept her back to Derek as he walked past her, heading for the stairs.
She heard him pause. She could picture him turning around and staring at her in surprise. She continued reading the data John had printed out for her days ago, before the accident.
"My cell's on. Last time I checked, you didn't call."
She wasn't going to bring up the fact that he hardly spent any time around the house anymore; she knew the signs – he was seeing someone. Not that it was any of her business. But damn it, she hated that she'd come to rely on his expertise and truth be told, she'd have loved that he'd been around when John had made his demands known earlier.
"That girl told John about his trip to Mexico." She still didn't look up, even when Derek walked to the table and stood next to her.
"Told her what?"
"Enough to make him suspicious. He began demanding answers."
"You told him the truth, I hope."
"Some of it." She put the page she'd been perusing down and picked up the next one. She was about to put it down and move to the next one because she honestly didn't believe in UFOs, but a photo in the bottom corner caught her eye. Three lights in the sky; three dots.
"He needs to know."
"I told him I'd tell him in a couple of days if his memory doesn't come back—"
"Did you ever think that maybe he needs to know the truth in order to jog his memory?"
Reluctantly, she tore her eyes away from the picture and met Derek's angry gaze. "I can't."
"And in two days he doesn't get his memory back, what'll you do then? Lie to him and tell him you'll tell him on April 19, 2011? Give him two days to prepare?"
"Please, Derek. Let him have a couple of days to be normal—"
"Have you even thought what John is going through right now? All the uncertainty, the questions, the confusion? How do you expect him to believe you, if you keep lying to him now?"
"Am I being selfish? Or am I trying to let my son have a few days without the weight of the world on his shoulders? You tell me."
"Well, seeing that he doesn't know what he's missing, he's not exactly appreciating it, is he?" Derek's footsteps were loud in the room as he strode away from her and she hated herself for admitting that he was right. For the first time ever, since she'd been dreaming about the three dots, John had doubted her. He'd never doubted her before. And the last thing she wanted was to add disbelief, disgust and contempt – and have him think the woman who was his mother was actually a raving lunatic.
Sarah raised a hand to ward off Cameron. "Please, no comments from the peanut gallery. One nut in the family is more than enough."
John didn't like the truth. Despite Charley's assurances that everything he'd said was true, John was sorry he'd asked the man for explanations. He was just as crazy as his mother and he was starting to suspect that the two of them had met in the asylum where his mother had been locked up. He was sitting up, fighting nausea that was slowly growing.
"Yeah." He realized Charley had stopped talking and there'd been silence between them for several minutes.
"That's all I know. Do you have any questions?"
He pressed his lips together, but couldn't come up with anything other than, how stupid do you really think I am? So he kept quiet.
"Now you think I'm crazy, too."
"I didn't say that," John managed to ground out. Of all the scenarios he'd expected – running from the mob – running from a scorned husband or lover – running from the police for a misunderstood crime – he had never, ever, expected a story this far fetched and over the top.
"I didn't believe it at first, either. Until I saw the proof."
"Proof? A few pieces of metal—"
"A complete metal skeleton, John, covered with flesh. You just look at that pretty little girl and you tell me if you can tell she's not human. One of those things killed my wife. Michelle died so you could live. That's what it boils down to. Your mother tried to save her, God help her, she tried. But it was too late. That piece of metal killed her to get to you. You have to—"
"Okay. I get it." He leaned his elbows on his thighs and ran his hand over the back of his neck. Far-fetched and over the top all this may be, but damn it, what about the metallic skeleton in his dreams? Coincidence? He couldn't bring himself to admit it was more than fluke because otherwise it would mean what Charley was saying was true.
"No, you don't. You don't get it at all and I know you don't believe me. But remember, you asked for this. You wanted to know what your mother was hiding – don't go whining about how you don't like what you just heard."
"Do you know how insane this all sounds?" His voice sounded strained, even to his ears.
"Believe me, I know. I was in your shoes just a few months ago, remember?"
"Actually, no, I don't," John said sarcastically.
"Just think on what I just told you. See if it rings any bells."
"What did you want me to say, John?" Charley sounded tired. "Did you want me to lie to you and give you a song and dance just to shut you up?" There was a heavy sigh, which John found himself echoing. "Maybe I should have. Your mother's not going to forgive me for telling you this – I guess having one more Reese angry at me—"
"Reese?" John asked, sitting up so suddenly that he saw spots.
"I'm sorry. That's the name I knew you as. You changed it to Baum when you left me. I told you that, remember?"
"Yeah, but you didn't tell me my last name was Reese." He stood up and slowly flexed his knee, testing it. "That was before we met Derek, wasn't it?" His mind was racing, his thoughts just barely outpacing the growing pain of his headache.
"Yeah..." The caution was obvious in Charley's voice.
"What else is there? What aren't you tell me?"
"Nothing. I told you everything I know."
"There's probably tons of stuff your mother never told me. You'll have to ask her about whatever it is that's bothering you."
"You can be damn sure I will." John was about to disconnect the call without any warning, but common courtesy kicked in. "Thank you."
He tossed the phone behind him as he made for the door, hearing it bounce on the mattress, expecting it to land on the floor. He was almost disappointed when it didn't.
Cursing at the stiffness of his knee, wishing he could stomp down the stairs instead of going down each step carefully, John was aware of his mother sitting at the dining room table watching him descend.
"Tell me about Judgment Day." He stormed across the living room, heading for the dining room. "Tell me about John Reese. John Connor. John Baum. John whoever the hell I've been. Tell me about my long-dead father who came from the future, how many years ago. Tell me how I was born in 1985 but in 2007, I'm only sixteen years old." His head was throbbing horribly, each step he took was like a blow to his brain.
"You seem to know everything already." His mother seemed cool and collected, totally at odds with his anger. She looked down at the papers spread in front of her and John felt a stab of fury – they were all about a UFO convention. Obviously she wasn't only interested in robots from the future. "I'm assuming you spoke to Charley?"
"He's just as crazy as you are." John grabbed one of the papers and shook it in front of her face. "End of the world? Robots? Time travel? UFOs? How stupid do you think I am?"
"You're not stupid. That's why you're going to sit down at that computer and look up the dates yourself."
"I'm going to what?"
"Use the computer. Do the Google thing. See for yourself. It shouldn't take you long."
He wanted nothing more than to walk out of the house. The only thing that prevented him doing exactly that was the knowledge that he had nowhere to go. Nowhere to escape from his crazy family. So he did exactly what she suggested, if only to prove to Sarah Baum/Connor/Reese how idiotic her story was.
Fifteen minutes later, rage had been replaced by fear. He'd found newspaper articles, photographs, school pictures, just enough information to throw doubt into his beliefs. His pulse was racing and he was couldn't take deep breaths.
"Okay," he said quietly. "Tell me."
Instead of answering him, his mother glanced at Cameron. "Show him."
John looked up at Cameron, and nearly fell off his chair when her eyes glowed blue. "It's all true?" He was panting, unable to catch his breath.
"It's all true," Cameron echoed.
"I'm sorry, John." For a moment, his mother's voice seemed to come from far away, then came back with a snap. "I was hoping you'd remember on your own so you wouldn't have to go through this."
"I'm supposed to save the world? I'm supposed to be a hero?" He pushed off the table, wavered and caught himself. "I don't even know who I am." His palm slipped on a sheet of paper, throwing him off balance. Cameron caught his arm, her grip like steel.
But he ignored her, his attention on the enlarged photograph in front of him. Not red, not like his dream, but the three lights. The three dots. Just like he'd seen them before they turned into...
That was what Cameron was. Not real. Not alive. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. And they were out to kill him.
"Let me go." He tugged his arm free and backed up, trying to get away from her even though she didn't follow him.
Chasing him on his motorbike. Coming after him in school. Going after his mother. Going after other targets. Shooting his uncle.
Derek. His uncle. His father – baseball. Birthday. Sarkissian.
The pain in his head became almost unbearable. "Don't touch me!" He continued backing away from her, reaching up to try to massage the pain away. He shivered, suddenly cold.
Come with me if you want to live. The voices echoed in his head - deep, accented, male; higher pitched, female.
"John, are you all right?"
"Mom?" He bumped into something, couldn't retreat any further. The world tilted and warmth enveloped his arm, his shoulder, his upper back.
"It's okay. Just breathe, okay? Cameron, call Charley. Come on, John. Try and breathe with me. In. Out. No, slower. Come on, try to breathe more slowly..." His mom's voice began to fade. "In... John... Stay with me..."
"He's sleeping, Sarah."
She shook her head at Charley, who had eased John's arm away from his body and was attaching a blood pressure cuff. "He passed out. He was unconscious." John's body was limp in her arms, his head lolling heavily against her bicep and breast.
For a moment the only sound was that of the pump as Charley filled the cuff. Then the slow hiss of escaping air.
"His pressure's a little low. His pulse is fast, though. A little too fast for someone sleeping."
"He was in pain. In agony. He couldn't catch his breath."
"He was in distress when he lost consciousness." Cameron, once she'd let Charley into the house, had taken up a guarding position in the dining room where she could look out several windows. "Heightened BP, pulse and saline output, lowered oxygen levels."
"Well, it could be a subdural hematoma, but it sounds more like an anxiety attack."
"There's no sign of inter-cranial bleeding."
Charley placed a hand to John's shoulder and shook him gently. "John. John, can you wake up?"
Her son inhaled deeply, sighed, and opened his eyes. He looked groggy as he stared at Charley, not seeming to be aware that he was lying on the dining room floor, in his mother's arms.
"Charley?" John breathed.
Already on hands and knees, Charley bent his head to get a good look at John's face. He grasped his chin and flashed a pen light into his eyes. "Do you know where you are?"
John blinked several times when Charley was done, then looked around the room slowly. "Why am I on the floor? Where's Mom?"
"I'm right here, John," she whispered in his ear. He turned his head sluggishly to look at her.
"You passed out."
"How are you feeling?" Charley sat back on his heels, assessing her son.
"Tired." He moved slowly, laboriously, pulling away from her. "Confused."
"How's your head? Does it hurt?"
"No." John pushed with his arms until he was sitting, knees bent, and slowly lowered his forehead to his knees. "Just tired," he breathed through his knees.
"Let's get you into bed." Sarah glanced quickly at Charley, who nodded in agreement. She pointed towards her room with her chin as she clambered to her knees. Together, they each grabbed one of John's arms and got him upright. He went with them without complaint, got into her bed, let Sarah begin to pull the covers over him until he grabbed her wrist. She saw the unspoken plea in his eyes and she dropped the blankets and sat down next to him. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I remember," John whispered.
She closed her eyes briefly in relief, trying to swallow past the lump of emotions caught in her throat.
"What do you remember?" Cameron pushed past Charley to stand in front of John. "Did all of your memories return? Do you know who you are?"
"Everything." His voice was strained, as if he was having as much trouble speaking as Sarah was right now.
"Try to sleep, John." Charley glared at Cameron's back when she didn't budge when he tried to push past. They waited in silence, watching as John's eyes closed. A moment later, the grip on her hand weakened and loosened. She caught his hand, lowering it to the mattress and pulled the blankets up the rest of the way, to his chin.
"Keep an eye on him. Like I said, I think it was an anxiety attack, probably brought on by the resurgence of his memory. But if his headache worsens or he loses consciousness again, I'd bring him back to the hospital to have him checked out."
"Okay. Thank you." She gave Charley a wavering smile as she stood to walk him to the door.
Sarah carried a tray containing a bowl of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich; two of John's comfort foods whenever he was sick. John was still sleeping so she placed the tray on the bureau and sat on the bed, watching him. He moaned softly and she realized he was dreaming.
It didn't seem to be a pleasant dream, not from the way he began breathing and the noises he was making.
"John. John, wake up. You're dreaming."
He startled awake when she touched his shoulder, coming up off the pillow, gasping in fear, eyes searching frantically until he found her.
"Yeah." He fell back into bed and drew his arm across his eyes.
"Are you sure?" She reached for his cheek, relieved at the coolness of his skin.
"Are you hungry? I brought you something to eat."
"Soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?" He lowered his arm and began shoving pillows against the headboard so he could sit.
That was her cue, and she got the tray and put it across John's lap.
"Need anything else?"
He shook his head and picked up a triangle of his grilled cheese and bit into it. He chewed slowly, staring at the far wall.
"The research you were doing for me on the three dots? One of the hits you got is a conference in two weeks' time. Do you remember that?"
Still staring at the wall, John's brow furrowed slightly. "No."
"It's a UFO conference," she added with an apologetic smile.
"Oh. That one."
"I think it might be worth attending."
John's voice sounded defeated. Once upon a time, he'd have teased her or would have downright ranted about how idiotic this was. Now he merely stirred his soup and took a half-hearted bite of sandwich.
"Let me get the papers. You'll see." She got up, hoping to stir some enthusiasm in him, even if it was that rant. When she came back, he'd placed the tray on the bed, the soup barely touched, the sandwich only half-eaten.
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Do you want something else? I can make you something else."
"No. I'm fine."
She handed him the papers and put the tray on the bureau, out of the way. She sat on the bed and waited expectantly while John skimmed through the information.
"I don't know," he finally said, letting the papers fall onto his lap. He'd gone through it all so quickly, she wasn't even sure if he'd really read much of anything.
She took the papers back and sat there, staring at him. He seemed lost in thought, his expression of sorrow one she hadn't seen in a long time. Still, it was better than the anger he'd been carrying all these months.
"Do you remember the accident?" she asked, hating the faraway look in his eyes. It sent a shudder up her spine; the first time she'd seen it had been directly after Cameron's chip had been damaged and she'd gone after them with intent to kill.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I'm sorry, but I need to know where you were going. If you were running away from something dangerous—"
"I got angry at Riley. I left. I was heading to the Pier to get some air." His voice was emotionless.
"You weren't going to see Charley?"
That got a reaction out of him. She kept her face blank as he looked at her, startled. A few seconds later, he shrugged, his expression going blank again. "Maybe." That was said grudgingly.
She rubbed his blanket-covered leg. "I'm sorry you never got to see him."
"I should go."
"Go where?" She stilled the rubbing, keeping a hold on his leg so he wouldn't move.
"To my room. Give you back your bed."
"I told you before, I don't want you going up and down the stairs with that knee and the vertigo."
"I'm not dizzy."
"But your knee's still swollen." She moved her hand along his leg to gently probe at the injured joint.
"Are you still tired? Do you want to lie down again?"
Instead of answering, he shoved the covers back and slowly swung his legs over the side of the bed. He stood, limped across the room into her ensuite. Giving him privacy, she took his nearly untouched supper and brought it back to the kitchen.
She heard the television go on while she was cleaning up. When she finished, she was surprised to see John lounging on the sofa in the den, watching television. It had never held an appeal over him – seeing him staring at the screen and not fiddling with something just seemed so wrong.
At least he was up. She went back to her research, laboriously following up every link she could find on the convention, wishing she could rid herself of guilt and ask John for help. At least that way she'd get her information faster.
By the time she was ready to call it a night, she'd gotten enough information to warrant a visit to the conference. As with every time she'd checked on John, he was still sprawled on the couch, staring at the television.
"I'm heading up to bed. I'll sleep in your room tonight."
He finally pulled away from the sitcom he was watching, giving her a glassy stare. "You don't have to."
"Cameron will be here, if you need something during the night." Sarah raised her voice as Cameron walked by, wearing a leather jacket and heading for the door.
Her words stopped the robot in her tracks. She glanced at John then at Sarah before turning around and taking her jacket off and draping it on the edge of a couch.
"Do you need anything before I head upstairs?"
"I'm fine." John turned lethargically to the television again.
"How's your head? Do you have a headache? Do you need something for the pain?"
"It's not bad. I'm fine."
"Okay." She sighed, glad he wasn't in pain but wishing he'd show a bit more of his old self. "Goodnight."
Halfway across the room, she stopped where Cameron was waiting. "You do not leave this house tonight," she whispered so John wouldn't hear. "You make sure you're within hearing distance and you make sure if he gets sick or needs something during the night, you come and get me."
"He's not himself." Once again she was surprised to find herself confiding in Cameron. "He's got his memories but there's something..."
"Maybe he liked not remembering better."
"Don't even go there," she hissed, hating to admit to herself that she'd thought the same thing. She strode past Cameron and ran up the stairs, trying not to believe that her son was happier when he had no memory of her.
Sarah woke up with the light streaming in the wrong way. It took her a moment to realize she wasn't in her own bedroom.
She heard the television as she descended the stairs. Cameron was standing at the window, keeping an eye on the street and an eye on John, who was lying on his side on the couch, TV remote held loosely in one hand, his other hand grasping a pillow cushion to his chest.
"Did he even go to bed?" Sarah demanded of Cameron.
"No. He only fell asleep an hour ago."
"Shit." She eased the remote from him, slowly lowered the sound and when John didn't wake, turned the television off.
Thirty minutes later, after a shower and a change of clothes, Sarah emerged from her room to find John awake and had turned the TV on again. He looked anxious, jumpy, just like he'd seemed right after last night's nightmare. "How about you come help me make some breakfast?"
For a moment Sarah thought John was going to ignore her. But then he stood, followed her to the kitchen and before she could ask what he wanted to eat, he'd poured a smattering of cereal into a bowl and covered it with milk.
"I was thinking of making an omelette," Sarah said sadly as John sat at the table and chewed listlessly.
"This is fine."
She had barely finished toasting bread when John finished his cereal, rinsed his bowl and returned to the television.
By the end of the second day, Sarah had had it. While John kept insisting he was fine, she preferred the boy with the temper and the hatred in his eyes to the one who did nothing but sit around the house and pretend to watch television. He wasn't sleeping, the growing circles around his eyes were testament to that. He wasn't feverish, he was eating – not with his usual gusto but eating nonetheless. He just had no interest in anything. Nobody could entice him into conversations, he wouldn't sit before his computer except when she requested help with some research, and even then he'd lose focus and end up staring into space.
"I need you to look at him again," she said into her cell phone, watching John through the patio doors as he stood outside on the balcony, staring out over the city's lights. "He's not himself."
"He needs a doctor, Sarah," Charley replied. "I can look at him and tell you that his vitals may be normal but if there's any brain damage from the concussion—"
"He's not sleeping and I don't think it's the concussion. He's having nightmares."
"I can pretty much relate."
"He's been under tremendous stress."
"Sarah, give me a break here."
"You lost your wife, Charley." She tried to keep her voice gentle. "But John, he knows it was because of him. He has to live with that knowledge that he's hurt you by just existing." She hurt Charley; it was just as much her fault as John's. Moreover, if she had insisted they take the time for Charley to examine Michelle instead of the two of them playing the pissing contest over Charley, then they might have been able to save her. "It's taking a toll on him. We saw a doctor, he said John had PTSD. I think he needs—"
"PTSD? Sarah, is he getting counseling?"
"No. Of course not. How the hell can we go to someone and tell them what's happening—"
"John needs help."
"Don't you think I don't know that! And I think it's gotten worse. Can you talk to him?"
"What about the doctor who diagnosed him?"
"I don't know, but I'm thinking yes. Please, Charley. I don't know what to do."
He needs to talk to someone."
"He was going to see you when he had the accident."
"I can talk to him tomorrow after my shift, but I'm not a shrink. I don't know if it'll do any good.
"How about a change of scenery?"
"You mean, take him to the zoo or the movies?" That came out a little harsher than she'd have liked. "He's not seven—"
"I was thinking more like a couple days away from everyone. Something that might remind him of good times. Safe times. Just you and him."
For a moment Sarah thought Charley was about to include himself in the mix, and she felt a pang when she realized he wasn't.
"The beach. He likes the beach. He loves the water." The time spent in Dejalo had been one of carefree abandon for him, for a change. Maybe that was why he'd brought Riley there, to find those good memories again.
"Look. I know a guy who knows a guy and maybe I can get you a house by the beach for a couple of days."
"That's only a stopgap solution."
"I know. But maybe that's what John needs right now. Anyway, it can't hurt."
"Two hours away. Lots of privacy. Incredible view. Private beach. Michelle and I spent our anniversary there one year."
"And you think you can get it for me?"
"I'll make some calls. Let you know."
"You'll still come talk to John?"
"Let's try the house first, and if I can swing a day or two off," there was emotion in his voice and Sarah could picture the smile on his face as he spoke, "I'll come join you."
Sarah came down the stairs and dropped the backpack on the sofa before going into her bedroom to gather her own belongings. Shrugging it onto her shoulder, she went back into the living room to get the second pack and pick up the keys to the Jeep.
"John and I are going away for a couple of days," she announced as she strode into the den.
"You're what?" Derek, who'd been lounging on the sofa next to John, stared up at her in shock.
"You heard me. Let's go."
"Where are we going?" Cameron asked as she walked into the room from the kitchen.
"John and I," Sarah stressed the words, "are taking a vacation. You two can hold down the fort. Try not to kill one another." She turned to John, who hadn't moved. "Come on."
"Why are we going?" John showed no expression or indication he was going to get up off the couch.
"Because I need to get away from everything for a while. No more research. No more trying to figure out the puzzles in our basement. No more running from triple eights. I just need time alone with my son." No internet. No television. Hopefully no phones and nosy girlfriends. Just peace and quiet, the two of them, the beach, and hopefully some healing.
For a moment she thought she'd be left standing there like an idiot, packs hanging from her shoulder. She hoped it was the encouraging smile she gave John that finally got him moving. He took one bag from her, then the second before heading towards the garage.
She caught Derek's gaze. His eyes flicked to John as he stepped out the door, then back to her. He gave her a short nod of understanding.
"Call me if you need me. We'll be about two hours out."
"I should go with you."
Sarah nearly blinked at the look of expectation on Cameron's face.
"No, you should stay here." She turned on her heel, giving the robot her back. "We'll see you in a couple of days," she threw over her shoulder.
John was quiet, not even asking where they were going. That made her nervous and within ten minutes, she started talking to cut the silence.
"You know, it's been years since I've had to pack for you. I hope I got everything."
"As long as you got the guns and my boxers, I'm sure you did," John answered disinterestedly, staring out the window.
She let the gun comment ride. "Well, it's only for a few days." She waited expectantly, and he finally asked.
"Where are we going?"
"To the beach," she answered happily. Her smile faded when John was silent again. She concentrated on driving, until John spoke up again a few minutes later.
"What's the real reason for this trip?"
"Do I need a reason?"
"You always have a reason, Mom."
"Okay." She tapped the steering wheel with her index finger. "You needed to get out of there."
"Me?" He turned, finally, to look at her.
"I'm worried about you. I thought a change of scenery might help."
"No, you're not fine. You're not sleeping, you're barely eating. You're sitting around moping all day long."
"I'm not moping." He turned away again to stare out the side window.
"I just hoped that, getting away, just you and me, like it used to be, well, might help make you feel better."
"You and me." He snorted and shook his head. "Like it used to be."
She wasn't sure if it was a statement or a question. "You were happy when you were younger. You loved learning and travelling and... Hell, John, you were happy even a few months ago before you—"
"Before I killed Sarkissian." His voice dripped with emotion.
"I was going to say, before you met Cameron. But you're right. Sarkissian's death—"
"You mean murder. I murdered him. With my bare hands."
She debated pulling the truck over. This was a conversation that was late in coming and she wanted all her faculties if she had to discuss it. "You had to do it. He was going to kill us." She slowed, checking traffic, getting ready to pull onto the side.
"Don't stop." His voice was back to being emotionless.
"John, we have to talk."
"Not here. Not now."
She accelerated, the opportunity lost, her son closed to her once again.
He was fighting sleep by the time she made the turnoff and slowed down. Charley had given her clear directions, though, and she found the house without any problems. He was right; the neighbours on either side were far and separated by trees, giving them as much privacy as she could want.
She pulled up in the driveway, and letting John bring their bags in, went straight for the loose rock on the patio where the keys were supposed to be hidden under. And there they were, in a small space under the stone, wrapped inside a Baggie.
She made a quick tour of the house. Two bedrooms, large living room, dining area, stocked kitchen – well worth the money she'd paid for it. John had come in and was standing in the living room, staring through the patio doors at the beach.
"I'm going for a walk." He went outside and began walking towards the water. She watched him until he turned and followed the water's edge.
She hid their weapons in easy-access locations, prepared lunch, then took out one of the books she'd brought with her and settled down on the deck, waiting for her son to come back.
When fatigue set in after only thirty minutes, John acknowledged that he wasn't fully recovered yet from the blow to the head. His head ached from the sun's glare and he was limping openly now. He carried his boots and socks, pants rolled up so that he could walk on the sea-dampened sand which was easier to maneuver than the dry sand further up the beach that had over-taxed his knee.
Walking felt good, though. He realized that he'd spent too much time cooped up inside. Walking until exhausted was even better because that way he might actually sleep without nightmares. And the pain distracted him from his emotions, which were constantly chipping away at him. The anger he'd felt these past months was gone, and without it to hide behind, John felt horribly vulnerable.
As he walked, he kept a lookout for their truck parked in the driveway because he'd stupidly forgotten to get a good look at the house before walking out. Right now all he wanted was something to eat and to be off his feet for a few hours. Television would be nice, something mindless to watch to keep his brain from working.
"Sandwiches sound good?" His mother's voice came from beneath a large umbrella set up on the deck.
He took the stairs slowly, trying not to bend his knee. "Sounds good." He flopped onto a chair next to her and massaged the throbbing joint. It was cool here, cooler than the beach, and immediately his headache eased as he leaned his head against the back of the chair. The patio doors opened and his mother came out, carrying a large tray which she put in front of him on the picnic table.
She handed him an ice pack, which he placed on his knee, followed by a tall glass of lemonade and two Tylenol. Aperitif dutifully consumed, he looked eagerly at the plate of sandwiches and the pile of chips before him.
By the time the plate was empty, John was feeling sated and sleepy. He wondered if it was the sound of the waves, but he hadn't felt this relaxed since... he'd woken up in the hospital and couldn't remember his name. He wiggled his toes, watching the now-dried sand encrusting his feet trickle to the wooden deck.
"I could use a nap. Interested?" his mom asked.
"Maybe." He stood slowly, testing his knee, pleased to see that it was more stiff than painful. He brushed the last of the sand from his toes, held the door open while his mother brought in their dirty dishes, and headed for the living room. Comfy couch, stuffed chairs, coffee table.
"Where's the TV?"
"Hate to tell you but there isn't any."
"Be honest." His mom waved towards the picture window. "Who needs a television when you've got this?"
He stared at the beachfront. It was pretty from over here but it wouldn't distract him for very long.
"Anyways, I thought you were going to lie down?"
While his mom looked tired, he was sure that the whole nap thing was a ploy to get him to take one. He shrugged. He'd lie down until she fell asleep and then see if he could find something to read. She followed as he headed for the smaller of the two bedrooms and paused in the doorway while he rolled himself up in the comforter.
He lay there, listening as she went into the other bedroom and got into bed. While he had no intention of sleeping, he came awake gasping, drenched in sweat, his arms cramping from the strain of holding Sarkissian down, the crack of a broken neck echoing loudly in his ears.
The central air quickly chilled his damp clothes and he shivered as he shoved the comforter aside and got out of bed. There was no sound from his mother's room and John kept walking, out the door, down the yard, stopping only when the sun-heated sand warmed his feet. It would be impossible to walk again with his knee so he sat down, one leg tucked beneath him, the other, swollen knee and all, stretched out before him. He stared at the sea, let the sounds of the waves roll over him, and rubbed handfuls of sand between his palms, trying to eradicate the sensation of death from his hands.
For a while he picked out tiny shells from the sand, putting them into a pile, just like he'd done as a child. Then he got up and limped to the water's edge. He stepped into the water, felt the current pull back and draw the sand from around his feet, letting him slowly sink.
He pulled out of the hole when he was ankle deep and regardless of his clothes, waded until the water was up past his knees. He'd loved the ocean when he was a kid, had spent hours playing in the sand. But now keeping his balance and wading in the water with a bum knee was too painful, too difficult.
And he wasn't a kid anymore.
A cloud covered the sun and suddenly he was cold. Returning to the beach, he sat in the sand and dug his feet in to warm them up. Granules stuck to his soaked pants and he watched the water drip down his leg and across his feet, making dark splotches on the sand. A glance up at the sun showed the cloud was small and it would be warm again in a minute. He wished the sun could chase away the chill in his soul just as easily.
John looked lonely and miserable, sitting on the beach. Sarah's heart ached for him as she stopped next to him.
She sat down next to him, a breeze teasing at her hair. She looked at John's hair, missing the long locks he'd fought and argued so hard to keep.
"I slept," he answered in a monotone.
"Did you call Riley to let her know you were going away for a few days?"
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"Maybe you should call her before she shows up at the house and tempts Cameron into doing something she shouldn't." She tried to sound like she were teasing, but it fell flat.
"I didn't bring my cell with me."
His shoulders rose slightly, as if he was waiting for her to yell at him. Instead she wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees, staring at the water. "Are you mad at her?" she asked after a minute.
"I don't know."
"What about me? Are you still mad at me?" She held her breath, waiting for his answer.
"I'm not mad." He was still talking without expression.
"Are you upset because I wouldn't tell you about your memories?"
"No." Not once had he turned to look at her since she'd sat next to him. He continued talking, still staring at the water. "I understand why you did it."
"Understanding doesn't mean you have to like it." Frustrated with John's answers, or rather lack of them, she stared out at the water. "Ignorance is bliss. I wanted you to have a bit of time without having to worry about—"
"Information is power."
"Do you really feel that way, John? Wouldn't you rather be out there, not knowing what the future holds?" She pointed to a fishing boat off in the distance. "There are times when I sure as hell would rather be in that fisherman's shoes—"
"You made sure that never happened, didn't you?" Again, he wasn't accusing, just stating the facts. His lack of emotion began to scare her more than his lack of memories. "You had your chance to be normal and live a normal life."
"Is this what you want? John? Is this really what you want? To turn your back on everything and live the few remaining years like everyone else? Just let the machines win without putting up any resistance? Just give up? Because if it is, then everything we've done, every sacrifice we've made, every death taken by the machines, was all for nothing. And that makes us no better than them. Because we didn't even try."
"They have no feelings when they kill. No remorse." John's voice was suddenly hoarse. He blinked, his eyes filling with tears as he continued staring straight ahead.
Sarah felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe he'd finally talk. "That's what makes us different. We feel. We regret our actions even when we have no choice. We hurt."
Then the tears were gone, as fast as they had appeared. And her hope faded again.
She sat with him for a while longer, but the silence was becoming uncomfortable. She brushed sand from her pants as she stood. "Don't stay out here too long; you're going to burn."
John came in a short while later, limping heavily as he collapsed onto one of the couches in the living room, stretching his legs out onto the coffee table.
She needed to stop asking that question because his answer had been and always would be those two words. Sighing, she got the Tylenol from her bag and handed him two, along with a glass of water. He took the pills without comment, gulped down the water and handed her the empty glass. She didn't miss the way he rubbed at his forehead.
"Sun give you a headache?"
"The glare, I think, on the water and sand."
"Close your eyes for a while." Sarah pulled the curtains shut, making the room a little less bright. She left him lying there, hoping he'd sleep. When she came back to check on him thirty minutes later, he was sitting up, staring out the window.
"How about you shower, and we go out and find some place to eat."
"I thought you said this place was stocked."
"It is. I just thought you might have enjoyed something other than my cooking."
When John shrugged, Sarah put a hand to his face, testing for fever. His cheeks were warm but his neck was cool. "No fever. For a moment there, I thought you were sick."
"We can go out if you want." John leaned forward, about to get up when she placed a palm on his chest, holding him in place.
"We can eat here, if you're not feeling up to going out. Or you can stay here and I'll go bring something in."
He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch. "Greek?"
"Greek it is. That is, if there's a Greek restaurant in town."
"Anything. Doesn't matter."
Forty minutes later, she came back into the house bearing Greek, only to find John asleep exactly where she'd left him. The food went into the oven on low to keep warm while she picked up her book and settled in a chair across from him.
She couldn't focus on the words before her, her attention constantly flicking towards John. The bruising on his temple was starting to fade, but the dark circles under his eyes were growing. The sun had put color and freckles on his nose and cheeks, but beneath that, his skin was paler than normal.
His breathing was guttural, partly from the fact that his head was resting on the back of the couch. His eyes began moving behind closed eyelids and his fingers spasmed once, twice and he rose off the back of the couch, gasping.
"I'm fine. I'm okay," he answered before she even asked the question. He was breathing heavily as he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Hungry? I've got supper in the oven keeping warm."
"Sure." John stood there working out the kinks in his neck and shoulders.
Supper was pretty much a quiet affair; Sarah gave up trying to coax John into conversation, watching as he spent more time shredding his souvlaki than eating it.
When she cleared the table, she put a hand on his shoulder as she took his plate. She had a fleeting wish that the tin miss were here right now to assess John. But then he turned to look at her and gave her a smile. She couldn't help smiling as she kissed the top of his head.
They went for a short walk after the sun set; the moon was three quarters full and shone down on the ocean with a surreal quality. They sat for a while in the sand, not talking, watching the white caps gleam in the moonlight as the waves broke on the beach until the sky clouded over.
It was the evening chill that finally drove them inside. A storm was brewing, the wind bringing a dampness that spread goose bumps over both of them.
Sarah had to admit that she'd enjoyed their time together, even if all they had done was sit companionably together. She'd needed it and even John seemed more relaxed tonight.
It wasn't even nine o'clock when John picked up another stack of magazines and wished her goodnight.
"A little." He flipped through the magazines, not meeting her eyes.
She went to him and hugged him. "Get some sleep," she said as she let him go.
Thunder peeled as she made the rounds of the house, the storm coming closer as she checked the weapons she'd hidden. She had planned on reading some more but ended up staring out the patio doors, watching the storm illuminate the water. She finally headed off to bed as the storm died down. She fell asleep to the patter of rain hitting against the bedroom window.
It was still raining the next morning when Sarah woke. She got up and went to the kitchen, intent on making coffee before anything else. She had just turned the coffee maker on and was heading for the bathroom when she glanced out the window, and froze. She knew immediately that the forlorn figure sitting out on the rocks, in the rain, was John.
Coffee forgotten, she stepped outside. She was soaked by the time she walked down the yard and reached the beach.
"What are you doing out here?" Wind whipped her hair into her face and she turned her face into the wind.
Shoulders hunched against the cold, John jumped, startled, when she spoke. He seemed to be searching for an answer. "I needed some air." He looked exhausted, and something told her that unlike her, he hadn't gotten much sleep last night. Then he shivered, and Sarah put a hand on his arm.
"Come on inside. I've just put the coffee on."
He nodded, moving stiffly, arms wrapped around himself. She berated herself for having had a good night's sleep without even once thinking about John.
"Go shower and warm up," she said as she opened the patio door to let him inside first. "I'll have breakfast waiting when you come out."
"You're all wet—"
"I'll survive for ten minutes. You, on the other hand..."
"I'm sorry. I thought you were still sleeping."
"Obviously. Go. Shoo. Scram. Before you catch pneumonia."
He hurried out of the kitchen, leaving a trail of water and sand. She was no better. She dried her face and hands on a dishtowel, rubbed it quickly over her hair to stop the worst of the dripping, and then scrambled several eggs, put bread in the toaster, and microwaved several pieces of bacon.
By the time John came out of the shower, breakfast was on the table, waiting for him.
To John's credit, he was mopping up the kitchen floor by the time she was showered and in dry clothes. He'd cleared his plate from the table and she was tempted to go check the garbage can to see how much breakfast he'd actually eaten.
"Did you manage to at least eat half of what I gave you?" Sarah popped bread into the toaster for herself.
"I wasn't really hungry."
"John, did you eat? Are you still feeling nauseous? Dizzy?"
"No. I'm fine." He continued mopping, making his way across the kitchen.
"No, you're not fine." She grabbed the handle of the mop, forcing him to stop. "You're not eating and you're not sleeping, and I don't know what to do to make it better." She was yelling, getting angry because she didn't know what else to do.
"I don't think you can." Level headed, John was calm, not raising his voice as he pulled the mop from her and kept on cleaning.
"I wish I could. I wish I could tell you everything would be fine and kiss away your fears."
"Me, too." John's answer was barely audible.
"But this is our life, and I'm sorry, John." She held her hand out. "Here, let me finish. You go lie down and try to sleep."
"I got this."
"I can finish this."
"Mom, I said I got this. Go and eat. Your toast are done."
"Is it nightmares, John? Is that what's stopping you from sleeping? Nightmares about what happened?"
"You know, I was dreaming about the triple eights even when I couldn't remember who I was. How pathetic is that? I didn't dream about you or Derek or Charley or Cameron, I dreamed about the damned machines."
"The machines have defined who you are, who you're going to become."
"I think it was easier not knowing who I was."
"I know." She watched him finish in the kitchen and move into the hallway, following his trail into the bathroom with the mop. "You didn't answer my question. Are nightmares stopping you from sleeping? We can see a doctor, maybe have him prescribe something to help you—"
"Drug me, you mean?" John looked up at her angrily. "Keep me quiet and happy and out of your hair?"
"What the..." She stared at John; the cold hardness of the past months had come back and even though this is what she'd wanted, maybe she should've been careful what she wished for. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
She put her hand up to indicate she wasn't continuing with this conversation. John was tired, which meant he was cranky and she wasn't going to antagonize him. Now wasn't the time. She went to the window and looked out at the gloomy beach. Everything, including the water, was gray. Just like the mood inside this house.
She grabbed her now cold toast and buttered them, slathered peanut butter on top and ate standing up, supplementing her breakfast with vitamins and minerals, all the while browsing through the stack of cookbooks piled next to the microwave.
A couple of recipes caught her eye and by the time she finished eating, she was looking through the cupboard to see if she had all the ingredients needed to make the muffins she'd decided on. She needed comfort food right now, something fattening and rich and – she dropped the Tupperware container of flour on the table with a loud thump – fine, it wasn't for her, it was a peace offering for John. There, she'd admitted it.
So why was she feeling like she was trying to bribe her son?
She'd only gotten the dry ingredients measured out when John came into the kitchen. He stood a moment watching and then curiosity got the better of him and he came to read the recipe. Without being asked, he began measuring out the ingredients. They'd done this when John was a child; he'd love to help her bake. His reward had always been to lick the batter-laden beaters, spatula and bowl. Today was no exception, and while she spooned the batter into the muffin pan, John was busy cleaning up the beaters with his tongue.
She smiled when she saw the streak of white on the tip of John's nose. "You've got some..." She wiped the batter away with her fingers, then handed him the bowl and the spatula.
"You should bake more often."
She put the muffins into the oven, set the timer and leaned back against the counter.
"Derek would eat us out of house and home if I did."
John smiled, the earlier anger gone.
"Maybe I can teach Cameron to bake."
The looked at each other for a moment, and answered, simultaneously, laughing, "Nah."
She tidied up while John paced around the house. By the time the muffins were done, his back and forth from window to door to window was about to drive her crazy. She placed a just-out-of-the-pan muffin on a paper towel, poured a glass of milk and placed both on the kitchen table. It was a relief to have John sit still for the few minutes it took him to devour the muffin.
She nibbled one while he ate a second. He got up from the table, licking his fingers.
She cocked his head towards the door. "The rain's stopped. Want to go for a walk on the beach?"
He answered her with an eager grin.
Walking on the wet sand seemed easier on John. He still limped but not as bad as yesterday. Carrying their shoes in their hands, they meandered along the seaweed laden shore, pointing out beached starfish, poked at snails and mollusks clinging to rocks and watched pelicans diving after fish.
She kept glancing at him, worried over how tired he looked. She'd hoped this getaway would help him but if anything, he looked worse now than when they'd left yesterday.
Back at the house, Sarah settled on the deck with her book, feeling guilty pleasure at the act of doing nothing but reading. John joined her after a minute, magazines in one hand and a muffin with several bites missing in the other.
"Did you leave any for me?"
In answer, John took a huge bite of muffin with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Are you even reading those?" Sarah asked, motioning to the magazines as John settled in another chair.
He swallowed. "You didn't bring anything for me to do, and I'm not about to read that smut." John made a face at the Romance book she held in her hands.
"We could take a drive into town after lunch, see if we could find you a book or two to read." He was right; in her mind he was supposed to be recuperating, and considering how much he'd slept before he'd gotten his memory back, she'd sort of been expecting him to do so again.
He didn't sound eager for an outing. He finished his muffin while flipping through the magazine.
Sarah lost herself in her book for a while until her eyelids grew heavy. She gave in to the temptation, closing her eyes for just a moment. The sound of the surf was a lullaby, the occasional rustle of paper as John turned a page reassurance that she wasn't alone.
A gull cried out nearby, and Sarah came awake with a start, the three dots from her dream haunting her as she got her bearings. Blue eyes were looking down at her, a frown marred the familiar forehead.
"Wow, that was some doozy of a dream."
"Charley." She shoved a handful of hair out of her face, feeling disoriented. The sun had come out while she'd slept, warming up the day. Her watch said she'd slept for nearly two hours; her body and mind were sluggish. "How long have you been here?"
"About forty minutes." Charley was sitting in the chair John had sat on earlier. The magazines were on the deck, weighed down with one of several shells that had been used as decoration.
"Why didn't you wake me?" She sat up and rubbed fingers over her scalp. Wind had whipped salt and sand into her hair. She needed a shower.
"You looked like you needed the sleep."
"Where's John?" She looked to the beach and didn't see him. "Is he inside?"
"I don't know. I didn't go in. I rang the bell and when there was no answer, I came around back and saw you here."
In a flash, she was inside the house, weapon in her hand, frantically looking for John, calling his name, while Charley tagged after her. A quick search showed no sign of him. Their Jeep was still parked in front of the house, so he had to be in the area. She grabbed her phone from her pants pocket, then replaced it when she remembered John hadn't brought his cell with him.
Walking past Charley, she headed back outside, walking to the beach.
"I'm sure John's fine." Charley jogged a few steps to catch up with her.
"He's not himself," she said curtly. "He's not sleeping, barely eating." She quickly scanned the beach, hoping to glimpse him coming back this way.
"Well, he's sleeping now." There was amusement in Charley's voice and she turned to him, confused. Then she saw John, lying on his back on the sand, in the shade of a palm tree.
"John!" she cried out, her first impression being that he'd been hurt. But John's eyes opened and he turned towards her even as she ran to him. He blinked sleep from his eyes as she knelt next to him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." He sat up, quickly glancing at the gun still clutched in her hand. "I'm fine. I think I fell asleep." He gave her an apologetic smile. Then he spotted Charley. "Hey." The smile grew into a grin. "What are you doing here?"
"I let your mom know when I told her about this place that if I could get the time off, I might come down for a day or two and join you."
"And obviously you got the time off." Sarah, still kneeling in the sand, was looking at John carefully, searching for any signs of illness. She tucked the gun into the waistband of her pants then expertly used her shirt to hide its presence. "Why are you sleeping out here on the beach and not in your bed?"
"I was looking at the clouds." John stood, slapping sand away from his pants and shirt.
"You seem a little tired." Charley offered Sarah a hand and helped her up, but his attention was on John. "Your mom mentioned you were having trouble sleeping."
"And you're not?" John snapped. "Knowing that Judgment Day is coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it?"
"I'll admit it worries me. And I'll admit there are times I look forward to it." The joy was gone from Charley's face, the stark reality of his loss so evident for a moment that Sarah had to look away. Even John was affected and lowered his gaze, his bare foot making circles in the sand until Charley spoke again. "Can I give you a once over? Make sure there's nothing physically wrong?"
Shrugging, John turned and started back for the house.
"I take it that's a yes," he said softly to Sarah as they followed more slowly.
John was nothing but embarrassed as Charley took his vitals and performed tests they'd done repeatedly at the hospital. He stared straight ahead, keeping his eyes fixed on a spot on the wall where shadows of a branch outside swayed in the breeze. The numbness he'd felt deep inside was fading, and he didn't know if that was a good thing.
"Well, everything looks good." Charley began putting away his equipment, giving John the all clear to put his tee shirt back on. "Are you having any problems with your memory? I don't mean the kind of problems you had, but, simple things, small things."
"Dizziness? Headache? Fatigue?"
"Your mom said you're not sleeping."
"You don't look okay."
"You just said everything was good."
"I said your vitals look good now. Keep this up and you'll be back in the hospital."
"I just wish..." He didn't know what he wanted. He lowered his head and swallowed when Charley placed his hand on the back of his neck, just above his shoulders.
"Are you sure you're not experiencing headaches or dizziness? They could be part of the reason you're not sleeping."
The headaches were manageable. The dizziness and nausea came and went. Today, so far, it had gone more than it had come. "Those aren't the reasons I'm not sleeping."
"So you are suffering some discomfort." Charley's fingers rubbed against the muscles and he twisted his head, letting him get to the areas that were taut.
"It's better. Honest."
"Better enough to go out for a meal and actually eat it?"
John didn't answer, and Charley nodded. He stopped the massage and reached into his bag. He searched for something and then handed John a blister pack with two pills inside.
"Dramamine. It'll help with the nausea and just maybe, if you get a half-decent meal inside of you, that'll help with the headache. Tylenol can also help with the headaches. And I'll be honest; the pills may make you drowsy."
John had been reaching for the blister pack and froze, fingers barely an inch away from the meds.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Charley nudged John's fingers with the pills. "The real reason why you can't sleep?"
"Just... dreams. I keep waking up from stupid dreams." He took the blister pack and pretended to examine the pills.
"You're over-tired, can't get into a deep sleep."
"I can give you something tonight to help you relax, and help you sleep. You're wound up so tight, Johnny, you're going to give yourself an ulcer before you're eighteen."
"I took these before. They won't put me to sleep."
"They might if you laid down. But I'll give you something stronger tonight. Okay?"
John nodded as he poked the Dramamine pills through the back of the blister pack.
"There's a really great seafood restaurant a couple miles from here. How does that sound to you?"
"You go take those pills and we can go for a short walk in town, give them a chance to kick in first. Maybe stop off at the pharmacy on our way to lunch and get you some more of those."
John got some water from the kitchen to swallow the pills with.
"So, what's the verdict?"
Keeping his face averted, John listened as Charley filled his mom in.
"We have Dramamine," his mother said when Charley explained what he'd just given John. "You should have told me, John." She approached him and ran fingers across his cheek. "You kept saying you were fine."
"I am. It's not that bad." He pulled away from her and saw the hurt on her face, and immediately felt bad.
"I'm sorry. I should have realized that—"
"It's okay, Mom."
"I told John I'd take you out to a great seafood restaurant not far from here. We can do a bit of sightseeing first. How's that sound?"
"Sounds great. Are you up to it?" she asked John.
"Yeah. Seeing the town might be nice." Anything to keep him distracted might be nice.
Charley was right. By the time they walked along the wharf just outside of town, John was feeling better. The smell of tar and rotting fish mixed with seaweed and salt water as well as diesel fuel wasn't nauseating, just strange. He stared into the water, watching the seaweed undulate in the current just below water level.
"There's this little bakery in town that has really great pastries. We could stop in on our way back."
"Pastries? I thought you liked my muffins." His mom smacked Charley on the arm and he laughed.
"How do you know so much about this place?" John asked as they started back towards the truck.
"Michelle and I spent a week here for our anniversary a couple years ago."
John hadn't expected that answer, although he should have. He closed his eyes against the remembered anguish he'd caused Charley, and stumbled over an uneven board, wrenching his knee.
"Careful." Charlie gripped his arm, steadying him.
"I'm sorry..." It all felt so meaningless. Everything was all for nothing.
"John, don't. Don't do this to yourself." Charlie stopped, and his grip forced John to stop, too. "It's okay." He let go of his arm and cupped both hands along his jaw, staring at him avidly. "It really is. I'm going to be fine, and so are you."
John nodded within the confines of Charlie's hold, blinking back the tears that were prickling his eyes.
"You're tired. I know. It's okay."
He caught his mom glancing worriedly at them and he swallowed the lump in his throat.
And Charley was right again. He'd surprised himself at how hungry he was as soon as he'd started eating. Now he was half-dozing in the truck, sated and sleepy and relaxed and without any headache or nausea that had plagued him for what felt like forever.
He jerked awake as they pulled into the driveway, not even remembering closing his eyes. Fatigue suddenly overwhelmed him and with it came the feelings of overwhelming despair and hopelessness.
Leaving the truck without a word, he made his way down to the beach, not answering his mom when she asked where he was going. The glare of the sun blinded him, triggering a headache. The afternoon heat and humidity was suffocating; this was definitely a hole up in an air-conditioned room type of day. He sat on the blazing rock nonetheless, the heat scorching through his jeans after a few seconds.
He stood, wiping the seat of his pants as he walked to the shore. The sun glinted off the water, sending spikes through his eyeballs. The scent of baking seaweed was nauseating and suddenly the lunch he'd enjoyed just a short time ago made his stomach feel uncomfortably full. The problem with pills was that they wore off and allowed reality to seep back in.
The house's air conditioning felt wonderful when he returned and his stomach settled a bit now that he was out of the sun. He leaned against the doorway separating kitchen and living room, watching how his mom looked at Charley. They hadn't spoken about leaving Charley in West Fork; he'd learned from a young age that crying over what they left behind never got him anything. Right now, this very moment, it was obvious what his mom had given up to keep him safe. And to keep Charley safe.
Frustrated with everything, he pushed off and walked across the living room, feeling their eyes on him as he stood and stared out the window. The beach blurred for a moment and he swayed. The urge to lie down was overwhelming. He fought it off.
His mom patted the couch next to her as he walked past and he sat. He listened to their reminiscing for a while, fidgeting, restless, unable to get comfortable, unable to concentrate.
"Where's your phone?" John demanded during a lull in conversation.
"Jacket pocket." His mom glanced at the leather jacket hanging from a closet doorknob.
"I'm going to call Riley." He stood, his head clearing a little as we walked. It took him a while to remember her number, then walked to his bedroom, sitting on the bed and listening to the phone ringing. He was about to hang up when Riley finally answered.
"Where were you?" he demanded, his tone of voice sounding sharper than he'd intended.
"Hello to you, too," Riley snapped back. Music in the background competed with her voice.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to sound that way."
"Something wrong with your phone that you're not answering my calls?" The music faded and he supposed she turned down the volume.
"I didn't bring my phone with me."
"And you went away without bothering to tell me." Now John could hear voices in the background. Someone called Riley's name.
"It was my mom's idea. We left on the spur of the moment."
"Your sister wouldn't tell me where you went."
"You went to the house?"
"Duh. Of course I did. You weren't answering my calls."
"I told you I'd call you." Someone called Riley's name again and it sure as hell didn't sound like her foster siblings or foster parents. "Who's that?"
Someone giggled close to the phone. After a moment John realized it was Riley. "You're not home, are you?"
"So what if I'm not?"
"You went out without me."
"It's Saturday, I was bored and you sure as hell weren't rushing to be by my side. Of course I went out without you. Do you really think I'm gonna hang around in my room waiting for you to call? I'd have been happy to hang out with you, even if you're not feeling great. Your loss—."
"Say goodbye, Riley," a male voice said into the phone.
"Goodbye, Riley," she intoned, laughing. "I'll see you later, John." A moment later he was listening to dead air.
John couldn't even drum up jealousy towards her. She was right; he'd left home without a second thought about her. Calling her had been a mistake; he'd hoped for distraction and had gotten nothing but annoyance.
Once he'd replaced the phone back from where he'd gotten it, he returned to the kitchen. The box of pastries they'd picked out before returning to the house had been opened. He peered inside, looking for the chocolate brownie he'd chosen. He wasn't really hungry but eating would at least pass the time.
"Want something?" His mother put two small, dirty plates into the sink.
"Where's the brownie?"
"Oh. I ate it."
"You ate the brownie?" John shut the box angrily. "You knew I wanted that."
"No, John, I didn't."
"All I asked for was one stupid brownie and you had to go and eat that out of the whole box of stuff."
"Watch the attitude, mister."
"And what? You'll send me to my room without my toys? It's not like you're going to take away TV rights or my laptop because thanks to you, I already don't have any of those."
"John. That's enough." Charley walked into the kitchen, coming to stand next to his mom, bristling with anger.
John turned on Charley, but his mom was faster. "Charley, stay out of this."
"Yeah, Charley, stay out of this. Because Mom might revoke your rights, too. Make you sleep on the couch tonight instead of in her bed. You are staying the night, aren't you?"
"What the hell's gotten into you?"
Charley was about to say more, but quieted when his mom put a hand on his arm, and said softly, "I think you owe Charley an apology."
"I think maybe I should go," Charley said, glaring at John.
Sudden realization that Charley was leaving brought John to his senses.
"No! Please, don't go. I'm sorry." He turned to his mom, then to Charley. "I didn't mean that. I didn't... Mean..." To his horror, he lost all control of his emotions and began sobbing, barely able to get the words out.
"It was my fault. I told Mom... We weren't running. Sarkissian found us... It was my fault. They all died... All those FBI agents... My fault."
He couldn't see Charley through his tears, couldn't see his face. He reached blindly and felt someone grasp his arms.
"We should've run... Like we always did... Like we always do... My fault... Cameron's chip... The explosion... My fault."
Hands grabbed him and crushed him against a hard chest.
"My fault Cromartie found us... My fault Michelle's dead... I killed him... I killed Sarkissian... But... Was too late. We should've run... My fault... Please... Please... Don't leave us." Then it was too hard to talk. He was sobbing into Charley's neck, barely able to catch his breath.
Sarah tried to take John from Charley, comfort him, reassure him, but John had a death grip around Charley. And it looked like Charley wasn't about to let John go either. She met Charley's haunted eyes, then wrapped her arms around the both of them, feeling John's body shaking with each sobbing breath.
The tides were turned, it seemed. A few weeks ago, it had been John holding her when she'd broken down as they'd finally rid themselves of Cromartie. The stress they'd been living under, the fear, the constant looking over one's shoulder – it had ended for her but the guilt had continued eating at John.
Charley was mumbling reassurances, words that John probably wasn't hearing. The tears went on unabated for long minutes until she began to worry. She whispered Charley's name and he raised his head and gave her a reassuring nod. Shortly after, John's sobs eased, even though his breathing remained ragged and shaky.
"Bed," Charlie mouthed, and Sarah released them, taking hold instead of one of John's arms. Together they led him to his room. He followed blinding, rubbing at his eyes which were red and swollen. Charley left them as they reached the bedroom door, allowing her to bring John to the bed, appearing again holding a wet washcloth just as she got John to sit.
"Here." He handed John the cloth while Sarah crouched to remove his boots. John took the cloth and stared at it in confusion.
"Mom?" He looked at her with a look of such despair, so much fatigue showing on his face. She abandoned his boots, sitting next to him and pulling him against her. He leaned into her, like he'd done as a child. Like he hadn't done for years.
He started getting heaver, and it was time to ease him away from her and onto the bed. Meanwhile Charley had taken John's boots off, and as John blinked tiredly up at her, she took the cloth still clutched in his hand and gently dabbed at his face with it.
Charley took it from her and pressed the cloth against John's eyes. "Hold this here." He picked up John's hand and brought it to his face, showing him what he wanted. Charley pulled blankets over John and sat next to him, one hand on his shoulder. Even as she watched, John's hand went lax and fell away from his face, allowing the cloth to slowly unfold and fall onto the covers.
His breathing eased in sleep, deepening, evening out. She gently touched his temple, just below the bruising, then picked up the facecloth. Together they tiptoed out of the room.
"I need a drink." Charley headed off into the kitchen while Sarah sat on the couch, head in her hands, the now warm facecloth clenched in one fist.
Something cold nudged her arm and she looked up to see Charley standing before her, offering her an opened bottle of beer.
"Thanks." She grabbed the beer and downed half of it before coming up for air.
Charley did the same; he stood there, staring at the closed door of John's bedroom.
"What he said..." Charley broke off as he sat down next to her. "Sarkissian. He's one of the guys who died in the fire at your house."
"Are you asking if it's true?"
"Yeah. I'm asking."
She glanced at Charley, but he was staring out of the window.
"I trained John well. But a sixteen year old boy shouldn't have to kill a man in order to save his mother's life." She took another sip of beer and had to force it down, afraid she would choke on it. "He should be worrying about girls and zits, not androids and post traumatic stress."
"You should be proud of him."
"I am." She licked her lips. "You have no idea how much." She leaned her elbows on her thighs, letting the beer bottle dangle between her legs. Shoulders slumped, she'd never felt so alone, her goal so far away. Always she'd known John would take over one day, become the man he was destined to be. The soldier his father had told her he'd be. But right now, her son was lost and she had no idea how to help him.
Charley sat next to her, his thigh pressing against hers. Then his arm was around her shoulder, and she leaned back into his strength.
"He'll be all right." He kissed her temple and she closed her eyes for a moment. "He's exhausted. He's obviously been under a lot of stress—"
"A helluva lot of stress," Charley amended, giving her a little squeeze. "But fatigue and pain got under his defenses. This might be a good thing."
"Seeing my son break down is a good thing?"
"You said he was angry before the accident. Taking his anger out of you."
"He didn't look like an angry person just now."
"Things have been a bit better the last few days." She took another sip of beer and this one went down more easily.
"I'm not a shrink but... Well, let's see how things are in the morning."
"He won't sleep till morning. He'll be up in an hour."
"We'll see." Charley sat back, pulling her with him. She leaned against him, giving in to him. With a sigh, she turned her head and rested against his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
The sun was just clearing the horizon when John woke up. He lay in bed for a while, feeling more clear headed than he'd felt in a long while. The past days were a blur, feeling almost dream-like.
He flushed with shame when he remembered his breakdown, crying like a kid in Charley's arms. He turned around restlessly, wincing as his bruised shoulder and ribs connected with the mattress.
Finally he got out of bed, the need to pee becoming too pressing to ignore. He slowed, then stopped when he saw that his mother's bedroom door was closed. He tiptoed up to it and put his ear to the door, and when he heard nothing, slowly turned the knob and peered inside.
In the bed was a familiar sight which made him smile. Charley and his mom sleeping, the way it should have been. He shut the door carefully and made his way to the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later, bearing a tray filled with toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee, John knocked, entered his mom's bedroom again and cleared his throat loudly.
"Is it morning?" his mom groaned, turning onto her side. She lay against Charley's chest and he winked up at John as she ran a hand through her hair. "John?" She sat up suddenly. "Are you okay? How are you feeling? Did you sleep okay?"
"I'm fine. I hope you two got some sleep last night." From his mom's blush, he was pretty sure they hadn't.
"What's this?" His mom gave him a pleased grin as he handed her a coffee.
"An apology for going all emo on you last night."
"No apology necessary." Charley took the mug John handed him as he sat up and leaned unashamedly against the headboard. "So, no dreams?
"I slept really well." He stared at his feet, embarrassed. "You were right. I needed to sleep."
"Yeah. Well..." He handed each their breakfasts. "Enjoy."
"What about you?" His mom paused, a slice of bacon hovering just before her lips.
"I got some in the kitchen."
"You're going to eat alone?"
"The whole idea was giving you two some time alone." He waggled his eyebrows up and down suggestively.
"You march right up to that kitchen and bring your breakfast back here, double-quick, young man," his mom laughed.
"You heard her," Charley added, cocking his head towards his mom. "And we both know what happens when we disobey."
"You have to shoot extra rounds in the firing range?" John said over his shoulder as he hurried to the kitchen.
Laughter followed him as he hurriedly dumped his breakfast onto a plate and returned to his mom's room. He sat at the foot of the bed, plate balanced on one crossed leg, joking around and eating, and for a while he felt like he'd been brought back in time to those carefree days when it looked like the world truly had a future.
Charley was right. The surf was agitated, whitecaps breaking on the beach, the waves coming up high onto the shore. Even though the sun was out, dark clouds marred the horizon, promising a change in weather sometime soon. John stared out the window as he rinsed the last of the breakfast plates.
"How about a walk on the beach before the storm hits?" Charley came up to John from behind and laid an arm around his shoulder.
"You sure you got the right Connor?" John fluttered his eyelashes at Charley, getting a laugh in response.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Mom, Charley and I are going for a walk," John yelled, heading for the back door. It was only when he'd gone through and was on the deck when he realized maybe his mom would like to come with them.
Charley must have seen his hesitation. "It's okay. I wanted to talk to you."
"Ahhh." Suddenly this walk didn't sound quite as appealing as it had a second ago. They walked to the shore in silence. There was a strong breeze, whipping bits of seaweed and sand.
They stopped walking, staring at the dark clouds looming ever closer. Several fishing boats who'd gone out early were speeding back to the safety of the harbor. The view was almost surreal – the sights and sound of wind, waves and sand were something out of a dream.
"What do you see?" Charley waved at the expanse of water and sky.
"I'm trying to remember this." John took a deep breath of salt-heavy air. "So when it's gone, I can live on these memories." Thunder rumbled from afar, as if affirming John's words.
"John, you and your mom are in a pretty difficult situation—"
"Mom said she sometimes wished she were one of the people in that boat, not knowing what's going to happen. Lately I've been thinking the same thing. That it would be easier to just have Judgment Day happen and just let the machines take over."
"You're not serious, are you?" Charley sounded shocked.
"Yeah. Yeah, I am. I mean, I was." John signed. "It's all so pointless, sometimes. Mom talks about fate but we can't change it." He swiped at the sand with the toe of his boot and was immediately sorry when the motion hurt his knee. "We can't change any of it."
"Those few days when you couldn't remember any of these things - were you better off then?"
John shrugged, digging his hands into his jeans' pockets. "I kept trying to remember who I was. Praying for forgetfulness doesn't work because you keep praying to remember what you've forgotten."
"Not knowing the future is the same as not knowing who you were. You're our future, John."
"I don't think I can be what the people will want in the future. The person who leads them in war. The person they die for willingly. Mom thinks my life is worth more than anyone else's. But it's not. All those FBI agents who died, their lives weren't any better than mine. Neither was Andy Goode's or Michelle's."
Charley rubbed his face with his hand, not meeting John's gaze.
"I think you've already become that man, John."
John laughed sharply. "Oh, yeah. People have died because of me, but not because they were willing to sacrifice themselves for me. Not yet."
"You've got Derek and your mother. I think even that scary robot of yours would be willing to give herself up for you."
"And you've got me."
"You keep remembering the things that count, in here." He placed his fingertips against John's chest. "That's what makes it worth fighting for." Thunder pealed more loudly, followed by a strong gust of wind. "You know, I've been trained to help people out of horrific situations. Accidents. Suicide attempts. Murders. I've talked a jumper off the edge of the building, dealt with people so high on dope their feet didn't touch the ground. But I honestly don't know what to say to you, Johnny. I've got no words of wisdom, because you already know, deep inside, what needs to be done."
John closed his eyes; he truly felt he didn't deserve Charley's trust.
"Tell me something. Your mom told me what happened, that day, with the fire."
John pursed his lips, wishing that one incident had been deleted from his brain with the concussion.
"If you had to do it over again, would you do it any different?"
John thought about it, deliberately went through each and every event in his mind instead of letting his mind run amok with the memories when he dreamed.
"Could you do it any different?"
He realized there had been no other way. "Not if I wanted us to stay alive. They were going to kill us; it was kill or be killed."
"Then you need to add these memories to the ones worth fighting for. Remember the desperation to live, and never give it up."
The wind brought a sprinkle of rain, thunder threatened to bring more.
"Let's get inside before this storm hits or your mother will kill us."
"What are you doing?" Sarah stared at John, who was sitting on his bed, cards laid out on the comforter, playing Solitaire. "Are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine, Mom. Why?"
"Because you've been holed up in here for the past two hours. Charley thought you were sleeping."
"No. Just passing the time." John glanced out the window at the storm outside. "I kinda ran out of things to read."
"You could come out and join me and Charley."
The grin John gave her was full of mischief. "I'm fine here."
"What? You've locked yourself in your bedroom so you can give me and Charley some privacy?"
"It's the least I could do."
"Get out there," Sarah laughed, pointing to the door. "Charley found a game of Monopoly; let's see who's got the most brains to rule the world."
"Live and learn," Charley crowed as John handed over the last of his Monopoly money and made a show of counting the cash as he added it to the enormous piles before him. "Tsk tsk, Sarah." Charley wasn't even trying to hold in his grin. "You might have taught the boy how to fight and how to shoot, but you missed the boat teaching him about money and investments." He leaned over the board, rubbing his hands in anticipation. "I'll take that little piece of property right there." Pointing to the last of John's assets, Charley winked at him. "And we can call it even."
Moaning in frustration as the last of his properties was now in Charley's possession, John handed over the deed. "I never had to worry about money, seeing that there won't exactly be prime real estate around in a couple of years."
"That may be true, but there will be things to barter in order to survive and get people motivated to do things." Now that Charley had wiped out John, he leered over at what remained of his mom's cash and possessions. "Now, let's see, whose turn was it?"
"And sometimes," his mom said with a twinkle in her eye, "the only way to get your way is to stir things up." Before Charley could react, she stood, grabbed the game and upended it, spilling everything onto the floor. "And when the people have finished cleaning up the mess," she added as Charley stared at the spill of paper and tokens, "we walk away with the spoils." Moving so quickly that Charley had never noticed, his mom waved all the cash he'd amassed during the game.
"I forgot why I never played board games with you." Laughing, Charley pulled her against between his legs, one arm looped around her waist. She leaned down and kissed him soundly.
As John sat back and watched them, he realized he hadn't seen her smile and laugh like this since the day before they'd left Charley and ran.
"And with all that, it's suppertime, and I've got nothing to offer you boys. Any chance one of you might be willing to take me out for supper?" She smiled at them coquettishly.
"Don't look at me." John dropped to the floor, keeping most of his weight on his uninjured leg, wondering as he began picking up the game pieces and dropped them into the game's box if there was a way he could give them some privacy together. "Charley got all my money."
"And you got all of mine," Charley snorted as he kicked a few stray pieces John's way. "But I think I can scrounge up a few bucks to feed you. What do you guys feel like eating?"
"Actually," John said as a plan fell into place, "I'm not that hungry. Why don't you two go eat and I'll make myself something here."
"Are you okay?" Immediately his mom became serious and crouched to help him clean up.
"I'm just a bit tired. I might just go to bed after I eat and get some sleep."
"It's still light out."
"Yesterday you were after me to go to sleep and now you're complaining because I want to take a nap?"
"Okay, then we'll eat here. I can scrounge up some pasta and—"
"Mom. I'm fine." He rolled his eyes over in Charley's direction. "Can't you take a hint?"
"Oh." His mom stared at him in surprise, then started laughing. She pulled him close so she could kiss the top of his head. "Brat."
"Hey. I resemble that remark."
"Exactly." She stood and fluffed back her hair. "Give me ten minutes. Then you can surprise me with supper."
"Are you sure?" Charley asked when his mom had disappeared into her room.
John rolled his eyes again as he picked up the last game piece. "I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't."
"I'm not making any promises, Johnny. I'm so not sure about this. It may be too soon after Michelle."
"Just take it one day at a time." John stood with the help of the table and placed the box on it. "If it works out, great." He silently prayed that it would work out. "If not, at least you'll have tried."
"When did you get so smart?"
"Smart? If I were so smart, I'd be at home with my feet up watching TV instead of spending the evening reading bad romance novels." He squinted his eyes. "And don't tell Mom I'm reading those."
Charley laughed as he slapped John on the back. "You okay with finding something to eat?"
"Yeah. There's leftover Greek with my name on it."
"Okay. I'm ready." His mom had changed into dressier pants and a sleeveless top. "You're sure about this?"
"Yes, Mom," John droned, rolling his eyes. "Take your time. Take the scenic route on your way home."
"We just might do that," his mother said impishly.
He waited until they were out of the house, wolfed down the leftovers like he'd said he would, then took ten minutes to throw his belongings into his backpack before scribbling a note. He grabbed the Jeep's keys, locked the door, and headed for home.
John had been home for nearly two hours when his cell rang. He took a deep breath, sucked in his courage, and answered. "Hi, Mom."
"What the hell were you thinking?"
"Where are you? Are you home?"
"Yep. Sitting in the dining room with Riley and Cameron." He tried to keep his voice light despite the obvious anger coming through the phone.
"Let me talk to Cameron."
John stood, walked over to where Cameron was reading a book, and handed her the phone. "Mom wants to talk to you."
Cameron took the phone, glanced at the call display, and answered, "Hello." To her credit, her expression barely changed when she answered, "Okay," and handed it back.
"I told Cameron she's got baby-sitting duty."
"That's okay. I'm not planning on going out. As a matter of face," he added, glancing sideways at Riley, "I'm going to go to bed early tonight. I'm kind of beat."
"You were in no condition to drive—"
"Mom, I'm fine." He kept walking, going through the patio doors out onto the back deck.
"You're still suffering from the effects of the concussion. What you did was foolhardy."
"I'm home now, safe and sound. And honest, I was fine driving."
"I'm packing now; we'll be home early tomorrow morning."
"Why didn't you tell me you wanted to come home?"
"I would have—"
"Mom." John raised his voice, trying to cut through his mother's ranting. When her words stopped, he cut in quickly. "I meant what I said in that note. I wanted to give you a bit of time with Charley." He turned to glance behind him as Riley joined him on the deck. "Look, I'll call you tomorrow, okay? Enjoy yourself."
"And what about you? I rented this place for you."
"I know. And I appreciate it, more than you know." He walked away from Riley, moving along the deck. "But I think you also needed a break. We both did. This is your time - enjoy yourself."
His mom sighed loudly in his ear. "You're really feeling okay?"
"I'm okay. Just a little tired."
"Make sure you go to bed early."
"I already told you I will."
"Okay. I'll see you tomorr—"
"You've got the house till Tuesday, right? Day after tomorrow?"
"Then I'll see you Tuesday."
"I don't know...
"Okay. I'll see you Tuesday."
"Problems?" Riley asked, sitting on the edge a chair near the patio doors.
"No. Everything's fine." He sat next to her on the chair.
"So wanna go a party tonight? I know a place where the music is supposed to be killer—"
"I'm not going." The Dodge truck pulled up into the driveway, the headlights illuminating Riley's face for a moment, almost blinding John as the truck turned.
"Your mom's not here. Come on. No hassles. No lies. No explanations. No curfew." She grinned at him, waggling her head teasingly. "Nobody to explain the hangover to in the morning."
"I've got enough of headaches to last me a lifetime," John said shortly. He watched Derek get out of the truck and walk their way. "Anyways, I'm sure there'll be tons of guys you can flirt with."
"Are you still mad at me about that?" She rubbed his wrist; ironically it was the one she'd shackled him with the handcuffs.
John looked up at the sky. Too much pollution, too much light; there were no stars in sight. Not like at the beach. He missed the peace and quiet and almost regretted his decision. And was suddenly envious of his mother. "I'm not mad, but I don't feel like a repeat of that right now."
"Hey." Derek came up the stairs two at a time. "When'd you get back?"
"A couple hours ago. Mom's still there."
"She is?" Derek glanced at Riley, looked at John, then back at Riley. "Why're you here?"
"Charley came to visit. I was ready to come home."
"So your mom and Charley..."
"Yeah." John couldn't help smiling. Derek simply shook his head and went inside, but not before glancing at Riley once more. Only when the door closed behind him did John realize Derek had never met her before.
"Come on. Come with me." Riley grasped John's arm and tugged gently. "It'll be fun."
"Riley, to be honest, the only thing I want to do is get some sleep."
"You're serious." She sounded shocked as she let go of his arm.
"I thought you said you were better when you called me tonight."
"I am. I just don't feel like going out."
"Fine." She stood, her body stiff with anger. "Be like that. You don't know what you'll be missing." She stomped off, then slowed, turning her head to glance behind her to see if he was following.
He went after her, holding her bike while she put on her helmet, feeling ambivalent as she pedaled off, this time without a background glance.
"Do I know her?" Derek asked when John went back inside. He'd been standing near the door, not hiding the fact that he'd been watching them.
"Riley? I don't think you met her."
"No. I've seen her somewhere."
"She's been around a few times."
To John's surprise, Derek turned to Cameron. "Is she in your database?"
"What? You've got to be kidding me!" John stared at Derek in shock.
"She's not," Cameron asked. "Why did you ask?"
"I don't know. Somehow I got the impression..." Derek ran a hand over his mouth. "You're right. I must have seen her around here."
"No. You're hiding something." John stepped into his uncle's space. "She's my girlfriend. What aren't you telling me?"
"Nothing, John. She looks familiar; I just can't place her. Maybe she reminds me of someone I knew from the future. It'll come to me eventually."
Derek spoke again just as John turned from him. "And she's not your girlfriend. Not if she treats you that way."
"Jealous," Cameron supplied. "That's why she's acting like a bitch whore."
"Really?" John gave her a sarcastic smile. "What's your excuse?" He felt satisfaction at the confusion on Cameron's face when he went upstairs to his room.
"Enjoying the sex scenes?"
John jumped, startled as his mother leaned over his shoulder, glancing at the period romance novel he was reading.
"I was just, um..." Yeah, he'd definitely been enjoying the sex scenes. "I didn't hear you drive up." He shut the book quickly and put it down on his bed as if it were covered with something filthy.
"Obviously. So that's where my book got to. I searched high and low for it; I never thought you had taken it." She picked it up and flipped through the pages.
"I didn't. I mean, not deliberately." He cleared his throat. "I must have picked it up with some of my clothes. I was just, you know, curious about what you found interesting in this. You don't usually read this sort of..."
"Smut?" She sat down on the bed next to him, smacking him on the arm with the book.
John's grin matched his mom's. "If you say so." She looked happy and relaxed and he knew he'd made the right decision in leaving them. He couldn't help hoping that she and Charley might make things work this time around.
Her scrutiny, after a moment, became uncomfortable. "I'm fine," he said, breaking the silence.
"I didn't ask."
"You were going to. Sixteen years experience..."
She patted his hair, touched his shoulder. He didn't brush her off, and let her see for herself that he truly was fine. "Charley's fine, too."
John looked at her, surprised. "I didn't ask."
"I know. Sixteen years experience..." She winked at him, stood, tapped the book against her palm for a moment, her teeth worrying her lower lip. "Derek's worried about Riley."
This was old news to him. "He said she looked familiar."
"Any reason why you're reading bad romance stories instead of being with your girlfriend?"
John tried not to fidget as he tried to put into words what he was feeling. "I'm not so sure she's what I need right now. I mean, yeah, she helped me get through some bad times."
His mom's face was stone; he'd have thought she'd have expressed some sort of relief at his words.
"But she's a little too high maintenance for my taste. Plus, I guess with everything that goes on around us, she's probably safer not being around me."
"I'm sorry, John."
"I guess you're probably happy..."
"No. I know things have been hard for you lately." His mom sat down heavily on the bed. "And I understand why you needed to be around someone who didn't remind you of your future."
"No, it's fine. Really."
His mom's hands swept through the air. I'm just sorry that this is what you came back to when your memories returned."
"I came back to my destiny. Like some smart man is going to say someday, my fate is what I make it. And I'm taking charge, now."
Author's Comments: A huge thank you to devra for helping me out when I was stuck. While I wrote this, a lot of the lines and ideas are hers.
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