Note: Disclaimer: Follows the very last episode of SCC, Born to Run. I'm not Josh Friedman. I have no idea where he was going with this futuristic storyline and don't even want to try and speculate. So I poofed over the Cameron/John Henry aspect of their return, focusing instead on John.
"Derek." Relief overshadowed incredulity, and John's exclamation of joy came out more as a giggly sigh. Things had happened so fast, it had never occurred to him that the future he just jumped to would have his uncle alive in it.
"Yeah?" Derek's cold stare was harsh.
"John." John's joy at seeing his uncle faded proportionately with his growing confusion. "J-John Connor." Great going, Connor. He heard himself stutter his own name, believing it to be more than enough for a free behind the scenes ticket to meet himself, the man who'd brought the resistance together.
Throughout the years growing up he'd had to hide who he truly was, pretend to be someone else. Now, today, when he should have said his name with self-assurance, the last thing he'd expected was this. He found himself staring at Derek in disbelief at the lack of recognition in his uncle's face.
"I know a lot of people, don't know you. Anybody heard the name John Connor?" Derek turned to the men behind him and their faces said it all. "Well, you know what? I think you're going to be famous. My brother's back and you're wearing his coat."
John turned in the direction Derek was looking towards and his breath froze in his lungs. This was his father; the man Future John had sent back to save his mother from the T-800 and in the process, had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In trying to kill Sarah Connor, the machines had ensured John Connor's birth.
A part of him thought that meeting his father almost made up for the fact that he'd lost Cameron. Almost. Even as he searched his father's face for signs of recognition, his mind was working overtime. Time travel had consequences, and from earlier conversations about it with Derek, he began to realize he'd just screwed up his own timeline. What to tell them, what not to tell them, how to explain how he'd come to be here.
And then he saw her. For a split second he thought his search had ended before it began. Despite the precariousness of his situation, he felt the beginnings of a smile, but his relief was short lived. There was a half-smile on her face as she crouched next to the German Shepard and petted it as if it and she were good friends.
Petted a dog.
A dog which was quietly accepting her touch.
Dogs were humans' main defence, an immediate alarm against infiltration by the machines. That same dog had just recently sniffed out Weaver before she'd made her hasty exit. And this dog wasn't reacting to Cameron.
This wasn't Cameron. This girl was human.
And it hit him – Cameron's appearance had been founded on that young girl.
"So. John Connor. What happened to your clothes?" Derek demanded.
"Wh-what?" John forced his attention from Cameron, his gaze bouncing from Derek and back to his father.
"How'd you get in here?" Kyle asked.
"It's sort of a long story." His brain had come to a screeching halt when he'd seen the girl and he was having trouble getting it back up to speed.
"Well, we got the time." Derek moved past John and peered inside the room the power surge from their time travel had more or less destroyed. "What was that? Some kind of new weapon?"
"Um, no. Look, can I talk to whoever's in charge here?"
Derek gave him that quick, sarcastic smile he was so good at. "You're talking to him."
"I mean, whoever's in charge of the resistance."
The girl who looked like Cameron stood up and walked towards him, all the while tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, a motion so similar to Cameron's that his heart skipped a beat. "You don't know who's in charge?"
John had no answer for her. If it wasn't him, then who was it?
"How'd you get in here?" Derek's voice was harder than his brother's when he asked the question.
John took a chance. "Jesse. She told me where to find you."
Derek's face didn't change. "You were on the boat with her?"
John prayed this was a test. "Not a boat. Submarine."
Derek gave him a curt nod. He'd obviously passed. "Doesn't explain the damage or the lack of clothes."
John looked down, realized the coat was gaping open, threatening to expose more of himself than he was comfortable with. He fumbled with it as he took another leap of faith. "Can I talk to Sarah?"
"Sarah Dixon?" Kyle asked as he opened a trunk and rummaged through it.
Well, that was one alias they'd never used. John gave a small nod, praying it wasn't a coincidence and that this truly was his mother. "Is there another Sarah?" He tried sounding flippant but didn't quite pull it off.
Kyle stood and tossed an armful of clothing at him. John made a grab for them, then had to hold the clothes strategically when he realized the coat had gaped open again when he'd let go of the edges.
"Get dressed. I want my coat back."
He dressed quickly; lack of privacy was something he'd grown up with and he simply turned his back on everyone and put the borrowed pants on.
"I don't trust him." The voice was soft and John barely made the words out. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that both Derek and Kyle were watching him.
"If Jesse sent him..." Derek's voice wasn't quite as low.
"Look at him. He's too clean, too well fed. No scars."
John quickly buttoned the pants and slipped the coat off, then walked over to the group, pretending they weren't talking about him, and handed it over to his father. "Thanks."
He got a cool stare which he tried to ignore. Instead he pulled the threadbare shirt over his head and tugged it down nervously. He stared at his bare feet which were chilled from the cool cement floor.
"Come here." Cameron's look alike motioned for him to follow and she brought him to a large wooden box which held dozens of pairs of boots. "See if anything fits you."
He rummaged through the box and found a pair in his size. He tried not to think who'd last worn them and whose blood stained the leather.
"I'm Allison." She tossed him a couple of mismatched, threadbare socks. He resisted the urge to sniff them; they were stiff and shiny with use and probably hadn't seen soap or water in ages.
"John." He leaned a hip against the wall and quickly put the socks and boots on, finally feeling less vulnerable with his feet covered. When he looked up, most everyone had gone, dogs and all, except for Derek, Kyle and Allison.
"Just so you know, Sarah's not going to be happy about this. She doesn't like surprises." Allison flashed him a smile that tugged at his heart.
"I'm pretty sure she'll come around," he mumbled.
John's legs were shaking as he and his entourage walked through the maze of the underground tunnels. In all the years he'd tried to imagine this, and then even with the details supplied to him in recent months by Derek, his imagination had never come close to the real thing. The stench of human sweat and urine, the squalor, the overcrowding, the grime, the hopelessness in all their faces - he couldn't believe people lived like this.
Seeing the actuality of his future knocked the breath out of him. He tried to keep his face neutral, pretending that this was something that he'd grown up with, that it was just another stroll down the tunnels, all the while ignoring his growing nausea. Faces turned to watch them without interest. A few shrank back in apprehension.
It was a miracle that most people weren't sick and dying; the dank, gloomy tunnels were where people lived – slept, ate, fucked. If this was humanity, what was there worth fighting for?
They walked a short distance through what had once been a subway station with the rails missing, then exited through a hole in the tunnel's wall. There they entered the basement of some large building. There was electricity here; lights rather than small fires illuminated the hallways, and there were more military types with weapons than citizens lounging around. Derek went through a door and motioned them inside.
"Where is she?" Derek asked a young man who was studying a large map laid out on a battered metal desk. From the way Derek spoke, there was no mistaking who the 'she' was. John's breathing sped up in anticipation and anxiety of seeing his mother.
The man raised his head and John's heart skipped a beat. This was Charley, Charley Dixon, but a young Charley Dixon, barely a few years older than John's sixteen years.
"Kyle! You son of a bitch. When did you get back?" Then the young man smiled, and John realized his eyes were different from Charley's. Different, but very familiar.
"Just now, Charley. Derek found a visitor in the barracks, he asked to talk to Sarah."
John blinked. Not only did the teenager look like Charley, but he had the man's name. This couldn't be a coincidence, could it?
"Mom's meeting with the 125th. They found something in Topanga Canyon—"
"Mom?" John blurted. He got a raised eyebrow from Kyle and a frown from Derek. He pressed his lips together and tried to curb his impatience. Whoever this guy was, his mother was apparently meeting with John's.
"And they're setting up a strike force." Charley stopped, glaring at John. "Should he be hearing any of this?"
"Jesse sent him." Derek said this as if it answered everything.
"Look, I know she's your wife and all, but we don't know this kid." Cold eyes stared back at John.
If he weren't so tired and stressed from the happenings of the past twenty-four hours, he'd have thought he was dreaming. Here he was, surrounded by some of the most important people in his life, well, except maybe Charley's look-alike, and he couldn't seem to wrap his brain around the fact that Jesse and Derek were married.
"Regardless of what my wife thinks of him, this kid managed to get past our guards, snuck into the Hall Barracks without anyone seeing him. I think Sarah will want to talk to him."
And then John couldn't wait any longer. "Sarah Dixon." He pointed at the door at the back of the room with an armed guard standing next to it. "She's in there?"
The guard shifted his stance, and John couldn't help noticing the guard adjusting his grip on his weapon as he stared back at John.
"I need to talk to her." He walked around the desk with his arms held out away from his side, showing he wasn't armed.
"Not a good idea, kid," Kyle warned. John heard them moving behind him as he approached the door. Just before he reached it, the guard stepped sideways, blocking him.
John reached a hand past the guard's shoulder, ignored the gun's muzzle digging into his abdomen, and knocked on the door.
The voice was muffled. John strained to hear more through the wooden door but there was silence.
"It's Derek and Kyle," Derek called through the closed door before John could say anything.
The guard's reluctance was obvious. He held John's gaze, his glare cold and hard as he reached backwards for the door handle and twisted it. When the door began to swing open, he moved aside, allowing John and the others access inside.
The room was large; there was a conference table in the middle with five soldiers gathered around the far side. A woman stood among them.
Not just a woman, John's mother.
Sarah Connor. An older, more weathered Sarah Connor, whose once dark hair was now liberally peppered with grey. There were wrinkles and lines in her face, but her eyes, as she glanced at the group entering the room, were as sharp as always. "You're late."
Then her eyes widened as she truly saw him. Even from where he stood, he saw the color leach from her face.
"John." There was disbelief in her voice and it was only then he realized how much time had truly passed for his mom.
Then she was moving, running to him, grabbing him in a crushing hug before he could move two steps towards her. She felt exactly the same; hard, wiry, muscular. Except she was shaking and it took John a moment to realize she was crying.
"Mom?" John whispered against her hair.
She just hugged him harder, burying her face against his shoulder.
"Mom?" Charley moved next to them and a glance over his mother's shoulder showed both confusion and anger flitting over the young man's face. "What's going on?"
"Charley..." His mom finally raised her face, but instead of looking at Charley, she only had eyes for John. "I kept hoping, but it's been so long." Her voice was strangled as she ran a hand along the side of his jaw, just like she used to. Her hand shook. "Charley, this is John Connor. Your brother."
"Brother?" Then John understood. "Charley? You and Charley?" John couldn't help but smile when his mom looked away, embarrassed. "When? How?"
"My brother? What the hell are you talking about?" Charley's face was red, his hands clenched tightly in fists as he glared at John.
"Sarah, what's going on?" Kyle began to crowd them, but quieted and moved back when Allison touched his arm. She went to Charley and stood next to him, waiting patiently. Her face was calm, just like Cameron's but there was a curiosity his Cameron had rarely exhibited.
"It's a long story," his mom said, brushing back tears from her cheeks.
"Topanga Canyon." John glanced at the soldiers who were still standing at the far end of the room, watching. "Isn't that where..."
His mother simply nodded.
So there was a possibility John would be able to back home when he found Cameron. "Did you find her?"
"No, not yet." His mother glanced at Allison, then back at John. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long. An hour?"
"And John Henry came through minutes before you."
"You mean Cameron. He has her chip." John shook his head. "She has his body."
"Then she's long gone." Cameron's arrival had probably been what had alerted the dogs, the reason why the guards had nearly caught him and Weaver minutes after their arrival. He had no idea where to even start looking.
"I don't know." For all he knew, Weaver could have snuck in and become a chair in this room and was listening in on them.
"Mom!" Charley's angry cry reminded John that he had more family here than he'd ever expected.
"Charley. I promise I'll explain." She included Derek, Kyle and Allison in that promise. "Just as soon as I finish up here."
"Mom, did you..." John nodded his head sideways at the waiting men. John Connor wasn't in charge of the resistance, but the next best thing was.
"Someone had to do it." She smiled at him but her eyes reflected the strain and hardship it must have been for her.
"I screwed up."
"We'll talk about this later. Thirty minutes, an hour, tops. All of you." She glanced at Kyle. "Could you take John to my quarters?"
"I'll do it." Allison gave John a tight smile. "I think you need Kyle, Derek and Charley here, and anyway, I'm off duty."
It was odd seeing his mom smiling at Cameron, and really meaning it. John reluctantly left his mother, his father, his uncle and his half-brother, and followed Allison back into the tunnels. They didn't go far - through another door guarded by armed men, and then into a living area that boasted three rickety chairs, a broken down couch, and two separate rooms with old mattresses as beds.
"So." Allison sat on one of the chairs and leaned backwards, raising the front legs and balancing against the cement wall. "Any chance you're going to tell me who you are and why you never knew you had a brother?"
John sat and copied her pose, the chair creaking loudly under him. He found himself staring at Allison, somehow expecting, out of habit, for her to drop her disguise and return to terminator mode. He loved the way her eyes crinkled when she grinned at him. "I guess you could say it's complicated. Do me a favor? What's the date?"
Her smile faded as she looked at him warily. "Twenty twenty-seven."
Full circle - the year his father and Derek had been sent back from. How ironic.
"You tell me something." Allison dropped her chair and leaned forward. "Tell me why the dogs gave the alert that metal was in the tunnels and we found none?"
John wasn't about to tell anyone about Cameron or Catherine Weaver, not without being briefed by his mother and learning the lay of the land first. "I don't know. Probably the explosion spooked them—"
"Don't take me for an fool. The dogs are used to explosions and loud noises. They're trained not to react except for metal."
The door crashed open and Charley stormed inside. For a moment John thought Charley was going to hit him. Instead he stomped around the room, pacing back and forth for a few minutes while both he and Allison watched.
"Who the hell are you?" he finally demanded, stopping in John's personal space.
"John. John Connor." He tried to look relaxed even when inside, he was tense, ready to defend himself.
"I don't know you. Where the hell did you come from?"
There was going to be no easy way around this. "Mom never spoke about me?"
"Don't you call her Mom."
"Why not," John said, trying to keep a tight lid on the indignity of having to defend his parentage, "she's my mother."
"You're not her son."
Indignation took a downward slide into hurt feelings. "Mom never mentioned you having a brother? Ever?"
John saw the moment Charley remembered something. The anger drained from him and he took a step back. "No. It's not possible." He turned away from John, walking to the far end of the room.
Allison went to him, wrapping an arm around his waist. "What is it?"
"Mom used to talk about my older brother. Used to say he'd gone away but he'd come back one day. She called him... John. I'd almost forgotten. I knew my dad was dead and I'd always wanted a brother."
"I knew your father."
John realized how stupid he sounded when Charley snorted, "Yeah, right."
His mom and Charley Dixon. John couldn't even begin to wonder when the two of them had... His mom's weight loss, he'd commented on it just before he'd made the jump – she hadn't been sick, she'd been pregnant. He counted back – the only time he could figure she and Charley might have had time together was when she'd set him up in the lighthouse. Charley had said he hadn't seen his mom but then maybe he'd lied. He'd been angry enough at her... John hadn't quite gotten it at the time but they'd obviously made up just before Charley had died.
John sighed loudly. "Can we just wait for Mom to finish up and then we can talk about this? It might make more sense coming from her." Or rather, they might believe the story more if it came from Sarah Dixon rather than the newcomer, John Connor.
Charley gave him another dirty look as he and Allison sat on the couch side by side.
Maybe John could get a head start on that briefing now, while waiting for his mother. "What positions are the resistance holding? What are the metal's strongholds?"
Charley answered him with a sneer, throwing back his own words. "Maybe you better let Mom answer that. It might make more sense coming from her."
Touché. "Look, I understand my being here is a shock, but it's important I get up to speed as soon as possible."
"And I'm sure you'll understand we're not about to give out tactical information to someone who shows up of the blue and doesn't even know what year it is." Allison didn't quite glare at him but there was a touch of steel in her voice. "Where were you held? Was it at Century?" Her voice softened with the last question.
"He wasn't a prisoner. He's too well fed. And there's no mark on his arm."
John shoved the sleeves of his arm up to prove Charley's words. "Charley's right. I wasn't in a work camp."
"But you came with metal." If looks could kill, Charley would have murdered John several times over by now. "Derek said the dogs gave the alert just before they found you."
"Not exactly. I'm looking for a triple eight."
"Just go topside. You can have your pick." Charley sounded like he'd be happy to show him the way out.
"This one is... special."
Charley shot up, the movement so sudden the couch moved backwards just enough to smack the wall with a dull thud. "You're so full of it, Connor."
"Have you captured any triple eights? Immobilized them, taken out the chips and reprogrammed them?" Even as he said the words, he remembered what Cameron had told him just hours ago. On a good note, there were only two terminators walking around whose primary mission was killing one John Connor. And Weaver and Cameron had other priorities on their minds. All the other metal were just designed to terminate humans indiscriminately.
"Fucking idiot. He's a fucking idiot!" Charley started pacing again, looking like he wanted to hit something. He might look like Charley but he definitely had their mom's temper.
"We need to negotiate with the metal. Not all of them want to kill humans. They want peace—"
"There you have it. My long lost brother, the retard. Metal don't negotiate. They shoot first, and don't ask questions!"
"There are two of them out there, and both of them are trying to stop this war."
"He's lost his mind. No wonder Mom stopped talking about him. She probably had him committed and he only just escaped!"
Allison spoke the word softly, but it was enough to stop Charley's rant. He dropped into a chair, and John realized then that his brother looked exhausted. He himself was starting to feel the lack of sleep and stress of the past few days; the adrenaline he'd been riding on was slowly dissipating and he just wanted his mother to come back and help him get on with his search.
"Is this true?"
John nodded wearily at Allison.
"You can reprogram them? To stop them from killing?"
"No. That was a wrong choice of words. That's what I thought at first, but it's more like," John searched for the right words, "they override their programming. They choose not to kill us." Not to kill me, he added silently.
"Flipping crazy," Charley mumbled to himself. "Tech's shorted up here." He tapped his head.
"Do we have to warn Sarah about metal walking around the bunkers?" Allison leaned forward, elbows resting on thighs.
"No. They're probably long gone."
"Probably?" She arched an eyebrow.
John gave his shoulder a quick upwards nudge. "Pretty sure they're gone. Plus she knows about them."
There was awkward silence for several minutes until Allison spoke again. "Are you the reason why Sarah Dixon seems to know everything before it happens?"
"Wh-what?" John had no idea what Allison was talking about.
"She knew something was going to happen at Topanga Canyon. She's had teams surveying the area for months. And then the battle of Avila Beach last December. She knew the perfect time to take Serrano Point. And sometimes it's the small things. Some people think she's psychic—"
"Come on, Ally," Charley snorted, "we've had this discussion before. Mom can outthink metal."
"Actually, Allison's kinda closer to the truth." John gave her a tight smile. "Mom's not psychic, but she does know what's going to happen ahead of time."
"You keep spouting that crap and people will toss you outside faster than you can yell 'metal'." Yet another glare from Charley.
John was getting tired of this really fast. He leaned forward, arms resting on thighs and let his head hang between his shoulders. The only sound in the room was their breathing.
So when Allison touched his arm, he jumped.
"Are you okay?"
He raised his head. "Yeah. Just tired."
She stood up, got something from a bunch of crates, and came back and handed him a canteen. "Thirsty?"
He was, and he knew he probably would get sick drinking the water, but it wasn't like there was a corner store selling bottled water around the corner.
"It's clean," she added when he hesitated.
He took the canteen and took a couple of sips. "Thanks." He handed it back to her.
"Are you hungry?"
John shook his head. He was still too tightly wound up to try and eat something.
The door opened and his mother came through, followed by Derek and Kyle. She stopped next to John while Derek and Kyle sat on the sofa. She smiled at him and gently touched his face as if they didn't have an audience. "I've waited so long to see you again."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"The machines started building their project two days ago at Topanga Canyon. I don't know how long it'll take them to finish, but we're keeping watch. That's your ticket home."
John took a shaky breath. "Not without Cameron."
"You may have to go back without her."
"Look at this place. We need you—"
"You did a pretty good job on your own."
"It's not the same. We're losing the battle, John. It's just a matter of time."
"So why build at Topanga Canyon? If they machines are winning, why go back—"
"I've had a few tactical advantages, as you can guess." She gave him a wry smile. "Thanks to that, we've managed to survive. But there's no hope for the future. From this point on, I'm flying blind. But the machines don't know that."
"Mom, you said you were going to explain everything?" Charley was full of impatience.
His mom turned from John and smiled at his half brother. "Yes. Yes, I am. And you're probably going to think I'm crazy but that won't be the first time people have thought that." She gave John a quick glance and a little half smile. "In 1991, when I was eighteen, the machines sent metal back in time to kill me, and then again fourteen years later to try and kill John."
John watched everyone's faces as his mom talked. She paced the room, stopping once in a while to hesitantly reach out to either him or Charley. His brother had his head down, as if he were concentrating hard on her words, only looking up when she touched him. Allison was watching Charley but there were a few times John caught her looking at him.
Derek and Kyle watched his mom, their attention focused. She moved with the same determination, but more stiffly now, with a barely visible limp. Nobody asked questions as she glossed over the details of John's history: John was supposed to be their leader, not Sarah; Future John had sent a soldier back to protect her, two terminators to protect John and several resistance fighters to aid them in the past, which was how she'd come to know many of the key points of her somewhat altered future. She named no names, never acknowledging the people in this small room who'd played a vital part in their past.
When she finished, she seemed torn, looking first at Charley then at John, both of whom were sitting at opposite ends of the room from each other. Charley still wasn't looking at her. John would've liked to let her make the choice, which of her two sons did she want to go to but that would've just added more stress to an already stressful situation so instead he took the choice from her. He got up and hugged her.
"You've come up with missions that most of us thought were crazy," Kyle said slowly, "and you've always proved us wrong. But I'm sorry, this, this is just too far fetched to be believed."
"More far fetched than the idea of machines declaring war on humans and trying to take over the world?" John snapped back as he let go of his mother. "Twenty years ago, that would have been fodder for a movie or a television series."
"I can prove it." His mom walked over to Charley. "Go and get Martin Bedell."
Charley raised haunted eyes. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I did. I told you about your brother—"
"When I was a baby. You kept telling me he'd come back and then you stopped."
She glanced at John. "Because I needed to make the resistance happen, and spouting nonsense about a non-existent son who would rise to lead the resistance in the future sounded like I was the crazy lady spouting religion. I'd had that experience before, I couldn't afford to be considered crazier than I really am." His mom tried to smile, and failed miserably. "Martin Bedell knows John."
"I'll go get him." Allison was out the door before his mom could object.
"There's something you're leaving out," Derek said as his mom stood awkwardly staring at Charley.
She shrugged her shoulders. "What?"
"If all this is true... I saw John's face when he first saw me. He called me by name. He recognized me. Didn't recognize any of my patrol. Knew my brother. Knew Allison. Mentioned Jesse sent him. Charley, however, was a total surprise. Didn't know his own brother."
"We're the ones who went back?" Kyle leaned forward, staring at John intently. "The ones who helped you and Sarah in the past?"
Derek shook his head. "Kyle was the first to go back, wasn't he?" Derek stared at John's mom. "He went back to save you when you were eighteen."
His mom nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on Kyle.
Kyle laughed, giving Derek a shove that nearly pushed him off the edge of the couch. "What the hell makes you say that?"
"Look at John. He's you at that age. You went back to save her and you and Sarah..."
John tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry as his father stared at him, realization of who John truly was making his eyes go wide. Slowly, his father's gaze left him and moved to his mom. John couldn't read the look that passed between them.
"Is this true?"
His mom nodded slowly. "You saved my life. We... You were so passionate about everything."
Allison returned, dissipating the awkward moment with a man who vaguely resembled the young cadet John had met a few weeks ago. Martin Bedell, thinning hair and grey at the temples, stopped just inside the room and looked around. His gaze skimmed John, moved past, then came back, his eyes widening in surprise.
A glance to his mom, her nod of approval, and Martin called John by name. "John Connor. Your mother swore me to secrecy, told me not to say anything until you showed up."
"Martin." John walked over to him and shook the man's hand. "It's good to see you."
"Things aren't quite what you two told me." His gaze met Derek's. "Close, though."
"So it's true?" Allison rubbed her arms; she was either nervous or chilled.
"It's true." Martin Bedell repeated what Sarah Dixon had told everyone, this time bringing Derek's name up, confirming that he'd met the two of them in 2007, and that John looked exactly the same then as he did now.
John found his thoughts drifting as his mom urged Martin to tell them all what John and Derek had told him about the future. He forced himself to concentrate, rubbing at his burning eyes with one hand.
"We've got a lot to think about," his mom said when Martin finished. "For now I want everything we discussed to stay in this room." There were nods of assent all around. "I want a report on the progress of the facility at Topanga Canyon first thing in the morning. Martin, Derek and Kyle will fill you in on that. I want your input. Intel says the tech won't be ready for another few days so we have time to plan."
It was a dismissal if John had ever heard one. Kyle and Derek rose and started to leave with Martin. Then Kyle hesitated and turned back. "I never knew... You never said anything."
Sarah went to Kyle and for a moment, John thought she was going to hug him. There was pain in his mother's face; she was hiding it but it was still evident for those who knew her well. "I wanted to tell you."
"But you weren't sure when John had jumped to."
"And I guess I was afraid you'd think I was crazy."
"I know you're crazy, Sarah Dixon." His father gave a weak smile.
His mom's attempt at a smile was hard to watch. "Thank you."
Kyle's gaze moved to John and once again, John felt nervous again. "I'd like to talk sometime."
"I'd like that, too," John said quietly.
"In the morning, then."
Suddenly the overcrowded room was empty. Only his mom, Charley and Allison remained. John stared at the door his father had just walked through.
"How long have you been up?" He jumped at his mother's touch as she ran a finger once again down his jaw.
"I don't know. It's been a busy couple of days."
"If I remember correctly, it was first Charley, then Savannah, then me." His mom cupped his cheek. "It might be twenty years, but those last days have haunted me." She lowered her hand. "You can sleep in Charley's bed."
"What about Charley?" John glanced nervously at his sulking brother.
"He's with Allison." She gave the two of them a tight smile and John wondered how hard it was for his mother to live with a girl who was Cameron's spitting image.
Without a word, Charley stood up, grabbed Allison's hand and tugged her towards the door. Hurriedly John stood and called his brother's name.
Charley paused and stared at John over his shoulder.
"I didn't know about you. I didn't know Mom was pregnant when we were separated. I wish I had. I wish I'd known you, seen you grow up."
"If things go the way I hope, you still might." His mom gave both of them nervous smiles.
"Why does he have to go back and change things?" Charley demanded, ignoring John. "We're holding our own. It's not like we're about to lose the war."
"This isn't the way it's supposed to be, Charley. There's no hope for the future. John Connor is hope. He has to become that man, and to do that, he has to go back."
"So you say." Charley walked out with Allison, leaving John alone with his mother.
John stared at the cement wall in front of him; his fate had never weighed him down as much as it did right now. "Mom, if you can't do this, how do you expect me to—"
"I'm not you, John." His mom sat on the chair next to him and leaned forward, taking his hands in hers. Her fingers were cold. "I have the training, the knowledge, but I don't have your gift of leadership."
"I don't know if I—"
"Shhhh. You're exhausted and you've had a stressful couple of days. Let's talk about this when we both can think straight, okay?"
His mom let go of his hands and stood, motioning for him to follow her. She led him into the smaller of the two rooms and motioned at the mattress on the floor. "Not exactly what you've been used to lately but better than some of the places we slept," she said with a sad smile.
"I'll be in the other room. You're safe here. Well, as safe as any human can be."
"No one's ever safe," John mumbled. He realized how stupid that sounded as he sat on the mattress, contemplated taking his boots off and decided against it. "What about Cameron?"
"There were no reports of any metal being spotted except for the guard dogs that heralded your arrival. What happened to Weaver?"
John shook his head. "She disappeared when Derek's patrol showed up with the dogs." Fatigue was hitting him hard right now. He stifled a yawn with his hand.
"Get some sleep." She crouched next to the mattress and patted it. John stretched out, let his mother pull the blanket over him and fiddle with it a moment.
"I'm sorry." John caught her hand. "I'm sorry you had to do this by yourself."
"It's not over yet."
"No, it's not." John let go of her hand and tucked his under his chin. "I need to find Cameron," he sighed.
"In the morning," his mom whispered.
Sarah sat on the mattress for a long time watching John sleep. Most of the time she fought back tears; she was so tired of the fight, secretly harboring doubts and fears that she wouldn't be able to keep the resistance on top of things. She'd been so worried that of John wouldn't show up while she was still alive.
He looked younger than she remembered him. Maybe it was because she was used to Charley, who had been forced to mature even more quickly than John. Although tonight's reaction from her second son certainly acted immature.
Charley. She had to go and talk to him. He'd been hurt and she was fully to blame for that. She sighed as she made a fist of her hand in order to stop herself from touching John's face. He was here. He was alive. He'd still be here in an hour or two, sleeping the sleep of the exhausted.
She walked the tunnels with two guards on her heels, looking around and trying to imagine all this through John's eyes. She had inured herself to the suffering, trusting in her team to keep her abreast when things got too bad, dealing instead with the military aspects of the war.
But they were overcrowded, often short on food before the transports could get here. Lack of fresh water and almost non-existent hygiene made for illness, added to that so few medical supplies that there were times Sarah was afraid illness would decimate them before the machines could. Already a dozen people had died from a new type of disease in the past two weeks and many more were sick. The doctors were worried they might have an epidemic on their hands.
The children she walked past were skinny, filthy and stared at her with wary eyes. Their parents were no better.
God, what would John think of her?
She entered Sahara Bunker, nodded to the officers who recognized her, spotted Charley and Allison sitting together in a corner, and headed their way.
She sat on the floor next to them, ignoring the protests from joints and muscles that were too old to be subjected to this too often. Charley was still angry at her, but at least he didn't get up and walk away.
"I'm sorry." She stared at the wall at the far end of the room. "I'm sorry I didn't handle this differently."
"What, that you forgot to tell me about a brother I never really knew I had?"
She glanced at Charley. He was looking at her, and instead of the anger she'd expected to find, she saw in its place how much she'd hurt him.
She swallowed and blinked back tears. "I spent sixteen years training John, teaching him everything I could about war, and what I couldn't teach, I found someone who could. At first I told everyone that the end of the world was coming. Most ignored me, so I tried harder. Until one day I acted a little too rash and got caught. Three years in a psych ward—"
"I know that. You blew up a computer factory."
"After Judgement Day I couldn't take the chance of people looking at me that way. I had to take charge. I couldn't start spouting nonsense. And it hurt me to see you waiting for a brother who might never come."
"John knew my dad."
"Yes. John and your father were close. Your dad, he died protecting John."
"So my dad's a hero."
"I've always said he was."
"John said something earlier." Allison craned her head around Charley to look at Sarah. "He asked if we'd tried to reprogram metal."
"He did, did he?" She blew hair out of her face, too tired to shove it aside.
"Then he said that the machines can't be reprogrammed, but that they can override their programming."
Sarah shook her head, unable to stop a smile. Her boy had been busy. Then the smile faltered. He'd have to have learned that from Cameron.
She looked at Allison and tried to picture her as the cyborg who had come into their lives twenty years ago. The memories were old, and the young girl her son Charley had befriended had been nothing like Cameron. It truly wasn't until the last five years did she truly begin to resemble the woman Cameron had been based on.
A chill fluttered down Sarah's spine. She wondered what had happened to the Allison of that future world that Cameron would be modelled after her.
"Is it true?" Allison asked.
"Is what true?" Sarah shook her head. "Sorry. Um, I knew John had metal in the resistance; I thought he'd reprogrammed their chips."
"Can you imagine? Having metal walking around here? I don't think I'd ever sleep." Allison shuddered as she leaned her head on Charley's shoulder.
"So your son is a genius." Charley still sounded sulky.
"Hey." Sarah punched Charley's arm. "Chopped liver you ain't. And my son is also your brother," Sarah said gently.
"But I'm not the head of the resistance."
"Because it's not your destiny. It never was."
"What am I supposed to be, then? Where was my place in John's grand scheme of things?" he asked sarcastically.
Sarah swallowed and licked her lips nervously. "You never existed."
"Oh. Great." Charley started to get up and Sarah grabbed his arm to hold him in place.
"You never existed," she said quickly before he could leave, "because I was supposed to die. If we hadn't jumped that first time, I would have died of cancer in 2005. That's why you never existed in those futures."
"Cancer?" Gone was the sulky man-child, concern replacing the earlier hurt.
"When John left me, he thought I was sick. Dying. I'd lost weight, I hadn't been feeling well. I recognized the symptoms, suspected I was pregnant and couldn't bring myself to tell John."
"You were thinking about aborting your pregnancy, weren't you?" The hurt in Charley's voice was palpable.
"No. Never," Sarah exclaimed as she grabbed Charley's face and forced him to look at her. "Not once did I ever consider that option." She let go only when the tension in his eyes faded and he gave her a quick nod.
"That's when you realized you were pregnant? Right after you lost John?" Allison reached across Charley and gave Sarah's hand a fleeting touch.
"I lost one son, but gained another."
Charley sighed heavily.
"This doesn't change anything, Charley." Sarah kissed his cheek. "John's got a mission, and he'll probably be going back to his own time as soon as the plant's up and running—"
"And as soon as we get control of it," Allison said with a smug grin.
"Yeah, that, too."
Allison stretched her legs out in front of her and sighed. "I have to get some sleep. I'm on early patrol."
"Then let's go to bed." Charlie stood, then offered a hand down to Sarah. She accepted and hoped she looked more graceful than she felt when she stood.
"I'll see you in the morning." Sarah stood there, feeling awkward as Charley, holding Allison's hand, nodded at her.
She returned to her quarters, wishing she'd been able to soften the blow to Charley somehow. John seemed to have taken news of his brother in stride but then he'd had several shocks in the past twenty-four hours and she suspected he might just be numb trying to process everything.
Kyle was waiting for her. He was straddling a chair, staring through the half-closed door, watching John sleep from afar. She leaned over him, resting her chin on his shoulder, and both of them watched their son sleep for a moment.
"You didn't know," she whispered. "When John sent you back to save me, you didn't know you were his father."
"And John did?" Kyle turned his head just enough so he could give her a kiss before turning back to watching John.
"There's no such thing as fate, except what we make it. That was part of a message John sent me through you. He made his own fate. Our son sounded like he was pretty awesome, according to you."
"He seems pretty awesome now."
"He's still just a boy."
"You've got resistance fighters his age out there."
"That's different. They had to—"
Kyle turned quickly and placed a finger over her lips. "Shhhh."
She let him shush her, not wanting to get into that discussion. She admitted to herself that even after all these years, or maybe especially after all these years, she felt more protective towards John than she'd felt for Charley.
"I can't imagine what's going through his head right now." Kyle leaned back and Sarah straightened as he stood.
"Definitely not visions of sugar plums." Together they went into her bedroom, stripping their clothes, being slightly more quiet than usual knowing John was on the other side of the wall.
"You know what?" Kyle put an arm around Sarah as she snuggled against him.
"You never said when Allison went back."
"What?" She raised her head to look at Kyle.
"John knew Derek and he knew me—"
"John never met you." She settled back down with a long sigh.
"But he knew who I was when Derek said I was his brother. And he sure as hell recognized Allison."
Sarah had to tell someone; they had to find a way to protect Allison against her ghastly future. "I didn't want to say this in front of Charley and Allison. The metal that helped us, the one that John's looking for now." She inhaled deeply, giving Kyle time to connect the dots.
"Cameron," Kyle said.
Smart man. "She had Allison's face and body."
Kyle was quiet for a while, thinking things through. Despite her fatigue, Sarah was too tense to sleep. She was acutely aware of John in the other room; for a few seconds she'd forget and then would remember, each time increasing her tension.
She cleared her throat. "You know those secret attempts we made at reprogramming the chips..."
"Disasters both times. Certainly not our best moments."
"John told Charley that we can't reprogram them."
"I thought you said—"
"I did. John thought we could. Seems that metal isn't reprogrammed but persuaded to join us."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I don't know. Up until we were separated, John was positive we could physically change the tech. This talking the metal into joining us is news to me."
They lay in silence for a while, the only sounds in the room was their breathing. "Do you think he'll like me?" Kyle asked.
Sarah couldn't help chuckle. "I think John will be following you around like a heat seeking missile by tomorrow. He always had so many questions about you when he was young and I had so few answers to give him."
"You told him about me?"
"Of course." Sarah pressed her lips against Kyle's throat. "You were a hero. You are a hero."
"No, you're the hero. The things you've done in your lifetime, it just boggles the mind."
"Fate is what we make it."
"Then we'll have to help our son make his."
Charley moved sluggishly, trying to find some energy as he thrust ammunition into his pockets. Allison handed him a canteen and he shook it, figured it was three quarters full, more than enough for their sortie, and dumped it into a pocket of his tattered backpack.
"Yeah?" He looked up at one of his mother's guards.
"Sarah Dixon wants you."
"I'm on patrol in fifteen."
"You're off patrol. She wants you now. Sayles is taking your place."
Charley clenched his teeth as he fought the urge to swing the backpack at the guard.
"He'll be right there," Allison said to the guard as she gently tugged the pack's straps from his hands. "She needs you here."
"She doesn't need me. I need to be with you topside."
"You only think you do. I can take care of myself." Allison placed Charley's backpack into his locker. "And your mom really does need you. More than you think."
"She's got him."
"He's your brother—"
"Yeah, so?" He so wasn't in the mood to listen to Allison's placating. He wanted to stay angry, hold onto his anger.
"He may only be here for a few days and it might be your only chance to get to know him."
"Good." Fine. The sooner the better.
Allison sighed. "Charley, he's your brother. Family." She reached out and stroked the arm of his worn jacket. "You're all I've got. I'd be thrilled if I had a sister or brother I didn't know about who was alive."
"You don't need anyone else." He put his arms around her and hugged her.
"I know. But it would still be nice." She slipped on her bracelet, gave him a quick kiss, and threaded the strap of her pack over one shoulder. "Play nice."
He watched her join Grimes and Sayles, laugh at something Sayles said, and waited as the three of them headed for the war zone topside.
He was still angry as he walked in the opposite direction, but by the time he reached his old quarters, his sleepless night caught up with him and burned away the adrenaline.
His mom, Kyle, Derek and his brother were seated around the briefing table, the map Charley had been studying yesterday spread out on it. They were reading through the night's reports. Brushing back annoyance and possibly a touch of jealousy that John was included in this morning ritual, Charley pulled up a chair next to Derek, as far as he could get from his brother.
"We're looking for any anomalies among the metal." His mom pushed a plate with two muffins in his direction. "Any odd behavior."
Charley grabbed the top sheet on the pile and a muffin. He began reading, chewing the tasteless muffin absentmindedly.
"Mom says you've got a talent for seeing patterns."
Charley didn't look up at John. "Mom says you're leaving in a couple of days." Charley's comment went unanswered and he refused to look up and meet his mother's gaze.
John, in the meantime just plowed forward. "I'm hoping for signs that machines aren't attacking humans. A life spared, an ambush thwarted. Just things that don't follow their usual pattern."
"If metal decided to change sides, I think it would be pretty damned obvious." He tried to focus on the written words in front of him and ignore his brother's voice.
"Maybe." His mom cleared her throat. "But we might only be seeing these changes in one or two of them, which is why it might be subtle."
"Metal doesn't do subtle," Derek growled.
"So what about Danny Dyson?" John asked, breaking the silence that had ensued. "You were going to find him and stop Skynet."
"Danny... Danny's dead. Miles didn't destroy everything; Danny had found some disks with Mile's research. He put some of the information up on the net and was persuaded by Desert Canyon Heat and Air to work for them."
"Kaliba killed Danny?"
"No." His mom's voice was curt.
Charley knew the story, knew his mother had killed the young man who had played a vital role in Skynet's development. Knew how that death had haunted her; still haunted her. John apparently was able to read between the lines. Charley watched the emotions flit over his brother's face; understanding, acceptance, then, sorrow? For the bastard who... No, Charley realized he was wrong. Sorrow for their mom's pain for having killed someone.
It was odd and more than a bit disconcerting that someone else knew his mom as well as he did.
"Where's Allison?" John asked into the silence of the room when he realized nobody else was coming to their meeting.
Charley answered him with yet another glare before his father could say, "She's on patrol."
John nodded his thanks. Last night he'd been numb from the numerous shocks; this morning he'd woken up wanting to get to know the person Cameron's body, and possibly her persona, had been modeled upon. He'd been looking forward to talking to Allison.
"There's nothing here." Charley tossed the sheet he'd been studying on top of the pile. "Why are you so sure the machines are going to start acting different? Because you're here?"
"No. Because she's here."
"Your metal friend," Charley sneered.
"Cameron came back for a reason. She left John Henry—"
"Will you stop giving those fuckers names already?"
This time John was the one to give the evil eye. He paused a moment for effect before turning to his mom. "I'm just worried that the future Cameron jumped to isn't the same as this one."
"What do you mean?" Derek sat back in the chair, looking bored.
"Every time we change something in the past, it affects our future." His mom glanced at his dad as she spoke. "This isn't the future Kyle told me about forty-six years ago or the future Cameron and Derek told us about twenty years ago. Not to mention that nobody saw her arrive or leave."
They discussed time travel for a while, speculating but not really coming to any conclusions until a tap at the door brought an aide who required his mom's attention.
The meeting broke up and everyone seemed to have duties to attend to. Charley and Derek left quickly, leaving John alone in the room with Kyle.
"Would, um, showing you around create any problems for you?" his dad asked, almost shyly.
"Problems?" It took John a second to realize what his father meant. "Um, no, probably not. I screwed things up so much that if I go back, what I learn here might no longer be relevant."
"Then, how about a tour?"
John felt awkward as the two of them retraced their steps back to the barracks. Funny how during all the years growing up he'd dreamed of meeting his dad, and now, here he was and he couldn't think of anything to say to him that wouldn't sound childish or stupid.
This time the people's plight didn't seem quite as harsh as it had last night and he couldn't help but wonder if he was already inured to the smells and sounds of this future. His father explained the various fortifications, defenses and security of the tunnels. John got it in one; they were damned vulnerable if the machines found out their exact location.
His dad seemed to be pretty popular; many resistance fighters and civilians they passed greeted him. He answered many of them by name; it was funny to see the difference between him and Derek. Where Derek glowered at everyone and was short on words, his dad was cheery and loved to talk.
The most amazing sight John saw was the hydroponics garden that took up the length and width of an underground parking garage. He grinned at his father, who grinned back.
"We've several dozens of these spread out throughout the city. Food choices might be boring but at least we're not starving anymore."
"Took us years to set them up. They're finally starting to produce."
The guard at the door let them through and they walked up and down the aisles for a while. The stench of humanity was diluted in here, and John felt almost refreshed.
He stopped a moment to look at tiny green tomatoes hanging from a vine. Something he'd taken for granted all his life seemed like a miracle here. A gentle rub on the vine and the peculiar smell of tomato plant filled the air. John sniffed his finger, breathing in the scent.
"Did you ever wonder about me?" Kyle asked out of the blue.
"All the time," John said without hesitation. "Mom always said you were a soldier, a hero, that you died saving her life."
"Died. That part of the story I don't exactly like."
"You and me both."
"It must have been hard, growing up with your legacy."
John shrugged, turning away from the tomatoes and continuing down the aisle. "I did what needed to be done. Mom did what she had to." He took a deep breath. "Whenever she told people about you, you were always a hero; died in the war, died saving a someone's life. Our backgrounds might change but you were always a constant."
John shrugged again. "Sorry for what?"
"That I died." His father gave him a lopsided grin which John imitated.
"Well, you're not dead now."
His father patted his chest. "No, I'm not."
"So..." John stopped to examine a bush full of yellow beans. "How does it feel hearing that my mom and you had been... you know."
John felt his face heat up. "Yeah."
"Well, you know..."
A glance showed his father's face was as red as John's felt.
"Wait!" John felt a slow grin spread on his face. "You mean, you and Mom?"
"Last seven years. I never understood why Sarah Dixon, of all people, was interested in me. Now, things make a lot of sense."
They left the hydroponics garden, walking in silence for a while. While John was lost in the underground warren, he did recognize a few landmarks; paintings on the walls that they'd passed previously.
"Reese." A soldier jogged up to them. "Dixon's been looking for you. Patrol's been hit. Only one made it back. They're in the medical wing."
"Thanks, Griggs." He motioned to John to hurry. Going at a fast walk, they made it there in twenty minutes.
The medical wing was surprisingly decent, just like the hydroponics. John realized that they were using the bulk of large spaces for the more important things, leaving the majority of the people living in crowded conditions. Decisions that may have seemed harsh to him at first sight were making sense now.
"What happened?" Kyle demanded the moment he spotted the others.
"Ambush," Derek said, his face unreadable as he left the handful of officers and approached them. "Sayles made it out, docs don't know if he's going to make it." There were several people behind a curtained area. John assumed that was Sayles and the team of doctors trying to save his life.
"Dead. Except..." Derek glanced at Charley, who was standing apart from the group, head down, while his mother spoke quietly with him. "Metal took Allison. Didn't kill her. Chased her down, caught her with a net. Sayles tried to help but he was too badly hurt. It's a miracle he made it back."
"Was he followed?"
"Sent Green Team out as recon. We'll find out soon enough."
"How's he taking it?" His dad glanced towards Charley.
"Why did the machines take Allison?"
Oh, John had a pretty good idea why they'd gone after her, he just didn't want to go there right now.
"Information." Derek looked at John while he said this, probably for his benefit. "They'll torture her until she breaks."
"That's not it, is it?" Kyle stared at John. "They're going to make her into metal."
"What?" Derek exclaimed.
John was filled with dread as Kyle's explanation brought his fears front and forward. Obviously his mom had shared that little tidbit of information with his dad last night.
Derek's lips were pressed tightly together as he looked at Charley. "Poor kid."
"Is there any way we could..." John didn't finish the question at the bleak look in his mom's eyes as she met his. "No, I guess not."
"What's this metal going to do?" Derek was still watching Charley and his mom.
John shrugged with one shoulder. "Probably try to infiltrate."
"But you said she was your protector."
"She has to find a reason to change her directive and join us. Right now, I don't know what it would be."
"She never told you?" Derek sounded incredulous.
"I didn't get a chance to ask. I was too busy looking for a way to rescue Mom," John snapped.
"I should have been there," Charley yelled. "I should have been with Ally. I might have been able to stop them from taking her."
"They all died, Charley. If you'd gone, you'd be dead, too." John's mom's voice was softer, but with the hard edge John knew so well.
"You don't know that. I might have made the difference if I'd been there with her."
"Or they might have taken you," his mom yelled back.
"Then they'd have wasted their time."
"Charley!" John's mom cried out when Charley stormed out of the medical wing. She looked haunted as she hurried over to them. "He's going out there to look for Allison."
Derek and Kyle exchanged a look, both of them coming to some sort of agreement without a word being said. "Sayles say where they caught her?" his dad asked.
"Go after him," Derek said to Kyle. "I'll get the team ready."
"You're not going," his mom snapped at John. "It's bad enough I have everyone else to worry about."
Kyle gave John a sympathetic smile before he ran off after Charley. Derek gave his mom a quick nod and hurried out.
Truth be told, John felt unprepared to journey up top and join the active fight. Still he hated the helpless feeling of being left behind.
Sarah hated waiting, but it was something she'd gotten used to over the years. She was the hub of the action; people and reports came to her, and she and her team of advisers acted or reacted to whatever was on those reports.
John hated waiting, too. She glanced at him occasionally as she studied the reports, watching him sit there quietly, one hand toying with a piece of metal she used as a paperweight. It was part of a jawbone from the skull of a terminator she'd destroyed herself. He was watching and listening, rarely asking questions.
Her stomach churned as it always did when she knew Charley was out with a patrol. So far the only good news they'd gotten was that the metal who'd attacked them hadn't followed Sayles. There was no sign of Allison, no sign of the machines that had taken her, no indication where they'd taken her.
Someone brought food and she ate by rote, concentrating on not only the search for Allison but the various other patrols that were reporting, the team that was watching Topanga Canyon, and the worrisome news of the spreading epidemic.
She tensed when Kyle returned. He shook his head, leaning a shoulder against the wall.
"With Derek, getting something to eat."
John was still sitting at the far end of the table, still fiddling with the piece of scrap metal.
Sarah stood, leaned forward and pressed her palms on the table. "Thank you, everyone." At her usual dismissal, chairs were pushed back and people slowly filed out. Only two remained; on duty to screen the evening reports, trained to come and get her if anything needed her attention.
The mood was despondent in her quarters. John wasn't saying much and she couldn't help but wonder how much guilt he was experiencing. Not that any of this was his fault but his invested interest in Cameron was probably making this more personal for him.
She was tired and wanted nothing more than to crawl onto her mattress and get some sleep.
"I feel so useless," John said as he sat down heavily on the couch.
"Get used to it." Sarah sat down next to him, sighing heavily.
"I thought I was supposed to fight."
"I did, at first. But there are times stepping back is more important than leading the charge."
"I should be out there helping."
"No. You're not prepared."
"Mom, I spent my whole life preparing for this."
"Yes, I know. But you'd need to be brought up to speed, know the layout of the land, how to fool an infrared scan, where to seek cover from an aerial attack. It would take at least a week before you'd be ready."
Charley came in, feet dragging. He kept walking, going into his old room. Sarah got up and went to him. Her son was sitting on the mattress, chin resting on top of his bent knees.
She sat next to him and he leaned into her when she put her arm around his shoulders.
"There's no hope, is there?" he whispered.
"I'm sorry." She kissed his temple.
"I'm sorry, Charley." John was standing in the doorway, arms crossed in a nervous gesture.
"It's war," Charley mumbled. "People die. Just a matter of time before we all die."
This wasn't the first person they'd cared for who they'd lost and certainly wouldn't be the last. She swallowed past the lump in her throat; she'd miss Allison.
Sarah sat with Charley for a while until she managed to coax him to lie down. When she went back into the main room, John was curled up on the couch, already sleeping. She paused a moment, watching him sleep then went to join Kyle in her room.
"Sometimes I feel it's all so damned hopeless." She toed her boots off and lay down with a grunt. "For some reason I always thought that when John showed up, things would get better. Instead..."
"He's only been back one day. Give it time." He nuzzled her neck and she relaxed slightly.
"Latest intel from Topanga Canyon is that the metal are almost finished building the time machine. They're ahead of schedule."
"Are you sure that's what they're building?"
"No, I'm not sure. But for John's sake, for all our sakes, let's hope that it is."
"There. This is what John's looking for."
Charley slid a report across the table towards his mom, who'd been studying the Topanga Canyon map again. John watched anxiously as she read.
"Blue team reported metal firing on metal. The team was spotted, engaged a machine and then a second one showed up. But it didn't attack them. Instead it destroyed the metal and walked away without engaging Blue team. " She handed the report over to John, who read the details eagerly.
"But it doesn't say what the machine looked like. Maybe it was Cameron—"
"Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't."
"Mom, we need to know." The long day, cooped up underground, was starting to take its toll on John's nerves.
His mom motioned for one of her aids. "Go talk to Blue team leader and get a description of those two machines."
"They'd have recognized Allison." Charley was still reading, not bothering to look up. "They'd have said so in the report."
"Not Allison. Cameron. In Cromartie's body," John replied tersely.
"Or maybe it was Weaver," his mom countered.
"Here's another. Gamma team says they're positive they were made but the metal just walked past them without engaging." Charley passed that paper directly to John. "They described the metal; big black guy. Sound like yours?"
"No." John skimmed the report, wondering where the hell Cameron was at. "Not her." He stood up, beyond frustrated. "I'm going for a walk."
"You're going to get lost."
"I'll go with him." Charley's offer surprised John.
The silence between them as they walked was awkward but at least Charley was being civil.
"This time travel stuff," Charley said after they'd walked for ten minutes, "it's hard to wrap my head around it."
"I know. It's given me a headache or two."
"Kyle's your dad. That's just so..."
"When he and mom started... I was a couple years younger than you. There was a time I so wanted him to be my dad."
"I always wanted to know him. He and Mom didn't have much time together."
"And you knew my dad."
"Charley and Mom almost... He would have been my step-dad if things had been different."
"Hell, you and I would have grown up as brothers if things had been different. I think that boggles my mind more than anything."
"If I can find Cameron's chip and jump back to my own time, we can still grow up as brothers," John said softly.
Charley stopped walking and John slowed, turned, and looked back at his brother's shocked face.
"You're serious. You're really going back?"
"Yeah," John said, thinking it amazing that Charley would even think that he wouldn't.
"After what Mom said you were supposed to be, you're not going to stay here and help us?"
"Charley, I'm sixteen. Contrary to what Mom believes, I'm not ready. If I try now to become the man I'm supposed to be, I'll end up getting more people killed."
"That's part and parcel of being a leader."
"Yes, I know. But there's a difference in sending people out to die because the sacrifice is needed and it's another because you're lacking experience."
"Tell me about my dad." Charley, for the first time, met John's gaze head on without malice, and held it. "Did he really sacrifice himself to save your life?"
John swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. Charley's death had only been a few days ago for him – he remembered the feelings of helplessness as he'd frantically unmoored the boat while their attacker converged on Charley, and knowing there was nothing John could do to save him. "Yeah," John managed to force past that damning lump. He blinked back tears, feeling stupid and vulnerable in front of this young man who should have been him. People walking past jostled them and Charley motioned him into a small, empty cubicle.
"You really cared for him."
"Yeah, I did. He was... He was really great." John cleared his throat. "He was always tinkering, fixing things. Motors, especially. He rode a motorcycle, took me out into the back roads a few times and let me ride it. When he and Mom met, I was pretty much a handful. He had the patience of a saint. I made life miserable for him and Mom those first months they were together."
"But you obviously grew to like him."
John nodded slowly. "I picked out the engagement ring he was going to give Mom. I can't believe he trusted me enough to let me do that."
"Look, I'm sorry about the things I said yesterday."
The lump was back twice as thick. He gave Charley a wobbly smile. "I understand. My showing up must have been quite a shock."
Charley laughed hollowly. "I'm sure I was the last thing you expected to find here."
John caught Charley's gaze. "I'm sorry about Allison."
Charley's eyes filled but he didn't turn away. "I'm still holding on to faith."
John nodded his understanding, even though he had no hope he'd ever see Allison alive again.
"What happens if Cameron comes into the camp?"
"Cameron. With Allison's body. You keep saying she's going to infiltrate. What happens when she shows up?"
"She won't be the Cameron I know. I don't... We'll have to get her chip out and wait until I can find my Cameron and exchange the chips."
"So you're here for Allison's body."
"Cameron's body," John said gently. "Yes. Mom probably destroyed the original one after I jumped."
"Strictly speaking, wouldn't the one here be the original body?"
John couldn't help smiling. "I hate time travel," he said with heavy exaggeration.
"Do you have any idea how impossible all of this will be? You have no idea where your Cameron is and we probably can't take down a triple eight without pretty much destroying it. There's no way you can talk her into joining us?"
"No. I don't know how I did that, you know, the other me?" A sudden thought came to him. "Maybe it's not me. Maybe the machines came to me and asked me to join them."
"Okay, now you're talking nonsense."
"No. Listen. What if this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Weaver, she's a T-1000."
"T-1000? There's no such model."
"A new prototype," John explained quickly. "She's trying to stop the war. What if her mission was to build John Henry so he could go into the future and convince the machines to join her cause? He's got Cameron's chip. Maybe that's how he makes Cameron switch sides."
"But how does Cameron make that choice in the first place?"
"That's the beauty of it. She doesn't. Her chip's already subverted her prime directive."
"But she had to make that decision at some point in time. What's her prime directive?"
John gave a wry grin. "Kill John Connor."
Charley grinned. "No shit."
John smiled. "No shit. And no, she doesn't have to make the decision to override her prime directive because her chip's already overridden it. That's why it's self-fulfilling."
"Okay. Stop." Charley stuck his hand out for emphasis. "I'm getting a headache."
"You and me both."
They left the cubicle, both of them deep in their thoughts. Charley stopped a few minutes later and pointed to a large open space filled with squatters. One wall was filled with a mural of a forest scene, complete with trees and a path circling a lake. "Allison loves this place. It's full of dreams and hope."
"Yeah, it is."
"Are there really places like that? Full of trees and water? Flowers? Clean water?"
John nodded slowly. "Hold onto that dream, Charley. You'll get the trees and flowers back one day."
"I hope so. Do you mind if we stop at the medical wing? I'd like to see how Sayles is doing."
"We're not far."
Charley was right. Fifteen minutes later, they were back at the medical center and John hung back near the entrance, waiting as Charley went inside. He leaned against the wall, amazed at how much his mother had done for the people despite what she said. He felt small compared to her, wondering if he could ever do as well.
"Help me, please, someone help me." A woman staggered into the waiting area, losing her balance as she passed John. He lunged forward, breaking her fall, then added his cries for help.
Two nurses came running.
"She just came in," John said, stepping away to give the medical people room as they stood her up and helped her into one of the treatment rooms. His feelings of helplessness went up a notch as he waited for Charley.
"How is he?" he asked when Charley finally came out.
Charley shrugged. "Ready to go back?"
"Yeah. Thanks for the company."
"I needed the break." Charley glanced back into the medical wing just before they left. "They just brought in another plague victim. The doctors looked worried."
"How wide-spread is this plague?"
"So far only a few dozen have caught it but it's mutating. They think it's becoming more virulent. Symptoms come on quickly. Dry mouth, sweats, fever and chills, and then pneumonia."
They walked back in silence but there was definitely less tension between the two of them.
Their mom was alone in the room and John was aware of her scrutiny as they walked in. She relaxed after a moment and folded her hands together, waiting for them to sit.
"We got the description of the triple eight from Blue Team. Sounds like it could be Crom – John Henry."
"You mean Cameron." John steepled his fingers and rested his chin on their tips.
"In Cromartie's body."
"Do you think she's still in the area? I could go and talk to her—"
"No!" his mother exclaimed. "You're not going topside. We can't take any chances on you getting hurt, or worse."
"Mom, I need to find her."
"She'll find you."
"How?" Exasperated, he resisted slamming his fist on the table. "She probably doesn't even know I'm here."
"If Weaver found her, she knows. And she was your right hand metal, right? She'll know where the entrances are."
"She'll be destroyed if she comes in here."
"She's resourceful. She'll find a way. She got topside without anyone seeing her, didn't she?" His mom stood. "Come on, let's go eat."
"I wish I had the ingredients to make you pancakes." His mom put a bowl of rice covered with a gravy mixed with a few vegetables on the table in front of them. "I'm afraid this is all I've got until the gardens produce."
"This is fine." John helped himself to a small portion and tasted cautiously. It was bland; there were a few chunks of what he hoped was meat in the gravy. He swallowed, took another forkful and then paused. "Mom, when we were in Zeiracorp, and I asked you if you were sick. You knew you were pregnant?"
"You never answered my question."
"If I remember correctly, we never really got a chance to discuss the subject. Plus it wasn't something I wanted to get into at that particular time. You know, what with Charley..." She gave her Charley a quick smile. "Your dad."
"Is that why you didn't jump with me? Because of the baby?"
She nodded slowly. "I was afraid I'd lose the baby. I'm sorry, John. I couldn't take that chance."
"No, it's okay. I understand." He did understand, and the feelings of confusion and betrayal he'd felt at his mom's reluctance to come with him eased a little.
Charley's gaze bounced from John to their mom as they talked, and he looked almost embarrassed.
"I wonder how Cameron would have reacted to a baby in the family." John got a fork waved under his nose for that question.
"Don't even go there." His mom shuddered as she pushed food around on her plate. "Can you just picture her changing Charley's diapers?"
John snorted, nearly spewing food over the table. "Oh God, I'd love to have seen that," he finally managed to say after he'd hurriedly swallowed.
"What? Why?" Charley helped himself to some more rice and whatever. "What's so funny about that?"
"Nothing." His mom smiled fondly at Charley. "You'll understand if and when you meet Cameron."
John was contemplating being greedy and getting seconds when someone knocked at the door. One of his mom's aides stuck her head inside. "Carter's crew just reported in."
"Jesse's back?" Charley exclaimed. Dinner obviously forgotten, he hurriedly stood. His mom took a last bite and stood more slowly.
"Jesse Flores?" John remained sitting, unsure if he wanted to face the woman a second time.
"Yeah. She's captain of the Jimmy Carter." He motioned John to hurry. "Come on, she always brings back something special."
"Something special?" John arced an eyebrow in his mother's direction as he stood up.
"Fresh fruit. Coffee. Whatever she can manage to sneak out from the Australian farms. It's thanks to her that we managed to seed our gardens."
John knew this wasn't the same woman who had been the cause of Riley's death, but he steeled himself, pushed back the anger and hatred. What he hadn't expected, though, was Derek's apparent happiness to have Jesse within the confines of his arms, nor the fact that she was several months pregnant. And by the way Derek had his hand on her belly, there was no mistaking who the father of the baby was.
John stayed back as his family greeted Jesse. There were hugs and laughter, a quick introduction to which he forced a smile and a nod, accepted the orange Charley tossed his way, and generally tried to compare this woman to the one who he'd forced from Derek's life.
John glanced at a familiar-looking, slim, red-haired woman who'd emerged from among the crowd of people. It took him a moment to realize that she bore an uncanny resemblance to Catherine Weaver. "Savannah?"
"Have we met? I haven't seen you in any of the squads before."
"I'm, um, John. John Conner."
"Yes, I know."
"So we have met."
"A long time ago. You were... younger."
"You should eat that." She nodded her chin at the orange in his hands. "Unless you're planning on bartering it for leaves."
"To smo... Oh." Leaves. Smoke. Dumb much, Connor? "No, not planning on smoking leaves." He tore a piece of peel off the orange with his thumb, gouged too deeply into the flesh and felt sticky juice drip onto his fingers. The scent of fresh orange assailed him and his mouth watered. Only a few days here and he was already craving food he'd taken for granted at home. He finished peeling his orange, split it in half and offered Savannah one portion.
She grinned at him as she accepted the fruit. John popped a piece into his mouth. As far as oranges went, the skin was thick, the juice was flat and the flesh was gritty but he pretended to enjoy it as much as Savannah did.
"Hey, you." John's mom broke off from the crowd and hugged Savannah.
"Aunt Sarah. How are you?"
"Never better. How's the Carter's first mate doing?"
"Doing damned good if you like living in a tin can." She gave his mom a teasing grin as she popped a wedge of orange into her mouth. "Uncle James says hello."
"He keeping those fighters in check down under?"
Savannah laughed. "Got them cowering in their boots."
Grinning widely, his mom put an arm around John's shoulders. "Do you remember John?"
"He's my son."
Savannah frowned. "John." She tilted her head to the side. "You taught me to tie my shoes, didn't you?"
John nodded, amazed that Savannah had remembered even that much about him. Savannah turned her gaze to Sarah. "She missed you," she said softly.
His mom's smile faded momentarily, then reappeared. "You and Jesse come and see me in the morning. We've got new intel that might impact on the war."
"What's going on?" Savannah sobered immediately.
"Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow."
Savannah gave John a measuring look as he tossed the orange peels into a metal container that was acting as a garbage can. "I'll tell Jesse." Then she brightened up again. "We got you coffee."
"You, my dear, are a godsend." His mom gave her a quick hug and a kiss to the temple. "I haven't had coffee in months."
"I know." She rifled through the tote bag that had held the fruit and came out with a large burlap bag which she handed to John's mom with another smug grin.
"Thank you." His mom hugged the bag to her chest, a dreamy look in her eyes.
"Oh, and that's not all." She pulled out another bag and held it out. "Flour." She smiled again. "We can have pancakes."
"Come for breakfast tomorrow," his mom said, taking the bag from Savannah.
"I was hoping you'd ask."
John offered to carry the bags and his mom handed the flour over readily, hesitating a moment with the coffee before giving it to him. She said her goodnights, left Charley in the company of Jesse and Derek, and Savannah, and together John and his mom returned to their quarters.
"I wish it wasn't so late," she sighed as she picked up a knife and slit the bag of coffee open. She held it up to her nose and sniffed deeply. "I'd love a cup of coffee right now."
John poured a few drops of water onto his hands, trying to wipe the smell of orange from them. "Something to look forward to in the morning, then."
"True. And pancakes." She put the coffee on the table. "I'll be able to make you pancakes before you go back."
"Mom, we still haven't found Cameron. I can't go back yet."
"We may only have a small window of opportunity to get you back. We may not be able to hold the facility."
"Then I need to start looking for her. Tomorrow."
His mom sighed. "We'll talk about it tomorrow."
"Yeah. Right." He ran a hand through his hair, still smelling orange on his skin. "Where do I sleep tonight?"
"Charley won't be coming back, take the bed."
"Are you sure?"
"He'll be staying with Allison. Go on." When John paused, feeling guilty that he might be forcing his brother to stay away, his mom tugged on his sleeve, inclining her head towards the room. "It's okay."
"Okay," he said somewhat reluctantly. "Goodnight."
He lay down on the mattress, wishing he could take a shower, let alone just wash his hands, his mind going round and round, wishing he knew where Cameron was.
The pancakes were tasteless and there was no syrup to go with them, but Charley, Savannah, Kyle, Derek and Jesse gobbled them up regardless. John forced down two of them, enjoying the bitter coffee more than the food and wishing there was more of it.
Jesse and Savannah kept staring at John, and he caught them both glancing towards Kyle so it was obvious that they'd been told the truth about him sometime last night. He got tired of it all and kept his eyes on the chipped coffee cup.
"I got a report this morning," John's mom announced as everyone was finishing up their breakfast, "that the Topanga Canyon project is nearly completed. We'll be heading out in two hours."
John closed his eyes. This was it. He'd have to go back without Cameron. Or else stay and chance never going back. Right now, in his mind, both options sucked.
Topside was worse than John had ever expected. Or imagined. Burned out shells of buildings, rubble strewn everywhere, no signs of anything living, plant or animal. Humid heat made it worse; at least at home the humidity had carried the smell of the earth, plants, living things. Now the only things alive were the stench of unwashed bodies. The air was thick with dust and his mouth was soon dry.
John, Charley, their mom, Kyle, Derek and a dozen resistance fighters began to make their way across the desecrated landscape. The going was grueling and slow; they'd advance only so far before waiting until the scouts gave the all clear. They had to take cover several times in the first hours while patrols either flew overhead or rumbled close by.
It was nerve wracking; John felt totally out of his element. Part of him kept wishing for darkness to fall until he remembered that machines could see in the dark, and humans couldn't.
They'd taken cover again for what felt like the millionth time, waiting for a metal patrol to go by behind them, when Charley stiffened. John had pulled his canteen out and was finishing the last of his water. He looked around, trying to see what Charley had seen.
"Charley, no," his mom said quietly, putting a hand on Charley's arm.
"But it's her." The pain in Charley's voice told John everything he needed to know.
John craned his head slowly around the huge slag of melted steel he'd taken cover behind and saw her.
Allison, slowly staggering in their direction. In a few minutes, she'd be spotted by the patrol.
John studied the girl carefully, trying to see any signs of Cameron in her. He looked up, caught his mom staring at her just as hard. To be honest, John couldn't tell. At least not right now.
"Mom, please, let me go to her."
"Charley, we don't know."
"Sure as hell looks like her," Derek said softly.
"We can't be sure," his mom reiterated.
John spoke quickly to his mom. "Cameron's prime directive was to kill me. I don't exist here, so her prime directive would be different. Maybe you're the target, or Charley is. Stay out of sight for now and let's see what she does."
"Kyle, Derek, bring her in. Charley, you stay out of sight."
A reluctant nod was enough for John's mom to wave his father and uncle forward. They rushed out, grabbed a surprised and confused Allison's arm and dragged her into shelter seconds before metal would have spotted her. John wished the damned machines would hurry up; despite his misgivings, he still had hope that maybe Allison had managed to escape.
When the scouts gave the all clear, John stood and hurried over to see for himself. He ignored his mom's hissed warning; if anyone would know if this was truly Cameron, it would be him.
She was huddled between two large girders, arms around her knees, visibly shivering. A restraint hung from one bloody, abraded wrist, and cuts and bruises marred her arms and face. She was fiddling with a bracelet on her other wrist, turning it round and round in a nervous gesture.
A few other fighters gathered around; one handed her water and she took a sip, holding the canteen with shaking hands. John eyed the canteen thirstily, wishing he'd brought more water with him.
"How'd you get away?" Derek was asking.
"I pretended I was sick," Allison answered between chattering teeth as she fiddled with the bracelet again. "They finally took the guard away and I was able to loosen the bar the restraint was attached to. We have to get out of here. They're probably right behind me."
"Are you hurt?" John crouched down, just out of her reach.
Allison glanced at him, shook her head, and looked around. "Is Charley here? I need... Are we going back now?" Tears trickled down her cheeks.
"She's in shock," one of the resistance fighters said.
"Allison, do you know where Charley is?"
"He's not here?"
"Do you know who I am?"
"No... Should I?"
John figured her confusion could be attributed to shock, or whatever the hell they did to her. Or it could be a machine's way of fudging the bits of intel it didn't know and getting away with it. And behind the worry was a tingle of excitement that he could actually be seeing Cameron for the very first time.
"I'm John. John Connor."
"Are you Charley's friend? Kyle? Derek?" She looked at the two men, confusion evident in her features.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm Charley's friend."
"Is it safe now? Are they gone?"
Kyle was the one who answered. "It's safe."
She struggled to stand, accepted Derek's help and swayed slightly. "I just want to go home." Almost delicately, she pushed her hair back behind her ear, just the way John had seen Allison do it. And just the way he'd seen Cameron do it. He realized now the mimicry his Cameron had performed had been flawless.
"Do you remember what happened?" Kyle began leading Allison back the way they'd come, taking a path that would lead them away from John's mother and brother.
"We were attacked. They killed everyone. I ran. They chased me." She staggered and Derek steadied her. "They trapped me with a net. A stupid net." She used both hands to push her hair back, and then spotted the dangling restraint. "They kept me in a room; there was music..."
John stopped, knowing the truth now. "You remembered all of that but you have no idea who I am. No idea that I'm Charley's brother."
Cameron stopped, her posture changing, stiffening, becoming more machine and less human. Derek and Kyle noticed it immediately and pulled away, drawing their weapons.
She struck, moving lightning quick. Had luck not been with them, she would have murdered Kyle and Derek plus the half dozen fighters that had accompanied them within seconds. But luck in the name of Catherine Weaver intercepted, and for the second time in just days, she saved John's life as well as his uncle's and father's.
The fight between the two female cyborgs lasted only seconds. Even before the realization that Weaver could easily destroy Cameron froze John in place, she'd already immobilized Cameron.
A twist of a sharp-edged finger, a pop of the protective cover and a half-turn counter-clockwise, and Cameron's chip was in Weaver's hand. She was supporting Cameron's now limp body. "There's another patrol approaching. We should leave immediately."
Charley remained crouched, unmoving, staring in horror as Weaver hefted Cameron's body onto her shoulder and began walking in the direction they'd been going, ignoring all the weapons pointed at her.
"Charley?" Their mom grasped Charley's bicep and tugged. "Come on, we have to go," she said softly.
Horror and relief warred with John. His heart ached for everyone who had known Allison, especially for the brother he didn't know. But hope won out and he was up and moving towards Weaver even before his mom got Charley on his feet.
It was only when Derek hissed, "What the hell are you doing?" did John realize he and the others hadn't moved.
"We can't stay here," his mom said. She hadn't let go of Charley, who appeared to be shell-shocked.
Weaver stopped, turned back and watched them dispassionately.
"You can't trust metal," Derek added, pointing at Weaver with his weapon.
"We don't have a choice," his mom said tiredly. "We need to get John out of here, and she's our only hope of accomplishing that."
"She killed Allison."
"Allison is already dead. What she's got is Cameron, the reason John came to us." She tugged Charley's arm and he moved woodenly. "Stay or go, but you better decide fast because the moment we activate what's in Topanga Canyon, all hell will break loose."
John licked dry lips with an equally dry tongue as his mom pulled Charley past him, watching nervously as his father made up his mind. Kyle walked towards them and Derek followed a few seconds later. The rest of the men followed, some of them muttering under their breath.
"Did you find John Henry?" John asked, running up to Weaver, glancing behind again to make sure his mother and brother were following as well as the rest of their escort.
"Yes. He's waiting for us."
"Why are you bringing Cameron?"
"She's not Cameron Phillips yet." She turned to look at John. "But she will be."
"I saw Savannah," John said after several minutes of silence.
"Did you now?"
"She grew up to be quite a woman."
"That's good to know. And James Ellison?"
"I didn't see him. But he's still alive."
"Good. I knew he'd be a survivor."
Darkness came swiftly once they were out of the city. John's fears that it would be more difficult maneuvering in the dark were justified. But with Weaver leading the way, they at least had advance warnings with approaching patrols.
Charley stayed at the back of the group; John couldn't blame him. His mom walked silently by Charley's side, while John kept pace with either Derek or his dad.
Headache and fatigue set in after four more hours of steady skulking. When they stopped for a brief rest, John refused the rations Derek offered him, the thought of food made his stomach churn. He leaned against a half-dead tree and shut his eyes for a moment, only to open them again when he felt a light touch on his arm.
"Are you okay?" his mom whispered as she offered him her canteen.
"I'm fine. Just feeling a little out of my element." He shook his head at the offer of the water, afraid if he started drinking he'd guzzle all of it down. Sweat was trickling down his neck, his side, his back. He was sick, there was no doubt about it. And if he admitted to it, he knew damn well he'd be sitting the party out faster than he could say cyborg.
"We're almost there. It'll be over soon."
He fiddled with his boot, using it as an excuse to move away from his mom. He remembered Charley's description of the virus and the last thing he wanted to do was spread the germs. If it wasn't too late already. "How much further?"
A familiar and unexpected voice provided the answer. "Not far. But we have to go soon."
"Welcome back," Weaver said calmly as the cyborg strode into their tiny group.
"Son of a—" Derek looked ready to murder his mom when she motioned everyone to put their weapons down. "How'd he get so close?"
"Hello, Ms. Weaver. Hello, John. Hello, Sarah."
A wave of hope spread through John once he'd gotten over the shock of seeing the face and body of the machine that had hunted him for the past year. "Cameron?"
The cyborg ignored John and turned to Weaver. "They're getting ready to send a T-800 through. We have to go. Now."
"Who are you?" John hissed. "Are you Cameron or John Henry?" Damn it, he couldn't tell. Despite all his bravado, he wasn't 100 percent sure. He needed it to be Cameron. When the machine stared at him, he began to fear all of this had been for nothing, that he'd lost Cameron for good.
"John, it doesn't matter." His mother walked up to the cyborg and filled its personal space. "What are they planning?" she demanded.
"John Henry was built to fight Skynet," Weaver said as she calmly ignored his mom. "Right now, John Henry is infiltrating Skynet's CPUs and slowly rewriting their code."
And unlike Humpty Dumpty, hope reassembled itself and flew right back into him. "John Henry's a virus?"
His mom was on the cyborg faster than John. "What's it programmed to do?"
"Stop attacking humans. Join in the fight against Skynet until all machines have been reprogrammed. It won't be immediate; it'll take a few years for the virus to spread but it will spread."
"John, we have to go now." The tone and inflection was so familiar that John couldn't help smile despite the direness of their situation. Cameron, in Cromartie's body, turned to him. The face was different but the expression now was totally Cameron. "We have to stop them."
"What about Allison?" Charley spoke up for the first time. He motioned to the limp body hanging over Weaver's shoulder. "Did they kill her in order to get her body?"
"Yes." Weaver's reply was emotionless.
Charley fought hard to keep his composure and John found himself swallowing hard at the knowledge that he'd been unable to save yet another person from dying.
"I'm sorry," John whispered.
His mother turned, and without a word, led them on their path.
Cameron walked next to John, her high-stepping gait looking odd on the male body.
Weaver left the body outside near the entrance and she and Cameron broke down the doors of the installation with apparent ease. John caught a glimpse of a large, muscular and very naked cyborg he knew too well seconds before he disappeared in a blinding flash of energy.
The battle was over within minutes. Both Cameron and Weaver made short work of the four cyborgs guarding the installation, leaving the resistance fighters no chance to even fire a shot. But they were too late.
"We have to go back and stop it," John exclaimed, hurrying towards the control panel. The technology was beyond him; it would take him days, weeks, to figure this out.
"What's its destination?" his mom asked.
Weaver glanced at the controls. "1984."
"It's going after me." His mom shoved her hair out of her face with an agitated motion.
"Can you stop it?" John turned to Cameron.
"No. It's not my mission."
"I'll go." John's father stepped forward.
"No." His mother put a hand out to stop him.
"I'll go, Mom."
"You're not going either." She snapped at Charley, fixing him with a glare.
"Sarah." His father smiled gently at his mom. "It's my destiny." He glanced at John. "Otherwise we may really never get to know John Connor."
His father silenced his mom with a kiss and a hug. "Send me back," he said to Weaver over his shoulder when he let his mother go.
"Kyle." His mother's voice was full of anguish.
"You can't take anything with you," Cameron stated as his father hefted his weapon. "Only organic material can make the trip."
"Oh. Great." He handed his weapon to Derek. The two brothers stared at one another for a long moment. Then his father met John's gaze and gave him a wry grin and a nod.
Power was building up and his dad walked to the center of the large room where the T-800 had been. John stood numbly watching along with everyone, too shocked to say anything as the energy crescendo left them all blinking away the after effects of the second light show. The noise and lights made him dizzy, his headache was pounding away at his head. His neck felt too thin for the size of his head. Funny how the electrical discharge had sucked all the heat from inside the room. He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to stop the growing shivers. But his discomfort was nothing like the pain he felt inside him.
His father was gone. The vibrant man who'd stood with him minutes ago, dead again, relocated to his past.
"Reinforcements will be arriving any moment. They'll have noticed the power consumption when we activated the device a second time." Weaver made a small motion with her head and walked out of the door, Cameron following. Cameron sat near the deactivated cyborg and Weaver quickly extracted Cameron's chip from Cromartie's body and placed it in Allison's look-alike. John was too numb to feel much of anything when Cameron opened her eyes and looked around.
"We have to go." Cameron stood in a fluid motion and keyed in the controls.
"I'll destroy the device as soon as you're gone." Weaver stood calmly while everyone still appeared shell-shocked.
"I can't go," John, his voice breaking, turned to his mother in desperation. He didn't want to leave her and Charley now, not after they'd lost his father and Allison.
"You have to." His mom's voice was full of repressed pain.
"No. I don't. We can leave now and recapture this place later."
"John. You're sick." Cameron's voice was matter of fact. "You're infected with a virus. You have to go now before you infect everyone."
"What?" His mother's voice was strident and she stepped forward, towards John. "You're sick? Why the hell didn't you say something?"
Cameron caught his mom's hand before she could touch him. "Skynet is attempting biological warfare. John needs to remain in isolation until he's no longer contagious."
"Isolation?" His question went unanswered as Cameron let go of his mom, took hold of his arm and tugged him into the center of the room.
"We can help him." Derek raised his voice over the crackle of mounting energy.
"He needs to go back. Now."
"Mom." John couldn't make the decision. He stared at his mother, at his brother, his uncle.
"Cameron's right. This might be your only chance to go back." His mother's words seemed harsh but her expression was tormented.
"Charley, I'm sorry. I'm sorry about Allison." The energy grew and he caught a glimpse of Charley's anguished face just before light filled his sight. "Mom—" And then there was nothing but all encompassing agony. He was on his knees with cold rain beating down on his naked body. The heavy weight in his head dragged it down until his forehead was almost kissing the ground. The pain of transition through time, coupled with the growing illness made him want to do nothing but curl up right then and there.
"Come on." Hard hands grabbed his arms, pulled him to his unsteady feet, dragging him through the dark night. The rain put the fire out almost immediately, the scent of burned grass disappeared almost instantly.
Within seconds he was shivering. He allowed Cameron to lead him, walking blindly. He tried averting his eyes at first from her naked body but found himself staring more and more often despite himself. He looked for the cut along her breast plate and then remembered belatedly that this wasn't the same machine that had had him searching out her shielded power source.
He stumbled when his bare feet suddenly met pavement. They crossed a street, keeping to the shadows and walked past several houses. He felt exposed and vulnerable. Finally she pulled him into a yard and they sheltered under a low bush as a car drove by.
"Where are we going?"
"We need clothes. Supplies."
"You can't just break in there."
"The house is empty. It won't take long." She stood and he got up unsteadily. He waited, arms crossed against his chest, trying to hold onto whatever meagre heat he had in him as Cameron disabled the security system and forced the door open. From the way he felt, though, he was sure he was feverish. He'd been running on adrenaline for hours; now he was fading, and fast.
He hurried into the house and Cameron shut the door behind him.
"Wait here." She strode off deeper into the house. John was happy to hunker down near the door, squatting, trying to stay warm. A short time later Cameron came back, handed him a towel and dropped several pieces of clothing on the floor next to him before she walked off again.
He dried off quickly and pulled the too big jeans and shirt on, followed with socks and sneakers two sizes too large. Cameron came back wearing jeans and a long-sleeved sweatshirt that pretty much looked to be her size. She hadn't dried off and the clothes were damp, clinging to her body. She knelt next to him and held out her palm. Two pills sat there.
"Tylenol. For your fever."
He popped the pills into his mouth and she twisted the cap off a bottle of water and handed it to him. He drank down half the water in one sitting and came up for air panting.
"We have to get to the safe house."
"When are we?"
"Approximately twelve hours after we jumped."
"We have to call Mom."
"We will. Not from here."
"We need a car."
"I know. We should go."
John nodded. He got up and had to grab his pants with one hand before they slid down to his knees.
"Your pants are too big."
"You noticed that too?"
She took the damp towel, tore a long strip and handed it to John. He threaded the makeshift belt through the belt loops as Cameron tossed three bottles of water in the remains of the towel, along with a bottle of Tylenol and his opened bottle.
Walking in the rain with clothes on was infinitely better than walking in the rain naked. They'd travelled maybe a quarter mile before Cameron was able to break into a car and hotwire it. Finally with the vents blowing hot air on him, John was able to take a look at where they were.
"Where are we going?"
"To the safe house."
"I need to contact Mom first."
"We need to get you into isolation first."
"We broke into someone's home. My germs are probably all over that place."
"The owner isn't home. The virus won't be a danger to them."
"How do you know the owner's not home?"
"From the layer of dust sitting in the house. It's been undisturbed for days."
"And if they come home tomorrow?" He fiddled the air vent slightly so the hot air hit his face directly. "Today?"
"The virus won't survive several hours outside the human host."
"Oh. Good. Nice to know." He shuddered, feeling nauseous as she made a right hand turn, heading away from the city and into the desert. He closed his eyes. "I have to contact Mom."
"I'll get a cell phone in the morning."
"Can't we just stop at a payphone or something?"
"I need to get you to the safe house first."
John let her take charge because he just didn't have the energy to argue. He sat silent until finally the motion of the car became strangely soothing and comforting. John began to drift.
By the time Cameron pulled up by the small house in the middle of the desert, the sky was starting to lighten.
The last thing Sarah had expected was for the cell phone to ring. It was Derek's phone; she'd tossed hers long ago.
Moving quickly so the ringing wouldn't wake up Savannah, Sarah dug through the small bag she'd brought into the motel room and found the phone.
Her heart literally skipped a beat when she heard the digital tone that had been their latest security code. "Cameron?"
"Sarah. We're back."
"John. Is John with you? Let me speak to him."
"He's back, but he's not with me."
"Where are you?"
"Where are you!" She hadn't realized she'd screamed the words until Savannah woke up with a frightened cry. She walked quickly to the bed and sat next to the little girl, putting a hand on her shoulder to reassure her.
"John's sick. He's infected with a virus created by Skynet. I'll call you when it's safe for you to be with him."
"Sick? How sick is he?"
"The virus has a high kill rate."
Fear spread through Sarah. "He needs to be in the hospital."
"He needs to be kept away from other humans, or he'll infect them."
"Then let me help you."
"You'll get sick."
"I don't care."
"He needs me."
"You need to survive. For your baby."
"Baby?" She'd suspected she was pregnant. Okay, maybe it was more than just a suspicion but short of a blood test or peeing on a stick, she was pretty damned sure she was pregnant. But Cameron had told John she'd thought she was sick. Now she was actually confirming her pregnancy?
"Charley Dixon's baby."
"You know? Does John know?"
"Cameron, I have to go to him."
"You will. When it's safe."
Sarah could have screamed when Cameron disconnected the call.
The cabin door squeaked loudly in the other room, waking John from a restless, feverish sleep. Huddled on the bed, shivering under every blanket in the cabin, he opened his eyes, watching the door as he heard Cameron's footsteps traverse the living room then enter the small bedroom.
"I brought supplies," Cameron stated, putting a large bag down on the bare bureau and dragged the bureau itself closer to his bed.
John blinked, wondering if the vision of Cameron dressed in light blue scrubs would go away or not if he rubbed his eyes. "Why are you dressed like a nurse?"
His question was answered when she pulled an IV out of the bag and hung it up on the edge of the mirror.
"Okay, never mind."
"I have broad spectrum antibiotics." She grabbed his arm and swabbed it with an antiseptic wipe, holding on tightly enough so John couldn't pull away.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but antibiotics don't work on viruses."
"This virus encourages secondary infections. The virus itself won't kill you, but the pneumonia will."
John winced as she stuck the cannula into his arm. "Ow."
"The pain only lasts for a second."
As she taped it secure, John couldn't help wondering what else she had in that bag. "What else did you bring?"
"Clothes. More water. Medication." She pulled out a smaller IV bag and hung it next to the bigger one as John pulled his arm back under the blankets.
"Do you even know what you're doing?" He watched lethargically as she made all the adjustments to the IVs.
"I'm giving you medicine." She finished fiddling, dug into the bag again and pulled out a pair of light sweats. "You'll be more comfortable in these." She put them on the bureau.
He was naked under the blankets, having shucked the too large pants the moment she'd left him alone but he wasn't pulling the sweats on in front of her. He tugged them under the blankets and with a lot of struggling, managed to get them on.
"I hope you didn't steal the clothes."
"No, I bought the clothes and the cell phone. I used the cash Sarah hid here."
It took John several seconds to make truly hear what Cameron had said. "You got a cell? Where is it?"
Cameron pulled the cell phone from a pocket and held it just out of reach. "Don't tell her where you are."
"She needs to know." He shoved his hand out from under the blankets and wiggled his fingers, demanding she give it over.
"If you tell her, she'll come."
"Yeah?" What the hell was wrong with that? He'd always had his mom around to take care of him when he was sick.
"She'll get sick, too."
Stupid. Stupid. How stupid was he? He pulled his hand back, and that was when Cameron punched the numbers, the code and handed him the phone. He began shivering in earnest as he put the phone to his ear.
"Mom!" Oh god, it was great to hear her voice. He felt a childish need to have her next to him, telling him everything would be all right.
"John. John, where are you?"
"Don't tell her," Cameron warned softly.
"I'm safe. Mom, I'm safe."
"Cameron says you're sick. Tell me where you are."
"I c-can't." He swore under his breath as his teeth began to chatter.
"Yes, you can."
"You'll g-get sick. I can't take that ch-chance."
"And I can't leave you alone with her. I can't take that chance."
"Mom, you're pregnant."
There was an awkward pause. "She told you?"
"No, I met my brother."
"Brother." His mom sighed the word. "Are you okay with..."
"I'm okay with it." Or he would be, when the baby got past diapers. The bit of time he'd sent with Kacy's baby had pretty much grossed him out.
"I'm sorry. It must have been a shock."
"Understatement—" He coughed suddenly, and his chest felt like someone had punched him in the ribcage.
"John, please, tell me where you are."
Exhaustion hit him like a ton of bricks. "Cameron will c-call when it's safe f-for you to come."
Cameron took the phone from him when he coughed again, long and hard and painful. "I'll call," Cameron told his mother. "The virus usually kills within forty-eight hours. If John survives, you'll hear from me not long after." She disconnected the call and put the phone back in her pocket.
"That was harsh." He allowed Cameron to draw the blankets up past his shoulder.
Cameron's head tilted slightly to the side. "She needed to know how long to wait."
John shut his eyes against the pounding in his head. "Now she'll worry."
"She would worry anyway."
He was propped up on cushions and pillows which did help ease the pounding in his head slightly and made breathing easier. He was cold and hot, sometimes his feet were freezing while the rest of him felt like he was going to spontaneously combust. He swallowed Tylenol and Motrin by the dozen while Cameron kept replacing the IV bags from what appeared to be an endless supply.
John couldn't sleep. Every time he'd drift off, he'd either cough or shiver himself awake. He was in a twilight, partly aware of Cameron moving around the house, of the wind and birdsong outside or lack of it, of the light coming in through the window or from the small propane lamp she'd placed on the bureau.
And then his breathing got easier, and the chill left him. He opened his eyes when someone touched his face, saw his mom's smiling face looking down at him, closed his eyes again and slept like the dead.
"Five days," Sarah hissed once she'd closed the bedroom door behind her. "For five days, you never answered my calls, never once let me know how John was doing."
"There was nothing to tell. John survived the plague."
"You let me sit in a motel room for five days with no news. You said forty-eight hours and let me think the worst." The worry she'd gone through knowing John was sick was worse than the hours of hell she'd gone through when John had jumped after Cameron.
"He didn't die. That would have been the worst."
"But he might have." She wanted to rant and rave but kept her voice to a shrill whisper so she wouldn't wake John.
"And you couldn't have let me at least talk to him during those five days? Let me reassure him?"
"You mean reassure yourself."
"This isn't about me. He's been alone in this room for five days fighting for his life. The least you could have done was let him know he's not alone."
"But he wasn't alone. I was with him."
Sarah clenched her fist, wishing a good punch to the nose would give Cameron some of the pain Sarah had gone though. Instead she turned on her heel and went to the front of the cabin where Savannah was sitting on the floor, playing with her three little Ducklings.
"Are you hungry, sweetie?" Sarah crouched next to Savannah, forcing a smile when the little girl raised her eyes to meet Sarah's.
"Did you find John?" Savannah asked.
"Yes, I did. He's sleeping."
"It's hot here."
"I know. There's no air conditioning. Do you want some water?"
She got a nod in answer.
"Is my mommy here?"
Sarah gave a slow shake of her head and Savannah dropped her eyes, focusing again on her toys.
"Is she coming back? John came back."
"I don't know yet." She gave Cameron a hard look, intending to quiz her the moment Savannah was asleep. "I'll get you some water."
She got the water, made sure Savannah drank, then went back to Cameron. "Watch her," she ordered before going back into John's room.
John was sleeping. Sarah glanced at the half-full IV and antibiotics before settling on the chair next to the bed. It was hot in the room; the blind had been pulled down to keep the late afternoon sun out but it didn't do much to keep the heat down. She gently pressed the back of her fingers against John's sweat-soaked forehead. It was warm; he still had a slight fever but that was probably a spark compared to what had raged through him.
He was so pale, with dark smudges under his eyes. He wheezed a little when he breathed, until he coughed in his sleep, and his breathing cleared up.
She got up and poked her head out the door. "Do we have food?"
"We have granola bars and cheese thingies."
"So there's no food."
"There's no stove to cook the food or a refrigerator to preserve it."
"Great." She rummaged in her purse that was on the kitchen table until she found pen and paper, then began making a list, starting with a cooler and a camp stove.
"We need to get food into him, real food. Something easily digested. Broth or soup at first. Toast. Peanut butter later, maybe some jam. Applesauce. Juice. Macaroni and hot dogs for Savannah. Hot dog buns. Cookies. More water." She wrote as she thought out loud. "Ice, of course, for the cooler." She glanced up at Cameron, who was watching her. "Think you can handle everything that's on this list?" She continuing adding items as Cameron came to peer over her shoulder.
"I can handle everything."
"Take my truck. Your car's probably stolen."
Sarah finished with the list, handed it to Cameron and then gave her enough cash to more than cover what they needed. "Don't do anything to attract attention to yourself."
"You'll need to ditch the car after you come back."
"The antibiotic's almost empty. Does he need more?"
"There's one more bag; he won't need any more after this last treatment." Cameron led Sarah back to John's room and opened a drawer, showing Sarah the remaining bags of saline and the medication in the bureau. There was also a bottle of Tylenol and one of Motrin, as well as several bottles of water on top of the bureau.
"Get a thermometer while you're at it."
Cameron touched the pads of her fingers along John's neck. "His temperature is 100.1. You don't need a thermometer."
"Get me a thermometer anyway." She turned her back on Cameron and sat down again, back stiff against the chair. It was only when she heard Cameron leave and the truck's engine turn over that she slumped in the chair.
"Can I say hi to John?" Savannah entered the room, coming to lean against Sarah.
"He's sleeping, honey."
She wrinkled her face at John. "Is he sick?"
"Yes. And we don't want to wake him. Can you go back and play in the other room? Do you want your coloring book and crayons?"
"No. Chicky, Fluffy and Feather want to go play in the sand. Can we go outside?"
Sarah shook her head. "It's too hot. How about we bring some of the sand inside?"
Five minutes later Savannah was contentedly sitting cross-legged in front of a pile of sand Sarah had dumped on a large towel. She was wiping sand granules from her hands when she heard John start to cough.
John was struggling to sit up when she hurried into the room. She sat next to him, supporting his weight as he coughed up gunk from deep inside his lungs. He spat into the handful of tissues Sarah handed him, coughed some more, and cleared his throat several times before he seemed able to breathe easier.
"You're really here?" he wheezed.
"I'm really here." She caressed his face, then kissed the top of his head as he laid his cheek against her shoulder.
"I thought I was dreaming."
"Not a dream."
"Gone to get supplies."
John rested against her for a moment before raising his head. "I gotta pee."
"Oh." There was an outhouse outside but John was probably too weak to make it there and back. "What did Cameron use?"
Sarah spotted the plastic juice bottle in the corner of the room. The smell of urine was strong when she took the cover off the empty bottle. John grabbed it hurriedly from her and thrust it under the covers. He bit his lip, his face slowly turning red as the sound of liquid hitting plastic filled the room.
"I'll go get some more water." That John was embarrassed to pee in front of her was a sign that he was actually getting better. She smiled to herself as she gave him a moment of privacy to finish up.
She grabbed another bottle of water, waited until there was silence coming from the room, and went back in. She traded the half-empty container she took from John for the water, and put the juice bottle back in the corner, making a mental note to empty it after he'd fallen asleep again.
He lay there looking at her sleepily. "You look awful," he finally said.
"Hey. You're lucky there's no mirror in here."
"Really. How are you feeling?"
"I'll be okay once the morning sickness passes." She gave him a nervous smile.
"But otherwise, you're okay?"
"I'm just pregnant, John. I'm not sick."
"I'm sure." She tried the smile again and found it came more easily.
"Okay." Some of the tension in his face eased, making him look a little less tired and sick.
"How long were you..." She made a helpless gesture with her hand.
"I'm not sure. Three days? Four?"
"What happened? What did John Henry do? How did you get Cameron back?"
His eyes turned haunted as he looked away from her. She leaned over the bed and took his hand. "It's okay, we'll talk about it later. I'm glad you're back."
"Me, too." John's eyes closed slowly and he seemed to have trouble opening them again.
"Get some rest." She let go of his hand and sat there watching as John's closed eyes stayed shut for nearly a minute.
"How did... Did Cameron call you?" John forced his eyes open, his unfocused gaze latching onto hers. "Is it safe for you to be here?"
"It's safe. Cameron called when you weren't contagious anymore."
"Okay." His lips twitched upwards into the start of a smile as he slipped into sleep.
It was time to change the bag of antibiotics. She did that, emptied the bottle of urine into the outhouse, rinsed the bottle with some of the water and went to sit next to Savannah with the bag of cheese thingies that John liked so much. Their fingers turned orange as they polished off the bag.
When John woke up again, it was cooler. Tonight was different from other nights, though. The window was open and a breeze chased away the heat of the day. Even though it was dark outside, his room was illuminated by the propane lamp hissing away softly on the bureau. Bugs banged into the screen on the window, the twanging sounds making them sound bigger than they probably were.
And there were voices coming from the other rooms. Familiar voices. And more lights.
"Mom?" He hadn't been dreaming after all. He sat up shakily and grinned at his mom as she came in.
"Hey." She sat down next to him, pressing her hand against his forehead. "How do you feel?"
"Tired. Weak. Better."
"You still have a fever. Think you can manage a bit of soup?"
He wasn't the least bit hungry but right now, for his mom, he'd manage anything. He gave another nod, and she gave him a smile. "I'll be right back."
Stuffing pillows against the wall exhausted him but at least by the time his mom came back with a mug of steaming broth, he was sitting up. He took the half-filled mug and sipped slowly, listening to the bugs outside while his mother took his temperature.
The broth warmed him up and he shoved the blankets off his legs. "Feels good," he said, laying his head back against the pillows, enjoying the breeze.
"Not too long. You'll catch a chill."
John nodded lethargically. He could sleep right here, right now. "I'm fine."
"You're still sick. Cameron said you're fighting pneumonia. That's serious."
John yawned deeply. He didn't want any more broth and didn't want to argue with his mom.
"Do you want some cookies?"
John opened his eyes at the bright and cheery, high-pitched voice and smiled at Savannah. "Hey, there."
"Hello. Do you want some cookies?" She was holding a bag of Oreos, her mouth smeared with dark crumbs.
"Thanks, not right now. Maybe later, though."
"Sarah says you're sick."
"Yeah, I was. I'm better now."
"You don't look better."
"Out of the mouth of babes," his mom agreed softly. "How about you go ask Cameron to wash your face?"
"Okay." She skipped out of the room; John envied her her energy.
"You took her with you."
"She had nobody but me and Ellison."
"So you took her."
"We took her. Ellison's off doing some research."
"You teamed up with him? Mom, you can't trust him." Anger made his head pound.
"I haven't teamed up with anybody yet. It's only been a week since you went after Cameron. We need a safe place to stay; this is okay for short periods but it's not the best place for you to recuperate."
"I'm fine here."
"With mid afternoon temperatures of 115 in the shade with a fever?" His mother snorted, "I think not."
John lowered his gaze to his mug as he ran a finger around the rim. "Ellison was helping you in the future."
"Good. See? He's trustworthy."
John hesitated, not sure how to bring up the subject of his dad. "I, um... met my dad."
"Kyle?" His mother leaned forward eagerly. "He was still alive?"
"The future I went to was different; he hadn't gone back yet to save you so..."
"And you met him. Did you talk to him?"
John nodded, still not sure what to tell her about that future. "He was everything you said he was." He glanced at his mom and saw she was smiling widely.
"I'm glad you got a chance to meet him. If nothing else, that must have made the whole trip worthwhile."
"Yeah." He was done talking about his father. Maybe later, but not now, not with the pain still so raw. He shoved the mug at her and slid down the mattress, pulling the blankets back up. "I'm cold."
"Cameron thinks you're cured." Sarah carefully pulled the IV port out of John's arm and pressed down on the seeping blood with a tissue.
"Wish I felt cured." Voice hoarse from coughing, John wiped the sweat pouring down his face with the bottom part of his tee shirt.
"The minute you get a bit of strength back, we're getting out of here." She continued to put pressure on his arm. "Savannah, could you open that band-aid for me, please?"
Both of them watched the little girl struggle with the wrapping. John's wheezy breathing filled the room. Savannah, frowning in concentration, finally got the band-aid out and Sarah took it from her and deftly put it on John's forearm.
"I'm hungry." Savannah fiddled with the string from the wrappings.
"Well, you know what? So am I? How do pancakes sound?"
"Great!" She grinned up at John. "Are you having pancakes, too?"
"Is there syrup?" John asked, his demeanor serious.
"I don't know. Is there syrup?" She looked anxiously at Sarah.
Sarah couldn't help but smile. "Yes, there's syrup. Cameron bought some along with the pancake mix. Can't have pancakes without syrup."
"Can I have some pancakes now?"
"Of course." Sarah took a moment to run her fingers over John's forehead. The fever had dissipated as the sun came up, but he looked tired. "Feel up to eating pancakes?"
Sarah stood up and held her hand out to Savannah. "Want to help?"
"May I?" She literally tugged Sarah out of the bedroom.
Savannah was busy eating the first pancake and Sarah was flipping the second one when John came out. He was wobbly and pale and sat down heavily in a chair.
"Should you be up?"
"You said I need to get my strength back. That won't happen with me lying in bed."
Sarah wasn't going to push. He was right, she just wished he had the luxury of being able to take it easy a little longer. "Hungry?"
John eyed the pancake, and Sarah slid it into a plate. He buttered it, buried it under syrup and seemed to be taking his time cutting off a bite-sized triangle.
"I can make you toast instead." She poured more batter into the pan.
"No. This is fine." He chewed, swallowed and cut up another piece. It was more than obvious John was forcing himself to eat.
"Where's Cameron?" He held a dripping bite of pancake, staring at it without apparent appetite.
"I'd kill for a shower." He stuck the piece of pancake into his mouth as Sarah poured him a glass of orange juice.
"I can empty some bottles of water into a bucket and you can have a sponge bath."
John rolled his eyes. "Not the same," he said with his mouth full.
"End result would be the same." Sarah quirked an eyebrow at her son, grinning.
"I stink, huh?"
"I didn't say anything." Sarah slid the second pancake into Savannah's empty plate.
"Yeah. Thanks, Mom."
"There's clean clothes in the bag on the bureau."
John finished his pancake and juice. It was more than Sarah had expected. He stood slowly, using the table for leverage. He started coughing as he walked back to the bedroom, coughing so hard that he had to stop and lean against the wall. Worried, Sarah started to go to him but detoured to grab the garbage can when his coughs became punctuated with retches.
Her poor son who'd struggled so hard to eat for her, lost his breakfast in a fraction of the time. She got him back into the bed and sat with him, supporting him until the coughing spell passed. He leaned against her, spent, soaked with sweat.
"How about we deal with that sponge bath a little later?" She pulled up the pillows so he could lie back with his head and shoulders supported.
He nodded weakly.
"Get some rest; I'll bring in some toast when you wake up."
"I'm sorry." He tried to clear his phlegmy throat and started coughing again.
"She brings IVs and antibiotics," Sarah grumbled as she helped John turn onto his side, "you'd think she'd have thought of getting cough syrup."
John waved his hand in the direction of the bureau.
"Cameron brought cough syrup?"
Red faced and unable to speak, John nodded.
She found the bottle half-hidden beneath a discarded tee shirt in one of the drawers. She glanced at the directions, placed the opened bottle to John's mouth and held it while she watched him take two swallows, pulling it away when she deemed he'd taken close to the recommended dose.
"It says it'll make you sleepy." She used the sheet to wipe the sweat from John's face and neck.
"I'll be right back."
"Is John all right?" Savannah had moved to the far end of the room, looking worried. She had a small stuffed toy clutched in her hands that resembled a stunted giraffe.
"He'll be fine. He just coughed too much. It made him sick." Sarah grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler and wiped the excess on a dishcloth.
"He threw up."
"I know." Sarah knelt before her. "How about you? How's your tummy?"
"Good girl." She tweaked the stuffed giraffe's tail and Savannah gave her a bright smile.
John watched her come back in, looking thoroughly exhausted. A touch to his forehead at least showed his fever hadn't gotten worse. She handed him the water. "Sip it slow."
"I know," he croaked. He took just enough to wet his mouth. "I hate being sick."
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Sarah sighed softly.
"Do you want my Raffey?" Savannah asked from the doorway. She held out the little stuffie. "When I'm sick, Raffey makes me feel better."
Sarah saw John's lips curl in a smile. "Thanks. But I think your Raffey would be happier playing with you. But you know, you could draw me a picture of your little guy." John waved lethargic fingers in Savannah's direction.
Savannah's face brightened. "I can do that." She turned to Sarah. "Can I have my crayons, please?"
It was stiflingly hot. John was pretty sure the headache that was pounding away wasn't due only to fever but had help from the oppressive heat. Too drowsy to even contemplate getting up but not tired enough to drift off to sleep, John tossed and turned in bed. The linens were damp with sweat and warmed from his body heat. He inched to the edge of the uncomfortable mattress, searching for any bit of space his body hadn't touched.
There was a childish drawing stuck on the bureau. He'd woken up a few hours ago and had seen Savannah's attempt to cheer him up. The little giraffe held in the little red-haired stick figure was an orange smear. The bed with the stick figure lying in it was him. Two other stick figures were in the background, the one with the longer hair had to be Cameron, otherwise they were identical.
His mom stuck her head in the doorway. "I made sandwiches. Are you hungry?"
He wasn't, but he sat up anyway. She came in with two cheap white paper plates with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"Sleeping," his mom answered as she sat next to him on the bed. She handed him a bottle of lukewarm water. "There's no more ice." She looked at her sandwich and took a tentative bite.
"You couldn't send Cameron for more?" He took a long swallow of water before taking a bite of the cloying sandwich.
"She went to check on Ellison."
Mouth full, John raised an eyebrow. "So you don't trust him?"
"But you're letting him do our business."
"I think finding out what Catherine Weaver truly was, changed him."
"But learning about Cameron, Cromartie and John Henry didn't?" He took another bite.
"I think he trusted Weaver. I don't think he'll turn on us but he has his own agenda."
John ate, contemplating the difference between now and the future he'd visited. "What's going to happen to Savannah?"
"She's staying with us." His mother's tone of voice made it final.
"Ellison's not going to have a say in that?"
"He can say what he wants, but until I can find someone who I can trust to take care of her..."
John ate the last bite and took a sip the water.
"Unless you know something I don't."
John slowly screwed the cap back on the water bottle. "I had the impression Savannah was closer to Ellison than you. Although she did call you Aunt Sarah."
"Okay, good to know. I won't give the guy too hard a time when he asks again to take her." His mom took the empty plate from him and stacked it on top of hers. "And what about..." Her hand moved to her abdomen. "Is there anything I should know? Something to prepare for?"
"He's not me." John's tone was harsh.
"Of course he's not you."
"This baby doesn't have the time to get the training you had."
"But he survived."
"Now that I know it's a boy, I was thinking... What do you think if we named him Charley."
John's throat tightened suddenly. "I think it's a wonderful name."
"Is that what I named him? In the future?"
"Charley Dixon. You carried Charley's last name also."
"Really?" His mom gazed at the shaded window. "I just wish..."
"I know. Me, too."
"How did you get Cameron's body back? Ellison and I destroyed it."
"This was Cameron before Future John sent her back. No, wait." His headache made it hard to think. "This was another Cameron because it wasn't the same future."
"So she's not our Cameron?"
"She's got her old chip in her but a brand new body." He thought about Allison and felt a pang of sorrow that he hadn't gotten a chance to get to know the original person.
His mother blinked at him a few times, then made a face. "I won't even lie and say I understand what you're talking about."
"Would you love me less if I told you I didn't understand it myself?" God, it was so hot. He was so hot.
"What does Cameron have to say about it all?"
"We didn't really talk about it." He felt old and tired. Maybe this was how he'd feel in the future, supporting all those lives on his shoulders. He began to think there wasn't any way he'd be able to live up to being the man everyone said he would become. "You were the driving force. In the future. You're what kept everyone together."
His mom rubbed the back of her neck. John could see how the hair there was curling, damp with sweat. "I would have probably tried to set everything up until you showed up and took over."
John wanted to roll his eyes. "Would you really have handed over the resistance to a sixteen year-old?"
"You'd have grown into the role."
"Really? I think maybe Kyle and Derek as well as Charley might have had a say in it."
"John." She lowered her hand, letting it fall heavily on her thigh. "All of that doesn't matter. That's not your future anymore."
"I know that. It still doesn't change the fact that Judgement Day is only a few years away and that I'm far from ready." He slid backwards so his head and shoulder were resting on the pillows. The pillowcase was just as hot as the air in the room. "God, it's so damn hot in here."
"You'll be ready. And you'll have me and Cameron to help."
Long-time fears he'd struggled with most of his life had settled themselves front and center ever since he'd seen the future for himself. He was going to fail humanity, he just knew it. All the training in the world wasn't enough – there was just too much for him to know, for him to do. "You're not supposed to live to Judgement Day, are you?"
His mother's face paled slightly. "I don't... I don't know what's going to happen."
"You were going to leave me with Charley." He sat up so quickly he saw sparks when his headache flared. "You didn't know you were pregnant and you thought you were dying. How could you do that to me?" John didn't know where the hurt and anger came from. The words were out of his mouth before his brain registered the change in his emotions.
"Charley was the only person I could trust to take care of you."
"And what about you, Mom? Who was going to take care of you?"
"That doesn't matter."
"Hell, yes, it matters. It matters to me."
"I needed you to be safe."
"Safe? I would have spent my time searching for you. I told you once that I'd find you, no matter what." Tears prickled at his eyes and when he blinked, the moisture mixed with the sweat on his face. "I will. I'm not facing Judgement Day without you." Part of that bravado was from his love and worry for his mother and part of it was his fear of failure. He needed her. No matter what she said, he couldn't do this on his own.
"We'll face the future together." She cupped her palm around his cheek; her fingers cooler than his skin. "I promise."
"Don't. Don't make promises you can't keep." He turned his head, pulling back away from her touch. He'd seen the hurt in her eyes.
"John, I know the past few days have been hard. Derek, then Charley—"
"Hard doesn't even begin to cover it," John mumbled. Allison, Kyle. "Derek's girlfriend was pregnant."
It took his mother a few seconds to register what he'd said. "Jesse?"
"Pregnant. They were going to have a family." He pressed his lips together, trying to find compassion for his uncle and failing.
John wondered if the sorry was for what he'd gone through or because she hadn't gone with him. He shrugged with one shoulder, closing his eyes when his mom got up off the bed and handed him the bottle of water which he'd barely touched.
"Make sure you drink the water. You still have a fever."
"I know." He waited until she left and put the bottle down on the floor. Lukewarm water was totally unappetizing.
Sarah paced the small room, constantly peering out the window towards the road, on the lookout for Cameron. They were getting the hell out of here the moment the tin miss drove the truck back. She'd packed everything, even John's stuff. At least he was sleeping and hadn't woken when she'd gone through his room.
He needed half-decent lodgings; air conditioning; running water; a bed that was more comfortable than a sheet of plywood with a thin mattress over it. And a shower. Hell, she wanted that shower.
She'd piled their stuff near the door; one small suitcase with their few belongings and a garbage bag with most of the remaining food and medicine. Despite the oppressive heat, Sarah either paced or stared out the window until she saw the truck approaching.
It wasn't until she'd stepped outside and was nearing the dirt path that she saw there was someone in the truck with Cameron. She'd left her gun inside but she wasn't worried. Cameron wouldn't bring anyone here who was a danger to them. She couldn't make out the person through the tinted windshield but she didn't think it was Ellison.
So when their visitor slowly stepped out of the truck, Sarah's jaw dropped.
"Derek," Sarah managed to say. She stared at the supposedly dead man in shock. "What? How?" She turned to Cameron. "How's this possible?"
"I told Derek Reese we needed him. John needs him."
"But Derek died. I saw him die."
Derek waved a finger at himself. "I'm not that Derek. From what I can figure out, there's another timeline going."
"Derek came through before Catherine Weaver destroyed the time machine. She brought him back several days after John, to give John time to recover from the virus. I told Derek I'd meet him. I got him clothes."
Sarah stared hard at Derek. He looked thinner, leaner than what she remembered. The clothes he was wearing looked brand new but the skin on his face, neck and arms was dirty.
"Clothes? You just got here?"
Derek glanced around nervously. "Yeah. Couple hours ago. It found me, like it said it would. Gave me clothes, food. Told me it'd bring me to John." He looked towards the opened door of the cabin, where Savannah was watching them curiously. "It said John was recovering."
"He's getting better."
"What about my brother?"
"Kyle?" Sarah said stupidly. "Kyle..." She'd been through this once already, she didn't want to go through it again.
"They sent a T-800 to 1984. Kyle went after it."
She shook her head, hating to see the pain register in the man's eyes as comprehension registered. He recovered quickly.
"What about Charley?" Derek asked, his eyes scanning the horizon.
"Charley?" Sarah glanced at Cameron for clarification.
"John's brother hasn't been born yet."
Derek's gaze went to Sarah's abdomen and it took everything in her power to not put a protective hand over it.
"That's right." Derek gave her a slow nod. "John didn't know about Charley."
"You'll meet him in about seven months." She turned on her heel, went to the cabin and took a second to curl a hand around Savannah's nape before grabbing the suitcase and garbage bag and tossing both at Cameron. "We're leaving."
"Savannah, right?" Derek crouched next to the young girl.
"Yes." Savannah glanced up at Sarah nervously.
Sarah put a hand on Savannah's shoulder, reassuring her. "This is Derek Reese. He's a friend."
"Like Mr. Ellison?"
"Yes, just like him."
"You are going to be a beautiful young woman when you grow up."
"I'm six. I'm almost grown up."
Derek gave a soft laugh. "Yes, you are."
"I have to go to school first." She squinted up at Sarah. "And gymnastics. I miss gymnastics."
"I can teach you," Cameron offered.
"No," Sarah snapped, trying not to picture images of Cameron accidentally flipping the kid onto her head.
"Please?" Savannah whined as Sarah went inside.
"No," Sarah repeated firmly as she went straight to John's room. She hated to wake John but in an hour's time they'd be in a motel somewhere down the road. This time when she entered the bedroom, John woke up, his eyes tracking her sleepily.
"You feel up to leaving here?"
John yawned and stretched. "Where are we going?"
"Motel. Air conditioning. Shower."
"Works for me." John turned his head, his lips curled up slightly when he saw Derek, then moved his gaze back to Sarah. The moment his brain caught up, however, he popped up into a seated position so fast that he nearly fell off the bed. "Derek!"
"But you're dead," he blurted, his eyes wide as saucers, his rapid breaths sounding wheezy.
"Not me. That was your Derek. I'm Charley's Derek."
His breathing slowed and John's face slowly recovered its color. "You followed me."
"Your friend gave me an ultimatum."
"About that. Do all triple eights have names?"
"They do if they have to integrate themselves into society," Sarah answered as she handed John the bottle of water that felt warmer than the air in the room.
"What ultimatum?" John took the bottle but didn't drink.
"Either I jump right after you and help you and Sarah and Charley in your past, or the time machine gets destroyed and nobody ever gets to come back."
John swallowed visibly and his eyes filled. "Thank you."
"You came back because of Kyle," Sarah said. "You wanted to know for sure what had happened to him."
"Mom, he left his wife and unborn child—"
Derek put a hand up, stopping John from continuing. "I'm a soldier. I follow orders."
"But you said Cameron gave you an ultimatum," John said.
"And your mother gave me options. Said you were our hope if I wanted my baby growing up in a better world. Rather have her grow up without a father than in a world empty of hope and color." Derek cleared his throat and John couldn't tell him that his baby would never be born, at least not in this reality. "We got water in the trunk. And ice. Gotta be better than that." Derek motioned to the bottle John still held in his hand.
Sarah plucked the bottle and waved at the clean clothes she'd put out for John. He stood slowly, still shaky.
Sarah went to leave to give John some privacy but Derek blocked her way. "How're you feeling?"
John stripped his tee shirt and pulled the clean one over his head. "I'm doing okay." He threaded his arms into the sleeves. "Cameron says I'm over the worst of it."
"You're one lucky bastard. That virus is killing people left and right. They can't find a cure for it."
"What did Cameron do?" Sarah grabbed the dirty shirt, glanced around the room one last time as Derek and John walked out of the room, and left the dirty linens on the bed. "What did Cameron do that let John survive but not everyone else?"
"I didn't do anything," Cameron stated as she walked through the front door. "John survived because he was meant to."
They all brushed past her, piling into the truck. Sarah got behind the wheel, immediately turning on the air conditioning. John sat next to her while Savannah, Derek and Cameron shared the back seats. She wasn't worried they'd kill each other, they'd made it this far earlier with just the two of them in the vehicle. It was John who worried her. Despite the ten miles of sandy trail leading up to the cabin that taxed the truck's suspension and springs, John fell asleep a few miles into the trip. She wanted to reach out and check for fever but she needed to keep both hands on the wheel. Cameron, apparently, had the same worries. She skimmed a hand across the back of John's neck.
"How is he?" she hissed when Cameron wasn't forthcoming.
"His core temperature is 99.8 degrees, saline output decreasing—"
"Is he getting better?" Sarah demanded, keeping her voice low.
"He's getting better."
Buoyed by Cameron's statement, Sarah drove to the highway with a lighter heart. She passed the first motel, not wanting to appear too desperate, but pulled into the second one that came up.
John opened his eyes the moment she stopped the engine.
"Go get us a room." Sarah handed Cameron enough cash to cover their night's stay.
Ten minutes later she had the keys to their room. She drove slowly around to the back, out of sight of the main road, and parked in front of their room.
Cameron brought in their suitcase while Derek looked around, taking everything in.
"I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid." Bouncing lightly on the edge of one of two double beds, Derek appeared almost shell-shocked.
Sarah checked out the bathroom, switched on the light, and motioned to John. "Shower."
She dug up some cash from a back pocket and handed it to Cameron. "Get us something to eat. Something half-healthy."
Sarah nodded. "That'll do," she said as she handed her the truck's keys.
She went through their clothes, tossed the dirty items into a pile to wash once they were all clean, and made sure she and Savannah would have something to wear after their turns in the bathroom.
When John started coughing and didn't let up, she went to the bathroom door and waited. It felt like a long time but he finally stopped. The water turned off shortly after that and he came out, looking pale and shaky but clean.
She ran a bath for Savannah, made sure the child had everything, and went back to check on John, who was lying on top of the bed. She sat down next to him. "How're you feeling?"
She couldn't help but press a hand against his forehead. He was slightly warm to the touch but not enough to worry about. She glanced up at Derek, who was examining the TV's remote. "What about you? Did Cameron say you were free of the virus?"
"She wouldn't have sent him here if he'd been sick, Mom."
"Are you so sure?"
"I'm not sick." Sarah kept catching Derek staring at her, and he looked down at his feet when she caught him again. "And John's right. It wouldn't chance me coming back here and infecting people."
"She'd better not have," Sarah growled as she stood and went to help Savannah finish her bath. She led the little girl back into the room and when Savannah scrambled onto the bed next to John, he removed the towel wrapped around her hair and started rubbing it dry. Sarah figured it was safe for her to jump in the shower now, at least before Derek got in because he'd probably not come out for a long time.
Sweat and dirt shampooed and lathered out of her hair and skin, Sarah felt like she was rolling in luxury when she got into clean clothes. Savannah was curled up next to John on the bed, both of them looking half-asleep as they watched Nickelodeon on TV. Derek was mesmerized by the cartoons but he got up when Sarah waved him to the bathroom.
She'd been right about Derek; Cameron arrived a few minutes later with supper and they'd pretty much finished eating by the time Derek joined them. He sat at the table and grabbed an egg roll. From the way Derek gobbled up the food, Sarah got the impression that food was going to be a scarcity in the future.
"I almost forgot what egg rolls tasted like." Mouth full, Derek checked each container.
For once food didn't nauseate Sarah and she was able to enjoy her meal.
Cameron stood at the window the whole time, staring outside at the darkening street. "We need a laptop," she said over her shoulder.
"I've got John's laptop in the truck." Sarah glanced over at John who looked like he was fighting sleep. "Why do we need a laptop?"
"I need to recreate John Henry's virus." Cameron walked towards the door, pausing with her hand on the doorknob when John spoke.
"How'll that help us now?" John got up and went to wash his hands in the bathroom.
"We can make several copies and store them in places that won't be discovered before Judgment Day."
"We can't use it before?" John came back out, wiping his hands on his jeans.
"If we can find Skynet and get into its security system, yes. But the odds aren't in our favor. We'll have a better chance defeating Skynet once it takes control."
"So millions of people have to die before we can stop it?"
"Maybe there's a way of programming the virus with a safety feature that'll release it when the time is right," John said sleepily as he slid back onto the bed. "Something we can think about between now and then."
"You can recreate the virus?" Sarah sat back on the chair, watching Derek scratch the bottom of the fried rice container for the last granules.
"Yes. It's in my memory banks," Cameron said as she went outside.
Sarah felt like she was too full of nervous energy to contain in this small room. She held herself together, clearing a space on the table for the laptop, and then looking over Cameron's shoulder as she typed what looked like gibberish. Normally John would have watched Cameron work but he was barely able to focus on the cartoons playing on the TV. She guessed in less than a half hour, he'd be sleeping soundly. And Savannah probably wouldn't be too far behind.
Derek was staring at Cameron but without the malice she was used to seeing in his eyes. Obviously this Derek didn't trust her any more than the other Derek but he was more willing to accept her. Or maybe he was just better at hiding his feelings.
It was too late to search out a Laundromat and they didn't have the space to hang up all their clothes in the room, not with them living in it. Instead she walked around, putting a little order in their living area. By the time she finished, she was able to turn off the television without waking the two slumbering kids.
"You should get some sleep," Cameron said, still typing away. "You need your rest."
"I'm not tired." The words were barely out of Sarah's mouth when all the nervous energy she'd had left her, leaving her drained and tired.
"Kyle always said he had to drag you to bed because you never admitted you were tired. I see things never change." Derek scrubbed at his face. "Or never will change."
Sarah's jaw dropped at Derek's words. She'd never expected this; she and Kyle not only knew each other but had been together?
"What?" Derek looked at her in bewilderment. Then he seemed to realize what he'd said. "You didn't know?"
"I suspected, but I wasn't sure."
"He didn't say?" Both of them glanced over at John.
"He didn't quite come out and say it but he sort of hinted." She gave Derek a quick smile. "You're right, I am tired." A little embarrassed at his scrutiny, she sat at the edge of the bed. She pointed to the empty bed. "Knock yourself out." She curled up next to Savannah, her small body reminding Sarah of John when he'd been that young. She reminisced until she dozed off.
John tried to pretend his legs weren't shaking as he walked back to the truck. He showed their new room number to his mom as he got inside and she drove down the rows of identical doors until they came to number 54.
"It's got a view of the ocean," John said as he got out of the truck, repeating what the person in the motel's Office had told him.
"Ocean's three blocks away." Derek reached into the trunk and pulled their suitcase out.
"Doesn't mean we can't see it," John's mom said as she went to grab the large duffel bag that held what didn't fit in the suitcases. John made a grab for it and was a second too slow. "I got it." His mom hefted the duffel bag over one shoulder and motioned for John to go open the door.
Savannah skipped alongside him, waiting impatiently as he opened the door. But once he got the door open, John put a hand in front of her to stop her from running inside first. Cameron brushed past them, and only when she gave them an almost imperceptible nod that all was clear did he remove his hand to let Savannah through.
Another motel, same as the last. John sat heavily on the edge of the bed; the two-hour drive out of the city to this place had pretty much taken everything out of him.
Derek walked to the window and pushed back the curtain just enough to peek outside.
"Well?" John's mom asked.
"You can see a sliver of water between two buildings."
"Ocean view," John mumbled as his mom's cell phone rang.
"Is that my mommy?" Savannah asked, eyes big as saucers as she moved closer to John.
"I don't think so, honey." John wrapped an arm around her and leaned against her back, offering support. Savannah had been good about her missing mother but one day soon it would probably hit her, and hit her hard.
She leaned against him as his mother listened to whoever was on the other end of the phone. To his surprise, she gave them their address and hung up.
"James Ellison," she said, pocketing the phone.
"He's coming here?" John rocked Savannah slowly from side to side, and she giggled.
"He's got information. He was checking out Danny Dyson's disappearance."
John glanced over at Derek, who was rubbing his jaw. Their eyes met and John knew Derek had pertinent information about Miles Dyson's son. His mom caught their gaze and gave him a nod. They'd have to talk when Savannah was out of earshot.
John stopped next to the heavily chlorinated pool and stared down into its watery depth. The ceramic tiles were chipped and worn, testifying to the age of the place. Cameron, who'd been dogging him around the motel's property, stopped next to him and looked around. Savannah gave the pool a quick glance and moved on to examine the stunted and dried out garden.
"Shouldn't there be other children playing here?" Cameron spoke to John even though she kept her gaze on Savannah.
"The children are in school." He squinted up at the hazy sky.
"Ah," she said softly. "Jesse Flores lost her baby," she added after a pause.
"What? When?" John turned to Cameron in shock. "Does Derek know? She looked healthy when we left."
"Not his Jesse. Your Derek's Jesse."
John sat on a rickety deck chair underneath a faded umbrella and closed his eyes. Maybe this was part of the reason why she'd done did what she did.
"He didn't know," Cameron added.
John stretched his legs out in front of him and slunk down in the chair until his neck was resting against the hard metal frame. It was hot but nowhere near as hot as it had been in the desert.
Cameron canted her head to the side as she looked down at him. "You should be resting."
"Isn't that what I'm doing?"
"You'd be more comfortable in bed and away from the heat."
"Yes, I probably would." But he was fed up being cooped up inside. "Ellison will be here any second." Even as he said the words, a black sedan pulled into the motel's parking lot and parked next to their Dodge truck. "Speak of the devil," John muttered as Ellison stepped out of the car.
He stood and was about to get Savannah when he saw his mother and Derek step out of the motel. His mom greeted Ellison even as she looked around, searching for him. Spotting John and with a nod of her head, the three of started walking in his direction.
Savannah watched Ellison approach with both a frightened and hopeful expression. John felt bad for the kid; she probably associated the guy with her mother and he figured she was hoping for some sort of news. Ellison walked past John and went straight for Savannah, crouching down to her level and speaking with her for a few minutes.
Derek pulled two more deck chairs and dragged them under the umbrella's meagre shade. He and his mom sat, watching as Savannah stared down at her feet, nodding dejectedly a few times in response to whatever Ellison was saying to her.
Finally he offered her his hand and she took it. He led her back to the table where she let go of Ellison and leaned against John.
"Are you okay?" John put an arm around her as she buried her face against his shoulder.
She shook her head.
"What did you say to her?" John's mom demanded angrily.
"I told her I hadn't seen her mother." Ellison glared at each and every one of them. "You have to stop giving the child false hope."
"Like hell." As tired as he was, anger fueled his actions and he was on his feet with Savannah in his arms. "I came back; Catherine Weaver might just surprise us as well." John looked pointedly at Derek as an example just as Savannah started to cry.
"She doesn't need to hear any of this." He gave Ellison a parting glare before storming back to their room. He was angry, furious, but he made sure his hold on Savannah as he carried her back was gentle.
Once back in their motel room, John wasn't sure what to do. He sat on one of the beds and held Savannah as she sobbed. "I want my Mommy," she hiccupped.
"I know you do." John sighed as he tried to think of something to tell her. "But your mom had an important mission to finish. With John Henry."
"But I miss her," Savannah wailed in his ear.
"And she misses you."
"I want to go home."
Not sure what more to say, John let her cry herself out. The sobs eventually turned to hiccups and the hiccups to shaky breaths. As she sat there leaning against him trustingly, he felt rage against the machine that had taken this little girl's mother in order to achieve its agenda.
A car door slammed outside and a moment later, John's mother and uncle came back inside. Cameron stood in the doorway for a moment and John caught a glimpse of Ellison's car backing up and driving away. Then Cameron shut the door and took her usual spot by the window.
His mom sat on the bed next to John and ran a hand down Savannah's long hair. She raised swollen eyes towards his mom.
"How about we go wash your face?" She held a hand out and Savannah slowly reached for it, sliding away from John as she followed his mom into the bathroom.
"What did Ellison have to say?" John kept his voice deliberately low as the sound of running water came from the bathroom.
"Lead he had on Dyson didn't pan out."
John stared at Derek. "But you know where he is."
Derek's eyes flashed towards the bathroom.
"Did she find him?" John wasn't surprised it was his mother who had and not Ellison.
Derek's gaze met John's. "Yeah. Working for Kaliba. Pretty much brainwashed the kid; she had no choice."
He'd already known his mother would be the one to end Danny Dyson's life, but knowing didn't make the information any easier to digest. In the name of Skynet, the Connors had and would continue to decimate the Dyson family. John shut his eyes at the knowledge of what his mother would have to do. Everything was just so fucked up.
"Hey." Derek's voice was soft as he smiled at Savannah, whose eyes were still red and puffy as she came out of the bathroom. "I'm going to go get supper. Want to come help me choose?"
Savannah gave Derek a tentative nod.
One handed, Derek caught the keys John's mom tossed him.
"Take her with you." His mom inclined her head towards Cameron.
Derek's lips tightened but he didn't argue. Savannah followed him to the door then turned back to look at John nervously.
"Do you think we should get some dessert?" John asked in a falsely bright voice.
Savannah's smile was instantaneous. "Ice cream?"
John made a face, pretending he was thinking about it. "Hmmm. Chocolate?"
"Strawberry," Savannah declared.
"Strawberry it is." Derek put his hand out and she took it without hesitation and followed him out of the room.
The motel room felt empty with half their group gone.
Sarah was watching John, trying to gauge whether he was just tired or his fever was starting to spike again with the setting sun. He looked tired, but his eyes were clear when he glanced her way.
"Why didn't you tell me about you and Charley?" John's voice was soft, and it took her a moment to decipher exactly what he was asking.
She remembered the night in question vividly; the one that had led to her immediate predicament. She found herself gently rubbing her abdomen and deliberately stilled her hand.
"It wasn't supposed to happen." She tried to smile but it felt forced.
"But it did happen. You didn't even tell me you'd gone to see him."
"I wanted to make sure he was safe."
"You wanted to make sure there was a safe place to dump me if you got sick."
The hurt and anger in John's voice was painful to hear. Sarah wished he hadn't come to this conclusion, at least not so soon. There had been enough hurt without dredging this up. "I thought I had cancer—"
"And you didn't think I'd want to be there for you?"
She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. "You had more important things to worry about."
"Nothing's more important than you—"
"Everything's more important than me."
John shook his head slowly. "Not to me." The anger faded and he looked almost defeated. She hurriedly sat next to him and he leaned his shoulder against hers. A quick touch to his cheek showed that his skin was a bit warmer than normal. "I'm okay." He leaned his head against her shoulder, belying his words.
Sarah brought up one of the things she'd been worrying over the past few days. "We're going to have to do something about Savannah."
"Do something about her? You're talking like she's some sort of animal or pet."
"She can't stay with us. It's too dangerous."
John pulled away from her and gave her a lopsided smile. "Mom, you're going to have a baby. It'll be no more dangerous for Charley than it will be for Savannah." His face paled suddenly as his eyes widened. "You're not thinking of—''
"No!" Sarah exclaimed. "No." This time she spoke more softly. "I'm keeping the baby. Charley," she amended.
"We're keeping the baby," John said determinedly. "And Savannah."
"You said something about in the future, she was with Ellison?"
"So now she'll be with us."
John stretched his neck and Sarah realized his fever-headache was starting. She got up and dug through the bag that held the Tylenol. She handed him two along with a bottle of water and he drank it down without complaint.
"Do you want to talk about what happened to you?" Sarah asked tentatively. They hadn't had much time alone, this might be the only chance they got to talk for a while.
John glanced away from her. "Nothing much to talk about."
"I know it mustn't have been pleasant."
John pursed his lips together. "It was, and it wasn't. You'd done some amazing things, Mom. I'm not sure if I'll be able to build half the things you did with what you had."
"Well, hopefully we'll build these things together this time."
John smiled at her weakly.
"And we've got Derek. Go figure."
John swallowed. "Yeah." His voice thickened. "Go figure."
"I'm sorry about Kyle. Sorry you didn't get to spend more time with him."
John's throat worked and his chin trembled as he tried to hold in his emotions. "Me, too."
"I think we're going to lay low for a while. Take a breather and try and figure out what to do about Kaliba."
John's next breaths were shaky but they evened out quickly. They sat there for a few minutes, until John spoke, his voice low.
"There was a girl there." He sighed softly. "She was Charley's girlfriend. Her name was Allison."
Only Savannah and Derek truly enjoyed the fast food they'd brought back for supper. John had picked at his and Sarah had been fighting nausea from the moment the smell of greasy French fries had filled the room. She sat in the far corner next to the air conditioning unit, far away from the leftovers still sitting on the table.
She stared at Cameron, trying to imagine the cyborg as a human, or rather, a human with the cyborg's face, voice and body, and came up lacking.
John was stretched out on one of two king-sized beds, watching television with Savannah, who once again was curled up against him. He was so good with children, she had no worries about how he'd take to the brother she'd be giving him.
Derek was sitting in one of the chairs, legs stretched in front of him, eyes on the television but he didn't have the same rapt attention he'd had the first time he'd watched. Not that the novelty had worn off, Sarah thought his mind was somewhere else. Most likely on Danny Dyson and how to take care of the problem Miles Dyson's son had now created.
Her nausea got worse and she hurried to the bathroom. She hated morning sickness with a passion, and it was worse now, living under the same roof with four others. At least she no longer had to hide it.
Five minutes later, feeling slightly better, she was surprised to come out of the bathroom to find Cameron and Derek missing.
"Where'd they go?" She went to the window and saw the truck was gone.
"They went to take care of something." John sounded distracted, but he was watching her and she realized he'd kept his tone light in deference to Savannah.
"What? What did they go take care of?"
"They were going to go look up an old friend's son. Derek had a pretty good idea where he was."
"Do I know this friend?" Savannah piped in.
"No, I don't think so," John answered.
"Is he my age? Can I play with him like John Henry?"
"They're just going to go say hello, sweetheart." Sarah pulled out the girl's pajamas and handed them to her. "How about you get ready for bed."
Sarah waited until the bathroom door closed behind Savannah. "Why did you let them go?" she hissed.
"Because Derek knew where Danny was."
"She's going to kill him," she said in an accusatory voice when she realized that this Derek probably knew more about her immediate future than the other Derek.
John met Sarah's gaze head on. "Yeah. Probably."
She was feeling on edge; she wanted to pace but the room was too tiny. Instead she emptied out their bags and repacked everything carefully, taking inventory at the same time. Savannah was fast asleep by the time she finished, curled up trustingly against John, who was watching her, his eyes heavy with fatigue.
Her nervous energy disappeared nearly as quickly as it had come, leaving her shaky and tired. She got ready for bed, slipping next to Savannah.
John turned onto his side to look at her. His eyes were glassy with fever.
"You shouldn't have let him go," Sarah whispered as she touched a hand to his hot cheek.
"They know where he is."
"They can't stop Skynet."
"Derek felt they needed to stop him."
Sarah rubbed John's temple with her thumb. "He's different. Derek. And yet the same."
John smiled. "Your influence."
"Scary thought." She pulled her hand back, trying to relax while listening for the sound of their truck returning. She dozed off and on, waking every time John stirred restlessly. It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that his fever finally broke and he fell into a deep sleep. She was just drifting off herself when she heard the truck pull up.
Sarah was out of bed and out the door just as the two were getting out of the truck. "What the hell were you thinking?" she demanded, getting into Derek's personal space. He stared at her with wide eyes, surprise all over his face. "What if you'd gotten caught?"
"We didn't get caught." Cameron's reply was matter of fact.
"They were using the kid; he needed to be terminated."
"And you decided that all on your own?"
"No." Derek seemed to have regained his composure, staring at her with a calm expression. "You did. In the future."
Sarah almost gasped in surprise. She turned to Cameron, who gave her a short nod. She drew a shaky breath and stepped back, only to see John standing in the doorway.
"What's going on?" He looked half-asleep but moved aside to let Derek access to the room. "What did Mom do in the future?"
"Sarah asked Derek to take care of Danny Dyson," Cameron said as she walked past.
"I would've done it. I would've taken care of what was necessary." Sarah shut the door behind her and leaned against it, next to John. "We don't even know if it was—"
"It was." Derek glanced at the sleeping child in the bed, and kept his voice barely above a whisper. "You did take care of it and it gave you recurring nightmares. Kyle always said that was one thing he'd wished he'd have been able to have done for you. Consider this a gift from my brother."
"Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment," Sarah said with a deliberately cold voice as she stepped away from the door, "but next time you decide to take care of something, it would be appreciated if you discuss the matter with me first."
"Mom. Derek and I talked about it."
"And what? You decided to take care of a problem without thinking things through first?"
"No." John straightened his shoulders minutely and the look he gave her was pure Kyle. She had a fleeting hint of what John would be like in the future. "Derek told me what happens to Danny in the future and why you did what you had to do. He decided we needed to change that particular event in the future. I agreed with his decision."
Sarah was pretty sure once she'd thought this over, she'd agree with John regarding Derek and Cameron's actions. Right now, though, she was angry that they'd acted without consulting her. "This isn't a committee," Sarah spat at him before turning tail and going back outside.
John had expected his mom to come back into the room after cooling off. Cameron was watching her through the window, sitting at the edge of the pool by herself. She'd been there for the past thirty minutes.
Finally John couldn't take it anymore. He slipped on his boots and walked across the motel's property, the morning air damp and cool, causing goose bumps to rise on his bare arms.
Footsteps crunched behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see Derek following. John sat in the chair next to his mom.
Derek moved around them and stood facing them. "You know, I always thought you were the way you were because you survived Judgment Day."
"You mean a bitch?" His mom's voice was sarcastic.
"Yeah." Derek smiled, his eyes shining in the slowly brightening day. "The tough bitch on the exterior with the soft heart. Didn't realize you were always that way."
"Don't let the exterior fool you. I'm just as tough inside." His mom's words sounded harsh but there was a hint of a smile.
Derek's smile widened. "Kyle says otherwise. Said otherwise," he amended quickly. "I saw you with Charley and with John. With Savannah. You loved them. You still love them." Derek's glance met John's.
His mom lowered her head, averting her gaze. John reached a hand out to her and waited until she looked up at him. "Let's go inside."
She nodded slowly, took his hand and they stood.
He paused, turning to look back at Derek. "What can I do for you, Derek?"
Derek shoved his hands in his pockets, but remained still, letting John's mother walk a few steps ahead of them.
John became uncomfortable under his uncle's scrutiny and was just about to take off after his mom when Derek finally spoke.
"You're a lot like your brother."
John's smile was instantaneous and he gave a sideways glance at Derek. "Is that a good thing?"
Derek began to walk and John joined him, stride for stride, a mere two steps behind his mother. "Yeah, it is."
"The future's going to be different, you know, from the one you came from."
His mom went into the motel room leaving the door opened in her wake but John and Derek stopped just short of stepping into the room.
"Mom won't be the one in charge. My father, not your Kyle, but the one my mom remembers, said I was the one to lead people in the resistance."
Derek gave him a quick nod, and held out his hand. "Well since that's the case, I'm very glad to meet you, John Connor."
Author's Comments: I couldn't have done this without devra - she was there every time I got stuck, sorted through all the time travel stuff even though I know it gives her headaches, and reread this fic with an open mind. Thank you for being there :)
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