Deslea R. Judd
Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Character/Pairing: Sarah/Derek. Romance, angst, with a fair helping of plot/retcon
Rating: NC17 for some adult moments
Warnings: Spoilers for the whole series.
Summary: Sarah never got to tell John that they had family still. But she knew what she had to do to save all of them. And the world.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
Feedback: deslea at deslea dot com.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com
Author Notes: This story works as a standalone piece; however, there is also a second story coming soon in the same universe, called Paradigm Shift. I am separating it out because the second story is more of an ensemble piece.
** PRELUDE: INTO THE NEXUS **
"I'll stop it," she'd whispered. Final promise to a fleeing son who thought there was nothing left for him but a dying mother in a dying world.
It was suicide. Removing himself from history was a form of self-annihilation, by a man who had lost too much too fast. He could not come out of that time displacement field alive. Not without someone to send Kyle back and father him all over again.
He would step in, and never step out.
He acted too fast to realise what he had done.
*Did he?* her mind jangled. *Did he?*
And in that moment, she thought with dark certainty that John knew exactly what he was doing.
I did this, she thought frantically, and the enormity of the last few days suddenly lodged in the pit of her stomach, hitting her there like a sinking stone. Was this what her rejection of people, of loved ones did to him? Driven him to follow Cameron - that lifeless, deathless *thing* - even knowing he would be obliterated in the attempt?
I'm not dying, she thought. I never got to tell you I wasn't dying after all. I never got to tell you we had family still.
And then it all fell into place. What she had to do to save all of them. And the world.
She thought all this before he was really gone. And then she made the decision that would tether him in time… before it could eat him alive.
"I love you, John," she whispered, and the final strands of crackling blue light flickered away.
Kneeling, Sarah rummaged through John's clothes, puddled shapelessly on the floor. She did it quickly, with no idea of how long her decision alone would be enough to keep him safe. The sooner she acted, the better.
But there was one loose end that had to be handled first. She found what she was looking for in John's pocket. Rising, she handed it to Ellison.
"If everything goes according to plan, you're going to need this."
He looked down at the Polaroid and then back up at her. "Where are you going?"
She was already typing at the terminal, hoping to God she was doing this right. Otherwise she might wind up as so many bits of permanently displaced antimatter. But there was no time left to second guess. No time left in the world.
For the second time in the space of minutes, a ball of blue light began to form in Catherine Weaver's basement. She stepped into it, as resolutely as she had stepped out of the first.
"To fix it," she said. "You'll see me again."
Ellison's bewildered face was the last thing she saw.
** ONE: THE FIRST ITERATION **
"The only thing stopping me from killing you is that you killed her to protect us."
Derek held her gaze. Solemn. Leaning there against the refrigerator, he guessed he looked like a man waiting to be sent to the gallows. His posture was quite calculated.
"Do what you need to do, Sarah," he said resignedly. "I'm yours. I always was. Do what you want."
His intentions were utterly manipulative. He knew that the chances of Sarah letting him stay after all this were just about nil. Especially if, as he suspected, Jesse had survived. The trail of blood leading to her car space had not been wholly convincing for a mortal wound.
Manipulation or not, though, he discovered when he said it that he also meant every word. Funny how that always seemed to happen with her, he thought with sour amusement.
She was toying with her gun, and for a minute he thought she really might kill him. But then, abruptly, she slid it away from her on the laminate. She slammed him hard against the cabinets.
"I fucking hate you for doing this to us," she hissed, hot breath on his face.
That makes two of us, he thought, but then her mouth was pressed hard against his and he couldn't answer. They had done this enough times now that he knew she didn't want to hear it. That was Sarah all over, really, at least since she killed Sarkissian. And he was sick of it, but his mouth still fell open and his fingertips still danced over her collarbone and he still took her fury from her and gave tenderness back, because he didn't know what else to do to reach her.
But this was different. The fury wasn't dissipating. It was growing. His shirt tore under her hands, and it turned him on and scared the shit out of him at the same time. He flung his head back away from her, striking it painfully on the cabinet, and stared at her, ashen.
Something about his reaction seemed to give her grim satisfaction. "You're mine? You're really mine?"
"Yes." It was a whisper, resigned and angry too. What *right* did she have to own him when she couldn't love him? She didn't give a shit that he'd been sleeping with Jesse, as long as she still had him by the balls, and that made him burn with humiliation.
"I'm going to fuck you so hard that you're not even going to remember what she felt like," she whispered against his ear, drawing his hand into her jeans. He found warm, slick flesh; no knickers. She'd meant to do this all along. Of course she had. And damn it all, he wanted her, wanted to hear her moan into his ear as he slid his fingers deep inside her, wanted her to sink down onto him and *squeeze*-
"Jesus," he groaned, kissing her hard and finding her breast with the hand that wasn't already busy in her crotch. "Oh, my God."
"Fuck me," she said, shivering lightly as his fingers slipped out of her, sliding over her as he drew them out of her pants.
"This get you hot, Connor?" he muttered. "Fucking with someone who loves you?" It didn't stop him from pulling off her shirt.
"Loves me?" she said scornfully, working his buckle free. She did it viciously, like she was loading a rifle. "You were with someone else until, how long is it now? Twelve hours ago?"
"What the hell did you expect to happen?" he demanded, as together they pushed her up on the bench, ready to engulf him. "You won't let me in!"
"I'm letting you in now," she said through gritted teeth as he shoved into her. "Oh, God, like that. Fuck." Then, as she clung to him, urging him on, she looked into his eyes with sudden clarity. She said softly, cryptically, "This is all there is." He thought it was the first totally real, totally unscripted thing she'd said all night.
Their shared climax felt and sounded like a mortal wound.
"I don't want a goddamn pregnancy test."
"We had a lawsuit a year ago, Connor." Fleetingly, she realised it had been years since anyone but Derek had called her that. "A prisoner didn't know she was pregnant, and she lost the baby. So now we test all women of childbearing age when they come into the system." The prison nurse - young, male, probably poorly-paid - dropped the professional veneer and added wryly, "Specially ones who puke as much as you do."
"So much for my right to privacy."
"God bless America. Land of the free, except for whackjobs like you. You gonna give me that sample, or do I have to set up a catheter here?"
Sarah gave it.
"Well, the rabbit died," the nurse said as she wriggled back into her orange jumpsuit. "Bet the dad's a con, too, right? Great life your kid's gonna have there. Born on death row and straight into foster care - *and* on my taxes, thank you *very* much."
Sarah froze, staring up at the nurse in shock. The rabbit reference was lost on her, but holy *shit* the rest of it made sudden, nightmarish sense.
Images washed over her. Derek in his prison blues, clinging to her, covered in blood. Dragging her shirt over her head that night, loving her and cursing her in the same breath. Staring sightlessly at her, drenched in sunlight on Catherine Weaver's floor.
All this warred with a bizarre mental picture of Bugs Bunny holding up a blue pee stick. She almost asked what the rabbit thing was about, then decided against it. Instead, she echoed stupidly, "Pregnant?"
"What did you think all the puking was for, then, huh?"
*Radiation sickness or cancer,* she thought. *Who would have thought a sexually active woman in her thirties was just pregnant?* Waves of horror began to wash over her as it started to sink in; grimly, she pushed them down. She had things to take care of first.
The nurse picked up her chart. "Well, we'll start you on folate, and then-"
"Don't write it down," she said urgently.
He looked at her, frowning. "What's in it for me?"
"One less foster kid on your dime, for starters. Get me some RU-486, and then we'll talk trade." She didn't know if she would take them, but it would buy her time to figure it out. He didn't need to write it down if he thought she was going to get rid of it. Maybe she'd be out of the headlines and John well away in Mexico before anyone found out.
He put the pen down. "Just call it my civic duty," he said, shooting her a grin as he rapped on the glass to summon the guard.
He whistled as she was dragged away.
She set things in motion for John that day, sending him the tools for his escape, and that night, she had her strange visit from Agent Auldridge.
She was too preoccupied to do more than register the many odd things about his little speech. Hell, maybe he really did believe her, she thought with self-indulgent, slightly wistful hope, and maybe Danny Dyson was a problem. Or a victim. But she would think about it later; all she could do now was protect John and get him well out of the way.
With these matters settled, the switch in her brain set to "John" flicked off. It didn't happen often -? only in those rare moments where she was both restrained and temporarily safe, where she must simply stop and wait. It happened sometimes in Pescadero and it happened sometimes in jail, and those were just about the only times, ever.
But for now, she had done what she could. She had sent John and Cameron the means for their escape. She had kept the baby out of the media and out of the files, at least for a while. There was no way John would leave it alone if he knew she was pregnant. Especially not if he worked out it was Derek's. And if he didn't, he would think it was Charley's, and that was almost as bad.
This way, hopefully he would be in Mexico and off the grid by the time the news hit.
If it ever hit at all.
She allowed herself to slump, and her body to slide down. She smoothed her prison jumpsuit over her still-flat stomach and allowed herself to really think about what had just happened.
She still didn't believe it, not really. She hadn't been sick when she was having John, but since that last night with Derek, she'd hardly eaten, hardly slept, and brought up what little she ate. She'd thought ?- she'd really thought ?- it was the cumulative effects of shock, betrayal, anger, hurt, and most recently, a double dose of grief over Derek and Charley. All of them hot on the heels of a near-fatal gunshot wound.
She had no idea whether she really would take the drugs, if and when they were forthcoming. She'd spent so much of her life shrinking from death that she could hardly even imagine taking them.
But Derek was dead, she was facing death row, and this baby could be used against John.
She toyed with the idea of a plea bargain. She could plead to the kidnapping if they'd take death off the table and let her have the baby in privacy. A closed adoption. Something like that.
*What for?* her mind jangled. To die a horrible death when the bombs fell? No warning, no training, no protection?
"You realise you'd do anything to keep from watching the world burn again," Derek had said. Could it be that he would want this? Would he have wanted her to spare their child the horrors he and Kyle had endured?
More than anything, she wished he was here to ask.
*I miss you,* she thought, and she felt warm, salty tears rising in her throat, and she realised with something like wonder that she could let them out, if she wanted to. John was gone, and there was nothing she needed to do right now. No machine, no burial, no hasty relocation. Nothing.
Could she really indulge in her grief?
And if she did, would it ever stop?
His face rose up in her mind, and unwilling, grudging love with it, the love that she had fought tooth and nail while he was alive. She'd fought because of Kyle and because of John and because she knew deep down that she could never just walk away from him, and that made them terribly dangerous to each other.
But he'd worked his way in anyway, at least until Sarkissian. After that, she had turned away from him. She'd feared he would see the truth in her eyes.
Stupid, she thought, pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead, her eyes shut tight. Derek was a pragmatist and a killer. He wouldn't have thought less of John for killing Sarkissian; moreover, he could have got him through it.
But then, that wasn't the truth she'd cared about, was it?
*I failed John,* she thought. *I taught him to survive, but I never taught him to live with what he would have to do to survive. And I didn't want Derek to know.*
The tears rose up again, and this time, she couldn't have stopped them if she'd tried. She grieved for all of them, their messed up little family, two fallen brothers and their lost sons, and for the ones who had died for them along the way.
When the wracking sobs had been and gone, she slept, her hands cradling her belly and the child within.
** TWO: THE SECOND ITERATION **
John Derek Connor was born in El Salvador in 1993. A juvenile delinquent of very nearly the same name was eight years old and living in foster care in Los Angeles.
She didn't mean to name him for John and Derek. She'd planned to name him something totally new and untainted. But when the midwife handed him to her for the first time, she had broken into sudden tears. There was *so much* of them in this baby.
*I'm sorry,* she thought. *I'm so sorry for what I did to both of you.*
They spent that night in a hammock on the verandah of her cabin overlooking Lago de Coatepeque, the mountains rising up around them. J.D. slept and woke and made tiny mewing noises until she guided him to her breast, stroking his downy head under the stars.
"Once upon a time, there was a man named Derek," she said softly, "and that man was the bravest man in the whole world. Because he knew that love was dangerous for people like us and he did it anyway. And he did it because he was a soldier, and he knew that the only way a soldier can survive for very long is if he has people who have his back."
J.D. flexed his little hands, and just for a moment, she thought she felt Derek's fingers tracing circles over her collarbone. She'd been so hard by the end. So angry. About Jesse, about Sarkissian, about those three damn dots and feeling like no one was listening. About everything. How had Derek ever found anything left in there to love?
"I'm going to get it right this time," she whispered. "I promise."
In the quiet days that followed, J.D. at her breast, Sarah thought a lot about them. It was forced reflection time - hours every day where she had to stop, to think. To wind down. To gaze down at this new baby's thoughtful eyes and think about John and what she had inflicted on him. Not the machines, which were not her fault, but two other elements entirely in her control that, it seemed to her now, had been his undoing.
Her first error was the isolation. The pushing away of loved ones. When Riley and Charley and Derek were shaved away in the space of days - loved ones he acquired despite her best efforts - who else did he have to run to but the machines? And her second error was her insistence that they would never kill. John was a soldier. By instilling in him a belief that he could never live up to, she had set him up to be ripped apart.
"Once upon a time, there was a man named John, and he lived in a land far away. And John lived through many trials. And his mother wished she could stop those trials, but if she did, then time might carry him away from her forever. So she had to trust that he would survive them all over again, just like she taught him."
She missed John. Missed him like an amputated limb. Wanted to share with him the things she'd learned. But if his life deviated in any way, their parallel timelines might separate, and John might be lost in the displacement field forever. Not only would there be a John-sized hole in her heart, which she could live with if she must, but there might be no way to repair the John-sized hole in human history that he would leave behind.
So she watched. Watched the newscasts. Watched the footage of the T-1000 chasing John and the T-800 down the main street. Watched the footage of the bank heist and the explosion. She watched John's suffering all over again, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
All she could do was learn from her mistakes, and groom J.D. to step into the void he would leave behind.
They lived quietly off the grid in Mexico. Sarah was known for her tomatoes and her marijuana - in honesty, the latter rather more than the former. Certainly the terms of exchange - IDs and guns - were much more to her tastes. Some things never change.
But a lot of things had changed, she thought, as J.D. put the finishing touches on his sand castle.
For one thing, there were no abusive stepfathers. Sarah didn't need to trade her body for knowledge anymore. She'd learned from the best in a former life. The life that John, her John, was suffering for right now and she was powerless to stop. It wasn't fair that J.D. would be protected when John wasn't, and she ached for him every day.
Another difference was that there were no machines. If everything went to plan, that might come, but there was no sign of it yet. Again, John would suffer and they would live in peace, and Sarah could no more change it than she could reverse the tide.
So for now, Sarah and J.D. had a time of peace and healing. For Sarah, it was tainted by guilt, but even in her guilt, the sun and the sea and working the earth all seemed to be working those hard edges out of her, little by little.
She looked up automatically, although she already knew the answer. "No, that's just a tourist. You won't meet Kyle until you're all grown up." They had this conversation often at the moment. It was a bit of a phase.
"¿Qué es él blanco?"
"He's white like us because he's from Estados Unidos like us. Please speak some English. You're going to need it one day."
"All right, Mama." He clapped his chubby little hands. "Look at my sand castle."
"Please speak some English, Mama," he mimicked. "You're going to need it one day."
She smirked and ruffled his hair. Brown hair, like Derek's.
"Why do I have to send him back?"
To start the whole mess again, she thought. "So he can be John's papa. And you have to send Derek so he can be your papa."
J.D. thought on this, brushing sand off his hands. "How will I find them?"
*All you have to do is be the messiah, and they'll find you,* she thought sourly, but she didn't say so. Instead, she picked him up and said, "Well, you know that island we went to in Panama?"
He nodded. "I walked in the swamp. It felt funny on my feet."
"We're going to live there. Just you and me to start with, but there will be more people later. And they're all going to help you. Because a good soldier needs people to watch his back."
"Where will you get them?" he asked, twisting her hair between little fingers.
"That's the beauty of it," she whispered. "They were around us all along."
"Mom, are you home?"
Sarah wiped her face. "Just a second. Don't come in." Stupid thing to say - it just made him come in sooner.
He burst in, all six feet of him. In the field, he was graceful and light-footed, but in her house, he trod in heavy adolescent steps, not afraid to make noise and to take up space. He was taller and broader than John. He was more and more like Derek every day.
He looked at her, taking in her flushed, tearful face, and darted an alarmed glance at the frozen image on the TV screen. And then his knees seemed to buckle.
"Yes. I caught it off the satellite feed this morning. He's been arrested."
She nodded, still blinking back stinging tears. "Don't tell Terissa. She isn't ready for that yet."
J.D. nodded. "Yeah, she's going to take some seasoning, and she'll never be a soldier. But she's got a good stategic mind. She'll be useful in other ways." He added absently, "She said Danny was an intern at Kaliba." He was still staring at the TV in wonder.
"I know. I think he's going to teach you to re-program the machines. I think when he goes missing a year from now, it's because we bring him here."
"And in the meantime, he's helping them." J.D.'s expression was one of distaste. He had never been protected by the machines, never even seen one except on surveillance from a distance. He had none of John's affinity with them, and she thought that was a good thing, but he would have to learn to work with them on at least a limited basis.
"He's also learning from them. We've talked about this. Minimal interference, and nothing that could affect Sarah and John." It was no longer odd to speak of her younger self in the third person. She really was like a different person. "No one comes here until after the last time they saw them. No one comes here until after the last thing they did that could affect them."
"I know, I know." He crouched beside her and studied the still image of Derek thoughtfully. "He's like me."
She drew in her breath and let it out again. It hitched almost inperceptibly in her chest. "Yeah. He's a lot like you."
He looked at her with interest. "You loved him."
"I didn't show it very well, but yeah. I loved him."
"More than Kyle?"
She looked sideways at him in surprise. She'd always thought he'd wanted to know, but she never thought he'd ask.
"Differently than Kyle," she said after a moment. "Kyle was my hero when I was a frightened girl. He didn't even really know me. He was a sweet kid in love with a photograph. Derek and I were adults together. He loved me when I could barely stand the sight of myself." And right now he was in a prison, about to meet her younger self. About to fall in love with her, and give her life along the way to his death.
"We could save him," J.D. said idly.
She felt too hurt, too bruised to react as she normally would have. She only turned back to the TV screen and said again, "We've talked about this."
"We don't take anyone who died in front of them, or anyone they saw dead, or anyone they found out was dead later. It's practically gospel here. But Mom," he said, suddenly quiet, "I know what you're going to do when the timelines merge."
She turned to look at him. Stunned. She didn't ask what he meant, and she didn't try to deny it. "How do you know?"
"Because it's the right strategic move. And I'm not going to try to stop you. But Mom, I'm not ready to go it alone."
"You're not alone. There are thirty people on this island solely dedicated to having your back, and more coming all the time. And you can do it without me. I believe in you. I wouldn't do it if I didn't."
"Yes, you would. And you should. Doesn't mean I don't want you to stay." He sighed and turned away. Rose and headed for the door. Paused there.
"You know," he said, "there's really not a lot of difference between him being dead and them just thinking he's dead."
He left, and Sarah stared after him, her tears forgotten.
Could she? she wondered. Just once? Would fate and time let her get away with just one sleight of hand?
She looked back at the TV screen. Derek's mugshot looked back at her sightlessly. He was alive, and he was just a few thousand miles away, closer than they had been in sixteen years. Almost close enough to touch.
And she could feel him tracing circles on her collarbone.
She started dreaming of him that night.
She hadn't dreamed of him in years. But there he was, staring into a room filled with turbines and crackling blue light. He said in wonder, "What is all this?"
"This is all there is," she whispered, and drew his hand to her belly, lacing his fingers with hers.
"Does this make you hot, Connor?" he said, his fingers dancing over her collarbone. "Fucking with someone who loves you?"
She looked up at him and cradled his neck with her hand. "I failed John, and I didn't want you to know."
And then he was kissing her, he was forgiving her, he was filling her with life and with second chances that were almost within her grasp.
** THREE: DETOUR **
Consciousness came slowly.
That wasn't usual for him. He was usually ready to rush to the surface at the slightest hint of danger.
But then, he'd been asleep at the switch quite a bit lately. Between wanting Sarah and letting Jesse play Mata Hari to his misplaced nostalgia, he figured he'd been operating without the benefit of full blood supply to his brain for the better part of a year now.
But still, this was a different level of sluggishness again.
*Drugged,* he thought. *I've been drugged.*
Fully awake now - at least mentally - he tugged at his wrists and ankles. His limbs were still weak, but they were well bound, and he doubted escape was possible even once the drugs wore off. He was on his side, with a warm blanket around him. It seemed like an odd touch.
He debated whether to draw attention to himself, but he figured someone was already keeping tabs on him, so what the hell? "Where am I, and why do I feel like I was hit by a bus?"
"You've been mostly dead all day," a woman answered deadpan. The voice was familiar, but he couldn't place it. Then, after a moment, she went on, "Damn. I forgot. You wouldn't know it. You probably weren't born when it came out. It's probably not your kind of movie, anyway."
"Do I know you?"
"Only in passing. But I'm not an enemy."
"Yeah, because my friends tie me up all the time."
Sounds. Movements behind him. "I have to drug you again," she said. "I'm sorry, but I'm cleared for takeoff, and I can't fly and worry about you at the same time. It's just chloroform this time."
He made wild, futile sounds of protest, and had time only to register the brush of glossy black hair on his face before darkness descended once more.
He woke several times on the journey - enough to piece together that they were in a helicopter, not a plane. He called out, but the woman didn't answer. Probably had her earmuffs on. Theoretically, he could probably use this as an advantage, but to what end? They were in the air. There was nowhere to go. He didn't know how to fly.
The last time he woke, the chopper was descending. The blades overhead slowed as they landed with a thud. There was a rush of air in the cabin as his captor opened the front cabin and jumped down. He identified the terrain under her boots as grass.
"Package is in the back," she yelled over the dying motor. "I have to go - I've got to get back to L.A. before Father Bonilla starts looking for me. I've got a charter waiting for me at Bocas." A short, unintelligible exchange followed.
He felt a jolt, accompanied by a sliding noise. The rear cabin door being opened. Someone climbed in behind him and began to work the knots at his wrists undone. Small, female hands. It wouldn't take much to disarm her.
He was just about to shift his weight to tackle her, when a familiar voice said, "Hello, Derek."
He turned his head with a vicious snap that made his neck ache, and found himself staring into the face of Lauren Fields.
Lauren's gun was drawn as she cut his bounds and stepped swiftly away. The safety was on, and Derek didn't think she meant to shoot him.
He stepped down from the helicopter, still a little groggy from the chloroform, and looked around him, studying the terrain. Lauren waited, letting him get his bearings.
They were on a purpose-built helipad, but otherwise in natural surroundings. Mentally, he ruled out a commercial helipad. He doubted it was a military base, but he couldn't be sure. It was humid. The vegetation wasn't exactly like anything he'd seen in LA, either.
He moved towards her. Wary, but not hostile. She raised her weapon in a sign of truce and put it in her waistband at her back. He nodded, raising his own hands so she could see them.
She led him away. "There's lots to tell, and not a lot of time. Come on."
They tramped along the trail in silence for a few moments. He lagged behind her, peering curiously at the pristine flora around them. "Where are we?"
"A private island off Bocas del Toro. Sarah set it up a long time ago."
He stiffened. He didn't believe that. "Sarah would have told me." He lengthened his strides, catching up with Lauren. Ready to tackle her and disarm her and figure out what the fuck was going on.
Lauren heard him coming. Whirled around, her weapon suddenly back in her hand. She held it, slightly downwards, but obviously with no intention of letting him get the advantage. He thought idly that she'd come a long way.
"I'm sure she would have, if she could. But she did it later. Or earlier. Whatever."
He blinked twice, and then he understood. "She jumped back?"
"Yes. After you and John were gone."
A chill fell over him. "Gone?" he echoed.
"Dead, in your case," Lauren said calmly. "Jumped forward, in John's." She nodded to the cabin rising up in the clearing before them. "Here we are."
Derek's mind reeled at that. Not so much his own death - he'd picked that coming a mile off, one way or another. But John jumping forward - that was something different. How far had he jumped? How could he be so *stupid*?
"Come on," Lauren urged. "You don't have to stand there trying to work it out, you know. I'm going to tell you everything." She made a beeline for the cabin.
It was small, on two levels. The lower level was an open breezeway with storage lockers each side. They looked like gun lockers. Derek followed Lauren up the wooden stairs onto a wraparound verandah with views over the compound to one side, the water on the other. It was only from here that he began to comprehend the extent of Sarah's operation.
The logistics were impressive. A helipad. A dock. An air control tower. A firing range. Some kind of obstacle course. And he could only see maybe a third of the place.
It wasn't only transport and training, though. Taking in the cluster of houses, the flickers of light and sounds of meals being served, he realised in wonder that Sarah wasn't working alone anymore.
"We're off the grid here," Lauren was saying. "Far enough away from key military targets to survive. That's our number one priority now. We can't stop the war anymore."
He stared at her.
Nightmarishly, he wondered if the machines had found a way to replace Sarah. The compound was something she was fully capable of, but the rest of it? Working with people? A mission that did not involve stopping the war? No. Not Sarah. And it would explain why Lauren, rather than Sarah had met him.
If Sarah had been replaced, he thought with a chill, then she was-
No, he wouldn't go there. Not yet.
"Why can't we stop it?" he said finally.
Lauren stepped inside the cabin for a moment. She returned with bottled water. "Here, have this. You must be dehydrated."
He took it, but didn't open it. Until he was sure what was going on here, he wasn't eating, drinking, or taking anything they gave him.
"I said, why can't we stop it?"
Lauren sat down on a wicker chair and nodded to a second one beside her. "Derek, John jumped to 2027. He followed Cameron."
Derek bit back a string of obscenities towards his wayward nephew. Of all the stupid- "If he goes forward, then there's no one to send-" he stopped short.
"Kyle," she said. "I know."
He didn't ask how she knew. Sitting down heavily, he said, "And that means no more timelines with John." It occurred to him that it might also mean that Kyle would live. But then, would anyone live without John?
Lauren nodded. "I know. That's why we can't stop it anymore."
"I don't follow." Of course, time travel being what it was, it wouldn't have been the first time.
"We don't fully understand how it works, but as best we can figure out, at the moment, there are two parallel timelines that rely on each other. Our one has a leader, who can only exist if John's timeline exists. And John's one doesn't have a leader at all. If we can make them merge again, then it all works out."
Derek nodded slowly. So far, it hung together.
"But if we try to stop Judgement Day and succeed, then our timeline branches off from John's. His timeline continues to J-Day without a leader. It might branch off even if we fail, and then neither timeline will have a leader to bring them through."
And if you're wrong about any of this, he thought sourly, it might all fall down like a house of cards anyway.
He thought it over. Said slowly, "Haven't you varied it already, by removing me from the picture? That wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken me. What makes you think John and Sarah - the other Sarah - aren't looking for me right now?"
Lauren said awkwardly, "You died, Derek. At the Weaver house. A T-888 got you."
He stared at her. Grappling with his own demise, his narrow escape - and then, the implications. What they must have done to ensure the integrity of the timeline. He grasped her wrist in sudden fury. "They think I'm *dead*?"
Reluctantly, she nodded. "We drugged you, and posed you, and they think you're dead." Then, calmly, "You're hurting me."
Shamefacedly, he released her. She rubbed her wrist with her other hand.
"Sorry. It's not every day you find out you died."
"I suppose not."
"So who did it? Who faked my death for me?"
"Sarah gave the order."
He felt a flare of real anger. "She did that? To her own *son*?"
Lauren's voice was angry, too. "Now, hang on, Derek. If she hadn't given that order, not only would he still think you were dead, you'd actually *be* dead, as well. John's pain is unavoidable. Your death was not." Her voice steadier now, she went on, "There are people here who knew John and cared for him. The effects of what we do are not taken lightly by anyone."
Somewhat mollified, he said, "Who was it? Woman with dark hair. She knew me."
"You only met her once. Her name's Pilar. Latina chica with top-notch forgery skills."
"Remind me to thank her," he said wryly. "Anyone else I know?"
"If I'm not mistaken, you'll see James Ellison and Savannah Weaver soon. Maybe Father Bonilla. We don't normally force people to come," she added apologetically. "There's one Sarah said you wouldn't like. Woman called Jesse Flores. She's building a supply point in Perth."
Derek's jaw tightened. "What did Sarah say about her?"
"Not much. Only that there had been problems with her before. But she's indicated that she will follow the chain of command. So she's in. We don't see her much."
Derek shook his head. "I have to tell you, Lauren, I'm having a lot of trouble swallowing this. Sarah doesn't even give first chances, let alone second chances. And she sure as shit doesn't work with a cast of thousands."
"She thought you'd say that. She said to tell you, 'This is all there is.' She said you'd remember. And that she could explain."
His jaw flickered. He wondered if it was just an easy codephrase or whether she meant something by it. "Fine. Let's say I accept that it's really her. Well, I'm here, so why isn't she here, explaining?"
"That I can't tell you. I'm to brief you to the extent that I can. Which I've done. And then I'm to take you to her." She rose. "Are you going to drink that water, or should I put it back into supply?"
Wordlessly, he handed it to her. He was almost convinced, yes, but not quite. Not until he saw Sarah for himself.
Lauren took it with a sigh. "I told J.D. it would be better coming from her."
She ducked inside and put the drink away. "He's the CO."
Derek stared after her. "What do you mean, he's commanding officer? I thought you said it was Sarah's operation."
"She's second in command. She handed over to J.D. a year ago."
He got to his feet. Alarmed. "Yes, but who *is* he?"
"He's her-" Lauren broke off, staring at him suddenly. Really staring. As though seeing him for the first time. "Oh," she exhaled slowly. "Oh, shit."
He stared back. "What?"
She shook her head dismissively. "Nothing. I just realised something. It doesn't matter." Still looking at him intently, she went on, "J.D. is her successor. She's been grooming him for a while now."
"I want to meet him."
"You will. You should talk to Sarah first, though." She looked uncomfortable.
He wondered whether this J.D. guy was Sarah's boyfriend these days. But then, how would Lauren know he and Sarah had been...well, whatever they had been? Anyway. He had bigger fish to fry. "I devoted my life to John Connor, and I have a right to know who's going to replace him. Who the hell is this guy?"
Lauren's cool was slipping. "Derek, it's really not my place-"
"Now, Lauren." His voice left no room for argument.
Reluctantly, she pulled her radio handset from her waistband. "J.D., this is Fields, come in, please. It's important."
A surprisingly young voice came over the air. "This is J.D.," he said, perhaps with just a trace of puzzlement. Derek wondered if there had been some sort of breach of protocol. He noticed that Lauren used her own surname but not the young man's. "What is it, Fields?"
"I'm at the supply depot with Derek Reese. He's demanding to meet the man who's going to replace John Connor." Lauren went on very deliberately, "I asked him to see Sarah first, but he's very...insistent."
That young voice sounded suddenly reflective. "Yeah, I suppose that's not surprising. Sorry, Fields, I should have anticipated this. I'll be right there."
"You owe me one. Fields out."
Lauren's look was wary as she put the handset back into its holster. "He'll be here in a few minutes."
"You're a bad liar."
"Who's lying? He really will be here in a few minutes."
"You know that's not what I mean."
Lauren looked at him steadily, not rising to the bait, and he sighed. "Fine. Have it your way." He nodded out at the compound. "How long did it take her to build all this, anyway? How far back did she jump?"
She hesitated, but then she nodded, as though deciding this, at least, was within her authority to say. "Seventeen years."
He tried to imagine her seventeen years older. Couldn't. "That makes her fifty-one," he calculated. He was beginning to understand why she would need a successor.
"We just celebrated her fiftieth. She sort of dropped a birthday somewhere along the way, I think. Jumped just before one birthday and arrived just after one, or something." Lauren shrugged. "She hasn't changed much. She looks a little bit older - just around the eyes. Hair's a bit longer. She's aged well, though."
Her voice was oddly reassuring, and he was suddenly quite sure that she did know about his relationship with Sarah after all - or, more likely, had imposed her own girlish interpretation. Why not? Lauren had called Sarah for help, and a male accomplice of the same age had responded. Sarah didn't trust easily. It was a reasonable leap of logic.
The sudden age difference was only peripherally interesting. Women rarely lived to fifty in his time, but the women of this time were different. A healthy woman of fifty wasn't much different to a woman of forty. He'd slept with one once, just before he met Sarah, and he had been pleasantly surprised. That was a woman who liked men, and didn't play games about it. It was his first time in this brave new (old) world, the one where he reconciled leaving Jesse behind, once and for all. She'd given him her number, and he might have called it if he hadn't given himself body and soul to Sarah Connor.
He supposed it didn't matter anyway. She would have moved on. Well, he'd lived with her not loving him before, and he could do it again. In some ways he supposed it might be a relief, not watching her self-destruct before his eyes. Maybe he could get some resolution and focus on this new resistance.
Lauren looked up sharply. Derek listened. A faint rumbling sound approached. A jeep, he thought. "Come on," she said. She started down the stairs.
They emerged into the fading light, just as the jeep pushed through into the clearing. It came to a stop a short distance away.
Lauren nodded. "That's him," she said.
"You're not coming?"
She shook her head. "Terissa's looking after Sydney. I should pick her up. She won't sleep for anyone but me." Lauren was looking back and forth, from him to the outline in the distance. She turned on her heel and began to walk.
"Lauren," he said, in a voice that allowed no room for debate. "Who is this guy?"
With great reluctance, Lauren turned. Her look was one of perfect agony. He almost regretted putting her on the spot.
"He's her son," she said, so quietly that the words were all but carried away with the wind, and then she was gone.
He stared after her as it all fell into place. Turned back, towards the jeep. His heart hammering erratically in his chest. He blessed and cursed the fates at the same time. That was some fucked-up sense of humour they had, snatching away one child after another across time.
He wondered whether Kyle would have minded.
He thought of Sarah, alone to raise another Reese, and he thought that was the worst thing of all.
*Oh, Jesus, Sarah,* he thought, *I'm so goddamn sorry.*
The outline by the jeep moved forward in slow, measured steps. They were light and graceful - footsteps of a well-trained soldier, choosing to be seen and heard rather than failing to be silent.
Derek moved forward too. Wondering whether he would see himself.
As the figure drew closer, he saw the similarities, one after another. First the build, then the hair, neither of them noteworthy in themselves. Then, as he drew closer, the arm with its distinctive tattoo, almost the same as his, but not quite. Then that young face, so like the one he had seen a few days ago in a ballpark. Not quite his, but close. Very close.
And Sarah's eyes.
This is how she would have looked to Kyle, he thought. This is Sarah without all the scars. And in that moment, he knew he'd been kidding himself about getting over her, because between the understanding and the implications and the complications he fell in love with her all over again, without even setting eyes on her.
"She was pregnant," he whispered. There was something gnawing an ache at his stomach. Wonder. Loss as well. Terrible, terrible guilt.
The young man nodded. "Yeah. There's something about you Reese men. You're most fertile just before the machines pick you off." He held out a hand. "J.D. Connor."
Derek took it. It was warm and solid in his own. "J.D?" he queried.
"John Derek." J.D. went on, his voice reflective. "I owe you an apology. I had it all mapped out, how we were going to manage this. Lauren was going to brief you about the operation. Then Mom was going to tell you about me. I forgot that you were John's soldier as well as his uncle."
"Why was Lauren going to brief me?"
"Because you knew her and you would have trusted her. And because Mom has been waiting for you for seventeen years and I didn't want her to have to worry about all that."
He didn't know what to say to that. Certainly he could think of nothing that wasn't trite. So he said, "You've got my ink."
J.D. followed his gaze down at his arm. "Yeah. I went into La Ciudad on my sixteenth birthday. I used the police shots of your tattoo as a base. Mom nearly had kittens when she saw it."
Derek laughed at that. All blood ties and heir-to-the-messiahship aside, he realised he genuinely liked the kid. "I'll bet. How are you going to explain us having the same tattoo in the future?"
"I'm going to suggest you get the same one as me, so you can be my decoy."
"And the similarity?"
"I might drop a surname of a relative into the mix. Plant the idea that we're distantly related. Anyway, haven't you heard that everyone's got a double?"
Derek shook his head, still bending his head around it. Sarah in the past, raising his child. His younger self serving under his adult child's command. John lost somewhere in time, ready to emerge as a wildcard. And where did he fit, Derek the adult who was meant to be dead? "I feel like I owe you an apology or something."
"Well, I didn't think dying was your idea, but I'll take it if it makes you feel better." J.D. gave him a sympathetic look. "We both wished you could have been here, but we were okay. Mom's strong."
"That she is." He looked off into the distance with assumed casualness, but the imitation felt crappy. "What's she like?"
"Maybe not quite how you remember her. She says she wasn't in a good place when she knew you."
"No. Not so much to start with, but after Sarkissian."
J.D. was on the alert. "I've heard that name."
Derek forced himself not to react. "When?" he said. Still casual.
"It was only a couple of months ago. We had an exercise in the Darien Gap. It's a pretty dangerous place - drug trafficking, territory disputes, that sort of thing." Derek nodded. "We were ambushed. It was my first kill. And, you know, I didn't feel good about it or anything, but I was okay, you know? She'd always told me that if someone put me in a position where it was them or me, whatever I had to do to get out was their responsibility. She said you taught her that."
"I said that to her a day or two after she killed Sarkissian." He was surprised she'd remembered it. It didn't seem to make any difference at the time - if anything, it had upset her more. Their first, angry fuck had followed, so different from the warm looks and lingering touches in the old house. She'd been like a different person.
"Were you there when it happened?"
Derek shook his head. "I wish I had been. Whatever happened in that room really did a number on her."
"When we got back to the island, everyone got drunk. Just blowing off steam. And I told Mom I was okay, and I thanked her for helping me to be ready. And she broke down. Totally lost it. I'd never seen her like that. All I could make out was 'Sarkissian' and 'I didn't want Derek to know, so I shut him out.' Have you ever listened to something, and you knew it was important, but you never really understood what it was?"
Derek nodded. Frowning.
J.D. said, slowly, as though voicing a long-dreaded suspicion, "Could he have raped her?"
The idea hit him like a punch in the guts, but he dismissed the idea just as quickly. She'd acted out physically, yes, but there was no hesitation, no flinching, no hint of fear. "I don't think so. I think I would have known. And I don't think John would have acted the way he did if he'd seen that. He wasn't protective of Sarah after that, J.D. He was angry."
J.D.'s look was one of affront. It might have been funny if they had been discussing something else. "Why would he be angry with her?"
Derek didn't know.
** FOUR: INTERLUDE **
Sarah stood in the fading light, patiently gazing out from her verandah through the wisps of hair that fluttered around her in the breeze. The rest of her hair was pushed back over her shoulder. It was still dark, but it was longer now, with pale flecks of silver that caught the light every which way as she looked out over the clearing.
He would come that way, but she didn't know exactly when. J.D. had been vague on that point. It wasn't natural to her to go along with that, but she had forced herself to do so. She was training herself, and the others, to accept his judgement and his command.
So she waited. She drank beer, and paced, and cleaned her gun, and paced some more.
It was twilight when the bushes at the walking track began to rustle. She positioned herself, steeling herself to see him for the first time in seventeen years. Steeling herself for his reactions to her. She was no longer young.
She could not have prepared herself for what she saw. Her knees buckled beneath her, and she gripped on to the railing tightly for support.
Two of them. Father and son, walking companionably across the clearing. She drew in her breath and held her hand to her mouth. Breathed out shakily. They were *so much* alike.
Derek, she thought. Oh, my God.
Back then, he'd been a soldier first, a man second. Now, she had good soldiers, lots of them, and she saw the man first, and he took her breath away. Broad shoulders, muscular arms, strong neck, and oh my God that half-smile that hit her in the pit of her stomach and made her feel young again.
She knew she would love him always, just as she loved Kyle, but she never thought he'd still be her lover. She never thought she would feel him coursing through her veins, making her want him like it was yesterday.
He looked up at her. Smiled. Tentatively, he waved at her.
She waved back.
J.D. looked back and forth between them, and said something to Derek. Derek patted his shoulder, and he turned and left, raising a hand to Sarah as he departed. Derek watched him go, looking over his shoulder.
He looked back at her. She wanted to call out to him, but she didn't know what to say.
He began to walk towards her, his eyes fixed up on her.
She called, "So, what, do I have to wait another seventeen years?"
That broke the spell that held them both. He clattered up the stairs. She pushed away from the railing and ran to meet him.
He crossed the distance between them, stopping just inches from her. He reached out with his hand and pushed back her hair, running a lock of it between his fingers. She wondered if he could feel the difference, as she did. The ever so slight loss of condition with age.
He touched one cheek, then the other, and she tilted her head each way, letting him look at her in the fading light. Letting him look into her eyes.
"Sarah," he whispered, and that low, unbelieving voice was what undid her.
She took his face between her hands and kissed him, hard. She'd sworn she wouldn't do that, but he was kissing her too, urgently, like the last thing she said to him wasn't an accusation, like she wasn't old, like there wasn't time and death to divide them. His hands were restless in her hair, his fingers traced circles on her collarbone, and she gasped out his name.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here," he murmured against her lips, as if it had been his fault. She let out a small, grieving sound, tiny window into years of hurt and loss, and then he was drawing her in, taking her pain.
They broke apart. Flushed and breathless. Stared at each other in wonder.
She shouldn't be doing this, she thought. She wasn't that Sarah anymore. Imperfect as she had been, that woman was his lover, not the woman she was now. And that woman was still out there right now, grieving over him, unaware that he was alive. That she was carrying his son.
She pulled away from him with infinite reluctance. She did it gently. He released her sadly, but without protest.
"You look good," he said conventionally as she went inside the cabin. She didn't look to see if he followed. She knew he would.
She did look good, she knew that. She was still a soldier. But he was so impossibly ageless. She didn't look at him, just spoke over her shoulder. "I'm not young anymore, Derek."
"None of us are," he said. He was poised on her doorstep, leaning against the french door, watching her as she went to the refrigerator.
She handed him a bottle of beer, careful to hold it at the body and pass him the neck. Careful not to touch. "I missed you," she said. Brief. Elliptical. Seventeen years of anguish boiled down into a handful of words.
"Missed you too." Just as elliptical.
There had been no separation across time for him, but she knew what he meant. For him, she'd been pushing him away for a year. And that, at least, she could make right. She owed him that.
"Derek," she said into her beer, "I didn't kill Sarkissian." How she'd fought those words back then. How easily, how casually they fell from her lips now, now that it was all too late.
She couldn't see his face, but she saw the realisation in the lines of his body as he let out a low sigh. "You should have told me. I could have helped you. Both of you."
"I know that now." She sighed too. "I could feel John slipping away, and I should have let you in, but I shut you out. I failed him, and I didn't want you to know."
"Why?" His voice was gentle.
She shrugged. "Because you raised Kyle and you would have done better, I guess."
"I wouldn't know. Kyle never killed anyone. Hell, I never killed anyone until I jumped."
She looked up at him. She hadn't known that.
"Don't be so sure I got it right, Sarah - maybe I just got lucky."
"I suppose it doesn't matter anymore," she said, thinking that it mattered more than almost anything. "It was a long time ago."
"Not for me." His voice was sharp, and his eyes flared at her, and just for a moment, she could see that dark, conflicted love there as he thrust into her, loving her and cursing her at the same time. Just a fortnight ago for him; a lifetime for her. Ruthlessly, she pushed the memory down.
"I'm not the same woman I was then," she said, turning away, setting down her beer on the counter. Then, with a pang, "I must seem like a stranger." How darkly, cruelly funny that the years that had healed her had separated them so utterly. That she could love him now that he didn't even know her anymore.
"You're everything I thought you could be." The words were tender; his voice was not. It was hard and came from deep inside him. Like tightly-laced fingers shuddering with need.
She gripped the kitchen bench with her hands. Shoulders tensely hunched around her. Staring out the window. "What do you want, Derek?"
He came up behind her. Put down his beer beside hers and slid his arms around her.
She bit back a sigh as he held her, his body pressed to hers from shoulder to thigh. She was breathing fast, clenching and releasing her hands compulsively.
"I didn't bring you here for this," she said in a low voice. "I wouldn't risk John by interfering that way. Not even for you." She held herself taut, but her body betrayed her when he dipped his head to hers and she could feel his breath on her cheek. That was when she relaxed against him, when she pressed herself back into him, shifting to fit against his hips, sighing as his lips brushed against her ear.
He cupped her shoulders and stroked her down her arms with the backs of his fingers. "I know that."
"You're here because our son needs you. And because we have work to do."
"And you know I'll do whatever you want me to. But you wouldn't have kissed me like that if it was all so goddamned over for you." God damn the way he saw into her soul like that.
"Derek..." she whispered. Her whole body ached for him. She stiffened under his hands, warding him off, and wished he would put them on her at the same time.
"I want you to tell me what you want, Connor. I want you to forget about the other Sarah and whether she's the real one or you are and which one of you has the right to be here." He did understand, she thought, because he lived with it too. "I want you to forget about what you think you should do, and tell me what you truly, honestly want. You said you're not the same woman, so prove it. For once in your life be completely straight with me."
That touched her. What had it all been for, if she couldn't give him that?
"You," she said in a low voice. Somehow it was easier to say it, easier to release those long-pent-up words with him behind her. "I want you to know that I loved you then and I love you now, and that it wasn't just about Kyle." And then his fingertips were tracing circles on her collarbone, and suddenly the truths couldn't come fast enough, tumbling from her lips in a rush. "I want you to know that's the thing I loved most, what you're doing now, and I wished I'd told you so when you were alive."
He kissed her hair. "Anything else?"
"I want you to touch me." His palms drifted down, up under her shirt, found the pale flesh of her belly. Caressed her there, gripping and releasing in rhythm, and she arched against him, turning her face to kiss him over her shoulder. "I want you inside me."
"Everywhere," she choked out. Oh, my God.
He chuckled deep in his throat, like she'd said something funny, but his hips pressed harder against hers, too. "I meant where's the bedroom."
She turned in his arms to face him, too far gone to laugh with him. Inarticulately, she tilted her head towards her bedroom door, but before he could do more than glance at it, she was grasping his shirt in her fists and pulling him back down to kiss her. She couldn't let him go. Couldn't imagine them making it all the way in there. And he seemed to be of the same mind as he ground his crotch hard against hers, pinning her to the bench.
His fingers were unbuttoning her shirt. Pushing it apart. Her breasts brushed the opening, nipples hard and taut, waiting for him to touch her there. His strong hands were unexpectedly gentle, and she leaned back on her hands, stretching out before him. She loved his gentleness but it drove her crazy as well. It always had.
"Good?" he whispered against her lips. His eyes were shining.
"All kinds of good."
He kissed the underside of her jaw, cradling her at the nape of her neck, his thumb stroking behind her earlobe, and she breathed out his name, sighing incoherently with her head flung back as he made his way down her throat. Clutched at his hair with one hand when he reached her breast, urging him on.
He lingered there a moment, but then he rose up, wrapping one arm around her waist, the other around her shoulders, hands splayed out across her back and in her hair. "Bed," he said, eyes dark and intense. A man with a mission.
She nodded mutely, leading him, walking and kissing and walking backwards until they reached the closed door. He pushed her against it and sank to his knees before her, dragging her jeans and panties down her thighs as she banged her head against the wood and sank her fingers into his hair.
He stroked her at the top of her legs, teasing the hair there with his fingertips. She let them fall open, let out a keening sound when his lips closed on her. "Oh, God, Derek," she cried out, slick and ready to his touch. Rocked hard against him, wanting more, wanting his mouth and his hands and his cock all at the same time. Banged her head against the door again as the tension let go and the shudders gripped her. Buckled at the knees, and let them, sinking towards the floor, ready to take him in her mouth.
He caught her, pulled her up against him. "Next time," he said. "You've waited longer than I have." He turned the doorknob and guided her to her own bed as she kissed him, tasting herself on his mouth. Shivering lightly, she dragged his shirt over his head and unbuttoned his jeans. He groaned into her hair as her palms stroked him, releasing him from denim and cotton. Caressing at the head, then back down again.
"Sarah," he choked out, hips rocking against her, "like that. Jesus, like that." Gripping her breast hard, too hard, but that just made her arch against him and gasp with need. Need that started at her nipple and shot straight to her clit and made her see stars.
"Derek, dammit," she pleaded against his neck, "just do it, just fuck me." She nipped at him, teeth grazing him and she wanted to sink them into him, anything to be closer.
This seemed to galvanise him into movement. He was lowering her to the bed, and a second after that he was sinking into her. She wrapped her legs around his waist, crying out in the fading light, arching her back as he gripped her thigh and hitched it up higher, spreading her wider, filling her deeper. Let her jaw fall wide open to take his devouring mouth as he nipped and sucked and plunged. Reached blindly over her head for the bedhead, ready to grab it and stretch out for him, when he laced his fingers with hers and braced her there, arching along the full length of his body as he thrust up into her, deep and slow. Oh God. Oh God.
"Finish it," she whispered.
Some restraint left him then, and his thrusts became erratic. Harder, quicker, in a staccato rhythm. She felt herself rising, opening, crying out. Shuddering deep inside and down her thighs. Seizing around him as he jerked and spilled over inside her, warm and slick and wet. Tugging him to kiss her when he let go of her hand, shivering, her name tumbling from his lips over and over.
"This is how it should have been," he breathed shakily. Still moving slowly inside her, still firm. Getting harder as he moved.
She shivered, breathing in ragged breaths as her orgasm rose again. "I know." And God, she knew, she'd dreamed of it since he'd died in another life. She arched again as he moved faster, getting harder. "Oh, God, yes, again." And then she was rising higher, bucking harder, coming faster, and so was he. He thrust into her and stayed there, grinding, her clit aching and throbbing against him as he held her hips against his, until she suddenly came in deep, shuddering waves that seemed to go on forever.
This time, he was done, and their joining fell away as she fell back in exhaustion. He slumped beside her, gleaming, sweaty, smelling of him and of her, kissing her slowly and thoroughly. His hand found her sex and caressed her there, trailing their shared juices over her clit and teasing delicately. Brought her to one last slow orgasm as she began to drift into sleep.
"I'm still yours," he murmured into her hair, and it was the last thing she heard before consciousness fell away.
** FOUR: INTO THE NEXUS **
When she woke, it was full dark.
He was standing by the door. Looking out, through the cabin, through the french doors. Moonlight streamed in, bathing him in light and shadows. His back was strong and his gaze was thoughtful and how she loved him like this. How she wished she could take her younger self aside and tell her, woman-to-woman, not to let him go.
"What are you thinking?" she asked. Genuinely curious.
"That I love you. Both of you." She didn't know whether he meant her and her younger self, or her and J.D., or her and John. She didn't ask.
"I love you too." She had clung on to those words, carefully concealed them like a guilty secret. The reasons all seemed so important back then. She could barely remember them now.
He turned and came back to bed, slipping in between cool white sheets beside her. Stroked back her hair.
"There's something else," she said. It wasn't a question.
He lay back beside her, staring up at the ceiling. "Cameron told me Jesse was pregnant when I jumped."
Sarah propped herself up on one elbow. "Jesse told me that, too." At his questioning look, she added, "I made her explain herself pretty thoroughly before I let her into the operation."
"I'll bet," he said sourly. "So Cameron wasn't lying."
"Not unless they're telling the same lie."
A muscle in his neck seemed to twitch. "It looks like we Reese boys are meant to be separated from all our children, doesn't it?" Meeting her gaze again, he said, "I never even knew I wanted them until I had them. Or didn't have them."
There wasn't anything she could say to him that wouldn't sound fatuous, so she said nothing.
"In the end, he'll send Kyle back, and me, won't he? He'll sign Kyle's death warrant and start it all again."
She sighed. "It was written before any of us were born, Derek. Kyle was never meant to see all this. He was meant to stay innocent."
"Not like me, you mean," he said humourlessly.
She leaned over him. Quick. Furious. "Don't you do that, Reese. I might have been the one that got all high-and-mighty about killing people, but I also made a career out of shutting people out. You stood for letting people in, even when I threw it in your face. J.D. isn't like John. Because he knows people have his back. Because you taught me that we could be what we are and still let people in."
"No, shut up and listen to me. The night we made J.D. was ugly. I didn't deserve what you gave me that night. I didn't deserve a son and I didn't deserve a chance to make things right."
He stared up at her. Stunned. "Are you done?"
She pulled away. Tugged the sheet around her and tucked it under her arms. Drew her knees up to her breasts.
He sat up. Ran his palm over her exposed spine. "Wow. You've really been working yourself over on this, haven't you?" He slid his arms around her shoulders. "Since when did John become the symbol of everything you ever got wrong?"
Her lip trembled. Honest to God, it was trembling. She couldn't remember the last time she'd cried for John.
"Right now, John is sitting in a warehouse, sleeping on concrete, and crying his eyes out when he thinks I'm asleep."
Derek's voice was grave. "I wondered about that."
That made her defensive. "What was the alternative? Let him die in the ether, or disintegrate, or just be *lost* out there forever? And maybe we all die with him - would you like that?" She could feel sudden, salty warmth rising up in her face and was glad to be in the dark. "Do you think I *like* watching her - me - make all the same mistakes and damage him all over again? Do you think I like seeing him lose Riley, and Charley, and you, and me, and think that all he has left is that *thing*?"
"Don't," he whispered. "I wasn't blaming you."
She bowed her head. "I know that, Derek. I do." The fight went out of her then, and she let him draw her down into the crook of his arm.
"I've been thinking about John," he said after a moment. "What happens to him? He went into that displacement field as the saviour of the world. That's J.D.'s job now. He's going to come out as just another kid. He's going to come out alone and lost."
She pulled away from him then. Sat up, cross-legged like a child. "Derek," she said, "he isn't going to come out alone." She looked at him sadly.
He stared up at her, panic etched into his features. "You're going to *follow* him?"
"I have to. I won't live long enough to help him. Not after J-Day. I'll be old and slow and they'll get me before I can get to him." Not to mention that an elderly Sarah Connor running around would quite likely jeopardise the whole damn show. Young soldiers didn't fall for women they'd first seen with gray hair and liver spots.
"What about J.D.?" he demanded, sitting up. Real anger starting to seep through his voice. "He needs you too."
She only looked at him, and then realisation spread over his features.
"That's why you brought me here."
She shook her head. "That's why you're on this island. But you're in this room because I love you."
Derek lay back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling, a look of torment on his face. He made a deep, rending sound.
"Does J.D. know?" he asked at last.
He sighed. "Our son's first command to me will be to let you go," he marvelled. "This sucks."
"Derek," she said urgently, "J.D. has dozens of soldiers who would die for him. But he's still sixteen and he needs family. I can't stay, and he can't go." There were tears in her voice. "Please."
"I was complaining, not refusing," he said. "I said I'd do whatever you wanted me to do. Don't you know that by now?"
She nodded. "I know."
"How long do we have?"
It killed her to say it. "Two days," she whispered. "Plus travel time."
Derek let out a heartsick sound that made her want to take it all back and stay here. John made his choice. She had another family now. A family that would never leave her for a machine.
But he was her son, he was out there in the dark, and it was her fault. All of it was her fault.
"Well," he said. He took her by the hand and tugged her down beside him. He didn't look at her. "I guess we'd better make them count, then."
She didn't look at him either as they made perfunctory love in the dark. But the grief found ways to pass between them anyway.
For the second time in Sarah's life, she had spent two days with a Reese, and they had loved a lifetime.
This island had been her home for a decade. For a few precious hours, it had been theirs. Theirs, and their son's. And she would never see it again.
She might never see Derek and J.D. again, either. That was the thing about time travel. Her future was certain. Theirs was not. They could be killed by a machine, or just be hit by a car crossing the street in Bocas Town. And she would never know what happened to them. She would just emerge, and they wouldn't be there.
It was almost enough to make her waver.
J.D.'s hair flickered in the wind. How she loved him, she thought; he had been her constant companion in her grief and her healing and their mission. She had wondered when she carried him whether she could ever love another child as much as John, but she had. Theirs was a simpler relationship, less fraught, but just as true. And it killed her to leave one son in search of the other.
She reached up and laid a hand on his neck. "Do what you're trained to do." That wasn't what she'd meant to say at all. Those were words from another life, another child. The life where she got it all wrong.
"Stop being a commanding officer, Mom. That's my job."
"Yeah, it is," she relented. "And you're good at it." He was, too. J.D. knew the horrors that lay ahead and somehow had held onto his sense of self. He would be sad, but he would also go on.
J.D. hugged her. "Love you, Mom."
She held on tight. "Love you too."
Derek patted his arm, and just for a moment, her vision blurred, and father and son melded into one.
"See you soon, son," she heard Derek say to J.D., and she knew she was leaving her son in good hands. Not a machine, but a father who loved him and who would always have his back.
Somehow, that gave her the strength to step onto the boat.
She didn't falter until the island was out of sight, and then Derek was there. And as they drifted, he held her, through the wracking sobs, until she was strong once more.
"What are you up to?" Sarah said, moving awkwardly without the benefit of sight, guided by his palms at her temples. His fingers were warm over her eyes. She persisted, "And why did you change our hotel?"
"You'll see," he said with clear amusement, and she heard the whirr of a hotel doorcard being inserted and removed. She felt movement around her as he wrestled the door open with his shoulder and guided her through.
Abruptly, sight returned, as he removed his hands from her eyes. She gasped.
The room was full of tea candles and rose petals. It was pastels and a spa and holy shit, it wasn't just a king sized bed, it was a four poster bed. She thought it was pretty much a room for a pair of high school sweethearts losing their virginity after the prom.
"Derek?" she said. Half appalled. Half touched.
"It's the honeymoon package," he said deadpan. "You can buy it on the internet."
He relented - even managed to look a bit sheepish. "Okay, look, I know it's not really your thing, but I had to do *something.* At best, it's going to be seventeen years before I see you again. At worst..." he trailed off.
Her good humour faded. So he'd been thinking about it too.
She swallowed hard. "It's perfect," she whispered.
"Really?" He looked doubtful.
She nodded. "Yeah."
"I want us to be happy tonight, Sarah. Just for a little while."
She felt it then. The first breaks in her aching heart.
Her hand found his. Laced her fingers with his. Piercingly, she said, "You *have* made me happy."
He stroked her hand with his thumb. "Same."
She felt rising warmth in her face. Said casually, "So. What did you have in mind?"
"Well," he said, hooking his arm around her waist and kissing her soundly. He didn't ask why she tasted of tears. She didn't ask him, either. "I was thinking that if I took you to dinner you might let me get to first base."
She laughed against his mouth - a grudging laugh, but a laugh just the same. She loved that he could make her laugh in spite of everything.
"I think if you play your cards right, you might get further than that."
He did, and just for a little while, they were happy.
Daylight was stretching its fingers across the sky when Sarah woke.
It was much too bright and sunny. It made a mockery of what she had to do today. What she would lose.
He was fully dressed, standing by the window. Unaware that he was being observed. Naked grief etched into the lines of his jaw.
She felt horribly cold.
She glanced at the clock. Not late, but no time to spare, either. She got up, dragged on her shirt and bra. Wriggled into her panties and a skirt. He gave no sign that he was aware of her.
"Derek," she whispered, approaching him.
He didn't answer.
"Reese," she said. Tentatively, she touched his arm.
His face cleared. He turned to face her cheerfully. "I was just thinking," he said, his eyes just a little too bright, "at least we'll be the same age again."
Sarah forced a wan smile, but her heart wasn't in it. "Derek," she said softly, "don't wait. Seventeen years is a long time. And who knows if we'll both make it." If he'd make it.
"You sayin' we're over, Connor?" he said goodnaturedly. She thought his cheerful mask looked like it was only a minute or two from cracking into a thousand pieces.
"I'm saying we're complete." And they were. She'd righted the wrongs. Said what she needed to say. "You don't know how much I want you to be there when I come out. But..."
"But if it's goodbye, it's a good goodbye," he finished, solemn now. The mask was gone, thank God. She remembered that he'd done this too, with Jesse. Felt waves of relief that she didn't need to find the words.
"Yeah." It was a good, stoic performance, and then she went and ruined it by tearing up. "I don't want to leave you," she whispered. She could say it because she knew he wouldn't try to change her mind.
"Hey," he said, drawing her against him. "We'll be okay. We always are."
She nodded against his chest. Felt him drop a slow kiss on her head. His fingers flexed compulsively through her hair, hanging on when he knew he should let go. His chest rose and fell unevenly, hitching and betraying him.
"Yeah," she said. "We always are." And just for a moment, she remembered him staring sightlessly up at her on that long-ago floor.
It occurred to her that there were still lies between them, but the lies were small and kind.
His hands slid down to her waist. Then up under her shirt, wrapping her tightly in his arms. His voice was low and hoarse. "I need you, Sarah."
There wasn't enough time left in the world for what they needed from one another, she thought as he lifted her to the wall, but there were minutes. And she would take what she could.
She gripped his shoulder as he moved inside her, clutching at his hair as he laid his forehead against her shoulder, bracing against his strength with her thighs. His thrusts were fierce and possessive; his sounds were wretched. He came in hitching breaths choked out into her hair.
It was too quick, hard and scrambling, and it left her sore. She was glad. It hurt less than her aching heart.
"I can do it now," he whispered, releasing her, his face pale and damp with sweat and tears. "I can let you go now."
She slipped her arms around his shoulders and held him. Said nothing. She had neither the words nor the voice.
"I will always love you," he rasped against her shoulder. His loving words were never melodic, she thought. They never seemed to come from the heart. They came from the gut, like entrails dragged out and laid bare.
A blur fell over her vision as she straightened her clothes and blinked back hot, salty tears. As she watched him do the same.
As she pulled the door closed, she caught one last glimpse of the room. The candles were out and the rose petals were askew, crushed and scattered in stolen moments. Housekeeping would sweep them away and lay out the room fresh, for young lovers who didn't know about the end of the world. Who didn't know what it was to make love through bitter tears and be separated across time.
She closed the door.
** EPILOGUE: CONVERGENCE **
"You still have that Polaroid, Ellison?"
James Ellison whirled around, his face pasty and sweaty. Too many shocks in too short a time. Behind him, blue light still cracked where her younger self had just left him.
"Derek will explain."
"Thought he was dead."
"I was," Derek said deadpan. "I'll explain that too. Preferably somewhere that isn't about to be swarming with emergency services."
Ellison's eyes rolled a little. She wondered fleetingly whether this was going to be the shock that broke him, but he held it together. Good.
She went to the control panel and began to type. For the third time in minutes, blue light began to swirl. She stepped into the orb.
Derek stepped in too. Kissed her thoroughly. His mouth was soft and warm on hers.
"I love you," she whispered as the wind began to blow. Here, lost in time, was a place for those rarely-said words. Why had she rationed them so?
"See you on the flipside," he said. He stepped out again. "Promise."
His face was the last thing she saw.