Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Pairing: John Connor/Katherine Brewster
Word Count: 2500
Summary: Kate's marriage was pre-ordained from the future. But even if it wasn't, where do you go after you've been with the last, best hope of humankind?
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Scott was dead less than twenty-four hours when she married John Connor.
She'd like to have thought he would have forgiven her, in all the circumstances, but he probably wouldn't have. Scott was a good man, but he was the sort of man who had trained himself to be good through harsh self-discipline, and expected others to do the same.
That had worked for Kate, because she was like that, too. But what she had realised about herself in the last twelve hours was that she was good, pretty much just because it worked. Doing the right thing got most people a better life, most of the time. Most people like her, at least. For a pretty, smart, rich, white girl in a white-bread world, it was pretty close to a winning formula.
Kate had had less time to adjust to the end of the world than John (although John's existence strongly suggested that adjusting was a myth), and she had spent the first few hours after the bombs fell facing some unpalatable truths. Not as unpalatable as six billion deaths, sure, but unpalatable just the same.
First cab off the rank was that she would, indeed, marry John Connor. It didn't really matter which way you traced the timeline, she thought, as she lay there on one couch watching him sleep on the other. Either way, it was inevitable.
If you traced it from the future backwards, well, she had to stay with him in order to be in a position to send the machine back to save both herself and John all over again - and hopefully, therefore, the next generation of survivors.
Tracing it forward from the present was less clear, less certain, but probably just as inevitable.
Firstly, they would probably spend the nuclear winter alone together in the VIP fallout shelter, while instructing others to do the same in whatever shelter they could find. Earth wasn't going to be very conducive to human life for the next six-to-twelve months. Six-to-twelve months alone together, both probably living with nervous tension, some sort of post-traumatic illness, and nightmares of six billion people burnt alive.
They might not fall in love, but they would fall into bed. She could bet six billion to one on it.
After that, they would emerge into the world. John would go on to be leader-of-the-worldwide-resistance-and-last-best-hope-of-humankind. Kate would go on to be…well. Probably second-in-command simply by default - she could have guessed that even if the machine hadn't told her. She would know all John's strategies and war-wrangling skills simply because she'd been there, and it would take too long to bring anyone else up to speed.
So if you're second-in-command after spending six-to-twelve months helping (and probably banging) the last-best-hope-of-humankind, where do you look for a husband even once there are other men around? Every man she was likely to meet would seem less capable, less together, less reliable (as improbable as it sounded now) than John. And if she did happen to find that unicorn-of-a-man, that shit-together-reliable man, and even if she hadn't known (or had disregarded) that she was supposed to be married to John, what were the chances that he'd be all fine and dandy with her spending her life at John's side instead of his?
After all, the world was turned upside down now, wasn't it? Neurotic, fucked-up John, and people like him - people on the fringes of society - they had the advantage now. People who were used to having nothing and no one, people who were used to scavenging and living on the move. People used to a world that inflicted suffering on them at random simply because of whatever they were. Those were the people who knew how to live with what the world was going to become. People like her - people used to commanding and giving the privileges that come with modest wealth, people used to being exempt from a fair proportion of life's harsher realities - people like her were least equipped, and least likely to survive.
So Kate had gone, in the space of a day, from the slightly-uncomfortable, but known prospect of marrying Scott and living a stable life as a suburban vet with an SUV, to the prospect of marrying an unstable neurotic (however understandable that instability may be) and pumping out his babies…in between treating the war wounded, commanding armies, and ruthlessly re-programming killer robots within hours of being widowed. That was some Lara Croft shit right there (well, minus the babies, she supposed) and she didn't even remotely recognise herself in that image. She wore floral blouses and screamed like a girl, for fuck's sake.
Well, that wasn't fair. What had her father said? "I've never had to worry about my daughter. You've always done the right thing. You won't make a mistake." She'd been on the verge of making one with Scott - she could admit that, now that it didn't matter anymore - but he'd been right overall.
Kate Brewster was the one with her shit together. She was the one who actually put 20% of her salary into savings. She was the one who refused the second piece of chocolate cake. She knew her cholesterol levels. She was the designated driver. She took her birth control at exactly the same time every day, and her vitamins too. She was up-to-date on her CPD points and her taxes and her 401K and her home down-payment. She had done everything right, and if the world hadn't ended, she would have been right on track in every area of her life.
More than that, though, she'd also learned things as the daughter of a widowed military man. She'd learned guns and planes and self-defence. She'd learned how to handle herself with men who didn't know how to handle women. She'd learned that life wasn't fair, and sometimes good people had to suck it up and clean it up and no one would ever thank them for it, or even know they did it to begin with. She'd learned that sometimes what you really need in a hard situation is a dyed-in-the-wool asshole (or a neurotic, or a killer robot) who happens to know just what that situation needs.
So yes, okay, she supposed John could have done worse than her for a wife, in the scheme of things. And the world could have done worse than her for a second-in-command, too. But the world was big, and here in this elegantly-appointed, 1970s chandelier-and-vinyl hall of waking nightmares, she felt very small.
And John was with her, and whether she liked it or not, no matter how she looked at it, he was her destiny. She couldn't even demand that he submit to some much-needed therapy first, because all the therapists were dead, dammit. The whole thing was a mind-fuck to end all mind-fucks.
"Stop thinking about it," he said from the couch opposite, without opening his eyes. "It will send you mad."
She hadn't even known he was awake. But clearly, he knew she was. How? She didn't think she'd moved. It struck her all over again, in a wave of hopelessness, how utterly ill-equipped she was for this brave new world.
"How do you know I'm thinking about it?" she said finally, after giving up on even trying to express all the things rolling around in her mind.
"What else would you be thinking about?" he wondered. "Basketball scores? Knitting patterns?"
That was true enough. She could have just told him to go back to sleep, but talking was probably better for her than dwelling, and if they were going to end up together, they might as well get on with the process of getting to know each other. She opted for sharing one of her less fraught lines of thought, one that had been weaving around under the surface of her eminently-understandable post-apocalyptic existential angst.
"I was actually thinking that I'm out of a job. I mean, I can transfer my skills to treating humans, and I know that's important, but I'm going to be an old woman before anyone wants medical treatment for their cat again. Vets are a first-world luxury, and as of twelve hours ago, the first world has ceased to exist." She summoned a wistful smile. "I'm going to miss that. I loved cats the best. They're hard to relate to, but when you win their trust, it feels like a real achievement." It occurred to her that John was a bit like that, too.
"Well, I don't know about cats, but dogs are important. They can tell humans and machines apart. You might get to look after one of those now and then."
"That would be nice. I think I could feel…more normal, if I could do that." She sighed. "Stupid thing to care about, I guess."
"It isn't. You need a sense of who you are, to survive something like this."
"Do you have a sense of who you are?" she wondered. He had struck her as someone who really didn't, and that made sense, she supposed. He'd had an identity, and seemingly lost it when the world didn't end. Now, it had, but that didn't necessarily mean he magically got his identity back. Human psychology was rarely as tidy as that.
He was still lying there, facing up, with his eyes closed, but his mouth twitched into a grin. "I have a very good sense of who I am. I'm nothing special. Nothing special at all." He turned onto his side and looked at her, cocking an eyebrow, as though daring her to refute him. "It's true, you know. Everything I'm going to do here is because my mother trained me for it from the cradle. She was the special one. If she'd been born twenty years later, it would have been her here, not me, and it really should have been. She was the one who went out and learned how to do it all. I just went along for the ride. If I'd died, she probably could have just adopted some random kid and raised him the same way, and it wouldn't have changed a thing."
Kate stared at him. "How do you even do that? How do you train the perfect soldier from childhood?"
"You make sure that child is an empty vessel. No interests, no belongings, no desires. No need to be special. Nothing that is truly theirs. You make that child into a blank slate - someone that is never noticed, blends in in every way, and adapts to everything that comes their way."
"It sounds cruel." The words slipped out before she could stop them.
"It was," he agreed. "Very cruel, and very damaging. But very necessary. You grieve for the world, Kate, because it had things that you got to choose and you thought were yours. Scott. Being a vet. A home. Cute little knick-knacks from your travels. That sort of thing. Right?" Reluctantly, she nodded. "Well, no one is going to get to really choose their partner or their profession or their home, or keep anything that matters to them, for generations to come. I just learned that a bit sooner."
"People will still choose their partners," she protested.
John smirked. "Besides us, you mean. But no, they really won't, Kate. People will latch on to whoever is there. Satisficing, the economists call it - choosing the least-worst option available at a given time. That's how people always mate, really, because you can't objectively review and rate everyone. You find someone who is good enough, and you quit searching there. But it's going to be a lot more like that now. The widowed guy with three kids will latch onto the first halfway-maternal woman he meets, because he's risking his life every time he goes out looking for food. The pretty seventeen-year-old will latch on to the first guy she meets who doesn't seem inclined to rape her and can protect her from others who will. The phenomenon that we call 'falling in love' is going to pretty much cease to operate for a century or two here. It's just as much a first-world luxury as being a vet."
She felt waves of simple, crushing sadness at the prospect of a humanity-wide loss of romantic love…and, beneath that, surge of interest. John may not have much of a sense of self, in the strictest sense, but he had an impressive grasp of the psychology of a world not yet born.
It dawned on her that John was far less troubled by their pre-ordained marriage than she was. Because one way or another, he had expected it (or something like it) all along. It was also dawning on her, with a fair bit of reluctance, that a sense of self in the way she understood it was a luxury of a world now passed.
She supposed she had satisficed for Scott, in a way, and that was probably really why she'd had her doubts about marrying him…but that didn't make him less. He had been a good man, and she had loved him. Not in the hearts-and-roses kind of way, but she had loved him. He'd earned it by being good to her and good for her, and by bringing out the good in her.
Maybe she could love John that way, too. In time.
"Here's a question," she said. "We know that there's marriage, because we're married. But there's no government and no church. So how do they do it?"
John shrugged. "Same way as they did it in places without clergy or organised government in years gone by, I suppose. If there's anyone else around, they make promises publicly. If not, I guess they just decide to marry, and that's what makes it so."
She nodded thoughtfully. Said slowly, "I've decided to marry you."
If she had said that to Scott, he would have said that it was too soon, that she didn't have to do that, that it could happen in its own time. Conventional things, and true things, in the world now gone. They were not true now. This world needed bedrocks on which people could stand.
John did not say those things.
He looked at her, studying her with interest. Clearly thinking it over. Slowly, he nodded. She had the feeling that she had passed some kind of test in his eyes.
"I've decided to marry you, too," he said at last.
"I guess that makes it so," she said.
"I guess it does," he agreed.
She still didn't really know who he was, and she doubted he did either. But he was her husband, and that was enough to make a start.