Author: cj2017 PM
Five Christmases with the Connors...Rated: Fiction T - English - Sarah C. & John C. - Words: 4,087 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Published: 12-24-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5606708
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Five Christmases
Characters: Sarah and John. Derek gets a tiny cameo.
Rating: T. Mainly harmless, but a small section contains violence and harsh language.
Word Count: Approx 3,800
Notes: Being a one fandom kinda chick, I didn't sign up for Yuletide. But then Fig planted the idea of Christmas fic, Cat encouraged the crazy and this was the result. Thanks, as ever, to Cat for the beta, to roxybisquaint for kind words and American terminology, and to Lau who never batted an eyelid when I asked him to translate something very specific into Spanish…
Trying to reconcile movie dates and TSCC dates doesn't work (and it gives me a headache!) So I took the easy option and went with movie dates.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did.
Merry Christmas to all.
. . . . .
. . . . .
The tiny shack was warm, and for just a few minutes Sarah Connor allowed herself the luxury of propping the door open. The breeze carried the rush of waves pounding the beach, along with the tang of brine and fish discarded from an early morning catch. She stood with her toes digging into the sand, taking deep breaths and letting the sun heat her face.
For just a few minutes.
Then she went back inside, shutting the door and sliding the locks into place. The dog, still nameless, licked her hand once and settled down at her feet.
Driving along Mexico's back roads and renting neglected cabanas on deserted beaches, it had been easy for her to lose track of the date. Her conversations were all one-sided, directed into a tiny hand-held tape recorder or to the swollen curve of her abdomen. After she had spent ten days at this particular shack without seeing another soul, a lone fisherman had passed by earlier that morning, his smile bearing more gums than teeth as he waved and called out, "Feliz Navidad!" She hadn't recognized the words, but she had smiled and waved politely. It was only later, when she had looked the phrase up in her much-thumbed Spanish dictionary, that she realized he had wished her a happy Christmas.
Sitting by the window, she looked out through a blur of tears and tried not to think. Thinking brought memories of her mom's laugh, loud and infectious and all that Matt needed to encourage his terrible jokes. He and Ginger had been mainstays of the Connor family Christmas. Just the four of them, badly wrapped presents, and more food than they could possibly eat.
A tiny but firm kick jerked Sarah awake. She rubbed her hand across her abdomen, making soft noises of reassurance, as her other hand moved to touch the cool metal of the gun at her side. The dog whimpered, reminding her that a meal was overdue. Christmas dinner took five minutes to prepare on the hot plate. They shared refried beans and cornbread, before Sarah gave in to her craving for once, and treated herself to a bar of Hershey's. She walked the dog as dusk fell, taking him down to the waterline and watching him dive madly into the breakers. One short call and he was back by her side, nudging his nose into her palm and walking at her pace. When they neared the shack, he ran ahead, the wagging of his tail as she approached an indication that nothing had been disturbed. She murmured her thanks as she patted him. Then she reached into her belt and tugged her gun free. The lamp lit first time, casting a dim glow across the tattered room that served as her bedroom, kitchen, and living area. Her gun still in her hand, she shut the door and slid the locks into place.
. . . . .
Sarah suspected it was as much for their own well-being as a kindness to her, but they had insisted that they didn't need her help with the cooking. As a compromise, she had peeled potatoes for the nacatamales before being unceremoniously shooed away from the fire. The humidity of the jungle soaked her tank top, making it cling to her as she sat in the shade, balancing John on her knee. Ignoring the dull ache that persisted in her abdomen, she bounced him up and down, and laughed when his face broke into a delighted smile. He was filthy, as usual. In the last two weeks he had mastered crawling, and it was taking all of her, and the majority of the camp's, energy to ensure that he wasn't straying too close to the weapons cache, or the campfires, or the plastic explosives.
"What on earth am I going to do when you start walking?" It was almost impossible to stop him wriggling while she pulled a twig free from his ear. Completely unconcerned, John grinned and tugged at her hair. She lifted him up, watching his legs scrabble to gain purchase on her thighs, then hold his weight with only the slightest of wobbles. "You are growing up so quickly, little man."
Her tone seemed to worry him. Frowning with the effort, he stopped himself from swaying, and studied her carefully. When she tried to smile it didn't quite work out, and he patted her head in clumsy comfort. The earnest expression in his blue-gray eyes was so like his father's. "He would've been proud of you," she whispered, running her finger down his cheek. He caught hold of it tightly before deciding that it looked good enough to eat.
"You hungry?" It was a rhetorical question; her son was always hungry and he was sucking hard on her finger. Aside from the few hours he spent sleeping, John was never still. He demanded her time, her undivided attention, and most of her stamina, and Sarah gave it all willingly. In return, he ensured that she had little time to dwell on the grief that crept up on her in the quiet, or on the terrible knowledge that gave shape to her nightmares.
Prising her finger from his mouth, Sarah kissed the end of his nose. "C'mon then. Ofelia's cooking a feast over there…"
Scooping him up, Sarah levered herself to her feet and followed the general flow of the camp's occupants as various voices called people over to eat. There was no table to set, but she was quickly ushered towards a soft cushion at the side of a tarp, upon which several steaming dishes were already sitting.
"Feliz Navidad!" Alvaro, the medic who had saved her life and John's, kissed her cheek as she sat down, and handed John a bundle of leaves bound with string.
"Gracias, Alvaro… Oh, no! Don't eat it!"
Alvaro laughed as Sarah pulled the gift free and cut the strings to reveal a carved wooden figure with moving limbs and a widely-hinged jaw that made its teeth snap shut. She handed it to John and then shook her head in despair when it went straight back into his mouth.
"Gracias." She knew Alvaro had made the toy himself, and she squeezed his hand, feeling him return the pressure briefly, before he started to remove the lids from the various cooking pots. Steam rose, making Sarah's mouth water as the smell of rice, stuffed chicken, and fresh bread reached her. Someone passed her a plate heaped with food, and Ofelia – who had been chastising her for months for being too thin – winked and gave her a thumbs-up. A quick grace was uttered and sincerely observed, offering thanks for the feast, the occasion, and the fact that the majority of the camp had lived through another year.
Occupied with his new toy, John sat contentedly between her thighs and covered himself with food. Despite being surrounded by heavily-armed, heavily-scarred and soon to be heavily-intoxicated mercenaries, Sarah felt as safe as she had since learning that machines were being sent back through time to assassinate her son. With one hand stroking John's hair gently, she leaned back against a case of stolen AK47s, and began to eat.
. . . . .
"You look tired, Miss Connor. Here…" The huge man standing on the front porch took the paper bags from Sarah's arms. She smiled gratefully and followed him inside.
"Thanks, Kip. Everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, Miss Connor. They good on here?"
She nodded, and he carefully placed the bags on the kitchen counter, taking the time to ensure that nothing spilled out. It was a task that took him several minutes. Kip wasn't too bright - a bullet in Vietnam had shaved a good few points from his IQ - but he was six foot nine, loyal to the core, and a crack-shot with a whole range of firearms. He was a more than capable, if slightly a-typical, babysitter, and John adored him.
"Same time tomorrow night?"
Sarah shook her head, giving him the opportunity to work out why not, and when he did his face broke out into a grin.
"Oh, duh!" He slapped his forehead. "My mom's cooking turkey, even though we had it for Thanksgiving, cos she knows I love turkey." He was fishing in his pockets, patting them down, searching for something. "Here you go. She said to give you this."
It was a crumpled envelope containing a Christmas card. Sarah gave the card pride of place on the room's only bookshelf.
"Tell your mom thank you, and this is for you both."
Another envelope, this one pristine and containing slightly more money than she usually paid him. His grin widened as he counted the dollar bills, and he pulled her into a bear-hug.
"I'm gonna go buy my mom some candy, Miss Connor. I'll see you in…" A pause while he worked her schedule out on his fingers. "Three days' time."
"Three days," she confirmed. "You have a good Christmas, Kip."
His bag clunked as he slung it over his shoulder. Sarah knew that there was a veritable arsenal in there and that, until he had seen the cab pull into the drive, the weapons would have been stashed strategically around the house. He was aware that she had already laid hers out in the same manner, but he was superstitious about his guns, and she had never tried to interfere with his routine. The fact that her son was surrounded by weapons, and in the care of someone who would not hesitate to use them, allowed her to work the later and slightly better paid hours at the diner. Which, in turn, allowed her to pay for the gifts she had to wrap now that Kip had gone home.
She pushed open the door to John's room and peeked inside. The dim night-light showed her son fast asleep, his hand twitching on top of the sheets as he dreamed. Crossing the room silently, she knelt and kissed his forehead, watching as his fingers relaxed. He murmured nonsense before settling again. She left the lamp on; for the past year he had been afraid of the dark.
Sitting on the closed toilet seat, Sarah tried to find a position that relieved the ache in her lower back. Her feet and head throbbed in unison, and the smell of grease clung to her hair and clothing. She had worked a double shift that day, thirteen hours on her feet serving burgers to last- minute Christmas shoppers who were too stressed and exhausted to leave a decent tip. She hadn't had the time to eat anything substantial, and her hand shook when she bent down to untie her shoes. Right at that moment, she would have offered all the money she had for a soak in a hot bath, but their rented house came with a lukewarm shower that tended to run out of pressure after five minutes. However, even a brief shower was good enough to make her feel clean again, and she pulled on a tank-top and sweatpants, and headed back into the kitchen.
Two covered plates went into the refridgerator. A third she carried into the living room with a mug of coffee, before returning for the rest of the bags' contents. She allowed herself a few minutes to savor the piece of left-over cherry pie, feeling slightly better just for having eaten something. A flick of a switch, and the colored lights shone out from the straggly Christmas tree. The tree looked far prettier than it had; she realized that Kip and John had been busy making paperchains and snowflakes, some of which were also hanging from the walls and ceiling. Their efforts lifted her mood, and she began to wrap the small gifts for John's stocking: candy, drawing pencils and toys – nothing that cost more than fifty cents. His other present she had held onto for three years. She wrapped it carefully, decorating it with her only piece of ribbon and setting it at the side of his stocking. The sun was already threading light through the drapes as she tidied away the left-over shreds of paper and curled up on the sofa. Knowing her son, she had a couple of hours, at the most, to try to sleep.
. . . . .
Sarah had heard John the second he had climbed out of bed. Years of practice saw her instantly alert at the slightest creak of movement in the house, but she recognized the soft tread of her son's bare feet, and her hand stayed clear of the shotgun that was hidden beneath the sofa. He was creeping, and he was damn good at it. The training, heavily disguised as games in the jungle, had taught him well.
He might only have been five years old, but John Connor knew his mother, which meant that he knew she was playing possum.
She opened one eye a crack. He caught her peeking and threw himself forward into the arms she held out to him.
"Happy Christmas, John."
He clambered onto her as she pulled herself into a sitting position, and didn't notice the groan she stifled as her stiff muscles complained about her night on the sofa.
"Did you see Santa? Did he come?"
"I don't know." Her voice was all innocence. "I was sleeping."
"You wouldn't sleep with Santa in the house!" He made a good point, and Sarah tried not to laugh at the thought of her accidentally pulling the shotgun on Santa Claus.
"Okay," she held her hands up in defeat. "You got me. I saw him, told him you'd been good, and… well," she pointed under the tree. "What did he leave for you?"
The presents in the stocking were dispensed with in record time. Wrapping paper flew into the air, but he made a neat pile of his new toys and candies. When he had finished, he pulled the larger present out with a curious look on his face.
"For you?" He held it out to Sarah.
"No," she took hold of it and patted the sofa cushion at her side. "No, this is for you."
He sat close enough that their legs touched and she placed the gift in his lap. This he opened slowly, struggling with the ribbon, his tongue inching out between his teeth as he concentrated. He saw the picture on the cover first, but was still too young to read the title, and he turned to look up at his mother, who tucked her arm around him.
"This was my favorite story when I was a little girl, maybe a little older than you. My mom used to read it to me."
The book wasn't new, but Alvaro had treasured it. By wrapping it in plastic, he had protected it against the humidity of the jungle and kept it in near-immaculate condition. He had loaned it to her many times and, sensing an attachment that ran deeper than simple enjoyment, he had given it to her to pass on to John when they had eventually left the mercenaries' camp.
"Can we read it now?" John was turning the pages with a care that belied his age, his eyes wide as he looked at the illustrations.
"How about later, after dinner?" She caught the faint glimmer of trepidation on his face and laughed softly. "It's okay, Lily's done the cooking."
Lily was the owner of the diner, and her present to Sarah had been two generously-prepared plates of turkey meatloaf with all the trimmings. John clapped his hands. His face brightening, he impulsively kissed her cheek.
"You could make pancakes, mom," he said, suddenly serious, as if concerned that she not be offended by his enthusiasm for someone else's cooking.
"You want pancakes?" She tried to keep her face straight as he nodded. "Okay, you go get dressed and I'll make breakfast."
He scampered off towards the bathroom and she crouched to tidy the paper strewn all over the floor. With some reluctance, she placed the book on the arm of the sofa; if John could wait then so could she.
. . . . .
The bed was small and it creaked alarmingly as it struggled to adjust to an adult's weight. John giggled at the worried face Sarah was making, but this wasn't the first time they had tucked themselves in for a story, and they both knew the bed could hold them. He patted the sheets down to cover them and snuggled against her as she smoothed the book open.
"No," he said quickly, swallowing his yawn.
"Let's see how far we get then." She turned past the first illustration – a young girl standing beside a tin man, a lion and a scarecrow – and tightened her arm around her son. "Dorotea vivía en medio de las grandes praderas de Kansas, con su tío Enrique, que era granjero, y su tía Em, que era su esposa…"
. . . . .
"Just hold her."
"Oh for fuck's sake… You bitch!"
The nightstick came down hard across her shoulder blades, and Sarah dropped onto her hands and knees, releasing the orderly's hand. He staggered back against the wall, rubbing his shirt across the bleeding marks her teeth had left. His foot came up without warning, crashing into her face. She let out a choked cry and then lay still.
"Fuck." His eyes wide with disbelief, the man looked down at the prostrate woman and prodded her with his boot. "She ain't dead." He prodded her again, and grinned when she moaned.
"No, she ain't," his colleague concurred amiably. "But she's still not had her meds."
"Might be easier now."
They both laughed, turning Sarah onto her back and pouring the Thorazine into her mouth. She gagged once, blood from her nose making her choke, but she managed to swallow without vomiting.
"Well, least they payin' us double time."
The men stood and looked down, watching as she curled herself into a ball and lay quietly.
"We have to write this up?" Their voices were fading as they left the room.
"Naw. Dougie says she do it every fuckin' time. They got so many reports they stopped filin' 'em."
The door slammed shut, the locks sliding into place, leaving Sarah in the thin blue light that was never extinguished. She coughed, spat blood onto the floor, and then raised her hand sluggishly to her face. The drugs made it difficult for her to tell where she hurt, but her face throbbed dully and her vision swam. Using the bed's metal frame, she hauled herself to her feet, leaning forward to rest both hands on the mattress when the room spun wildly. She tried taking deep breaths, but threw up anyway, and knew that the dose they had given her had been too strong. She couldn't tell what time it was. There was still light coming in through the room's small window, but it seemed past the time when she would usually have been marched to Silberman and whichever students were passing through their Psych rotation that particular week.
No therapy. She lay down on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position. New orderlies. The sheets were thin and she shivered as she pulled them up to her chin. Double dose of Thorazine. Closing her eyes, Sarah wondered vaguely what the occasion was as she fell into her nightmares.
. . . . .
The snow fell silently beyond the glass as Sarah sat and watched him fight for his breath. She could hear the rattle as he pulled air in and the awful wheeze as he forced it out again. It took all of her strength to stand, to wring the cloth out in the cool water, and to wipe it across his face and down his neck. His skin burned where she touched it, but that came as no relief, even when they had been so cold for so long.
There was no-one to hear her quiet whimper when she sat back down. The pain from the wound in her thigh bit fiercely and she twisted in an effort to ease the pressure on it. The movement made her take too deep a breath. She started to cough, the noise harsh and brittle, and she couldn't stop it.
The bedroom door was flung open within seconds.
"Jesus, mom!" John ran to her side, pouring water into a glass and holding it for her as she took careful sips. He left a steadying hand on her shoulder and waited until she had regained control of her breathing before he spoke.
"What the hell are you doing out of bed?" He managed not to raise his voice. The fact that she had actually been able to get out of bed tempered his anger somewhat.
Sarah didn't have the breath to answer him. He knelt down and rested his hand on her forehead.
"I think your fever broke."
She was still so tired. She closed her eyes, feeling the tears fall slowly down her cheeks and the gentle touch of her son's fingers as he wiped them away.
"Cameron let you in here?"
"Yes." She looked down at him. "I asked her to."
"Yeah, I figured."
"I couldn't leave him with her."
"I know." John didn't. He didn't know everything, but he knew enough to understand that it would probably not be a good idea for his uncle to wake up with a machine at his bedside. "Give me a minute, okay?"
Sarah nodded, her eyes heavy with exhaustion.
He startled her when he came back, and she realized she had dozed off as soon as he had left. Pulling a chair up beside her, he draped a blanket over her knees and then handed her a mug of tea.
"Try that. Just take it slowly."
The tea was fragrant with vanilla and honey, and felt wonderful against the rawness of her throat.
"If you keep that down, Cameron says we can get rid of the IV."
"Mmhm." Sarah figured that she would probably be asleep long before she had a chance to feel nauseous. She felt John ease the cloth from her fingers and heard the splash of water as he dipped it into the bowl.
The fabric of his shirt rustled as he stood to bathe Derek's face. Fighting to stay awake, she waited for him to finish his question. When he sat back down, he was smiling.
"Merry Christmas," he said, and then laughed quietly at her expression of utter confusion. "I know. I guess we lost track. Today's the twenty-fifth."
"Christmas day," she said slowly.
"Yeah, Christmas day." Taking the empty mug from her hand, he leaned her back against the pillows on her chair. "My first white Christmas."
Her eyes were closing again, and he pulled the blanket up higher to cover her.
"I didn't buy you anything." She forced her eyes open, and they were full of half-dazed remorse.
"I'll take an I.O.U., just this once. You going to sleep now?"
She nodded, already most of the way there. He took hold of her hand until she settled. Outside, the snow piled up on the window-sill. It gathered steadily, blocking out the light, as he kept his vigil.
. . . . .
. . . . .