Caught in the Undertow By devra and JoaG
John turned his face into the cool breeze of the Nebraska night. He'd forgotten how cool the evening got, and his mom was going to be pissed that he hadn't brought his hoody, especially after just getting over being sick. The headache was still there and he brought his hand up to massage his temples...
But sleep-heavy limbs missed the mark and made contact with his forehead and for a second, the world exploded in an off the scale flash of pain, so intense that his arms jerked outward, knocking over the fan.
He curled into a fetal position, knees up to his chest, arms over his head, riding through the worst of the pain.
"What the hell?"
Derek's voice cut through his confusion and slowly, and very carefully, John unwound himself and lowered his arms. "What happened?"
"I think..." Derek bent down and disappeared from John's field of vision. He stood, holding a bent, squeaking, but still turning fan. "The fan's probably seen better days."
"Sorta like me," John groaned, pushing himself into a sitting position.
Derek turned the damaged fan off, pulled out the plug and stuck it in the corner. "How do you≈"
"Fine." John pushed himself to a standing position and angrily pushed away Derek's offer of assistance. "Got this," he chimed in shuffling steps away from his uncle.
Derek stepped back, hands raised in surrender. "Okay."
He got as far as the door. "Where's my mother?" he asked without turning around. He didn't need her holding his hand, he just, well, needed her near.
"Your mom's at work."
"Oh." One hand on the doorframe, John used it as a counter balance so he could turn without falling flat on his face. "You told me that already, didn't you?"
Derek gave a stiff nod.
John forced a half smile. "Think I'm going to be a sandwich short of a picnic for a while, huh?"
"No different than usual."
"Funny." This time John managed to connect with his temple and his fingers rubbed a slow circular motion. He must have stood there too long for Derek's comfort.
"Maybe you should get back into bed."
John didn't dare shake his head. "No. Maybe a shower..."
"I was thinking more like a handful of Tylenol. A glass of iced tea. And the living room, which I have on good authority, has a fan that's still alive and functioning."
"Stop hovering." The fact that Derek was sucking in all the breathable air in John's corner of the couch wasn't helping how he was feeling. Headachy, hot and all around pissy with a touch of nervousness.
Derek sat back with a sigh. "I am, aren't I?"
John used his bare toes to point to the iced tea, the bottle of Tylenol, the uneaten pieces of toast, the bottle of water, the handful of Saltines and the stack of DVDs. "Ya think?"
Thankfully, Derek moved down a cushion. "Better?"
"Better would be just sitting here. Actually me here. You there." John pointed to the farthest end of the couch.
Derek raised his hands. "I can do that." He moved to the opposite end of the couch. "See? Already done. Now what?"
"Stay there." John wrapped an arm around his midsection. "Right there," he ordered as Derek's glance strayed to where he was hugging himself. "I'm medicated. Watered..."
"You didn't eat."
"I'm. Not. Hungry," he growled, annoyed. Hands down he'd take the Derek of only less than two days ago rather than this guilt-ridden man.
"Fine," Derek answered, sounding more like a disgruntled teenager than John's elder.
John ground his elbow into the arm of the sofa and gently placed his chin in his cupped palm. With his arm providing counterpoint to the throb of his ribs and his head supported, John figured he had a good ten minutes before his body would demand a change of position.
Between the heat, the headache, the nausea and Derek's sidelong distracting glances, John found it impossible to concentrate on the DVD. He'd lost the storyline somewhere, and if he were really truthful with himself, he'd admit that his ability to focus was shot. Literally, he had to bite his tongue to ask Derek for the third time where his mother was.
The doorbell rang and a gentle restraining hand pressed against the arm John still had around his midsection. "Don't move."
Stiff, sore muscles had melted heavily into the cushions, so the 'don't move' order was a hell of a lot easier to follow than if Derek had yelled "run."
"You've got company." John glanced up and offered Charley a full blown smile, which fell from his face at the sight of the gun Derek still held in his hand. "You can put your toy away."
Derek tucked itinto the back of his pants butto John's annoyance, stillshadowed Charley.
Charley smiled at the litter on the coffee table and just put his carryall on the floor by his feet.
John lost the battle to smother his grin. Charley's ability to ignore Derek was definitely worth a chuckle or two. Payback for smothering John with nauseating kindness, though the look Derek tossed John's way from over Charley's shoulder forced him to quickly swallow the chuckle. "House call?" he managed to choke out, ducking his head.
"Oh, that's what they call it nowadays?" Derek moved in front of Charley.
Shocked at Derek's rudeness, John's head shot up, the action sending shards of pain though his head. "Rude much?" John hissed at Derek through clamped teeth. "Charley saved your life≈"
"It's okay, Johnnie," Charley placated, but not before his gaze bore a hole into Derek's tough exterior. "I came to see how you were feeling."
Both Derek and Charley drew John's attention by snorting. Loudly.
Charley pulled the ottoman over in front of John. "You're fine?" Charley asked incredulously as he straddled the ottoman and sat.
John would've nodded if he didn't think it would hurt so much so he answered with a one shouldered shrug.
"He's not fine. He..." Derek answered smugly.
John's glare at Derek fell short.
"He's got a headache that's off the scale. Watching TV is a chore. Concentrating is next to impossible. He forget things. He's tired but can't really sleep. He's≈"
"Hello. He'sright here."
"Yeah, he is," Charley agreed with a gentle squeeze to John's kneecap. "Now, is he going to be honest?"
"You forgot nauseated," John admitted sheepishly.
"You're jumping the gun. Didn't get to that yet."
John rubbed his stomach. "I did."
Derek was banished from the living room while Charley performed an assessment. So now, he hovered at a safe distance. Stealthily inching closer... Two steps forward then one step backward when John glared at him.
There wasn't any surprise in either the questions Charley asked or the rote, monotone way John answered them. The surprise was how John averted his face when Charley cautiously lifted his tee shirt.
Holy shit. The bruising had spread and the colors were damn impressive.
"Jesus, John," Derek couldn't help but comment with a whistle, "It friggin' looks like a box of crayola crayons threw up on your chest."
Quickly, John tossed a scathing, narrowed eyed glance at him which was interrupted with a loud "Ow" as Charley began to palpate the exposed area.
It looked tender. Hell, it looked more than tender, it looked downright painful. Very painful and from the set of John's jaw, and the way his eyes were focused on something, anything but Charley's poking and prodding, led Derek to believe the bruising was just as painful as it looked.
John hissed and tried to move away from Charley's inquisitive touch, but there was nowhere to go to or nothing to hide behind.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Charley answered with a head shake.
"Are you sure nothing's broken?" Derek couldn't believe something could look that bad and not be busted.
John tugged his shirt from Charley's grasp and pulled it down. "I don't need an audience, Derek."
"Nothing's broken, though I'm sure it hurts like a sonofabitch, doesn't it, Johnnie?"
'Compared to what'? John wanted to ask. The pain in his head, the inability to focus or his loss of short term memory was freaking him out more than the rainbow of colors spreading across his chest. Bruises faded. Memories lost had a tendency to remain that way.
"Hey." Charley brought him back to the here and now with a light tap on his arm.
"Sorry." John hated the fact that Charley was gazing expectantly at him as if he were waiting for an answer to a question. "Did you ask me something?"
"Yeah, he wanted to know..." Derek helpfully supplied.
Charley raised his hand, stopping Derek mid-sentence. "I wanted to know if you were hungry."
Just the mention of the word made him want to barf. "God, no," he groaned, wrapping a hand protectively around his midsection.
"You? Not hungry? I can't believe that."
John felt uncomfortable under Charley's fake enthusiasm. Uncomfortable and more than a bit put out by the false smile on his face. "Not hungry," John repeated, forcing a bit more authority into his voice.
"I tried," Derek said, pointing at the stuff he'd moved aside to make room on the coffee table.
"Not hungry," John reiterated for what seemed like the millionth time.
"Really?" Charley appeared hurt. "Not even one of my omelettes?"
Hesitation. Oh. Omelettes sounded good. Charley's omelettes sounded great, much better than the crap Derek had tried to force on him. Much better than his mother's pancakes. Until he thought of the greasy bacon, and the peppers and the≈he closed his eyes and swallowed. "Not hungry."
"Do you do hash browns with those omelettes?" Derek asked and John forced himself not to listen to the drool at his uncle's question.
"He does," John answered, forcefully swallowing a mouthful of bile.
"Best you'll ever taste," Charley answered with more than a hint of pride. "Onions and shallots shredded into the potatoes. The secret is in the length of time you brown the potatoes. They have to soak up the butter."
"I'm not," John hissed, waving his right arm lethargically around the room. "Could you guys take your Rachel Ray moments into another room?"
"Who the hell is Rachel Ray?"
"Cameron's newest heroine." John opened one eye and nailed Derek with a single ocular accusatory stare. "Speaking of Cameron, where is she?"
Derek shrugged. "Out. Your mom's doing."
John dragged his thought process through the muckiness of his brain, trying to figure out how truthful Derek was being and surprisingly couldn't come up with a reason not to believe him. "Okay." Slowly he moved his head from Derek to Charley. "You're staring. Both of you."
"Sorry," Derek apologized. "I was thinking omelettes. With hash≈"
John picked up his hand and clamped it across his mouth, the effort of breathing through his rebellious stomach kicking his headache all the way up the ladder.
"Open your eyes for me, John."
And he did. Because the request came from Charley and he let the man gently guide his hand away from his mouth and turn it over, palm side up. "Try these. May not take away the monster-sized headache, but it'll do a number on your stomach."
The two pills were nauseating pink, but John took them because he trusted no one in this world as much as he trusted Charley. He waved away the offered bottle of water and dry swallowed them instead. He stuck out his tongue when finished to show Charley they were all gone.
John and Derek were sitting at the kitchen table, Derek was slicing onions and crying, red rimmed and sniffing, grumbling under his breath. Charley was busy frying bacon and glanced over his shoulder, smiling at John who grinned back. No longer nauseated though still not hungry, watching his uncle and Charley was more entertaining and less taxing than either TV or a DVD.
"I can help, you know."
Derek pushed the plate of onions towards John. "Feel free."
"Not if you value your life."
"Why?" John asked, not that he wanted to cut an onion, but still...
"Yeah, why?" Derek wiped his eyes on the hem of his tee shirt.
"Because at this moment, or any other moment," Charley checked his watch, "within the next forty minutes or so, I wouldn't trust John to tie his shoe, never mind hold a sharp, pointy object."
With an exaggerated sigh, Derek slid the plate of onions back in front of him. "You're mother'd kill me," he said, pointing at John's forehead with the tip of the knife. "I'm surprised I'm not singing soprano after that fuck up. I'm not stupid enough," he said, glaring at John as if daring him to contradict, "to push my luck."
Sarah was tired, worried, and could only think of three things: getting out of these clothes, showering, and John. Okay, not necessarily in that order. She'd wanted to call, but the day had gotten out of hand, her boss's attention hadn't wandered from her side and she didn't even have time to pee, never mind sneak about to call home again.
Smoothing down her ugly polyester uniform, she tried to school her features, not allowing herself even the barest hint of a smile at Charley's car in front of the house. He was here to check on John. Just John, like he'd said he was going to. Nothing more, nothing less. Though... and her heart gave one of those weird flutters, what if something was wrong? And suddenly Charley's appearance took on a whole new meaning and Sarah broke into a run and burst into the house, flinging open the door, her worry and concern dying instantaneously at the scene in the kitchen.
It was a three-way tie - Charley's deft handling of the spatula while standing guard over a frying pan, the tears Derek was shedding over a plate of chopped onions and John's barely controlled enjoyment of the scene. "Oh god." Sarah swallowed the bubble of laughter, sucking in her lips so it wouldn't have any chance of escape.
"Look." John gave her an obviously, feeling no pain waggle of fingers. "Mom's home. Hi, Mom."
"Not my idea," Derek said gruffly, pushing the chair away from the table with a loud scrape along the linoleum. He grabbed the plate of onions and dropped it on the counter next to Charley, who acknowledged it with a nod towards the green pepper.
"Don't put away your knife, just yet," Charley said, using the spatula to roll the pepper towards Derek.
"Oh, don't break up the party on my account." She sauntered over to John, lifted his chin up so he met her gaze. Pupils nice and dilated. Good stuff. "How're you feeling?"
"Much better," he slurred. "How about you?"
"I think you're feeling a little bit better than I am."
"Charley's making omelettes," John said, his voice filled with innocent awe.
Sarah was pretty sure John needed to be horizontal, but at the moment, this was way too much fun. "He is? I'm going to go check."
Sarah ignored Derek's battle of cutting the pepper into tiny pieces and peered over Charley's shoulder. "Nice bacon. Too bad John's going to be asleep before you get to scramble an egg."
"Compazine will do that to a person."
She reached around and snagged a piece of bacon draining on the paper towel-lined plate. "Thank you for taking care of my family."
"John," Derek hissed, shaking his shoulder. "Come on, John."
Charley held up the dozen eggs. "Should've bet ya, Sarah, he didn't even make it to me cracking one egg."
"Time to get horizontal, kid." With a gentleness that brought tears to her eyes and evoked a memory of Kyle, Derek helped John stand. "Bed's way more comfortable than the table. Take it from me," he said with a conspiratorial whisper.
John swayed in placed, eyes still closed as he complained loudly, muttering nonsense as Derek pushed, prodded and guided a barely awake John towards his bedroom.
She stood, ready to follow and/or pick up her son, unsure if he was going to make it to the bed unscathed, not totally trusting Derek.
Charley placed the spatula across her midsection as she went to leave the kitchen. "Stop. Let him go tuck John in. He'll be fine."
"John or Derek?"
"Go set the table."
Open-mouthed, she stared at Charley, feigning indignation.
"You don't scare me, Sarah."
"I'll just have to try harder."
The omelettes were delicious, doubly so because someone else had cooked them. "Hey." She pulled the platter away from Derek's fork back to the middle of the table. "Save some for John." Sarah tossed him a slice of toast instead. "Gnaw on this."
Derek grabbed the toast and ripped it in half. "Not the same," he complained around a mouthful of buttered toast.
"Suffer," she said with a pat on his bicep. Taking his plate, she stood, put the dirty dishes in the sink and excused herself from the kitchen with a 'be right back'.
"Damn." John's room was a hot as an oven, and there wasn't a hint of a breeze, even with the opened windows. There was a sheen of sweat on John's face and Sarah wiped away the moisture, using the edge of the sheet before folding it down below his thighs. Where's the hell was the fan?
Oh. Sarah picked up the damaged, bent, destroyed fan. "Nice." She glanced down at John. "Hope you used this to beat Derek over the head."
"Thank you," Sarah repeated as she walked Charley to the front gate.
Charley dropped his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "John is amazing and I miss him."
Sarah lifted her hand and wrapped her fingers around Charley's wrist, with a squeeze. "He misses you, too."
Charley didn't smile. He just studied her, as if committing her to memory. "John has injuries that would bring an adult to their knees. Ribs. Head. Nausea. His strength has totally overwhelmed me."
"But I wasn't impressed..." Charley drew a deep breath. "Damn it, Sarah, he's barely sixteen. A kid. And he's hurting. Badly."
"He needs to be strong."
Charley shook his head, pulled her close, planting a kiss to the top of her head. "John is strong," he whispered. "He's doing his part, now it's time for you to do your job and be his mother. Bear his hurts, be strong for him. Let him be a kid."
"I can't, Charley. I wish I could."
"He's just a kid." The sadness in his voice cut through her like a knife.
"You don't understand."
"No, I guess I don't." Charley hugged her even closer. "Does John understand?"
"He has no choice," Sarah said, Charley's sadness bleeding into her heart.
Sarah was antsy after Charley left and she paced the length of the house, opening John's door on the first trip. Closing it on the second. Derek grabbed her by the wrist as she headed to his room for the third time and she turned, her free hand clenched in a fist, stopping just short of connecting with his jaw line.
He swerved, sidestepped her loss of control, but never released his hold on her.
"Let go of me, or next time I won't check my swing," she growled, jerking her hand from his grasp. His slow smile infuriated her. "What's so funny?
"Nothing." Derek stepped back and raised his hands in capitulation.
"Then wipe that smile off your face before I do it for you."
"Great pick up line, do you say that to all the guys?"
"Of course I do," she said seriously, "just before I castrate them."
Derek protectively cupped his hands over his groin. "Remind me to hide all the sharp pointy instruments in the house."
Sarah did what one does when they're unable to find something to do to keep their hands busy and away from the neck of the only other adult in the house. She began to clean the guns. Trunk opened, she sat in her bedroom, stopping occasionally, one ear cocked towards the door, listening for any movement from John's room.
She got up to get a drink the same time the tin miss returned. She looked bedraggled, mussed and she stood there in the kitchen holding a brown paper bag while her gaze flitted around the room. "This is for John."
"What is it?"
"Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Chocolate Fudge Brownie. His favorite. Though," Cameron crinkled her face in confusion, "I think it's melting."
Sarah plucked the bag from her outstretched hand and cautiously peered inside just to check that the contents were what the machine said they were. "I think it's already melted." Placing her hand underneath the brown paper bag to catch any spillage, Sarah opened the freezer door with her free pinky and shoved the ice cream inside, bag and all. "John thanks you."
"Where were you?" Derek asked, giving her the once over. "You look like you were playing in the dirt."
"The tunnels were dirty." Cameron glanced down as if noticing her appearance for the first time. "I'm dirty as a result."
"What did you find?" Sarah filled a glass with water and drank, one hip leaning against the counter, studying the cyborg.
"They haven't been used in many years and they'll be a perfect storage place."
"Storage for what?" Derek asked suspiciously, narrowing his eyes at Sarah.
"A place to store the bodies of people who piss me off." Cameron blinked at her, and Sarah swore she could hear the gears turning. "It was a joke. A funny. Ha. Ha."
"Oh, thank you for explaining."
"Would someone explain to me?" Derek asked impatiently.
"An arsenal. An extra computer. Food. Money, in case the need should arise that we have to vacate this life in a hurry. Sometimes one bag isn't enough to carry one's life." Sarah put the glass in the sink. "Not anymore."
Derek nodded. ""Okay, that I understand, but the ice cream? What? John told you to buy ice cream while you were out?"
"No. I bought it for him as a surprise."
"Excuse me?" Derek stuttered. "You what?"
"I bought John ice cream." She turned towards Sarah. "John doesn't like ice cream?"
"He does." It wasn't any secret John loved anything chocolate. "Did John tell you to buy ice cream for him?"
"No, it's a surprise." She paused and stared at the freezer. "A melted surprise."
"Shit. Shit. Shit." Derek paced in a tight little circle. Stopping, he slammed his fist into the freezer door. "Do you know what this means?"
"I don't have to make out shopping lists anymore because the tin miss will anticipate our every want and desire?"
"Independent thought," Derek yelled in Cameron's face. "You walked into a store and made a conscious decision." Derek's burst of laughter wasn't pretty. "The words conscious decision in relation to a cyborg is an oxymoron."
"Did John tell you to buy the ice cream next time you were out?" Sarah repeated the question, wording it slightly different.
"John told me Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie was his favorite flavor." Damn her, she paused for effect, Sarah was sure of it. "In the future, John will miss ice cream very much."
"Fuck." John rolled over with a groan because for a few seconds, as he'd hovered between sleep and awareness, he'd believed that the pounding behind his eyes was a residual shadow of a bad dream. Wrong. The headache wasn't part of the nightmare, it was the nightmare.
He hurt. John pieced together the reason for his not so little aches and pains. It took a few moments for his memory to play catch up with his body. Some were actually his memories, others had been supplied by the others. Driving. Running. Falling. Tree. Head. Ribs. Charley. Omelettes. Got it... especially the omelette part, because not only was he sore, but he was damned hungry.
Incrementally, he sat up. Taking his time, he breathed through the pain, keeping his eyes closed against the undulating floor boards. John sure as hell hoped that this was the 'getting worse before it could get better' scenario, because as he stood by his bedside, one leg pressed against the mattress, his hand gripping the lamp on his nightstand, he was pretty positive, short of being dead, there was no way he could feel worse than this.
John managed to shuffle to his bedroom door, eyes closed, one arm searching the space in front of him as he traveled forward until his hand rested on the doorknob. He'd like to say that getting up and mobile was working out the kinks of injury and drugged sleep, but in the few feet from his bed to the door, there wasn't a hint of improvement.
Happy summer vacation, John Connor.
John was shaking by the time he made it to the kitchen. Hungry or not, he needed respite before he needed a bite of sustenance and with a groan, he eased himself down into a kitchen chair. The fridge and the cabinet bore the brunt of his staring, willing the doors to open and the food, Tylenol and drink to make like a stupid Disney movie and prepare and present itself to him.
"What are you staring at?" His mother stepped out from behind him and squatted by the side of the chair, bringing herself to his level.
"The fridge. There food in there. Like Charley's omelette."
His mother laughed, leaned over and moved the tip of his nose from side to side. "Sometimes a little nose wiggle works."
"Huh?" John hated when his mother's silliness, which was far and few between, was never at an opportune time.
Her hand fell to cup the back of his neck. "Bewitched... The lead could do anything with a little wiggle of her nose..." Her answer died out. "Never mind," she added sadly, "that's before your time."
"Was hoping for food the old fashioned way."
"You want me to cook?" she asked incredulously.
"No. food from the fridge to the microwave."
"That's my boy."
John hurt too much to even muster a smile.
The omelette, even reheated, smelled mouth-watering, but John hesitated even picking up a fork to take a bite. It was Derek who came to the rescue before his mother even put two and two together.
"Try these first." Three Tylenol rolled off Derek's palm onto John's plate.
John didn't even glance at his mother for the okay, he scooped them up and swallowed the three at once, not even coming up for air until half the glass of iced tea was gone.
He felt the weight of Cameron's hand as it skimmed his neck. "I'll save you the trouble," he said, tentatively cutting into the omelette. "I hurt. My head. My ribs. I probably couldn't finish a Sudoku puzzle if my life depended on it. But I remember my name, my birthday and where I live as of today. I have no fever. My blood pressure isn't great. I'm starving and if I'm really lucky, those three Tylenol I ingested will stay down, this omelette will stay down and we'll all live happily ever after."
"Judgment Day is still four years away, John, doesn't that put a damper on your happily ever after?"
"No one likes a smart alec terminator. Okay," John amended, around a mouthful of omelette, "for today we'll have a happily ever after."
Sitting wasn't the answer. Watching TV was out of the question. Sleeping was impossible. And working on his computer, even with the Tylenol, wasn't going to work. So John paced, one arm wrapped around his midsection. He moved from room to room, picking up a shadow as he passed through each and every room. His mom was in the kitchen, Derek in the living room and Cameron was in his bedroom.
John turned and bumped into Cameron. "Stop it," he yelled, grimacing at the pain the volume of his own voice caused. "I don't want you≈"
"There's ice cream in the freezer with your name on it."
"There's what?" John brought his fingers up to rub his right temple, wishing the damned Tylenol would finally kick in and do its job.
"Ice cream. Ben and Jerry's. Your favorite."
"I never told you I had a favorite ice cream."
"Yes you did. In the future, you shared with me≈"
"Tastes change. People change." Inexplicably angry, John pushed past her, for once not caring about his future self.
He couldn't swing. The back and forth motion when he first sat on the swing had caused bile to rise and he'd had to swallow a number of times and just focus. John sat in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the fresh air.
"You yelled at Cameron."
"She tattled?" John cupped his hand over his eyes to cut out the sun's painful glare and gazed up at his mom.
"She mentioned it." His mom, thank god, sat on the empty swing, out of the line of the sun.
He dropped his hand, but didn't look at her. Head bent downward, John took great interest in the toes of his Converse. "Great. I wonder whose idea it was to write that into her program."
"I feel like crap. I think I'm entitled to a little whine."
She scooted her swing towards him then snaked her hand around the chains, resting her opened hand against the side of his face.
John leaned into her touch as her calloused fingers extended to his temple and massaged away some of his hurt.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
"For what?" John sighed, closing his eyes.
"For everything. For nothing. Guilt goes with the motherhood territory."
"Guilt and guns, perfect combo," John chuckled.
She took back her hand and wrapped them around the chains of the swing. Slowly moving back and forth. "Want to come back inside?"
"No. Not yet. It's cooler outside."
"Speaking of cooler, about that new fan in your room..."
"Fan? Oh... Ummm, nightmare?"
"Was that a question or a statement?"
John thought a moment. "Statement."
"Do I really want to know?"
"About the nightmare? Garbage in. Garbage out."
"Hate when you spit my words back to me."
"Doesn't it show that I've been listening?"
His mother smiled and shook her head. "That's not exactly what I call attentiveness."
"Why was Derek taking me out running?" Based on the expression on his mother's face, John could pretty much stake his life on the fact that his ability to smoothly segue from one topic to another sucked big time.
"What do you remember?"
"Pretty much nothing. Not even what I had for breakfast. I'm pretty much a black hole. I remember what you told me. And that I was running. And so was Derek. Flashes of things here and there. Other than that≈" John shrugged. "I'm drawing a blank. Not sure what are memories and what's an imagined dream."
"Concussions can do that."
"What did I lose? What memory?"
"Derek believed I was failing in the 'training John to grow up to be a warrior' department."
"So he was taking over my training?"
His mother's silence hurt more than his headache. "That wasn't it. Derek didn't trust me, or believe you, did he?"
"I think he's changed his mind," she finally answered. "Derek was going to prove to himself..."
"And to you," John added, "that he was right."
"No, he was going to push you..."
"Yeah, until I fell down a mountain."
"No. Until you cried uncle."
John's laughter was unexpected and his mother's echoing mirth followed seconds later. "That was really bad, Mom."
"I didn't mean to. Sorry." She cleared her throat, trying to regain composure.
"Me, too," John said, pulling himself up, using the chains of the swing. "Didn't mean to disappoint everyone. Not you. Not Derek, and especially myself."
"You didn't fail, John."
"I have the bruises and concussion to prove you're wrong."
"Getting hurt does not equal failure."
"No, but in the long run, getting dead does."
John couldn't sleep. He'd been tired on the couch, eyes closed, drifting to the point even Cameron had said that maybe it was time he went to bed. But now that he was horizontal in the darkness of his room, between his lingering headache and the lack of air, John was awake. Couldn't even say he was tossing and turning, because the act of moving took too much effort for him to even attempt.
He feigned sleep when his mother opened his bedroom door then opened his eyes and listened to her footsteps padding down the hall, strangely comforted by the creak of her bedsprings as she settled for the night.
Cameron did her rounds, and this time John closed his eyes for real and slept. According to his bedside clock, he'd managed about forty minutes of sleep before the background hum of the downstairs television sliced through his uneasy slumber.
Canned laughter meant Derek was watching and not Cameron. She had a tendency to watch news programs and Derek had a tendency to recapture what he'd lost with stupid sitcoms from the TVLand cable channel.
John got up to pee, washed up and ignored his battered reflection in the mirror. Sleeping wasn't on his agenda tonight, so he quietly crept down the hallway, ignoring all the creaky floorboards, so not to awaken his mother.
He pulled out three bowls, three spoons and the container of Ben and Jerry's. One for him, one for Derek, and the third he handed to Cameron as she completed her circuit. "Let me know what you think."
"It's your favorite," she repeated blankly.
"I know, you told me that already, but I want to know if it's your favorite."
Derek looked up at John. "Couldn't sleep?"
The 'no shit, Sherlock' was on the tip of John's tongue, but it was safer to just overlook Derek's remark and hand one of the dishes of ice cream to him. "Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Try this, I'm supposed to love this in the future." John shrugged, dropped down into the recliner and began tucking into his own bowl, ignoring the fact that Derek was just staring at the dish in his hands. "I don't know about you, but future stuff gives me a headache on a good day."
Derek grunted as he tentatively scooped up a spoonful of ice cream.
"It's not bad," John begrudgingly admitted. "I wouldn't exactly classify it as my favorite, though."
"The machine's right. It is your favorite."
"She told you?" John began to stir the ice cream, slowly creating a soupy mixture.
"I don't know how the fuck the machine knows. Kyle told me. According to my brother, 'these are a few of my favorite things' was a topic discussed numerous times to help pass the long nights at Century City."
"And this ice cream came up in conversation?" John picked up the bowl and examined it.
"Among other things," Derek said with a smug smile. "Kyle was privy to≈"
"Oy." John slunk down in the recliner. "I don't think I want to know... I'm sorry," John blurted out in the next breath.
"Whoa, John." Derek leaned forward and placed his dish on the coffee table. "I think I should be apologizing to you. I mean..." Derek pointed to his own head.
The ice cream suddenly was more nauseating than sweet. He hadn't meant to say that, and based on the pitiful and sympathetic look Derek was trying to hide, his uncle had totally misunderstood. John inhaled then exhaled slowly. "I spoke to my mom about what happened."
"I remember falling. Well, kinda. Sorta. But I don't remember too much of what happened that day. The ride there. That morning. Breakfast. Totally dead air on my part. My mom helped to fill in the blanks."
Derek squirmed, looking uncomfortable. "Look, John..."
"I understand," John said, because he did, in some strange fucked manner. "You couldn't get angry with the other me... in the future, so you..." The breath that John drew wasn't as sure as his previous one. "You got angry with me for taking Kyle away from you. I'm sorry about that."
"No." Derek shook his head adamantly. "That's not the reason."
John forced the look of disappointment from his face. He'd hoped for the truth.
Derek sunk back into the couch, defeated. "At least I tried to pretend it wasn't the reason. Guess I failed?"
"I'm not him. And right now, I'm not so sure I ever want to be that man."
Derek picked up his bowl of ice cream, removed the spoon and pointed it at John. "Eat your ice cream, kid."
John stood and dropped the bowl on the table. "I don't think I like it."
"You'll be a great man, John Connor."
"No, I think you have it confused. I'll be a great leader, but I won't be a good man, will I?"
"You brought hope."
"But Kyle... I... "
"You did what needed to be done."
"That doesn't make me a good man."
"No, it doesn't, but it makes you the damned bravest man I've ever met."
John healed slowly, the headache slowly waning, the bruises taking longer, his pissiness and erratic sleeping habits taking the longest.
The weather was dark and angry, John didn't need to check the computer to know a storm was headed their way. He stood on the porch, arms folded, watching his mother's hair sweep across her face at she said goodbye to Charley. The wind kept playing havoc with her long strands, no matter how many times she impatiently tucked them behind her ears.
Charley laughed. He said something, then he tucked her hair behind her ears with exaggerated gentle force.
His mother smiled a smile John hadn't seen in a long time.
"You go, Mom," John whispered.
John knew that Charley's visit today was more of a way to stay in contact as opposed to a check up. And that was fine with him as long as it made his mom smile like that.
Thunder sounded in the distance and with the slightest of shrugs, his mother stepped back from Charley. He reached out with one hand, then let it drop when she shook her head and pointed to the sky. John cursed under his breath, damning Mother Nature for destroying the moment.
The wind suddenly changed directions and the temperature dropped, and in response, goose bumps popped up, peppering his arms. He rubbed at them absentmindedly, his gaze now glued to the approaching clouds and he backed up, pressing himself against the house. Sixteen years old and he hated storms. Lightning and thunder was the closest thing to Judgment Day that his imagination could come up with. Like fireworks. Fourth of July was a hated holiday in the Connor household.
The rain began and his mother's goodbye to Charley was now hurried. A smile, a protesting hug to his mother, a quick wave in John's direction and he was gone. By the time his mom made to the safety of the porch, she was soaked.
She shook like a dog, her wet hair spraying John.
"Hey," he said, shaking out his arms. "Thanks."
"My pleasure." Her grin was wickedly evil. "Storm's coming."
A flash of lightning lit up the sky and John barely was able to count to three before a rumble of thunder shook him to his core. "Storm's here."
His mother slung an arm over his shoulder and brushed her lips across his temple. "Not if I have any say in the matter."
"Going to take on Mother Nature?"
She butted her shoulder against his. "Don't think I'll win the battle?"
"The bitch doesn't stand a chance against you."
His mother laughed. "You say the sweetest things."
"Charley said you're okay."
John remained silent.
"Are you okay?" his mother prodded.
"Yeah." John nodded. "I am."
"Good. Now let's go inside and try some of that ice cream that≈"
"There's none left," John said with a touch of guilt.
"I thought you said that it wasn't your favorite?"
"It was the only ice cream in the house, so I made do." John stepped forward and stuck his hand into the downpour. "Think I can order Cameron will do an ice cream run?"
Derek awoke with a curse and reached for the gun under the pillow. "What the fuck?"
John stood over him, eating a bowl of cereal. "Morning to you, too."
"Don't do that."
"Do what?" He chased the last of the Lucky Charms marshmallows around the circumference of the bowl.
"Wake me up like..." Derek scrubbed at his eyes, then blinked. "What the hell time is it?"
"Five thirty." John lifted the bowl to his lips and drank the last of the fruity-tasting milk.
"In the morning?"
"Yup." He used his sleeve to wipe away his milk moustache remnants. "Come on." John kicked at the edge of the couch with his leg. "Get up."
"Do you have a death wish?"
"Nope." John dug in the front pocket of his jeans then dropped a set of keys on Derek's stomach.
"Come on, Derek, we're going to do it right this time."
Derek scooped up the keys and sat up. "You don't have anything to prove." He juggled the keys from one hand to the other before tossing them onto the table. "Not to me. Not to anyone else."
"I never said I had to prove anything." John put the empty bowl on the table, picked up the keys and tossed them back to his uncle. "I said we were going to do it right this time around. Cameron's loaded the car with water. And food. I picked out the place, hope you don't mind if we don't go back to≈"
Derek shook his head. "New place is fine."
"Needed a wider trail. One where we could run side by side. Not with you chasing me. It works better that way. Having someone by your side."
"Yeah, it does." Derek tossed the keys to John and stood. "Hold these while I go get ready."
John was just stuffing the keys into his pocket when Derek surprised the crap out of him and pulled him into a crushing hug.
"Your father would be so proud."
John was unable to squeeze any words past the lump in his throat and he stood mutely rooted to the spot, and smiled.