Sarah walked into the house already yelling John's name. It never failed to amaze her that if she just breathed the word "mission", everyone was out the door, armed and ready, but just mention food shopping and Derek and John would scatter like cockroaches in a brightly lit kitchen. Cameron had offered assistance and for a moment, Sarah had been tempted to drag her terminator tush to the store, but had opted to assign the tin girl to homework patrol. As in making sure John completed his.
John had baulked.
Amazing. Suddenly food shopping had held more appeal than staying home and doing homework, but she'd smiled sweetly and reminded him that payback was a bitch of a taskmistress.
Now, homework or not, there were bags to be dragged from the Jeep to the kitchen. She'd done her torture for the day, now it was someone else's turn. Frustrated, Sarah plopped the bag on the counter. "John, where are you?"
"I'm right here."
Sarah reached into the bag, pulling out the milk and butter. "Good," she said as she turned to face him. "You bring the rest of the bags into the kitchen while I≈John?"
Arms folded across his chest, he was leaning, hip resting on the counter, staring at her.
She walked to the fridge, put the items away on their respective shelves and shut the door. John was still standing there wearing a familiar, soft half smile. God, he looked like his father. Right there. Not in his build, John's build was all her genes, but the expressive face. The knowing smile. The dimple. Those eyes. All his father's genetic makeup.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he repeated with a shrug.
"Good, then if nothing's wrong, get your ass in gear and bring in the bags."
"Did you ever wonder - if we stop Skynet - I mean, completely stop Skynet, what'll happen?"
"No brainer. We'll all live happily ever after."
"You will. And Kyle and Derek, they will also."
"Yeah, one big happy family." Sarah rooted around in the bag and pulled out a bunch of bananas. "Go get the bags," she repeated. "You can talk and work."
"But you won't listen. You won't hear me."
Frustrated, Sarah dropped the bananas onto the counter. "Okay," she said, spreading her arms wide. "I'm all ears."
"You won't even miss me. If we stop Skynet, my dad... Kyle won't ever have to come back and save you..."
"You'll never get pregnant."
"Stop it," she croaked. Sarah needed to swallow the lump in her throat, but her mouth was dry, spitless.
"There will be no reason for me to be born."
She wanted to gather him in her arms. Steer him away from those nonsensical, ridiculous words, but she couldn't. Thoughts she'd had, but never had had the guts to voice. In two strides, Sarah was at the sink, filling up a glass, downing the water in three gulps.
"Too much of our life," John continued. "Too much of my life. My existence centers on the future. Of who I'll become. Not who I am."
Sarah turned around to argue but in shock, the glass slipped from her fingers and shattered on the ceramic tile floor. The kitchen was bright, airy. Modern appliances. Granite countertops. Ceramic tiles. She was in his face, her hands clutching the front of his shirt. "What did you do?"
"What did I do? I didn't do anything. We stopped Skynet. This is your life now. Your home."
She dropped her hands, stood in shock, shaking her head.
"Yup." John plucked a banana from the bunch and began to peel it. "The real deal."
"No. It's not."
"Yeah, it is. Come on." He skirted around her. "Follow me." He bit off the end of the banana and waved her forward, the peels flapping in invitation for her to follow.
The living room was as changed as the kitchen, but it wasn't the carpeting or the fresh flowers in the vase on the coffee table, it was the photos on the shelves that drew her attention. "Who are these people?" she demanded, grabbing a photo and staring.
"Your mother. These are your children." John appeared over her shoulder. "Two girls."
"The first terminator didn't kill her. She's alive. Well. Happy. And loves being a grandmother."
With shaking hands, Sarah exchanged that picture for another. A wedding picture. "I married..."
"Charley. You're Mrs. Sarah Dixon. A Reese never played a part in your life. Ever."
"What about you?" She swept her arm over the shelves with the visuals of her life. "Where are you?"
"Connect the dots, Mom. Without Kyle... Well, I don't fit in. I don't belong here." John walked back into the kitchen, looked around for the garbage pail then tossed the empty peel into the trash.
"I won't let you leave."
"I really don't think you have a choice, do you?"
"There's always a choice."
"We saved millions, Mom."
"But at what expense?"
"Just one," John answered slowly. "Mine. And when I leave here, I'm not even going to be a memory. Which, when you think about it, pretty much sucks. Because I'm thinking a plaque or a statue would've been nice."
"This isn't funny."
He shrugged and managed a half smile. "It's not meant to be."
"I'll always find you, John."
John leaned forward, kissing her cheek. "No, you won't, because you won't even know what you're looking for. You'll never even miss me."
Routinely, Sarah woke from nightmares with her heart pounding out of her chest, terrified. She could count on one hand the times she'd been pulled from a nightmare, barely making it to the toilet so she could quietly puke up whatever her last meal had been. But until tonight, she'd never woken up in tears.
She threw back the covers and ran into John's room. Sarah didn't stare down at the bed, waiting for her presence to wake her son. Nope. Tonight she ripped him from sleep, grabbing John by the front of his tee shirt, lifting him into a sitting position.
He was awake instantly. "What's wrong?"
Everything. "Nothing's wrong." She hugged his sleep-warmed body tightly.
"Mom." He pushed her away, gently but firmly, then buried a yawn in his shoulder. "This is weird, even for you."
Sarah chucked softly, happily. "Go back to sleep, John."
He dropped back onto his pillow with a groan, closed his eyes then opened one, glaring at her. "Was this some sort of training exercise? Torture?"
"A bit of both," she answered, patting his blanket-covered leg before standing. "Go back to sleep," Sarah ordered a second time.
"Nightmares suck," John whispered before turning onto his side and getting comfortable.
"Damn straight," she agreed, hating that he knew her better than she would ever know him.
She sat on the swing, the streetlight casting shadows in the leaf-covered backyard, slowly rocking. Rocking back and forth, aimlessly. Once upon a time, Sarah's life had been what would've been considered normal. She'd been barely testing her independent wings when Kyle Reese had entered her life. Strangely, that Sarah was less real to her than the nightmares that haunted her, so much so,that she never even mourned for what she'd lost or who'd she'd been. "You might as well come and join me," she said to the night air, smiling as she imagined the look of exasperated failure on Derek's face as she thwarted his attempt to catch her unaware. "Couldn't sleep?" An oxymoron, considering he was standing in front of her, as awake as if it were the middle of the afternoon.
"Do you ever sleep?"
TouchИ. "I do occasionally." Sarah tapped the swing next to her, setting it in motion. "Come and join me."
And he took a step forward, then hesitated as if he'd forgotten what a child's swing was for.
"It won't bite"
Derek glanced over his shoulder, back towards the house.
"Don't worry." Sarah rattled the chain of the swing. "Your secret will be safe with the tin toy. I'm pretty sure she won't blab to the terminator world that she caught you playing on a piece of children's playground equipment." Sarah winked at Derek. "I understand it would be bad for your image"
"Bitch," Derek growled, but there wasn't any force behind his gruffness.
"Who? Me or the tin toy?" Sarah asked with false innocence.
"Which answer will keep me alive and breathing?"
Her soft huff faded into the darkness. "What do you think?"
Derek sat and he followed her lead, rocking back and forth, the heels of his bare feet digging into the dirt as an anchor. "Sun'll be up in a few hours."
Sarah wasn't exactly sure if Derek was making conversation or giving her a hint that here was the opportunity for her to catch up on her sleep. "Not really tired." Staying awake and dealing with the day, in Sarah's book, was definitely less stressful than dealing with the sandman and the demons he brought along for the ride.
The back door slammed, louder in the silence of the early hour.
"Great, another restful night at the Connor household." There was no mistaking the hint of amusement in his voice.
"Mom?" John called her name, but his approach was fairly silent. Sarah waited until he was almost upon them before answering.
"We're?" John questioned with a smirk. He was wearing a pair of well worn, too short, definitely needed to be in the garbage pajama bottoms, a washed out teeshirt whose logo had faded into oblivion and a pair of white socks that glowed luminously in the moonlight. Stretching and digging his knuckles into his eyes, he looked more like a toddler waking up from a nap than a teenager. He made no move to cover up his yawn. "Sorry," he mumbled after the deed was completed.
"Go back to bed."
"Like mother like son."
"Well, I don't see you sleeping," John shot back at Derek.
"T'sk, t'sk. Boys. Boys... Behave yourselves." Sarah pointed to John's sock-covered feet, already darkened by his trek through the yard. "You do know you're doing the wash this week."
John mumbled something under this breath and Sarah was pretty damn sure it had nothing to do with the amount of Clorox needed to throw into the white load.
Derek's laughter hushed immediately when Sarah glared at him.
"Watch it," she hissed, "otherwise you'll be scrubbing the bathroom."
John kept his mouth shut, though Sarah noticed his compressed lips. Smart boy.
"Great," Derek grumbled and for a second, Sarah thought he was referring to the scrubbing the bathroom comment until Cameron stepped up to join their group. "You found us."
With a turn of her head, the tin miss took in the three of them. "Were you missing?"
"Stop it, Derek," John said in a tone of voice that Sarah was pretty sure Derek had heard numerous times in the future.
Derek threw his hands up. "Stopping." He waited just a beat before continuing, "Though I can't imagine≈"
Sarah shook her head; obviously Derek wasn't as smart as John when it came to keeping his mouth shut. "We're discussing the division of household chores."
Sarah pointed to John and Derek. "Laundry. Bathrooms. You guys don't remember? I'm shocked."
"I thought you were kidding," John said softly.
"You thought wrong."
"I always got stuck emptying the dishwasher. Always. Hated that. Hated taking out the garbage, too. Used to pawn garbage off on Kyle. The kid always got easy stuff. Like hauling down the dirty clothes or watering the lawn. Or the real tough one of going food shopping with our mother and having to pick out the cereal of choice. Me? I ended up carrying the bags in."
Sarah didn't miss John's imperceptible movement closer to Derek. Like a sponge, he was always willing to suck up any tidbit about his father. She tried, but there were so many blanks and questions she could neither fill in nor answer for John. Derek? The man was a hidden wealth of knowledge for John and for that reason, Sarah was grateful for his presence in their life. Not that she would ever tell him. Ever.
Sarah leaned over and patted Derek's knee. "Poor boy. Me, I got bathrooms. Notice the plural on that. Hated doing the bathrooms," Sarah recalled with a shake of her head. "My mother would come in and inspect..."
Derek chuckled. "Heaven forbid I played musical dishes and moved plates and stuff around rather than put them away."
"Why would you do that?" Cameron asked.
Derek thought a moment, then shrugged. "I don't remember. Such a long time ago. War and metal have a tendency to make you forget the little things."
"Not everything," she answered. If Sarah thought long and hard, she could remember what it was like with her and her mother. Just the two of them. From her mother she learned strength in the face of adversity. How to cry in private. Drive a car. Balance a checkbook. Do laundry. Love her child. Make pancakes. "My mother taught me how to drive a car."
"Well, that explains it≈"
"Hey!" John blurted out before Sarah could. "My mom taught me to drive a car," he said indignantly. "Automatic. Stick. How to hotwire a car."
"Yeah," Derek snorted. "Much better than emptying the dishwasher."
"Never had a dishwasher," John said.
"You're looking at her," Sarah said, waggling her fingers.
John yawned, this time catching himself, he covered his opened mouth.
Sarah pointed to the house. "Go."
John shook his head and smiled, that funny half smile, just like he had in her dream. Punch in the gut sad and so reminiscent of Kyle.
"Too late." He rubbed his forehead, "Or maybe it's too early? Not sure."
"You can always sleep during study hall."
John glared at his metal sister.
A little more of Sarah's gut twisted. Half smiles. Conversations and nightmares in the dead of night. Too little sleep. Too much life. Sleep stolen where one could manage, never knowing what the night would bring. Like tonight.
"I remember that study hall snooze. Had some of my best power naps in ninth grade math. Where the hell do you think I perfected the ability to sleep with my eyes opened?"
Cameron stared as Derek as if contemplating that action. "That's not possible."
"That's because, Miss metal, you never had Mr. Cantebury for math. The man could bore paint off the wall."
"Mrs. Moran. Tenth grade history," Sarah groaned. "She was the worst. I think I slept through a class or two that year." Quickly, she glanced up at John. "Better never hear that you got caught sleeping in class."
"I'll make sure to wake him before he snores."
"I don't snore."
"I don't sleep, remember? I know you snore."
Okay, she'd had enough, and she was pretty damn sure John's embarrassment was reaching the overload level. "Breakfast, anyone?" Sarah asked, stepping off the swing, stretching her hands over head.
John hid his yawn behind a moan. "Shower first."
"Shower, then throw in a load of laundry."
"You heard your mother. Laundry after shower."
"And you," Sarah said turning to Derek, intending to clear that smirk off his face, "can clean the bathroom after John finishes."
"Breakfast then bathroom."
In mock indignation, Sarah crossed her arms and huffed.
"Can't anyone do what I ask without a discussion?"
"I can do the dishes after breakfast." Cameron waggled her fingers. "I can be the dishwasher."
Sarah laughed. "See, I knew there was a reason we keep the tin girl around."
The washing machine was going. The dishes were drying in the drain board and the last time she looked, the bathroom was cleaned to one level above blinding. Sarah was on her third cup of coffee, paperwork from the safe house spread out over the kitchen table.
John and Cameron were at school. Derek had volunteered to do a grocery run this morning, her gun and coffee within easy reach. And maybe, just for today, maybe just for twenty-four hours, life would be good and kind to them. People in their lives could be remembered with fondness and maybe today, if the fates were gentle, loves lost and lessons learned would be able to balance out their nightmares and sleepless nights.