John sat on his bed and drew his knees up to his chest. When Derek had been informing him about Martin, about how he had died for him, about how so many others would die for him in the future, all he had wanted to do was tell his uncle to shut up, that he'd changed his mind, he didn't want to know anymore. But, it was too late, the words were already out of Derek's mouth and in John's ears and, more importantly, in his head.
Now, he just couldn't turn them off. The words kept going round 'n round in his brain, repeating themselves over and over. He thought of the girl at school a little over a year previous, he should have been able to sav her. He thought about how Derek had almost died for him, and how Martin Bledell would die for him in the future. And, Sarcissian - he'd never have thought himself capable of doing something like that. A knot grew in his stomach at the memory of that night as well as the memory of the horrible nightmares that he'd had every night since. John couldn't remember the last time he had been able to get a good night's sleep.
Then, his thoughts led him to Charlie's wife, Michelle. Cromartie had captured her to lead John's mom away from him, to make John an easier target... and Michelle had died. Would Charlie ever be able to forgive him? From what Derek had told him in the car, part of him hoped that he wouldn't... that Charlie would just stay far, far away from him.
It was becoming glaringly obvious that loving and caring about John Connor was a dangerous game. That's when he finally came to a decision that would be best for everyone involved. He got up from his bed and grabbed his duffel from underneath, wondering wryly if it could still be considered 'survivor's guilt' in the cases where the people hadn't yet died.
Sarah had waited until John was in his room with the door shut before turning to Derek and demanding to know what had happened at the Academy. He had told her, without preamble, every step that had led to the demise of the Triple 8, but she still wasn't hearing anything that could have put that look of utter hopelessness and defeat on her son's face. Then Derek told her about the conversation that had taken place during the drive home… and Sarah erupted quietly yet effectively.
"You told him what?"
"I told him how Bledell dies in the future."
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Sarah, he wanted to know. And, y'know what? He deserved to know."
"He's just a boy, Derek!"
"He's a war hero!"
Sarah was trying to control her temper but failing miserably. "No, Derek. Not yet, he isn't. Right now, he's a boy. A boy who's trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world. A boy who's trying to come to grips with what he knows is going to happen in the not so distant future! A boy who already has enough guilt weighing on his shoulders," she whispered fiercely, shoving Derek into the far wall.
"What does he have to feel guilty about? He hasn't done anything!"
"Have you forgotten about Michelle?"
"There's no way he could've stopped that!"
"I know that, and you know that, but John still blames himself!" Sarah said, her frustation clear in her voice. "And, what about Sarcissian? Have you forgotten about that fiasco?"
"What about Sarcissian?"
Something flashed in Sarah's eyes and she suddenly released him, turned away and retreated a few steps, absently running a hand through her hair. She hadn't meant to say that - she'd promised John that she wouldn't. But Derek just always managed to push her buttons when it came to her son.
"Sarah? What aren't you telling me?"
After a long moment, Sarah finally said, "I didn't kill him."
"Kill who? Sarcissian? The autopsy report stated that his neck was broken. The explosion certainly didn't do that," Derek argued. When Sarah turned to face him once again, and he saw the pain and concern in her eyes, not for him but for John, Derek suddenly knew what she was saying without her having to actually voice the words. "John? John killed Sarcissian?"
Sarah nodded. "With his bare hands," she whispered softly. "To save me."
Derek was stunned, to say the least. He thought back to their discussion in the car, remembered the tears in John's eyes, the rebellious one that had made its track down the kid's face. He sighed loudly and pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "I didn't know," he replied, knowing how lame it sounded in the current circumstances. "I'm sorry."
"Y'know what? Just forget about it. John is my main concern, right now," Sarah declared, moving away from Derek towards her son's room.
"No, wait," Derek said, grabbing her by the elbow. A hold from which Sarah easily removed herself. "Let me." The look of disbelief in the woman's eyes, instantly reminded him of why Kyle had loved her so much - her unfailing sense of protectiveness over those she loved, especially John. "Please," he implored. "This was my screw up. Let me make things right."
Sarah searched his eyes and saw an indisputable sincerity there, mixed with remorse for what he had done. In that moment, she saw something of Kyle in Derek's eyes and, despite what she had thought of the man thirty seconds ago, Sarah nodded her acquiescence. Derek stepped into the hallway but halted when Sarah spoke. "Don't hurt him again, Reese. Because, if you do, you'll wish you were back in the war torn hell of the future."
Derek hadn't been kidding when he'd told John that every time he looked at him, he saw Kyle. Now, as he entered John's room, saw the kid packing his duffel bag with various items, his heart thudded in his chest as memories of the past assaulted him once again.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"I don't want anyone else dying for me," John stated, without so much as a look in Derek's direction.
"Listen, kid, I'm sorry. I never should've laid all that on you," Derek stated. There were a few long moments of silence, then...
"Too many," John said in a voice barely louder than a whisper, still stuffing clothing into his bag.
"Too many what, John?" Derek asked, leaning forward slightly, trying to hear the whisper more clearly. It was obvious that John was trying desperately to keep his emotions in check, but Derek could clearly see that he was fighting a losing battle - a battle on which Derek had inadvertently dropped the first bomb.
"Too many people die for me. Then and now. I can't change the past, but I can change the future," John said louder this time, though his breath did hitch slightly between words.
Derek placed his hand on John's shoulder, only to have the boy flinch away from him.
"Don't touch me," John pleaded, knowing that he was going to have to avoid all human contact if he was going to be able to go through with this. He couldn't afford to break. Not now, not ever. He was thankful when Derek complied and didn't reach out to him again. Needing his uncle to understand, John turned to him, fire blazing in his eyes. "Don't you get it, Derek? I'm just one person. No one should have to die for me. I'm no more important than anyone else," he added softly, turning back to his packing.
Derek reached out and grabbed John's chin, turning his head to face him. 'Yes, John. You are."
"Why is that?" John asked, a slight sneer offsetting the tears threatening to fall. "Because I'm the leader of the resistance? Because I'm the man who saves humanity from extinction?" John is yelling now, leaning forward into Derek's personal space, his hands now fisted in the fabric of the older man's shirt.
But, Derek knew this ploy well because Kyle had used it many times growing up - as had the adult version of John Connor. It was a defense mechanism, plain and simple, used to make people angry and push them away before they had a chance to see the crumbling fortress of walls. Despite the obvious age difference, John was trying to intimidate Derek but the older man was undaunted. "Yes, John, that's part of it. I'll admit that. But, it's not the only reason. You're important because of who you are. My brother's son. My nephew," he said, placing his hands on John's wrists, squeezing slightly for emphasis.
John looked away, locking his gaze on Derek's shoulder instead. In that moment, he reminded Derek more of Kyle than of the adult John Connor. If for no other reason, than the fact that his walls weren't completely fortified yet - much like Kyle. This younger version of the seasoned war hero had not yet been able to bury his feelings so deep no one would be able to see them. When Derek released his wrists and grasped the boy's face in his hands, held him there, forcing him to make eye contact… he was rewarded with a view of the pain and agony that John was so desperately trying to hide. Derek's big brother tendencies overrode everything else as one hand moved to the back of the kid's neck, the other moving around his back, pulling him against his chest. Not surprisingly, John tried to push frantically against him, but his hands, which were still fisted in Derek's shirt, were now trapped between them, leaving him defenseless against his uncle's hold. That didn't stop him from fighting, though.
"Lemme go!" John yelled. He didn't want comfort. Not from his mother. And, certainly not from his uncle. If he was going to be the one who saves humanity, he had to be strong - had to get through this stuff on his own.
"I can't do that, John. I caused this, so, I'm gonna fix it."
With a renewed strength, John pulled away from Derek. "I don't need fixing," he said, grabbing his now full duffel from the bed and backing towards the door.
"Yeah, ya' do," Derek replied matter-of-factly, stepping towards him.
"Please," John said, raising his hand in an effort to ward off his uncle. "Just leave me alone."
"Why, John?" Derek asked, taking another step towards him. "You think you don't deserve this, either?"
John chose that moment to make a desperate dash for the exit. Knowing that he wouldn't make it to the door before the kid, Derek did the only thing he could do, he raced up behind John and wrapped his arm around his middle, lifting him off the ground and spinning them both back and away from the door.
"Let me go," John roared, using the momentum to spin away from Derek, who was now blocking his only escape.
"John, let me help you. Please."
"No! Why can't you understand? Charlie's wife died because of me! Do you have any idea what kind of agony that man is going through right now? He cried in my arms, Derek! I had never seen him cry before that day, and it was my fault! Then, less than an hour ago, you tell me that Martin Bledell dies for me in the future. And that he's not the only one. How the hell am I supposed to feel about that? Huh? Tell me, Derek! How am I supposed to feel?"
"That's not all this is about, is it?"
"Your mom told me, John," Derek said softly, watching the teen shake his head in denial. "She told me about Sarcissian."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Derek took a tentative step towards the boy, wanting nothing more than to take his pain away. "Really? Cuz I think you know exactly what I'm talking about. You did it to save your mother, John. There's nothing wrong with that. You have to forgive yourself."
John looks at his hands and Derek knows he's remembering that moment, his first kill. The tears finally overflow and slide down his cheeks as he looks up at his uncle, still shaking his head. "No."
"I know what it's like, John. The first time you kill someone. You feel this insurmountable guilt for taking another human life, no matter what the circumstances happened to be. And, there's a knot in your stomach that just won't go away, right?" The look on John's face is all Derek needs to know that he's on the right track. "Then the nightmares start. Waking in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, sure that the man you killed is in the room with you, watching you in the dark. How long has it been since you slept through the night, John?"
The boy's eyes open wider, staring at Derek in shock, unable to believe that anyone truly knows what he's going through. "How... How did you...?"
"Because I've been there, John. I know what you're going through. Just let me help." He watched as the teen dropped his duffel and doubled over slightly, wrapping his arms around himself, as if in physical pain. Derek knew this pain all too well. He made it to John's side in two strides, pulling him roughly against his chest, once again.
John strained fiercely against the older man's hold on him. "Let me go!"
"Those deaths weren't your fault, John," Derek whispered softly against his hair, his words punctuated with grunts from the effort it was taking to subdue the boy in his arms. Kid's stronger than he looks, Derek thought with pride. But, the harder John tried to get away, the tighter Derek held on. He remembered being the same way after his first kill. Only difference being, no one was around to take his pain away. He'd had to hold onto it, use it to make him stronger and meaner - sacrificing part of his soul, in the process. He hadn't let Kyle deal with it that way, and he sure as hell wasn't going to let Kyle's son go through it, either.
He sighed with relief when John finally relaxed into his hold, but felt the young shoulders tremble, and he knew the kid was still trying to maintain control. "It's just you and me here, John. I promise no one else will find out about this." He could still hear the hitches in the boy's breathing, feel the shoulders tremble with the effort of holding back. Suddenly, he realized John wasn't worried about other people finding out. He was worried about Derek's own opinion of him. This made Derek hold him even closer, stroking his hand through the boy's hair. "You won't appear weak to me, John. I've shed a few tears in my day, I just didn't have anyone to help me through it. I'm not gonna let you go through the things I went through - not alone. You hear me, kid?" John nodded his head mutely. "Just let it out, John. I promise, I'm not goin' anywhere, okay? I promise." Derek paused for a long moment. There was something that he wanted to say but he didn't know if he could. It had been so long since he had uttered those words to anyone. But, he needed to say it and, more importantly, John needed to hear it. "I love you, kid."
And, those four small words seemed to break the dam. It was only a few seconds later that Derek heard the first gut wrenching sob escape. "That's it, kid. You don't have to be strong all the time. Sometimes, you have to let other people be strong for you." The boy continued to shake in his arms, this time with the force of the emotions coming out instead of being kept in. After several long moments, John's legs finally gave out and Derek sank to the floor with his broken nephew in his arms. With John and Derek both on their knees, Derek did something he hadn't done since Skynet had declared war on humanity, when Kyle was just a little boy… he rocked John to sleep. It wasn't planned, Derek had no idea he was going to do it until it happened. It was just instinct. An indeterminable amount of time later, when Derek finally felt the boy go limp in his arms, he noticed that the sun had set a long time ago, leaving the room encroached in darkness. He lifted John's sleeping form into his arms and carried him over to the bed. Derek stood in front of the bed for a few long moments, cradling his nephew against his chest, resting his chin on top of the boy's head, then laid him down gently on top of the covers. He gazed down at the teen. John almost always looked peaceful when he slept - as most people did - but tonight was the first night that Derek actually believed it to be true.
A/N My first Terminator Fanfic... not sure if I've got the voices down. I only just started watching the show a couple weeks ago - bought first season on DVD, though. I hope it gets picked up for another season. Anyway, let me know what you think? blush Kelcor