Part 3: Kyle

She was at The Cliffs, a popular hang-out she remembered from her youth. It was one of those scenic outlook spots so often the refuge of young people looking for a quiet place to experiment. Lush, verdant grassy spots shaded by trees, the odd picnic table scattered throughout the clearing. Flowers. Weeds. They grew like lice along the jagged edges of a formidable cliff-face that looked out into Los Angeles.

It was dark, and the trees had all burned away. You could still smell the stale ash of fire that lingered on the rocky outcroppings. She could feel the metal, sense it, see every detail in her mind's eye as they descended, dripping fire, dripping death from their giant metal claws. Watching. Always, watching.

And she could feel Kyle too, and she knew at once that she was dreaming.

She closed her eyes, suppressing a whimper. "Judgement Day. Again."

"Do you ever dream of anything else?" Kyle asked her.

"I dream of running."

"Oh, sweetie, I know. You never do, though. Run, I mean. You're always there, when this happens."

She felt the first faint prickling of smoke hit her tongue. "No. Not this again. No, I'm not ready."

"Sure you are. You've spent most of your life being ready," Kyle said.

"For this, maybe." She took in the splendor of Judgment Day with a sweep of her arm. "But for you?"

"Oh, come on. You've had this already. You've had ME already."

"I've had this you. I haven't had a living, breathing you I had to send back to die."

"Now, really. That's not what's scaring you, and you know it."

"Oh?"

"You have a list in your head already, of people who died. Kyle Reese. Andrew Goode. Boyd Sherman. Riley Dawson. Charley Dixon. Derek Reese. They died, before the metal came."

"I know."

"And you're thinking wait a minute, I'm in charge this time. Who goes back, when they do it, what they know...and maybe I can't stop all of this. But I can stop some of it. Save them. They don't have to die."

"Maybe they don't."

"Okay, maybe they don't. Because you're going to find them, right? You'll find them and you'll train them and you'll warn them. And you'll send them back again, and they won't die for John?"

"Maybe they won't."

"And that'll change things? Kyle Reese goes back, but knowing this time that 'last time' he died, and what? He keeps Sarah away from Cyberdyne Industries, and SkyNet rises again as it once did?"

"SkeyNet always rises again," she complained. "Maybe through some other way. But..."

"Ah! Some other way. But this time, you've maneuvered James Ellison to safety---to protect him, sure---but now you haven't got an inside man to keep an eye on things for you. And SkyNet rises again, through some other way, and someone else gets killed. And twenty years later we're having this same conversation, but with a different list of names."

"You're not making this easy."

"I know."

She gave him a look. "And?"

"And what?"

"And you're not gonna apologize? Tell me you wish you could make that way? This Kyle, dream Kyle MY Kyle, he's always apologizing."

He sighs. "Yeah. Maybe I'm not supposed to be your Kyle anymore."

"What?"

"He told you already. John did. Our son. He told you that you have to join the future, Sarah. You have to join the future and help him save the past. And that starts now, today, with what—and who---you have before you in the here and now. There is a Kyle out here, Sarah. He may not be your love, your guide, your long-dead protector. Not yet, anyway. But he's out here, and he needs you. And he's the Kyle you need to focus on."

"So, what, you're just going to...to leave me?"

He looked at her, gentle yet merciless, a sadness in his eyes. "Yes. I'm going to leave you."

She takes in the sweep of misery around her with plaintive desperation. "Here?"

"Yes."

"I need you."

"No. You are Sarah Connor."

"I need you. Kyle...MY Kyle...I'll do it, I will, I'll find you and train you and love you and send you back to die again, but don't just...don't just LEAVE me..."

She whirled, the sound of metal overhead, the claws descending, as they always inevitably did in dreams, in nightmares, in life...

And Kyle Reese stepped back, and let them at her. As the panic took over and she screamed, more lost than even Judgement Day had left her, they got him, and he burned. Her last conscious image of her lost, ghost love before she woke up weeping was his melting fingers flexing in half-hearted salute before the bones burned out beneath him, and he was gone.

--

"Hey."

She blinked, aware of soft, gentle fingers.

"Mom. Mom. Hey. You with me?"

She felt nothing. Cold bones, cold fear. Shaking.

A hand on her forehead. "You're warm. Cam, she's warm, is that..."

She didn't feel warm. She shivered, huddled in the sleeping bag, John's scent filling her lungs as she burrowed into blankets borrowed off his cot, flushed, but cold. And utterly dead inside.

Cameron's face. Emotionless. Appraising. "She had a long journey."

"She's shaking. Mom, are you...what happened? Are you okay?"

She saw, even through her haze of sleep and shock and pain, that careful, crazy-watching look in his eyes, and she almost didn't tell him. But she couldn't stop shaking, and for once in her life, she felt alone, and stone-cold terrified...

"He's left me."

He frowned, glanced at Cameron, gave her hand a squeeze. "Who's left you, Mom?"

"Kyle. He left me, and John, I don't think he's coming back."

"Well, no. Being dead all these years, it would be hard for him to do that, wouldn't it?"

She flinched away when he tried to take her hand again. "But you know that he's...at Pescadero...other times too...Judgement Day...he comes to me. And I know what you think about it, but John, he's been real to me. He's been real. And...he's..."

"Okay, calm down for a second. Nice and easy, okay? All right. Now, let's go through this slowly. You had a dream, and Kyle was there?"

"He was there. But he isn't coming back again."

She walked him through it, nice and easy like he asked. And he said what she expected him to say. It was her subconscious, moving her into the path she would be taking. Closure. Natural course of things, all that. And she nodded, and let him touch her again, let him think he was nursing her through this last little growing pain before she would be Ready. But he didn't get it. And she didn't think he ever would.