Title: Know Your Exits
Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Characters: Mainly Sarah and Derek (and definitely Sarah/Derek) but pretty much a whole-team affair. Yes, I finally gave John and Cameron more than a cameo.
Rating: Hard M: violence, sex, huge amounts of bad language, discussion of adult themes, a pretty spectacular body count, casual slaughter of the innocent (including one minor series character), and scenes of a medical nature that might cause queasiness in those with a sensitive disposition.
Category: Action/adventure, hurt/comfort, bit of sex thrown in for good measure.
Word Count: About 30,500 all told. This part 3,700.
Notes: A sequel to Never a Good Day/Close to Normal, this continues to play away from show-canon although it will probably make a hell of a lot more sense if you have a decent working knowledge of Adam Raised a Cain and Born to Run. I'm still shocked that I seem to have written something that faintly resembles a plot… Speaking of shock, if you never ventured to my lj (link in profile) and read Close to Normal then the first three of pages of this one might surprise you…
Thanks, as ever, to Cat who fixes all my fuck-ups, puts up with the crazy and didn't even raise an eyebrow when I took the writing pad on holiday. A huge thanks to RoxyB for the de-Britishis(z!)ation, and for not running a bloody mile when I told her it was 30,000 words long.
Due to length, I've broken it up into 7 parts. Feedback is cherished.
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did. And I have shamelessly pinched some of their dialogue.
. . . . .
Know Your Exits 1/7
. . . . .
Derek Reese heard the finality in the order and knew that she had made her decision. There would be no more time to table any options, no time for the arguments that he still hadn't voiced.
"They're not looking for you. They don't even know you're here. Go back to John." Then a word she rarely used, in a tone he had never heard before, "Please."
"Fuck." He spat the curse out in frustration, at her for being right, at himself for not seeing this coming, and at a fate that so unerringly caused everything they touched to go to shit. "Fuck." He ignored the throbbing in his hand where he had pounded it against the steering wheel.
When she spoke again, he could hear the relief in her voice.
"The bag's in the trash in the men's room, at the entrance."
"I'll get it."
"Give it a couple of hours."
"I will. I'll get it. Don't worry about John."
He cut the call off abruptly, to avoid forcing her to respond to that. Crouching low in the dark, he kept his eyes fixed on the frosted glass of the door. She apparently took a second or two to compose herself, then he saw the door pulled open slowly and she stepped out, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the spotlight that was suddenly turned on her. A bullhorn screeched once before a man in a suit spoke, his words carrying across the parking lot with ease.
"Sarah Connor. Put your hands behind your head. Kneel on the ground!"
. . . . .
Twenty-four hours earlier
Sarah's muscles burned, sweat soaking her thin white tank-top and streaking into her eyes. She could feel her fingers cramping around the metal, and the rhythmic stabbing at the side of her torso where her fractured ribs were still knitting together. That morning, she had decided that she had been sitting on her ass for long enough. After a five-mile run in the coolness of the desert dawn, she had already managed twenty-five pull ups. The ache in her left arm was almost unbearable, but she gritted her teeth, strained and pulled again. She was going to complete thirty if it killed her.
. . . . .
The bedroom door clicked open just as Sarah was about to peel her top off. She hesitated, already knowing who would be standing behind her. Cameron rarely needed the bathroom that adjoined her bedroom, and John always knocked and waited for a reply, but one week ago Derek had stopped knocking. It had irritated her at first, until he had pointed out that Cameron was acutely attuned to sudden noises, and that the metal might find it slightly odd how many times he apparently required the bathroom during the night or the early hours of the morning. There was still every possibility that the machine was aware of their nocturnal activities, but John certainly wasn't, and blatantly drawing attention to them seemed uncalled for. It had taken Sarah the entire week, but she had just about quelled the urge to draw a weapon every time the door opened unannounced.
Derek's breath was hot on her neck as he answered her standard question. "It's six in the morning, Sarah. He's still asleep."
Pressed up behind her, she could feel the hard length of him through his sweatpants. She groaned low in her throat as his hands, already beneath her top, cupped her breasts and eased her back against him.
"I need a shower."
"Mmhmm." One hand was inside her bra, the other slipping below the waistband of her pants.
"Ahh, fuck." No more than a whisper, her teeth biting hard on her lip as his fingers found her hot and wet. "I really need a shower… Jesus!"
He held her still, two fingers stroking deep inside her. "Have one after. Don't waste the water." She felt him smile. "We are trying to save the planet here."
A twist of his fingers, driving home his point, and Sarah – quickly deciding that he made a good argument – nodded in agreement, spreading her legs to make things easier for him, and closing her eyes.
. . . . .
"Hey." Sarah looked up from the stack of printouts and smiled at her son as he headed straight for the refrigerator. "There's batter mixed if you want pancakes." She was rising from the chair, but he motioned for her to sit down and began to heat up the skillet himself.
He poured her a fresh mug of coffee and set it down on the table. Before they had come to the safehouse, she would have suspected that some terrible misdeed lurked behind his solicitousness, but he seemed to have shaken off the pissy, brittle streak that had emerged after Sarkissian, and she knew that there was no ulterior motive or guilty conscience at play. Watching him pour the mix carefully into the skillet, she tried to ignore the flutter of guilt surrounding her own secrets.
Working his creations with a spatula, he smiled, oblivious to the thoughts troubling her. "You want any?"
"No, thanks. I'm fine. You have them."
The batter sizzled and spat, and he concentrated on staying out of its way, leaving her to continue reading through the papers.
"Anything in there this time?"
"What?" Her brow furrowed. John's plate was piled high with pancakes and she hadn't even gauged the time as it had passed.
He sat beside her and gestured with his fork. "You find anything useful?"
When Cameron had killed the Kaliba operative staking out their old house, she had returned with a file of paperwork and a gadget that John had identified as a Personal Digital Assistant. So far, the information in the paperwork had seen Cameron and Derek head out to chase several dead ends, but the PDA was proving to be slightly more promising, receiving requests for mission updates on regular occasions. John had been obliging, stringing together reports of the Baums' supposed activities, their movements and perceived weaknesses. Imitating her victim's voice, Cameron had spoken to someone identifying himself only as control, reassuring him that everything was proceeding according to plan, and had – in response – received a watch-and-wait mandate. Control had hinted that they might be switching targets, that their priorities were under review. That had been two days ago and there had been no contact since.
Sarah dropped the sheet she had been staring at but not reading, and sighed, a wry smile on her face. "No, there's nothing useful. Nothing that I didn't see the first twenty times I went through them."
"Still, no harm in being thorough."
His eyes suddenly lit up with mischief. "You want one of these, don't you?"
She did. The smell was making her mouth water, and she figured that all of her morning exertions – official and unofficial – had earned her a pancake or two. He grinned at her and slid three onto a spare plate, watching with silent satisfaction as she added more maple syrup to them.
"How come yours always taste better than mine, even when I made the batter?"
John laughed at the genuine look of bewilderment on her face and answered her through a mouthful. "Cos you really can't cook for shit, mom…"
. . . . .
Sitting on the porch, hands cradling a mug of coffee, Sarah could feel the chill edge of the breeze, could smell the moisture in the air as days of scorching heat threatened to come to a violent end. It was early in the afternoon and a dull rumble of thunder off to the west was promising a spectacular storm if the wind didn't shift. She sipped the coffee, watching the gray clouds mass and surge as a first fork of lightening split the sky. Somewhere in the distance, a young coyote howled, mournful and scared, and was reassured immediately by the deeper bark of an adult.
The screen door opened and Derek came out, pausing to stare at the sky before sitting down beside her with his own mug.
"Think it'll hit here?"
Lightening flashed again, closer this time, with the crack of thunder soon afterwards.
Sarah nodded. "Probably. The wind's about right."
"Yeah." Large spots of rain began to fall, splattering into the dust to leave individual pockmarks. "Got a lot of storms after the bombs fell."
She made a non-committal noise in reply, not wanting to push him for details, allowing him the opportunity to expand but not demanding it. It was an unspoken pattern that they had both fallen into. He took a breath, and when he continued his voice was calm, conversational. They were getting better at swapping their stories.
"I guess it was the fallout. The first winter killed off anyone who was already vulnerable. It went on for fucking months. No light, freezing temperatures; plants, animals, they all died." A pause while he drank, swallowing deliberately. "It snowed one night; we thought it was more ash at first. We'd only ever seen snow in the movies, and Kyle wanted to play out in it so fucking bad. We were sheltering in Griffith Park at the time and eventually I just gave in." He shrugged and laughed softly. "It was the middle of the night. We could hear HKs blowing the shit out of something in the city. Someone was screaming and crying, and Kyle made his snowman as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do."
"Maybe it was."
"What?" He looked at her, confused.
"Maybe it was his way of coping. He was, what? Eight years old?"
"Your world's blown to hell, your parents are dead and you're hiding from machines. Holding onto something safe and normal is a way to survive."
"Speaking from experience?" Like her, he didn't push, keeping his tone light to give her the option of answering or laughing the question off.
"Possibly." She dragged the word out, thinking about it, never really having applied the theory to herself. "I keep ending up as a waitress. I could probably get other jobs, but it's familiar and safe, and it's what I was before."
"Your normal life."
"I guess so." She smiled suddenly. "Except being a waitress is really fucking mind-numbingly boring."
It surprised a laugh out of him. "One thing about your life, Sarah. It's rarely – if ever – boring."
"True." The rain was harder now, the separate spots merging to transform the dust into mud. "But there is something to be said for a happy medium…"
He was about to reply when the screen door banged open, and they both looked up to see John, his expression a strange mixture of excitement and dread.
"I think you need to see this…"
. . . . .
The PDA was hooked up to John's laptop. Sarah stared at the image filling its screen with a sick sense of déjà vu.
Danny Dyson had grown up a lot in the years since she had seen him last, and the resemblance to his late father was striking. He was smiling broadly, the surveillance shot snapped in the street while he had been completely oblivious.
"Like father, like son?"
John's question echoed Sarah's own thoughts, and she shook her head, troubled by where those thoughts were taking her. "I hope not. Damn. I should've seen this one coming."
"Someone want to fill me in?" The edge to Derek's voice implied that he didn't much appreciate being out of the loop.
Cameron was scrolling through the text file on the PDA. "Daniel Dyson. Son of Miles Dyson, who was Director of Special Projects at Cyberdyne in 1997."
"Miles Dyson was killed in the blast at Cyberdyne. The one they accused you of causing."
Apparently Derek had been doing his research, and Sarah nodded in confirmation.
"I thought the kid looked familiar."
"Danny saw the machine in '97. He would have been aware of his father's work. Tarissa said he was away at school…" If there had been space in the small room, Sarah would have been pacing. "Whatever he's done there, or whatever they know about him in the future, it's been enough to interest Kaliba."
"Our operative has been ordered to switch assignments to assist in the requisition of the new target. He's been given today's date and an address." The information appeared highlighted as Cameron spoke.
Sarah swore softly. "That's Tarissa's address. Have they given a time?"
A further piece of text flashed up in bold, and she cursed again, more vehemently. They had eight hours.
. . . . .
"She's not answering." Sarah snapped her cell phone shut as Cameron moved past her carrying a shotgun and a duffel bag. Tarissa Dyson had been unreachable on her cell or private number, and a mounting sense of rushing headlong into a disaster was making Sarah incredibly uneasy. She waited until John was occupied loading the truck before she pulled Derek to one side.
"I want John to stay behind." She kept her voice low, needing Derek on board before she broached the issue with her son.
Derek was already shaking his head, a hand on her arm to lead her into the bedroom. "Of course you do." He shut the door behind them. "But it's not gonna happen."
"Why the fuck not?" She slapped his hand away, color rising in her cheeks. She was only going to be able to persuade John if Derek was there to back her up.
"Because there are only four of us and an unknown number of them, and if we left John here, that would mean leaving the metal, and we can't afford to do that."
She already had that part worked out. "You stay. Tarissa knows me. I can go with Cameron."
"No?" It came out higher than she had intended, anger eating into her self-control.
"No. When you go running off on your own, I have to scrape up the fucking pieces."
She stared at him, stunned, no reply forthcoming.
Something that might have been regret flashed briefly across his face, and for a second he appeared to be on the verge of recanting, but instead he opened the door.
"We stick together. All of us go."
He had left the room before she could argue, or launch anything at him, or just give in to instinct and shoot one of his kneecaps out.
"Son of a bitch." She slammed the bedroom door shut and punched her fist against it, making her knuckles throb. "Son of a bitch."
. . . . .
"We have three hours and forty-five minutes."
Cameron had taken it upon herself to assume the official role of timekeeper. They were the first words anyone had spoken for over an hour, and Sarah nodded in acknowledgement, despite not entirely appreciating the regular countdown to their deadline. In the backseat, Derek and John remained silent. A fresh burst of rain clattered against the windscreen, obliterating the road markings and forcing Sarah to decelerate.
"Would you like me to drive?" Cameron's vision was unaffected by the elements, making her suggestion an extremely sensible one, but even she had detected the undercurrent of tension in the truck, and the fact that Sarah appeared ready to strangle someone had made her reluctant to interfere previously.
"No, I'm fine." Concentrating on driving prevented Sarah from thinking about anything else. She switched the windshield wipers up a speed, adjusted the temperature of the defogger, then pushed her foot back down on the gas.
. . . . .
They arrived at the Dyson house with forty-three minutes to spare. Sarah extinguished the lights on the truck and crawled to a stop a discrete distance away from the property. Lights blazed in the expansive windows, glass and chrome glistening through the sheets of rain.
"Now what?" John sounded frustrated; no conversation in the car had meant no strategizing.
Sarah didn't hesitate. "I guess we try the front door."
. . . . .
The buzzer sounded hollow and persistent in the entrance hall, but no-one came to answer it.
"Can you open it?" Sarah could see a complex series of locks holding the door secure. Somewhat understandably, it seemed Tarissa Dyson wasn't taking any more chances with the safety of her family.
Giving the door frame an experimental push, Cameron performed a brief analysis of the door's structural integrity before nodding and stepping back to wait for her order.
"We'll take the front, you and John head around the back. Quick sweep and stick together. We find the Dysons and get the hell out." Sarah looked at John, who gave her a faint smile, and then at Derek, who moved to take up a covering position to the side of the door. Sweat trickled a hot path through the rain that was already soaking her to her skin. "Go."
Putting both of her hands against the door's metal edge, Cameron pushed steadily. It took little over a minute, the door's hinges giving way before its locks did. Crumpling awkwardly, it creased inwards with the ear-splitting shriek of something bending in a manner that was never intended.
Looking into the brightly-lit hallway, Sarah felt the hairs begin to prickle at the back of her neck. No-one was coming to investigate the noise. No intruder alarm blared. Aside from the lights there were no signs of life, and, not for the first time, she wondered exactly what the fuck they were walking into.
. . . . .
The living room was deserted. The drapes had been neatly pulled, and the television switched off, with its remote controls carefully arranged on its stand. There was nothing to indicate a disturbance; nothing was out of place, nothing upturned or smashed.
"Maybe they just went out for the night," Sarah whispered, not convinced by her theory at all. Kaliba had seemed certain that the Dysons would be home, which only served to deepen her sense that something was very wrong.
Shaking his head, Derek silently dismissed the idea out of hand, unsurprised when she didn't try to argue her point.
A further screech of metal signaled Cameron and John's entrance at the back of the house. Sarah left the living room quickly, determined to complete as much of the recon as she could without involving John. Her hand stilled on a closed door, and she looked to Derek. At his quick nod, she pushed the door open wide enough for him to duck inside.
"Oh God." The room was dark, and in the absence of vision the smell hit her immediately: sweet and foul, coppery and putrid.
She walked slowly over to where Derek stood, following the beam of his flashlight down to the floor at the far side of the double bed, already knowing what awaited her.
Tarissa Dyson had never had a chance. Hauled out of her bed, she had been shot once in the chest and once in the head; her eyes were still wide with the shock and terror of meeting such a brutal end in the safety of her own bedroom. Sarah stared at the body for a long moment, her throat working convulsively as she swallowed back bile. Eventually she forced herself to look away, resisting the instinct to cover the body, to close its eyes and give the woman she had once known some dignity in death.
With a stranger's curiosity, Derek knelt at Tarissa's side, close but not touching, as he played his flashlight over her body. "Sarah, she's pooled."
"What?" The sense of foreboding turned instantly into a scream, shrill and persistent, drowning out her capacity for logic.
"She's been dead for hours. Probably since last night."
The poor light and Tarissa's dark skin had made it difficult to distinguish, but from his new position Derek could see where gravity had drawn her blood down to her body's lowest points, fixing it in the undersides of her arms and legs and the side of her face where it rested at a slight angle. He laid the back of his hand gently on her abdomen.
The room was warm and humid, lending further credence to his theory. Sarah looked around, fear and confusion giving way to anger.
"What the fuck is going on here?"
The distinct clack of gunfire bit through the silence that her question had fallen into.
. . . . .
They were moving before they even realized, Derek taking point, both making a mockery of any sense of self-preservation by running towards the sound of the firefight.
As she sprinted on auto-pilot, Sarah heard the sharp retort of a weapon she didn't recognize answered immediately by two that she did. Suddenly, the short exchanges of small-arms fire were dominated by blasts from Cameron's shotgun, the weapon discharging repeatedly, drowning all the other sounds out.
They were closer now, close enough to hear the boom of something unnaturally heavy being thrown against the walls, shaking the foundations and forcing dust from the ceiling.
"Metal." Derek spat the word out like an expletive.
She nodded, eyes wide, wondering why the shooting had stopped. A closed door did nothing to muffle the noise, and Derek kicked it open without hesitation, quickly scanning the wreckage of the designer kitchen: the marble top of the breakfast bar had been shattered into pieces, wooden cupboards obliterated, their jars of cereal and pasta strewn across the floor and sprayed with red. Somewhere off to the left, a plaster wall trembled then gave way, and Derek side-stepped the debris to head in that direction.
Sarah stared at the floor, her heart pounding. The splatters of red continued away to the right, becoming wide smears at the point where the injured person had dropped and started to drag themselves. She followed the blood-smears around the side of a counter where they stopped abruptly and began instead to gather beneath the crumpled form of her son. Curled into a fetal position to try and make himself into the smallest target possible, John lay still and quiet. She couldn't tell whether he was breathing.
. . . . .
. . . . .