Characters: Sarah and Derek
Rating: T and that's only for a tiny bit of naughty language
Notes: A tag to Know Your Exits. Where I took them, there was something Derek never got the chance to do…
Thanks to cats_paws for not killing me (and for the beta!) and to roxybisquaint for kind words and American spelling…
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Wish I did. And I have shamelessly pinched a little bit of their dialogue.
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"Bend them. C'mon, you can do better than that, Connor. Now, hold it." Derek ignored the low grunt of pain Sarah made as he counted steadily to ten. "Okay, relax. Good."
"Didn't feel good," she said, her voice burning with frustration. She was panting heavily, sweat cooling on her forehead. She swiped it away.
"They broke your fingers, Sarah. They're gonna hurt like a bitch." He took her hand and began to rub her palm, working to ease the tension in the damaged tendons and ligaments.
With a quiet murmur of pleasure, Sarah let her head rest back against the outer wall of the cabin and closed her eyes. It was something that always made Derek laugh; the fact that Sarah Connor – mother of the Resistance and Protector of humanity's future – turned so utterly boneless when her hand was massaged.
"Not such a badass, after all, huh?" Smiling, he worked his fingers over hers, gentle on the two that were still swollen and discolored.
Opening one eye lazily, she arched an eyebrow at him. She was on the verge of a caustic come-back when his thumb smoothed along the worn skin at the base of her fingers and she sighed instead, closing her eyes again.
"You bastard. You don't play fair," she muttered without malice.
"Yeah, I know." He began to replace the strapping on her hand. "Not too tight?"
She shook her head. "It's fine."
He gathered up the discarded dressings and stood. "I'll get you an ice pack."
Looking up at him, she narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "John still working on the chip?"
Having finally agreed to try to hack the chip that Sarah had retrieved from the Kaliba T-888, John's efforts, thus far, had yielded nothing. The frustration, combined with the lingering pain and weakness from his own injury, was making him extremely short-tempered.
Derek shrugged. "I think I can hear him cursing, so yeah, I guess he is."
Sarah propped her feet up on the porch's low railing. "In that case, I'll have a beer with my ice pack."
His hand on the door, he grinned at her. "Sounds like a plan."
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A light rain was falling when Derek came back out. He handed Sarah a sweater, waiting until she had pulled it on before he pressed the ice pack against her hand.
She shivered, despite the extra clothing. Drawing her knees up onto the bench, she sat as close to Derek as she could without making it obvious that she was attempting to steal his body heat. He had set down steaming mugs instead of chilled beer and she took a grateful sip of coffee, then cradled the mug against her chest.
"Good choice," she said, nodding at her drink.
"Yeah, well, I figured you for a fair-weather person." He was watching the rain and blowing his breath out in clouds of white. "You did a lot of running, but you never ran north."
"True. Although, when John was a boy, he used to want to live in the Arctic. Loved the idea that the machines would freeze up if they got too cold."
"If it were only that simple." Derek was laughing quietly at the concept.
"Yeah, something tells me they'd cope. Survived a nuclear winter, didn't they?" She hugged her knees tighter and rested her chin on them, looking out as the mist closed in on the cabin.
"Fuckers survive everything we throw at them," he said, his voice suddenly serious. "We hit them as hard as we can but it barely makes a fucking dent."
Sitting beside him, she could feel the tension in the set of his body, but she didn't move away. Her eyes remained fixed on a point across the clearing where wisps of grey swirled and danced around a low branch.
"Kyle said you'd won." Her voice was soft but bleak, with no hope at all that that future still held.
"When he came back in 1984, he told me that the Resistance had smashed Skynet's defense grid, that you'd won. It forced them to send the T-101 through to kill me."
Derek shook his head. "We didn't win. Kyle disappeared. They never told me why." He looked up at her, betrayal stark in his eyes. Even though he understood now, his words were still laced with bitterness. "Nothing changed. I lost my brother, and we didn't win. When Connor asked me to go through, I went. I had nothing left to lose."
Sarah stared at him for a long moment, then carefully pushed herself to her feet.
"You got the keys to the truck?"
He patted his jacket, pulled them out of an inside pocket and displayed them to her. "Here. Why?"
"Because I keep my promises. I just need to tell John he's cooking his own dinner…"
. . . . .
For three and a half hours, Derek followed Sarah's directions without question. It was a long time for her to stay cramped up in one place, but she did well to disguise the subtle shifting that relieved the ache in her back, and he didn't comment at her grimace when the muscles around her healing ribs spasmed without warning. She didn't complain and they didn't stop.
She could tell that he knew where they were heading. He hadn't said as much, but he knew. It was there in the set of his jaw, the white of his knuckles around the steering wheel, and the fact that he hadn't asked.
The journey passed in near-silence, which seemed to suit them both.
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When they opened the truck's doors, the air was warmer and sweetly scented with mown grass. The sun was already low in the sky, leaving the cemetery deserted. They walked straight past the ornate obelisks commemorating the deaths of people whose families had been able to grieve openly for them.
Stretched out below the carefully arranged and tended graves were row upon row of stones bearing simple metal plates. There were no flowers laid here, no carefully worded messages of remembrance. The grass was patchy and overgrown, wind whipping across the uneven lines that no one had even attempted to keep straight. In 1984, seven unidentified people had been buried there.
"I don't know which one is his," Sarah said quietly. The man who had fathered her son and helped to prevent the extinction of the human race had no grave bearing his name. When she had visited, years ago, she had wept beside the freshest marker. Now, they all looked the same.
Derek nodded, his eyes fixed on the meandering rows. When he finally looked at her, he surprised her by smiling slightly.
"Does it matter? Grass, trees. Could be worse."
In his future, the landscape was barren; charred and crumbling. The forests had burned like tinderboxes when the bombs had fallen.
"Could." Sarah was barely able to sound the word past the surge of sorrow that was choking her.
He took her hand and led her a short way down the hillside. They sat without speaking, close to the first stone that could have been Kyle's. The sun was dipping below the rough hills on the horizon when Derek finally broke the silence.
"He was better than me."
Sarah turned towards him. Even in the dimming light, the puzzled expression was obvious on her face, and he wanted to explain, he just wasn't sure that he could.
"Better person. A better soldier. Connor trusted Kyle, and it wasn't because he knew Kyle was his father. I was just a grunt; kept my head down, followed orders."
She made a small noise of disbelief, and he acknowledged her with a nod.
"I improvised once. Fucked everything up."
"Andy." It wasn't a question and her voice was hard.
"Yeah, Andy. Except he wasn't Andy. He was Billy Wisher." A deep breath as his stomach twisted and he felt sick. He fought to keep his voice from giving him away. "He was in my squad." He didn't elaborate, he wasn't seeking absolution, but Sarah must have caught something in his tone, because she turned and studied his face carefully.
"You knew him."
"Yes." He held her gaze, trying to make the words insignificant. "He was in my squad."
"John didn't send you back to kill him."
There was the tiniest hint of doubt in her voice; he knew she was wondering how far her son would go to preserve the safety of the human race, whether John would eventually subscribe to the theory that the sacrifice of one was acceptable to ensure the survival of many.
"No. He didn't send me back for that."
She nodded quickly, taking a gulp of air and then releasing it in a shaky breath.
With his head lowered, Derek gave her the details that he hoped would end the conversation. "Wisher told me he'd created the machine. That it was his fault. When I came through, tracking him down was easy."
It had seemed so simple a solution at the time, but that had been before. Before he had been afforded a glimpse of how deeply Skynet had buried its roots. Before he had realized exactly how overwhelming a fight it really was. He stood abruptly and stalked away from her, hesitating only when his feet almost touched the stone. Sarah pushed herself up slowly, bending double again when her back pulled painfully. By the time she had reached his side, his anger had given way to exhaustion and grief. He stared at the grave as he spoke.
"Kyle would have stopped me, but he wasn't there. I was fucking stupid. Thought I could save you all."
For a second, she didn't speak, then he felt her slip her hand into his.
"He wasn't just a member of your squad, was he?"
Derek raised his head. He considered lying, considered whether it would be easier to bear her condemnation than her pity, but at some point, unremarked upon by either of them, they had moved past half-truths and subterfuge, and he answered her with brutal honesty.
"He was my best friend."
He looked at her without flinching, because he wasn't just some trigger-happy, conscience-free fuck-up, and he knew that was what she had concluded at the time. Not that he had given her a reason to believe otherwise.
Her hand tightened on his, her grip warm and strong, telling him everything that she wasn't saying. Standing side by side, they watched the lines of stones gradually blur as the light faded. When they disappeared altogether, Sarah breathed out slowly, feeling drained but strangely peaceful. She could hear the irregular breaths Derek was taking as he wept.
With the softest of words, she guided him to the ground, and when she wrapped her arms around him he leaned into her without protest. Staring into the darkness, she held him as he shuddered with the sobs he was trying to suppress, and she wondered whether this was the first time he had cried since the world had ended.
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