Title: Breaking Point

Author: cj2017

Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Characters: Whole team with a definite Sarah/Derek bias.

Rating: M: violence, sex, harsh language, you probably know the drill by now.

Category: Action/adventure, hurt/comfort, bit of sex thrown in for good measure.

Word Count: Around 35,000 all told. This part approx. 4,400.

Notes: Follows straight on from Know Your Exits and continues to play away from show-canon after Some Must Watch.

Thanks, as ever, to Cat who went above and beyond with the beta on this one. I still owe you, m'love: just name your price! A huge thanks to RoxyB for the de-Britishis(z!)ation, mac and cheese, and feedback that knocked my socks off.

Due to length, I've broken it up into 8 parts.

Disclaimer: No one seems to want these guys at the moment, so I guess they're ours to play with. I have shamelessly pinched/cannibalised a little of the show's dialogue.

. . . . .

Breaking Point 1/8

. . . . .

The twin blades opened and snapped together repeatedly. Thin winter sunlight danced off the flawless metal as the machine wielded the implement with a skill that belied its inexperience. It was completely focused upon its task, oblivious to the acrid tang of chemicals filling the small room as its hands moved with a considered precision. Little over an hour had passed even though the machine had taken care not to rush. After a final flurry of cuts, the machine was satisfied and took a step back to evaluate its handiwork.

"Hey mom, lookin' good!"

John Connor poked his head around the bathroom door as Sarah reached for the mirror that Cameron was holding out to her.

"You think?" she said softly, with a small smile. Sarah Connor had never been one for vanity, at least not since she had learned that humanity's days were numbered.

"I think it's bitchin'." Cameron sounded extremely pleased with herself as she wiped the remnants of hair dye from the sink.

Sarah raised an eyebrow as John laughed and then kissed her above the fading scar on her forehead. "I think it's bitchin' too. Derek says dinner in five."

She nodded and began to run the shower, waiting until Cameron had left the room before stripping off and stepping beneath the spray. Even though the media had taken their cue from the FBI and unanimously declared that Sarah Connor was dead, there were still murmurs of dissent on the internet. Rumors about conspiracies of silence were heightened by the lack of physical remains and the absence of DNA that would have provided conclusive proof of her demise. Her incarceration and subsequent death had been front page news less than two months ago. A change in her image had seemed sensible.

Sarah ran shampoo through her hair – slightly shorter, straighter and highlighted with auburn – and closed her eyes as the hot water pounded against her shoulders. She wasn't sure that she looked bitchin' but, all things considered, it could have turned out worse.

. . . . .

John picked up a towel and began to dry the dishes Sarah was placing on the rack. It was their routine, the same every night, and every night he would wait for her to ask the same question. He had been working on the chip from the Kaliba T-888 for five weeks. Five weeks of headaches, blurred vision and one minor tantrum that had cost the life of a keyboard. Five weeks of stilted progress and frustration. Five weeks of having to shake his head in answer to her inevitable quiet inquiry.

"You get anything today?" Sarah rinsed and dried her hands, and stood with her back against the kitchen cabinets as John stacked another plate. He had been subdued all the way through dinner and he looked uneasy now when he raised his head. They had kept the same routine for five weeks, but this was the first time that he had nodded. She felt her heart-rate kick up a notch. "Show me."

. . . . .

Cameron was already sitting at John's desk, the two large monitors before her flickering with images and lines of code. She was deciphering them more quickly than Sarah could even read them.

"There were hundreds of these icons," John said, pointing to the second monitor where the images were static and the icons formed an organized system that spread like a family tree from a point of origin.

"I know." Sarah tried not to sound impatient, but he wasn't telling her anything new. "What did you find?"

He hovered the cursor above a symbol, nodding to Cameron, who hit a combination of keys to open the file. An image appeared instantly alongside several columns of text, and Sarah's eyes widened. John pushed his chair away from the desk and looked up at her.

"I found you, mom."

. . . . .

Sarah stared at the image on the computer screen, a sick twist of familiarity stirring in her gut. She couldn't remember the photograph being taken, but she recognized the wire mesh that she was propped up against, and the white shirt she had worn the night Winston had abducted her.

"Mom?"

She jumped when she felt John's hand on her arm. He stood quickly and ushered her into his seat.

"I'm fine," she said, hating the way the break in her voice betrayed her. "Did you read this?"

He shook his head. "No. I didn't know… I wanted you to see it first."

"Thanks." She managed a faint smile.

"Press X-X-Q to scroll down." He looked at Cameron, who stood up without comment and followed him out of the room.

The door clicked shut, the hum of the monitors suddenly loud in the silence. Sarah swallowed hard and started to read.

. . . . .

The file had started out small: sketchy information collated on an unidentified woman who – for reasons unknown – had proved to be a minor irritation by asking questions about business that did not concern her. The shooting of Winston at the desert warehouse had been an inconvenience, but the destruction of the warehouse, which had also been attributed to this woman, had really piqued Kaliba's interest. There was no mention of the thirty-two lives lost, but sixteen tons of coltan had been irreparably damaged in the explosion and that had been enough to stir the hornet's nest. Although Sarah's presence in Charm Acres had not been logged, there was an entry noting the loss of the surveillance tapes, and an instruction had been issued to Winston and another operative to monitor potential targets.

Winston's account of Sarah's abduction was thorough but incomplete. The drugs and the quantities in which they had been administered had been recorded and timed. At 00.32 he had, as per protocol, injected a tracking device into the subject's right breast. He had employed techniques referred to only as SL12 and SI06, with limited success. The drugs dosage had subsequently been increased. At 2.47am he had concluded that the subject had no further potential use, and that her son would likely trace her location via her cellphone. At that point, Winston had notified Control of his intention to contact them for a termination order.

Sarah closed her eyes. The ghost of the text was still visible on her retina as her fingers unconsciously worked over the jagged scar at the base of her left hand. She had heard snatches of that phone call: Winston's voice filtering in through the drugs and the lingering terror of watching John die. It had taken her less than two minutes to get free, to avoid being murdered while the drugs held her in a nightmare. Until now, she had never truly appreciated exactly how close to the wire she had played it.

Her eyes flew open at the soft knock on the door. She expected John, but it was Derek who pushed it open without waiting for her to answer, and she was slightly taken aback by the fact that he had even knocked.

"You okay?" He handed her a mug of coffee, and didn't comment when she wiped beads of sweat from her upper lip.

"I'm fine."

He bit back his response to that, but she acknowledged her own lie with a wry smile and gestured at the screen.

"Winston."

"Right." He pulled a chair over and she leaned back, giving him tacit permission to read while she sipped her coffee and waited for her hands to stop shaking. It was a couple of minutes before he broke the silence.

"He pretend to be your friend for a while? Maybe let you go free?"

She looked up sharply. "How did you know that?"

"SL12," he said, his voice clinical and distant. "The machines developed a code. A play-by-play of torture and interrogation techniques that they learned from Grays, human traitors. I guess they've come full-circle, passed their knowledge on to their human employees."

Sarah shook her head, sickened but not surprised. "SI06. You know that one?"

"No." He cleared his throat, his eyes not quite meeting hers. "I heard a few of them mentioned, people who escaped from the camps, that kind of thing. Not that one though."

"Right." She suspected that there was more to be said, but he didn't seem willing to elaborate. "I never found a PDA on Winston." She had found his cellphone, but the device he had used to forward her image and the reports on his progress had eluded her.

"You were pretty out of it, Sarah."

"Yeah."

"And one-handed."

"I guess."

"I don't think you should feel too bad about conducting a less-than-thorough search of the body." He was smiling and she acknowledged the absurdity of it all by smiling with him.

"Okay then."

"Okay then," he echoed. "How d'you get the next page up?"

. . . . .

The T-888 had stored an archive of its own video footage. In silent horror, Sarah and Derek watched as Tarissa Dyson was executed in her own bed, her murder swiftly followed by those of the security guards she had hired to keep her safe. There was a time lapse, and then images of Cameron appeared, flashes of gunfire temporarily stunning the recording. It snapped back into focus to capture John recoiling and falling as a bullet hit him in the chest.

Derek heard the involuntary noise of distress that Sarah made, even as he searched for the key that would close the footage down. He couldn't find it quickly enough; the file ended with a dizzying series of warped, unidentifiable figures and outlines as the T-888 incurred ballistics damage before Cameron launched it over the Dysons' rear balcony.

Sarah stared at the static filling the screen, her breathing loud and harsh in the small room.

"There aren't any fucking leads on this." She slammed her fist against the desk, sending a pot of pens careering to the floor. "It's just us making one mistake after another."

"One more file." Derek had finally found his way back to the source. "You wanna call it a night?"

"No." She knew what the last file would be. "I want to watch the fucker burn."

. . . . .

The carnage at the jail played out like a First-Person Shooter game, prison guards and police officers flung aside by bullets or the machine's brute strength, its infrared scanning around corners and through smoke to give its opponents no chance whatsoever.

"How the fuck?" Derek stared wide-eyed at the first grainy image that the machine had captured of Sarah. "How the fuck are you even standing?" A loud crack and the machine jerked as its shoulder joint disintegrated and the severed limb flew across the infirmary. Derek blew out a breath, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "Fuck, Connor, that was one hell of a shot!"

She gave him a look, but there was the flicker of a smile on her lips.

He grinned at her and then shrugged. "Hey, credit where credit's due."

The outstretched hand of the machine was creeping into the frame, reaching for Sarah as she struggled to stay upright and defend herself.

"What's it doing?" Sarah was watching a sudden run of numbers and letters at the bottom of the screen.

"It's attempting to strangle you," Derek answered distractedly, transfixed by the footage. His palms were sweating despite the fact that he already knew the outcome.

"No. The code, here." She pointed, drawing his attention. "It's sending the fucking file somewhere. DCN… DCN, what does that mean?" The configuration of letters was appearing at multiple points in the machine's instructions. After a final impact from the Remington, the footage cut off abruptly, leaving only a blank screen and the message: DOWNLOAD SUCCESS.

"Shit." Derek looked across at Sarah. She was rigid with tension as if prepared to flee at the slightest provocation. He didn't touch her and he kept his voice low. "Kaliba know you're alive."

She nodded slowly. "Son of a bitch."

. . . . .

"Mom? Everything okay?" John had come running the instant he had heard Sarah shout his name. Cameron had been so concerned by Sarah's tone that she had come armed.

"Everything's fine," Sarah said hurriedly, and then sighed. "At ease, Cameron."

"Oh." Cameron stopped scanning the room for intruders and lowered her weapon.

Once she was sure the machine wasn't about to blow out a window, Sarah turned to John. "I need you to try to do a search, or whatever." Technical terms had never been her strong suit. "The Triple-8 managed to send this file somewhere and it kept referencing the letters DCN. They mean anything to you?"

John shook his head, glancing across at Derek, who was skimming through reams of print-outs. "I can try to design a program. Get it to collate any relevant references with that designation or a derivative of it." He studied his mother carefully as she nodded in agreement and then gave him a smile that fell far short of her eyes. "What else did you find?"

She didn't answer immediately, and he could see her trying to decide what to tell him.

"Mom, what else did you find?"

She looked up at him, and this time her smile was weary but genuine.

"We may not have much time. They know I'm alive." It wasn't hubris on her part. She knew that John would be Kaliba's priority target now. But the fact that Kaliba wasn't keen to share its knowledge of her survival with any of the authorities strongly implied that they were intending to take care of matters themselves.

"So, we're not just going to sit around and wait for them to make their move, right?" Her son was only seventeen years old and already bearing the scar from his first bullet, but there was no doubt in his voice and he seemed to be daring her to contradict him.

Which was something she had no intention of doing. "Find us a location." She stood, allowing him to take her place. "DCN. That has to mean something."

He nodded absently, his fingers already skipping across the keyboard.

"John?"

"Yeah?" His attention didn't waver from the screens.

"It's your decision to make, but the video files…" Her words trailed away as he finally looked at her. She touched her hand to his shoulder. "It's your decision to make."

He nodded once, grateful for both her warning and her trust. "I'll set this up to run overnight. Get some sleep, mom." He felt her quick kiss on the top of his head before the door clicked shut, and he knew that she would do nothing of the sort.

. . . . .

"Here."

The coffee was strong. Stronger than he knew she liked it, but then he also knew that she had been awake all night.

"Thanks." Sarah took the mug but barely took the time to look at Derek. "You remember that lawyer we were staking out? The one who set up the drone shell company?"

"Not sure I remember the lawyer." He pushed a sliding heap of papers aside and sat on the edge of the bed. "But I vaguely recall being forced off the road while we were on our way back from that particular day trip."

She smiled sardonically. "Funny you should remember that part."

"Yeah, the stakeout kinda got lost somewhere. What with all the bleeding and the shooting and the broken bones." He studied the open file she passed over to him. "What am I looking at?"

"Fourth line down, on the company listing."

"Deacon Research and Development, Wyoming. I don't…"

She gave him a moment, letting him figure it out. When he finally made the link, he sounded anything but convinced. "Deacon. DCN? You think? Bit of a leap, Sarah. It's probably just a coincidence."

"I thought so too, and it still might be. But then there's this."

Derek recognized the print immediately: an enlarged photograph of the basement wall taken by John minutes before he had scrubbed the blood-smears clean and dropped the keys to the house back into Kacey's mailbox. Sarah's finger rested to the left of the image. None of the words on that side of the list had ever resulted in solid leads. Like most of the writing, the word she indicated was scrawled and smudged but legible.

"Deacon." Derek sounded faintly impressed.

She took the print back and studied it again, as if afraid that too little sleep and too much caffeine were conspiring to show her exactly what she wanted to see. But the word was still there, and it was one for which they had never found a connection.

They both looked up at the quiet tap on the open door. Having heard their voices, John was already over the threshold.

"I didn't want to wake…" He eyed the undisturbed bedding, the scattered papers and the deep shadows beneath his mother's eyes. "…Oh, why am I not surprised?"

Sarah couldn't feel guilty; the lack of sleep was making her too impatient. "Did you get anything?"

He nodded and gestured towards his room. "It's easier if I show you."

. . . . .

"Okay, so I ran a trace on any usage of the letters DCN and I also ran it through this." John held up the PDA Cameron had obtained from a Kaliba operative. The man had been assigned to watch their old house shortly after they had fled to the relative safety of the desert. "Seems they all download reports to the same location – designated DCN. The trace on the Triple-8's files wormed its way into areas I hadn't managed to access yet." He clicked the mouse and leaned back as an image loaded. "Recognize him?"

Sarah did, immediately. The footage of the man casually murdering a family was something her memory seemed loath to allow her to forget. "Zoe's father. The missing link from Charm Acres."

"Yep," John confirmed. "We know he was in the same line of work as Winston. When Winston was sent out on security detail at Western Iron and Metal, Zoe's father was ordered to do the same thing here." Another shift of the mouse and a line of text appeared highlighted.

"Deacon Research and Development." Derek whistled through his teeth as Sarah gave him a look that bordered on smug. "Okay," he conceded. "That's definitely more than a coincidence."

. . . . .

They ate together: scrambled eggs and bagels. To the casual observer it would have borne all the hallmarks of a typical family breakfast. But the daughter was nursing a semi-automatic, her chair set at an angle to allow her to monitor the front door. The other three people at the table were barely touching their food. Instead, their attention was focused on a lap-top and the information that it was pulling from the internet. Information about an unremarkable company with an unassuming name, which happened to have established itself miles from anywhere in a location that would see it cut off by snow for at least four months of the year.

Sarah tapped her knife against the table as yet another schematic of the surrounding area loaded up alongside weather warnings and temperature charts that were largely colored in varying shades of blue. Her knife landed on her plate with a clatter, startling John and Derek.

"What?" She glared at them as they stared at her. When embarrassment slowly edged in, she straightened her knife. "I just fucking hate the cold," she muttered by way of explanation, and resisted the urge to launch the knife at Derek as he choked back a laugh.

. . . . .

The small cabin nestled at the foot of an immense range of mountains. Deep snow covered it, pristine and sparkling in the sunlight.

"It's perfect." John clicked on another jpeg. The interior of the cabin was pine-clad and homely, with two bedrooms, an open fire in the living room, and throws arranged prettily on every available piece of furniture. "The front windows give wide-angled views to the north, north-east." Home comforts were the last thing on John's mind.

Derek nodded. "The trees form a good perimeter to the south and west."

"And the owner just leaves the key hidden?" Sarah was skimming the email John had received in response to his cursory enquiry.

"Yeah. There's a coded key-safe. She lives in Colorado. Only visits at the end of a rental period to clean up for the next guests. I guess business is a little slack this year - she seems very interested in our request to rent for three months."

Derek pointed out a line in John's original mail. "Ice-fishing and skiing?"

John shrugged. "What was I supposed to say? We'd like to rent your cabin to use as a base while we attempt to infiltrate and destroy a suspected Skynet stronghold that happens to be located in the area?"

"Fair point," Derek said with a grin. "Think that's where they've taken Danny Dyson?"

"I don't know." Sarah had already considered that possibility. "I guess there's only one way to find out." She nodded to John. "Make the reservation. Your name only. If the owner isn't going to be around, then she doesn't need to know who else is going to be there." She handed him a credit card bearing the name John Gage.

Derek was rereading the email. "What the fuck is it with us and fishing anyway?" He looked up at John. "Do you even know how to fish?" Shaking his head, John raised his hands helplessly, and Derek laughed at the expression on his nephew's face. "Hell, maybe we should learn if we're gonna keep on using it as a cover…"

. . . . .

Sarah placed the bag of C4 carefully down on the table, and pushed it aside to make room for the duffel bag full of weapons that Derek was carrying through.

"These will all need checking, they've been down there some time." He sounded slightly out of breath. It was a long walk to the weapons cache and they had made two round-trips that morning.

"I know." Leaning over John's lap-top, she opened the inbox to check out a new email alert. "You're booked into the Blue Lantern Motel from Thursday."

"Fine." Standing shoulder to shoulder, he read the email with her. "That'll give us a couple of days to travel and a day for me to help set the cabin up."

"Mmhm." She was slightly distracted by his proximity and the fact that John and Cameron were out shopping for cold-weather gear. "Sure you're okay with this?"

"I'm sure. They'd see you coming a mile off, Connor."

He was right. They had decided that they would need someone on the inside, not least to ensure that they didn't inadvertently destroy a perfectly legitimate company. With Derek never having been identified or linked to the Connors, he was the ideal candidate. Sarah knew that it was a long-shot at best; a lone, out-of-work stranger with a military background making discreet enquiries about local employment opportunities. One of Cameron's first tasks upon arrival would be to try to guarantee that a job vacancy at Deacon R&D would be newly available.

Sarah shut the lap-top with a snap and turned to face Derek. Her movement forced him to adjust the angle of the fingers he had been running under her shirt and along the bare skin of her midriff for the last couple of minutes. She barely gave him time to shift before she pushed him backwards against the kitchen wall, nothing shy about her mouth on his as she worked his shirt free from his pants. He grinned into her kiss, and then swore softly when her fingers dipped below his waistband and closed around him.

"Bedroom?" He did well to speak when she was biting his lip.

Her hand still in his pants, she was already moving in that direction. He slammed the door shut behind them, leaning his back on it and watching her as she peeled her shirt and bra off. A couple of strides and she closed the distance between them, her hands warm over the rough scars on his chest, her teeth sharp as she bit the side of his neck. He steered her towards the bed, kicking off his pants and waiting impatiently while she did the same with hers. When he turned her away from him and urged her onto all fours he hesitated, wondering what the fuck he was doing and whether this was the point when she would finally decide to snap his neck.

He needn't have worried. With a stifled moan, she surged back against him when he pushed inside her, her fingers clawing the sheets as she forced him deeper. There was no finesse, nothing gentle in the way they moved. Burying her face in the pillows, she silenced her gasps as he pounded into her and when she finally shuddered around him, she never made a sound. Even though she knew that the cabin was empty, the habits they had fallen into were difficult ones to break.

. . . . .

Sweat cooling on their skin, they lay sprawled across crumpled sheets as Derek traced the scarlet marks his grip had left on Sarah's hip.

"Gonna have bruises, Connor."

She turned her head to see where his fingers were touching, and then raised a hand to the bite on his neck. "Shit. At least mine'll be easy to hide."

He caught her hand and she twisted to face him, pulling him down into a kiss. His tongue stroked gently against hers, his hand dropping low to dip between her thighs and she cried out when his fingers slipped inside her. Taken aback, he paused, looking to her for guidance.

"They'll be gone for hours yet," she said, by way of explanation, but the real answer was there in the way she closed her eyes and hid her face in his neck. He realized then what she was thinking. That this would probably be the last time. That there was little point worrying about their secrets when the odds of them surviving the following weeks were so very poor.

. . . . .

TBC…

. . . . .