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

. . . . .

Breaking Point 8/8

. . . . .

Sitting on the sofa, a blanket over her knees and the fire crackling brightly, Sarah was half-drowsing when John set the tray on her lap.

"Okay, so it's not quite turkey with all the trimmings."

It wasn't even close, but the smell of the mac and cheese made her mouth water regardless. They ate without speaking, the only noise the occasional sound of frustration she made when her spoon slipped from her hand. It was the first solid food she had eaten in days, and she only managed half the bowl before she had to admit defeat. Leaning back, she shook her head in mock despair as her son cheerfully ensured that nothing was wasted.

He cleared the dishes and returned with coffee and small Hershey bars, pulling his knees close to his chest as he sat back down. Taking note of his body language, she sipped her coffee and waited to see whether or not he would talk. With John, she was never entirely sure which way he would go.

The wrapper in his hand crinkled as he toyed with it. Eventually, he set the bar down unopened.

"Do you love him?" he asked quietly. His chin resting on his knees, he stared straight into the flames, but she could see the muscle in his jaw clenching as he waited for her to answer.

She didn't wonder how he had found out; she was more surprised at her relief that he had.

"Mom?"

She expected anger when he turned to look at her, but tears were brimming in his eyes. She touched his cheek gently.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "I never… That's never really been an issue." Taking a breath, she tried again, working it out for herself as she did. "It's different from Charley."

With Charley there had been a ring, and steady employment, and John had gone to school like a normal kid. And it could never last because it never did and the façade would inevitably crumble.

"Derek knows my name." It was simple, really, when she thought about it. "He knows everything. And he'd die for you."

John nodded. That much he understood. "You could've told me, mom."

"I know."

She wasn't sure why she hadn't done so, in the relative calm of the desert safe-house. When Kaliba had forced them to run, trying to stay alive had taken precedence, and she had been too afraid of risking another rift with her son to broach the subject.

"I'm sorry," she said. She was still so afraid of losing him.

Dropping his knees down, he inched closer to her. "I think I get it, really."

"Yeah?" She choked, caught between laughing and crying. "I'm not sure I do."

He gave a helpless laugh, and when she wrapped her arms around him he leaned easily into her embrace. He wasn't certain that he really did understand, but he understood his mother's reluctance to tell him about it. In the aftermath of Sarkissian, it had taken a long time for them to tentatively rebuild their relationship. The petulant little shit who had taken his own guilt and torment out on her was not someone he was proud of or willing to go back to.

"Mom, you okay?" He could feel her heart hammering in her chest and she was breathing too quickly. Inwardly he cursed himself for pushing her. It had been too soon, when she had spent all day pushing herself.

"I'm good. Are we okay?"

"Yeah, if you'll make me a promise."

Her voice was wary when she answered him. "What promise?"

"This dying-for-me business," he said, the words half-muffled by her sweater. "Think you could both give it a rest for a while? I believe you. You don't need to try to keep proving the point."

She did cry then, tightening her hold and forcing her fingers to bend and grip onto him. It was a long time before either of them let go.

. . . . .

There would be another scar. This one too would be jagged and sunken, though not as noticeable as her first. Reaching out to trace the edges of the old shrapnel wound, Sarah made a soft noise of surprise: that one really was her first. There had been so many since then that she had stopped trying to keep them in order.

"Did I hurt you?" Cameron hesitated with a fresh dressing in her hands. The wound from the explosion was healing cleanly, and up until that point Sarah had been lying quietly while Cameron had removed the sutures.

"No, it's fine." Sarah studied the machine. If she had believed it possible, she would have said that Cameron was nervous.

When the dressing had been taped into place, Sarah pulled up her sweatpants and then carefully dropped her feet to the floor. She made as if to stand; Cameron moved to help her, but both seemed to reconsider at the same time. Sarah stayed where she was, perched on the edge of the bed while Cameron waited expectantly in the silence.

Letting out a breath, Sarah ran both hands over her face.

"I don't know what to do with you," she said finally. "You broke the promise you made me, but you saved our lives. It makes things…"

"Complicated?" Cameron offered, trying to be helpful.

"Yeah, well, I was going to go with confusing."

"Oh."

"Complicated works, though." It was largely the reason that Sarah hadn't raised the point until now. For days, the fever and the pain medication had conspired to keep her thoughts muddled. Despite her recovery, she still wasn't sure she had arrived at a satisfactory solution.

"You're concerned for John's safety," Cameron said cautiously. "But we're all a threat to him." Her voice was gentle. She was well aware that she was walking a fine line. "He loves you. That makes him vulnerable. If I hadn't gone with him, he would have left me behind and gone anyway."

Sarah's face was pale and her fingers were white where they clutched at the bedding. The machine's words were scraping along the edge of a very raw nerve.

"You think John would be safer alone?" It wasn't an accusation, and it was nothing that Sarah hadn't already considered a thousand times over.

"Perhaps." Cameron held Sarah's gaze. "But there is more at stake than just his safety."

The inference was left hanging, and Sarah glimpsed another crack in the mystery that surrounded the machine's mission.

"Is that why you helped him to come and find us?" Sarah swallowed hard, but the words still choked her. "Is that why we jumped over my death?"

Cameron's face gave nothing away, but when she spoke her voice was tinged with regret. "My John forgot what he was fighting for. Your John still has you."

Derek had once said something similar to Sarah, but she had never truly grasped the implications until that moment. She felt hopeful and terrified simultaneously, and it made her light-headed.

"Sarah?"

She started when she felt Cameron's touch on her arm. "I'm fine," she said automatically.

"You may be about to pass out. You're very pale."

"I'm not going to pass out."

"Would you like a cup of tea?"

Sarah looked up at Cameron and shook her head with a faint smile. "No, thank you."

"Have we resolved our issues?" Cameron sounded as disorientated as Sarah felt.

"No. Yes." Frustrated, Sarah opted for the middle-ground. "I'm not actually sure."

Cameron picked up the bag of soiled dressings from the bed. "John is nearly eighteen," she said. "He made sound decisions based on logic and not merely emotion. He led, and expected me to follow. He brought you both home." With her hand on the door, she paused. "I would be proud."

She watched Sarah as her words sank in. Then, considering herself dismissed, she left the room without waiting for a response, something for which Sarah was profoundly grateful.

Sarah's fingers began to cramp. She unwound them from the blankets and rested her hands in her lap.

Although her son was not yet the John Connor who would lead the Resistance against Skynet, he was certainly showing promise. She had always been proud of him, and he had saved her life and Derek's.

She looked down at her hands, hands that had held onto John so tightly for almost eighteen years, and, even though the thought made her guts twist and her palms sweat, she knew it was time that she opened them a little.

. . . . .

Sitting in the living room with half of their weaponry and several cases of ammunition strewn across the floor, Sarah felt her mood brighten with each picture she clicked on. The beach on the lap-top screen was deserted, the sands golden and untouched. The sea was crystal clear and the average temperature for early January a pleasant 70°F.

John had rented the cabana without telling her. He knew they were heading back to Los Angeles and that Danny Dyson was still at large, remaining a major threat. That they would continue to pursue Dyson and find the company that Carey had named as a link to Skynet was not a matter for debate. The time-table for such an operation most definitely was. Cameron seemed certain that their destruction of Deacon and all of its research had given them a little breathing space. Taking her at her word, John had decided that a period of recuperation was essential. There had been no arguing with him, and when he had shown her the website Sarah hadn't even tried. The beach really did look beautiful.

A bang in the kitchen, followed by a crash and an uncharacteristic string of curses from Cameron, made Sarah look up. The machine retrieved the cans of food that had rolled across the floor and stacked them back into the cardboard box.

"The kitchen is clear." Cameron strode over to the sofa with the box in her arms. "I have the perimeter to disarm, which should take approximately three hours and forty minutes."

Sarah tried not to smile at how specific Cameron's approximation was.

There was a sudden blast of cold air as John opened the front door and stomped his boots off.

"That the last one?" He took the box from Cameron.

"Yes."

"Mom, I'm gonna go help with the perimeter. You need anything?"

Sarah looked over the back of the sofa and shook her head. "We're good, thanks."

He kissed the top of her head and then went out of the door with his load.

"Cameron…" Sarah's voice held a notable tone of warning.

"I know. We'll be careful."

With a nod of acknowledgement, Sarah returned her attention to the lap-top. Tucking her legs beneath her, she drew the blanket closer and shut her eyes as peace descended on the cabin.

Minutes later, she heard the click of the bedroom door and slow, unsteady footsteps. The sofa dipped slightly as Derek sat beside her. Without opening her eyes, she reached for his hand.

"Hey."

"Thought you were asleep."

"No." She turned to face him. "Just resting my eyes." Her free hand smoothed across his freshly-shaven cheek. "That's an improvement."

"Yeah? Took me long enough." Like her, Derek had been having problems with his dexterity, and several places on his chin oozed blood. He looked around the room, suddenly conscious of its emptiness.

"We alone?"

"For the next three hours and…" she checked her watch, "…thirty-two minutes."

Slightly bemused, he laughed anyway, and then cupped her face and kissed her. His tongue touched the tip of hers lightly, just before he broke away and leaned his head back against the sofa. They were both breathless and dizzy, and that was about as adventurous as they were going to get.

"Rain-check?" He rolled his head towards her, which did nothing to ease his dizziness.

"Rain-check," she agreed, and then started to laugh, her hand covering her eyes in exasperation. "What a waste of an opportunity."

"Yeah," he shrugged. "But it takes me half an hour to undress myself."

"And then you fall asleep." She was still laughing.

He grinned at her. "Connor, we are a fucking sorry pair."

"But at least we're alive."

He gripped her hand as tightly as he could. "Yeah, at least we're alive."

. . . . .

Derek was only aware of having dozed off when he woke an hour later. His head was propped on a pillow and a throw was pulled up to his chin. The cabin was quiet. John and Cameron were still not due back, and there was no sign of Sarah.

He found her on the porch bench. Curled beneath several layers of blankets, she was staring at the glaciers threading their way down the mountains. She didn't react to his presence, and as he studied her he realized that she wasn't really looking at anything at all. She had two pairs of gloves on, but was managing to hold onto the photograph so tightly it was creasing. When he gently manipulated it from her fingers, she shifted the blankets and made room for him to sit beside her.

"He's not on there," she said.

"No." They had had this discussion around the dinner table only the night before.

"The other two are, but there's no mention of Dyson."

Derek read and reread the names on the photograph of the bloodied wall. Wallace and Brooks, the two employees from Deacon who had fled with Danny Dyson, were both listed, but Dyson was nowhere to be found.

"If he was leading the project, why isn't he on there?"

Derek could hear the tiny glimmer of hope in her voice. Despite the fact that Dyson had been complicit in their torture and was obviously a threat to her son, she was still clinging to the faint chance that he was redeemable.

"I don't know, Sarah." Derek shared none of her optimism. For him, there were no gray areas. Dyson was working with Skynet, which made him the enemy.

"He's barely older than John." She couldn't remember everything about the time she had spent at Carey's mercy, and she considered that a blessing, but she remembered the expression on Dyson's face when he had lifted her head. "He didn't know that they had murdered his mother. Miles and Tarissa, they were good people, Derek."

"But Danny lost his father, and he saw things as a kid that obviously fucked him up."

She was staring at the mountains again, and when he gently turned her face towards him her eyes were full of tears.

"That was my fault," she whispered. The tears ran unchecked down her cheeks. "How the fuck can we ever stop this? I go to Miles Dyson and we burn everything, but I change his son's fate and it just starts all over."

Derek had no words of encouragement or even consolation, and he knew she wouldn't appreciate trite sentiment anyway. When he pulled her into his arms, she leaned into him. Her breathing shuddered quickly against his cheek, before she made it slower and steadier with a deliberate effort. She straightened slightly, but stayed close to him, and wiped her face dry. They sat together in comfortable silence, watching the storm clouds from the next valley boil over the mountain tops and gradually blot out the sun.

. . . . .

With a twist of the combination, Sarah locked the cabin's front door key into its safe, and turned to take one final look at the mountains. Derek was already leaning on the porch rail; he smiled at her as she came to stand by his side.

"John's losing." He nodded down towards the clearing below the porch, and she watched her son as he attempted to sprint for shelter. He managed four steps before Cameron unleashed her snowball, hitting him square in the butt and throwing him face-forwards into the snow.

"He taught her that?" Sarah shook her head in despair.

"Yeah. Guess he forgot about the unfair advantages that come from her being a machine."

John was laughing. His face was bright pink and snow clung to his coat and pants, but his laughter was full-throated and utterly carefree. Sarah tried but couldn't remember the last time she had heard that.

"Good to go?" Derek asked quietly.

She nodded with some reluctance, even though the cold was making her hands ache. It was getting easier for her to walk in her heavy winter boots, but she took hold of the arm he offered anyway. Beside the Jeep, John was shaking snow out of his hair; he opened the back door as they approached. The engine was already running. She sighed contentedly as she slid onto the seat, the warm air beginning to ease the sting of the cold from her face.

Sitting patiently, Cameron waited behind the wheel until each of the doors had slammed shut, and then she pulled out smoothly onto the track.

. . . . .

The steady rumble of the tires on the highway had been enough to send Derek to sleep. He didn't stir when they crossed the state line, or when the deep snow that was heaped up against the roadside began to recede and then become slushier. In the front, John and Cameron had argued over radio stations, eventually coming to some agreement, and Cameron was singing along to a song Sarah didn't recognize.

The first blades of grass peeking out from the thin covering of snow made Sarah smile. It seemed like months had passed since she had seen any color other than varying shades of white and blue. She listened to her son laugh as Cameron unintentionally mangled the lyrics to another song, setting off a further round of radio station wrangling. She looked out of the window and left them to it.

"Are we there yet?"

She turned her head towards Derek, who was staring in confusion at the landscape. It had been thick with snow when he had closed his eyes.

"No." They were nowhere near. "Go back to sleep. I'll wake you when I see the ocean."

He nodded slowly but kept his eyes open, deep in sleep-addled thought. Something occurred to him that made his eyes widen, and he fixed her with a lazy smile.

"You swim, Connor?"

"Yeah." She gave him a puzzled look. "I swim. Why?"

"Where the hell you hide your Glock in a swimsuit?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

He let out a surprised bark of laughter, and his hand flew to his chest as his ribs protested.

"You asked for that," she said with a grin, her tone entirely unsympathetic.

Still laughing, he leaned his head back against the seat and watched the deserted highway pass by in a blur. He decided it would be in his best interest to change the subject, and nodded towards the thermometer on the dash. "Warmer already."

The numbers had been climbing gradually. Sarah lowered her window, lifting her head into the pine-scented breeze and feeling the sun's warmth for the first time in weeks. In her pocket, her fingers touched the edge of a photograph, but she left it where it was, hidden away, and laid her hand deliberately back on the seat. Not now. Not yet.

She felt a hand close over hers and realized only then that her fist was clenched. When she turned away from the window, Derek was watching her.

"You okay, Sarah?"

"I'm fine," she said honestly.

"Yeah?" He still looked worried.

"Yes."

Oblivious to the exchange, her son leaned over his seat. "Mom, can we stop for burgers? I'm starving and I ate all the Cheesy Snax." He tipped the empty bag upside down as if to prove his predicament.

"Sure, we can stop."

He smiled hugely at her, and for a heartbeat Sarah was just a mom, her son a normal seventeen-year-old who craved junk food and bad rock music.

When they pulled into the diner, Cameron stalked along, ever watchful, at John's side as he went to collect their food, and reality crashed back into place. Sarah's hand tightened around her Glock as she scanned the parking lot for any sign of trouble. To her left, without prompting, Derek was doing the same.

This is how it goes, Sarah thought. This is how it will continue. This is our life.

. . . . . End . . . . .

A.N. Just a very quick but heartfelt thanks to everyone who's taken the time to leave feedback, comments and even the occasional threat ;-) It's certainly no hardship writing these, but it's always a pleasure to know that people are enjoying reading them.