Title: Sacrifices (7/7)

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

Warning: The story contains the death of a young child right at the outset, and later scenes of violence involving a child which some people may find distressing.

. . . . .

Sacrifices 7/7

. . . . .

Sarah wrapped her fists in her son's jacket and pulled him into her arms.

"Hey, mom." She could hear the smile in his voice as he held her tightly.

"Hey."

She was shivering, soaked through, and so exhausted she couldn't stop herself from swaying on the spot.

"Sarah?" She looked up when Derek reluctantly interrupted. "We need to go. Someone's got to have heard all that."

"I'm good." She smiled at John, her eyes bright with tears. "Is Savannah okay?"

John nodded. "She's okay, considering." With his arm still around his mother, he began to guide her towards the truck. "She's waiting for you."

The instant Sarah opened the rear door, Savannah's eyes flew open. Despite the obvious trauma she had suffered, a smile lit up her face, and when Sarah sat down beside her she nestled into Sarah's arms. Within minutes she was fast asleep, Sarah's fingers smoothing away the tangled strands of auburn hair that fell across her cheek.

John accelerated away from the block, passing sparsely-populated street corners where, by that late hour, no one seemed sober enough to have noticed that anything extraordinary had taken place five stories above them.

Relieved to find an easy way to hide the bullet holes in her jacket, Sarah took the blanket Derek held out to her and wrapped it around her shoulders. Aware that Savannah's condition would give him enough to deal with, she obediently held a wad of gauze to the laceration on her forehead and denied that she had any other injuries. She rested her head against the leather seat, lassitude making her body feel sluggish and heavy. As she drifted, her hand still stroking the child's forehead in a gentle rhythm, she realized with a jolt of shock that despite everything Savannah had suffered, she had never once cried for her mother.

. . . . .

The sand was warm and yielding beneath Danny's feet. He pushed his toes deeply into it as he listened to the ebb and flow of the waves. He hadn't been to this beach for years, but it was his favorite of the ones his parents had taken him to as a boy. This late at night it was deserted, the silver of the moon the only light falling on the ocean.

The drugs seeping into Danny's bloodstream were gradually numbing the memory of Brooks' final seconds of life. The engineer had died bravely, with an expression that was almost relief passing across his face as he took his final breaths. Before finding Brooks, Danny had burned every file, every disc, and every notebook of his father's. Then, finally, he had burned the Turk. That, along with Brooks' death, left Danny as the only one with the key to Skynet, and he wasn't prepared to risk that key ever being used to unlock another monster.

Closing his eyes, he breathed in salt and the tang of seaweed, and felt the cool water begin to tickle over his bare toes. He was utterly weary, desperate for sleep, but he knew he only needed to stay awake for a little longer. Holding his arms out to help him keep his balance, Danny focused on the horizon and walked out into the ocean.

. . . . .

Savannah whimpered uneasily in her sleep, but when Sarah tucked the stuffed giraffe closer to her it was enough to make her settle. Following Zach's instructions carefully, Derek had given her a small dose of codeine before splinting and wrapping her broken arm.

"It looks like a clean break," Zach had said over the phone, having examined a photograph that John had forwarded. "The swelling should go down, now that you've reduced it."

With the pain somewhat alleviated, Savannah had taken a few cautious sips of juice before curling up and falling asleep on Derek's side of the bed.

Still huddled in the blanket on her own side of the mattress, Sarah gave a small grunt of assent when Derek told her she was lucky not to need stitches.

"It's just a cut," she mumbled as he tipped her chin.

He nodded, his eyes not meeting hers, his hand trembling as he wiped the laceration clean. "Just a cut," he repeated, his jaw set, his expression strained. "One of these days it'll be more than just a cut, Sarah."

Confused by his tone, she caught his hand, but he snatched it away and rocked back on his heels in front of her.

"Derek, what the hell?"

"You should've left the metal up there, Sarah. She's fucking expendable. You're not." Mindful of the child sleeping in the room, he kept his voice low, but his words blazed with anger.

It took Sarah a moment to realize he was talking about what had happened on the roof. "I needed to get Savannah down." Her throat was closing on the words; she didn't have the energy for this. "I couldn't do it. Cameron could."

He shook his head and she was shocked to see tears in his eyes. "You weren't there, Sarah," he said. "You weren't in my future. You'd died, before the war. And every time, every fucking time we go out on something like this, I wonder whether this is the time you don't come back."

"Jesus, Reese." She stared at him, dumbfounded, slowly understanding that all her recent far-too-close-calls had combined to bring him to the point where he finally snapped. She wondered whether the truth about her potential fate would be easier to bear. It was one secret that she had never shared, having decided it was hers alone to worry about, but she had never imagined that he might form his own theory based on what little he did know.

He was watching her intently. She sucked in a ragged breath, unsure that it was really the best idea, but knowing she owed it to him to be honest. "After we jumped, Cameron told me we'd jumped over my death." Her voice shook but she persevered. "I died of cancer, Derek. December 4th, 2005."

For a minute, she thought he was going to be sick. His face lost all of its color and he put his hands down to support himself.

"You think that makes you bullet-proof?" he whispered. "You won't get shot because that's not how the metal says you die? Jesus fucking Christ, Sarah." He gave an incredulous laugh.

She pushed herself up from the bed, her arms crossed tightly in front of her chest, a moan of pain slipping from her lips regardless. "I know I'm not bullet-proof," she said, all the fight gone from her.

When she walked unsteadily from the room, he didn't follow her.

. . . . .

The lock on the bathroom door slid into place mere seconds before Sarah slid to the floor.

"God." She sat stone-still, her eyes screwed shut.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. They were all safe, they had dealt a massive blow to Skynet, and yet all she wanted to do was get clean and then curl up alone on the cold tiles and sleep. Even though the thought of moving made her nauseous, she knew she needed to get her jacket and her vest off. Dropping the blanket, she tentatively worked her arms from her jacket and left it draped on the tiles. The Velcro fasteners on the vest came apart with a series of loud tears and she gratefully dropped its weight away. Her gratitude was short-lived. With the splinting effect of the vest now lost, the fractured ribs in her back started to shift with every breath she took. The agonized sound forced from her was akin to that of a wounded animal, and she bit through her lip in an attempt to smother it.

"Sarah?"

She shook her head but couldn't answer.

Derek knocked again, more urgently this time. "Sarah?"

"I'm in the bath." She gasped out the lie.

"The fucking water hasn't been running, Connor."

"Shit."

She knew that, in the circumstances, he would have no qualms about asking Cameron for assistance. With one hand she reached up and flicked the lock back. He stepped through the door without hesitation and sensibly closed it behind him.

"Christ."

Sweat had stuck her thin tank top to her torso. Her face was a horrible shade of gray and her breath was rasping shallowly in her throat. He narrowed his eyes as a niggling but deepening suspicion made him nudge the Kevlar vest with his foot. It flipped over and he stared at the crumpled piece of metal that rolled out onto the floor. He could see the dull edge of a second bullet still buried in the back of the vest.

"I'm not bullet-proof." Past the point of trying to pretend that everything was okay, she was crying, tears streaking through the dirt on her face. "If you hadn't given me the vest…" She looked up at him and shook her head. "I'm so tired, Reese."

"I know you are." He sat down beside her and slipped his hand into hers, lacing their fingers together. She closed her eyes and leaned into him. They sat in silence for a while until her breathing gradually evened out and she straightened slightly, wiping her face dry. She offered no complaint when he carefully lifted her tank top.

"Worse than the jail, or not as bad?" She arched a wry eyebrow and surprised a laugh out of him.

"Oh, y'know, it's hard to say, really."

The bruising covered half of her back, two points of impact standing out in stark red. The purple of the surrounding contusions was so dark that it appeared almost black, and he understood in an instant exactly why she hadn't been able to carry Savannah down the ladder.

"You should've said something, Sarah." When he laid a hand on the inflamed skin she shuddered, and he dropped it away quickly. "Just give me a minute."

She barely acknowledged him, but at the same time she gave no indication that she was planning to relock the door.

He returned moments later with painkillers and clean clothes.

"I need a bath," she muttered, as he helped her slip a T-shirt over her head.

"Yeah." He took her hand and fed it through a sleeve. "You might get into the bath, Connor, but I'm not sure you'd get back out again."

She gave him a look, but allowed him to sit her on the edge of the toilet seat so that she could kick off her pants. She had taken the codeine he had given her on an empty stomach and it was making her head pleasantly fuzzy.

"Get some sleep." His voice startled her, and she blinked in confusion before realizing he had somehow managed to steer her into their bedroom. He piled the pillows up to ease her breathing and she sank onto them with a sigh of relief. Savannah murmured and subconsciously inched herself closer to Sarah's warmth. Sarah closed her eyes and felt Derek press his lips to her forehead. It was the last thing she knew before the relaxed breathing of the child beside her lulled her to sleep.

. . . . .

Peering intently into the mirror, Savannah scrunched her nose up. "I look funny," she declared at length.

"It's only for a little while. Cameron did this for me, once." Sarah put her hands on Savannah's shoulders and turned her around. Savannah's hair was now shorter and lightly curled, but the real difference was the color. Cameron had chosen a dark brown dye, a startling contrast to Savannah's natural color. With the child still listed as missing and John's research indicating that an alert had been issued to airports and port authorities, her new passport would contain a photograph bearing no resemblance to those featured on the news reports.

"You're not allowed to smile," Cameron announced firmly, the camera poised and ready.

Savannah giggled and then laughed even harder when Cameron set the camera down and folded her arms in exasperation.

"Do a serious face. Like Sarah." Cameron pointed, and Sarah narrowed her eyes at the machine.

"Okay." Savannah nodded eagerly. "I can be like Sarah." Her face was suddenly transformed, its expression utterly composed and verging on stern. The camera flashed and Cameron beamed.

"Perfect."

"I don't look like that," Sarah said in an aggrieved undertone, gathering up scissors and empty bottles.

Cameron shrugged uneasily. "Well, no, not all the time."

. . . . .

Sarah lowered the volume on the news report as Derek sat down next to her on the sofa. On the television, Karl Makin glowered at the camera as he was led away from the courtroom with his hands and ankles cuffed. The bizarre circumstances of his arrest notwithstanding, he had pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. The video evidence that the police had presented to the judge really hadn't left him much of a choice.

In the next room, Sarah could hear John and Savannah laughing as they chatted online to Zach and Michael. She wondered when John's first paper was due to be submitted, but she also knew he was fond of cramming everything in at the last minute. The distance-learning course had been his idea – 'If they don't need me to be savior of the world, mom, I guess I'll have to get a job.' They both knew he would never work a regular 9-5, but the studying was giving him a focus and he was committed to seeing the course through.

A click of the remote, and the screen faded to black. Sarah and Derek sat without speaking for a long moment before she turned to him.

"Feel like a beer?"

"Feel like something stronger," he grinned, "but a beer'd be a good start."

. . . . .

It was warm beneath the trees. Savannah held Sarah's hand tightly and watched with delight as John fed M&Ms to a bold squirrel.

"You okay?" Sarah asked softly.

"Mmhm." Savannah nodded and managed a nervous smile.

The sound of the truck's engine gradually grew closer, a rental car following a short distance behind it. In the last six weeks there had been no news on Savannah's mother, and when Savannah had confidentially whispered to Sarah, 'I don't think she was my mommy anyway,' the seeds of this plan had been sown. Savannah was booked on a flight to England with Zach, where he would be able to check the progress of her healing fracture at the Manchester children's hospital and arrange any necessary treatment. She would then travel to Switzerland, where they would meet up with a family from the group who were best friends of Zach and Michael. The family had two young children and a chalet in the mountains. If everything worked out, they would foster Savannah. She would be safe, and Sarah was fervently hoping that she would be happy.

"I had some photos of my daddy when he was in Scotland and it had snowed this much." Savannah held her hand up as high as her chest as she watched the vehicles stop in the clearing. "I've never seen snow."

"I'm sure Switzerland gets lots of snow." Sarah smiled as John held his hand out to Zach before pulling him into a hug.

"Tara said she would teach me to ski." Tara was the eldest daughter of the family, although Sarah didn't recall her ever having had a conversation with Savannah. "We've been emailing," Savannah added cheerfully, seeing Sarah's confused reaction.

"Oh." Sarah tried not to laugh and squeezed Savannah's hand. "Shall we go say hi to Zach?"

"You must be Savannah." Zach came forward to meet them halfway, and Savannah shook his hand shyly. "Did Sarah pack you a raincoat?"

This time Sarah did laugh. Practically every email they had received from the couple following their move to Manchester had complained about the wet weather. "I packed her two."

"In that case, I hope they're a good match for these." He held the gift bag out to Savannah, who deftly managed to untie the ribbon with her good hand. "They're what the locals call wellies," he explained when she pulled out one of the brightly decorated boots. "They're awesome for stomping in puddles, and Tara tells me they're great for snow too."

Savannah had already kicked her sneakers off and stuck a foot into one of the wellies. She couldn't find a puddle, so she happily stomped in a pile of leaves instead.

"Look after her." Watching her, Sarah's voice was thick with tears.

"Of course we will." He held his hand out to Savannah, but she ran to Sarah first and threw her arm around Sarah's neck as Sarah crouched low.

"I'll email every day and send you pictures of my snowmen."

"I'll get John to teach me how to email back." Sarah laughed at Savannah's incredulous expression. She kissed Savannah's forehead. "Be safe." She stood with Derek and John as Zach fastened Savannah's seatbelt, shut the car doors, and then drove slowly away from the clearing. Savannah waved until the car rounded the bend and disappeared from sight.

Gripping Derek's hand, Sarah rubbed her eyes. "Let's go home."

. . . . .

Lying on her back, Sarah drifted her fingers through the sand and stared at the stars, enthralled. In Los Angeles, barely any starlight managed to make it through the city's pollution. Here at the beach, with only the soft lamplight of the cabana and air that smelled of nothing but the ocean, the sky was transformed.

"We sleeping out here again?" Derek sounded amused, his bare feet sinking into the sand as he approached.

"It's cooler," she shrugged, "and perfectly comfortable."

He easily conceded the point, handing her a beer and then lying down next to her.

"What you thinking about?" he said at length.

She smiled and swallowed a mouthful of beer. "Wondering why that star moved, but I think it's a plane." She heard his soft laugh. "Thinking about what to do next," she answered honestly.

Months ago she had promised Derek that they would return to this beach when they had won, when it was all finished, but she couldn't dare to hope that that was the case. Skynet's brain had been destroyed, but the TDE was still out there, which meant there was always a chance of everything starting over.

"Maybe we don't borrow trouble," he suggested. "We don't get careless or complacent. John keeps the searches open, but if nothing comes up we keep our heads down."

"And drink beer on the beach," she finished lightly, but her smile didn't reach her eyes.

"You don't think you deserve that?" He studied her face, his expression serious. When her gaze fell away from his, he lifted her chin gently. "You deserve that, Sarah. You've fought for eighteen years to deserve that."

"Hard to stop fighting." Her voice was quiet and confessional.

"We haven't stopped. We've just done all we can for now."

Unable to find fault with his logic, she nodded slowly and then shivered as a cool breeze off the ocean brought an unexpected chill. He rearranged the blankets, freeing one up to pull over them both before he drew her closer. The breeze carried with it the regular rush and retreat of the waves, and she listened to it as Derek's breathing gradually slowed and deepened. She closed her eyes as fingers of light began to melt the stars away. The nightmares that had plagued her for eighteen years left her in peace.

. . . . .

End

. . . . .

A.N. A couple of years ago, sitting with my feet up in the back garden and casually throwing Sarah and Derek down an embankment, I never thought that that would lead into a series of five fics spanning around 175,000 words. Sadly, I guess all fun things come to an end, and this seems like quite a good place to leave this series. I'm not saying I'll never write for TSCC again, but I'm hoping this arc has given a bit of closure to some people, even if it was all set in an alternative universe where Derek got to live! A massive thank you to the few who stuck it out; your feedback really has been brilliant and I appreciate all of your support. Couldn't have done it without Cat who has tirelessly edited these into something readable, and Roxy who changes my trousers into pants and gives me invaluable dietary advice. I hope you've had as much fun as I have. xx