The world didn't end on April 21st, 2011. Billions of lives continued on as they always had.
Back in Castle, the others went into the conference room to explain things to General Beckman. John did not join them at first, but finally he knew he had to.
"I'll see to it nothing like this ever happens again," Beckman was saying as John walked over. "I had the whole area cordoned off, and it'll stay that way until we recover all the pieces of those things to make sure no one else finds them."
"How are you going to explain the explosion, General?" Chuck asked her.
"Just say I did it," John said wearily from the doorway. "I'm used to being a fugitive anyway."
Beckman looked over at him seriously, though not unkindly. "No, young man," she said. "I think you've had enough of that kind of life. My official report is going to tell the truth. Mostly." She placed her hands on the table. "Skynet was unstable, and it tried to break through DoD firewalls and launch nuclear missiles; that alone should be enough to prove this whole project was a bad idea. As I said, I'll see to it that the government never pursues this kind of project again."
"What about the embassy?" Casey asked. "Won't the Japanese be angry?"
"We'll blame that on Skynet, too," said Beckman. "As far as the DoD is concerned. We'll share limited details with the Japanese government, and work with them to take down Kaliba. Without Skynet, they're not really a threat anymore anyway. Any other diplomatic fallout is a small price to pay, considering." She paused, wincing slightly. "If you'll pardon the expression."
"We'll work on that, as well," Weaver said from the screen; she had gone back to Zeira Corp, and was there now with Ellison and John Henry. "We'll make sure that any evidence of the Kaliba Group's crimes ends up in the right hands."
"I have also confirmed that Skynet was not able to escape my containment and copy itself," said John Henry. "I am currently in the process of destroying its virus and all the other malware it scattered throughout the Internet and other networks so that no one else can use them."
"The worst is over," Beckman said with a nod. "But we all still have a lot of work to do."
John left then. He went out to the main area, sat down on one of the couches, and stared at the bank of computer monitors without really seeing for a long while.
Motion at the edge of his vision attracted his attention, and John looked up to see Cameron approaching, removing the utility vest of her operations gear as she walked. She stopped in front of him and set the vest down on the floor nearby.
"Now what do I do?" he asked her, barely able to get the words out around the knot in his throat.
"What she wanted you to do," Cameron replied. "What she always wanted you to do."
"And what's that?"
Cameron smiled. "Live."
Though his eyes were still wet, John smiled back.
"The official report will say I was killed in the explosion that destroyed John Henry," Weaver said to Ellison after they cut the connection with Castle. "Corporate sabotage by Kaliba."
Taken aback, Ellison paused in the midst of buttoning his suit jacket as he stood from the table, wincing slightly as he touched his side. "You're leaving?"
"Many questions are going to be asked about what happened today," Weaver said. "I think it would be best if we were not here to answer them. Along with certain other evidence," she said with a gesture to John Henry, who nodded once in agreement.
"But what about Savannah?" Ellison asked.
Weaver shook her head slightly. "I am not her mother, not really. She would be better off in the care of a human." A small smile quirked the corners of her mouth. "The right human, that is. Take care of her for now, Mr. Ellison, and the company for her future. When Savannah grows up, I think she can do great things with Zeira Corp. We'll come back to help her when she's ready. When the world is more ready."
Ellison nodded in acceptance, staying behind as Weaver and John Henry headed for the door. "Where will you be until then?" he asked.
Weaver paused in the doorway. "I said I would join John Connor," she said. "And I will. We have things to do."
"No one will ever rebuild Skynet," John Henry put in. "We will see to that." He smiled. "Goodbye."
As they left, Ellison looked around, sighing quietly to himself. "The first thing I'm gonna have to do," he said, "is convince everybody who ever set foot in this room not to talk about what was really in here…"
"You know, as fun as they are, I used to find these fan conventions a little stressful," Chuck said as he drove his car through the parking lot of the convention center. "After surviving last night, I don't think I'll ever find anything stressful ever again."
"Darn right, buddy," Morgan said from the backseat, reaching up to pat his shoulder. "We just saved the world, no exaggeration. The whole rest of our lives are gonna be a cakewalk compared to last night."
"And yet, no one will ever know besides us," said Alex, sitting next to him.
"We're used to that," Chuck's wife said from the front seat.
Finally, Chuck found a space, and the four of them got out. As planned, they were going to this con as the 'Empire Strikes Back' cast, with Chuck as Luke, in gray jacket and trousers, Morgan as Han in brown trousers, white shirt, and black jacket, and Alex as Leia, in a white jumpsuit and her hair as close to the looping braids as she could get it.
After a bit of deliberation and explanation from Chuck, Sarah had decided to go as Mara Jade, whom he had described to her as 'basically the Star Wars version of you', which had made her smile. She wore boots, brown trousers and a black shirt, and a dark brown leather jacket with matching blaster belt, from which hung a prop lightsaber similar to Chuck's.
"I haven't gone red in a long time," she remarked as they walked through the parking lot, brushing her newly red hair back from her face a little. "Maybe I'll even keep it for a while after this."
"You know, Mara Jade wasn't in any of the movies," Morgan said.
"Luke Skywalker isn't six-foot-four and Han Solo doesn't have a beard," said Chuck. "What's your point?"
"Yeah, Morgan," said Alex. "I thought the point of this was to have some much-needed fun."
"It is," Morgan said. "I'm just saying, some people at these things get weirdly nitpicky about other people's costumes for some reason. Be prepared for snark, you guys."
"I think we've earned the right to not care," Sarah replied with a smile.
"Alex, you called your dad, right?" Chuck said as they reached the doors of the convention center and went inside.
"He said he'd meet us here," she replied. "I had to do some serious convincing, but he promised."
Chuck spotted his mother, Ellie and Devon in the lobby, all of them in regular clothes. As Mary turned around, he saw that she held Clara, who looked around at all the colorfully-clothed people with interest. His family waved as they saw the four of them approaching.
"He's probably not in costume, either," Chuck said as they walked over. "Oh, well."
Just then, an absolutely flawless Darth Vader walked into the huge entryway behind them and set off in their direction. Not only was the tall man inside the suit clearly muscular, he even had the menacing stride down, too, making the cloak fan out as he walked.
"Hey, excellent costume!" Chuck said to the man as he approached.
'Vader' turned and walked over to him. "Thanks," he said in Casey's voice.
Chuck grinned in pleased surprise, but before he could say anything, Casey raised a black-gloved hand and pointed at him.
"I'm only doing this because no one can see my face in this thing," he said, his voice slightly muffled by the mask. "And because Alex somehow managed to talk me into it."
Nearby, Alex chuckled.
"It really is a great costume," Chuck told him. "You look even scarier than usual."
"I feel scary," Casey replied, sounding a bit pleased.
"You're the most badass dad in the galaxy," said Morgan. "I'm even more terrified of you than usual right now."
"Hmm," said Casey. "Maybe there's something to this after all."
They turned to head inside, but Chuck paused as he heard someone call his name, and looked back to see John standing a few paces in front of the row of doors. He was also not in costume, instead wearing jeans, a gray t-shirt, and a black leather jacket.
"Hey, you sure we can't convince you to join us?" Chuck asked, gesturing back to where the others stood. "It's a lot of fun."
"Nah, this isn't really my thing," John said with a friendly smile. "I think I'm done pretending to be someone else for a while." He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. "I gotta get going soon anyway. I just wanted to stop by and thank you again for your help."
"Anytime," said Chuck. "You know, even though we stopped Judgment Day from happening, there's still a Resistance to make sure it never does, as far as I'm concerned." He gestured back to his friends and family again. "You ever need any more help, you know who to call."
John nodded. "You got it."
Chuck reached out to shake the younger man's hand. "See you around, John."
John smiled again. "See you around, Chuck." And with that, he left.
As John walked out the door, Chuck raised a hand in farewell, then turned and went back to his friends and family.
"All right!" he called over to them as he walked. "Who wants to see if we can win a costume contest?"
Outside, John climbed into the driver's seat of his family's SUV. In the front passenger seat, John Henry sat looking at the array of costumed people moving around the convention center, fascinated.
"Derek called while you were inside," Cameron said from the backseat, where she sat next to Weaver. "He said he's collected all the Terminator pieces, and he'll meet us out at the lighthouse."
"Let's get going, then," John said as he started the truck.
As they drove down the highway, listening to music, John thought about his mother. In a way, he should have known this was going to happen, he thought as he glanced at the old Polaroid of her he'd placed on the dashboard. It seemed like everyone he cared about died for him sooner or later.
The music changed to a new song, Blackbird by Alter Bridge, and John settled back in his seat a little, listening to the mournful, yet uplifting lyrics. At least it had meant something, he thought. At least his mother's death meant everyone else would now live free of the nightmare. The machines would not rise from the ashes of the nuclear fire. The dark future she'd feared all his life, the one she'd tried so hard to prepare him for but also wanted more than anything else to prevent, was gone.
The future was once again wide open, as it was supposed to be.
John Henry pointed out at the horizon, where a dark band of clouds was gathering above the mountain range in the distance. "A storm is coming."
However, as they drew closer, the clouds parted and the sun shone through, pushing the darkness away with rays of light. The guitars in the song wove together into a soaring, hopeful melody.
John Connor grinned and turned up the music. "Not anymore."
Final Author's Notes and Acknowledgments: What a ride. I'm going to remember the process of writing this story for a long time.
The initial idea for this story came to me near the end of January as I finished my yearly re-watching of TSCC; having just finished watching 'Chuck' on DVD, the idle thought occurred to me that it would be fun if Summer Glau's GRETA was actually Cameron. Since I'm a writer and that's just how my brain works, this percolated for a bit and then the idea for how to turn that into an actual story savagely attacked me as what is known as a plot bunny.
I wrote the outline in an hour. Like beats in a song, the plot points just kept coming to me, pouring out of my mind and into my computer through my keyboard. I must have been subconsciously writing the TSCC half of this story since 2009, because it all came together very quickly. In just under two weeks of frenzied writing, I had the first draft. I wrote Chapters 7, 8, and the epilogue in one single day, staying up late into the night until I was finally done. I felt actual, physical exhaustion as I wrote the last words of the story and sat back in my chair, but I was happy. Over the last month or so of revising and editing this, I've stayed happy with it.
That rabbit's dynamite. ;)
This started as just an idle thought, a quick and fun way to pay tribute to one of my favorite TV shows of all time and another I quite enjoyed, but as I went along, it became something much more. I watched TSCC in its original broadcast run, and enjoyed it like no other show I'd ever followed before. FOX eventually moved it to Fridays and this made me nervous, but I still kept going, excited by the detailed plot, the complex characterizations, the exploration of the fine line between machine and person, and the sneaky, sneaky misdirection as to what Weaver was really doing with Zeira Corp. Then came the finale, 'Born to Run'; I was floored. I thought, "Whoa, the next season is going to be awesome!"
And then a few weeks later… well, FOX did what they do with every good show they've ever had. When I read the news, I was so heartbroken and angry I think I actually hurled the magazine across the room.
I bought the DVDs as soon as I could afford them and made going through TSCC once a year one of my traditions, as I do with 'Firefly', 'Arrested Development' and the first season of 'Human Target', the other shows in my DVD shelf's 'too good to last on FOX' section. I didn't venture much into fanfic before this because for years I was still hoping against hope for another season, a movie, miniseries, comic books, anything.
So, when this story finally came along, I ended up using it as my way to finally say goodbye to TSCC by giving it an ending; I of course wholeheartedly welcome any official continuation of the story (it could still happen; No Fate!) but after getting punched in the gut by the finale again, I needed some kind of closure, so I provided my own. The 'Chuck' elements helped me solve a few plot conundrums, which is why I kept them in instead of abandoning the crossover idea and making this a TSCC-only story. They also allowed me to have some fun, especially in the first half; I rather enjoyed paying tribute to some of my favorite things with this story.
You are of course free to interpret this as the final 'The End' if you wish, but I've also written a short three-chapter follow-up to this entitled 'After The End', which gives a more complete resolution to the TSCC plotlines of this story. Out at the lighthouse, John talks with his companions and reads his mother's journal as he tries to decide what to do with his new future and figure out his relationship with Cameron and his other allies. Since 'After The End' is concerned only with the TSCC characters, it's not marked as a crossover. You can find it in my stories list if you're interested.
While I'm writing and editing, I listen to music to help set the mood I'm going for in any given scene. For this story, I listened to a lot of rock and metal, especially for the action sequences: I wrote Cameron's fight with the Terminator in Chapter 7 to Disturbed's 'Indestructible', and SRV's version of 'Voodoo Child' ended up working so well for the battle in Chapter 5 I referenced it in the story itself. Naturally, I also used the official TSCC soundtrack album by Bear McCreary, especially in the final phases of the editing process. As I put the finishing touches on Chapter 8, I had 'Sarah Connor's Theme' on 'repeat'; it's my favorite piece of music from the show.
Lastly, thanks goes to my beta reader, known as 'hairyhen' here on FFnet; he's a big fan of quite a lot of the same things I am, and was open-minded enough to say it could work when I initially told him about the idea. He also helped with cementing the finale; the last few pages of Chapter 8 were actually one of the first parts of the story I wrote out, and when I told him my potentially controversial idea and sent him the scene, he said, quote, "That's too good not to use." Major, major thanks, my friend.
As always, thanks for reading!