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Deslea R. Judd [userpic]
TSCC Fic: Convergence [NC17, Sarah.Derek] Part 1/2
by Deslea R. Judd (deslea)
at September 4th, 2010 (02:57 am)
current mood: creative

Title: Convergence
Author: Deslea R Judd
Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Character/Pairing: Sarah/Derek. Romance, angst, with a fair helping of plot/retcon
Rating: NC17 for some adult moments
Warnings: Spoilers for the whole series.
Summary: Sarah never got to tell John that they had family still. But she knew what she had to do to save all of them. And the world.
Disclaimer: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
Author Notes: This story works as a standalone piece; however, there is also a second story coming soon in the same universe, called Paradigm Shift. I am separating it out because the second story is more of an ensemble piece.
More fic: http://fiction.deslea.com

This is PART 1/2. PART 2/2 can be found here.



Now with cover art (below), although it's my first experiment with mixing rough sketching on the graphic tablet with collaging, and I'm not 100% happy with it. Please be gentle!




** PRELUDE: INTO THE NEXUS **

(SARAH)

"I'll stop it," she'd whispered. Final promise to a fleeing son who thought there was nothing left for him but a dying mother in a dying world.

It was suicide. Removing himself from history was a form of self-annihilation, by a man who had lost too much too fast. He could not come out of that time displacement field alive. Not without someone to send Kyle back and father him all over again.

He would step in, and never step out.

He acted too fast to realise what he had done.

*Did he?* her mind jangled. *Did he?*

And in that moment, she thought with dark certainty that John knew exactly what he was doing.

I did this, she thought frantically, and the enormity of the last few days suddenly lodged in the pit of her stomach, hitting her there like a sinking stone. Was this what her rejection of people, of loved ones did to him? Driven him to follow Cameron - that lifeless, deathless *thing* - even knowing he would be obliterated in the attempt?

I'm not dying, she thought. I never got to tell you I wasn't dying after all. I never got to tell you we had family still.

And then it all fell into place. What she had to do to save all of them. And the world.

She thought all this before he was really gone. And then she made the decision that would tether him in time… before it could eat him alive.

"I love you, John," she whispered, and the final strands of crackling blue light flickered away.

*****

Kneeling, Sarah rummaged through John's clothes, puddled shapelessly on the floor. She did it quickly, with no idea of how long her decision alone would be enough to keep him safe. The sooner she acted, the better.

But there was one loose end that had to be handled first. She found what she was looking for in John's pocket. Rising, she handed it to Ellison.

"If everything goes according to plan, you're going to need this."

He looked down at the Polaroid and then back up at her. "Where are you going?"

She was already typing at the terminal, hoping to God she was doing this right. Otherwise she might wind up as so many bits of permanently displaced antimatter. But there was no time left to second guess. No time left in the world.

For the second time in the space of minutes, a ball of blue light began to form in Catherine Weaver's basement. She stepped into it, as resolutely as she had stepped out of the first.

"To fix it," she said. "You'll see me again."

Ellison's bewildered face was the last thing she saw.


** ONE: THE FIRST ITERATION **

(DEREK)

"The only thing stopping me from killing you is that you killed her to protect us."

Derek held her gaze. Solemn. Leaning there against the refrigerator, he guessed he looked like a man waiting to be sent to the gallows. His posture was quite calculated.

"Do what you need to do, Sarah," he said resignedly. "I'm yours. I always was. Do what you want."

His intentions were utterly manipulative. He knew that the chances of Sarah letting him stay after all this were just about nil. Especially if, as he suspected, Jesse had survived. The trail of blood leading to her car space had not been wholly convincing for a mortal wound.

Manipulation or not, though, he discovered when he said it that he also meant every word. Funny how that always seemed to happen with her, he thought with sour amusement.

She was toying with her gun, and for a minute he thought she really might kill him. But then, abruptly, she slid it away from her on the laminate. She slammed him hard against the cabinets.

"I fucking hate you for doing this to us," she hissed, hot breath on his face.

That makes two of us, he thought, but then her mouth was pressed hard against his and he couldn't answer. They had done this enough times now that he knew she didn't want to hear it. That was Sarah all over, really, at least since she killed Sarkissian. And he was sick of it, but his mouth still fell open and his fingertips still danced over her collarbone and he still took her fury from her and gave tenderness back, because he didn't know what else to do to reach her.

But this was different. The fury wasn't dissipating. It was growing. His shirt tore under her hands, and it turned him on and scared the shit out of him at the same time. He flung his head back away from her, striking it painfully on the cabinet, and stared at her, ashen.

Something about his reaction seemed to give her grim satisfaction. "You're mine? You're really mine?"

"Yes." It was a whisper, resigned and angry too. What *right* did she have to own him when she couldn't love him? She didn't give a shit that he'd been sleeping with Jesse, as long as she still had him by the balls, and that made him burn with humiliation.

"I'm going to fuck you so hard that you're not even going to remember what she felt like," she whispered against his ear, drawing his hand into her jeans. He found warm, slick flesh; no knickers. She'd meant to do this all along. Of course she had. And damn it all, he wanted her, wanted to hear her moan into his ear as he slid his fingers deep inside her, wanted her to sink down onto him and *squeeze*-

"Jesus," he groaned, kissing her hard and finding her breast with the hand that wasn't already busy in her crotch. "Oh, my God."

"Fuck me," she said, shivering lightly as his fingers slipped out of her, sliding over her as he drew them out of her pants.

"This get you hot, Connor?" he muttered. "Fucking with someone who loves you?" It didn't stop him from pulling off her shirt.

"Loves me?" she said scornfully, working his buckle free. She did it viciously, like she was loading a rifle. "You were with someone else until, how long is it now? Twelve hours ago?"

"What the hell did you expect to happen?" he demanded, as together they pushed her up on the bench, ready to engulf him. "You won't let me in!"

"I'm letting you in now," she said through gritted teeth as he shoved into her. "Oh, God, like that. Fuck." Then, as she clung to him, urging him on, she looked into his eyes with sudden clarity. She said softly, cryptically, "This is all there is." He thought it was the first totally real, totally unscripted thing she'd said all night.

Their shared climax felt and sounded like a mortal wound.

*****

(SARAH)

"I don't want a goddamn pregnancy test."

"We had a lawsuit a year ago, Connor." Fleetingly, she realised it had been years since anyone but Derek had called her that. "A prisoner didn't know she was pregnant, and she lost the baby. So now we test all women of childbearing age when they come into the system." The prison nurse - young, male, probably poorly-paid - dropped the professional veneer and added wryly, "Specially ones who puke as much as you do."

"So much for my right to privacy."

"God bless America. Land of the free, except for whackjobs like you. You gonna give me that sample, or do I have to set up a catheter here?"

Sarah gave it.

*****

"Well, the rabbit died," the nurse said as she wriggled back into her orange jumpsuit. "Bet the dad's a con, too, right? Great life your kid's gonna have there. Born on death row and straight into foster care - *and* on my taxes, thank you *very* much."

Sarah froze, staring up at the nurse in shock. The rabbit reference was lost on her, but holy *shit* the rest of it made sudden, nightmarish sense.

Images washed over her. Derek in his prison blues, clinging to her, covered in blood. Dragging her shirt over her head that night, loving her and cursing her in the same breath. Staring sightlessly at her, drenched in sunlight on Catherine Weaver's floor.

All this warred with a bizarre mental picture of Bugs Bunny holding up a blue pee stick. She almost asked what the rabbit thing was about, then decided against it. Instead, she echoed stupidly, "Pregnant?"

"What did you think all the puking was for, then, huh?"

*Radiation sickness or cancer,* she thought. *Who would have thought a sexually active woman in her thirties was just pregnant?* Waves of horror began to wash over her as it started to sink in; grimly, she pushed them down. She had things to take care of first.

The nurse picked up her chart. "Well, we'll start you on folate, and then-"

"Don't write it down," she said urgently.

He looked at her, frowning. "What's in it for me?"

"One less foster kid on your dime, for starters. Get me some RU-486, and then we'll talk trade." She didn't know if she would take them, but it would buy her time to figure it out. He didn't need to write it down if he thought she was going to get rid of it. Maybe she'd be out of the headlines and John well away in Mexico before anyone found out.

He put the pen down. "Just call it my civic duty," he said, shooting her a grin as he rapped on the glass to summon the guard.

He whistled as she was dragged away.

*****

She set things in motion for John that day, sending him the tools for his escape, and that night, she had her strange visit from Agent Auldridge.

She was too preoccupied to do more than register the many odd things about his little speech. Hell, maybe he really did believe her, she thought with self-indulgent, slightly wistful hope, and maybe Danny Dyson was a problem. Or a victim. But she would think about it later; all she could do now was protect John and get him well out of the way.

With these matters settled, the switch in her brain set to "John" flicked off. It didn't happen often -– only in those rare moments where she was both restrained and temporarily safe, where she must simply stop and wait. It happened sometimes in Pescadero and it happened sometimes in jail, and those were just about the only times, ever.

But for now, she had done what she could. She had sent John and Cameron the means for their escape. She had kept the baby out of the media and out of the files, at least for a while. There was no way John would leave it alone if he knew she was pregnant. Especially not if he worked out it was Derek's. And if he didn't, he would think it was Charley's, and that was almost as bad.

This way, hopefully he would be in Mexico and off the grid by the time the news hit.

If it ever hit at all.

She allowed herself to slump, and her body to slide down. She smoothed her prison jumpsuit over her still-flat stomach and allowed herself to really think about what had just happened.

She still didn't believe it, not really. She hadn't been sick when she was having John, but since that last night with Derek, she'd hardly eaten, hardly slept, and brought up what little she ate. She'd thought –- she'd really thought –- it was the cumulative effects of shock, betrayal, anger, hurt, and most recently, a double dose of grief over Derek and Charley. All of them hot on the heels of a near-fatal gunshot wound.

She had no idea whether she really would take the drugs, if and when they were forthcoming. She'd spent so much of her life shrinking from death that she could hardly even imagine taking them.

But Derek was dead, she was facing death row, and this baby could be used against John.

She toyed with the idea of a plea bargain. She could plead to the kidnapping if they'd take death off the table and let her have the baby in privacy. A closed adoption. Something like that.

*What for?* her mind jangled. To die a horrible death when the bombs fell? No warning, no training, no protection?

"You realise you'd do anything to keep from watching the world burn again," Derek had said. Could it be that he would want this? Would he have wanted her to spare their child the horrors he and Kyle had endured?

More than anything, she wished he was here to ask.

*I miss you,* she thought, and she felt warm, salty tears rising in her throat, and she realised with something like wonder that she could let them out, if she wanted to. John was gone, and there was nothing she needed to do right now. No machine, no burial, no hasty relocation. Nothing.

Could she really indulge in her grief?

And if she did, would it ever stop?

His face rose up in her mind, and unwilling, grudging love with it, the love that she had fought tooth and nail while he was alive. She'd fought because of Kyle and because of John and because she knew deep down that she could never just walk away from him, and that made them terribly dangerous to each other.

But he'd worked his way in anyway, at least until Sarkissian. After that, she had turned away from him. She'd feared he would see the truth in her eyes.

Stupid, she thought, pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead, her eyes shut tight. Derek was a pragmatist and a killer. He wouldn't have thought less of John for killing Sarkissian; moreover, he could have got him through it.

But then, that wasn't the truth she'd cared about, was it?

*I failed John,* she thought. *I taught him to survive, but I never taught him to live with what he would have to do to survive. And I didn't want Derek to know.*

The tears rose up again, and this time, she couldn't have stopped them if she'd tried. She grieved for all of them, their messed up little family, two fallen brothers and their lost sons, and for the ones who had died for them along the way.

When the wracking sobs had been and gone, she slept, her hands cradling her belly and the child within.


** TWO: THE SECOND ITERATION **

(SARAH)

John Derek Connor was born in El Salvador in 1993. A juvenile delinquent of very nearly the same name was eight years old and living in foster care in Los Angeles.

She didn't mean to name him for John and Derek. She'd planned to name him something totally new and untainted. But when the midwife handed him to her for the first time, she had broken into sudden tears. There was *so much* of them in this baby.

*I'm sorry,* she thought. *I'm so sorry for what I did to both of you.*

They spent that night in a hammock on the verandah of her cabin overlooking Lago de Coatepeque, the mountains rising up around them. J.D. slept and woke and made tiny mewing noises until she guided him to her breast, stroking his downy head under the stars.

"Once upon a time, there was a man named Derek," she said softly, "and that man was the bravest man in the whole world. Because he knew that love was dangerous for people like us and he did it anyway. And he did it because he was a soldier, and he knew that the only way a soldier can survive for very long is if he has people who have his back."

J.D. flexed his little hands, and just for a moment, she thought she felt Derek's fingers tracing circles over her collarbone. She'd been so hard by the end. So angry. About Jesse, about Sarkissian, about those three damn dots and feeling like no one was listening. About everything. How had Derek ever found anything left in there to love?

"I'm going to get it right this time," she whispered. "I promise."

*****

In the quiet days that followed, J.D. at her breast, Sarah thought a lot about them. It was forced reflection time - hours every day where she had to stop, to think. To wind down. To gaze down at this new baby's thoughtful eyes and think about John and what she had inflicted on him. Not the machines, which were not her fault, but two other elements entirely in her control that, it seemed to her now, had been his undoing.

Her first error was the isolation. The pushing away of loved ones. When Riley and Charley and Derek were shaved away in the space of days - loved ones he acquired despite her best efforts - who else did he have to run to but the machines? And her second error was her insistence that they would never kill. John was a soldier. By instilling in him a belief that he could never live up to, she had set him up to be ripped apart.

"Once upon a time, there was a man named John, and he lived in a land far away. And John lived through many trials. And his mother wished she could stop those trials, but if she did, then time might carry him away from her forever. So she had to trust that he would survive them all over again, just like she taught him."

She missed John. Missed him like an amputated limb. Wanted to share with him the things she'd learned. But if his life deviated in any way, their parallel timelines might separate, and John might be lost in the displacement field forever. Not only would there be a John-sized hole in her heart, which she could live with if she must, but there might be no way to repair the John-sized hole in human history that he would leave behind.

So she watched. Watched the newscasts. Watched the footage of the T-1000 chasing John and the T-800 down the main street. Watched the footage of the bank heist and the explosion. She watched John's suffering all over again, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

All she could do was learn from her mistakes, and groom J.D. to step into the void he would leave behind.

*****

They lived quietly off the grid in Mexico. Sarah was known for her tomatoes and her marijuana - in honesty, the latter rather more than the former. Certainly the terms of exchange - IDs and guns - were much more to her tastes. Some things never change.

But a lot of things had changed, she thought, as J.D. put the finishing touches on his sand castle.

For one thing, there were no abusive stepfathers. Sarah didn't need to trade her body for knowledge anymore. She'd learned from the best in a former life. The life that John, her John, was suffering for right now and she was powerless to stop. It wasn't fair that J.D. would be protected when John wasn't, and she ached for him every day.

Another difference was that there were no machines. If everything went to plan, that might come, but there was no sign of it yet. Again, John would suffer and they would live in peace, and Sarah could no more change it than she could reverse the tide.

So for now, Sarah and J.D. had a time of peace and healing. For Sarah, it was tainted by guilt, but even in her guilt, the sun and the sea and working the earth all seemed to be working those hard edges out of her, little by little.

"Mama?"

"Yeah?"

"¿Está Kyle?"

She looked up automatically, although she already knew the answer. "No, that's just a tourist. You won't meet Kyle until you're all grown up." They had this conversation often at the moment. It was a bit of a phase.

"¿Qué es él blanco?"

"He's white like us because he's from Estados Unidos like us. Please speak some English. You're going to need it one day."

"All right, Mama." He clapped his chubby little hands. "Look at my sand castle."

"Es bueno."

"Please speak some English, Mama," he mimicked. "You're going to need it one day."

She smirked and ruffled his hair. Brown hair, like Derek's.

"Why do I have to send him back?"

To start the whole mess again, she thought. "So he can be John's papa. And you have to send Derek so he can be your papa."

J.D. thought on this, brushing sand off his hands. "How will I find them?"

*All you have to do is be the messiah, and they'll find you,* she thought sourly, but she didn't say so. Instead, she picked him up and said, "Well, you know that island we went to in Panama?"

He nodded. "I walked in the swamp. It felt funny on my feet."

"We're going to live there. Just you and me to start with, but there will be more people later. And they're all going to help you. Because a good soldier needs people to watch his back."

"Where will you get them?" he asked, twisting her hair between little fingers.

"That's the beauty of it," she whispered. "They were around us all along."

*****

"Mom, are you home?"

Sarah wiped her face. "Just a second. Don't come in." Stupid thing to say - it just made him come in sooner.

He burst in, all six feet of him. In the field, he was graceful and light-footed, but in her house, he trod in heavy adolescent steps, not afraid to make noise and to take up space. He was taller and broader than John. He was more and more like Derek every day.

He looked at her, taking in her flushed, tearful face, and darted an alarmed glance at the frozen image on the TV screen. And then his knees seemed to buckle.

"Is that-"

"Yes. I caught it off the satellite feed this morning. He's been arrested."

"Andy Goode?"

She nodded, still blinking back stinging tears. "Don't tell Terissa. She isn't ready for that yet."

J.D. nodded. "Yeah, she's going to take some seasoning, and she'll never be a soldier. But she's got a good stategic mind. She'll be useful in other ways." He added absently, "She said Danny was an intern at Kaliba." He was still staring at the TV in wonder.

"I know. I think he's going to teach you to re-program the machines. I think when he goes missing a year from now, it's because we bring him here."

"And in the meantime, he's helping them." J.D.'s expression was one of distaste. He had never been protected by the machines, never even seen one except on surveillance from a distance. He had none of John's affinity with them, and she thought that was a good thing, but he would have to learn to work with them on at least a limited basis.

"He's also learning from them. We've talked about this. Minimal interference, and nothing that could affect Sarah and John." It was no longer odd to speak of her younger self in the third person. She really was like a different person. "No one comes here until after the last time they saw them. No one comes here until after the last thing they did that could affect them."

"I know, I know." He crouched beside her and studied the still image of Derek thoughtfully. "He's like me."

She drew in her breath and let it out again. It hitched almost inperceptibly in her chest. "Yeah. He's a lot like you."

He looked at her with interest. "You loved him."

"I didn't show it very well, but yeah. I loved him."

"More than Kyle?"

She looked sideways at him in surprise. She'd always thought he'd wanted to know, but she never thought he'd ask.

"Differently than Kyle," she said after a moment. "Kyle was my hero when I was a frightened girl. He didn't even really know me. He was a sweet kid in love with a photograph. Derek and I were adults together. He loved me when I could barely stand the sight of myself." And right now he was in a prison, about to meet her younger self. About to fall in love with her, and give her life along the way to his death.

"We could save him," J.D. said idly.

She felt too hurt, too bruised to react as she normally would have. She only turned back to the TV screen and said again, "We've talked about this."

"We don't take anyone who died in front of them, or anyone they saw dead, or anyone they found out was dead later. It's practically gospel here. But Mom," he said, suddenly quiet, "I know what you're going to do when the timelines merge."

She turned to look at him. Stunned. She didn't ask what he meant, and she didn't try to deny it. "How do you know?"

"Because it's the right strategic move. And I'm not going to try to stop you. But Mom, I'm not ready to go it alone."

"You're not alone. There are thirty people on this island solely dedicated to having your back, and more coming all the time. And you can do it without me. I believe in you. I wouldn't do it if I didn't."

"Yes, you would. And you should. Doesn't mean I don't want you to stay." He sighed and turned away. Rose and headed for the door. Paused there.

"You know," he said, "there's really not a lot of difference between him being dead and them just thinking he's dead."

He left, and Sarah stared after him, her tears forgotten.

Could she? she wondered. Just once? Would fate and time let her get away with just one sleight of hand?

She looked back at the TV screen. Derek's mugshot looked back at her sightlessly. He was alive, and he was just a few thousand miles away, closer than they had been in sixteen years. Almost close enough to touch.

And she could feel him tracing circles on her collarbone.

*****

She started dreaming of him that night.

She hadn't dreamed of him in years. But there he was, staring into a room filled with turbines and crackling blue light. He said in wonder, "What is all this?"

"This is all there is," she whispered, and drew his hand to her belly, lacing his fingers with hers.

"Does this make you hot, Connor?" he said, his fingers dancing over her collarbone. "Fucking with someone who loves you?"

She looked up at him and cradled his neck with her hand. "I failed John, and I didn't want you to know."

And then he was kissing her, he was forgiving her, he was filling her with life and with second chances that were almost within her grasp.


** THREE: DETOUR **

(DEREK)

Consciousness came slowly.

That wasn't usual for him. He was usually ready to rush to the surface at the slightest hint of danger.

But then, he'd been asleep at the switch quite a bit lately. Between wanting Sarah and letting Jesse play Mata Hari to his misplaced nostalgia, he figured he'd been operating without the benefit of full blood supply to his brain for the better part of a year now.

But still, this was a different level of sluggishness again.

*Drugged,* he thought. *I've been drugged.*

Fully awake now - at least mentally - he tugged at his wrists and ankles. His limbs were still weak, but they were well bound, and he doubted escape was possible even once the drugs wore off. He was on his side, with a warm blanket around him. It seemed like an odd touch.

He debated whether to draw attention to himself, but he figured someone was already keeping tabs on him, so what the hell? "Where am I, and why do I feel like I was hit by a bus?"

"You've been mostly dead all day," a woman answered deadpan. The voice was familiar, but he couldn't place it. Then, after a moment, she went on, "Damn. I forgot. You wouldn't know it. You probably weren't born when it came out. It's probably not your kind of movie, anyway."

"Do I know you?"

"Only in passing. But I'm not an enemy."

"Yeah, because my friends tie me up all the time."

Sounds. Movements behind him. "I have to drug you again," she said. "I'm sorry, but I'm cleared for takeoff, and I can't fly and worry about you at the same time. It's just chloroform this time."

He made wild, futile sounds of protest, and had time only to register the brush of glossy black hair on his face before darkness descended once more.

*****

He woke several times on the journey - enough to piece together that they were in a helicopter, not a plane. He called out, but the woman didn't answer. Probably had her earmuffs on. Theoretically, he could probably use this as an advantage, but to what end? They were in the air. There was nowhere to go. He didn't know how to fly.

The last time he woke, the chopper was descending. The blades overhead slowed as they landed with a thud. There was a rush of air in the cabin as his captor opened the front cabin and jumped down. He identified the terrain under her boots as grass.

"Package is in the back," she yelled over the dying motor. "I have to go - I've got to get back to L.A. before Father Bonilla starts looking for me. I've got a charter waiting for me at Bocas." A short, unintelligible exchange followed.

He felt a jolt, accompanied by a sliding noise. The rear cabin door being opened. Someone climbed in behind him and began to work the knots at his wrists undone. Small, female hands. It wouldn't take much to disarm her.

He was just about to shift his weight to tackle her, when a familiar voice said, "Hello, Derek."

He turned his head with a vicious snap that made his neck ache, and found himself staring into the face of Lauren Fields.

*****

Lauren's gun was drawn as she cut his bounds and stepped swiftly away. The safety was on, and Derek didn't think she meant to shoot him.

He stepped down from the helicopter, still a little groggy from the chloroform, and looked around him, studying the terrain. Lauren waited, letting him get his bearings.

They were on a purpose-built helipad, but otherwise in natural surroundings. Mentally, he ruled out a commercial helipad. He doubted it was a military base, but he couldn't be sure. It was humid. The vegetation wasn't exactly like anything he'd seen in LA, either.

He moved towards her. Wary, but not hostile. She raised her weapon in a sign of truce and put it in her waistband at her back. He nodded, raising his own hands so she could see them.

She led him away. "There's lots to tell, and not a lot of time. Come on."

They tramped along the trail in silence for a few moments. He lagged behind her, peering curiously at the pristine flora around them. "Where are we?"

"A private island off Bocas del Toro. Sarah set it up a long time ago."

He stiffened. He didn't believe that. "Sarah would have told me." He lengthened his strides, catching up with Lauren. Ready to tackle her and disarm her and figure out what the fuck was going on.

Lauren heard him coming. Whirled around, her weapon suddenly back in her hand. She held it, slightly downwards, but obviously with no intention of letting him get the advantage. He thought idly that she'd come a long way.

"I'm sure she would have, if she could. But she did it later. Or earlier. Whatever."

He blinked twice, and then he understood. "She jumped back?"

"Yes. After you and John were gone."

A chill fell over him. "Gone?" he echoed.

"Dead, in your case," Lauren said calmly. "Jumped forward, in John's." She nodded to the cabin rising up in the clearing before them. "Here we are."

Derek's mind reeled at that. Not so much his own death - he'd picked that coming a mile off, one way or another. But John jumping forward - that was something different. How far had he jumped? How could he be so *stupid*?

"Come on," Lauren urged. "You don't have to stand there trying to work it out, you know. I'm going to tell you everything." She made a beeline for the cabin.

It was small, on two levels. The lower level was an open breezeway with storage lockers each side. They looked like gun lockers. Derek followed Lauren up the wooden stairs onto a wraparound verandah with views over the compound to one side, the water on the other. It was only from here that he began to comprehend the extent of Sarah's operation.

The logistics were impressive. A helipad. A dock. An air control tower. A firing range. Some kind of obstacle course. And he could only see maybe a third of the place.

It wasn't only transport and training, though. Taking in the cluster of houses, the flickers of light and sounds of meals being served, he realised in wonder that Sarah wasn't working alone anymore.

"We're off the grid here," Lauren was saying. "Far enough away from key military targets to survive. That's our number one priority now. We can't stop the war anymore."

He stared at her.

Nightmarishly, he wondered if the machines had found a way to replace Sarah. The compound was something she was fully capable of, but the rest of it? Working with people? A mission that did not involve stopping the war? No. Not Sarah. And it would explain why Lauren, rather than Sarah had met him.

If Sarah had been replaced, he thought with a chill, then she was-

No, he wouldn't go there. Not yet.

"Why can't we stop it?" he said finally.

Lauren stepped inside the cabin for a moment. She returned with bottled water. "Here, have this. You must be dehydrated."

He took it, but didn't open it. Until he was sure what was going on here, he wasn't eating, drinking, or taking anything they gave him.

"I said, why can't we stop it?"

Lauren sat down on a wicker chair and nodded to a second one beside her. "Derek, John jumped to 2027. He followed Cameron."

Derek bit back a string of obscenities towards his wayward nephew. Of all the stupid- "If he goes forward, then there's no one to send-" he stopped short.

"Kyle," she said. "I know."

He didn't ask how she knew. Sitting down heavily, he said, "And that means no more timelines with John." It occurred to him that it might also mean that Kyle would live. But then, would anyone live without John?

Lauren nodded. "I know. That's why we can't stop it anymore."

"I don't follow." Of course, time travel being what it was, it wouldn't have been the first time.

"We don't fully understand how it works, but as best we can figure out, at the moment, there are two parallel timelines that rely on each other. Our one has a leader, who can only exist if John's timeline exists. And John's one doesn't have a leader at all. If we can make them merge again, then it all works out."

Derek nodded slowly. So far, it hung together.

"But if we try to stop Judgement Day and succeed, then our timeline branches off from John's. His timeline continues to J-Day without a leader. It might branch off even if we fail, and then neither timeline will have a leader to bring them through."

And if you're wrong about any of this, he thought sourly, it might all fall down like a house of cards anyway.

He thought it over. Said slowly, "Haven't you varied it already, by removing me from the picture? That wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken me. What makes you think John and Sarah - the other Sarah - aren't looking for me right now?"

Lauren said awkwardly, "You died, Derek. At the Weaver house. A T-888 got you."

He stared at her. Grappling with his own demise, his narrow escape - and then, the implications. What they must have done to ensure the integrity of the timeline. He grasped her wrist in sudden fury. "They think I'm *dead*?"

Reluctantly, she nodded. "We drugged you, and posed you, and they think you're dead." Then, calmly, "You're hurting me."

Shamefacedly, he released her. She rubbed her wrist with her other hand.

"Sorry. It's not every day you find out you died."

"I suppose not."

"So who did it? Who faked my death for me?"

"Sarah gave the order."

He felt a flare of real anger. "She did that? To her own *son*?"

Lauren's voice was angry, too. "Now, hang on, Derek. If she hadn't given that order, not only would he still think you were dead, you'd actually *be* dead, as well. John's pain is unavoidable. Your death was not." Her voice steadier now, she went on, "There are people here who knew John and cared for him. The effects of what we do are not taken lightly by anyone."

Somewhat mollified, he said, "Who was it? Woman with dark hair. She knew me."

"You only met her once. Her name's Pilar. Latina chica with top-notch forgery skills."

"Remind me to thank her," he said wryly. "Anyone else I know?"

"If I'm not mistaken, you'll see James Ellison and Savannah Weaver soon. Maybe Father Bonilla. We don't normally force people to come," she added apologetically. "There's one Sarah said you wouldn't like. Woman called Jesse Flores. She's building a supply point in Perth."

Derek's jaw tightened. "What did Sarah say about her?"

"Not much. Only that there had been problems with her before. But she's indicated that she will follow the chain of command. So she's in. We don't see her much."

Derek shook his head. "I have to tell you, Lauren, I'm having a lot of trouble swallowing this. Sarah doesn't even give first chances, let alone second chances. And she sure as shit doesn't work with a cast of thousands."

"She thought you'd say that. She said to tell you, 'This is all there is.' She said you'd remember. And that she could explain."

His jaw flickered. He wondered if it was just an easy codephrase or whether she meant something by it. "Fine. Let's say I accept that it's really her. Well, I'm here, so why isn't she here, explaining?"

"That I can't tell you. I'm to brief you to the extent that I can. Which I've done. And then I'm to take you to her." She rose. "Are you going to drink that water, or should I put it back into supply?"

Wordlessly, he handed it to her. He was almost convinced, yes, but not quite. Not until he saw Sarah for himself.

Lauren took it with a sigh. "I told J.D. it would be better coming from her."

"Who's J.D.?"

She ducked inside and put the drink away. "He's the CO."

Derek stared after her. "What do you mean, he's commanding officer? I thought you said it was Sarah's operation."

"She's second in command. She handed over to J.D. a year ago."

He got to his feet. Alarmed. "Yes, but who *is* he?"

"He's her-" Lauren broke off, staring at him suddenly. Really staring. As though seeing him for the first time. "Oh," she exhaled slowly. "Oh, shit."

He stared back. "What?"

She shook her head dismissively. "Nothing. I just realised something. It doesn't matter." Still looking at him intently, she went on, "J.D. is her successor. She's been grooming him for a while now."

"I want to meet him."

"You will. You should talk to Sarah first, though." She looked uncomfortable.

He wondered whether this J.D. guy was Sarah's boyfriend these days. But then, how would Lauren know he and Sarah had been...well, whatever they had been? Anyway. He had bigger fish to fry. "I devoted my life to John Connor, and I have a right to know who's going to replace him. Who the hell is this guy?"

Lauren's cool was slipping. "Derek, it's really not my place-"

"Now, Lauren." His voice left no room for argument.

Reluctantly, she pulled her radio handset from her waistband. "J.D., this is Fields, come in, please. It's important."

A surprisingly young voice came over the air. "This is J.D.," he said, perhaps with just a trace of puzzlement. Derek wondered if there had been some sort of breach of protocol. He noticed that Lauren used her own surname but not the young man's. "What is it, Fields?"

"I'm at the supply depot with Derek Reese. He's demanding to meet the man who's going to replace John Connor." Lauren went on very deliberately, "I asked him to see Sarah first, but he's very...insistent."

That young voice sounded suddenly reflective. "Yeah, I suppose that's not surprising. Sorry, Fields, I should have anticipated this. I'll be right there."

"You owe me one. Fields out."

Lauren's look was wary as she put the handset back into its holster. "He'll be here in a few minutes."

"You're a bad liar."

"Who's lying? He really will be here in a few minutes."

"You know that's not what I mean."

Lauren looked at him steadily, not rising to the bait, and he sighed. "Fine. Have it your way." He nodded out at the compound. "How long did it take her to build all this, anyway? How far back did she jump?"

She hesitated, but then she nodded, as though deciding this, at least, was within her authority to say. "Seventeen years."

He tried to imagine her seventeen years older. Couldn't. "That makes her fifty-one," he calculated. He was beginning to understand why she would need a successor.

"We just celebrated her fiftieth. She sort of dropped a birthday somewhere along the way, I think. Jumped just before one birthday and arrived just after one, or something." Lauren shrugged. "She hasn't changed much. She looks a little bit older - just around the eyes. Hair's a bit longer. She's aged well, though."

Her voice was oddly reassuring, and he was suddenly quite sure that she did know about his relationship with Sarah after all - or, more likely, had imposed her own girlish interpretation. Why not? Lauren had called Sarah for help, and a male accomplice of the same age had responded. Sarah didn't trust easily. It was a reasonable leap of logic.

The sudden age difference was only peripherally interesting. Women rarely lived to fifty in his time, but the women of this time were different. A healthy woman of fifty wasn't much different to a woman of forty. He'd slept with one once, just before he met Sarah, and he had been pleasantly surprised. That was a woman who liked men, and didn't play games about it. It was his first time in this brave new (old) world, the one where he reconciled leaving Jesse behind, once and for all. She'd given him her number, and he might have called it if he hadn't given himself body and soul to Sarah Connor.

He supposed it didn't matter anyway. She would have moved on. Well, he'd lived with her not loving him before, and he could do it again. In some ways he supposed it might be a relief, not watching her self-destruct before his eyes. Maybe he could get some resolution and focus on this new resistance.

Lauren looked up sharply. Derek listened. A faint rumbling sound approached. A jeep, he thought. "Come on," she said. She started down the stairs.

They emerged into the fading light, just as the jeep pushed through into the clearing. It came to a stop a short distance away.

Lauren nodded. "That's him," she said.

"You're not coming?"

She shook her head. "Terissa's looking after Sydney. I should pick her up. She won't sleep for anyone but me." Lauren was looking back and forth, from him to the outline in the distance. She turned on her heel and began to walk.

"Lauren," he said, in a voice that allowed no room for debate. "Who is this guy?"

With great reluctance, Lauren turned. Her look was one of perfect agony. He almost regretted putting her on the spot.

Almost.

"He's her son," she said, so quietly that the words were all but carried away with the wind, and then she was gone.

He stared after her as it all fell into place. Turned back, towards the jeep. His heart hammering erratically in his chest. He blessed and cursed the fates at the same time. That was some fucked-up sense of humour they had, snatching away one child after another across time.

He wondered whether Kyle would have minded.

He thought of Sarah, alone to raise another Reese, and he thought that was the worst thing of all.

*Oh, Jesus, Sarah,* he thought, *I'm so goddamn sorry.*

The outline by the jeep moved forward in slow, measured steps. They were light and graceful - footsteps of a well-trained soldier, choosing to be seen and heard rather than failing to be silent.

Derek moved forward too. Wondering whether he would see himself.

As the figure drew closer, he saw the similarities, one after another. First the build, then the hair, neither of them noteworthy in themselves. Then, as he drew closer, the arm with its distinctive tattoo, almost the same as his, but not quite. Then that young face, so like the one he had seen a few days ago in a ballpark. Not quite his, but close. Very close.

And Sarah's eyes.

This is how she would have looked to Kyle, he thought. This is Sarah without all the scars. And in that moment, he knew he'd been kidding himself about getting over her, because between the understanding and the implications and the complications he fell in love with her all over again, without even setting eyes on her.

"She was pregnant," he whispered. There was something gnawing an ache at his stomach. Wonder. Loss as well. Terrible, terrible guilt.

The young man nodded. "Yeah. There's something about you Reese men. You're most fertile just before the machines pick you off." He held out a hand. "J.D. Connor."

Derek took it. It was warm and solid in his own. "J.D?" he queried.

"John Derek." J.D. went on, his voice reflective. "I owe you an apology. I had it all mapped out, how we were going to manage this. Lauren was going to brief you about the operation. Then Mom was going to tell you about me. I forgot that you were John's soldier as well as his uncle."

"Why was Lauren going to brief me?"

"Because you knew her and you would have trusted her. And because Mom has been waiting for you for seventeen years and I didn't want her to have to worry about all that."

He didn't know what to say to that. Certainly he could think of nothing that wasn't trite. So he said, "You've got my ink."

J.D. followed his gaze down at his arm. "Yeah. I went into La Ciudad on my sixteenth birthday. I used the police shots of your tattoo as a base. Mom nearly had kittens when she saw it."

Derek laughed at that. All blood ties and heir-to-the-messiahship aside, he realised he genuinely liked the kid. "I'll bet. How are you going to explain us having the same tattoo in the future?"

"I'm going to suggest you get the same one as me, so you can be my decoy."

"And the similarity?"

"I might drop a surname of a relative into the mix. Plant the idea that we're distantly related. Anyway, haven't you heard that everyone's got a double?"

Derek shook his head, still bending his head around it. Sarah in the past, raising his child. His younger self serving under his adult child's command. John lost somewhere in time, ready to emerge as a wildcard. And where did he fit, Derek the adult who was meant to be dead? "I feel like I owe you an apology or something."

"Well, I didn't think dying was your idea, but I'll take it if it makes you feel better." J.D. gave him a sympathetic look. "We both wished you could have been here, but we were okay. Mom's strong."

"That she is." He looked off into the distance with assumed casualness, but the imitation felt crappy. "What's she like?"

"Maybe not quite how you remember her. She says she wasn't in a good place when she knew you."

"No. Not so much to start with, but after Sarkissian."

J.D. was on the alert. "I've heard that name."

Derek forced himself not to react. "When?" he said. Still casual.

"It was only a couple of months ago. We had an exercise in the Darien Gap. It's a pretty dangerous place - drug trafficking, territory disputes, that sort of thing." Derek nodded. "We were ambushed. It was my first kill. And, you know, I didn't feel good about it or anything, but I was okay, you know? She'd always told me that if someone put me in a position where it was them or me, whatever I had to do to get out was their responsibility. She said you taught her that."

"I said that to her a day or two after she killed Sarkissian." He was surprised she'd remembered it. It didn't seem to make any difference at the time - if anything, it had upset her more. Their first, angry fuck had followed, so different from the warm looks and lingering touches in the old house. She'd been like a different person.

"Were you there when it happened?"

Derek shook his head. "I wish I had been. Whatever happened in that room really did a number on her."

"When we got back to the island, everyone got drunk. Just blowing off steam. And I told Mom I was okay, and I thanked her for helping me to be ready. And she broke down. Totally lost it. I'd never seen her like that. All I could make out was 'Sarkissian' and 'I didn't want Derek to know, so I shut him out.' Have you ever listened to something, and you knew it was important, but you never really understood what it was?"

Derek nodded. Frowning.

J.D. said, slowly, as though voicing a long-dreaded suspicion, "Could he have raped her?"

The idea hit him like a punch in the guts, but he dismissed the idea just as quickly. She'd acted out physically, yes, but there was no hesitation, no flinching, no hint of fear. "I don't think so. I think I would have known. And I don't think John would have acted the way he did if he'd seen that. He wasn't protective of Sarah after that, J.D. He was angry."

J.D.'s look was one of affront. It might have been funny if they had been discussing something else. "Why would he be angry with her?"

Derek didn't know.

CONTINUED IN PART 2/2