Fandom: Terminator: SCC
Summary: John asks innocent questions that don't have innocent answers
A/N:Written for new NYR yuletide, for dragojustine
It's the wrong kind of place
To be thinking of you
It's the wrong time
For somebody new
“How did we meet?” John wanted to know. “When?”
“2021, you had just escaped with Kyle from Century. The first ones to ever pull that off. Made you into heroes overnight. For me, of course you were just some stranger I couldn’t care less about.” Derek joked.
“Were Kyle and I close?” Derek noticed how John never used ‘my father’ when he spoke about Kyle and was thankful for small mercies.
“You were friends, best friends even.” He could admit that now, back then it had hurt like hell, to be replaced by this bright-eyed, clever stranger that rose so fast through the ranks within the resistance. Professional envy combined with personal jealousy, never a got combination and it had led to more than one argument between them especially in the beginning.
"When's the last time we saw each other?" It was such an innocent question when John asked it, but by now Derek understood the implications of his relationship with the John Connor he knew in the future and the one he met in the present.
“The last time you saw Kyle?”
“No, the last time I saw you, or you saw me, old me.”
He would say that it was before John sent him back in time but in either time John had the uncanny ability to tell Derek's lies from the truth.
So Derek said: 'It was 2027, the Fourth September. You explained to me what had happened to Kyle, where you sent him.'
'Did I tell you...'John trailed off but Derek could easily guess the question.
'No, you didn't tell me that Kyle was your father.' Derek grimaced: 'I wouldn't have believed you anyway.'
'Why not? I mean with the time travel machine right in front of you-'
'You were older than Kyle when you sent him back. Believe me; before I saw you the idea never crossed my mind.'
'Were we close in the future?' Another of these seemingly innocent questions that weren't anything but.
'I was one of your best soldiers and I kept coming back alive from the most dangerous missions. You could trust me to get the job done and be there for the next.'
'Am I close to someone in the future?' Derek hesitated. He couldn't say no because John would see the lie but he couldn't say yes because then John would want the details.
'Girlfriend? Boyfriend? What?' John asked when Derek couldn't help himself but chuckle: 'We don't call it that anymore in the future.'
'What do you call it?'
'And, who is my partner?' John asked eagerly.
'One of your soldiers.' Derek evaded.
'You?' John joked but stopped laughing when he saw Derek's face.
'It is you, isn't it?'
'Yes.' Derek admitted.
'But I have to know who you are...I have to know...'
'You do...did...do know.' Derek said. He didn't look at John.
'How...how did it happen?' John asked visibly shaken.
'I kept coming back alive from the most dangerous missions.' Derek repeated. He had been the only one, everyone else had always died.
'You're John Connor. Leader of the resistance. You didn't let a lot people close enough. I was just there and you were just there, that's how it happened.'
'And kept going.' John whispered. there are some truths that should never be said.
'It's war John. ‘Derek tried to explain, knowing that John couldn't yet understand: 'You take what you can from life and hold on with both hands because tomorrow you may be dead.'
'I think...I need some time.' Ben had witnessed him waging war with himself and now he understood why.
There were days when Derek nearly drowned in his memories that were tainted by a homesickness he shouldn’t be feeling in the first place. However, the world he was currently living in used to be his childhood memory and it made him feel like he was playing pretend, like he was living in one of the stories Kyle used to tell the children at the camp.
Seeing John, younger and more naive, so similar and so different from what Derek is used to see doesn’t help at all. And while he knows better Derek would exchange everything. Just to return to that filthy mattress below plastic sheathed windows when fire rained.
(I have gone out with another recon mission. Kyle is gone. He’s back in 1982 to protect my mother. Derek is gone too, but where, I don’t let myself speculate.
Perhaps he is dead.
Dead. That would probably be best.
Don’t be selfish.
Hope that he’s dead.
Death would be a mercy compared to what the machines do to their prisoners; I after all, know that better than most. I spent ten years in Century. But a part of me suspects that Derek is equally ensnared in this vicious circle of time like me and Kyle. I sent Kyle back to the past in order to be born in the first place so I can send him back.
I will send Derek back to fall in love with him, so I will love him in the future so he’ll love me. It seems by the time I remind myself that I’m not supposed to want this, it’s always already too late.
Love. What a small, trivial word. The war we’re fighting has no place for it but it’s still there even though we never speak of it. But then it’s easy to care about someone when you’re thinking the apocalypse is here.
Maybe that should be “spoke of it”. All the things I could have said and suddenly we were out of time.
I’m in Los Angeles. It’s safe to say that if there were ever any angels here they have long since left. Kyle told me that Derek vanished not far from here, maybe that’s why I volunteered for this recon.
If I’m going to die I want to die near him.
The windows of my shelter are plastics sheathed and there’s a filthy mattress on the ground. I would wonder what happened to the people who lived her but I know the answer: they’re dead.
A noise outside has me drawing my weapon. From what Kyle told us it seems that the machines seem to withdraw from this place.
Command wants to know why, that’s why I’m here. I press myself against the wall next to the door, knife in one hand and my gun in the other one.
“Spread out. See if we can stay the night.”
No. It’s not possible. It can’t be. What are the chances for this?
Footsteps approach my hiding place and then he enters, drawing a makeshift knife on me. His eyes widen when he recognises me and I know the surprise on his face is mirrored on mine.
Turns out there are three other survivors apart from Derek. I recognise one of them, Derek’s friend Wisher, he’s a talented mechanic. I don’t tell him about Kyle, not yet. Instead the five of us decide to stay the night in this building and head back to the base tomorrow. Bringing back four survivors should count as a successful recon mission.
“Plenty of space here. We should take advantage of that, don’t you think guys?” Wisher says but I don’t miss the way he winks at Derek. I wonder whether he figured out himself or if Derek told him. It doesn’t matter.
Derek and I have the room and the whole night for ourselves, an unknown luxury. The door closes and Derek catches my eyes with his, stripping off his ripped shirt.
The barcode stands fresh and foreign against the pale skin of his left forearm. Everything else, every scar, every tattoo, is familiar but this is new and if it were possible for me I would hate the machines even more than before for violating him like this.
“You have barely looked at me.” He breaks the silence between us, holding out his arm for me to see. “Can’t you look at me anymore now that I’m marked like you and Kyle?” He sounds so vulnerable and something in this moment makes me want to mutter soft words, promise that everything will be alright, that I don’t want to see him hurt, or, God forbid, hurt him more. I want to tell him I will make things better, that I’ll look after him and the mere thought makes my chest ache.
I can make no such promises. The hero never rescues anyone and the tales never have a happy ending.
Not for us anyway.
I already know how you’re going to die. I curl my hand around his arm and lead him to the mattress, opening his trousers and pushing them down together with his underwear. He stands naked in front of me for the first time. I can see in his face that he feels uncomfortable and vulnerable like this, so I quickly strip out of my own clothes as well.
Or bodies mirror each other, at least on the surface: each tattoo on his body can be found on mine as well and vice versa.: The green flames on his left upper arm, the Chinese signs that run right through the burn on his right chest, the Chinese dragon around his right lower arm and elbow, the stylised Phoenix rising from the Holy Grail, an angel beneath his left shoulder blade...and now the barcode on the left forearm.
We should not even be here together in the first place; I remind myself. Do you know how lucky we are?
I once imagined him in a world where Judgement Day never happened imagined him with smooth, perfect, unmarred skin, no tattoos, no scars, not scarred by a life lived in a warzone where we lack everything.
I only want him like he is, imperfect, flawed, dying, beautiful.
We stretch out on the filthy mattress, kissing, exploring each other languidly and thorough.
I can taste his panic and his hope, the pinpoints of light that shine through him, I can taste salt like the sea and sweetness like long forgotten candy, I can taste his corrupt blood and the apocalypse of his pounding heart. I can taste death and redemption on his lips and all the things that are so shattered and vulnerable and pure that they can only be human.
So we take each other in that room, meeting skin to skin, filling our lips with passionate kisses and making the burning marks on our flesh to linger forever.
A tremor wakes us from sleep. Another one follows. We hastily pull our clothes back on but in the darkness it’s more of a miss and match than anything else and everyone who looks at us will be able to tell what we have been doing.
The other three are alarmed and awake as well and when we stare outside from below the plastic sheathed windows we can only watch in horror:
It rains fire.
The whole sky seems to alight with flames, the usual pitch black darkness replaced by a wild and angry mix of red and orange and yellow.
“What are they doing?” Wisher asks in a near whisper. I think I know the answer now that I see it.
“Over there,” I say and point in the direction Century lies. The camp is right in the middle of the ruins, an easy hiding place for any escapees. “They extend Century.”
“Do you think they know we’re here?” Derek asks me. I shake my head. I’ve been a couple days and haven’t seen a single terminator patrolling the streets like they used to do.
“We should go.” Someone says, I’M not sure who.
“No, we stay here the night. Going now would be too dangerous. Let’s wait until the fires have burnt out.” The four of them exchange glances, falling back into the dynamic they had during their imprisonment and it’s clear to me that they looked up to Derek as their leader.
“You’re right.” His eyes meet mine for a short moment before he turns to the others again. “We stay. For now.”
It still rains fire from the sky while we slowly return to our rooms. We crawl back to our mattress. The coat slips from his shoulder to pool around his hips, allowing the firelight to lick and flicker over Derek’s skin and scars, reminding me how precious this is, how fragile – how mortal Derek is.
And how easily I could have lost all this.
“Maybe,” He says very softly into my hair: “Maybe after the war is over.”
I already know how this story ends: mine, his, ours, humanities’, the machines’ one. Only one of them ends well.
My damp eyelashes brush against his chest as I close my eyes and say: “The war will never be over.”)
“John...we can’t...this is wrong...I’m your uncle and-“John stopped Derek’s tormented reasoning with a finger over his lips.
“Pretend we’re strangers.” He whispered: “Pretend it’s 2021 and we just met for the first time. Pretend I’m just another guy that escaped with your brother.”
“I didn’t know you were Kyle’s son back then.” Derek tried to argue.
“Does that change your feelings for me?” Derek looked away from John: “It should.”
“That wasn’t what I asked.” The steel in John’s voice reminded Derek so much of the John Connor he met first that he felt his resolve crumble.
“Did I love you?”
“John-“Derek began in a pained voice but John didn’t let him: “Did you love me? Do you love me?”
The steely demand in John’s voice was laced with concern, with fear, just like it had been when Derek had returned from his imprisonment. That night, Derek remembered, was the first time they had taken all their clothes off. The first time this thing between them hadn’t been just a hurried kiss or a quick handjob when they found the time. This night had been an act of total defiance against the war just outside the door.
“You know the answer to that.”
“John, this wrong.” Derek tries a last time: “And you know that.”
“Yes, I know and I knew in the future, too and yet I still chose you.” John comes closer and wrapped his arms around Derek’s neck.
“Just pretend we’re strangers.” He whispered again: “Just pretend it’s 2021.”