Sarah is neither religious nor sentimental, and she hasn't celebrated a Christmas since John left. Skynet observes no human tradition, and so neither will she.
Ellison says she becomes more and more like one of them every day. Sarah knows he's right, but that is how they will bring the cyborgs down, one day, and it's a sacrifice she's prepared to make. For John.
Ellison's at midnight mass right now - he's not a Catholic, but they've got a long day's travel tomorrow, taking advantage of the empty roads. Sarah keeps vigil at the apartment they're holed up in, cleaning guns, triple-checking plans. They've got a lead on a research facility in Boston that's on the cutting edge of AI development, and Sarah wants to check it out. Ellison's coming with her, the way he always does, these days. She's long since given up trying to dissuade him, despite her constant fear that she's going to get him killed.
She takes a sip of coffee and traces out the shape of the route they're going to take tomorrow.
When she's certain - as certain as she ever is, anyway, because there are no absolutes in her world - that tomorrow is prepared for, she folds the map and stores it with the water and the guns. Then she picks up a laminated sheet of paper and quietly slips out of the house.
There's a cellar beneath the current Resistance base in the capital, near where Sarah's been for the last week. In fact, the cellar is the reason for the base - John has sent fighters back to protect it, as a way of transmitting information from the past to the future, escaping the wrath of Judgement Day. There are pockets all over the country, all over the world, little places mapped out where Skynet's bombs will not fall, entirely by chance.
And so, Sarah writes John letters. She tells him about her successes and failures, the false leads and the rays of hope - she asks him questions, and sometimes they're answered, by a ragged, weary looking soldier who'll track her down and give her messages, full of tactics and advice and intelligence, and always ended with love.
There's one lone guard awake when she reaches the abandoned warehouse - she nods at Sarah, stepping aside to let her enter. Sarah's been here twice before, and so she follows the familiar route down to the cellar alone, a wan flashlight lighting her way. There cellar's mostly full of battered old machinery from the processing plant that used to be here, and there's a small safe in the corner. She keys in the combination and takes the sheet of paper from underneath her coat, sliding it in on top of the others - they form a story, a history, one that her son will untangle years from now. Time is in flux, Sarah understands that, and so she doesn't know if the John Connor who will read these letters is really her son, and not some other Sarah Connor's.
In the end, it doesn't matter, because there is a fact that remains constant; John Connor will be the saviour of the human race.
Sarah kneels down, resting for a moment as she locks the safe again. Somewhere, no more than ten blocks from here, Ellison is doing the same. Sarah's ritual is different, but perhaps it is no less a prayer, no less an act of faith. Suddenly, she wishes she had a candle. She bows her head, her hand her collarbone above her heart, where she still aches fiercely for the son she lost. Yet it is with the same ache that she knows that he is alive, that he is fighting, and that she will see him again, whether it is victory or defeat that awaits them.
"All clear, John," Cameron says, returning to the shadows where John and his squad stand pressed against the wall, out of the sightline of the Skynet ships soaring overhead.
"Okay - Riley, come with me, the rest of you stay here, keep watch. I won't be long."
"What's down here?" Riley asks in a murmur behind John as he walks down the stairs. "What's so important?"
"Intelligence," John says shortly, and he can practically hear Riley's eyeroll behind him. He turns, and smiles a little sheepishly. Riley's not the girl he knew back in 2007, what feels like a lifetime ago, but she still has the same knack of bringing out the truth from him, where he wants to give it or not.
"It's intelligence from my mother," he says. "She leaves messages where she can, in safe places. This cellar is one."
Riley touches his arm briefly, her eyes kind. "Then let's go see what Sarah has to say."
John nods, and walks the rest of the way down, moving through the remnants of gears and levers until he reaches the safe on the far side, protected by a fallen metal beam. He kneels on the grimy floor, reaching out to open the safe, its lock blown off some years ago. He takes out the topmost piece of paper, and yes, it's new.
"Here," he says, handing it to Riley. "There'll be names, dates, questions that we'll prep Karan with when he's due to go back."
Riley skims the list, absorbed in the figures, and John knows she'll add it into strategy, absorbing the information faster than he can. "Wait, there's something here for you," she says, and her smile is tight.
John takes the sheet back, and spots the handwritten note at the bottom.
Dear John - as it's December 24th here, Merry Christmas. Remember, these days are important, don't let them be lost.
I'm fine, don't worry about me - I have friends here, allies like Ellison, and we're doing all we can to help you, so that we can stop this and you can come home.
I miss you.
The page goes blurry, and John bites his lip, holding in a sudden, unexpected flood of longing. Riley wraps an arm around his shoulder, squeezing tight. "Come on," she says, "we have to keep moving."
John swallows the lump in his throat and gets to his feet. Riley's quiet beside him as they stand in the echoing building. For a moment, John almost thinks he can hear his mother's voice, as though her presence here, years ago, has left something lingering to hold on to.
"Right," he says, "enough. Work to do." Riley nods, and takes his hand for a second, and they walk back up to join their comrades again.