She isn’t supposed to be here. To still be here. Burnt with hot, white heat to dry, cold ash, she was supposed to be gone. A vapor, a memory. Not a daily reminder of why he fights. But here she sits, staring from across the table with unblinking eyes as shallow as a puddle. He can’t help but stare back and try to imagine diving down through bottomless depths of ocean.
She is supposed to be anywhere but here, in his arms, in his bed, and, worst of all, on his mind. Moving under his hands, she is warm where he thinks she should be cold, soft where he imagines she is hard, and woman where she ought to be machine. He is glad when she doesn’t look at him.
“You aren’t eating,” she says. He vaguely registers Sarah and John’s voices coming from the living room, but keeps his eyes fixed on her, ignoring her words. “Your pancakes are losing heat at an infinitely increasing rate.” He has no response but narrowed eyes, and he begins to count backwards from ten in his head waiting for it. Ten. Nine. It’s really only a slight difference, but he notices. Eight. Her brows dip and he knows it’s coming. Seven. Her head tilts to the left. He smirks then and says “seven” out loud. He only makes it to seven this time and he laughs, but the sound he lets escape his lips is more like gasping for air. No matter, she turns her attention to something he’s sure only she can see through the window.
He thinks he knows her now. Every inch of living tissue over a metal endoskeleton, he’s touched or tasted. She’s pliable in his hands, but she makes no sounds. Maybe she forgets to pretend to breathe, to pretend to be human. Her eyes never close, and he imagines she sees everything but him. It makes it easier to touch her. Later, when he lies in bed not sleeping and she’s still there standing at the window, he can’t help but wonder why it isn’t more damn difficult. He never forgets to breathe.
“I could tell him, ya know,” he says, taking a bite of pancake. She doesn’t respond and he doesn’t expect her to, she just keeps her eyes on his. “Would get rid of one of my problems.” Another bite of pancake, more voices from the next room, and he can swear her eyes narrow just the slightest bit.
“You won’t.” She says it evenly and with the same tone she uses when telling them of future events, certainties.
“You won’t. You didn’t.” The corner of her mouth twitches and he quickly stabs his fork into an unoffending bite of pancake.
“No, I didn’t,” he breathes. “Not yet.”
“Not yet,” she agrees.
She lies across his chest in the moonlight that streams in through the window, and he tries not to think about his chest rising and falling, his heart beating against her cheek. He doesn’t embrace her, but she lies there, frozen but warm. It doesn’t work when he tries to hold his breath. His heart continues to pound, making a mockery of his still chest. Eyes meet his as she rolls her head around to look at him. They look at each other for a moment before he sighs and has to look away. A moment later he feels her breath on his shoulder and her breasts moving against him in a swell and ebb. “Don’t,” he whispers, and she is motionless once more.
“Mom, we’re gonna be late!” John calls over his shoulder as he walks into the kitchen. Derek’s attention snaps to his nephew and he watches as the boy’s expression changes from exasperation to aggravation at the sight of he and the metal sitting together. He holds out the plate of pancakes at John’s approach, and the kid takes two with a look cold suspicion. With a glance between them, John stops and lets the crease in his brow deepen.
“Are you okay?” It’s concern that’s written all over the kid’s face, and it’s no shock it’s not for him.
“Dictionary?” She smiles, and despite all his best efforts, John allows an amused grin to flash across his face. But the brooding mask is back before he can blink, and John disappears out of the room almost as quickly.
He doesn’t know when she leaves; he just knows he’s alone before he opens his eyes. Empty and alone, what's become the easy way. Things he already knows well. He only wishes he weren’t so cold. So he lies curled up thinking of the future. Relying on Sarah’s bad pancakes to get him through the morning. Trusting in luck to get him through another day. Expecting trouble of some kind to get him through the night. Believing in fate and the legend of John Connor to get him through life.
It’s easy to blame her for the kid’s mood lately, and mostly, he doesn’t stick around too much these days to watch. He wishes in this moment, watching her stare at the doorway he’s just walked through, that she were a real girl. He’d know how to hurt her then.
“I didn’t tell him, but I could and he’d never forgive you.”
“He’d never forgive us.” She gets up and takes his plate. “You won’t tell him.” She doesn’t pretend to smile or gloat in any way, or even turn back to look at him. She simply puts the dirty dish in the sink and walks out of the room.
He remembers to breathe.