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Snowfall

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Won't you bury me in your quiet love
Oh bury me in your quiet love
Bury me in your quiet love
And we will blow away
-- Snowfall, Ingrid Michaelson

***

Kyle had disappeared again.

It was becoming a habit, Sarah thought as she pulled on her boots, stamping her feet before she left the lodge to make sure they fit properly. One that she had to admit was starting to worry her. She closed the door quietly behind her, although Pops didn't even look up from where he was cleaning their guns, all of them laid out neatly on what passed as their dining table.

It was almost homely, or would be if she could get Kyle to stay put.

It had snowed again today; it snowed every day, which she supposed was good for covering their tracks. The sky was clear now, but with the kind of aura to it that suggested that more snow was on the way. It gave the day an unreal edge to it, a muffled quality that made Sarah think of snow globes and of quiet Sunday evenings with her family, when the only sound heard was the ticking of the clock.

She tried not to think about it too much - some ghosts, she'd learned, should stay buried.

The snow did, however, make it easy to track Kyle, which also worried her. He was usually more careful than that, even up here where people were thin on the ground in the winter months. They all were, although maybe that was just the paranoia talking - she'd spent so long running that the idea that she could stop was still alien to her. And as for Kyle -

She wasn't sure that Kyle could ever stop running, or fighting. Or dreaming, judging by the way he still twitched in his sleep.

She'd learned the hard way to keep her distance from him when he dreamed. It had only taken him pointing a gun in her face once before he was fully awake to drive that lesson home, more for his sake than her own. He'd apologised for days; maybe that was why she no longer tried to wake him from his nightmares, not wanting to see the guilt - the fear - in his eyes afterwards.

She left it to Pops instead, which - when she thought about it - was really fucking ironic.

She found Kyle right where she expected him to be - just past the tree line, where he'd found a rock to sit on and was staring down into the valley. He didn't turn his head as she approached, but from the way his shoulders tensed and then relaxed she knew that he'd heard her coming anyway, probably picked up on the sound of her boots crunching through the crisp, new snow.

She came to a stop beside him, staring down at him for a moment, long enough for his shoulders to hunch up around his neck. And then she sighed, brushing snow off the rock before she sat down beside him, facing the same way.

He always found it easier to talk when she wasn't looking at him. At least about the things that were bothering him. That was another thing she didn't want to think about - how even now, Kyle looked at her sometimes and saw the legend, not her. Not the frequently pissed off and scared nineteen-year-old who sometimes felt as lost as he did, but that instead he saw someone he didn't want to disappoint.

As though he could ever disappoint her.

"You okay?" she asked eventually, just to break the silence.

Kyle nodded, still not looking in her direction. "Thought I'd get some air."

Right. The lodge they'd taken refuge in was on a mountainside - if he wanted some air, all he had to do was open a window, not literally run for the hills.

She stretched her feet out in front of her, staring at the snow that clung to the toes of her boots. When she was a kid - back before her parents had died - she'd loved the snow, staying out for hours until her toes were numb and her fingers and cheeks tingled with it. The novelty had long since worn off; now snow was just cold and wet, no longer magical.

"You dreamed again last night."

It wasn't a question, and he didn't treat it as one, not answering her. She hadn't expected anything else. When it came to her feelings, he was perfectly okay with talking. When it came to his own... Well, she'd met clams that were more forthcoming.

"You ever going to tell me what's bothering you?"

"There's nothing -"

"How stupid do you think I am?"

The words snapped out of her, harsh in the afternoon air, and Kyle finally looked at her, something in his expression quietly devastated. It hurt, burrowing its way into her chest, but she was pretty sure that he wasn't looking at her like that just because she'd raised her voice at him. They raised them tougher than that, in the future.

"I know you're not stupid, Sarah. It's just..." He trailed off, his hands rising helplessly from his knees as he struggled to find the words.

"Is it the nightmares?" She managed to keep her tone gentle this time, not sure how when gentleness wasn't her forte. A lot of things weren't her forte, but she'd try. For Kyle. "Are they getting worse?"

Kyle shrugged a little helplessly. "They... just are."

She thought she got it; after all, she'd had her own fair share of night terrors. Sometimes you just had to deal with the crap and get on with your day, no matter how many times you'd woken up screaming and shaking in the middle of the night.

"If it's not the nightmares," she began quietly, keeping her voice low as she leaned in closer to him, "then what? Please?"

Maybe it was the 'please' that finally got through to him - and she hated that she knew exactly how to manipulate him, and that hating it didn't stop her - but he shuddered out the breath he'd been holding, suddenly defenceless in a way that made her hurt for him all over again.

"It's..." He trailed off into silence, and she waited him out. She was finally learning some patience, even if it didn't come naturally. "I don't know." He shrugged again, just as helpless, just as lost.

She let out the breath she'd been holding, watching it condense in the cold air. It wasn't a sigh, not quite, but it was close. As close as she dared under the circumstances, with Kyle sitting, hollow-eyed, next to her.

Kyle had fallen silent again, and she hated this. Hated that she had to be the one to find the words, when Pops had never really cared if she didn't speak for days. If she was physically safe, then he'd complied with his mission parameters. Or so he'd thought then, at least. She had no idea what thought processes went on in his CPU now, but he no longer told her that hugging him was pointless.

She pressed her tongue against her teeth, considering her options carefully.

Kyle was still a stranger to her in a lot of ways, even if she couldn't imagine her life now without him in it. But, just like Pops, that didn't mean she always knew what went on in his head.

This was a whole new territory.

"You come out here a lot," she said finally, bringing her knees back up to rest her feet flat on the ground. Not flight or fight, not matter how tempting it was to start and keep moving. "Does it help?"

She wasn't sure what she was asking, feeling her way in the dark, and this was almost as terrifying as being trapped in the dark for real.

"It -" He shivered; they were sitting so close that she could feel the tremor running through him. "I don't know how to do this."

For a second she went cold at his words, but it had nothing to do with the ambient temperature.

"How to do what?" she asked, because that was the best form of defence - offence. "I think we've agreed I'm not stupid, but a little hint or two might be nice."

She couldn't keep the ice out of her words, not when his had frozen her, and he turned his head towards her, blinking.

He didn't mean them, or however he defined 'him and her' together. Of course he didn't mean them; he'd never been anything less than straight with her; he wouldn't mess her around like that. Not Kyle, who was so straightforward.

Even that realisation didn't do much to ease the pounding of her heart, not when there were so many other ways to interpret that statement, none of them good. She couldn't believe for a second that Kyle - Kyle, who had fought so long and so hard to stay alive - could possibly contemplate simply ending it all, but still...

Not good.

"Kyle," she prompted, more gently this time, swallowing down the shame at overreacting and reaching out until her hand hovered over his knee.

She didn't touch him. She'd learned that the hard way, too.

"It's... This..." He shuddered again, hard enough that she wouldn't have had to be sitting right next to him, her thigh now pressed against his, to feel it. He gestured, the sweep of his hand taking in everything around them, the trees, the snow, the valley below. "It's all gone, Sarah. All of it."

The horror in his voice clued her in, that and the way that the fingers of his other hand flexed against the surface of the rock, curling convulsively until his fingertips turned white.

"In the future?"

He nodded, the move jerky as he continued to stare, sightlessly, down towards the valley. There were houses down there, she knew. Small, scattered homesteads by the river and between the trees that were too far away to bother them. "All of it," he whispered, and she wasn't sure if he was still speaking to her or simply repeating something he'd been saying to himself over and over again. "All of it. Everything."

"Tell me about it. About your time." It came out more like a command than a request, but Kyle was a soldier, born and bred. Following orders he could do.

"It's cold," he began hesitantly, the look in his eyes growing even more unfocused as his attention turned from the view to his memories. "Like this, only... It was always winter, always cold after Judgement Day. My dad called it a nuclear winter, but I was too young to know what the hell that meant." He finally looked at her, his eyes searching her face for some hint of understanding. "It had always been cold. I didn't know anything else. But..."

Again, he hesitated, his forehead creasing into a small frown, something more lost than puzzled. "It wasn't white, like this. It was grey, unending grey. The snow brought the ash down from the sky, and there was a lot of ash. Everything had burnt, and anything that hadn't, Skynet razed to the ground during the war after. Everything burnt or burning. Cities, forests." He paused again.

"People."

His words chilled her. He wasn't the only one who had nightmares, but hers were usually about the burning, about the bombs that had wiped out half of humanity. Sometimes, when she woke, she could taste the ashes of it in her mouth, feel the heat of it sear her skin.

But Kyle wasn't just talking about Judgement Day. She could picture it too clearly, the work camps he'd told her as little as possible about when she'd asked about his barcode tattoo.

Her mouth was dry and her fingers were shaking inside her gloves. She pressed her hands together to make them stop.

"Kyle -" she started to say, not sure what platitudes would come out of her mouth next, just sure that she couldn't bear to hear the next words to come out of his.

"I can't do this," he said, cutting her off. "It's too... It's too clean, and whole... and... I wasn't supposed to see this. This world." The pain in his voice made her heart clench in sympathy. "It's beautiful, and it hurts, Sarah. It hurts and I don't know how to make it stop."

Screw not touching him. If he flinched away from her this time, she'd get the hell over herself and deal with it.

He didn't. Instead he turned into her, curling into her until his face was pressed against her neck and her fingers were buried in his hair.

"It's okay," she said, and the words came easier now, an echo of his the first time she'd been scared when he was there. "It's okay, I've got you. I've got you."

Kyle shuddered against her and she tightened her grip, a sudden, fierce possessiveness taking hold of her. He held her back just as tightly, breathing heavily against her neck, his face damp where it pressed against her skin. He held onto her as though by holding her close, by burying himself in her, he could hold the whole damned world at bay.

Maybe he could - his world, at least. For a little while.

It was starting to grow dark when he finally loosened his grip, pulling away and scrubbing at his cheeks with his palms.

"Okay?" she asked quietly, trying to make out the expression on his face in the fading light, made more difficult when he turned his head away.

"Yeah." There was a hitch in his breath, and his voice was thicker than usual. "I'm sorry -"

"Don't. There's nothing to be sorry for."

He glanced back towards her for a moment, the tear tracks on his face catching the light, but he turned away again too soon, his focus once again fixated on the valley below. Lights were starting to flicker on in the houses down there as day turned to dusk. A whole world that neither of them knew or understood.

He and she weren't that different, after all. Not at the heart of things.

"After my parents died..." she began, not so much choosing her words carefully as picking her way through thoughts that were so tangled she wasn't sure where she was heading: beginning, or end, or somewhere in between. "After Pops told me about the future, about the horrors it held... I couldn't sleep. Not for years. I'd wake up screaming every night and, well. You've met Pops. Back then he was even less..."

"Human?"

Yes, she thought, but it didn't seem like Kyle was waiting for an answer, not to that part, anyway, and it felt weirdly like betraying Pops to admit that that was exactly what she'd meant.

"He didn't know how the hell to deal with a nine-year-old who dreamed about the end of the world every night. He thought dreaming about it was illogical - as far as he knew, dreaming was supposed to be the way that humans dealt with all the crap from their day. You know, like a software reboot or something."

Kyle nodded, his gaze still fixed on the people living their lives below as though the lives they led were normal.

It wasn't her normal, or Kyle's.

"There wasn't any point in dreaming about things that hadn't happened as far as he was concerned," she continued, studying Kyle's profile in the dimness. "Why worry about the future?"

Kyle snorted softly, sounding a little better than he had. "In that case, why worry about the past either?" His tone was rueful instead of bitter, and that was an improvement on broken.

The moon was low in the sky, just starting to rise, but it cast enough light to reveal the lines and hollows of his face. She let her gaze trace over them again, just for a moment. Let the sight of him, so familiar and not at the same time, sink into her.

"It will get better," she said quietly, and he finally turned his head to look at her again, his eyes searching her face the way she'd drunk in the sight of him. "It may take a while, but... This is your world now, too, and yes, it's beautiful, but..." She trailed off, not quite sure what she was trying to say. "I know it's not easy," she ended awkwardly, which was such a lie she wasn't sure how he couldn't see straight through it. She knew nothing about his world, the horrors it held, not really. She'd imagined them, yeah, but that wasn't even close to being the same thing.

He studied her for a moment longer, and then found a small and faded smile for her from somewhere, from those endless reserves of his, the ones that gave him the strength to keep getting up every time he got knocked on his ass, to keep moving. "You make it easier," he said, and she flushed hot and then cold at the warmth in his voice, as faded as his smile but still there.

"I should be making it even easier," she said, and he shook his head, dropping his gaze from hers.

"You can't fix this for me, Sarah." His voice was stronger now, more like the Kyle she knew.

"That doesn't mean you have to do it on your own. Not completely."

The corner of his mouth turned up again, the smile still small but somehow more real this time. "Thanks."

She bumped her shoulder against his, resisting the urge to reach for him again, to pull him back into her arms and keep him safe, tell the world to go fuck itself.

"I keep thinking about my parents," he said quietly. "I mean, my real parents, I guess. Not the ones in this time, life, reality... whatever."

"I think Pops has settled on 'alternative reality'," she said, shifting her weight minutely so that her hip pressed more closely against his.

"Yeah." He matched her move, shuffling closer to her and warm against her despite the fact he'd been out here for a lifetime. "I think about how they survived Judgement Day, how it must have been for them, watching the world they knew die around them. And then I think about how they'd feel, knowing I'd made it back from the hellish world they'd raised me in to this one, the so much better one they'd known." His expression was contemplative as he drifted into silence.

"And?" she prompted.

"And I think my dad would tell me to suck it the fuck up." His smile this time was even more genuine, if a little worn around the edges. "Then my mom would have kicked his ass for swearing like that in front of me."

She tried to picture it, tried to pull that image together from the few minutes she'd spent in the Reeses' company, back at the police station. Remembered his mother's terrified face and tried to imagine her kicking anyone's ass.

She failed.

But then those people hadn't been Kyle's parents, not really. A pale reflection, maybe, of the people they'd have become if the bombs had fallen, if they'd been forged in the flames.

Or maybe it was just that Kyle's memory of his parents was as faded as hers were of hers. Maybe he remembered them as brave to make himself braver. He'd never said how old he was when they died. She didn't even know how they'd died, but now wasn't exactly the right time to ask.

She reached out, instead, tangling her fingers with his. His fingers were cold above the edges of his fingerless gloves, and she wrapped both hands around his, trying to rub some warmth back into them.

His fingers tightened around hers, and she stopped, content to simply hold his hand if that was what he needed.

"We should go in," he said eventually, but he made no move to rise to his feet.

She hummed a little under her breath, a noncommittal sound as she glanced at him, taking another moment to let her gaze track over his face, memorising every line, every micro-expression that crossed it.

Some of the tension had finally drained out of him, like poison out of a wound; he looked tired, but tired could be fixed easier than broken and grieving.

"We've got time," she said, meeting and holding his eyes when he turned to look at her again. "It's okay to stop every once in a while and take in the view." She shrugged, letting a small smile play at the edges of her mouth. "You're right. It's beautiful."

"Yeah." And there it was, that look of his, the one that said the world he'd come from may have been harsh and hard, but that he'd managed to keep something beautiful and fragile alive inside of him anyway. "So are you."

Warmth rose to her cheeks but she held his gaze anyway, let him read what he wanted - needed - in her face. He might have started out as a stranger to her, and there were still parts of him she didn't know and maybe never would, but he was worth knowing. Oh, hell yes, he was worth it.

He was worth everything.

She finally pulled her hands away from his and leaned into him, making it more obvious this time. Kyle wasn't slow on the uptake; he lifted his arm and let her slide underneath it, tucking her against his side as the last of his tension leached out of him.

"We can make a little time to take in the view if you need it," she said, grateful for his warmth and his presence. "We've got the time, now.

"All the time in the world."

The end