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the last goodbye (that hasn't happened yet)

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They spent the three months after taking Cyberdyne down on the run. Sarah was used to it, the constant moving, the constant hiding, and she was sure Reese wasn't exactly unfamiliar with the concept. The stakes might have been a little higher in his time than they were now; the Feds were the only thing chasing them these days and they were human. They made mistakes, got tired, and followed up the fake leads that Pops' newly discovered memetic skills laid down.

And this world - her world - was full of people to hide among. Okay, 2017 might have facial recognition and social media - and it took Sarah a little time to figure out what the hell that meant - but even the best system in the world had to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of faces to scan.

She was used to that, too, but Kyle wasn't. He still had that wide-eyed ingénue thing going on whenever they were in crowds, with the added bonus of an occasional flinch whenever the crowds got a little too close, but he wasn't obvious enough about it that she felt the need to comment. He didn't draw anywhere near as much attention to them as Pops did, but then Pops always looked like he was three steps away from murdering someone. Kyle just looked like he was ten steps from punching someone in the face, and Sarah figured that it would be a bit hypocritical to criticise him for it, when most days she was only six steps away from it herself.

But there were other things that she hadn't factored in, like the fact that while crowds might be good to hide in, they came with noise and dirt and a whole ecosystem of germs that neither she nor Kyle had been exposed to before.

It was inevitable that sooner or later one of them would come down with something, especially since Kyle - for one - had never had his shots.

"We're getting him vaccinated," she snapped at Pops as she hauled the bucket into the bathroom. "The first opportunity we get."

Pops considered her for a moment. "I do not believe that there is a vaccination for the virus with which Kyle Reese is currently afflicted."

"I don't care." She held her breath, pouring the bucket into the toilet and trying to keep her own nausea at a bearable level. Not breathing helped, and so did not looking before she hit the handle on the cistern. "If he can come down with this, he can come down with mumps or measles or..." She paused, struggling to remember what she'd been vaccinated against. Polio, yes, but was that even a thing these days? They'd been talking about trying to eradicate it when she was a kid and she had no idea if they'd managed it. She'd have to hit that google thing that Pops was always going on about and find out.

"I do not believe Kyle Reese is seriously ill, provided that he stays adequately hydrated, but -"

"I don't care." It was unfair to cut him off, not that Pops cared that much about the concept of 'fairness'. But it was difficult to stay even-tempered when she was seething. "And I think 'Kyle Reese' might disagree with your views on whether or not he's that ill. Do you know he actually told me I should stay the hell away from him in case I catch it?"

Okay, making air quotes around Kyle's words might have been kind of childish, but she was steaming. And more than a little hurt. Yeah, okay, her people skills weren't that great, and that probably extended to her bedside manner, but she was trying. She'd done the whole bringing him juice and soup and Tylenol thing, and she was still providing buckets half full of water for when he inevitably threw them back up again. She wasn't sure what the hell else she was supposed to do, given that he wouldn't stay put and he didn't want her anywhere near him.

"Where is Kyle Reese now?"

"Trying to get up." She set her mouth into a stubborn line, swilling the bucket out with the bath taps before emptying it down the toilet again. She stayed silent while she flushed it, and then placed the bucket carefully on the bathroom floor.

It was probably the careful part that tipped Pops off that what she really wanted to do was throw it at the wall.

"That would be inadvisable in his current condition."

"Yeah? Well, maybe you can get him to see sense. I sure as hell couldn't."

Pops, of course, took her at her word, stalking towards the bedroom like a robot on a mission. Sarah sighed and raised her eyes to the heavens, fighting for the patience to deal with the pair of them in a calm and rational manner, and not hit one of them with the other one.

And then she went after Pops, grabbing the bucket on her way past.

She caught up with him in the living room, where he'd come to a stop largely, she suspected, because Kyle was already standing in the bedroom doorway.

Kyle looked like shit. He was just as pale and sweaty as she'd last seen him, when he'd finally finished throwing his guts up, but he was also shaky, small shivers running through him in a way that told her plainly that he was running a temperature. It was the only way she'd have known - he'd refused point blank to let her take it.

He'd refused a lot of things point blank, and she almost regretted reaching Pops in time to stop him.

Almost.

"Kyle Reese -"

"Pops," she interrupted, not bothering to hide her weariness with the whole thing. "Just let it go. If Kyle wants to be an idiot about it -"

This time Pops cut her off. "You are no longer in a work camp. You will not be terminated for failing to attend to your work detail."

She'd been watching Kyle as Pops started speaking, or she'd have missed the flinch, the way that Kyle's fingers had tightened on the door jamb when Pops had mentioned 'work camp'. She had no idea what the hell Pops was talking about - there were lots of things Kyle hadn't brought her up to speed on about the future, and frankly she hadn't been in any hurry to ask since that particular future appeared to have been prevented - but from Kyle's reaction, whatever work camps were, they weren't good.

She hadn't even needed Pops' reference to termination to work that one out.

"In addition, there is sufficient access to medication in this time and geographical location to make it unlikely that you will die from this disease. It is also unlikely that Sarah Connor will die if you were to infect her."

Sarah tore her eyes away from Kyle just long enough to glare at Pops, and - for once - he picked up on it.

"Extremely unlikely," he added, somehow still managing to make it sound less than comforting.

"Okay," she said, shooting another irritated look in Pops' direction, "you heard Pops. Neither of us is going to die. It's just a stomach bug, you'll be fine, so can you please get your ass back in that bed and get some rest?"

He didn't move. Of course he didn't move - that would have been easy. Instead, he simply looked at her, his expression that of a man who'd pretty much reached breaking point, and seeing it on Kyle's face broke finally something in her in turn. Her heart, maybe.

She didn't get it - she wasn't sure she'd get it even if Kyle was capable of explaining it to her, which she didn't think he was right now - but it finally clicked that he was scared. Kyle Reese, who'd faced down terminators, who'd fought in a war whose horrors she couldn't imagine and then stepped into an untested machine that hurled him back through time with no guarantee he'd survive it, for her, was scared. Of something as mundane, as every day, as a forty-eight hour stomach bug.

For the first time since Kyle had become ill, she felt a sharp stab of fear herself, almost as if Kyle's paranoia was infecting her, too.

"Kyle." She kept her voice low and soothing as she moved closer to him, trying not to take the way he flinched back personally. "You need to get back into bed, get some rest. Please."

Maybe it was the please, or the way her voice broke on it that finally got through to him. Whatever the reason, he stepped away from the doorway, slowly backing into the bedroom, keeping one hand on the wall as though he needed something to steady his steps.

He kept his eyes fixed on her face, though, as if he couldn't bear to look away. There was something frantic in his eyes, something lost and scared, and she knew that wasn't just the fever running through him.

Some instinct kept her talking, constantly trying to reassure him when normally it was the other way around.

"I promise you, Pops is right. You're going to be fine. I'm going to be fine. There's no reason to be worried. Just let me take care of you."

Her bedside manner still sucked, but maybe it was the fact that it was her bedside manner that made all of the difference. Whatever the reason, Kyle finally stayed in one place long enough to let her reach him, let her touch him.

The front of his grey t-shirt was soaked through with sweat; no wonder he was shivering. She kept her eyes fixed on his, holding his gaze and trying to convey an air of confidence when his reaction, the amount of fear he was experiencing - that he was showing when Kyle's first priority was always, always to make sure she was okay - was seriously freaking her out.

Why hadn't she seen it before? Why hadn't she seen past the stubbornness, the sheer bullheadedness to the fear that lay beneath?

"Kyle," she said again, and the breath rushed out of him in a shuddering sigh as he swayed forward, his chest pressing more firmly against her hand. She hadn't even realised he'd been holding his breath, and knowing it now twisted something in her chest. "Come on. Let's get you back into bed."

She kept her touch gentle and persuasive as she started to guide him back towards the bed, pushing the covers back with one hand while she kept the other on him, steadying him as much as she could. The sheet was rumpled from where he'd been tossing and turning, and damp and clammy when she tried to straighten it up.

She wrinkled her nose up, rapidly changing her mind. Damp sheets wouldn't help Kyle's temperature, and it sure as hell wouldn't make him feel any better.

"Pops, can you strip the sheets? Put some fresh ones on?" She gave Kyle a smile that was intended to be reassuring and probably came out looking more like a grimace, which was the last thing he needed when he was already freaking out this badly. "In the meantime, why don't we get you into some dry clothes?"

Kyle blinked at her, and for a second she thought he'd start arguing again - not at the clean clothes, because not even Kyle was that stubborn, but about the fact she had to help him, that she had to be that close to him when his priority was to protect her, not infect her with whatever the hell he had.

She didn't give him a chance. She didn't exactly tear his shirt off over his head - again, instinct kept her movements slow and steady, her eyes fixed on his reassuringly - but she rolled Kyle's t-shirt up, waiting until he lifted his arms before she eased it over his head.

That seemed to be as much help as he was able to give her; his movements were growing increasingly sluggish and uncoordinated, as if the simple act of getting out of bed, making it to the doorway, had exhausted him.

Maybe it had - Sarah knew from bitter, bitter experience how much vomiting your guts up took out of you, which was one of the reasons she was never drinking again, not after her seventeenth birthday. And frankly, being exhausted was a hell of a lot better that the alternative, running a fever so high that you stopped making sense.

She used his t-shirt to wipe down his torso. This close to him, there was no missing the sharp scent of fever sweat that clung to his skin, but it wasn't bad enough yet to risk a shower, not when he was this exhausted and not when the house they were renting was so draughty. That could wait - she had other priorities now, and getting Kyle into something warm and dry was at the top of the list.

By the time she was satisfied that Kyle was as dry as she was going to get him with only a t-shirt to help, Pops had made the bed and was standing at the foot of it, watching them both with his usual impassive expression. He studied them for a moment, taking in the tension in her body and the shivers that were running through Kyle before he turned and pulled a clean t-shirt from the drawers behind him, holding it out to her.

Sometimes she thought Pops would never understand her, and sometimes she thought perhaps he understood her a little too well. She met his eyes for a moment, eyes that were never as blank as they should be, and gave him a small smile in response, something that was as instinctive a twitch to her now as pulling a gun.

"We will need more acetaminophen," Pops said while she eased the shirt over Kyle's head. When she gave him a blank look, he elaborated. "Tylenol. I will also procure an electrolyte replacement matrix to assist with Kyle Reese's hydration." That one he didn't elaborate, but Sarah figured she'd got the gist of it from the context. "Is there anything else you require?"

"No." The word came out subdued, all of her attention on getting Kyle settled. "I think we should be okay for now. Thanks, Pops."

He nodded, giving Kyle one last measuring look before he announced, "I'll be back."

Kyle watched him go with a slightly jaundiced look, still shivering as Sarah guided him down until he was sitting on the edge of the bed. "I think I'm starting to hate that phrase almost as much as 'theoretically'," he said, and that sounded a little more like the Kyle she knew, even if there was something forced about it, not quite real when Kyle was refusing to meet her eyes.

She dredged up a smile anyway, knowing it didn't reach her eyes either. "Don't tell him that or he'll start saying it all the time." She waited until Kyle smiled back, something small and brief, before she added, "You'll probably be warmer under the covers."

He managed to make it down on his own, his fingers fumbling with the blankets until she stepped in, tugging them up over him, keeping her movements brisk to hide the way that her fingers were shaking almost as badly as he was.

"Kyle -"

"You don't have to stay."

She stared down at him for a moment, wondering how much that had cost him, how hard it was to pretend he was okay with her leaving when he was so far from okay. He still wouldn't meet her eyes, and she figured that was the only answer to her unspoken question she was going to get.

A lot.

"I'm not going anywhere."

He swallowed, obviously mustering his arguments again, arguments she'd heard over and over again over the last few hours. They'd lost any strength they may once have had now she was starting to tease out the reason for them.

"Sarah -"

"It's not happening, Reese. So you can forget it." Knowing the reason behind his arguments didn't mean she agreed with them, and it sure as hell didn't mean she wasn't going to stand her ground, no matter how crappy Kyle felt. Not when she knew he'd feel even crappier if he was left on his own to ride this out this the way she suspected he'd always been left on his own to suffer through shit like this.

"If you..."

"Kyle." This time she kept her interruption kind, settling down on the edge of the bed and trying not to let the fact that he pulled away hurt. "I'm not going to get sick, or if I do, I'm going to get well. Just like you are."

"You've said that before."

"Well, I'll keep right on saying it until you finally start to believe it."

That should have been the point where he smiled, acknowledging her stubbornness and the fact that it was usually matched by his own. But Kyle didn't stick the script. Instead, he finally looked at her, his gaze searching her face and the look in his eyes uncertain.

"I promise," she said, leaning in to push the hair back from his forehead, which was too warm to the touch. "Okay, Kyle? I promise."

"You can't make promises like that."

She didn't think he'd ever sounded so lost, and maybe that was what made her next words so firm. "Watch me."

There was no wisecrack, no attempt at sarcasm or even sincerity, both typically Kyle in situations like this. Instead he just kept watching her, so uncertain, so unsure of himself, and maybe even her, that her heart twisted in her chest again.

"Get some sleep," she murmured, still stroking her hand over his hair, ignoring the sweat and the tangles. His forehead crinkled, and she smoothed the lines away with her thumb before he could open his mouth, before he could even muster the same arguments.

He might still have tried to argue if his body hadn't known better than he did what he needed, hadn't let him down when it had carried him through so much up until now. His eyelids drifted shut, in spite of his efforts to keep them open, the fever he was running weighing them down at least as much as Sarah's fingers in his hair.

He fell asleep, still frowning.

***

It took Pops a couple of hours to drive into town and back, and Kyle was still asleep when his truck rolled into the overgrown yard.

Sarah met him at the doorway, her arms folded over her chest, still not sure if she was pissed at him or not. Not that Pops would notice if she was.

"How is Kyle Reese?" he asked as he pulled a bag from the back seat.

"Asleep."

He considered this for a moment, running the kind of algorithms in his processors that she'd never understand, and then he nodded, apparently satisfied. "Sleep will assist his body in fighting off the infection."

"No kidding."

Maybe Pops noticed she was ticked this time, or maybe those algorithms had kicked out something she hadn't expected, because he paused, his face expressionless as his eyes tracked over her face.

When he finally spoke, it felt like a punch in the stomach.

"As many humans were killed by disease in the aftermath of Judgement Day as were terminated by Skynet."

She stared at him, for once shocked beyond even her capacity for sass and sarcasm. "What?"

"As many -"

"No, Pops, I got that bit. I meant... what?"

He considered her again for a moment, his processors obviously trying to understand her question in spite of its illogical nature. His answer, of course, was the epitome of logic.

"Judgement Day destroyed much of human infrastructure, which permitted the proliferation of disease. Supply chains were disrupted, meaning that medication could not be manufactured or transported to where it was needed. Sanitation was destroyed, allowing the spreading of bacteria and viruses. Once Skynet developed its drones, extending its destructive reach down to street level, humans were forced into smaller spaces, allowing those same diseases to spread."

"I get all of that, but..."

"The surviving humans were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and untreated injuries. Consequently, the death rate for such infections was high, and there were a number of such epidemics of which Skynet became aware. There are likely to have been many more that happened in areas where Skynet's intelligence was restricted. With the absence of adequate medication, the only preventative measure would have been isolation. Quarantine," he added when she continued to stare at him blankly.

"Yeah, Pops, I get the theory."

She was shaking again, that weight of that much knowledge pressing down on her. She'd wanted to know, thought she needed to understand, even thought she had on some level, but now...

Kyle's insistence that she keep away from him made a terrible kind of sense.

"How did you know?" she asked, and Pops tilted his head curiously. "That Kyle had been in a... a work camp? Was that part of the information you were provided on him? Because then, why did you never tell me?"

"He was barcoded for processing."

It took her a second to get it, her mind racing a mile a minute, and then -

"You mean the one on his arm. I thought... I thought that was a tattoo." Only, now that she really thought about it, instead of simply considering it part of Kyle's background noise like the scar on Kyle's shoulder and the way he snored when he slept on his back, it was way too precise to be human drawn, and why would Kyle get a tattoo like that anyway? He hated the machines, hated them with the kind of bleak, all-consuming passion that rivalled Sarah's own. No way in hell would he mark his skin with something so reminiscent of them, not even out of some weird sense of irony.

"Skynet considered the spread of disease within its camps to be inefficient."

Sarah dragged her eyes back to Pops' face, feeling as sick, now, as Kyle did. "Inefficient?"

"The work camps were intended to process the termination of humans in the most efficient way possible. Their secondary function was the collection and burning of the bodies of those who died outside the camps. Skynet calculated that the resources required to guard those within work camps while they carried out this work to be acceptable compared to the resources required to carry out the work directly."

"As long as the workforce didn't get sick."

"Correct. If they were to become ill, it was more efficient to terminate them than utilise the resources to allow them to recover or to permit the illness to spread."

She was going to throw up; she could feel the nausea rising in the back of her throat, thick and heavy, choking her.

"Kyle..."

"My databanks contain little information on Kyle Reese's life, beyond his importance to John Connor and his mission to protect you. Consequently, I do not know how long Kyle Reese was interred in such a work camp. His presence there is simply an extrapolation from the available evidence. If you wish to know more, you must ask Kyle Reese directly."

She stared at him numbly, pushed past her ability to process what he was saying; this time it was more visceral, more real than the stories he'd told her before about the future. Before it had been a concept - a terrifying one, yes, and one that had cost her parents their lives, and one she'd spent her life fighting, but...

Kyle made it real.

Pops held the bag out to her and she took it automatically, pulling it in towards her chest and wrapping her arms around it as she stared up at him, the same way she'd stared at him at nine, and twelve, and fourteen.

Make it not real.

"Acetaminophen," he said, because Pops was all about the practicalities, even when she needed more. "Rehydration supplements in case they are required. Peppermint tea."

She blinked at him, nonplussed.

"The sales assistant suggested that it may help. I also purchased chicken soup. I have observed that Kyle Reese prefers beef, but I believe this will be easier on his digestive system while he is recovering."

She'd had some really surreal conversations with Pops over the years, but this one had to be up there.

"Thank you," she said, a little surprised to find she meant it sincerely, if only for his quiet confidence that Kyle would recover. Intellectually, she knew the odds, and was perfectly capable of putting most things in context. Kyle's fear, on the other hand, was kind of contagious.

"Kyle Reese will recover soon," Pops said awkwardly, the way he always was a little awkward when mimicking human interactions. And then he reached out and placed one large hand on her shoulder, the weight comforting. That was something new, but that didn't mean she wasn't grateful for it.

"Thanks," she said again, mustering up a smile. Pops returned it, his face stretching into a rictus - that was the one human interaction she didn't think he'd ever get quite right, but in a way she'd miss it if he ever did, even if Kyle was spot on when he described it as 'disturbing'.

Maybe it was her imagination, but she thought Pops' fingers curled for a moment before he finally let her go and stepped away, the expression on his face back to impassive. "The shingles on the western slope of the roof require replacement," he said, the kind of non-sequitur that still threw Kyle but that Sarah was more than used to. She nodded, her emotions on a slightly more even keel, helped by Pops' impassivity, his total calm confidence, even if that was programmed into him.

She was used to that, too.

"I'll see you at dinner," she said, watching Pops stride off before she finally turned and headed back into the house.

***

Kyle was still asleep when she checked on him, so she busied herself with putting things away, finding a pitcher in one of the cupboards and filling it with fresh water, and placing the bucket she'd abandoned earlier next to Kyle's bed, so that it was within reach if he needed it.

And then she sat down at the kitchen table, losing herself in the familiar and comforting rhythm of stripping and cleaning their weapons as she listened out for any sign of Kyle waking up.

It was a couple of hours before he stirred, and even then he stayed quiet. It was more the absence of noise - the lack of the bed springs creaking as he tossed and turned - that clued her in. She stared down at her grease-stained hands before carefully placing the handgun she was cleaning down on the newspaper she'd spread across the table and gathering her resolve.

Kyle didn't pretend to be asleep, and at least that was something. Instead he simply watched her warily as she stood in the doorway, still trying to work out the best way to deal with this, whatever this was, as she wiped her hands off on a rag. But there wasn't really anything to work out, was there? She'd always been a rush into the fire kind of a girl, and nothing had changed, not about that.

She shoved the rag into her back pocket and took the first step. If Kyle flinched this time, he hid it better.

"How are you feeling?" she asked, keeping her voice neutral when all she wanted to do was reassure him, smother him with the kind of care she wasn't sure he'd ever known and that she'd never really been good at.

Kyle shrugged, pushing himself up into a sitting position. His face was flushed, and his hair was plastered to his skin, dark with sweat. "I'll live," he said, and there was a poignancy, an undercurrent in the words that she'd never have spotted if not for Pops' revelations.

"I'm glad to hear it." Still neutral, although it was still so much harder to keep her voice even than it should have been. "Pops got more painkillers if your head's still aching. And there's soup."

He pulled a face, which told her just how he felt about food. It also told her something else; for that one, brief moment, his expression was unguarded when the last couple of days he'd been nothing but guarded, holding himself back from her. Maybe he was too tired to fight it, or maybe he really was starting to recover, and in recovering was better able to damp down the fear. The fear that he wouldn't make it, or worse, condemn her to the same fate. Whatever the reason, she had to take it as a positive sign, the fact that he wasn't shutting her out any more.

She took another step, and Kyle's expression turned wary again, but he still didn't argue with her, or insist she kept her distance. "I'm sorry," she said, closing the distance between them one slow step at a time.

"For what?"

"That I didn't understand."

She could tell he didn't get it - she was being too cryptic for someone who probably still felt like crap, but it was hard to find the right words, the ones that wouldn't hurt him, gouging open old wounds until they bled again.

"Pops told me about the camps," she explained, and he stiffened. It was painful to watch how he tried to put his game face on, pull himself behind the kind of barrier he'd never been able to build around himself, not when it came to her. But she couldn't stop now, not when she needed to get through to him.

Not when she needed to ease his fear. There were so many things they should still be afraid of, or if not afraid then conscious of maybe, something Pops called 'situationally aware'; she'd do anything she could to reduce that number for Kyle.

"He told me what happened, how many people died of disease in the aftermath of Judgement Day. And I think I get it. I mean, I don't, I can't, but..." The words had come so much easier when she was sitting at the table, planning out what she needed to say.

"We're lucky," she continued quietly as she settled herself on the edge of the mattress, in the space left by his legs. He drew back, his eyes still fixed on her face, but she refused to let that hurt. "I know we are, or I should anyway. We have access to all sorts of things now that you couldn't have had in the future - medicines, and food, and warm, dry places to live. At least most of us do, in this country. I know that's not always the case for the rest of the world. But I get why you're scared."

His gaze wavered for a moment, a flicker of pain and grief that he couldn't hide from her; when she reached for his hand, he didn't fight her this time, didn't pull away.

She wrapped her fingers around his and put everything she could - all of her confidence, all of her faith in him and his strength - into her voice. "You're going to be okay, Kyle, all right? You're going to be okay because I'm going to make sure of it."

The look in his eyes stayed serious, searching, but the corner of his mouth turned up in the slightest of smiles, more a twitch than anything else.

She'd take it.

"And if you get ill?"

"Then I fully expect you to wait on me hand and foot."

The twitch turned into a smile - small and weak but still there.

"Wait on you hand and foot?"

"You know, the usual. Mop my brow, hold my hair back while I'm throwing up. There may even be the need for a sponge bath or two..." She winked at him, making it as lascivious as she could, and that smile turned into a low chuckle.

"Is that right?"

"That's right." She let her smile fade away naturally, not even trying to hide the rush of affection she felt at seeing the colour returning to his face. Not this time. Maybe not ever if she could hold onto this feeling, this idea that there were scarier things than caring about Kyle.

She reached out, letting her fingers smooth the small tendrils of hair sticking to his forehead away, and then gently over the planes of his face like the first time she'd touched his cheek. He'd been wary then, too, but she'd had no one to blame for that but herself. She was so much better at shutting him out than he'd ever be at returning the favour.

He wasn't wary now. She wasn't fooling herself. She knew it would take time for Kyle to adapt, to let go of those old fears of his that didn't apply in this whole new world he'd found himself in. It wasn't like he'd be left with a shortage of them; there would be plenty that still did.

"Do you want to try and get some more sleep?"

"I don't know." He wrinkled his nose up, the look strangely adorable in spite of his pale face and the dark hollows under his eyes. "Maybe."

"I should let you get some rest then." She stroked her knuckles gently over his cheek, a last lingering touch before she pulled away entirely. "I'm just outside if you need anything."

"Sarah?" His tone was still a little uncertain, almost diffident, and the sound of it was enough to stop her from rising to her feet. "Could you stay for a little while, maybe?"

That was progress, more progress than she thought she'd make, but then she shouldn't have been surprised. Kyle had proven over and over and again how smart he was, how adaptable. She only had to see him with Pops - the machine he'd hated at first on principle, and hadn't trusted even though she'd trusted Pops with her life, with both of their lives - to know that.

He trusted Pops now, and he trusted her. She suspected he might even trust her more than anyone except John.

She'd make sure that his faith in the Connors ended better for him this time.

Kyle was still waiting for an answer, the look on his face growing more uncertain at her hesitation. "Sure," she said, smiling at him and putting all of the warmth into it that she knew how to do, just to try and wipe that look off his face.

His smile was still a flicker, something that faded almost as soon as it arrived, but he shifted over for her, giving her room to stretch out on the bed next to him. She propped herself up on the headboard, moving one of the pillows behind her back and making herself comfortable.

If she had any say in it, she'd be here for the long haul.

Kyle hesitated for a moment and then settled down next to her, his movements slow and a little awkward, lacking his normal confidence. It was weird to wish it, but she hoped it was his body that was sore, not his heart. One would heal a hell of a lot quicker than the other.

"Come here," she said quietly, stroking the palm of her hand over his head again. She slid her fingers into the damp strands as Kyle swayed towards her, shuffling around until he was pressed against her side, his cheek resting on the curve of her stomach and his arm thrown over her legs.

He fit. He was a big man, broad and tall in a way she hadn't quite expected from Pops' stories about him, but he fit against her, oddly fragile in a way that made her throat ache and her heart feel both heavy and light at the same time.

"I'm not going anywhere, okay?" she murmured, keeping her touch, her voice, light and reassuring. "I'm staying right here, and we'll be okay. We'll both be okay. I promise."

The tension - that ever present tension that had been so bitterly present over the last few days - finally eased from his body, leaving him relaxed and heavy-limbed against her.

It was a weight she could easily bear.

She slowed the movement of her fingers, curling her palm around his neck and leaving it there, offering the kind of comfort that she hoped he'd take, that she hoped would be enough.

Kyle closed his eyes, and slept.