Actions

Work Header

Waking Up (At the Start of the End of the World)

Work Text:

Pops somehow managed to find them a car while Sarah and Kyle were still brushing brick dust from their clothes, the residue of Cyberdyne's spectacular collapse.

Sarah had no idea where it had come from, just like she had no idea where the hell he'd found the wallet he tossed in her direction, but she'd long since learned not to ask. As long as the only things Pops left in his wake were injuries and not corpses, everything else was golden as far as Sarah was concerned.

Kyle, on the other hand, didn't seem quite as blasé about it, at least not judging by the way he side-eyed their ride or the way his lips parted, as though he was about to say something, as soon as she started rifling through the wallet, discarding anything that was even vaguely traceable. She was left with a wad of cash by the time she'd finished, but only time would tell how long it would keep them going. Longer than they'd last without it, certainly, although she had no idea how much a dollar was worth these days.

Whatever Kyle was thinking, one look at her face had him closing his mouth on it with a snap, biting back on the words before he could let them out.

It looked like John hadn't got his brains just from her.

She followed Kyle's lead on the silence front, scrambling into Pops' car with Kyle right behind her. She busied herself with her seat belt before Pops could comment on it, trying not to notice the way that Kyle was a warm and solid presence next to her as he fastened his own seat belt, so close that his thigh was pressed right up against hers.

It was harder than it should have been; his closeness was making her fingers itch with the need to reach out and touch him, and something felt tight in her chest, like Kyle's presence had a weight to it and she was feeling every ounce of it crushing her.

It wasn't fair, but neither was life. She'd learned that a long time ago, too.

"Where to now?"

Pops didn't answer her, not at first, and that was weird enough to grab her attention and hold it. Or, a small, treacherous part of her whispered, maybe it was just safer to focus on Pops instead of Kyle. Kyle who hadn't loved her and left her, not like she'd been waiting for with every breath she'd taken since she'd met him, or with every day that had passed since the age of nine.

Pops was easier. Pops was always easier than other people.

Pops' face was even more expressionless than usual, almost as though he'd had to stop and think about how to answer her, and was still thinking about it when he was usually so decisive. Maybe his processors weren't working as fast now he'd been upgraded or something.

She had to admit that the thought, fleeting as it was, worried her.

"Pops?" she prompted, and he turned his head towards her, a look on his face that on anyone else's she might have called 'considering'.

"It is likely that the destruction of Cyberdyne will attract attention."

"No shit," Kyle muttered next to her. She ignored him, like she ignored the destruction still showing in their rear view mirror, the ache in her shoulder, the dust on her skin. She was less successful at ignoring the way that Kyle's words rumbled through him and then through her, barely heard but still enough to make her skin shiver where they were pressed together.

Yeah, Pops was way safer.

"The names and faces of you both are now known to the authorities."

Yeah, that was another no brainer as far as she was concerned, and from Kyle's slightly long suffering sigh she wasn't the only one who'd worked that out. But Pops hadn't finished.

"We should vacate the immediate area. Once you and Kyle Reese are safely out of public view, I will use my new mimetic abilities to lay a false trail for the authorities."

She must be more tired than she thought - it took her a minute to parse what Pops was saying, and this time Kyle beat her to it. "So, you're going to... pretend to be us?"

"Correct, Kyle Reese. Or, more accurately, I will mimic you. It may take more time to become sufficiently skilled in adjusting my core density to portray Sarah Connor than would be advantageous given our current situation."

She didn't need Kyle's muttered, "What?" to know that Pops was already back to confusing him again, but at least this time Kyle didn't ask about an off switch and that had to be an improvement. And maybe she was more tired than she'd thought, the words sinking into her, finding that part of her that spoke 'Pops' without her having to actively think about them - what Pops had said made perfect sense to her.

"I'm smaller." She didn't make it a question, not quite, but Pops turned his head again, a slow, brief glance in her direction before he turned his attention back to the road. She figured it was the only acknowledgement she was going to get, but when she stole a glance at Kyle, unable to resist, he was still looking confused.

It was a cute look on him, and if she was thinking that after all that had happened, instead of everything else she should be thinking about, well, maybe she'd hit her head, too, and just didn't remember it. But she couldn't bring herself to explain what she thought Pops meant to Kyle, not when she couldn't look at him for that long without her heart stuttering, or let him in that much. Not when she was still raw.

Pops was still the easy option, and deflection was another thing he'd taught her.

"You're not sure you can reduce your body size down to mine."

"Yes, Sarah Connor. I still retain some of my original core chassis underneath the mimetic poly alloy, including the housing of my CPU, which will make size adjustment more difficult. The physical forms of the T-800 series were designed to be sufficiently large to contain the exoskeleton."

They built Terminators big, her mind translated, and it was slightly creepy to think about, Pops' skull still being in there somewhere. Even creepier was the thought that followed on behind that one - maybe his skull was all that was left of him, the original 'him'.

It shouldn't have mattered, not really, not when this was still 'Pops' on some fundamental, existential - programmed - level.

But it did.

"Is he trying to say he can mimic me but not you because I've got a big head?"

There was something dryly amused in Kyle's tone, nothing that suggested he felt like he'd just been insulted, and it was so very, very surreal how quickly he'd adapted to Pops, from hatred to more than a grudging respect. It shouldn't have helped, not when she was almost vibrating with tension and could feel the same tension running through Kyle, but it did. It cut through everything, all the fear and exhaustion, all of the longing and confusion, and laughter bubbled up through the gap that was left, rising in the back of Sarah's throat until she had to put her hand over her mouth to hold it in, well aware that it made her look like a crazy person.

"Correct, Kyle Reese."

She lost it. She completely fucking lost it, choking back on the laughter until tears were running down her face, drunk on adrenaline and relief.

And grief.

"Hey." Kyle's voice this time was kind, and so were his eyes when she finally turned her head to look at him, scrubbing at her cheeks and her nose, and hiccuping slightly, the laughter - or hysteria - still trying to push its way to the surface. "You okay?"

Yeah. Yeah, she was, weirdly. More okay than she'd ever expected she'd be, but his question - the concern in his eyes now - sobered her more than a bucket of ice water. She swallowed down her laughter, a flush rising to her face as she wiped the last trace of tears away.

"Given the importance of REM cycles to the ability of humans to maintain emotional stability, I believe that Sarah Connor needs sleep," Pops announced, his hands as steady as always on the wheel and his eyes fixed on the road. It was weird to hear him talk about her in the third person to someone else, when up until now it had only been the two of them, no one for him to explain her to. "As do you, Kyle Reese."

Kyle laughed - or maybe he just snorted. It was difficult to tell the two apart when Pops' words had suddenly brought the exhaustion crashing down on her.

"I think the standard reply to that is something like 'I'll sleep when I'm dead'," he said, still dry in a way that she was starting to appreciate. She didn't appreciate the 'dead' comment, though. Didn't appreciate it at fucking all, her mood plummeting again as soon as the word was out of his mouth.

"That would be inadvisable. Regular sleep is necessary for optimum physical as well as mental performance."

Kyle raised an eyebrow at her, and another laugh bubbled to the surface, her emotions see-sawing like crazy. She bit it back, muffling the sound with the back of her hand this time and trying to make it sound more like a cough.

But hysteria still hovered below the surface, just waiting for her to slip.

"I have identified a potential location for the two of you to lay low." Pops' inflection never varied, but Sarah could still almost see the speech marks around the words, the way she always did when Pops used vernacular. It sounded so fucking wrong coming out of his mouth. "A motel that is far enough from the epicentre of the search radius around Cyberdyne and sufficiently isolated that it will not attract immediate attention. The building layout and low profitability means that your contact with others will be minimal, and it provides several points of exit if necessary."

Sarah's inbuilt Pops-to-English translator handily converted that to: cheap, unpopular, and they could get a room a hell of a long way from the lobby. "How did you find it?" she asked idly, flicking through the bundle of cash again to estimate how much there was - enough for a room, at least.

"I googled it."

For once, her translator failed her. She had no goddamned clue what that meant, and no way in hell was she asking. Instead, she ignored it, wriggling around in the seat and lifting her ass enough to let her shove the bills into her back pocket.

And if that pushed her closer to Kyle for a moment, well. At least she knew what plausible deniability meant.

-o-

It turned out that Pops' motel was at least a four hour drive away, and most of that was spent in silence. Pops wasn't a great conversationalist at the best of times, and Kyle had started staring out of the window early on and hadn't stopped since.

She wondered what he saw, what the hell had him so entranced. There was a whole lot of nothing out there, just highway and billboards, the same ones over and over again, but then she guessed even that was new to him. It was sometimes difficult to remember that the world Kyle knew was dead, nothing more than ashes and rubble. A barren radioactive wasteland populated by killer robots. It sounded like a bad sci-fi movie, or would have, if she hadn't spent her whole life running from the consequences of it.

Pops had tried to explain it to her, but - being Pops - he'd limited his explanations to the facts. So, yeah, he'd told her about the origin of Skynet, and about Judgement Day, and had even given her a brief verbal sketch of her son, John Connor, the prophet and the leader. But he'd said nothing more about the world of the future, what it was like. Nothing that gave her a sense of it beyond horror and fear.

He hadn't had to. She had enough imagination to fill in some of the gaps.

But Kyle had lived it. Kyle knew it intimately in a way that Pops would never grasp, let alone be able to spell it out to Sarah. He knew what it felt like to live in constant fear, hiding from the machines. He knew how the sky looked in the aftermath of a nuclear winter, how the air smelled, what the dust felt like when it settled, the ashes of the billions who'd died on Judgement Day.

Who the hell knew what Kyle made of this time with its shiny cars and shinier people, all of them wielding the kind of tech she'd never even dreamed of back in the eighties? Maybe he found it all as alien as she did.

She could ask him. Hey, Kyle, I was kind of wondering exactly how badly the world of the future sucked, just so I can be appropriately relieved that we blew up the fucking machine that caused it before it could happen. Yeah, that would go over well.

But even that conversation might go better than the other thing, the thing they were definitely not talking about, not if Sarah had any say in the matter.

Everyone who loves me dies.

Not everyone. Not this time.

She shivered, a sudden chill running through her.

"You okay?"

Kyle again, picking up on her moods straight away. His voice was a low murmur in her ear, pitched quietly enough so that Pops could tune it out even if he heard, and she fought not to shiver again.

"I'm fine. Just, you know. Cold. Tired."

"Yeah." His tone was sympathetic, the kind of concern in it that always threw Sarah for a loop.

Pops cared that she was safe. Pops probably even cared for her.

Pops didn't care how she felt. Not like Kyle did.

It was fucking terrifying.

Kyle was still watching her, pausing for barely a heartbeat before he leaned forward to fiddle with the heat, cranking it up until the slightly stale air blew, warm and constant, into the cab. "Better?"

"Yeah." It wasn't really; it wasn't the kind of warmth she wanted even though she shouldn't. "More tired than cold, I think."

He nodded. "Yeah, I get it." His voice was still soft and low, and the words rumbled through him and then through her where she was pressed against him. He paused for another moment, another heartbeat, his eyes searching her face in the dim light from the oncoming traffic. Although car passing illuminated his face briefly, she couldn't read his expression, not clearly, and the silence hung between them, weighty and airless.

And then he said, still quietly, "Come here."

He shifted his arm, bringing it to rest along the back of the seat, an open invitation for her to slide closer to him, share in his warmth. He probably meant nothing by it, nothing but the obvious, but still she bit at her lip, frozen in indecision.

Kyle was patient, something she'd never have guessed the first time she'd met him. He waited her out, not saying anything, not even moving until she finally shuffled closer to him, the need for warmth, for comfort, winning out over the need to keep him at a safe distance for the sake of her heart. She half-expected him to put his arm around her and pull her against his side - and she still wasn't sure what she'd do if he did, the fear and the yearning balancing each other out - but he left it where it was, simply adjusting his own position to give her something more solid to lean into.

It was... nice. Uncomplicated and undemanding, when so little of her life was like that. And he was warm and solid in a way she was learning to appreciate.

It helped. It helped a lot, more than she would ever have thought.

"When I was a kid," he said, his voice still quiet, barely louder than the burr of the engine, "and it was cold in the tunnels - and it was always cold in the tunnels - we used to do this, you know? Find someone bigger and warmer if we could. Someone safe."

"If you could find someone safe," she murmured back, reading between the lines easily.

"Yeah. That was always the kicker."

She could hear the smile in his voice, and it was weird, knowing him so well after so little time. There were still so many things she wanted to ask him, so many little details about the world he'd come from, but she couldn't figure out the right words.

But they had time, right? Time for her to figure out what to say, what to want. That was a whole other world of weird, given the stories that Pops had told her for half her life, the ones in which Kyle was little more than a footnote, a sketched out, shadowy figure who seemed more foreboding to a nine-year-old Sarah than the saviour Pops probably intended to describe. The one she loved, the one she lost. The one she grieved for, for the rest of her life.

She shivered again, feeling for a moment like someone had walked over her grave instead of Kyle's, all of the warmth leaching out of her, washed away by a world of might-have-beens.

Kyle finally curled his arm around her, tucking her against his side. He didn't say anything, and she was pathetically grateful for that, grateful that he let her have the silence when silence was what she needed right then. He was warm and surprisingly comfortable, especially given his size and the muscles she'd seen before she'd looked away, her face burning. But mostly, he was restful and that... God, she'd curl into him for that alone.

The road stretched out in front of them, mile upon empty mile, and soon, lulled by the sound of the engine and of Kyle breathing softly beside her, she drifted into a light doze.

-o-

It was starting to grow light when they finally reached the motel that Pops had picked out, pulling into a parking lot in front of a building that was just like she'd thought it would be. She and Pops had stayed in a thousand or more similar places over the years as they'd tried to keep one step ahead of the T-1000, all of them equally run down in a way that could no longer be described as 'genteel'. But they'd been functional, giving them exactly what they'd needed and no more, and it seemed this one was cut from the same cloth.

But it was all new to Kyle, and he took a minute to drink it in, his eyes darting to and fro, checking out the lay of the land and every available exit. She could almost see him cataloguing them all in his head, working out strategies for retreat, defensible positions, anything that could be used as a weapon.

It was what she'd have done in his position.

This time, she was the one who waited him out, more patient than she could remember being for a long time. There was still an itch just below her skin, the one that had been there for so long she barely noticed it - the one that said 'move and keep on moving, go and don't look back' - but it was muted at the moment, drowned out more by exhaustion, she thought, than by the belief that she could finally stop running.

Kyle looked just as ragged as she felt when he finally stopped casing the place and looked at her - really looked at her. Looked right at her, and she had no choice but to look back, unable to tear her eyes away from his even as a flush rose slowly to her face.

Pops' interruption, when it came, startled her, and she jumped, skittish and on edge, and not just from adrenaline.

"I will obtain a room. Stay here. It will be better if you and Kyle Reese are not recognised."

She pushed herself up from where she was leaning against the warm hood of the truck, relieved to have an excuse to look at Pops instead of staring at Kyle. Pops looked back for a moment, the pause as he studied her telling her he was sorting through his options, listing them out in his CPU and crossing them off one by one before he finally said, "I'll be back."

"He's a great conversationalist," Kyle commented, taking the few steps necessary to lean against the hood right next to her, too close and too far away at the same time. "I can see where you get it from."

She grunted at him just to watch his mouth curl up into a faint smile, his eyes fixed on Pops' retreating back. She studied his face for a moment in the flickering fluorescent lights, listening to the hum of the electrics and the faint sound of traffic in the distance. And then she pushed herself away from the truck again, and said, "Come on."

Kyle followed her, a curious look on his face, but it was easier to lead him than it was to explain where she was headed. Maybe that was exhaustion, or maybe Kyle was right about her conversational skills. There was nothing wrong with her tracking skills, though. It didn't take her long to find what she'd been looking for.

Kyle studied the bank of vending machines for a moment, and then quirked an eyebrow at her, clearly at a loss.

"Dinner," she said, keeping it short and sweet. "Unless you want to try and find a convenience store at this time in the morning?"

"Probably not a good idea."

"And probably not close," she added, her eyes scanning over the bright vista of each machine for a moment before she finally found the one she was most interested in. She nodded her head towards the furthest machine, the one closest to the lobby - even from this distance she could make out what looked like toothbrushes, the small disposable ones they tended to stock in places like this. "For forgetful travellers," she explained at Kyle's look. "Toothpaste, shampoo maybe." God, she'd kill for a shower. "All the things you might need, at a mark-up, of course."

Kyle's expression didn't change, like the words were washing right over him, none of them comprehensible. She had no idea how they dealt with commerce in the future. A barter system? Did his unit just acquire what they needed from scavenging? Who the fuck knew? Certainly not Sarah, and right now she didn't care enough to ask.

"Look." She gestured towards the nearest machine, the one that held soda. "Why don't you decide what you want, and I'll go and deal with the essentials."

He studied her face for a moment before he turned back to the brightly lit display, examining its contents and looking a little lost if she was honest. But if the last few days had taught her anything it was that Kyle was adaptable. He'd survive.

She headed towards the lobby door, digging the roll of bills out of her jeans as she went and flicking through it until she came to a stop in front of the machine, her eyes automatically cataloguing what was on offer.

Toothpaste, toothbrushes, some weird brand of body wash she'd never heard of...

The top row held condoms and her mouth went dry, her eyes automatically darting in Kyle's direction. He still seemed absorbed in soda selection, which was just as well given the heat that was rising to her face again. Yeah, okay, she'd seen things like that in the seedier bathrooms she'd used on her and Pops' never-ending road trip, but out in the open like this? Where anyone (she) could buy them?

It looked like things had changed a lot more than she'd thought since the early eighties.

She cast another furtive and guilty look in Kyle's direction before the siren song of those small packets drew her back. And, God, the variety. They came in ribbed, extra strong, even flavoured, and it took her a second to figure out why that might be important, her face flaming once she'd put two and two together and come up with... well. Not the kind of thing she could explain to Pops, that was for sure.

Toothpaste, that was what she needed. And toothbrushes, and body wash, and she needed to see if they had any deodorant... Her fingers paused on the worn keypad, her eyes darting along the top row and her mouth still dry, like all of her spit had just evaporated.

The ribbed ones were the least scary - she hit the buttons, one after another, and kept her eyes firmly forward as her selection jerked forward before landing in the bottom drawer with a dull thud.

She couldn't look at Kyle - maybe not ever again, if the way her face was still flaming was any indication, and that was really fucking annoying when she'd faced down killer robots. More than once. But she couldn't stop herself from casting a quick, furtive glance in his direction as she bent hurriedly down, retrieving the packet and shoving it into that stupid little front pocket of her pants, trying not to make it obvious what she was up to.

Kyle remained oblivious, and she was so fucking grateful for that it was untrue.

The machine didn't give her much change, but she fished that out, too, feeding another five-dollar bill into the maw of it, this time picking things she didn't have to hide.

Kyle was still staring at the variety of drinks on offer when she headed back to him, her heart rate steadier and her face, hopefully, back to its usual colour instead of the brick red she suspected it had been. He turned his head to look at her when she came to a stop beside him, his expression still lost, but wry around the edges, like he found the idea of not being able to make a decision funny for once instead of frustrating.

She supposed that, in the grand scheme of things, it was.

"Water?" he asked, gesturing towards the machine a little helplessly.

She considered their options before nodding. "Yeah, okay. Caffeine and sugar probably aren't a great choice right now and tap water can taste weird, depending where you are and what you're used to."

The breath huffed out of him, not quite a snort and not quite a sigh, and then he grinned at her, something small and warm.

She squashed down her automatic response as she handed him some of Pops' ill-gotten gains, turning to look at the other vending machine on offer, the only one whose contents they hadn't yet investigated.

It looked like the holy grail of unappealing junk food, except that there were things in the cabinet that she didn't recognise. Like, at all. The unfamiliarity of it all threw her for a moment - the new candy bars she'd never seen before, or the more familiar ones now in unfamiliar packaging - like the world was slightly out of kilter, or she was.

She'd get used to it. Eventually.

Probably.

Thankfully, there was still one staple, something that had barely changed since her childhood memories, stuffing her face while she watched TV and trying to pretend she hadn't ruined her appetite for dinner.

"Cheetos?" she asked, heading towards them automatically and already peeling another bill from her small roll.

"Sure. Why not?" Kyle's tone was as wry as his look, humouring her instead of pointing out that he didn't have a fucking clue what she was talking about.

"Junk food staple," she explained, punching in the numbers and listening to the mechanism inside whirr into life. "Tastes a bit like chemicals, but..." She shrugged, bending down to retrieve the orange packet and then gave him a grin. "It's an essential part of any teenage diet. That and orange soda."

Kyle snorted softly, his look now less wry and heading more towards 'warm'. "I'll take your word for it. It's gotta beat three-day-dead coyote in the taste test."

Sarah wrinkled her nose up. "Debatable," she said.

Kyle laughed, low and full, and her stomach twisted, a weird fluttering in her chest, a sensation that was becoming oddly familiar around Kyle.

She wasn't sure she wanted to ignore it any longer.

-o-

Pops had obviously finished with the motel's receptionist, and was waiting patiently by the truck when she finally managed to drag herself away from the vending machines. There was something to be said for 'kid in a candy store', but at least part of her spending binge had been the sight of Kyle, staring at the contents of the machine with a look of slightly weirded out fascination as she'd fed bill after bill in and got candy out.

She guessed it really was a whole new world for him - money in, something vaguely edible out.

As she drew nearer to Pops, he eyed her haul with something as close to disapproval as he ever got. "There is insufficient nutritional value in that."

"Yeah, that's kind of the point." When he simply looked at her, his expression never changing, she rolled her eyes. "It was all they had. Bring me back some fruit or something if it bothers you that much. Do we have a room?"

He didn't even blink at the segue - it took a lot to startle Pops, and he was as used to her verbal tics as she was to his. "We have. I acquired the room furthest from the lobby. It has several strategic advantages."

"Yeah, yeah." She headed in what she assumed was the correct direction, Pops keeping pace with her and Kyle - still looking slightly shell-shocked - trailing in their wake. "Do you know how long you'll be gone?"

There was a slight pause while Pops worked out all of the variables in his head. "I will be back tonight, and no later than dawn tomorrow."

"That long?" She stopped, Pops just a beat behind her, his expression as impassive as always.

"It will take time to leave a sufficiently convincing trail. With Skynet now destroyed, you will be safe with Kyle Reese."

"That's not -" She bit off her automatic response, not wanting to admit it wasn't fear that had her balking at being without Pops for so long. She just... wasn't used to being without him, that was all.

"We'll be fine," Kyle interrupted softly. She had no idea if that was aimed at her or Pops, but any urge to snap at him faded as soon as she took in how exhausted he looked.

"We will," she agreed, her eyes locked on Kyle's face, unable to tear her eyes away. "Anything else?"

Pops considered her for a moment. She had no idea what was going on behind those eyes, and not for the first time. "Yes," he said. "Wait here." And then he turned abruptly on his heel and headed back to the truck.

"He couldn't have given us the room key before he left?" Kyle muttered, but there was no real irritation behind the words. He slumped against the wall, watching Pops, his arms still cradling the chip bags she'd shoved into his hands.

She watched Kyle instead, taking in the micro-expressions that crossed his face, the way his eyes moved from Pops' retreating form to travel around the perimeter, checking for any potential threats, and then back to Pops again. She didn't think he was even aware he'd done it, the need for situational awareness so ingrained into him that it had been automatic.

She did it, too.

Kyle turned his head and caught her looking, quirking his eyebrow curiously, but she refused to blush. "You need a shower," she said instead, the years with Pops having ingrained bluntness into her as well as everything else. "There's blood in your hair."

Kyle snorted. "Could be worse. Could be brains."

"That assumes you have some."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she stopped, appalled at herself, but Kyle simply grinned, his attention already back on Pops, who'd popped the trunk of the truck and was rooting around inside it. "Experience might suggest otherwise," he said, turning his head back towards her to grin again. "But thankfully I have a thick head so I guess we won't be finding out any time soon."

Her turn to snort, even if it wasn't fair of her. Kyle was smart - he'd shown that over and over again. Smart and adaptable and funny and...

She stopped that train of thought in its tracks, uncomfortably aware of the small packet now shoved into the front pocket of her jeans. The heat was rising in her face again, and she focused on Pops, who was now heading back towards them, instead of Kyle, who was standing so easily within arms' reach.

"You will need this," Pops said as soon as he reached them, shoving a small, green box into her hands without any preamble and already moving past her before she was able to do anything more than catch it.

"A first aid kit?"

Pops paused to give her a look, one that subtly reminded her of the years they'd spent apart; however, he limited himself to a simple, "Both of you have minor injuries that will require attention."

That... wasn't exactly inaccurate, if she was being totally honest, but still...

"Look..."

Pops simply ignored her, whatever protocols that were still rattling around in his CPU prioritising the mission over her objections. She sighed, biting back on the sarcastic comment that was just itching to get out from behind her teeth. It wouldn't do any good - Pops would ignore it, or tell her she was being immature again, and Kyle...

Kyle simply pushed himself away from the wall and followed Pops. She supposed that was at least one positive development, especially when it meant that Kyle was now in front of her.

And not just because she could check out his ass now without being seen.

The room Pops had chosen was at the end of the block, right next to the stairs that wound up towards the first floor. Strategically, it was the smart choice, and Sarah took another moment to scope out all of the exits, the instinct hammered into her by Pops over the years and still holding true now while Pops unlocked the door. He ushered the both of them in before following them, guarding the rear as always like the world's weirdest mother hen.

There were two beds, she noted - a double and a twin - and a small kitchen that she headed straight towards, opening cupboards automatically to check out the contents. Glasses, plates, cutlery. Nothing really interesting, but then she wouldn't eat anything left behind anyway.

"Kyle Reese," Pops intoned, and Sarah paused in her investigating long enough to see Pops heading towards Kyle, his hand outstretched.

Kyle blinked, but if his automatic instinct was to back away he managed to quash it, limiting himself to a small flinch as Pops' hand finally cupped his cheek. The sight was more than a little bizarre, and Sarah had to bite back on the snigger that was pushing its way to the surface, not sure which of them it would offend more.

"I am unsure how much contact is required to prime the polyalloy to mimic your form, Kyle Reese, but this should be sufficient."

Kyle blinked again, and not for the first time Sarah tried to remember exactly how many times he'd banged his head in the last forty-eight hours, or the last thirty-three years if she looked at it another way. "Okay?" he offered, the word a little tentative. "The T-1000 only managed to nick me, and that was sufficient to - Holy Christ, could you warn me before you do that? Because that is seriously fucking disturbing."

The other Kyle blinked slowly at him in response, and yeah. Sarah could see how it would be disturbing to see another you, especially one that managed to mimic your slightly sarcastic and yet still wonderfully warm smile.

"Is the facsimile of Kyle Reese convincing, Sarah Connor?"

Pops' version of Kyle turned towards her, his face now expressionless.

"The voice needs working on," she said, hastily holding up her hand to stop Pops when he opened his mouth. "But I know you can do it, so... Maybe don't?"

Pops blinked at her, and yeah, that was weird - Kyle's face combined with Pops' head tilt as he studied her, coming to God knew what conclusion.

"I will be back," he said finally, his face once again morphing back into Pops, and, yeah, it wasn't any easier to watch the second time. "Do not wait up."

That seemed to be the only goodbye she was going to get; Pops headed out the door without a backwards look, leaving her alone with Kyle.

"I'll let you shower first," Kyle said, his slightly dumbfounded gaze still fixed on the door. "Not entirely sure I want to see myself naked right now."

The words finally shattered Sarah's composure and she let go, her body shaking with barely repressed laughter.

Kyle's grin was a little too pleased around the edges, but she let him have it. After seeing Pops with his face, he deserved a little smug.

"Not a mental image I wanted, thank you," she said when she finally got herself back under control, wiping at her eyes with her fingertips. "Do you really think...?"

"That the mimicking goes all the way down? I have no idea, and honestly? I'm kind of praying I never find out."

Yeah, that was fair, and Sarah fought back another wave of giggles - fought and lost for a moment. When she finally calmed down again, Kyle was watching her, something warm in his eyes that she wasn't sure she really wanted to quantify.

"You know, you don't have to let me shower first -"

"Sarah." His tone was gentle as he interrupted her. "It's fine, okay. Apart from anything else, I want to have a look at your shoulder and that'll be a hell of a lot easier to do that once it's clean."

He had a point, and she gave him a tight little smile of acknowledgement. The throbbing in her shoulder had died down to a dull ache, but John had struck deeply; if she thought about it, failed to block the memory out, she could almost feel that stiletto sliding deeper into her flesh.

"Okay," she said and then - because even now she couldn't let him win too easily - she added, "and it might not be a bad idea to check out that head wound of yours."

He smiled, but it was tired, as though now they'd finally come to a stop the energy was leaking out of him like air from a tyre. "Deal."

Yeah, it was, and she'd be a fool not to take it.

-o-

The bathroom was exactly what she'd expected - a little dingy and in desperate need of repainting. The towels were on the thin side, too, and the fan vibrated when she turned it on, and not in a good way. But it was clean, at least, and cockroach free, and the water was hot and plentiful. That was pretty much all Sarah asked for from motels like this, so she didn't waste any time stripping off and stepping into the spray.

It felt good, like she was washing everything away, all of the stress and tension swirling down the drain with the waste water as she scrubbed at her hair with the shampoo she'd bought, barely remembering to leave enough for Kyle.

She knew it was an illusion - she'd been around the block long enough to figure that out - but it was nice to indulge for a moment.

She was more careful when it came to washing her shoulder, where John's talon had sunk in, and her back, where the staples left in the cut she'd got travelling to two thousand seventeen pulled a little as she twisted, but even so, the water was tinged with faint traces of pink by the time she finished, gritting her teeth at the burn. She'd definitely have a scar or two to remind her of the last few days, but once they healed, they would just be memories, and her worst memories hadn't even left a mark.

And her scars were nothing when she compared them to Kyle's. She'd tried to avoid looking at Kyle directly while they'd done their whole 'jumping naked to the future' thing, but she hadn't managed to block out his scars, not completely. Nothing could have done that; they'd been obvious and ugly, pain and loss carved into his flesh in a way that had her wincing in sympathy even when she was pissed at him simply for existing.

She wasn't sure she'd ever know the stories behind them, not in this timeline. Maybe Kyle had told the other Sarah some of it, the one who was supposed to be softer, more vulnerable. The one who'd needed Kyle to keep her safe, when Sarah...

That wasn't the way she needed Kyle.

The thought was morbid, chilling her in spite of the hot water still running over her skin, and she cut it off in its tracks, giving herself a mental shake and concentrating on scrubbing her skin. The actions were rote and mindless, but she needed mindless right then, something repetitive and meaningless she could lose herself in.

Something other than thoughts of Kyle Reese.

Her clothes were still dusty, the remnants of Skynet clinging to them, and she definitely didn't want to put them back on again when she'd only just gotten clean. Instead, she wrapped a towel firmly around herself and then gathered up both her clothes and her courage before heading back into the bedroom.

Kyle was sitting on one of the beds, waiting for her, his head bowed and his elbows on his knees, his hands hanging between them. There was still dust in his hair, but he'd managed to take his jacket off and he'd washed his hands - she could see where the line of dust ended just below his elbows, and his fingers were still damp.

She must have been quicker in the shower than she'd thought.

"Hey," she said quietly, waiting until Kyle looked up, his face creased with exhaustion, before she continued. "Bathroom's free."

"Thanks." He managed to pull up a smile for her, one she returned a little awkwardly, before pushing himself to his feet.

His movements were a little stiff, like he'd been sitting for way too long, but he didn't head straight towards the shower and the hot water that his aching muscles could have used. Instead, he reached for the small first aid kit and then simply stood there, looking at her expectantly.

Oh, right. Her injuries. That explained why he'd washed his hands at the sink instead of waiting for the shower.

She settled herself on the end of the bed, gathering her wet hair up and moving it out of his way, a little embarrassed at being so slow on the uptake.

Kyle's hands were warm when they settled on her skin, skirting the edges of her injury. It should have been impersonal, but it wasn't, not when there was a small crease between Kyle's eyebrows, as if John slicing into her body had hurt him as well as her. "It probably could do with stitches," he said quietly, examining the entry wound carefully. "But I'm not sure this kit is up to that. We'll have to make do with tape. That sound okay to you?"

She wasn't sure she was the right person to ask. Right then, anything would have sounded okay to her, especially with Kyle so close, touching her so gently.

She nodded and fixed her eyes on the wall behind him, focusing on not giving into the tightness in her throat, the burning behind her eyes.

"Okay. This might hurt a little, but I'll be as careful as I can."

He'd watched her get stapled, and she knew damned well from the jagged outlines and raised flesh of his own scars that his injuries had been brusquely patched, and he still worried about hurting her?

"I'll be fine."

"Yeah." The word was nothing but a breath as Kyle focused on his task, but she heard the amusement in it anyway. "I don't doubt it."

It didn't take him long to cut small strips of tape off the roll, working with the kind of delicacy that shouldn't have surprised her but did. Her skin was still a little damp, but he took care of that, too, checking in with her with a brief glance before he started patting at the area around the wound.

She kept her eyes trained forward, fighting not to sway into his touch. Even when he started taping the wound shut, pulling the skin together so that it would heal, it didn't hurt that much, not with how carefully he was being. He was quick, too, in spite of his care, and it wasn't long before he was taping down a bandage over his handiwork.

"Okay," he said finally, smoothing the last strip of tape against her skin with his fingertips. "I think that's it. That one, at least." When she glanced down, the bandage was neat and pristine against her skin. "Let me have a look at your back."

She expected him to move around her, but instead he straightened up and leaned over her, his fingers drifting gently down her shoulder, parallel to the cut. It should have been intimidating, having him loom over her like that, but Kyle's concern meant that it was anything but.

This close the scent of him surrounded her, slightly sour because she wasn't the only one who'd needed a shower, but oddly comforting in spite of that. She closed her eyes, resisting the urge to lean forward and press her forehead against his chest.

"Looks okay," he said quietly, his fingers still tracing over her back, gently easing strands of wet hair away from the cut. "No swelling, no redness. I think you're good."

He was smiling at her when he finally straightened up again, but that smile faded away to nothing when he caught sight of the expression on her face. He lowered his gaze, red creeping up his neck and into his cheeks like he'd been caught doing something shameful.

She had no idea what he'd seen, why he was pulling away from her, but he shouldn't be the one embarrassed. "I should..." He gestured over his shoulder, smiling awkwardly now, an instinctive twitch of his lips. "I should probably go shower."

She smiled back, feeling the ache of it like her skin was stretched too tightly over her bones. "Not a bad idea." The words came out as stilted as his had been. "I'll see what your head's like after."

The other meaning of those words came to her a fraction too late, and she flushed red again, biting at her lip, holding back the instinctive need to explain when an explanation would only make things even worse, draw attention to her gaffe.

If she'd hoped Kyle had missed it, she was disappointed, but then she'd already known he was quick on the uptake.

"I think there's an inappropriate comment in there somewhere," he said, his smile this time more genuine, less awkward, which, okay, was weird given the subject matter. But it helped, smoothing away some of her own awkwardness, a balm around the edges.

"Yeah, probably..." She cleared her throat, looking anywhere but at him. "Shower?"

He chuckled, low and sweet, his body already shifting before he paused, reaching behind him to pull a gun from the small of his back and handing it to her.

"Just in case," he said as she took it, her fingers brushing against his. "You probably won't need it, but..."

She nodded, checking the clip and chamber automatically before she made sure the safety was on and placed it on the bedside table. "Thanks."

"No problem." He gave her an abortive half-wave before stopping himself, grimacing a little at his gaucheness, and heading into the bathroom.

She waited until she heard the shower turn on before she grabbed her pants, fumbling in the pocket to retrieve the pack of condoms and shoving it under one of the pillows of the double bed. Out of sight and out of mind.

Now that Kyle was out of sight, what she had in mind seemed like a terrible idea.

Her fingers were shaking, and she tangled them in the towel, pulling her feet up and tucking them under it for good measure. Yeah, okay, Pops had raised her to be kind of selfish, or at least selfish enough to survive, but this wasn't about survival. If she thought about too long, too hard, it felt close to cruel. God, she wasn't even sure what the hell she wanted beyond tonight, nowhere near ready to start thinking about her long term future now that her options were wide open, while Kyle was honest and up front and so painfully, stupidly open about what he wanted and she shouldn't lead him on, she shouldn't be a goddamned cock tease, but... But...

But when he smiled at her, she felt warm. She hadn't felt warm like that for such a long time. Was it really that selfish of her to want it, even for just for a moment, if he was okay with the idea? Was it really that selfish to want him?

She let out a low growl of frustration, thumping her palms against the mattress as though that would help. God, she didn't even know why she was thinking about it. It was never going to happen. She'd never seduced anyone in her goddamned life. Up to now, any sexual experiences she'd had had definitely been of the sweaty, fumbling kind. Teenage rebellion and access to teenage boys - not a good mix.

But she'd had no intention of waiting around patiently for the legendary Kyle Reese, supposed love-of-her-life, to come along and deflower her, not when she'd have him for less than forty-eight hours because then the fucker would die, leaving her to raise their kid on her own.

She just hadn't figured on Kyle Reese actually being worth waiting for.

This time the sound she let out was less a growl and more a groan as she rolled over and buried her face in the pillow.

Fuck. Her. Life. Now what the hell was she supposed to do?

Not mope like a goddamned teenager was what, even if technically she'd only just stopped being one. Pops hadn't raised her to wallow, no matter how tempting it was, and so she sighed, rolling onto her back again and pushing her damp hair out of her face. It was going to dry a tangled mess because of course she hadn't remembered to get a comb.

Adequate planning is essential to the success of any mission, Sarah Connor. The mantra of her goddamned childhood. She could almost picture Pops' face as he said it, the subtle disappointment in it that she was never quite certain was actually there and not just a projection at her end.

"Adequate planning, my ass," she muttered, glaring moodily at the bathroom door as she pushed herself back onto her feet. It stayed resolutely shut, and she could hear the shower still hissing behind it as Kyle used what she'd left of the hot water. In the meantime, there were things to do, like rinse out her clothes in the small kitchen sink before Kyle could use all of the hot water.

She'd rinsed out her t-shirt and pants and had hung them over the heater by the time Kyle finally emerged from the bathroom, bare-chested and with his pants hanging low on his hips. His skin was still damp, a little rivulet of water running down his neck from his wet hair; he wiped it away absently, his eyes automatically seeking her out.

When he spotted her, he smiled, loose-limbed and more relaxed than she'd ever seen him. The sight of it hit her right in the chest, a momentary breathlessness as her heart skipped a beat.

"Hey," he said, and she found a smile from somewhere, dragged it up from her stunned depths. "Gotta say, that beats the hell out of washing in a bucket of cold water."

She found her voice, finally, and it figured that she'd use it for something inane. "You've never had a hot shower before?" she asked numbly.

Kyle shook his head, his smile softer now as he rubbed the towel over his head, carefully avoiding the cut on his forehead and the bruise that was already starting to blossom around it. "If I'm not careful, I might get a little too used to it."

She cleared her throat, finally dragging her eyes away from the broad, pale expanse of Kyle's chest. "Well," she said a little awkwardly, "there are probably worse things you could get used to."

Kyle let out a little hum of agreement, finally abandoning his towel and heading towards the window, checking the perimeter automatically. She didn't miss the way he checked that his gun was still where she'd left it before his attention turned to the view from the window again, pulling the curtains apart carefully so that he could see and not be seen. She probably would have done that, too, in his position, but she was a little busy checking out the planes of his back, the breadth of his shoulders, and the way that the muscles curved down towards the v just above the waistband of his pants. There were scars there, too - a lot of them - and her fingers itched with the need to touch him, to soothe away those old hurts.

She swallowed heavily, suddenly a little dizzy with the possibilities.

"Sarah?"

Kyle was looking at her quizzically when she dragged her eyes back up to his face and she flushed, knowing damned well what he was going to be able to read in her expression. She held his gaze, though, chin up and meeting his eyes defiantly, refusing to look away, no matter what he saw.

His lips parted again, the look in his eyes slightly stunned; he was the one to look away, colour creeping up his neck and spreading over his chest. But he wasn't a coward - if she'd learned nothing else about Kyle Reese over the last few days, she'd learned that. He looked back almost immediately, meeting her gaze bravely.

There was a tentative kind of hope in his eyes that almost broke her, especially since she knew he wouldn't push it. He'd take whatever she gave him and be grateful for it.

No, it wasn't fair of her to want this.

She wanted it anyway.

But Pops had also raised her to be practical. And no matter what her hormones were telling her, no matter how tempting the golden expanse of Kyle's skin was, there were other priorities that she needed to see to first.

"Your turn to get checked out," she said, nodding towards the bed and keeping her hands firmly by her sides, refusing to reach for him. "Sit down."

The room was small - it only took Kyle a few steps before he was right in front of her, settling down on the edge of the bed and turning his face up towards her, so much trust in the move it almost took her breath away again. She finally reached out and touched him, trying to keep it on the right side of professional as her fingers skirted around the edges of his cut the same the way he'd examined hers, but his face was warm under her fingertips, his skin still flushed from the heat of the shower, and his eyes were wide and oddly vulnerable. It was easy to slide her fingers back and sink them into his hair, too easy. She ran them gently over his scalp under the pretence of searching for any lumps or swelling, and his head sagged forward, a soft sigh of contentment escaping him

The sound of it brought heat rushing to her face again. In spite of that, she couldn't resist curling her fingers, keeping her touch gentle as she felt the silky soft strands of his hair slide through her fingertips. If she curled her fingers a little more, scratched her nails lightly against his scalp, what kind of noises would he make?

The thought brought more heat flooding to her face, and she froze, her palm cupping the side of his head. Kyle leaned into her touch, the move so subtle that maybe he wasn't even aware he'd done it. But Sarah was aware. Sarah was really fucking aware.

Kyle's eyes had drifted shut but they fluttered open again when the moment stretched out, any plausible deniability she might have had fading away to nothing. His eyes met hers, calm and content, and she swallowed heavily.

"No bumps," she said, the words coming out low and husky. "I think you'll live."

His smile was faint, soft in a way that had her heart skipping a beat again. "Good to know."

She should step away, put some safe distance between them now that she'd done what she needed to, but instead she let her fingers drift down, smoothing them over his forehead, down the planes of his face, gently mapping the scrapes and grazes the battle with John and with Genisys had left on his skin. Her thumb stroked along Kyle's cheekbone, and Kyle's hand came up to capture hers, pressing her fingers against his skin.

She was too close, the ground treacherous beneath her feet, and she pulled away, stepping back and ignoring the soft sound of disappointment he let out. But she already knew he was smart - he didn't chase her.

"Hey," he said again, his voice was soft and warm, barely more than a breath, no louder than when he'd touched her face, said her name before John had turned up like a bad penny. "Sarah, it's okay."

It wasn't. She wasn't sure she believed in hell, not even if she'd been living in it for the last few years, but if it existed then she was headed straight there for leading Kyle on like this, giving him hope when she knew that if it suited her, she would take it away from him again in a heartbeat.

She took another step away, more to save him than herself, wrapping her arms around herself instinctively. Kyle sighed, sounding more exhausted this time than happy, but he pushed himself to his feet, his expression staying calm, steady.

She was frozen in place, unable to do anything but stand still and watch him as he drew closer. He crossed the distance between them so easily, as though it was nothing when it felt like a chasm to her. It was like he didn't care about the future or the past, or about anything that had happened or everything that could have happened, would have, maybe, in another timeline.

He didn't stop until he was only inches from her, his hand hovering near her cheek, fingers curling as though he wanted to touch her and didn't quite dare. "It's okay," he repeated, so fucking kind in spite of everything he'd been through.

"It's not," she said numbly. "I'm not -"

"Sarah..."

His palm settled against her jaw, his thumb stroking gently along her cheekbone. He had such big hands, so strong and confident. She could actually believe she was safe in them.

She shouldn't feel safe - she'd spent her life making sure she could take care of herself, and here was Kyle, able to take her apart with a touch.

"You said I could choose any life I wanted," she whispered, drawing on his courage to give her the strength to at least try and explain that it wasn't him, it wasn't his fault. It would never be his fault, just hers. "But I don't think I'm... I know I'm not ready to make that kind of choice yet. I can't -"

"Hey, hey." He cut her off, the look on his face so gentle that it told her clearly just how badly she was freaking out. "Sarah, you don't have to make any choices right now, I promise. I just... I have no idea what's going on in your head right now. Can you at least tell me that?"

The words caught in her throat, but his hand was still cupping her face, and he was so careful with her, like she was precious, like she was breakable, when she knew she'd break him first.

She raised her hand, and until her fingers wrapped around his she'd thought it was to pull his hand away.

"I want you," she said, low and fierce because sometimes offense really was the best defence, like ripping off a band aid, hurting to heal. "I just... I don't want to have to think about the future, or what that means, or whether I'll want you tomorrow or the day after. I'm tired of always thinking about the future, about what's coming. I just want one moment where all I have to think about is now."

He looked stunned for a moment, his grey eyes widening as he stared down at her, looking for something in her expression, although she had no idea what.

She met his gaze, still fierce, demanding the same from him.

His breath shuddered out of him. "Okay," he said, drawing the word out, his eyes still searching her face. "If that's what you... It doesn't have to be permanent."

"Then what would it be?"

"Just... comfort. A moment."

He said it simply, as though it was simple, as though it wasn't tying him up in knots the way it was tying her up, all tangled together until she didn't know where she ended and he began.

"And you'd be okay with that?"

The question wasn't kind - she wasn't him - but if she'd expected it to put him off, he surprised her.

But then, he was always surprising her. You'd think she'd be used to that by now.

"Well, yeah," he said, so matter-of-factly it took her breath away. "I try not to think about the future too much. You can't. What's the point when you don't know if you'll have one? So... you think about the now. You don't think about what it means. The next day, the next mission, that's as far as it goes. You play the hand you're dealt. That's all you can do or you'll go crazy."

She wanted to believe him, she really did. She wanted to believe that she could have tonight, touch him and let him touch her, hold onto him for as long as she needed to and then walk away, unscathed, and in the morning there'd be no regrets, no tension between them.

But when had either of them walked away from anything unscathed? She hadn't needed to see Kyle's scars, or remember every single one of hers, to figure that one out.

Maybe the point wasn't walking away undamaged. Maybe the point was simply putting one foot in front of another for as long as you could.

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. Make or break time.

She broke.

Kyle's face was rough under her palms, his stubble scratching against her skin as she pulled his head down for a kiss. His lips were dry and chapped, and he smelled of the same cheap body wash she'd used, harsh and a little chemical. But his mouth was warm and wet, tasting of mint and exhaustion, mirroring her own.

At first he seemed content to let her take the lead, only leaning into her when her impatient hands tugged him closer. She cupped his face, the back of his neck, her fingers constantly moving over his skin as she rose up onto her tiptoes to reach. His hands curled gently around her biceps and stayed there, his fingers pressed sweetly against her skin, almost too sweet to bear.

She deepened the kiss, making it more aggressive as she nipped at his lower lip, stopping just short of biting. His mouth stayed soft and pliable, moving slowly under hers, but when she teased his lips apart, flicking her tongue into his mouth, he finally got with the programme, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her body tightly against his as his kisses finally grew as fierce and greedy as hers.

She grew dizzy with the feel and taste of him. He was so big, so broad that she felt surrounded, but it didn't leave her feeling trapped, no urge to run, not yet. Not when Kyle would let her go in a heartbeat if she wanted.

She didn't. What she wanted was more of him.

She finally dragged her mouth away from his, leaning into him and trying to catch her breath as he lowered his head to press his forehead against hers. His skin was warm where she touched him, his chest rising and falling under her hands, and his heart was racing.

If she wasn't careful, she could get a little too used to this.

She buried the thought under more kisses, more touches, her hands impatient and demanding as they moved over his body. Kyle echoed her until there was nothing but urgency between them, hot and heavy where it caught in the back of her throat.

Her towel had loosened; it was held up now more by the press of his body against hers than the knot she'd carefully tucked into it. It didn't take much to step away from him, or to bring her hands up to untuck the last part where it was still wrapped around her, and let it drop to the floor.

Kyle held her eyes for a long moment, at least a breath or two, before he finally let his gaze travel down over her body. He took his time, but it didn't make her feel cheap, not when the expression on his face was stunned, maybe even a little awed. It stopped just short of reverent, even when his gaze returned to her face and he met her eyes again, the look his eyes a little too serious for her treacherous heart.

She reached up and traced the shape of his lower lip, keeping her touch so light that her fingers barely brushed his skin. The tension in his mouth eased away, the seriousness fading from his grey eyes to be replaced with more familiar warmth. His lips parted, but she didn't want to hear it, whatever he was going to say. She didn't want to hear the affection in his voice, or her name on his lips. Not now, when all of her edges were ragged and broken, just waiting to catch and cut the unwary.

It was easier to step closer to him again, to rise up onto tiptoes and press her mouth back against his, stopping his words. It was less easy to bury the feeling in her chest, the fluttering that felt like the beating wings of a tiny, frantic bird, but she focused on unfastening his pants, on pushing the fabric down over his hips, only letting him move far enough away to step out of them.

He was naked underneath, and she took her turn to look her fill.

She could see his scars clearly now, from the thick rope of one scar twisting over his hip to the marks on his chest, his shoulders, his back. She traced them all with her fingers, the knife wounds and the bullet holes, the burn marks scattered over his shoulders and down his arms, the star shape of another large scar spreading like a punch across the skin near his spine.

The scars were ugly, but Kyle wasn't.

She let him see that, see the way she saw him, how she saw all of that strength, all of that pain, and wanted him anyway. Her fingers curled around his hip, tracing the path of that thick scar with her thumb and then tugging him closer to her as she held his gaze.

His lips parted again, but he stopped himself from speaking this time. He simply lifted his fingers and let them settle against her skin, meeting her eyes, the look in his growing serious again.

His fingers were shaking slightly as he traced her scars the way she'd mapped his, his gaze torn between holding her gaze and watching his fingers move. She had fewer scars than he did, but he took his time with each one, his fingers staying gentle even if they weren't always steady.

He traced them all: the one on her neck where the T-1000 had gotten a little too close when she was thirteen; the one on her collarbone where the hot ricochet of a bullet casing had burned; the one on her arm from when a homemade pipe bomb had exploded sooner and closer than planned. He avoided the bandage on her chest, where John's touch would leave another scar, and his fingers skirted around her most recent scrapes and bruises, but she was still shaking by the time he stopped, undone by his gentleness.

Kyle's gaze darted up again to meet her eyes as he swallowed, his fingers still resting against her skin, still trembling.

Maybe he needed permission, some sign that she was okay with this, or maybe his pulse was racing too, at a tempo to match hers; if her fingers weren't shaking as much as his, it was only because there was a weight to the air that was holding her still.

She reached up, wrapping her fingers around the back of his hand, gently pressing his palm flat against her skin, over her breast.

He let out a huff of breath, a kind of nervousness in the sound that she hadn't expected. But he brought his other hand up without any prompting from her, his thumbs skating lightly over her skin, leaving goose bumps in their wake.

She leaned into him encouragingly and his touch grew bolder, his fingers now exploring the curves of her body instead of her scars. It should have been weird and awkward - she'd gotten to third base before now, of course she had, and it was always a little weird and awkward - but Kyle kept his touch light, the look on his face engrossed, as though she was one of the most fascinating things he'd ever seen.

Maybe she was. Maybe women of the future grew a third nipple or something thanks to the fallout. Or maybe, with Terminators hunting them, sex was a furtive, hurried thing in the tunnels, not something to be savoured.

Kyle's hand dipped lower, his fingers tracing along her waistline, over the red marks left by her underwear, still pressed into her skin even after a shower. She shifted closer to him, turning her face up for a kiss, deepening it when he leaned down obligingly just to feel the way that the breath stuttered out of him, the way that his fingers curled helplessly against her skin, hard enough to scratch that itch.

"I like that," she murmured against his lips, her hands already moving up his arms, around his shoulders, loving the solidity of them, the sense of barely contained strength. "You touching me like that. I like it, Kyle. Do it again."

His hand slipped around to the small of her back, and he jerked her hard against him, his grip on her tightening when she traced his lips with her tongue, a subtle pressure to ease his mouth open.

He let out a sound, something lost and a little hungry, when she slipped her tongue past his teeth again, teasing his with little flicks and touches. It made her hungry in turn, and she pressed her body against his, her hands sliding down his back to squeeze his ass.

He jumped, breaking off the kiss to let out a laugh, something breathless and joyous. It had her smiling back at him, hers sharp enough to show her teeth, and his gaze settled on her mouth, the amusement fading from his expression as something deeper and richer took its place, something that shone in his eyes and curled his lip up.

An answering thrum ran through her, and she slid her hand down his arm to his hand, sliding her fingers through his and tugging him towards the bed.

Kyle settled over her, his eyes once again travelling them length of her body before they returned to her face, his expression turning serious again. Serious, but still with that edge of vulnerability, barely hidden below the surface.

The weight of that look settled uncomfortably in her chest, and she reached for him again, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down for another kiss, and another, not stopping until each one was fierce and heated. This time his hands didn't need any prompting to find her breasts again, and when she finally let him go, he pushed himself up a little, watching as his fingers gently stroked over her skin, his expression a study in concentration.

It was more than a little hot, and she arched up into his touch, covering his hands with hers and encouraging him to squeeze a little more firmly, finding just the right touch that did it for her. His thumbs found her nipples, stroking over them, and they hardened at his touch. That caught his attention; he flicked his thumbs across them until they peaked, pinching them gently and rolling them between his fingertips just to hear her gasp his name.

She tangled her fingers in his hair, guiding him down until his lips settled against her skin. He went happily, pressing kisses along her collarbone, down between her breasts as his fingers stroked along her side. The calluses on his fingertips were rough against her skin, the friction sending shivers through her.

When his mouth finally found one peaked nipple, she couldn't hold back on her cry, her heels digging into the bed as her back arched again, wanting more, wanting him. He sucked harder, and her toes curled, her fingers coming up automatically to squeeze her other breast, the one he was neglecting.

Kyle paused for a moment to watch her. She could hear his breath catch in his throat and slowed her fingers, teasing him as much as herself. He swallowed heavily, his fingers stilling on her skin, and the fascination in his gaze almost undid her.

"Kyle."

He tore his eyes away from her fingers, looking up at her, his mouth wet and his eyes wide and dazed. She bit at her lips, sliding her fingers through his hair and guiding his mouth back to her skin.

He kissed his way along the curve of her breast, his tongue darting out to taste the salt of her sweat, and she sighed, arching up into him. Her fingers were still buried in his hair, and she tightened her grip, tugging at the soft strands, as his mouth moved lower.

He reached the taut muscles of her belly and paused, his breath ghosting over her skin, his fingers sliding around her thighs. She took it as a hint, sliding her legs apart and tilting her hips, an open invitation.

Kyle hesitated for a moment, breathing in the scent of her, his thumbs parting her folds, sliding through the wetness he found there.

The first touch of his tongue was tentative, flicking over her opening, but it came back with more pressure behind it, small licks of his tongue along her labia before he pushed his tongue inside of her. He repeated the move and she groaned, her hand fisted in his hair, trying to nudge him where she wanted him.

He was avoiding her clit and she couldn't take it any more, sliding her fingers down to press against it, matching the rhythm of his tongue as it flicked in and out of her.

He moved his mouth up, his tongue now licking at her fingers, mimicking their movement and pressing against her clit, circling it and teasing it just the way she liked. She pulled her hand away from his mouth, tangling her fingers in the sheets above her head instead as she arched into him, her hips rocking mindlessly as she sought more of that friction.

It wasn't enough.

"Kyle." He dragged his mouth away from her long enough to meet her eyes. "I want..." She could feel the heat rising to her face again, but she kept her eyes fixed on him, taking courage from the wetness on his chin, the redness of his mouth, the way he was looking at her, lost and more than a little debauched. "I want your fingers. In me," she elaborated when he pressed two of them against her clit, beginning to move them in small circles.

His hand moved lower, his middle finger circling around her entrance, testing her readiness before sinking it slowly into her.

She closed her eyes, swallowing another moan as she focused on the feel of him. He had big fingers, as broad and solid as the rest of him, and even one finger was enough to send shivers of pleasure through her, leaving her heavy with anticipation as each knuckle stretched her wider. His palm curved against her, cupping her sex as he slowly pulled his finger out then pushed it back in again.

She opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling, her hand still buried in Kyle's hair and her breath catching in her throat.

When she looked down Kyle was watching her, his eyes once again darting between her face and her cunt. He caught her gaze and held it for a moment, a fierce kind of hunger in his eyes as he pushed two fingers into her this time.

The stretch burned a little, and she groaned, biting at her lip as heat surged through her. But Kyle hadn't finished; he lowered his head, his tongue now flicking at her clit, still mimicking the actions she'd shown him as his fingers twisted inside her, pumping slowly in and out.

Sarah's toes curled, her fingers flexing helplessly, torn between pulling him closer and pushing him away. Kyle hadn't yet managed to find the right rhythm to make her come, but there was something about the way that he kept pausing, pulling his head away just long enough to watch his fingers work on her, a look of intense fascination on his face, that was hotter than hell. That look alone might take her over the edge.

Maybe. Or maybe not. She was close; she just wasn't close enough, just enough to scratch that itch, not to silence it.

She sank her fingers back into his hair, tugging on it lightly to get him to look up at her. When he did, she dragged her thumb over his mouth and chin, wiping her slickness from his face.

"Up here," she said, not missing the hoarseness of her voice or the way that Kyle's eyes grew darker when he heard it. "Come up here and fuck me."

Oh yeah, that did it for him, if the catch in his breath was any indication. He pushed himself up onto his knees, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, and she let her gaze trail over his body, down over the smooth planes and taut lines of his chest and stomach, and then further, down to the dark hair that grew thickly around his dick.

He was hard, the tip of his dick already wet with pre-come, and she'd done that, the taste of her, the press of her pussy against his mouth enough to bring him to that point, no touch from her required. There was something heady in that idea, something about it that left her feeling powerful and strong.

She pushed herself up until she was sitting, reaching for his neck and dragging him down for another kiss, this one wet and open as his fingers found the curve of her shoulder, pulling her closer. He no longer tasted of toothpaste - he tasted of her, and she deepened the kiss, chasing the last of that taste.

His eyes were closed when she pulled back, his expression a little dazed, and she swallowed back a smile, turning away so that he wouldn't see it as she reached under the pillow for the condom packet she'd secreted there.

She handed him one of the small foil-wrapped packets, and he stared at it blankly for a moment before his eyes darted back to her face, a small frown wrinkling the skin between his eyes.

There was something about his hesitation, something that when she added it to the way he touched her, the way he kissed her so sweetly, had her putting two and two together and maybe getting close to four. For a moment she hesitated, torn as she watched Kyle clear his throat, his fingers fumbling with the wrapper, trying to wrap her head around the idea that was slowly solidifying. But in the end, even if she was right about his level of experience, even if she was about to take Kyle Reese's virginity - or at least be pretty close behind the first person past the finishing line - he was an adult, perfectly capable of making his own decisions.

She wasn't the only one who got to make a choice, and she didn't get to make this one for him.

Whatever experience he did have, however, it didn't seem like condoms had featured in it.

She finally took pity on him, reaching up to cup his face in her palm, pulling him in for another kiss. She kept it simple, just the right side of hot, and Kyle relaxed into her, as much as he ever did.

It was enough for her to ease the condom from his grasp, and he let it go without a fight.

"Here," she said quietly, placing her hand in the middle of his chest and exerting a gentle pressure until he shifted, lying back on the bed and looking up at her. "Let me do it."

She took a moment to take him in, the way he was stretched out in front of her, all solid, broad lines, the breadth of his chest, the width of his arms. There was a kind of coiled power in him, and it just did things to her, made her want him even more, which was really weird. Up until now she'd always gone for a different type, the Elton Johns, the David Bowies. The skinny boys with sculpted hair. She'd never have put Kyle down as her type if she'd just seen him in the street, and yet...

He had the sweetest smile and the kindest eyes, and he was going to ruin her.

She was staring at him, and from the slow tide of red that was creeping up Kyle's chest and into his cheeks she figured she was being obvious about it. He didn't look creeped out though, just a little embarrassed and maybe even a little pleased by the way he ducked his head and by the small smile that was playing around the edges of his mouth.

God, he was just addictive. She couldn't resist reaching out and touching him, letting her fingers glide over his body, taking her time about it because...

She didn't want to think about that, about what loomed in their future, or didn't. Not when his skin was warm under her palm, a study in contrasts: smooth and too shiny where the skin had been burned, rough and ragged around the scar left by a blade or a bullet. Her fingers drifted lower, across the tense planes of his stomach, his muscles twitching under her fingertips, then down until she reached the coarse hairs that grew around his dick.

She let her fingers sink into them, tugging the hairs lightly the way she'd tugged the hairs on his head, and Kyle let out a gasp, quickly bitten off as his teeth pressed into his lower lip. She took a deep breath, a sharp spike of arousal running through her at the sound, covering it by wrapping her fingers around his dick and slowly sliding them along his length.

Kyle's eyes drifted shut, a small shudder running through him when she tightened her grip.

His dick was fascinating. She'd never been with someone uncircumcised before, never seen a dick like that up close and personal, but she guessed it made sense. There were probably more important things to think about post a nuclear-apocalypse than cutting off your kid's foreskin.

She let her thumb stroke over the head of his dick, around the flared glans, awed by the way the skin moved under her fingers, how she could slide her hand down over skin that was velvet soft and vulnerable, tugging it down with her fingers, and then watch as the tip of his dick emerged. It was tempting, so tempting, and she hesitated for just a moment before she leaned in and let the tip of her tongue circle around the exposed flesh.

Kyle let out a strangled groan, his hands fisting in the sheets. It was gratifying when she suspected she wasn't actually that great at it - her few attempts at blow jobs up until now had pretty much resulted in an aching jaw and a funky taste in her mouth and not much else. She'd always given up before a boy had actually come, and she hadn't exactly regretted not having to make the spit or swallow decision.

But the sounds that Kyle was letting out as she let her tongue explore, the way his hands kept twisting in the sheets when she took as much of him into her mouth as she could without choking? Oh, yeah. They were so worth a little ache in her jaw.

She teased him for a couple of minutes, getting him nice and worked up before she finally sat back on her heels, studying the condom that was still in her hand. She guessed that the principles were the same for uncircumcised as well as circumcised guys when it came to condom application - pinch the tip and roll it down - but she took her time about it to make sure she got it right.

It wasn't exactly a hardship. She watched as Kyle bit at his lip, his eyes squeezing shut and his fingers digging into the mattress as she continued to tease him, just with her fingers this time instead of her tongue. And then she watched as his eyes opened again, the look in them desperate as he sought her out.

He reached for her and she let him pull her down into another kiss, this one messy and uncoordinated as he buried his hands in her hair and then ran them down her back. His fingernails scratched lightly against her spine, and she arched up into the touch, shivers running through her as he pulled her closer. His body was hot where it pressed against hers, and his mouth was greedy as it moved down to her neck, lapping and nipping at the skin there before returning to claim her lips.

She could kiss him forever, something fierce in her glorying in the way he melted into her, the soft sounds he let out when she nipped at his lower lip, just as greedy, just as demanding as he was. But kissing wasn't what she needed, not when Kyle was stretched out naked beneath her. Not when his dick was hard and insistent where it pressed against her hip.

She tore her mouth away from his, his fingers slipping over her skin as she pushed herself back up onto her knees. Kyle tried to follow her up, chasing her mouth, her touch, his hands sliding down her body to settle on her hips. His fingers curled around them possessively, so hot and heavy it felt like his fingerprints would be branded into her skin, and she almost gave in, almost let him pull her down again, but...

She wanted his kisses but she wanted this more.

She pressed her palm against the middle of his chest, holding him still even though she could feel his heart beating fast and frantic underneath her touch. She met his eyes, holding his gaze as she swung her leg over his so that she was straddling him.

All of his breath seemed to go out of him, the tension between them now palpable, something as heavy, as weighty as the way his fingertips were still pressed into her hips. She reached down between them, wrapping her fingers around his dick again and letting it slide between her slick folds, teasing him, teasing them both.

When she finally guided his dick into her, she was so wet, so ready for him that he slid in easily.

Kyle let out a sound, something half-way between a gasp and a groan, sounding lost and a little broken as she sank slowly down onto him. His fingers tightened convulsively on her hips, digging in almost to the point of pain. But he didn't drag her down, didn't try to set the pace. He simply held on and let her ride him.

That did it for her. God, did that do it for her, and she stretched her body out along the length of his, dragging his head up for another kiss, her fingers fisted in his hair as she rocked her hips, letting him slide in and out of her, thick and fucking delicious.

She wasn't going to last long, not with Kyle still making those noises against her mouth, frantic, mindless little 'ahs' every time she slammed her hips down on him, burying his full length in her. His fingers were now clutching at her, moving over her ass, her hips and her back, trying to drag her closer to him with every down-stroke, helpless and greedy, not willing to let her go.

She was close, so close, her rhythm starting to falter when Kyle dug his heels into the mattress, pushing up into her as she pushed down. She held on, her fingers digging into his shoulders as his hands finally found her breasts again, thumbs stroking over her nipples, rough with need but rough in just the right way. His mouth followed his hands, pressing wet, open-mouthed kisses against her neck, the curve of her breasts, his body curling so that he could suck one taut teat into his mouth, his fingers still rolling the other between them, a delicious tugging sensation that ran all the way through her, hot and molten, tightening in her cunt.

She shuddered, pleasure pooling at the base of her spine, rolling through her low and slow, overwhelming her until she was nothing but sensation, her body jerking against his and her breath forced out of her, hot and wet gasps pressed against his skin.

Kyle's arms wrapped around her and the world spun as he lifted her, twisting them so that she landed on her back, Kyle's weight pressing her into the mattress. His dick was still in her, and he moved his hips, sliding it in more deeply, the feel of it forcing another moan out of her. The pleasure was already building again, leaving her breathless, helpless to fight it as Kyle pushed into her again, each thrust of his hips sending another surge of sensation sparking through her nerve endings.

She was going to come again, and the thought was too big, too scary, everything subsumed by it. All of the fear, all of the frustration, all of the rage and the guilt, all of it channelled into this until there was nothing else, nothing but her feet on Kyle's ass, her fingers digging into his skin, his breath hot against the side of her face, and the feel of his dick, thick and heavy within her.

Her first orgasm had rolled over her, slow pulses of pleasure, but this one surged through her, fast and fierce as it took her apart, swept her away, her whole body shuddering. She sank her nails into Kyle's back, pressing her teeth into his shoulder, muffling sounds that were closer to screams than moans against his skin. He jerked against her as she bit down, slamming himself into her hard and fast, so hard that her teeth clicked together, this time around air instead of his flesh.

She let out a sound, a please or a yes or a God, her neck arching back, her body rising to meet each of his thrusts, lost, so fucking lost she couldn't even beg.

But Kyle could, her name spilling from his lips, caught between a gasp and a sob as his hands moved up to her shoulders, holding her close, pulling her against him so that he was pressed as tightly against her as he could be and still move, as deeply in her as he could be and still let her breathe. "God, Sarah."

She dragged his head down, caught his mouth again, and Kyle kissed her back, hard and hungrily, his hand moving down her arm until he could slide his fingers through hers.

He held on, and she held back, his mouth against her cheek now, his breaths coming fast and hard against her ear. She wrapped her free arm around him, her fingers sliding across the raised marks she'd already left in the skin of his back, and held him closer, closing her eyes as she felt the shivers running through him, the way the rhythm he'd found faltered the closer he came to coming.

When he did, it was with a long, low sigh, his whole body tensing, the movement of his hips stuttering as he emptied himself into the condom.

She opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling as his weight settled on her, his breath still panting, hot and damp against her skin, his fingers still wrapped around hers but loosening now, no longer holding on so tightly that it hurt. He was heavy, and his breath brushed against her skin, just beneath her ear, the sensation vaguely ticklish.

It should have bothered her more than it did.

His fingers were still tangled in hers, his thumb stroking absently over the back of her hand, and she echoed it, sliding her fingers over his back, up to the nape of his neck and into the hair that grew there, feeling him settle more firmly against her, turning his face into her neck.

She could have stayed there forever, and may well have done so if Kyle hadn't finally decided to roll off her, settling down on the bed beside her. She stole a glance at him, feeling a little smug when she caught sight of his expression, which could only be described as stunned as he stared up at the ceiling. He looked... well, he looked well-fucked if she was honest. Well-fucked and still reeling.

Oh, yeah. She'd done that.

She held back the grin that wanted to force itself onto her face, but she needn't have bothered. Kyle's body started to shake, and when she glanced back towards, him, more concerned this time than smugly pleased, he was laughing silently, a kind of joy in it that took her breath away for a moment.

He caught her eye, and the grin he gave her was blinding, a bright, delighted chuckle rolling out of him as he went back to staring at the ceiling. She watched him for a moment, until the crick in her neck got too much. Watched him and wondered if what he'd told her about John held true for him, too. Had John Connor been the only person in the world who had ever seen Kyle smile?

Well, now she had, too, and there was a kind of pride in that, in knowing that for a moment she'd made him happy.

She just wished she could guarantee that she could also make it last.

It couldn't, of course. It wasn't long before his laughter tapered off and Sarah found that her smile faded at the same time.

Kyle rubbed at his eyes, which were growing heavy. He stretched, and she had to tear her eyes away from the long, muscled lines of his body, the blood rising to her face again in spite of what that body had just done to her. She watched instead as he scratched idly at his chest, his hand finally moving down to deal with the condom.

He caught her eye and flushed a little, averting his gaze and clearing his throat. "I'd better..." he said before trailing off, the muscle above his eye twitching slightly as though he'd tried to frown and then stopped himself.

Sarah nodded, not trusting herself to speak, not when Kyle's sweat was still drying on her skin, and her mouth was still red from his kisses. She didn't watch as he pushed himself up and headed to the bathroom, not at first, and he didn't look back to catch her out when she finally did.

The door closed quietly behind him, leaving her staring up at the ceiling again and wondering what the hell she'd done. Her good mood was evaporating, and that wasn't Kyle's fault. No, she had no one to blame but herself. But there was no point in borrowing trouble, not when trouble was pretty much guaranteed to find her anyway.

She sighed, running her fingers through her hair and trying to untangle it, once again regretting her lack of a comb. God knew, she wasn't vain - difficult to care about that kind of thing when you were raised by a Terminator - but she knew enough to blend in, and right now she knew she looked a mess. She snorted to herself. She probably looked as well fucked as Kyle, so definitely a mess.

And speak of the devil; Kyle emerged from the bathroom, looking a little sheepish.

He was also looking a little uncertain, if she was honest, and she probably wasn't helping matters, not when she was just sitting there, scowling at the wall as she dragged her fingers through her hair, trying to get it into some semblance of order. But Kyle managed to find a slight smile to give her, one that was a little ragged around the edges.

His eyes were anxious when she looked past the veneer of calm he'd pasted on, something defenceless in their depths. It made her heart twist painfully, back to that old cycle of guilt and want, with only the fear to leaven it.

So Sarah did what Pops had trained her to do whenever she felt threatened. She ran.

"I need to piss," she said, wincing internally and cursing her lack of anything approaching smoothness. "Won't be long."

That was a lie, but if Kyle saw through it, he didn't call her out on it. Of course he didn't, not when he'd had plenty of experience in knowing which battles he could win and which ones he didn't have a chance in hell of coming through unscathed.

So he simply moved aside and let her past.

-o-

She'd always been good at hiding, and she managed to hide long enough this time that Kyle was asleep when she finally emerged from the bathroom. She stood and watched him for a moment from the doorway, not sure whether she was relieved or not.

He was curled up on his side, his hands next to his face and his chest rising and falling evenly. He looked a lot younger now he was asleep, with his hair tousled and his eyelashes dark against his skin. Maybe even close to what she thought might be his actual age. Math might not be her strong point - or at least, not the kind of math that Pops had tried to drive into her head - but she was perfectly capable of taking two thousand and four from two thousand and twenty nine and coming up with an age that wasn't that far from her own.

The first time she'd set eyes on him, she'd thought he had at least a decade on her. She guessed the future was hard in more ways than one, and he'd been exhausted and hurt and scared, although she hadn't realised that at the time. Now, with some of that exhaustion fading from his face, she could maybe buy that he was twenty-four, twenty-five.

Maybe.

He hadn't managed to pull the covers over himself, either because the room was warmer now or - more likely - he'd meant to stay awake long enough to talk to her and failed, exhaustion taking him down when Terminators had failed. It only added to that air of vulnerability, the image of an exhausted young soldier finally losing the fight to his body's need for rest. She had no idea when he'd last slept, but she knew he definitely hadn't slept since she'd dragged his ass out of the way of the T-1000. Neither of them had. And if Pops' version of the future had been right, then he'd been kind of busy saving the world before that, coming straight from one battle to another, this one the fight to keep her alive.

It showed. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and a bruise blossoming on his jawline, under the stubble. It made her heart clench again, a sudden wave of tenderness surging through her that she didn't know how to fight and, worse, wasn't sure she wanted to.

His gun was still on the bedside table, well within his reach. She didn't think that was just a coincidence; even now, protecting her seemed to be his first priority, but he didn't stir when she padded around the bed to retrieve it, maybe because she wasn't registering as a threat to his subconscious.

Which was probably his first mistake.

That wasn't fair. She knew that wasn't fair, to either of them. After all, it was only his heart she'd break, not his body. Even if he was used to his body being broken.

She reached out, hardly aware that she was doing so until her fingers were close enough to feel the warmth rising from his skin. Kyle sighed, something low, almost pained, and she pulled them back abruptly, curling them against her chest.

He settled again, although his brow was creased. Whatever he was dreaming about, it didn't seem pleasant, and again that unwelcome wave of tenderness surged through her.

She reached out again, the move tentative as she tugged the covers over him, trying not to startle him into full wakefulness, not when he needed sleep so desperately. He stirred again but settled quickly, and she left him to it. No matter how much she might wish it, she wasn't going to be able to make his dreams any better, and she knew from her own experience that even restless sleep was better than none. It would be crueller to wake him than let him sleep on, whether he was having bad dreams or not.

Besides, she needed time to think, time without Kyle's body wrapped around hers to give her some perspective.

She also needed to put some clothes on; there was something uncomfortably vulnerable about sitting by the window naked, keeping watch through the curtains, and even the gun in her hands didn't make her feel better about it. But when she checked her panties they were still damp, as was her t-shirt, and anyway, putting pants on without underwear underneath just seemed a little gross.

She settled on pulling Kyle's t-shirt over her head instead. He was tall enough that it came close to decent on her, even without panties on underneath, and he'd been wearing his jacket on over the top, which meant his t-shirt had escaped most of Cyberdyne's dust.

And it smelled like him. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, that was a plus.

Kyle didn't even twitch when she walked around the bed again, opening the curtains just wide enough to see out. It was full light out now, and people were starting to move about; she could hear a car door slam, voices raised as a family yelled at each other to get a move on, Dwayne, don't you know how goddamned far we still have to go?

Not as far as she and Kyle had come. That was certain.

Her stomach was startling to grumble, the hunger that adrenaline and fear had held at bay returning with a vengeance now that she had time to think about it; she grabbed a box of candy and pack of Cheetos, because at least eating gave her something to do with her hands, something other than smoothing down Kyle's hair or tracing the shape of his eyebrows. And then she settled down in the arm chair by the window, placing the gun in her lap as she began her watch.

She owed Kyle that much, at least: a few hours' sleep, and a steady gun to watch his back.

Kyle slept on, twitching a little every now and then as whatever demons that had chased him in the future now chased him in his dreams. And if Sarah's gaze occasionally drifted from watching the perimeter to watching Kyle instead, well.

There was no one around to see.

-o-

It was long past noon by Sarah's reckoning when Kyle finally snapped awake, reaching for his gun automatically, his eyes darting frantically around the room when his hand came up empty. His gaze finally settled on her and some of the tension ebbed from him, his breathing starting to even out.

"Bad dream?" she asked him neutrally, not quite sure what tone she should be aiming for given the whole 'I'll fuck you but I'll be fucked if I'll commit' vibe they had going on. Or that she did, anyway. She couldn't believe that Kyle wasn't the commitment type, given that he'd travelled back through time for her. She was just trying not to think about it too much because thinking about it set that rabbit racing in her chest, the one that ran so fast it left her breathless.

Kyle blinked at her for a moment, obviously weighing up what to say. He finally settled on nothing, shrugging his shoulders and pushing himself upright.

He was still naked under the sheet, and Sarah kept her eyes firmly fixed on his face as the sheet in question pooled around his lap, no sneaky peeks no matter how much her eyes wanted to stray. She could be fair about that, at least, if she couldn't be fair about anything else.

"Any word from Pops?"

"No." She kept it brief, casting another look out to the parking lot through the gap in the curtains. "He said he wouldn't be back before it was dark, so I'm not expecting him for a while yet. And it's been quiet," she added, just knowing somehow that that would be the next question out of Kyle's mouth, probably because it would have been the next question out of hers.

Kyle nodded, rubbing his hand over his chin and then scratching at his cheek. The side of his face was creased red where he'd been sleeping on it, and his hair was sticking up, the kind of dishevelment that only grew worse when he ran that same hand up through it. It made him look oddly vulnerable, still looking more like the twenty-something he was than a hardened soldier.

It made her feel oddly vulnerable as well, and she turned away from him, staring back through the curtains and ignoring the prickling in the back of her neck that told her he was watching her.

He cleared his throat, and she felt herself tense, the move involuntary but - from what she'd seen of Kyle's observational skills so far - far from unnoticed. But whatever he'd intended to say, he limited himself to a mild, "Do you want me to take watch?"

Some stupid sense of pride almost made her refuse his offer, the automatic need to insist she could take care of herself, damn it, rising to the surface in spite of her exhaustion, which was beginning to drag at her heels, and at her mood. But even as the words started to form on her tongue, she could hear Pops' voice in her head commenting on her 'immature response' and telling her she was 'being emotional'.

No shit.

She bit her tongue and managed to keep her bristling down to a minimum, limiting herself to a terse, "Sure." It seemed way too snide and unpleasant once it was out there, hanging in the air between them, and she pulled on her big girl pants, swallowed and adding a slightly less terse, "Thanks."

No matter how crappy and uncertain she felt at the moment, due to tiredness or simply her contrary nature, Kyle sure as hell didn't deserve to be on the receiving end of her bullshit.

Okay, maybe there was a little guilt in the mix, too.

If Kyle took offense at her tone, he didn't let it show. But he stayed quiet as he threw back the covers, the kind of quiet that spoke volumes - or maybe that was just her paranoia talking, reading way too much into Kyle's mood when her reading had more to do with where her head was at than Kyle's. She bit at her lip again, and then turned her head, an awkward apology already forming in her head.

But her head was where it stayed; Kyle was standing up and stretching now, his back to her. It gave her a perfect view of his ass, and an even better one of his scars.

It was the latter that had her turning her head back towards the window, her cheeks burning, something like shame catching in her throat and something else settling tightly in her chest.

No. Kyle didn't deserve her crap, not with everything else he'd been through.

"Is that my shirt you're wearing?"

She dragged her eyes back to Kyle, who was buttoning up his pants up, his expression curious as he looked her up and down.

She shrugged a little self-consciously, trying not to squirm under his frank gaze. "Mine wasn't dry." It came out a little defensive, and she tried to soften it, adding, "But it should be now, so you can have yours back if you want."

Except for the small fact that she was still naked underneath. Oh, great. In spite of everything - including the fact that his face had been buried between her naked thighs just hours before - the idea of being naked in front of him now was really fucking awkward.

"No, it's fine." Kyle's smile was soft, sweet and a little shy. "It looks good on you."

Make that really, really fucking awkward. Kyle seemed to realise that at the same time, ducking his head in a way that was growing familiar as colour rose to his cheeks. He cleared his throat again, staring at the floor for a moment before he straightened up, the expression on his face sliding back into a professional mask.

"You should get some sleep," he said quietly, taking the few steps needed to cross the room towards her, his hand outstretched for his gun. When she handed it to him, his fingers didn't linger, but that might have been because she pulled her hand away before they could.

If Kyle was upset by that, he still didn't let it show, giving her another one of those smiles of his, the ones that were way too sweet for someone who'd lived the life he had. And if it was a little strained around the edges, she tried not to see it. She tried really fucking hard even as her heart was sinking in her chest, dragged down by fear and guilt.

"I'll wake you when Pops gets here."

She nodded mutely, heading towards the bed, relieved at the reprieve and unbelievably weary, like the events of the last couple of days had just come crashing down on her, all at once. Her knees seemed to buckle under the weight of it, and before she knew it, she was curled up on her side, unconsciously mimicking Kyle's position but too tired, once she realised, to move.

The sheets were cheap and a little threadbare, but they felt like Egyptian cotton to her tired body, and the mattress was still warm where Kyle had been lying. She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the way that the scent of him lingered on the sheets, trying not to breathe him in and failing. Once she stopped fighting it, it felt weirdly familiar, almost comforting.

It also made the back of her throat tight and her eyes prickle, and she blinked rapidly, willing that weakness away.

Kyle had finally settled where she had been sitting, leaning forward to peer into the world outside, the gun held in his hand with the kind of relaxed but purposeful grip that told her he was alert, ready to protect her, to protect them both. Her eyes tracked the curve of his spine, taking in the strength of it, the way his shoulders shifted when he turned his head to canvas the parking lot and the rooms opposite. Her gaze lingered for a moment on his scars, pale and raised in the sunlight coming through the thin curtains, and the scratches she'd left carved into his skin.

He'd survived everything life had thrown at him up until now, in spite of the odds, and she took comfort in that.

He'd probably survive her, too.

-o-

She came back to consciousness slowly at first, dragged there by something insistent, something demanding that she pay attention to it as it scratched at the edges of her mind.

It was dark. That was her first impression. The room wasn't completely black - the curtains were too thin to filter all of the fluorescent light from the parking lot - but it was definitely night again. She'd obviously slept longer than she'd thought she would.

Her brain was still fuzzy, piecing together the world around her as she slowly staggered back to the surface, and then suddenly it clicked, what had woken her, and she snapped into full wakefulness, every muscle tensing, her breath held so tightly in her lungs that she couldn't make a sound.

Somewhere outside a dog was barking.

Still frozen in place, she slid her gaze slowly around the room until her eyes finally settled on Kyle, nothing more than a dim shadow against the window. She watched as he eased the curtains apart slowly, so slowly she could barely make out his fingers moving in the dim light, and then all of the tension just leached out of his body, leaving something watchful but no longer wary in its wake.

"Pops," he said succinctly, his eyes still fixed on the lot outside.

She finally let out the breath she'd been holding, and it escaped in a long, shivering sigh, leaving her shaky and light-headed with relief. Maybe one day she'd be able to hear a dog barking without instantly going into fight or flight mode, but today wasn't that day. It was hard to shake the thought that the day she did learn would be the last day she'd ever have on earth.

"Is he okay?" she asked, not even thinking the question through until she caught sight of Kyle's slightly incredulous look. And then she scowled, kicking off the covers and swinging her legs off the bed.

She was still only wearing Kyle's shirt, and the idea of Pops walking in on her like that - walking in on the both of them, because even Pops wasn't going to be able to miss the unspoken tension in the room - was enough to put some pep in her step as she hurried towards the heaters, gathering her clothing and pulling it on as fast as she could. The last thing she needed at this point was Pops' pointed questions about whether she and Kyle Reese had finally mated.

Oh, god. Just the thought of it, of Kyle's reaction to it, was enough to curdle her stomach, the whole bag of Cheetos she'd stuffed in her face while Kyle had slept threatening to make a repeat appearance.

She kept her back turned as she tugged Kyle's shirt over her head. It smelled like her now, which would have been fine if it hadn't also still smelled like him. It left her only too aware that Kyle's sweat and scent probably still lingered on her skin, and the sense memory of the imprint of his fingertips on her hips and thighs was so strong that she was left feeling like they'd been branded into her.

God, she'd been stupid and selfish. She could almost taste Kyle on her lips, and her mouth felt swollen from his kisses, from the roughness of his stubble. She couldn't block out the memories, not entirely, even when she tried to ignore them - the sounds he'd made, the way he'd looked at her, the way he'd felt inside her. They just wouldn't quit, rising up until she felt like she was drowning in them.

She tossed his shirt back at him, hard enough and carelessly enough for his expression to grow wary again, but he stayed silent, the survival instinct that had kept him alive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland serving him well now.

No, she wasn't being fair. Wasn't being fair at all.

There was a sharp knock as she finally fastened her pants, and she left Kyle to answer it, even though he was still tugging down the hem of his shirt as he opened the door.

If Pops thought there was anything odd about the fact that both of them were still without their shoes, or looking a little dishevelled, he kept any comments firmly to himself, and for once she was grateful for his silence.

It beat the alternative. Oh, god, did it beat the alternative.

"Are you ready to leave, Sarah Connor?"

She nodded, focusing on pulling on her boots and trusting Pops to take from that whatever he needed to because she wasn't sure that she trusted her voice.

"Kyle Reese?"

"Yeah, fine." Kyle's voice was a little toneless, and he kept his head down as he pulled on his own boots. She didn't know whether to take the fact that he didn't once glance in her direction as something pointed or just a sign that she really needed to get a grip, and try to get some perspective at the same time.

Pops was still waiting patiently as she smoothed down her hair, clearing her throat a little uncomfortably as she waited for Kyle to finish getting dressed. She needed something to focus on, something other than Kyle's silence, and Pops was right there.

"Everything go okay?"

Pops turned his head, looking at her gravely. Which was pretty much his default expression.

"I was able to position myself in front of several surveillance cameras. By now Kyle Reese's face should have attracted attention if the authorities are still seeking you both."

Kyle caught the discrepancy first, lifting his head like a dog catching a scent. "If?"

Pops paused, his eyes doing that thing that meant his processors were working through their options. "I have scanned several media outlets, and the police channels I am able to access without directly interfacing with their systems. The preliminary public explanation is that the explosion at Cyberdyne originated within the quantum field generator."

"They're... saying that it's an accident?"

She couldn't quite keep the disbelief out of her voice, and Pops turned his head back towards her again, tilting it slightly in a way that told her she was the complete focus of his attention.

"Publicly, yes. That does not mean that they do not still believe that we were ultimately responsible, nor does it mean that they are not seeking us."

"But?"

He paused again for a moment, and she was starting to wonder whether his upgrade had really seemed as seamless as she'd first thought. "I have observed that generally the authorities of this time seek the co-operation of the public, particularly when they are looking for those they believe to be criminals. This is the origin of the 'most wanted' lists they refer to on Cops. That is a reality based television show," he explained when he caught her confused look.

Okay. The thought of Pops sitting down at the end of a day in construction and watching reality TV was incredibly bizarre. Like, whole new world bizarre.

Did he pop open a beer at the end of the day, too?

"So... Why aren't they looking for us? I mean, we're pretty much responsible for John shooting a load of cops, not to mention that we stole a police helicopter. They should be tearing the place apart looking for us. Why aren't they?"

"I do not know, Kyle Reese. I was able to destroy the surveillance footage at the hospital prior to intercepting you and John Connor, but I was not able to take similar steps within the police station. They may have therefore accessed surveillance footage that showed John Connor in both his human and altered states. Theoretically."

Kyle's face twisted a little at the word, but he kept silent, at least for now. His expression grew thoughtful though, maybe even a little sad, but for once Sarah didn't feel responsible for that.

Not really.

"Whatever the reason they're not looking for us, not yet..." She caught Pops' look and added, "Not publicly at least, does it mean we can get the hell out of this place? There's still something we need to do to make sure that... stuff happens."

This time her face twisted as she tried - and failed - to come up with the right words to explain what the hell she meant. No matter what Pops had said back in 1984, alternate timelines were a long way from being simple.

"I estimate it will take us several hours to reach Kyle Reese's family home," Pops helpfully explained. "Although I will need additional information to locate it."

Sarah steeled herself and looked at Kyle directly. "Think you can give Pops directions?"

Kyle still looked tired, in spite of the sleep he'd had, the bruise along his jawline starting to darken. He shrugged, not quite meeting her eyes. "I guess. I mean, I was eleven the last time I saw it, but I figured out roughly where it was later, plotted it on a map, and... I knew the area well enough when I was a kid."

Well, that was helpful. Not.

"There's no guarantee it will look the same as you remember," she pointed out, kicking herself when Kyle flinched at the words. Jesus. Way to go, Sarah. Like Kyle needed her to point out that this world was very, very different from the one he'd left behind.

"No," he said quietly. "But I'll find it anyway."

She had to take him at his word; he hadn't let her down yet and he'd more than earned a little faith from her.

"Okay," she said, keeping her voice as quiet as his, as non-confrontational as possible, because he'd earned that, too. "Guess we're heading out on a road trip then."

"Good." Pops' voice was decisive this time, no hesitation while he worked through his options. So was the way he held out a bag for her, waiting patiently until she took it from his grasp.

"What's this?" she asked. For once Pops didn't point out the illogical nature of her question given that she was already busy opening it.

"Fruit," he said, and she might be projecting again but his tone sounded pointed. "And food of adequate nutritional value."

At least Kyle thought it was funny.

-o-

Pops had never been a great conversationalist, and right now Kyle wasn't doing much in the way of talking, either, which bothered her more than it should have done. It was strange, how quickly she'd got used to having someone to talk to, someone to bounce ideas off, when she'd spent years with Pops, who'd perfected the art of silence.

Even stranger, she missed Kyle's quiet comments on the world around them, the observations that only an outsider could make. But instead, he spent most of the journey imitating Pops, whether that was deliberate or not, staring out of the window, seeing everything and saying nothing.

It was only when they grew closer to the area where he'd grown up that he finally stirred, drawing himself back to the present from wherever he'd been and guiding Pops with a few quiet directions.

They'd been driving for most of the night, taking a route that circumvented Los Angeles as much as possible, at least partially because Sarah was still doubtful that the authorities weren't searching for them with everything they had. But the radio had confirmed what Pops had already told her, or at least the stations she was able to tune into had. The news bulletins had referenced the explosion at Cyberdyne, but nothing about them, nothing that suggested that the police were looking for anyone else in connection with it. Nothing that suggested that it was anything but an accident. Even the speculation was along those lines.

She wanted to believe it, wanted to believe that her luck had changed, but...

Difficult didn't even begin to cover it.

"There," Kyle said quietly, pointing out the turning on the right. "I think..." His voice trailed off, his expression growing uncertain for a moment before his mouth firmed up, the muscles in his jaw tightening. "That's it."

Pops nodded, his eyes still firmly fixed on the road. "It will be daylight soon," he said, taking his foot off the gas and pulling the truck over. "Experience would suggest that we should wait until then. It will be less suspicious that way."

"Yeah." Kyle leaned forward, his eyes fixed on the turning, something tense in the set of his shoulders, and his expression veering between hope and dread. "Probably the best idea. They're probably still jittery after the station, and my dad's got a gun."

Sarah could see the exact moment when Kyle realised what he'd said, the minute way he flinched telling her everything she needed to know. But he didn't say anything else, and it would be both cruel and unnecessary of her to point it out.

Pops had no such compunction. "Given the significant differences between the timelines, Kyle Reese, we cannot necessarily extrapolate the actions of this reality's Kyle Reese's parents from those of your own. However, given the circumstances and my understanding of this culture's relationship to gun ownership, I believe your hypothesis may be correct." He caught both of their looks - Kyle's a little dumbfounded and Sarah's furious - and added, "It will be best to wait until morning."

Yeah, because that was what she was pissed about. She shot Pops another look, this one jaundiced and 'I can't believe you said that', but as usual it washed over him like water off a duck's back. Kyle, on the other hand, seemed happier to let it go. He simply scrunched his face up for a moment and then settled back in the seat, once again staring out of the window, lost in thought.

Sarah watched his profile out of the corner of her eye, trying not to be too obvious about it. It had to be really weird for him, coming back here to a home that would look very, very different to the one he remembered. Coming home to parents who weren't his.

Weird didn't even begin to cover it. She could think of a few more fitting adjectives. Difficult. Upsetting.

Soul destroying.

"You okay?" she asked quietly, finding that for once she was willing to talk about feelings as long as they were his.

It took a second for her words to filter through to him, and then he turned his head and blinked at her. "Yeah, just..."

"It's a bit weird?"

The corner of his mouth quirked up in a small smile, one that didn't quite reach his eyes. "That's... probably as good a descriptor as any."

It was the safest, yes.

She watched him for a moment longer as his gaze drifted towards the windshield again, wondering if he was going to tune her out completely.

Apparently not.

"It's..." he began, obviously searching for the right words, and picking the ones he did find slowly and carefully. "Some things are familiar, like the road, and the hill. But the rest..." He shrugged, a little helplessly. "We were lucky, I guess. We were far enough away from most of the major cities that Judgement Day didn't scour the land completely, and the woods to the east -" He gestured to the trees with one hand, Sarah automatically turning her head to look where he'd pointed. "They took what was left of the blast by the time it reached us." The corner of his mouth lifted up again, but there was something sour in it this time. "I say us, but it was years before I was born.

"I still remember the trees, though. How they were flattened, like, I don't know, somebody had just knocked them over, all of them pointing in the same direction."

"Like bowling pins?"

He blinked at her again, the reference obviously lost on him. "I guess."

It wasn't that difficult for Sarah to picture; she'd gone through a phase at eleven or twelve where she'd compulsively read every book, every article she could find about what would happen when the bombs fell. She'd seen pictures of the aftermath at Tunguska, where the trees had been knocked down like that just from a goddamned meteorite exploding overhead, not even an atom bomb, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the same things had happened to buildings reduced to rubble in a flash. She still had nightmares about the images the bombs had left behind, the shapes of people permanently burned into those buildings that were still left standing.

Pops had stopped taking her to the library after that, finally deciding - in spite of his poor understanding of human nature - that it probably wasn't healthy for her to be obsessing like that.

But imagining it, looking at pictures of it, dreaming about it... None of that could compare to living in it.

"What was it like?" she asked tentatively. Her gaze flitted away from Kyle's eyes as soon as she'd asked the question, because her courage only went so far. "I mean... if you want to tell me."

There was a long pause, and her face started to grow red as she stared out of the windshield, keeping her eyes fixed on the shape of the hill, which still managed to loom above them even in the darkness.

"You couldn't go out during the day," Kyle said eventually, his voice low and not quite even. "Even as far out from the city as this, the sky was sometimes full of HKs, moving from one city to another. Hunter Killers," he added at her blank look. "But they didn't see so well in the dark, so at night you could move around."

"They didn't have infrared?"

She could have kicked herself as soon as the words were out of her mouth, but Kyle simply shook his head, lost in thought. "Not then. The later models did, but not the ones that were in the sky when I was a kid. I guess... I guess Skynet didn't need them to have it at first. If was probably more efficient not to equip them with it, not when there were still people around during the day, so there was always someone to catch, to kill. It was only later - once we got smarter, once there were fewer of us - that we went to ground and it needed to innovate. That was when the infiltrators appeared. Terminators were just the latest."

She couldn't help but glance at Pops when Kyle said that, but Pops didn't even acknowledge that he'd heard Kyle's words. His eyes were fixed on a distant point somewhere on the hillside above them, a blank look on his face, the one she sometimes wondered if it meant he was conserving power.

"We were lucky," Kyle repeated, but the expression on his face said the exact opposite. "There were still deer in the wood when I was growing up, and some sheep and cows that got loose, started to breed, at least first. I guess they confused the machines, maybe, so they couldn't tell what was them and what was us. Or maybe we were just small fry, not worth tracking down until all the easier targets had gone. But I used to hunt with my dad, at least until the deer got thin on the ground. Then the rabbits did, too. It got harder to find food after that. Harder and riskier."

His voice trailed off, his expression almost as blank as Pops'. "Then one day the HKs came," he said. "And I guess our luck ran out."

There was so much controlled pain in his voice, something he damped down almost immediately, next words out of his mouth almost matter-of-fact.

"I got caught on the edges of the city, with another group of survivors. It was the kind of group that was big enough to take to the camps instead of just shooting us where we stood, so I guess I still had some luck. A few months later, the resistance attacked the camp I was in and I managed to get out with some of the others, hid in the ruins. Then John found me."

And there it was, the life of Kyle Reese compressed into as few words as possible.

"And your parents?" She hadn't missed his very careful non-mention of them, and she didn't miss his hesitation now.

"I buried them by the barn."

Her heart ached for him; that was one thing she didn't have to imagine. She'd lived through it herself. "I'm sorry," she said. "If you want me to..."

"No. I have to do it."

She examined his expression in the dashboard light, unable to tell whether it was because that was how he remembered it or whether he felt some strange sense of masochism.

Or maybe it was just closure, or as close to it as he could get.

She wasn't brave enough to ask, not this time.

"He doesn't have to go through that," Kyle said suddenly, his voice still quiet, so quiet that she had to strain to hear him. "I'm... glad, I guess, that he doesn't have to, you know? I mean..." He trailed off again, his tone so uncertain that her heart ached for him all over again. "Maybe that makes it worth it."

Maybe. She tried to picture a Sarah who'd never been through the things that she had, one who'd grown up to be a student and a waitress, but all she could think was that version of Sarah had had her life torn apart anyway.

Who'd had her version of Kyle torn away from her anyway.

She shivered, the thought unsettling in more ways than one.

"Cold?" Kyle asked her, reading her shift in mood better than she could read his. She didn't miss his hesitation, though, before he finally lifted his arm, inviting her to curl against him for warmth, his expression guarded and with that same flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

Maybe that was why she leaned in, unable to bear that uncertainty, not knowing she was the reason for it.

He deserved so much better than that. Than her, if she was honest.

"Pops never taught me to hunt," she said quietly, not missing the way that Pops' head finally moved, turning slightly towards her before he went back to staring out through the windshield. "He taught me to shoot, though."

Kyle stayed silent for a long time, his heartbeat slow and steady in her ear. When he finally spoke, his voice was also slow and steady, like he wasn't really there with her. Like he was somewhere else, lost in the past or the future.

"It's not the shooting," he said. "That - that's important, yes, but it's the rest that's hard. The staying low and staying quiet. My dad started taking me out when I was seven, eight maybe? The gun was bigger than I was, I remember that much. And heavy.

"The first time Dad shot a deer in front of me, I cried."

Sarah closed her eyes, trying to picture it, trying to see past the flatness in Kyle's tone. Trying to see the kid he'd been. She didn't think he'd been that different from this reality's version of Kyle. Just a scared, brave kid trying to do his best.

"He should have been mad," Kyle continued, his voice growing softer. "It was food, and... we didn't always have a lot. But he wasn't."

"What did you do?"

"We buried it." She opened her eyes, tilting her head up just in time to catch the tail end of a sad smile as it was fading from his face. "Maybe he went back later, dug it up for the dogs. I don't know. I just remember walking back home with his hand on my shoulder, and it felt just as heavy as the gun had.

"The next time he shot one, I helped him gut it."

The stars were bright overhead; this far out from the city there was hardly any light pollution to drown them out. They wouldn't be that different from the stars Kyle had seen growing up. Skynet had changed the world, but it couldn't change the skies.

"It wasn't all bad," Kyle said quietly. "Not before..."

Not before his parents had died; Sarah was perfectly capable of filling in those blanks.

"My mom was the one who taught me how to catch rabbits." There was something like a smile in his voice this time, but it sounded less genuine and more like he was trying to find the good for her sake. And it would be for her sake; Sarah didn't know how she knew that, but she did. "I got good at that, finding their runs, the places in the undergrowth they'd come out. And I got good at climbing trees for the birds' nests."

His voice had taken on a rhythmic quality, low and soft, rising and falling with each word as though he was lost in the memories, lost enough that they started to sound like stories told around a campfire.

"We didn't eat the fish, although I saw them in the stream sometimes - Dad got paranoid about what was in the water. I don't think he was necessarily wrong about that - sometimes the sheep got sick after drinking it, especially if the rains had been heavy, washing the ash down from the hills. I guess it was the radiation, or maybe it was just the sheep. Sheep aren't the brightest of things."

She was supposed to smile at that point, like she thought Kyle was smiling, but her eyelids were heavy and Kyle was warm beside her. His arm around her shoulders was also heavy, heavy like the weight of a gun or a father's hand, taking her into the past as Kyle's words wove around her.

"I remember how everything was so quiet, how the sky was so dark you could barely see to put one foot in front of another and you had to be quiet, too, because if you weren't, if you broke a twig or your footsteps were too loud, well, there went the next week or two's worth of food. I got good at it, though. Good at tracking, at moving slow and quiet across the terrain. When I signed up, I got assigned to Perry's unit, and, man, did I use those skills..."

She knew what he was doing - talking more than he'd ever talked just so she could listen to the sound of his voice, let it lull her back down into sleep. She should fight harder to stay awake, not let Kyle take this burden, too, but she had her weaknesses, and Kyle was turning out to be one of them.

-o-

She woke to sunlight streaming through the truck's windows, soft and golden the way that the light in the city never was. It rimed Pops in gold, and turned Kyle's hair to bronze, both of them as still, as immobile as statues.

Her ass was numb, and she shifted position tentatively, trying to ease the crick in her neck from sleeping resting on Kyle without making it any worse. Her back ached, too, and she stretched, arching it to ease the tension in her sore muscles. Kyle let her go, not even glancing in her direction and avoiding her eyes when she looked in his.

Paranoia was definitely getting the better of her.

Her mouth was dry and she twisted around, rifling through the bag that Pops had brought her and that she'd dumped on the back seat until she found a bottle of water and an uneaten pack of sandwiches. Those she split with Kyle, handing him one while she broke the seal on the water and swallowed it down.

He took it, but maybe he wasn't as hungry she was. He didn't immediately stuff it in his mouth, but sat there for a moment with it held in his hand, still staring through the windshield. When he did finally take a bite, he barely seemed to taste it, chewing automatically.

His eyes, when she looked in the direction he was staring, were fixed on the turning that led up to the Reeses' farm. A turning that seemed to be in a different place than she remembered.

They must have moved during the night, she realised, Pops having obviously driven the truck a little further down the road so that it wouldn't be so easily seen by anyone leaving the place. It made sense, but she was a little weirded out that it hadn't woken her, when normally she was so attentive to things like that.

Kyle, on the other hand, didn't look like he'd slept at all, the lines around his eyes a little more pronounced and his cheeks pale except for his stubble. And she didn't miss the way he tensed when they finally heard the sound of an engine, the sandwich forgotten in his hand.

She watched as the Reeses' car slowly edged out of the turning, heading in the opposite direction from where their truck was parked. It was easier than watching Kyle, seeing everything he was trying to hide, the grief and the ages old pain, all of it underpinned with the kind of longing she knew only too well.

She'd have given anything to have her parents back, and here was Kyle, who'd probably wished the same thing, over and over again. Only now it had happened, and they weren't his, not really. They'd never be his; they belonged to a version of him who'd have the kind of future that Kyle had never had and never would.

Kyle stayed still until the Reeses were out of sight, and then his head turned towards the hill, something like dread in his expression.

"I'll talk to him first," Sarah said quietly, and Kyle's head snapped towards her, his eyes searching her face, looking for who knew what. If it was disapproval, he was going to be disappointed. She didn't blame him for anything he was feeling. She couldn't.

He finally let out a long, shaky sigh. "Okay. That's... probably not a bad idea. He knows you." The 'he doesn't know me' was left unspoken, but then it didn't need to be said.

"I think..." She cleared her throat, the next words sticking awkwardly in it. "I think you should give him the message, though. Just like you remember it." She didn't know why she was so sure of it, but sure of it she was. So sure, she'd put him in this position, no matter how hard he'd find it.

And hard didn't seem to scare Kyle, not the way it sometimes scared her. He'd do it, she knew. He'd do it if only because she'd asked him to.

"Okay," he repeated, going to wipe his hands on his pants and then stopping, staring at the sandwich in his hand as though he'd only just realised it was there. He let out a sound, something halfway between a snort and a bitten off laugh, and shoved it back into the bag to eat later, waste not want not. "If we're going to do this, let's do it."

They were words to live by.

He stayed silent as they drove up the long, winding track to the farm, and when he climbed out of the truck. Sarah scrambled out after him, coming to a halt right where he'd stopped, his face now expressionless.

He was looking at the other Kyle, the one who'd had the life that he should have had. The one who still had his life stretching out before him, a hell of an easier road to travel thanks to the version of Kyle Reese who stood right next to her.

"Christ," Kyle breathed. "I don't remember ever being that short."

She choked off a laugh, smothering it behind her hand as she shot Kyle a look, part disbelief and part relief. The corner of his mouth turned up, his expression lightening as he turned his head to look down at her. She didn't think that was just for her benefit, not this time.

"I guess you're right about you talking to him first," he added. "You're much closer to his height."

"Smartass," she grumbled before bracing herself and - with one last look back over her shoulder at her Kyle - heading over to the boy with the bike.

Kyle's dog started to bark as soon as it saw her coming, or perhaps it was Pops, lurking on the perimeter, that sparked the reaction. Whatever the reason, the sound drew Kyle's attention, and he looked up, blinking rapidly in the morning light when he saw her coming.

"Hey, Kyle," she said, keeping her tone low and friendly, as nonthreatening as possible. The way it came out sounded oddly like Kyle - her version of Kyle. It looked like he was rubbing off on her in more ways than one.

"Hey. Um..." Kyle blinked at her for a moment, a small frown of confusion on his face as he glanced over at Pops and her Kyle before looking back at her. "What are you doing here?"

It was a legitimate question, and one she could answer honestly for once. "A friend of mine really needs to talk to you. If that's okay?"

He followed her gaze to Kyle and Pops again, so trusting, so sure of her, that it made her heart ache all over again. All of those possibilities, none of them tainted by a war against the machines. "Yeah, I guess so."

He smiled. It was an echo of Kyle's smile, only this one didn't make her heart skip a beat, didn't warm her up on the inside. She was starting to realise that only one man's smile had ever done that, and it didn't seem quite as scary any more.

She gestured Kyle over to talk to his younger version, not missing the way that he hesitated for a moment, glancing at Pops, before he took his first step. "Thank you," she said, the words heartfelt and hopeful.

The younger version of Kyle's smile this time wasn't as familiar, but she returned it anyway, stepping away from Kyle junior to give them some privacy before her Kyle had even reached them.

She headed back towards Pops, who was waiting patiently for her underneath the trees. She turned back to look at the two Kyles, watching as hers crouched down, making sure that he was on a level with his alternate. The move to reassure was so typically Kyle that Sarah's heart clenched all over again.

It didn't feel like pain this time. It felt like hope, maybe.

She watched them for a few moments, studying the younger Kyle's serious face, the way that her version of Kyle was keeping his movements small, his voice lowered and his expression relaxed and open. So open, open to everything in a way that she'd been just too damn scared to consider before now, even though his life had been no less hard than hers and his heart just as broken.

"Kyle Reese is a good man."

Pops' voice broke into her thoughts, startling her. She stared at him for a moment, open-mouthed. It was the first time she'd ever heard him make a value judgement about anyone. Threat assessment, yes, she was used to that - Pops threat assessed every single person that crossed their path - but this went beyond that. It was real, and genuine.

Almost human.

She turned back to look at Kyle, unable to keep the smile from her face even if she'd wanted to, and she didn't want to. Not anymore. "He is."

Pops stayed silent, but then she guessed he'd said exactly what he'd meant to, no more or less. When she thought about it, letting Pops' words roll around in her mind, letting them warm her somewhere deep inside, there really wasn't anything else to say.

Kyle finally straightened up, and he and his alternate exchanged a few more words before Kyle headed back towards them, the younger Kyle watching them, his face scrunched up, like he was still trying to figure out what had just happened. But he was thirteen and they were adults, people with an air of authority to them who'd saved his life once already. He trusted them on some fundamental level because of that; he'd do what they'd asked of him, if only because he already had.

Mission completed, Pops turned on his heel, already heading towards the truck by the time that Kyle caught up with Sarah. "So what now?" Kyle asked, adjusting his pace to match hers as she trailed in Pops' wake, not willing to rush when their plans were still so vague, when she could finally take a minute.

The sun was bright overhead, the day already starting to warm in spite of the early hour. Sarah could feel that warmth sinking into her, like the air had a weight, even here, beneath the trees where the shadows were dappled and birdsong echoed. The world was beautiful, and they'd made sure it would stay that way.

And Sarah didn't feel the weight. For the first time she could remember, she felt weightless. Free.

"You were right," she said, coming to an abrupt stop as it hit her all at once, suddenly real in a way that it hadn't been before. So many possibilities, so many paths she could choose to walk down. "I can choose."

And she knew now that no matter which path she chose, she wanted Kyle walking by her side.

Kyle had come to a stop, too, taking his lead from her in this the way he'd taken his lead from her almost from the start. He was frowning slightly as he stared down at her, his eyes searching her face. His frown didn't fade even once she'd raised her eyes to his, letting him see everything she was feeling, everything she'd hidden because she'd been too much of a coward to face it.

There was a wariness in his eyes, one that this time wasn't leavened by hope, not even when she raised her hand to his face, her fingers touching his cheek gently, so gently because part of her was scared even now that she'd break him.

She didn't, but still he hesitated, his face carefully expressionless, although he couldn't quite hold in the flinch when her knuckles finally brushed against his skin. But Kyle was braver than her in so many ways and he was braver than her now. He leaned into her slowly, giving her plenty of opportunity to stop him, his moves stuttering and uncertain as though he expected her to pull away at any moment.

She didn't, raising her face to his and cupping his cheek as their lips met, keeping her touches light, giving him the room to breathe, to feel. Letting him know it was okay to do both, even as he wrapped his arms around her, his touch tentative in a way that made her throat ache even as it lifted her heart.

Their kiss was slow and sweet, and far too short.

Kyle pulled away first, his eyes wide and a little shell-shocked as he stared at Pops, who was watching them with his usual unreadable expression. And then Pops smiled, a slow tugging up of the corners of his mouth, awkward and uneven, until his teeth were bared, looking more like a grimace of pain than a smile.

Kyle blinked. "You know that's really disturbing, right?"

Pops' smile faded into something that, on anyone else, anyone human, Sarah might have described as 'hurt'. But that impression was fleeting; she knew Pops well enough by now to know that he was simply cataloguing Kyle's reaction, fine-tuning his repertoire of human acts as though it would make them more believable.

And there might have been some amusement in there, too. With Pops, it was always difficult to tell.

"You'll get used to it," she said as she stalked back to the truck, leaving her boys - both of them, and both of them were essential to her, no denying it now - to follow her.

Tomorrow lay ahead of them, and the day after that, and the day after that. A whole future stretched out in front of her, hers for the choosing, and for the first time every single day of it was yet unwritten.

Sarah intended to live them all to the full. With Kyle.