It’s night when they drive across the desert. The promise of Las Vegas teases them for hours, with billboards advertising casinos and all-you-can-eat buffets. Sarah finds herself completely unfazed by the animated billboards, glowing bright in the pitch black night. They seem like something she may have seen in a movie once and somehow are exactly what she expected of the future. They’re dozens, hundreds of miles from anything; just a road cutting through the dirt and scrub brush and the bright shine of the billboards.
Pops is the first one to notice the beam of light reaching upwards, and he points it out to them. The glow of Vegas is on the horizon, with the small shaft of white light reaching into the sky. The Luxor hotel, advertising the oasis of the city.
“Why are they shining a light into the sky?” Kyle asks. Now that the immediate crisis has passed, he seems more aware of his surroundings. Sarah has noted the intense awe he has shown for nearly every minor convenience or innovation he’s come across. And considering most of his time has been spent in gas stations by the side of the highway, that’s saying something.
“It’s like a beacon,” Sarah says. “Welcoming us in.”
They have eyes on the city long before they reach it. By the time they do, Kyle is entranced. They don’t even go near the strip (despite Sarah trying to convince Pops to drive them through the middle of it) but even so, there are neon signs and flashing lights everywhere. It’s one in the morning, and the city is humming with activity. Or maybe it’s the electricity for all the lights. Whatever it is, Sarah feels it vibrating through her. It makes her feel alive.
Kyle stares out the window, slightly open-mouthed. At some point Sarah stops watching the scenery herself to watch Kyle instead. The lights play across his face and reflect in his eyes, and he can’t help but utter a quiet wow every now and then. Sarah’s never been to Vegas before, but she’s seen it on tv and movies. She tries to imagine what it must be like for Kyle, who grew up in a dark world overrun by the worst enemy humanity has ever faced, to be here, now. There is a man selling hot dogs on a street corner, and Kyle’s eyes focus on him as they drive by. He is an old man, with shockingly white hair, wrinkled skin, and an amiable smile. Sarah is sure Kyle didn’t see many old men in his time.
“I have my -” Kyle pauses mid-sentence, trying to pick the right word. “Alternate memories, still. Some things are now so familiar to me while still being so utterly foreign.”
“You will adjust,” Pops says.
Sarah puts her hand on Kyle’s knee, in what she means to be a comforting gesture, but removes it quickly. “We both will,” she says. She wants to say more, do more, do something to tell Kyle just how okay they are now, but she can’t come up with the words.
Kyle just smiles without turning away from the lights outside his window.
They don’t really have a destination in mind. They just decided to go east. It seemed like the right choice to get as far away from where it all began.
“I’ve never seen so much corn in my life,” Sarah gripes. She tries to stretch in the cab of the truck, which is small and cramped, and she’s bookended by two solid bodies so the action is difficult.
“Me either,” Kyle says appreciatively, either not noticing or just ignoring her tone of voice. “Is this entire state growing corn? This is enough to feed the planet.”
“Nebraska is only the third largest corn producing state in the US,” Pops says.
Sarah gives him an unimpressed look. “Thanks, Pops.”
“Can we stop? I want to see it up close.” Kyle looks at Sarah, a little wild-eyed, and she knows just how that feels. To want a connection to something, even something as silly as corn.
“Pops, pull over,” Sarah says without breaking eye contact with Kyle. He smiles his thanks to her.
Once they’re out of the truck, Kyle makes a beeline for the corn. Sarah trots to keep up with him, waving her hand at Pops as an instruction to stay back. He obliges.
Kyle stands in front of the wall of green leaves and stalks. It’s the wrong time of year so there are no ears anywhere near ready to harvest. But he doesn’t care. He brushes his hand along the stalks, the leaves fluttering quietly in his wake.
“I could never in my wildest fantasies imagined this much food in one place,” Kyle says softly.
“This is the future we were fighting to protect,” Sarah says. “Everyone alive and fed and happy.”
Kyle laughs. “From what little I’ve seen of the news in this world, people still aren’t happy.” It sounds like a bitter statement, but Kyle’s voice is full of fatherly patience and benevolence. Sarah admires that.
She shrugs in response. “They just don’t know how great they have it.”
“No, they don’t.”
Kyle pushes forward, into the corn, and Sarah loses sight of him surprisingly quickly.
“Hey, wait,” she calls after him and dives into the corn herself to follow. It’s cooler inside the thick stalks, surrounded on all sides by green. She pushes through, following after him by way of wavering plants. She calls to him and he answers; she finds his hand held out to hers through the corn. When she grasps it, Kyle pulls her in close. The stalks surround them and Sarah’s entire field of vision is young green corn and a patch of blue sky above and Kyle’s warm gaze on her.
“We haven’t really had much time alone,” he says. He reaches out tentatively, his thumb brushing against her cheek before dropping his hand. He’s uncertain, which is fine by Sarah, because she is too. Really uncertain.
“Road trips are kind of like that.” Sarah wants to kiss him. She wants to pull him down by the neck of his shirt and crush her lips against his. She wants him to whisper her name against her neck, to slide his hand up against her back, fingers tickling her spine. She hasn’t stopped wanting this since that first kiss they shared.
Sarah knows he wants that too - she can see him leaning down, closing the distance between them. She puts a hand on his chest and pushes gently. Kyle freezes.
“Sarah, what is it?”
What it is is John. Her - their - son’s face pops into her mind’s eye. Sarah’s been told since she was young it was her destiny to have a child with the man in front of her. She’d always rejected the idea, because she knew the future could be changed. She knew that she was the one who would change it. She never intended to fall for Kyle Reese. Hell, she fought against it. Because if she fought it successfully, then she knew it was true...
“No fate but what we make,” Sarah says, looking up at Kyle.
She leaves him in the middle of the corn.
They’re tired, they’re cranky, (well, two of the three of them anyway,) and they’ve been crammed in the cab of that truck for days.
“Can we get a hotel room?” Sarah asks. “I want a shower.”
She closes her eyes and rolls her head around, feeling her neck crack in three places. Her body is tense with the stress of sitting jammed in the cab of that truck, stuck between Pops and Kyle. Her right side - arm and leg - are sore with the constant effort of keeping as much of her body as possible from touching Kyle’s. Keeping herself constrained and away from the man she’s destined to love. Sarah tells herself it’s because she doesn’t want him getting ideas, but it’s really the opposite.
When her arm brushes his it sends a tingle up her spine.
In the hotel room, Sarah takes one bed and Kyle the other. Pops stands guard at the window. It’s really not necessary anymore, but he can’t be cured of his vigilance. When she gets out of her shower, Kyle is snoring on top of the covers of his bed. He still has his shoes on. It’s stupidly endearing and Sarah can’t help a small smile from crossing her features. She unties his shoelaces and removes his shoes. It’s awkward taking off another person’s shoes and she’s not the most graceful of people anyway - but he doesn’t wake up even when she has to wrench the left one back and forth a few times.
Task accomplished, she turns off the light and crawls into her own bed. In the dark, she lets herself look at him. The dim light filtering through the window lets Sarah examine his profile, which she’s gotten to know fairly intimately recently. His face is so open all the time, it almost hurts to look at him sometimes. She can see his affection for her plain as day, but he has still never pushed her.
She lets out a long, slow breath.
“Hey Pops?” she asks quietly. She senses more than hears Pops’ movement as he turns to face her. Kyle is so conked out he doesn’t react to the sound of her voice at all. “Is fate a real thing?”
“How can it be? We have already altered the course of events in the future. Prevented the destruction of humanity.”
Sarah turns over and looks at him - for all intents and purposes, her father. The strangest father in history, maybe, but like many fathers across history, his words are the biggest comfort to her in her times of uncertainty.
“No fate,” she whispers.
“No,” Pops agrees. He turns back to peering out of the spaces in the window slats, and Sarah is alone again.
A loud snore cuts through the quiet.
She falls asleep quickly.
At some point, Kyle wants to ask how far they’re going to go. Completely across the globe? But their trip is something that the three of them seem to need to do. An unspoken journey, to get as far away from the past (the future), and the trauma of their lives.
And besides, he’s enjoying it. His alternate-memories gave him a glimpse of an amazing world, and seeing it up close and in person has been the biggest gift he could ever ask for. He experiences warm sunny mornings, and rain that’s not black with ash, and kids screaming in delight as they chase each other rather than in fear as a T-800 chases them.
Sarah seems to be enjoying showing him the world. She even learns a few things with him. They can see how Genisys could gain a foothold in this society: the first time they order pizza on the internet, it’s magical.
“Pizza just shows up at your door. Amazing,” Sarah says between mouthfuls of pepperoni.
Sarah and Kyle are cross-legged on yet another hotel bed, the pizza box open between them. They laugh about how much more they know about the internal workings of guns as opposed to holding down steady jobs, which is possibly a thing they have to look into. They can’t be on the road forever.
Kyle usually skirts around the topic of the future because he knows it’s a sore spot for Sarah. Her future has always been spoken for, but his has always been bleak. Now the idea of settling down and working at a pizza shop and seeing Sarah smile every night is all he could want. But he can’t help but bring it up, because they’re running out of contiguous states, and unless they’re moving to boats, then this trip has to end soon.
“The idea of standing still scares me,” Sarah says finally. “But kind of in a good way. If that makes sense.”
“Kind of like how you make me feel.”
That makes Sarah laugh. Kyle’s eyes are dark in the low light of the motel room and she can’t stop staring into them. Why does he have to be so damn honest?
“Hey Pops, can you get us some ice? Like, from across town?” Sarah asks.
Pops so rarely hesitates in his actions, so when he does it’s as loud as speech. He takes his time in responding, considering the both of them before coming to some sort of conclusion.
“I’ll be back.”
Sarah waits until she hears the click of the door closing behind him before she makes her move. The pizza box is still between them, knocking against their knees as she closes the distance between herself and Kyle.
When their lips meet, Sarah knows it’s the right decision. Their first kiss was sparks and fire. This one is comfort and longing and feels like coming home. His kiss is firm, but yielding. He lets her take the lead, and she’s grateful for the latitude. She deepens the kiss, their mouths exploring each other as she lets her hand trail up his arm. She feels goosebumps under her fingers, and feels a burst of excitement for eliciting such a reaction.
John’s face is so far from her mind. Was he ever even real? Will he exist again? Will he be a different John? Does it matter? Sarah decides it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.
They finally break apart, and neither can seem to catch their breath for a moment.
“You’re so amazing,” Kyle says finally.
Sarah smiles. For most of her life, she’s felt special in a twisted way. Mother of the savior of humanity? Her identity was not her own. But now, she feels special in an entirely different way. She almost wants to berate herself for daring to feel that way, but she stomps down the instinct. She tells herself that another person thinks she is the world, and not because he’s supposed to. Nobody told Kyle all his life that he was fated to love her.
He just does.