The Connor/Reese family spent the next seven days healing.
John, obviously, was healing physically. He spent considerable time in his room at the safe-house, canoodling with Cameron when he thought Sarah wasn’t around. Sarah didn’t exactly like it – she had a bad feeling that she shouldn’t have left her son and a gorgeous teenage robot alone at the lighthouse overnight – but she didn’t scold them, either. It was too wonderful to hear her son’s laugh after that stomach-dropping moment when she feared he’d been lost to her forever.
Derek had a different kind of healing to do. No matter what he’d said about the woman from the future not being “his Jesse,” Sarah knew he was grieving. He tried to hide it, naturally, and she didn’t press the point. Part of the time he camped out on the living room floor, cleaning and loading their guns again and again; when he wasn’t doing that, he hiked in the desert around the safe-house, making sure (he said) the perimeter remained secure. Mostly he seemed to need to be alone, and everyone let him be, without comment. Without judgment.
Sarah’s healing started with letting go.
From morning to night, she sat in a wooden rocker on the bungalow’s back porch, sipping iced tea and watching the sun bake the flat red Nevada landscape. She didn’t cook. The safe-house was stocked with dried fruit, canned soup, peanut butter, soda, and beer. Everybody fended for themselves; nobody complained; no one asked what came next, or when they would be leaving, or how the fight would continue. They were all cocooned in their private worlds, orbiting one another, comfortable in the solitude.
Wild places had always calmed Sarah – the lush jungle or the barren desert, someone far away from the whir and buzz of relentless progress. She’d brought John into the world beneath a green canopy because she wanted her child’s first breath to be in a place free of machines.
For six days and six nights she stared at the desert, and the desert stared back, sun on sand and sand on wind. That week represented the first time in seventeen years that Sarah wasn’t running or fighting, or fighting the urge to run. She was, finally, standing still. And it was glorious.
The letting go began with Kyle Reese. Sarah had been holding onto the memory of John’s father for so long, sometimes she couldn’t look at her son without nearly doubling over from grief. She was tired of that. Her time with Kyle had been precious, miraculous. She wanted to remember him fondly. She didn’t want to anchor his spirit to her, a restless ghost, if such things were possible. But she didn’t want to forget him, either.
For three days, she allowed every word he’d ever said to her to replay in her mind. She relived every kiss, remembered his calloused hands running over her body, let her heart fill up with so much love it would have spilled from the clouds in a flood to wash away the world.
And when the memories were exhausted, she let Kyle go.
Then she moved on to Charlie Dixon. Sweet, steady Charlie. If hers had been a normal life, Sarah would have married him in a heartbeat. Yet this wasn’t a normal life, and her love for Charlie, and his for her, had nearly cost him everything. But she had seen, when she and John had turned up at the lighthouse once again in need of his help, that Charlie was doing his own kind of healing. He had a child to look after now, too, and the love in his eyes when he’d stood over John, deftly removing a bullet from his shoulder, had been there when he’d spoken so gently to the girl, Riley, calming her with assurances that John would be fine. Just fine.
Charlie would be fine, too. He had a new mission – to be a father. Charlie had always been a healer; healing Riley would heal him as well. So, even though she would always love him for the brief burst of happiness he’d brought to her crazy life, Sarah let him go.
Finally, as stars rose over the distant hills and a coyote howled to the moon, Sarah let go of John.
Once before, in Pescadero, in a moment of weakness when she’d begun to doubt her sanity, Sarah had let go of John. She’d signed away her right to be his mother. Now, she realized that deep down, she’d spent every day since then trying to earn that right back in her own mind. Feeling unworthy, consumed by guilt, she’d held onto her little boy so tightly she’d nearly prevented him from becoming the leader he would have to be in the future.
Someday, she wouldn’t be there to fight his battles for him. John would have to teach others, like Kyle and Derek, how to fight. At last she saw the glaring truth: For him to do that, she had to get out of his way.
John was ready. He’d left the hospital a different person. In less than a month, Sarah had watched him go from an angry, scared kid to a strong, determined young man. Those qualities had always been in him, of course, but whatever he’d experienced during his blackout, dream or vision, it had allowed what was once only potential to manifest. He wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, and he still had a lot to learn, but he had found the path.
Letting go of John meant letting go of fear. Her fear that he wouldn’t be able to stop Skynet without her direction. Her fear that her son would go on to live in a post-apocalyptic future where he would be imprisoned, tortured, starved, hunted. Her fear that she wouldn’t always be there for him.
Her fear that the cancer Cameron had spoken of was lurking in her cells, waiting to strike, to be the one enemy she could never defeat.
Everyone died eventually. Death was as natural as birth. Machines didn’t die, and machines weren’t born. Sarah wasn’t a machine. Someday she would die, and go join Kyle in the grass. She could accept that now, without fear, because she knew John would go on when it happened.
And she knew it was happening. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next month, but someday, she would get sick, the kind of sick there was no coming back from.
Sarah let go of the fear, and it was beautiful, and wild, and glorious.
If getting shot and then being exiled to The Middle of Nowhere, Nevada, had an upside, it was receiving some extended TLC from Cameron.
John wasn’t ashamed to say that he milked the injury for all it was worth. He really didn’t need to lie in bed all day, though he did sleep quite a bit. Mainly it was just so tempting to stay right there under the covers with Cameron stretched out next to him. She read to him – Stephen King, because she remembered that was his favorite, and the local library had a surprisingly good selection. She kicked his butt at Scrabble (she bought a travel-sized version at the local department store), and he enjoyed watching her eyes light up with satisfaction each time she won.
When John was fairly certain his mother and his uncle were out of the house, they found other, less G-rated ways to pass the time.
Not that every day was a repeat of their night at the lighthouse. For one thing, Sarah and Derek never stayed gone for too long, and their presence seriously curtailed all of the things John would have liked to do with Cameron. For another, strenuous activity on a gunshot wound really wasn’t a good idea, apparently. Cameron had repaired his torn stitches before they’d left the lighthouse, and she adamantly refused to do anything that might re-injure him. No amount of persuasion on John’s part – and he worked very, very hard to be persuasive – could change her mind.
That was okay, really. John could live on the memories – for a while. Just being around Cameron, without any distractions, falling asleep with her arm across his chest and waking up to her lovely dark eyes, was its own kind of wonderful.
On the evening of their sixth day in the desert, Derek joined Sarah on the porch. He didn’t speak as he settled into the old blue plastic chair beside her, and Sarah didn’t speak to him. The silence was comfortable, companionable. Side by side, they watched the sun sink into a fiery horizon. In the distance, an owl hooted.
If his eyes lingered on her just a fraction of a second too long, igniting the memory of their kiss, Sarah found she didn’t mind.
When the moon had risen, Derek finally spoke. “I have to tell you something.”
A long moment passed. Potent stillness radiated from Derek. Sarah’s eyes remained focused on a patch of moonlight some distance away, where a tiny bird was strutting along the ground, pecking at the barren ground in search of food. What did it take, she wondered, to survive in such a harsh, unforgiving climate?
“My brother was a good man,” he said at last. “I’m not my brother.”
Sarah looked at him – the black stubble on his chin, the piercing blue eyes, the well-defined muscles beneath his gray T-shirt. A week ago, his words would have undone her, sent her spiraling off into a haze of guilt and grief. Now, she accepted them calmly, with hardly a pang. “I know who you are,” she said.
He turned to face her, and Sarah met his gaze directly. “I do.”
Their first kiss had been a five-alarm inferno, all-consuming, fire and powder. Now, Derek stretched across the small space between them, slid his hand into Sarah’s hair, drew her mouth down to his, and this time it was desert heat, slow and steady yet no less scorching. His whiskers roughed her cheeks, a titillating friction; Sarah had never liked her men soft. She balled her fists in the front of his shirt and urged him closer, a kiss that promised more, sweet nights of discovering how their bodies fit together, of making new music for an old dance.
But those nights were still to come. For now, they contented themselves with one long, smoldering kiss.
When Derek released her, Sarah held her hand out to him. He took it wordlessly. They sat in the dark, letting go of the past, clinging to what they had left. And that was their mission, and one another, and John.