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Make Your Own Fate
#3 - Missing In Action, Presumed Dead


After the world had failed to end on 29 August 1997, Judgment Day - not averted, only postponed - rolled around for good on 24 July 2004. John Connor, prepared for it, soldiered on like his mother had raised him to. The world he knew didn't end until 11 May 2019.


Part One: One To Move Forward, One To Stay Behind

09 May 2019

Their new headquarters in Bakersfield were the most cramped ones they'd settled into so far. They couldn't allow themselves to become complacent, however, and even though Skynet hadn't attempted to attack their last base before they packed up and left, John Connor was well aware that their enemy had to have known their location, and sooner or later would have tried to wipe them out. A perimeter after which every HK on reconnaissance was shot down wasn't exactly low-profile, after all, and the whole firestorm and the helicopter crashing into the river when they'd been hunting Marcus Wright hadn't exactly been inconspicuous, either.

Since John had become the Leader of the Resistance - and not just of one of its cells -, there were a whole lot more people who saw it as their sacred duty to keep him safe. They had advocated the move, but more annoyingly, they insisted on confining him to the safety of their bunker. He hadn't been allowed to lead a single mission since the old Resistance leadership had been eradicated and he had stepped up in their place. In glaring contrast, his own wife was championing her return to the field.

"But Jeannie and Bobby are still so small," John pointed out calmly (although, admittedly, to his own ears it sounded a whole lot like whining). "I don't want them to lose their mother."

"Jeannie and Bobby are one-and-a-half years old," Kate said, and damn her, she did actually sound calm. "They're weaned, they're not shy with the people they know, and they have their father to sing them to sleep if need be."

John winced. Two years ago he had used a song to give a coded signal to a pilot in one of their A-10 attack jets, and the people closest to him had taken up teasing him about his singing voice ever since. Once Blair had been sure that he didn't hold her bout of mutiny against her anymore, she'd resumed the banter, and the old guard - Connor's lieutenants - followed suit whenever they saw the need for some collective breaking of tension.

"The Resistance can't do without you, Kate." John brought out the big guns. "If what the T-850 told me comes true, the Resistance will need you in the future. More than it needs me."

Kate snorted. It was a cute snort, but it more than showed her opinion of that particular reasoning. John twitched and felt himself loosing ground fast.

"You're the man we all need to move forward, John. To keep it together, to keep fighting. I know you hate it, but you're more than our leader. You're a symbol, and you're insane if you think we'll let you risk your life needlessly." Her eyes flashed dangerously. "That facility needs to be destroyed, and you don't have a whole lot of people who're aware of all the circumstances. Right now you can send David, Barnes or me. David doesn't know all the details, and do you really want to send Barnes?"

John silently conceded her point. Barnes was an eminently competent squad leader, but he didn't do well with leading larger groups, and he didn't always keep a cool head or a dispassionate look at the bigger picture.

"I thought we'd talked this whole thing to death two fucking years ago," Kate said sharply. To hear her cursing was rare, and proof of her dogged determination regarding this issue. "I need experience as a mission leader, and the people who follow us need to see me in action, to see me as more than the doctor who patches them together back in the safety of the bunker."

John sighed. He didn't have a foot to stand on and he knew it. Still, he felt an unwelcomed lead weight in his gut whenever the thought of Kate on this particular mission; it was more than the unreasonable anxiety of a husband sending his wife into danger, wasn't it?

"You're right," he said with a heavy heart. "I'm naming you mission commander for the scouting and attack on this target. We'll have the mission briefing tonight at 19:00. Chose ten soldiers for the job, and tell David, Barnes, Ana, Juan, Blair and Marco to show up for the briefing. You might need air support at one point, and I'd like to have them involved from the beginning."

If Kate had still been the impulsive girl from before Judgment Day, she'd have grinned widely, bounced over to him and hugged him tightly. As it was, she only gave him a half-nod and a restrained smile, mouthed "Thank you" at him and left their small, cramped room with a definite spring to her step.

John, left to his own thoughts and the growing amount of dread in his stomach, sank heavily into his chair and stared blindly at the map covering the farthest wall. Sending a team to L.A. wasn't a good idea, but it wasn't like they had a choice. Ana Martinez had brought valuable intel from her last mission - intel they couldn't afford not to act on.

Skynet was upgrading a staging area to the east of L.A., and the blueprints Ana had saved before she'd slagged the core of one of Skynet's local computer nodes detailed a research facility - a lab - that had the potential for wreaking even greater havoc than Skynet Central's T-800 factory. The floor plan and list of building materials suggested Skynet's research into time travel had progressed further than John would have expected, given that 2029 was still ten years in the future. Skynet had already upset all their previous knowledge of the future that John had learned from his mother when it had created Marcus to lure John to its main compound. But Marcus had been a single decoy. They hadn't encountered any other infiltrator versions since Skynet Central's destruction; apparently his design had been solely stored in the computer system's mainframe. Nor had any further T-800s with their deceptive artificial flesh covering shown up anywhere so far. However, to be safe, John had issued orders to increase the number of dogs accompanying sentries and perimeter guards.

But if Skynet's plans for time travel had been intensified as much as the new data suggested, then it might have well stepped up the timeline for the rest of the war. Kyle Reese was just seventeen years old; John knew his mother had fallen in love with a smart, competent young man, not a teenager. There were no T-800s yet to reprogram. If John had to send back another soldier - or a too-young Reese - would that mean he wouldn't be born? Or born as someone different?

The whole time-travel paradox gave him a headache.

He rubbed his forehead and sighed deeply. He might not be able to show any weakness in front of his troops, but here in the sanctity of his quarters, he could entertain his doubts and fears, listen to his mother's tapes, mentally go through failed missions over and over again, and grieve for the people they'd lost.

He could only hope that Kate and her team would be successful; it didn't bear thinking about if they weren't.

A loud wail from the next room, soon joined in by another voice, interrupted his darkening thoughts. The twins were awake and demanding their parents' attention.

He got up with a wince. His left shoulder always hurt after long periods of inactivity. One more thing to thank Skynet for.

"Jeannie? Bobby? Daddy's here."

***

Once the twins had been changed, fed, and brought to the small daycare center their headquarters sported (with two harassed teenaged girls looking after nine children ranging from one to five), John swung by the guards at the eastern, southwestern and northern entrance, the clinic, and the War Room afterwards. He still had a few hours until his daily radio broadcast, there was no new intel requiring immediate action, and Kate was busy with a patient. For once, it wasn't a wounded soldier, but rather a young woman who'd had a miscarriage after being pregnant for only two months. Bad nutrition, stress and the lingering effects of being permanently exposed to too-high radiation most likely had all worked together and had prevented her from carrying her child to term.

Sometimes in the night, John simply had to get up and look at his children to fully comprehend the gift he'd been given. Kate's pregnancy and childbirth had both progressed textbook-fashion, and Jeanette and Robert - named after their grandparents - had thrived, unhindered by their primitive living conditions.

Objectively, John had always known that he needed to win the war in order for humanity to survive. But it was only now, with the safety of those two fragile little lives depending on him, that he really knew the reason that they simply had to prevail.

He had just left the War Room and was two corners away when he heard a voice he knew raised in controlled anger. Had it been anyone but Reese and the topic anything but the one it was, John would have continued on his way, exchanged a nod and a few words, and waited for the people involved in the dispute - if a dispute it was - to come to him if needed. He knew he had been avoiding Reese for as much as possible ever since the boy and his mute companion, the girl Star, had joined them last year.

A part of him longed to get to know his father, soak in as much of his speech, mannerisms, appearance and thoughts as he could. They'd have to last him a lifetime. He had lost his mother and known since he'd been old enough to understand that he'd lose his father without the man even knowing about the blood they shared. But now that he had the chance to get to know Reese, he found that he dreaded the pain. Of forging a connection, of caring beyond a purely objective level, of loving yet another person he was predetermined to lose. Let alone the constant effort of watching his words and actions so as to never show any favoritism, any familiarity, any care beyond that of a commander for one of his men.

He didn't want to brush off Reese again and walk past him with barely an acknowledgment of his existence.

Despite the fact that he considered all these good reasons (Kate had a different opinion that she'd expressed quite verbosely over the last couple of months), this time it were Reese's words that made him duck into the doorway to the closest storage room and strain his ears in order to eavesdrop unobserved.

Two sets of footsteps came closer.

"...I don't care whether you can destroy a T-600 with nothing but a piercing look and a load of bullshit," Reese said angrily, "and I also don't care whether Connor thinks you walk on water. You're new here, and you don't know shit. Marcus Wright is one of us, and you can shove your attitude where the sun don't shine."

"Now hold it for a moment," a vaguely familiar voice tried to interrupt.

"Connor got you from San Antonio to replace Blair's wingman - and that's all you are: a replacement. You fly, you shoot, and you follow orders. No-one's interested in your opinions. Wright saved Connor's life. That's more than you've ever done. And if you don't learn to keep your mouth shut, either Blair or I - or Connor - will shut it for you. You got that?"

"I don't have to listen to a little boy playing soldier," the other voice protested angrily. Ah. Marco Bianchi. The new A-10 pilot.

"I," Reese said much quieter, with an icy contempt that John had heard far too often in his own voice, "have been a fighter long before I joined the official Resistance. I'm slated for Tech-Com and explosives training, and all the terminators I've killed I've shot in close combat. You're Chairforce, and I wouldn't want you on my six in ground combat for all the canned food in the biggest supermarket in L.A. Stop fucking with Wright, or I'll fuck with you. And trust me, you won't like it."

"You're overreacting, boy. Your pet terminator hasn't complained about me once, and..."

Bianchi and Reese's voices faded with distance.

John spent a moment being glad that Reese had more self-control than most men twice his age, or else he'd have been witness to a brawl. What he had heard, though, was worrisome. He knew many people, starting with Barnes, had initially been wary of Marcus. Public opinion had relaxed a bit after Kate’s R&D team had given the all-clear after a surgery that removed all Marcus' non-essential Skynet systems and put the rest under his conscious control. Reese and Star's friendship, and Connor, Kate and Blair's visible displays of trust and respect (and in Blair's case, love) had gone a long way in ensuring Marcus was accepted by the members of Connor's Resistance cell. Barnes' wordless, if grudging, support had factored into that as well.

Of course, it had helped that Marcus - with help from R&D plus sufficient food and rest - had managed to grow back the flesh and skin of his left hand. Due to the severity of the wound, apparently at the limit of what his accelerated healing abilities could repair, that had taken a couple of weeks. Marcus had taken to wearing black leather gloves; a habit he hadn't gotten out of even a year later.

John would need to drop a word to Barnes regarding Bianchi and any newcomers in general. Making Blair aware of the situation would be counter-productive - she didn't have Reese's restraint.

John cut off his thoughts with familiar ease when they wanted to return to the topic of Marcus Wright. No matter his nature, he was an ally, a comrade, and after Kate and Dr. Kowalski's latest report, John didn't have a reason to seek him out just because he was curious about what lay beneath that deceptively human-looking exterior. He cursed himself softly. Marcus wanted to pretend he was human as much as he could, and in his mind, John had sworn to follow suit. He owed him that much.

Kate would be off-shift soon. With that unrelated thought intruding, John focused his mind on tomorrow's mission and returned to their quarters.


Part Two: No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy

11 May 2019

Perhaps she should have known the whole thing had just been too easy, Kate thought uncharitably. They had decided to make a wide berth and approach the Skynet facility from the north. Crossing highway 14 had been uneventful; they hadn't seen a single Moto-Terminator even from a distance. Neither they nor their eyes in the sky had spotted a Hunter-Killer, and the lone Aerostat they'd encountered hadn't even registered their presence before Sergeant Achebo had shot it down with a single burst from his M16. A calculated risk; they'd hoped the Skynet node it uplinked to would file the cessation of its transmissions as equipment failure rather than anything more serious.

They had crossed a few blocks of L.A.'s outskirts without being seen by either man or machine. Kate had had no intention of losing time by having to play hide-and-seek with one of the few surviving gangs in the city, or a squad of lumbering T-600. They'd even managed to find a sewer access that allowed them to hide their approach by sneaking up to the lab underground.

A quick and dirty hack-job later, and they'd broken in through an unused-looking side entrance. That had been the point at which all their troubles had begun.

The McAllen sister-and-brother team, their hackers, had immediately tricked the closest data screen into giving them access to the site plan as well as to the surveillance cameras. When Kate had seen what was in the center of the building, she'd felt ice water run through her veins.

Several floors had been cut out in the middle in order to create a several-storeys-high circular dome. On the lowest level, there was a raised dais, also circular, that emitted a light so bright it was impossible to look at it for long. It was fairly humming with power. Atop it, but hovering perhaps two meters in the air, was a set of three metal rings that were lying one atop the other - like an abandoned children's toy.

Kate, however, had listened to all the tapes John had been given by his mother. On one of the earlier ones, Sarah Connor had relayed all she could remember of what the future Kyle Reese had told her of the time machine that had brought him to 1984.

Like a gyroscope, those three rings would rise even further into the air and spin around their center along three rotational axes and take on more and more impetus. until, amidst a shower of sparks leaping like lightning through the ionized air, they built a spherical electromagnetic field that interfered with the fourth dimension and allowed more or less controlled time travel.

That was the theory as passed on by non-scientists. Kate had no urge to see the effect in action.

Dammit, it was too soon, she thought. That... that thing in the middle of the room wasn't a thought experiment or a theoretical model. Skynet was within a hairsbreadth of success. Thank God Captain Martinez had managed to grab the information on this lab. If she hadn't, or if John hadn't sent a team here... They'd have lost the war without even knowing it, their reality wiped out of existence with Skynet having warped the past to its liking.

Kate silently promised to rethink her stance on atheism, considering that they had destroyed Skynet Central last year. With its global network broken, the computer system's local nodes practiced a method of strictly delineated grid-like partitioning of the country. If they were incredibly lucky, the details of this facility's research hadn't yet been shared with other Skynet nodes. Meaning, if they managed to totally annihilate this lab so that not a single byte of information remained, functioning time travel equipment might not become a danger to the Resistance until far, far into the future.

She sighed and sent a couple of quick hand-signals over to Yassim Achebo and the other soldiers crouching behind him.

Hopefully, they'd brought enough C-4.

That was when she heard the metallic footsteps of more than one T-600 approaching their position.

***

Kate could see the detonator's light blinking out of the corner of her left eye from where she stood far too close to the glass screen. It wasn't as if close proximity to the display of data made it any less real, but she couldn't help but stare at it with desperate intensity.

The read-outs didn't change. They hardly even flickered anymore. It seemed the facility's power system had been designed to withstand heavy fluctuations and occasional overloads.

The olive uniform shirt she wore still smelled of smoke, and through the short line of small circular holes running up her right forearm, she could see flashes of her skin. The shower of sparks of the leaping lightening had only grazed her.

She'd been too late.

Kate looked around the empty space surrounding her, and her eyes flickered away from the blood and the dead bodies strewn across the floor. Yassim. Kit and Holly. Miguel. Jerry. There were the heavy metal skeletons of four T-600, some still partially covered in rubber skin, littering the ground between them. One of them still twitched faintly, and she brought her M-16 to bear. Two bursts later, and the red light glowing in its surviving eye went out.

She breathed in with a sound like a sob.

She'd heard Vincenzo die over the open comm unit, and none of the others had responded to her urgent radio calls. She'd lost her entire team.

Unless some of them had lost their radios and had stolen away, deciding to abandon the mission (hah! damned likely), they had all either died... or they soon would, by her hand. The lab had to be destroyed; there was no doubt about that. But before she pressed the button on the remote, there was one more thing she had to do.

Her hands shook as she navigated the on-screen menu. She couldn't understand why Skynet used a touch-screen with commands written in English, but right now, she was glad for it, and even gladder for the flashing prompt that asked her whether she wanted to rerun the just-executed program. She did.

Seconds later, she let her grey undershirt, the last of the clothes, drop from her stiff fingers. It was too big for her, always had been, and due to the million times it had been washed, it was thin and threadbare. It belonged to John, but she often stole it from his underwear drawer because she liked that it smelled like him.

Her radio couldn't penetrate the walls of the building. She hadn't even been able to reach Blair and Bianchi to relay her goodbyes. It was fitting that Skynet didn't even allow her that last comfort, she thought hysterically, but bit back the panic clawing in her throat. She didn't have the time to break down.

Naked, she stood in the middle of the three chrome rings. The detonator's countdown gave her fifteen minutes; that should be enough for the program to run without interference, and it wasn't like she needed - like she could - come back. The T-600 had done their jobs and delayed her team so that the T-800 terminator, a model she hadn't seen before (the bulging muscles and the expressionless mien had been familiar, but the hair, the coloring and the features had been those of a stranger), had been able to use Skynet's latest diabolic invention before it would be blown to smithereens.

The screen display had read "TDE operational. Target co-ordinates: 34° 3' 34.67'' N, 118° 12' 29.80'' W. Target time: 14 May 1959, 02:00:00. Re-run program (Y/N)?"

Kate had quickly translated the coordinates in her head - somewhere in L.A. The time was much more telling. John's mother had been born on 15 May 1959.

The rings rose and began to move slowly. She felt her feet leave the ground. The air around her started to hum. It required monumental effort to hold back the tears. Just a few minutes now. She'd never see John again, never see her children again. But Skynet couldn't be allowed to win. They'd sacrificed too much, lost too much. Lost too many people. What would be one more soldier, if it kept the Resistance functional? If it kept John alive?

Her thoughts slowed. The air was like molasses. Then there were only impressions, and flashes like old-style polaroid pictures searing her eyes. A blue-white field around her, pressing inward, suffocating her. Sparks. Lightning. The smell of burning plastic. Hot, then freezing cold. A flash of blinding white light, and Katherine Brewster Connor left the year 2019 and followed the T-800 into the unknown.


Part Three: Fate Is What We Make

04 July 2032

John was still outside with the rapidly emptying group transports when his radio crackled. "GenCom HQ1 from OpsLeader. Come in. We have a... situation."

Marcus sounded unsure, hesitant. Not something John was used to hearing from his second-in-command. He frowned and pressed the 'transmit' button on his comm unit. "OpsLeader from GenCom HQ1. What situation?"

"You'll have to see it in order to believe it, General," was Marcus' cryptic reply.

Against the objections of his protection detail that he'd been saddled with ever since he'd almost died during their offensive in 2029, John pressed forward past a sign bearing a stylized triangle and the lettering "Global Dynamics" to enter the undamaged main building of Skynet's last and best-defended research facility.

Today is the day I die, he thought fatalistically. Today is the day Skynet is destroyed for good. An equitable trade, in his opinion.

His eyes kept searching the darkness for the one face he knew so well. The face of his murderer.

John wondered who would avoid a temporal paradox and save his past self in 2004 - in Kate's stead. He hoped he would be the only one killed by the T-850 waiting for him, and his lieutenants - especially Marcus - would be spared. Jeannie and Bobby were 13 years old and wouldn't be lacking in mentors, even in the event of both their parents' deaths. But they would only have the chance to develop into the leaders the Resistance deserved if they had a few more years without all the responsibility for the survival of humankind resting on their shoulders. It had taken John and Marcus almost ten years, but today, all members of the Resistance knew and accepted Marcus Wright as John Connor's second-in-command. It had been an exhausting, uphill battle for acceptance, and especially Marcus still bore the emotional scars. The physical ones of a handful of assassination attempts and deliberately failed missions with him maneuvered into a trap by the people supposed to have his back had thankfully faded; even the ones from the explosion that had burned off about sixty percent of his skin and flesh, miraculously leaving his human brain and heart undamaged.

Humanity as an ideal deserved to be saved, John knew. Even though on these occasions, even this ingrained conviction of his had been shaken.

Five soldiers accompanied him into a large elevator, and then they traveled down for an interminable amount of time.

Finally, the elevator came to a stop with a barely perceptible jolt, and John and his entourage entered and navigated through an underground maze of brightly lit hallways until they came to a huge circular chamber that extended several stories high. John's steps faltered for a second, and he sucked in a quick breath. He knew the layout. Seeing the dais with the floating three rings deceptively resting atop each other was far from a surprise. This was the location from which the T-X and the T-850 that would kill him had traveled (would travel?) to 2004. What, however, was a surprise was--

"Kate?!" he blurted out disbelievingly.

A tall, slender figure with her face and signature red hair was facing at least twenty soldiers with their weapons leveled at her while at her feet, an unknown man was bleeding on the floor. The stranger wasn't moving. Both were wearing nondescript white clothing. A handgun with a strangely formed shaft lay on the ground next to them. There was a bloodstain on the standing woman's stomach, but it didn't appear to be growing bigger. She was cursing under her breath. John caught disjointed fragments like "useless piece of junk", "malfunction", "hurts" and "fucking future, not the past", but his presence seemed to render her speechless for a moment.

Then, she called out: "John!" She sounded like the Kate he remembered. Kate at her most stressed.

He ignored her and stepped up to Marcus. Words deserted him. "What the fuck?" he blurted out.

Marcus knew him. He squeezed his forearm for a moment and said quietly: "She claims to be Kate Connor. We came in right in the middle of an exchange of fire between her and the guy on the floor. Well, he was shooting and she was evading. She says the guy's a terminator, and she's human. Her body temperature is 99.2 °F, and she has a beating heart. The guy reads at 60.8 °F, which is the room temperature here, by the way. I'd be inclined to believe that that was because he's dead, but I know his face from my databanks. Sergeant Thomas Warren, USAF, born on 30 November 1958. I don't think he's managed to maintain his youthful figure well into his seventies."

"So he's a T-800 or T-850, and apparently came here from the past," John breathed and stared at Kate, an unidentifiable amalgam of feelings coiling in his stomach.

He later had no-one else but himself to blame when he reacted far too late when the terminator on the floor pushed itself to its elbows, grabbed the gun on the floor, and shot him in the chest.

He heard Kate and Marcus' voices mingle in a wordless shout of denial before he lost consciousness.

***

He awoke to Kate's face filling his vision, and for a moment, felt as though he'd traveled back in time. Then Marcus' face entered his field of vision, and with a cold rush of panic, he was thrust back into the here and now.

"What happened?" he rasped. He wasn't hurting, but his left shoulder felt... strange. The cottony taste in his mouth clued him in faster than his friends' words. Morphine. He'd been shot.

But Kate was sweating and biting her lip. She had been... was the calmest doctor he knew.

"Kate? What is it?" John asked urgently.

Her brave smile wobbled. "You weren't the only one shot," she said and pulled up the hem of her white top. There was a deceptively small entry wound on her stomach. It was hardly bleeding, but the location...

"Perforated small intestine," she said with a grimace. "Even if we had a skilled doctor who could operate on me right now--"

"--We have!" John interrupted desperately.

"--I wouldn't survive for much longer than perhaps a week, at most, and I'd die in agony. With the location of the wound, an infection is guaranteed. Even with antibiotics, I'd only have a moderate chance of survival if I were immediately admitted to a well-equipped hospital pre-Judgment Day. Since then, we've lost too much in the medical field, John - knowledge, drugs, facilities." She shrugged, purposely dismissive. "It's a miracle you survived your heart transplant in 2018. There's no miracle for me."

Marcus called their medic over. Most of the ensuing conversation went over John's head. He allowed Marcus to help him up and deposit him in sitting position against the closest wall. Moments later, Marcus came back with Kate in tow. She'd been bandaged and injected with heavy-duty narcotics.

Marcus' news was sobering. Just minutes before they had gained access to the building, Skynet had sent its latest terminator model through the TDE to 22 July 2004. It had to be stopped.

Kate had a thoughtful expression on her face. She went over to the bullet-ridden body of the T-800, knelt down next to it and fiddled around its head. When she extracted the terminator's CPU, John finally understood.

Half an hour later, Kate - with the help of John and a few suggestions by Marcus - had managed to re-program the machine's objectives so it'd protect instead of kill their younger selves as well as the people John had learned had died in 2004 instead of becoming his lieutenants as they apparently had in the first timeline.

She input all the data they both remembered the T-850 that had saved them had possessed, and with a shared bittersweet smile switched its processor from "read only" to "read and write". John promised to install the CPU into one of the T-850 model 101 terminators they had managed to remove from one of Skynet's production lines before they'd even been activated.

Once sent back in time, the T-850 would access its memories and unknowingly perpetuate a lie by telling young Kate Brewster and John Connor that it had killed John's self in 2032. John accepted the necessity, although he wanted to cry at the idea that the girl he remembered would live and fight, driven by a deception that would ultimately make her a sacrifice to the greater good.

"Noblesse oblige," Kate said wryly. "Or in our case, the name of 'Connor' does. I love you. I wouldn't have wanted to exchange what we are-- were-- to each other for anything." She meaningfully raised her hand with the wedding ring. John swallowed painfully. He'd taken his off years ago, and now he was ashamed.

"All those years, I thought you were dead," he said and couldn't look into her eyes. Marcus had quietly disappeared into the throng of scientists and soldiers milling around the time travel equipment once their conversation had turned to private topics. He was glad for and yet resented his absence.

"You've gone grey at the temples," Kate said with a choked laugh and ran a hand through his hair. "Tell me - how are the kids? How are you?"

John told her of the twins' childhood, of Bianchi's betrayal, Blair's and Barnes' deaths, Kyle's departure, and of the major events of the last years. Finally, he couldn't avoid it any longer.

"I've--I've fallen in love again," he said haltingly. "With... with Marcus."

Kate raised her eyebrows in amused disbelief. "Kinky," she said dryly. "So it wasn't just Tim. I'd wondered. Considering you're still alive, I'm assuming our first worries - that Skynet might remote-trigger him to kill you one day - were unnecessary?"

John flushed umcomfortably and felt like a heel. Kate knew him far too well. He owed her for her calm understanding, and so he told her more about what he felt than he'd ever spoken of to anyone, even his lover. He was just calling Marcus over via the radio when he noticed her face paling, and the bloodstain on her stomach expanding rapidly.

He was holding Marcus' hand so tightly that a normal human's bones would have ground together when the medic announced her death 15 minutes later, without her having regained consciousness. In the other hand, he was gripping the re-programmed CPU.

"Fate isn't what we make," he spat out angrily. "It's inescapable, it's destiny, it's the one enemy we cannot defeat."

Captain Stella Reese, en route to Eureka since Kate had announced her plan with which she intended to preserve the timeline, arrived two hours later with an inactivated T-850 model 101 terminator. John refused further treatment for his wound until Skynet's destruction was ensured.

Midnight had just passed when, behind the tight formation of their choppers, the tall building exploded into a mushroom cloud of destruction, taking the last TDE in existence with it. No more interference with the past, John silently promised Kate's memory, from hereon, we live solely in the present.

He smiled at Marcus - his rock, his right hand, his lover - crouched next to him.


Part Four: In Destruction's Wake, There's New Life

28 August 2019

Marcus wondered whether it wouldn't have been preferable for everyone if he'd died at Skynet Central, but immediately chastised himself for entertaining the thought. Progress, he thought cynically. A week earlier, he would have wallowed in self-pity for the rest of the evening, perhaps even swilling down the distilled monkey piss that you could soak your liver in if you were willing to meet Zelnik's exorbitant price in trade goods. If you had a liver, that was.

He silently cursed the self-pitying part of himself and stomped towards his quarters. Of the three soldiers he passed in the hallway, only one greeted him, and most likely never would again, given how fiercely Marcus scowled at him.

Once the door to his quarters was closed, he leant back against the door with a sigh. He was so tired of the unrelenting hostility, suspicion, and the minor, but vicious tricks played on him daily by the men and women supposed to be his fellow soldiers. Oh, he had Kyle and Star who openly showed him that they loved him - like an older brother or a favorite uncle. He had little Jeannie and Bobby's cheerful acceptance of one more babysitter; fuck, he even had Barnes' reluctant respect and trust.

He no longer had Blair. With her support, he would have ignored most of the hostility he encountered.

But Blair's A-10 hadn't made it safely to the ground after she'd blown Bianchi's jet out of the sky in a dogfight of epic proportions. Bianchi, humankind's greatest failure - the traitor who'd been willing to trade the survival of his comrades for a luxurious life spent in a golden cage of Skynet's making -, had cost him the first person who'd loved him without reservation.

But... he wasn't really alone, was he? After all, there was John.

Marcus roughly scrubbed his hands over his face and took a deep breath.

What had developed between them over the last couple of days felt like so much more than hero-worship, companionship, or an unhealthy fascination with what made Marcus different. Both Skynet and the majority of the Resistance would have a collective heart-attack if they knew about them growing closer. Kate Connor would...

Yeah, Kate Connor.

And that was the crux of the situation, wasn't it? It was Kate Connor's ghost, more-so than Marcus' loss of Blair, that stood between them. Marcus, at least, had had closure. He'd been there, had seen the burning parts of Blair's jet rain down north of Bakersfield, had heard static replace her tightly controlled voice over the radio. Hickabick Out. Forever. But John? He didn't have anything beyond intelligence and the aerial recon reports saying that Kate's target had been utterly destroyed, and that due to the extent of the damage, rescue attempts were deemed futile. There had been no radio transmission, no sign that any member of her team had escaped the explosion. The A-10s had combed the terrain in numerous fly-overs for longer than was safe, until John himself had ordered them to return to base for good.

Three weeks later, they'd had a short memorial service which John had attended dry-eyed, the hands of his children clutched tightly in his.

Instead of turning to Kyle, as Marcus had expected, John had inexplicably turned to him afterwards.

Oh, Marcus had always been aware of the attraction they felt towards each other. Ever since John had trusted him - against all reason, against his better judgment - to get him into Skynet Central, Marcus had known that John wanted to believe in him. For Marcus, meeting the man face-to-face had only reinforced the admiration he'd reluctantly begun to feel ever since he'd first heard one of his broadcasts. John Connor had charisma and a presence it was impossible to turn away from. That despite the war he fought, he still had it in him to be stupidly brave, self-sacrificing and willing to help strangers made him even more appealing.

Still, Marcus didn't go for men as a rule. He had known that John would be an exception from the moment he'd had his arm slung around John's sweating, trembling body and helped him stumble towards the Black Hawk promising to deliver them from the place where Marcus' nightmares had been confirmed and his elation at getting a second chance, a new life, had turned to ash. Then John's wife had taken her place at his side, and Marcus had stepped back into the background, into the shadows he felt he belonged to.

But John hadn't let him retreat. He'd let him lick his wounds in peace, had even sent Blair after him, and then he'd deliberately begun cultivating a friendship as well as a close, joint working relationship.

That was the furthest Marcus had ever expected their relationship to go.

Now, though? Now the future was full of possibilities.

John, stubbornly honest and determined, had made the first step. Late one evening in John's quarters, bare of Kate's belongings for weeks, the twins asleep in the tiny adjacent bedroom, he had leant towards Marcus, twitched his eyebrows in a dorkily inviting manner, and touched Marcus' face. The raised rhythm of his heartbeat had belied his calm composure, and so Marcus had answered with a cautious nod. The following kiss had been everything he'd never imagined.

Marcus, as a rule, didn't do romantic.

Again, John proved to be an exception. He made Marcus want to forget his past, his anger, the things that had been done to his body, the violence he sometimes had to fight so hard to suppress.

He made Marcus smile. With another, calmer inhalation, Marcus pushed his body away from the door and hunted through his belongings for a clean (or at least cleaner) shirt. After all, he'd promised to be at John's place at 23:00.

***

On his way to John's quarters, Marcus checked the two sentries that more or less were on his way. Both were alive, alert and polite enough to greet him with salutes he still wasn't used to. John might have adopted a more formalized leadership role when he'd restructured the Resistance cells in North America after their original HQ had been wiped out, but Marcus' new rank of captain didn't sit well on his shoulders.

From thug to murderer to prisoner to dead man walking, to revenant, machine, man on his way, and now to one of the officers working closely with the famous John Connor. Never in a million years...

He shook his head in faint amusement at his own doubts and continued on his way.

He'd barely cleared the door to John's quarters when he was gently pressed against the wall right next to it. Again, he felt John's hand settle on his face in a warm, careful touch; a gesture that was quickly becoming familiar. Once again he couldn't but nod his consent, and John kissed him, slowly, thoroughly, and oh so well.

Marcus pushed John off him and smirked a little, studiously projecting unconcern. "I could get used to being greeted like that every night. Long day, darling?"

John huffed out an impatient breath. The long scar on the left side of his face creased and gave him a sinister air. "Can we not do this? Please?"

"Do what? Talk?" If John wanted this to go anywhere, sooner or later they would have to.

"Treat it like it means next to nothing."

And so quickly they were off-script. That wasn't what Marcus had expected him to say.

"We both know differently. You're right. But I still don't know what you want from me." That sounded far more insecure than Marcus had wanted it to. Damn John.

"I want you by my side. During the day when we fight the machines, and during the night when we gather our strength for what the next sunrise brings. Stop." John's voice was commanding, and his raised hand actually kept Marcus' mocking rejoinder from leaving his mouth. "This is not a fling for me, or a dirty secret, and you're not a poor substitute for the wife I've lost. You know that. You're not even the first guy I've kissed. Kate could tell you stories about Mike Kripke's basement..." He sobered for a moment, but continued determinedly: "I'm not the enemy. I don't know where this is going, but in life, there are no guarantees. You've been the one who made us stop; you've been the one who left each time. What do I need to do to prove to you than I mean it?"

Marcus explosively blew out his breath through his nose. Suddenly he was exasperated. "Nothing. It's not you, it's me." At his own words, a reluctant smile crept over his face, and seconds later he and John were howling with laughter like teenagers, only constrained by the knowledge that John's kids were asleep next door.

Deliberately slowly, Marcus took off his gloves. He immediately grabbed John's right hand and placed it on his shoulder, knowing it would soon migrate to the back of his neck. Then it was him who was crowding John against the wall and kissing him like there was no tomorrow, only pulling away long enough to mutter: "I love the way you taste, the way you smell, the way I can feel your heartbeat jump when I do this." And he bit the place where John's throat met his shoulder. The resulting groan was as gratifying as always.

Moments later, they were on the floor together (after all, the bedroom was off-limits), struggling out of their shirts and tees. Marcus could hardly ever stand to look at his own chest anymore, vividly remembering the gleaming steel underneath, but John didn't seem deterred. Smooth warm flesh touched smooth warm flesh, and Marcus consciously tried to stop thinking. Some things might have changed - as his time with Blair had shown him - but others hadn't, and there was no doubt that this was feeling so very good.

John, however, had apparently felt some of Marcus reluctance and sat up. With his hair mussed, his lips swollen and his pupils blown huge with passion, he looked entirely unlike the calm, collected leader the Resistance knew. It was only now that Marcus realized that John had even shaved for the occasion. The lack of his perpetual five-o-clock shadow made him look ridiculously young and vulnerable. It brought out his cheekbones and the clean line of his jaw.

He loved John's deep voice, he thought, suddenly feeling strangely happy and light. "What?"

"That was my question. What made you hesitate? You do want this, yeah?"

"I do. But I--I..."

"Tell me."

"Skynet didn't replicate everything exactly how it used to be. Do you get it? Marcus Wright v2.0 is lacking a bit of the original equipment. You read Kate and Dr. Kowalski's report, right?"

John's look was missing the understanding he expected. Marcus rolled his eyes.

"Kate claimed doctor-patient confidentiality, and so I had her summarize her findings. Your strengths, your vulnerabilities, your skills, and what hardware they couldn't take out of you without--"

"--without killing me. You can say it. I know the synopsis also highlighted the methods of how best to kill me just in case I either flipped or got taken over by Skynet remotely." At seeing the protest hovering on John's lips, he continued with only a hint of bitterness: "I get it. I really do. I memorized that part, and I made Blair learn it, too. No, this was a few pages earlier. Skynet forewent all human organs without an immediate purpose. Aside from my original brain and the heart, I have a digestive tract that's pretty similar to the original, as well as this."

He grabbed John's hand and pressed it into his groin. The sight and feel of John's fingers so close to his erection made him grit his teeth.

"See? I can get hard, I can fuck, I can come. I even get to enjoy it pretty much like before. But I don't have a prostate, and that's a damned fucking shame, because those last nights, I've been thinking about nothing but you fucking me into the floor. You get it now?"

Twenty minutes later, he knew that what he had was more than enough for a mind-blowing orgasm, John's cock in his raw ass, John's fingernails resting in the deep, bloody scratches down his back, John's teeth in his shoulder, John's hand curled around his balls. Their coupling had been more violent than any sex he'd ever had, but the feelings? The feelings had been sublime. And if he suspected that John might have subconsciously searched for the gleam of steel under his skin, then for the first time, that was an image he could actually live with.

He knew the world was fucked up. He knew he was fucked up. And even John Connor was no fucking saint.

Marcus pressed a kiss to John's temple and went to sleep.


"Terminator: Salvation" story by allaire mikháil, 7.995 words, John Connor/Marcus Wright, Kate Connor, various POVs, rated PG-13.

This story is, once again (do you see a trend here?), the result of far too much overthinking, as evidenced by these four posts resp. discussions. Contemplating time travel and possible paradoxa is confusion-inducing, and I can't begin to say how proud I am that this story makes sense despite taking into account the events of all four Terminator movies so far... at least in my own head. *g*

Anyway, it is a part of my fix-it Make Your Own Fate-'Verse, and while it also references events of the official movie prequel to T4, "From the Ashes" by Timothy Zahn, it can stand on its own. As long as you assume that John Connor was transplanted another heart at the end of T4, you're set to go.

This story has an unofficial soundtrack that it was written to, namely Angels & Airwaves - "Heaven", Terminator Salvation OST (especially #1 - "Opening"), and Lifehouse - "You and Me".

Many thanks to ljdestinyawakened for creating ljconnor_wright and pointing out my worst grammatical mistakes, to ljart_badger for looking this over with a critical eye (Help! Does this make sense?) despite the pairing, to ljslippery_fish for making me think in the first place, and to ljdelorita for helping me rediscover Christian Bale's inherent yumminess.


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