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Title: faded echo
She wondered if she should tell him, he'd been honest with her - eventually - and it seemed a little... deceitful of her not to reciprocate. But... he'd only really said no because he thought she was too young. Too innocent. Too virginal. He knew. He had to know.
It was dark in the side tunnel she had led him to. A back-up supply tunnel, nothing here had been disturbed for months - and God willing it wouldn't have to be for months to come. Some might find the darkness oppressive, but as far as she was concerned it was absolutely fine with her. Maybe in the dark he wouldn't see how scared - no, not scared, how apprehensive - she was. But still, she wanted to see his face; and as he touched her, as his lips found hers and his hands moved clumsily over her body, she found that she wanted him to see her. Almost as though her thought had willed it, a mortar shell exploded somewhere in the near distance and the fading glow made his eyes to sparkle above her. A shy smile lit up his face and she reached up to trace the tiny creases at the corners of his eyes with her fingertips. He'd seen so much, they all had, and yet there was still something so pure there. So innocent.
As she touched his skin he closed his eyes and moved his head sideways until her fingers were at his lips and he could kiss them gently. Alison traced the small scars that this life had wrought on his face. She could feel her fingers trembling as she traced over his bare shoulders. He seemed to shiver as she followed the lines of the snake tattoo on his forearm - or was it a dragon, like some warrior king of old? - and, as she laced her fingers through his, he opened his eyes and met her own.
His eyes were darker than she had realized and she wondered if it just was the poor light in the tunnel, or if she had never really noticed. Or maybe it was the emotion deep in those eyes. The... lust. There was no other word for it. He wanted her. And that took her breath away.
She wondered for a moment if he saw the same in her own eyes but as warmth - no, heat - began to course through her she knew that he did.
He was fumbling with the buttons on her shirt and for a brief second she wondered why he didn't just tear them apart - she wouldn't care - but then a glimmer of real life came back to her and she couldn't help the smile at his thoughtfulness. New buttons were near impossible to find these days. Waste not, want not.
The incongruity of the thought brought laughter bubbling from her lips and he stopped, frowning.
"No. I... we can't do this." He made as if to pull away from her but she reached out quickly to catch his hand again.
"Yes we can," she said. "We are doing this." She pulled him close, marvelling a little that she seemed to have the power to make him move when he was so much stronger than she - but then, maybe she wasn't really moving him. Maybe she was only guiding him to where he wanted to be.
She realised her hands were still shaking and she caught the smile in his eyes as he saw her try to still them. The two of them were already closer than she had ever thought would be possible but, as his lips found hers once more, she began to lose her sense of self. She felt as though they were merging into one being and that nothing could separate them again.
The pain she had known would come made her gasp and he stopped abruptly as she pulled her head back to catch her bottom lip between her teeth stifling the groan. His eyes widened in shock. "Alison?" There was a note of panic in his voice, "What's wrong? Did I hurt you?"
She shook her head and took a second to catch her breath before she said, "It's normal. The first time." She hadn't thought his eyes could get any wider but he proved her wrong. "Did you think it was just you?"
"Wha-? Oh. Really?"
She couldn't stop the grin as he threw her own words back at her.
"So...what are we waiting for?"
Life went on more or less the same as it had before, but for Alison it seemed like the world was just a little bit brighter. She and Derek couldn't spend a lot time together, there was too much going on - too many people depending on them both, in their own ways - for that, but in truth that made what little time they did have together all the sweeter for its scarcity. Maybe the world had ended, but for the first time since the machines took over she actually felt as though she had some kind of future.
Then Connor had sent for her.
There were rumours that the machines were going to try to infiltrate their camps using captured prisoners. He wanted her to get herself captured to find out what they were doing. He promised her they'd come for her. They wouldn't leave her there. They'd get her back.
"What did you want to be when you grew up?" Alison knew she had to tell Derek she would be leaving soon, but lying in the comfort of his arms she found it hard to believe there could be anything else in the world than this.
"Didn't really have a lot of options. Alive or dead kinda sums it up."
"No, I meant before. Before all this happened. When you were a kid - before judgment day. What did you want to be?"
He laughed a little. "God, that was another lifetime. I don't really remember."
"Sure you do." She lifted her head a little and looked up at him with a smile.
"You'll laugh." He was stroking her hair gently and she could almost feel him squirming at the thought of answering.
"Oooh! Intrigue!" She grinned up at him. "What was it?"
"No, I'm not telling you now."
"You can't do that! I swear, I won't laugh. Cross my heart." She all but pouted at him, knowing he would give in just to stop her doing that.
He sighed and dropped his head back. "Okay, okay. I wanted to design parks. Happy now?"
"Huh?" She wasn't sure what she'd expected but it definitely hadn't been that.
"Parks. You know, like municipal parks and things? I wanted to do that." He shrugged and started playing with her hair again, trying to distract her.
"I... I'd never have thought that about you."
"Yeah, well, I used to spend most of the time outside but our folks were total suburbanites and the yards near us were all just lawns and things. Then one time, when I was about twelve I think, they took us out for a day to these botanical gardens where they had all these different ecologies in the same place and I was just blown away. Kyle hated it; he thought there couldn't be anything more boring than plants. But... all that life? I just... I couldn't get it out of my head. Every chance I got I'd go back there, offer to help out. I think thought I was nuts but they put up with me and then..." He sighed again. "And then the world ended."
"Wow." She couldn't say anything for a few minutes. Derek was a soldier to the core, it was strange to think there ever had been a time when he had not been, but for those few moments when he had opened up about his hopes and dreams it had almost been like she could see the kid he had been hanging around those greenhouses and annoying the workers.
She traced her fingers over his chest in silence, finding the scars fighting the machines had gifted him, wondering what he would have been like if none of this had happened. Would she have known him? Would she have loved him?
With a start she realized he had spoken. "Sorry, what did you say?"
There was a wry smile on his face. "I said, what about you?"
"Oh. I wanted to be a dancer. Ballet, I was taking classes but..." She shrugged. "Well, you know."
"Yeah, I know." He kissed the top of her head and drew her closer. As she nestled comfortably once more into the warmth of his arms she couldn't help but wonder if there would ever be a time they could just be happy.
"Because it's wrong."
"No. It's not."
"Alison... She's barely eighteen."
"So. She's too young."
"Derek. We're all too young."
"Connor, she's... you can't ask her to do this."
"Derek. You're my... one of my most trusted companions. You know me. If there was any choice, if there was anything else that could be done, don't you think I'd do it?"
"But nothing. I'm sorry. It has to be done. She's going. She has to. And one day... well, maybe one day you'll understand why."
"No. Let me go instead of her. It doesn’t have to be her."
"Derek... they know who you are and they'll kill you outright. You know they will. But Alison... well, they won't see her as a threat, they'll think they can use her as a tool but we'll get to her. We'll find her. We'll get her out."
"How, John? Tell me that. How are we going to get her out?"
"We will get her back, Derek. I swear it."
The machine had her face. She wouldn't get out of this, and she had known all along that Connor wouldn't be able to keep his promise. He couldn't get her out of this and that machine was going to walk into the camp with her face and her pass bracelet and with every memory it had torn out of her. Would he know it wasn't her?
"I'll never help you get to John Connor." She whispered.
Derek had already lived through the end of the world, so why had his world just ended again? Sumner hadn't said Kyle was dead but... no one had seen him and they'd blown the place he'd gone into to hell. What else could have happened? Had Connor left him in there to die? Had it been the same place where he had sent Alison to die?
Connor was supposed to be some kind of genius - knew what was happening almost like he could see it coming before it happened. He'd even told Derek once that he had known the end would come before it happened but that he couldn't stop it. If that was true, then did he know he was sending people to their deaths? Did he know that he was systematically stripping Derek of every reason he had for fighting? For living? Did he care?
Derek knew John, or thought he did. They'd got drunk together, they'd laughed together, they'd fought beside each other. But right now, he felt like he had no idea who the other man was. Derek had to know what had happened.
"Let me talk to Connor, he'll understand. Kyle was his friend." Derek said.
"Connor doesn't have any friends." The words were like a knife twisting in his guts. Was he kidding himself Had Derek ever known who John Connor really was? "And he doesn't talk to anyone."
"Fine. I'll find him myself." Derek knew he could track John down, even in this unfamiliar camp - it couldn't be all that difficult. And when he did? Well, he'd just have to have it out with the other man. Simple as that. If Derek's world had ended for the second time, he needed to know if Connor was to blame.
The concrete beneath his boots gave way to a steel mesh ramp and as he headed down he looked around, trying to locate a central control area, he saw a figure coming towards him. He stopped. Alison.
Derek stared at her for what felt both like an eternity and also a fraction of a second. It wasn't her. She was looking at him as though he were a stranger. Her face was blank and the way she carried herself was wrong, the dancer's grace that had been so much a part of her was missing... it wasn't her.
In a heartbeat he knew.
"Metal!" He yelled as he drew his sidearm. Strange how he could still function when his heart had been torn out.
His life was over so why was he still breathing? He ate, he slept, he filed a more or less truthful report of his time in the weird house they'd been held captive in. But he didn't live. He was just waiting until the time his body caught up with the fact that he was dead.
"We got a runaway!" The shout woke him from a fractured nightmare in which he'd found Alison - the real Alison - but when he tried to hold onto her, her skin had turned to metal under his hands. His trained reactions kicked in as gunfire tracked down the corridor outside the quarters he'd found and Derek was at the door with his gun drawn a heartbeat later. Too late to prevent those trying to flee from being mown down. He yelled out and fired; watching in shock as the bullets didn't even slow the thing down. It came at him and he ducked behind the door.
Tricked into following him blind, he managed to bring the machine to the floor but as he emptied his clip into the thing's metal frame he knew that it was the end. Nothing left to do.
"Do it." He said in a level tone. "Do it now, you son of a bitch!"
It was gone in a cloud of dust and suddenly she was there, an incendiary shell pumped into the things chest and she was turning to him and speaking with Alison's voice but with none of her tone. "Sometimes they go bad. No one knows why."
She walked away from him and Derek was left once again in the wreckage.
What was it? Why did they trust it when, what was it it had said? "Sometimes they go bad?" Why had they made it look like Alison? Why couldn't they just have... why Alison?
Almost as if thinking about it had conjured it up from the depths of his imagination, it was suddenly right there, in front of him. Its head on one side and the expression on its face... for a brief second it was Alison looking at him with her head tilted to one side and he couldn't stop the gasp that escaped.
"John wants to see you."
No, it was a machine. Alison was gone.
"Was that what you meant, John? 'We'll get her back', wasn't that what you said? Well that's not her. That's not Alison. That is a machine and it is going to kill us all."
"No. She won't."
"Sometimes they go bad. That's what it said."
"You can't know that!"
"I know it."
"And what about Kyle? Huh? What happened to Kyle?"
"The machines are trying to kill me."
"They're trying to kill us all, Connor. What happened to my brother?"
"They sent a T-888 back in time. That's what this machine is. They're trying to kill my mother before I'm even born."
"They... They're what?"
"We were too late to stop it, but we could send someone back to stop the machine."
"And are you going to tell me we'll get him back too? Because forgive me, but I don't think I'd believe you."
"It's a one way trip."
"So we can't get him back."
"No. I'm sorry Derek, we can't."
"But he's alive?"
"I... don't know. I'm sorry, really. I am sorry."
"And you're here, right? So it worked? That machine they sent back didn't manage to kill your mom?"
"No. It didn't."
"So... what happens now?"
"In your report, you talked about another prisoner who had been there. Someone who talked about a computer he'd built that he thought had started this war?"
"Yeah... Goode his name was. He... died."
"Well, we've got other names too. Other programmers whose work might have helped start Skynet and now we might be able to do something about that."
"We have this now. We can send another team back. Stop them before they can do anything."
"I want in."
"I thought you might."
Even in the past it seemed like that damn machine blinded Connor. Derek refused to think of it as anything but metal. Sarah and John could buy into the lie all they wanted, call it by a name all they liked, at least it was Cameron. But Hell itself would freeze over before he would even acknowledge it as anything more than a tool. Something to be used, not something to be trusted.
He wouldn't tell them how it felt like his heart was being torn out anew every single time he looked at that thing. Seeing that faded of echo of Alison now and then when it put on a mask of humanity twisted the knife that had been driven into him the moment he knew the woman he loved was dead.
There was music. Familiar, haunting, music drifted through the house. Derek followed the notes to the machine's room. Perplexed, he looked around the door and stopped in shock.
It was Alison. She was dancing, a beautiful, graceful ballet, with all the love and dedication she had shown when he had teased her about it.
It wasn't Alison.
It couldn't be Alison.
It was the machine.
It was Cameron.
The machine was dancing.
Cameron was dancing.
Cameron was Alison.
all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.