1. Chapter 1 (1/1)

title: looking for a ghost (1/?)ships (fandom): john/cameron, john/allison (terminator: the sarah connor chronicles)timeline/spoilers: post-born to run; full series spoilersa/n: basically, this is what happened when i watched the s2 finale last august. it's very long and will be published as one chapter a week until its conclusion. many thanks to ava_leigh_fitz and noblealice for their ever-present betaing and cheerleading.summary: john's mouth tastes of mud and specks of gravel, like an old dirt road. he has told this story too many times.the table is cold. the plate on the table is cold; the sandwich on the plate on the table is cold. each piece is less frigid than the one beneath. john sees things in puzzle pieces. across from him, derek reese, who is john's uncle but not john's uncle, taps his fingers across the metal tabletop using the pads of the fingers, and making a flat, hollow sound."again," derek says. john's mouth tastes of mud and specks of gravel, like an old dirt road. he has told this story too many times. and he says it again, beginning this time in a different timeline. he does not talk about cameron and he does not talk about kyle reese. he knows better than that, though he now realizes best would have been to keep quiet about everything, be another silent runaway. every time he repeats the story derek looks increasingly exhausted. the small room reminds him of a toaster oven and has a smaller window to the outside, which kyle reese walks by every few minutes, continuing his patrol. whenever he walks by, he stares into the window, right at john, with a look john cannot place. john always stares back."i find this hard to believe," derek says, standing. "i'm sure you understand why."john looks down. "can i speak to –" he begins but then stops, because he knows the woman outside is not cameron but is cameron, has her face but not her name.derek looks toward the window behind him and then back at john with a frown. "kyle? kyle doesn't like you. thinks there's something off about you.""no," john says, shaking his head and trying not to think about exactly what that means. he knows all about parental instinct and wonders if kyle reese can sense what's inside. "the girl who came in with kyle – long

own hair,

own eyes, tall?""allison?" derek asks. his fingers are still above the handle of the door. "why do you want to talk to her? did you know her, where you came from?"john looks out the window, where his father who is not his father is passing by once again. "no," he says, still staring out the window even though kyle has long passed. even in his mind, john can't call him dad. the word sticks. "not exactly. it's a long story."derek shrugs. "i'll ask her. but don't be fooled by her, she could kick your ass if you try anything."john almost laughs. almost. "i believe that."derek turns to go and john rises from his chair, the legs squeaking along the concrete ground and echoing in the empty space. "am i a prisoner?" that would be almost too ironic to stomach, john a prisoner of the people he was meant to save.his uncle does not look at him. "you're under observation," he says, which makes john feel like a patient. his family does appear to have a history of mental illness. just before the door closes, derek calls, "eat your sandwich."john watches derek lock it from the outside, listens to the lock snap into place. he does not eat the sandwich, instead lays his head on the table, left cheek down, so he cannot see kyle walk by again with a face that too easily resembles his own. john shivers. the table is cold.when camer – allison arrives, she has to shake him awake. a gentle nudge tugs him out of a nightmare – the usual one where the world burns. he never gets used to it. he's not sure if he should get used to it."you were screaming," she says. her voice startles him, the way it sounds like cameron but not like cameron. there are emotions there at the first layer, not buried in the way cameron says things. john can hear them sometimes, the inflections laced between the syllables. most of the time he assumes he's making it up, and always knows that, if there is anything there, he's the only one who notices. most days he is – was? – the only person to notice cameron anyway. sure, his mother and derek stared at her pacing across the floor, winced every time she touched a gun, wondering how she would point it. but they didn't see her. they just watched her."bad dream," john says. his voice is deep and rumbles with sleep, so he coughs to clear his lungs and does not look at her. she stays standing. john doesn't know exactly how to begin, so they stay together for several very long, uncomfortable moments while she waits for him to say something."derek said you wanted to speak to me," she says, the end of her sentence lilting up like a question. he nods, but says nothing. "you didn't eat your sandwich," she tries again after another minute, moving to the empty chair. without looking up he can hear she is attempting to smile. "i made it myself."that makes him look her in the eye, his head tilted to the side. "you did?" he remembers how cameron used to cook – still cooks, it's important she remain in present tense. she puts vanilla in the pancake recipe.cam – allison looks like she wants to ask a question. instead, she nods. picking up the sandwich, he tries to discern what's inside."peanut butter?" he asks. with a shrug, a grin spreads across her face, a sight so foreign he almost jumps. he doesn't know how long he'll be in this time, but he knows this is the one thing he'll never get used to. allison's mind with cameron's face. he's still trying to piece it together, how this works. cameron had to come from somewhere, but did he somehow fashion her after allison, some

oken reminder of a person he lost? or perhaps cameron made herself this way, the soft cheekbones, slender hips. cameron doesn't like to talk about their future. she says there are things she's not supposed to give away, and he doesn't believe her. he has always assumed cameron looks the way she does, all soft skin and fragile ligaments, because she was meant to infiltrate. when they first met on his first day at a new school, her laugh sounded real.when he takes a bite out of the sandwich, he has to grimace to swallow. allison laughs, long and loud and higher pitched than he expected. he wants to record the sound, preserve it for cameron's data recorders, so when he

ings her back she can play it on repeat like a favorite song."they don't have re-processed peanut butter where you come from?" allison asks, still giggling. giggling. john smirks. "no, they have the real deal there."allison stops laughing, stops smiling. john frowns. he wants the sound back."real?"john's fingers press down on the overly stale sandwich

ead. if he pushes to hard, the pieces will snap. "yeah," he says, "but this is pretty good too." this time, when he takes a bite, he is careful not to squirm.she grins. "you're a terrible liar."that's not true, of course. john's an incredible liar. he lies for a living and, if he can keep the world from ending, should probably become an actor. but he's not used to lying to cameron's face, even if cameron says future john keeps secrets from her. future john has more practice. in the present tense, john doesn't know how. especially not when she's smiling.but he says, "i suppose i am."allison watches him eat the rest of his sandwich and hands him a small canteen of water when he's done. "sorry i forgot something to drink earlier," she says, gesturing to his unfinished place setting. "your story shook me a little. you understand."john understands. his story always shakes people. if he could put enough shaken people in a room the sound vi

ations of their bones would crack glass."shakes me too sometimes," he says, quieter than he meant.allison looks at her hands folded in her lap. john does not think about cameron's

oken fingers. "why did you want to speak to me?" she tries again. persistent, this one. perhaps curious. he wants to make her make sense, wants to berate her with questions for days on end, wants to know what it feels like to be allison. allison from palmdale, he remembers suddenly and with a sharp sting, like remembering something past and painful. that was the only time he saw cameron smile, that time he found her in the shelter. he is trained to move quickly, but that is one of the few times he can recall wanting to only be still."when i got here," he says, speaking the words too quickly, so that they layer on top of each other. "when i got here, and i'm sorry if i'm wrong, but you looked at me –"her eyes narrow, a corner of her mouth upturned. "there was a man wearing only kyle's coat standing in front of me. i know it's impolite to stare, but –""no," he says, not thinking about how he likes being called a man after so many years of being called simply a boy. he doesn't think he has ever been a boy. "it just – it seemed like you knew me. or recognized me. i just wanted to see –""how could i recognize you?" she interrupts. "you're from a different world.""i don't know, i just –""i was just surprised to see you," she says with a tight grin. "it's too cold to be walking around without clothes on."his laugh falls flat. she stands to go and he almost stops her. he stands and takes a step to move around the table toward her. the motion makes her freeze and she shirks back, as though he could hurt her. that's to be expected with a life like this. loud noises must make her jump in the night. thinking about it makes him feel heavy, like sinking to the bottom of a pool. they watch each other for a moment, and then allison moves again to the door. her footfalls are quiet and precise, like ballerina's feet, or those of a soldier dancing around landmines. when she locks the door behind her, she does not look through the window.john stays standing and unmoving for several heartbeats and then returns to his chair, places his head back on the table, and once again tries to sleep. it is harder to doze off this time; whenever he closes his eyes he sees her face, and doesn't know if her means cameron or not. he takes to staring at the wall for what feels like hours, replaying his life in his head. not even his entire life, just the last two years that span decades. he doesn't like seeing cameron in every splice of memory, doesn't like the overlay of her voice screaming i love you, john, and you love me in the only time he has ever thought she was afraid. that was a dangerous minute for all of them, because he started to think she could be human. and once he thought it, he couldn't stop it, couldn't stop watching the motions of her hands piecing together ammunitions and supplies, moving across graph papers, folding laundry, turning the pages of a book. he was waiting, always, for another spark. he never asked her why she was so desperate to stay alive if she was just going to lecture him about it later, but he wonders if the truth of it is that in those few moments she was too afraid to be logical. he wonders if that makes any sense.when he falls asleep he dreams of fire. a blurred face waits for him beyond the flames, and he knows it is cameron even though he cannot see. she asks what he is waiting for.he wakes with a crick in his neck he can't stretch out and a bowl of some porridge-looking substance on the table. he is almost tempted to push it away, but his stomach reminds him that he is biologically a teenage boy. john tries not to

eathe until he has finished the bowl, and then he tries to

eathe heavily to keep it down. he almost loses his concentration when allison walks into the room again. she isn't smiling and he thinks, for a second too long, that it's cameron. and it's not cameron, and it will never be cameron until he finds that chip and his eyes clench shut from the pounding in his head. john knows he's smart, really smart, good with math, but he can't make this calculation fit, cameron and allison and the mixing of the two.eyes still shut, he says, "i wasn't expecting to see you this morning.""afternoon," she corrects, sitting across from him, left leg crossing over the right. "you slept for a long time. your porridge must have been cold."his eyes tick to the now near-empty bowl, the last smatterings of oatmeal flakes sticking to the bottom of the dish. "all the same, it didn't taste that bad."her laugh is short, a half-chuckle. "your lying is improving. this place has been good for you."he raises an eye

ow. "i wouldn't exactly say that."she bites her lip, looking down at her hands again. he wants to observe her, the little ticks and movements her human body makes, and then has to remind himself that he's talking to a human being, not another robot. he sees more robots than people most days. it wears."i'm sorry," she says. "i didn't mean to be rude. this morning, last night. i shouldn't have rushed out of here the way i did."john shrugs with his good shoulder. "it's okay. a random naked guy popping up in the middle of camp isn't exactly a common event."her laugh is longer this time, but still quiet, like remembering an old joke. when she looks up at him, her smile wilts at the corners."you know when you see a face and you know you know it from somewhere but you can't place where? like, an old film or a photograph, but you don't know which film or which fridge you saw it on?"allison watches his face, waiting. he nods, and she continues. "i thought i knew you from somewhere. there's something familiar about you. and even when i shook that feeling, there was still some – there's a strength about you, you know. has anyone ever told you that?"everyone, he thinks. everyone thinks he's stronger than he is, moves stronger than he is, carries himself like a warrior king."once or twice," he says.allison looks off to the side, to a spot behind john on the blank wall. "i'm just trying to figure you out. and besides," she smiles with a toss over her shoulder, "kyle reese will probably have a heart attack if he sees you yet. your story really got to him for some reason. you should have saved that story of yours for a later time. privately, perhaps, instead of just blurting it out in front of everyone there. sloppy."it was sloppy. sometimes he makes mistakes. he lost catherine weaver or whatever she was in no time. barely in this world for a minute and he was already screwing up. some soldier, lost without his mother to lead.the door creaks open and derek steps in. unlike with allison, john can get used to seeing derek quite easily. seeing him on the floor with a bullet to the head, now that felt like road spikes through the stomach. it's nice, sometimes, to get back someone he thought was lost."am i interrupting?" derek asks, looking between the two of them, john's hands clasped tightly together on the table, allison's fingers perched on the edge.allison stands before john can speak. "not at all. i was just leaving.""thanks for lunch," john calls after her. his voice sounds as tired as he feels and allison does not turn around.derek places a pad of paper and some pens on the table. the pens are half

oken and mostly chewed at the ends."in this future of yours," derek begins, "the one where you're the leader of this motley crew. are things any better?"john does not blink. "i don't know.""judgment day?""still happens. the war still happens, people still die, we're still losing.""what makes you so special?" he tone is not angry but the words still sting.john looks out the window. someone he doesn't recognize is on patrol today. he's not sure if he misses his fath – kyle reese's face or not."i lead," he says, looking back at derek. "i plan, i coordinate, i hope.""what sort of plans?"he swallows. this might not be the sort of thing he should share yet, but it's important, it's all he has, it's why he's here. "i re-program metal. make them work for us instead."derek's mouth drops open and hangs for a moment. when he snaps his jaw shut, john can see him grinding his teeth together until he shouts, "what the fuck do you mean, we work with metal?"john doesn't flinch. derek never liked the idea of working with cameron either. john knows that working with cameron is the only reason he's still alive. "i re-program them. we can trust them."derek's hands clench on the top of the table, as though he is about to pound his fists against it. "we can't trust metal, john. anyone leading this army would know that.""anyone leading this army should know there are things that must be done that aren't always popular." his voice doesn't sound like his own. it sounds deeper, bolder, more unflinching than he can ever recall. perhaps he is not a soldier - he knows that with certainty even when no one else does - but he plays the part well. derek stares back at him, notices the shift in tone, and sits up straighter. he nudges the paper and pens toward john."i want you to start planning," derek says. "tell me what your other future is like, what you know of it. what's different about here.""i haven't been outside this room," john protests. "i don't know what's different."derek stills for a moment, looks down and to the side and runs his tongue along his crackling lips that john can see are splitting."in your future," derek says, slow and precise, each consonant crisp as dried leaves in autumn, "do we ever win?"john reaches for one of the pens, and rolls it under his palm so that it travels from wrist to fingertip. it moves unevenly, the consequence of all those teeth marks. "sometimes. sometimes we win."derek nods. "then it's different," he says, and it's a quiet, defeated sound john never wants to hear from his uncle again. derek walks to the door again. he wraps his hand around the doorknob and says, "start planning," opens the door and steps outside.john twirls the pen in his fingers for a moment, thinking of escape routes. he knows he can't get out until these people trust him, and he can't save cameron if he doesn't get out. and besides, even if this reality might vanish when he nestles back into his own timeline, these are his people. his family. he can't just slip out the door in the middle of the night, knock out two security guards and run aimlessly through a city without streets or a name. he begins the paper with, "my name is john connor," because that he always understands.