Disclaimer: Joss and ME own Buffy. Terminator: TSCC is owned by Bartleby. I own nothing but the words.
Author's Note: The title is from John Donne's Meditation Seventeen
It was the hair. It wasn't really like Riley's hair; blonde, yes, and long, but not as wavy and of a slightly lighter color. But the afternoon sun glinted off of it in a similar way, and somehow, John found himself following it down the street, drawn ever onward when he should have been going home. The woman noticed he was following her much sooner than he'd expected, but it took a few blocks for her to do something about it. And even then it wasn't what he'd expected.
She stopped at a stop light, looked around, and smiled at him.
It almost made him turn and walk the other way. But there was something in her smile, like she'd been where he was, though that made no sense at all. His Mom-voice was screaming at him to get away, to get back home, but instead, John walked up to stand next to the woman.
"Hey," he said, almost under his breath.
Her smile stayed in place. "Hello," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Anne."
John stared at her hand for a long moment, then took his out of his pocket and shook hers. She had a gentle, though somehow decisive grip.
"John," he said.
"So, John," Anne said, "I don't think you're an axe murderer out for my blood." She paused, raising her eyebrows at him, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by the light turning green, so they both stepped off of the sidewalk and into the intersection.
"Not an axe murderer," John said when they'd reached the other side. Now, guns, on the other hand...but he obviously wasn't going to tell her that.
"Right," Anne said. "My usual next guess would be that you need a place to sleep tonight, but you don't give off that vibe, somehow."
"A place to sleep?" John said, shooting her a look out of the corners of his eyes. She regularly offered teenage boys a place to sleep? Now that he'd seen her face, she looked much older than Riley, but that still couldn't be a good idea.
Anne laughed. "I run a shelter for teenagers," she said. "Most people around here know who I am, and that they're safe there...but not you, obviously."
"Sorry," John said. "That's...good, though." Riley probably would have been better off there than with Jesse, and he was sure there were other kids who needed a shelter like that, as well.
Anne laughed again. "Yes, it is," she said.
Her laugh should have annoyed him. John didn't like it when people laughed at him. Riley had...well, Riley was different.
"Don't need a place to sleep," he said.
"No," Anne said. They stopped at another light, and she turned to look at him. "So, why were you following me?"
John had no idea what to say, so he just shrugged.
"Hmm," Anne said, and stepped into the intersection as the light turned green. They walked for several blocks in silence, John keeping an eye on everyone around them, the vehicles passing by, and the window, doorways, and alleyways they walked past. It startled him to realize that Anne was doing the same thing. Before he could figure out a way to ask her about it, though, she stopped at a corner.
"The shelter's this way," she said, pointing to the cross street. She didn't say anything else; she just looked at him and smiled. John shrugged again and started walking down that street.
"If you're walking me there because you're worried about me, you don't have to be," she said. "I can take care of myself."
If Riley had said that, she would have sounded defensive, but Anne didn't, just amused. He really should have been bothered by how much she seemed to be laughing at him.
"I know you can," he said.
That made her stop walking and turn to look at him. "How do you know that?" she asked.
John hunched into his jacket. "You're as aware of your surroundings as...as I am, and that's saying something," he said.
"Hmm," Anne said. She gave him a long look, then started walking again. They quickly passed into a not-quite-nice neighborhood, not as bad as some that John had been in, but obviously somewhere there might be kids in need of a shelter. Neither one of them said anything until Anne stopped at some steps leading up to a door with iron bars on it.
"We're here," she said.
John looked up at the building, then started up the stairs. He still didn't know why he was doing this. Anne didn't say anything as she opened the door and held it open for him to enter in front of her. He muttered his thanks and walked through the doorway, almost running into a large black teenager who was heading for the door. He wasn't sure if it was his quick reflexes that prevented the collision or the other guy's. The other guy looked around John to see Anne.
"New kid?" he said.
Anne shook her head. "He's just visiting," she said. "TK, this is John. John, TK." She smiled at them both, then looked over her shoulder out one of the windows. "The sun's setting. Keep an eye on the door for me, TK?"
"Sure thing," TK said. He settled back against the wall, looking like he was planning on taking a nap there.
"We lock the door at sundown," Anne said as she led the way through a large room set up as a lounge. Several kids, who looked to be from about twelve to maybe seventeen, were doing just that. Most of them looked up when they walked by, but Anne just waved at them, and they went back to whatever they'd been doing. "Don't worry, though, I'll let you back out. Something tells me you're not afraid of walking around in the dark."
"No," John said.
Anne walked into a small, overcrowded office and waved him towards a chair. She opened a cabinet and took out two glasses.
"Would you like some iced tea? Or a soda?" She opened a small fridge and pulled out a pitcher.
Homemade iced tea. Somehow, they never had that at home.
"The tea, thanks," he said. She poured some into both of the glasses, handed him one, and sat down in the other chair.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she said.
John studied the tea in his glass, thinking. Did he want to tell her about it? Should he want to tell her about it? Why did he want to tell her about it? Would she believe him if he did? Who in the world would believe that his girlfriend had come from the future because a bitch of a woman decided to use her to try to seperate him from a robot? And then said bitch had killed her? And then his uncle - a seasoned soldier - had obeyed his orders, just because of who he is. No one, that's who, not even this woman who seemed so accepting. He didn't want to look at the understanding on her face, so he looked back out the door to her office. Most of the kids were now playing some kind of card game, sitting on the floor and flinging cards around crazily. The curses were flying fast and furious, but it seemed all in good fun. They were just kids, normal kids.
"I have this thing that I need to do," he said, still looking out at the kids. "Be. This person I need to be. And I know I have to be him." He took a gulp of tea. "I'm just not sure..."
"Not sure you want to be him?" Anne asked after he just stared at his glass for several moments.
John shook his head. "That's not even important," he said. "I don't have a choice, and I know that. But..." He looked back out to the lounge. Two of the older teenagers looked like they'd gotten into an argument, standing up and almost bumping chests in aggression. Anne either didn't notice or didn't care, and after a few moments, TK came over and seperated them. They postured as they headed to opposite ends of the room, their supporters following them, but they went. "I guess I need to know why."
"Why?" Anne said. John flicked a glance at her, and she didn't look as surprised as he thought she should. She looked like she understood, and that really didn't make sense.
"Yeah, why," he said. "I mean...imagine if you...you were born the crown prince of some land...and I mean, you're really going to have absolute rule, not like Great Britain now."
"Okay," Anne said. "I'm destined to be Louis XV of France."
"Right, exactly," John said, glad she'd gotten what he'd meant. "So, you grow up your whole life knowing that you're going to rule over all of these people, really hold their lives in your hand. You'll give orders, and they'll obey them, because of who you are."
Anne gave a soft laugh. "This has never been one of my fantasies," she said.
"That's good," John said. "Believe me, that's...that's good. But, okay, you're this crown prince...at what point when you're growing up do you wonder why you'll be doing it? No, that's not...I mean...I don't know."
"From everything I've read," Anne said, "the absolute monarchs didn't always ask that question. Some of them did - the good ones."
John shook his head. He wasn't explaining this well, which wasn't surprising, because he didn't really understand it himself. He stood up and took the two steps to the door leading out into the lounge. Leaning against the doorframe, he watched the kids, some of whom were still playing that card game. It looked like fun.
"You're talking about something within me," he said, not looking back at her. "That the good leaders - the good absolute monarchs - questioned themselves and made sure that they gave orders and made decisions for the right reasons, for the good of the people they ruled. I'm not...I've been trained all my life for this. I don't think I'm perfect, but I think I'm the best the wor-they've got. And I think I'll do a good job. Actually, in a weird way, I know I'll do a good job. I just don't know why I'll be doing it."
"Hmm," Anne said. She was silent for several minutes, while John continued to watch the card game. Finally, she sighed. "Let me tell you a story. When I was about your age, I ran away from home. I ended up here, in L.A., on the streets. It was, looking back on it, a horrible life, but I was with someone I loved, so I didn't care too much. But then one day, he was just gone, and I was lost. I fell into even more trouble, and I just gave up. I so completely gave up, I thought of myself as no one, a nonentity. Then this girl came along and showed me that I wasn't no one, that we all were someone, and that we all could make a difference in the world. Can you guess how she did it?"
John could tell she actually wanted an answer from him, but he didn't have one, so he just shrugged.
"She did it," Anne said, "just by being herself. By not giving up, by not letting...I suppose you'd call it The Man take her identity from her. She saved me, and she saved a whole lot of other people. And then I came here, and started this shelter." She stood up and walked over to stand next to him. She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him so he had to look her in the face. "I don't know who exactly this person is that you're destined to be. I don't know the kind of things you're going to have to do when you're him. But I think what you're asking is, is it worth it? Are we worth it?"
John felt some of the tension go out of his shoulders. "Yeah," he said. "That's...I mean, like I said, I've been trained for this my whole life. It didn't give me much chance to see the better side of humanity, somehow."
"What, you mean you've only seen people like them?" Anne said, turning him back around to look into the lounge. The card game was breaking up, and the kids were settling down for the night. They looked happy, tired, and above all, young.
"Not like them," John said. "Worse than them. If the people I save just end up...end up..."
"That girl I told you about, the one who saved me," Anne said. "Before I ran away, I was part of a...a cult...that tried to...to really hurt her. And yet she saved me. She saved lots of people, people she didn't even know. They could have been axe murderers. They could have been Gandhi. If you only save the ones who deserve it, humanity would die out. Or it wouldn't be human anymore."
That was more true than she could possibly know.
"So, yeah," she said. "This is something I feel pretty strongly about. It's worth it. Every day, it's worth it."
John looked out over all of the kids and thought about Riley, and Jesse, and even Derek. They weren't perfect people, they might not even be good people, but they were all desperate people. They'd lived every day in horrible times, in horrible conditions, that would make anyone hard and maybe a little bit crazy. But they were people. If he didn't feel in his heart that they were worth it, then the machines had already won, even if the resistance was successful, even if they managed to stop Judgment Day from ever happening. He turned back to Anne.
"Thank you," he said.
She smiled at him. "You're welcome."
Anne came into her office the morning after John had been there to find an envelope on her desk with her name on it. When she opened it, she found inside a piece of paper with "Thank you" written on it and a single diamond. She didn't recognize the handwriting, but somehow she knew it was from John. And somehow she knew the diamond was real.