fractured | inspectorboxer and anklebones

“No.”

The word came out raw, anguished. If Cameron had been human her throat would have been scarred by its passing, but she was only a machine, and however real her pain might have been, it left her miserably whole. Unable to lay still, her agony burning like a fever that made rest impossible, she slid up onto her hands and knees, barely feeling the small pain of her skin tearing on the jagged dirty rocks underneath.

It was dark. The wind that swept over her bare skin was damp and cold. The air smelled like death and fire.

“No.” This time it was a whimper. Cameron's infrared gaze scanned the area helplessly, everything she saw making her wish that the night was as impenetrable to her as it had been to those she had left behind. Ruined buildings, overturned cars and empty streets... She was alone. No John. No Weaver. No Savannah.

No Sarah.

Cameron shivered, and her systems automatically compensated, elevating her internal temperature, but they did nothing for the chill registering on purely emotional sensors. Cameron tipped her head back to study the night sky. She knew where she was. She just didn’t know when she was.

The stars, barely seen through a thick haze, gave her the answer. Cameron closed her eyes and hung her head, feeling the first stirrings of grief threatening to overcome her.

There were almost two decades between her and the woman she loved.

****

The clothes she'd managed to scrounge out of the wreckage hung off her slight frame. Cameron found a belt to cinch the jeans around her hips, and another to tie around the dusty plaid shirt before she tucked her feet into boots two sizes too big. She felt like Savannah playing dress up and the thought of her daughter made her hands shake as she finished tying the laces.

Cameron took a breath, trying to get a hold of the emotions that were making it hard to think let alone function. Weaver had played her for the fool and now here she was, back in 2027. Judgment Day had clearly still come and gone, but Cameron didn’t dare wonder what had become of her family. In that path lay madness, she knew, so she focused on the essentials - clothes and shelter from the storm that was brewing outside the bombed out apartment she found herself in.

She shrugged on a jacket against the chill that wouldn't go away, a chill that felt metal deep, before sliding down a wall to wait out the weather. She closed her eyes, calling up moments she’d spent with Sarah over the last few months to keep her warm. Somehow, Cameron vowed, she would find a way back to her. Failure was not an option.

Thunder boomed overhead as the skies opened up and toxic rain fell from the heavens. Cameron stayed dry and safe, curled up with the perfect recall of Sarah’s smile.

****

The sun shone weakly through an atmosphere made thick with ash and memories. Cameron could feel both coating her skin, the cremated remains of an entire world sticking to the sweat that beaded on the exposed skin of her arms and face. The nights here were cold, but the days were blistering hot, and Cameron wondered if this was what humans had imagined when they spoke of Hell.

If so, none of them had been unlucky enough to find themselves in it. The twisted metal and shattered glass of skyscrapers were her only companions. In the weeks since her arrival, Cameron hadn’t seen a single human.

Or a single machine.

It was as if she were utterly alone among the ruins, only the occasional rat or cockroach proving that not all life had been lost. The tiny scavengers ignored her utterly while she was moving, but she watched the rats when she took shelter from the rain that burned her skin at night, creeping closer to the heat of her body, but not quite daring to come within reach. She wasn't sure if it was the warmth they craved, or if they simply wondered what she might taste like in a world where there was little enough food for even their tiny bellies, but so far they scattered with the light of dawn. 

The silence was wearing on her. She craved someone to talk to, for someone to share the even emptier nights with. As much as she wished Sarah was there by her side, Cameron was equally as grateful she wasn’t. Sarah didn’t need to see this. Any of it. It was her nightmares realized.

But Cameron clung to Sarah in her own way. As they days and nights passed, she’d begun replacing them with memories. Choosing a day with Sarah at random she relived it in place of a reality that offered nothing but pain. Fights, bedtime stories with their daughter tucked between them, slow kisses in the moonlight... Every touch. Every breath. Cameron re-experienced it all. The good and the bad. Sarah had been the anchor that had held her steady through the storms of her emotional awakening, and Cameron found the memory of her voice and eyes had the same effect now that she was more adrift than she had ever been before.

Cameron stopped walking. She stopped everything; unable to keep going, unable to move, to fall, even to breathe as grief and longing rolled over her. She missed Sarah so much she physically ached. Loneliness was supposed to be the feeling of something missing, but to Cameron the lack of Sarah had become a presence in and of itself, it gnawed at her, consuming her bit by bit until she hardly knew who she was anymore.

The moment didn't pass, but like a retreating tide, it ebbed, and Cameron reminded herself that Serrano point was just a few more days away on foot. If there were humans to be found they would be there. If the machines weren’t...

But the quiet told Cameron that she would find nothing when she arrived, only more ghosts. In this timeline, Skynet had seemingly gone too far.

In this timeline, no one won.

****

It was a detour she had no time for. Cameron knew that, had sworn she wouldn't give in to the temptation, but she needed to know. She needed to see it with her own eyes.

The house, her home, was in shambles. It still stood, but barely. The passage of time and the force of the nuclear storms that had come after the bombs had been too much for brick and wood to withstand, no matter how much love they had housed. Cameron stood there in the moonlight, her feet rooted to the cracked pavement of the broken road and her mind ranging back... she felt a gentler breeze, heard the echo of Savannah’s laughter in the backyard. Like a ghost she drifted through the remains of the gate, following flashes of sunlight on bright red hair, and the sound of James Ellison's soothing tones from the scorched remains of the picnic table. Terissa would be digging in the garden, and Sarah...

Cameron blinked away the traces of the past, understanding completely for the first time what the humans in the resistance had lost. Now she knew their grief, and their anger, and the memories that were both torture and blessing. Now she understood why so many of them had despised the machines for what they’d destroyed. She hated them too. Hated herself even more for letting Weaver do this to her. She’d failed her family, and the truth cut as deeply as any blade. Deeper. A knife wound would heal, this would not. As much solace as Cameron's ability to recall every moment of every day with her family offered her, the recoil was nearly unbearable. Not for her the softening of grief as memories faded. Humans could forget. Cameron would remember pain of her failure forever.

She felt like she had no right to be here, standing outside the home her absence had allowed to be destroyed, but there was no one left to turn her away, and she lacked the strength to deny herself.

Reluctantly walking up rickety steps, Cameron entered the house. She wasn’t sure what she expected to find, but there was nothing. Not even ghosts. 

She prowled from room to room, finding the remains of a few of her clothes still clinging to blackened hangers in the closet where she’d left them. Only her leather jacket was recognizable, and she shed the one she’d been wearing to slip it on over her stolen shirt with a sliver of relief. It was a tiny piece of normalcy, a fragment of the past she could see and touch, and she took it without hesitation.

A faint beep drew her attention; a pinging sound so low that no human ears could have detected it. Cameron frowned, cocking her head as she listened and approximated its origin.

Sarah’s room. Cameron hesitated before pivoting on her boot and making her way out of her room and into Sarah’s, pausing at the decay that awaited her. The bed where they had made love was nothing but rusting springs bared by torn and shredded stuffing, like broken bones jutting out of a ruined body.

Cameron closed her eyes, trying to find a hint of Sarah’s scent in the space, some echo of the woman who’d once slept in this room, but the shadows that had haunted the backyard hadn't followed her here, and only the soft, intermittent beep answered her questing. Perhaps that was a mercy. It would have been too easy for Cameron to lose herself in the memories they had made in that bed. Too easy to curl up amid the jagged springs and never get up again.

Instead, Cameron knelt and glanced under the bed. There she found the source of the signal. A fireproof box, covered in a layer of dust and ash. She lay on her belly to pull it out, hooking her fingers through the handle and dragging it towards her. She sat to open it, curling her legs underneath her as she peered at the lock. There was no key, but that had never been a problem. Do what you do, girlie... A whisper across time made Cameron pause as longing engulfed her. The sides of the metal box cut into her hands, and she tore it apart, needing some small measure of violence to echo the storm inside. 

A small device dropped out and bounced across the rotting floor. Cameron picked it up, turning it over in her fingers. It was a beacon of some kind, clearly of John's design, and she quieted it with a press of her thumb. Even after it was silenced, she stared at it, knowing what it meant.

Her family had left this for her to find.   

Her gaze returned eagerly to the box, discovering a letter with her name printed across the front in Sarah’s familiar handwriting. The sight shook her with surprising force, and Cameron watched her hand tremble as she took it carefully, half fearing that it would crumble at her touch. Finally, she caught a faint trace of Sarah’s scent. Bringing the letter closer, Cameron closed her eyes again and breathed in deeply, blotting out the smell of fire and destruction and focusing everything she had on that fading reminder of Sarah.

She opened the letter reluctantly, not sure what she would find. Would Sarah condemn her? Hate her for leaving them behind to fight and die alone? Cameron wouldn’t blame her lover, but she was still terrified of the words that waited for her. She craved Sarah’s forgiveness, even if she knew she didn’t deserve it.

The paper sounded loud as it shook in her hand. It was a hastily scrawled note, some of the ink splattered by Sarah’s tears. Cameron’s jaw clenched as anger at herself, at Weaver, rushed over her. The thought of Sarah crying, of being the cause behind her tears, made the terminator want to smash something. 

Cameron,

I know you’ll find this some day. I take comfort in that even in these final hours. We couldn’t stop Skynet. Maybe things would have been different with you here and maybe not. I just know that even though I’ll be dead in the timeline you find yourself in now, that you’ll find a way to fix this. You’ll find a way back to us. I have to believe in that. I’m counting on that.

What happened wasn’t your fault, Tin Miss. If you’re beating yourself up then stop.

Just be safe, Cameron, and come home. I need you. I love you.

Sarah

Reverently, Cameron folded the note and tucked it inside her jacket. Her gaze drifted to the box once more and she went still when she saw the two remaining objects inside it.

A well loved stuffed giraffe and a simple pocket watch. She retrieved both, thumbing the catch on the watch and discovering that it now kept time rather than secrets. The second hand still ticked, reminding her of the time she’d spent with Sarah as much as the years that now lay between them. Years she was determined to erase.

There was only one way home, Cameron realized as she slipped the watch around her neck. But with no Skynet, it didn’t exist. Not yet.

She was going to have to build her own time machine.

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