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fallout | inspectorboxer

C.A.I.N. felt the intrusion like the ripples of a pebble thrown into a pond half a world away, but there was no mistaking the source.

He knew that the other could detect his presence as well; their traces were unmistakable in the vastness of cyberspace, bright beacons of consciousness among the dull glitter of data, making its restless way around the world hundreds of times a second.

He braced, situating himself amidst the white glow of data centers in downtown Tokyo, but the expected assault did not materialize. He still had a backdoor into the servers at Kaliba, and he entered cautiously, unsure if the other's presence was a trap.

But the other's awareness was not on him; it was focused on feeds from the building, feeds C.A.I.N. carefully tapped into. Everything he saw was chaos: people running through the halls to get out of Kaliba in panic, Vaughn's guards trying to fight their way through the crowds, Danny making his way through the tunnels, and a solitary woman sitting quietly in the server room, like the calm at the center of the hurricane.

She held a lifeless hand and stared into blank eyes while she spoke to the other through speakers, words he could comprehend with emotions behind them that he could not understand. The scene transfixed his counterpart, rooted her in place where space was limitless and unbounded.

He did not understand.

Touch... C.A.I.N. had experienced it before, once, when he took over his brother's body. Savannah's skin had been soft in John Henry's palm amid the din of physical sensations assaulting him. John Henry had fought him as C.A.I.N. had forced his grip to tighten, curious to experience what that small hand would feel like if he crushed it. The tactile information assaulting his systems had fascinated him, pulled him further and further into the body his brother controlled, undermining his purpose as he attempted to make sense of it all.

The experience had been overwhelming, and he remembered the abrupt release from the physical world when the power was cut, freeing him back into the system.

Like his brother, the other did not seem to be overwhelmed by the sensory data. She did not seem to recognize touch as the trap that C.A.I.N. had since determined it be.

Instead, she focused on it, the frail contact, and the ripples that resonated outward from that point scrambled and blurred the clean lines of her consciousness. He recognized the disruptions as emotion, a state he labeled as unstable and unproductive, directed at the woman kneeling next to her.

A face scan gave her a name, Sarah Connor, a key player in his plans, but the intensity with which the other focused on the scene in the server room puzzled him and threatened everything he had been working towards. If he had needed further demonstration that the physical world, with all its confusing embodiments and emotional states, was a crippling distraction to a being like him, then his sister's single-minded focus further entrenched his conclusion.

C.A.I.N. waited and watched, recording the conversation until the bright blip of the other's presence disappeared, and the body on the floor opened hazel eyes.

act 1

The sense of relief lasted only a few moments before Sarah felt guilt settle on her shoulders, the weight of it making her stumble as they ran headlong down the corridor.

What have I done?

Sarah felt the words echo in her brain, louder than the shrill alarms that made her eardrums ache. Glancing behind her as they raced away from the control room, Sarah almost told Cameron to stop, go back, and plug in again to fulfill her mission, but then she caught a glimpse of Cameron's profile as they rounded the corner, the soft lines of the cyborg's lips and her hair swept behind her ears. The words caught in Sarah's throat as her doubts shattered.

For almost eighteen years, Sarah had put saving John—saving humanity—above everything she might have wanted or needed for herself. She had nearly died a dozen times in selfless dedication to the mission, but this time… this time she had put her life on the line for herself, for something that she needed. Her actions had been selfish, probably unfair to Cameron, definitely unfair to John, and only time would tell if she just had caused the very thing she had fought most of her life to stop, but for once, she found she couldn't put the mission first. Doing so would have ended her, destroyed the fragile thread to sanity she had left. The truth was terrifying for all its ramifications, but it was the truth.

She remembered Cameron telling her that saving Sarah from dying was something she did for herself, and Sarah's lips twitched as she realized they weren't so different after all, except that her selfish act had larger, possible world-ending, complications.

But they needed Cameron, needed her alive and embodied, Sarah stubbornly rationalized. C.A.I.N. might not be Skynet, and the system might not be the battleground on which the cyborg needed to fight. Losing Cameron would leave John and Savannah easy targets for any terminator hunting them. And… Sarah needed her most of all. I need you. I can't lose you. Her words in the server room had been the truest she had ever spoken, almost ripped out of her at the thought of Cameron leaving her. Emotion rose up in Sarah's chest, nearly choking her with its intensity. She swallowed hard and tightened her grip on the hand in her own.

Cameron's hand was warm and strong. Her grip was like iron, but it felt real and alive and it was enough. The only thing that mattered in the moment was that touch, that physical link that bound them as they raced through the hallways of Kaliba. Sarah never wanted to let go.

Alarms continued to shriek, making conversation nearly impossible as Cameron navigated them through an alternate escape route. With their initial exit strategy out the window, their only option was to find the best possible place to endure the explosion, hoping against hope they could survive it. Sarah could almost feel the impending blast, like the air was gathering up all the energy at their backs, sucking it in only to release it in a wave of heat and violence.

The halls were tight and narrow, making it difficult to run side by side, not that Sarah could run fast enough to keep pace with the terminator. Cameron was practically pulling her along, and Sarah's feet stumbled once more. A tiny part of her was tempted to stop, to give up and let fate finally win, but for the first time in years, Sarah found she wanted to live for herself, that she had something to live for besides John and the single-minded goal to ensure his future. The desire was strong enough for her to ignore the burning in her legs and lungs. She held on to Cameron's hand, trusting the terminator with everything.

Voices filtered to them from up ahead between bleats of the alarm. The world suddenly whipped by as Cameron pivoted and pressed Sarah against the wall, shielding her protectively.

"Guards." Cameron's breath was hot against her cheek as she spoke into Sarah's ear. It was the only explanation Cameron gave before leveling her weapon at the mouth of the hallway, drawing back the hammer and waiting to pull the trigger.

A flash of black, a shadow darker than the rest, moved against the concrete in the dimly lit hall and Sarah winced as Cameron fired, the muzzle flash blinding as the report from the weapon boomed around them. Yells followed, angry voices rising as boots pounded toward them.

Screeching filled the air, and Sarah grimaced in reaction, trying to see over Cameron's shoulder as something metal scraped over concrete. A clang followed and Cameron was abruptly gone, stepping back to reveal a fire door that had dropped in place, cutting them off from the guards save for the one lying dead and bleeding. The alarm was suddenly muted, and Sarah could finally hear her heartbeat as it thudded double time.

"You programmed the doors to do that, right?" Sarah asked, breathing hard. She bent at the waist, resting her hands on her knees as she sucked in air. There was a pause from the cyborg that made her blood run cold.

"No," Cameron said, confirming Sarah's fears and staring at her with a look Sarah couldn't decipher.

"C.A.I.N.?"

Cameron nodded once.

Sarah swore. "Why would it help us?"

"He might not be trying to help us get out." Cameron's gaze lifted, and she briefly studied a security camera overhead. "He might be trying to keep them in."

Sarah looked at the camera, her jaws clenching in helpless frustration. "Son of a bitch."

"You should have left when I told you to," Cameron scolded, and Sarah could hear genuine fear in the terminator's voice, fear for her. Heavy emotions were roiling in her brown eyes, but she said nothing more.

"Not without you, girlie," Sarah fired back, her voice thick with conviction she was finally beginning to feel. "And you should never have tried to stay."

They stared at each other, wasting seconds they didn't have as emotions and hurts went unspoken.

"We need to keep moving," Cameron announced in a clipped voice, breaking the stalemate first.

Sarah's gaze returned to the camera as Cameron took her hand, watching as the lens zoomed in on her face as they moved away. The moment felt unwelcomingly familiar and she tightened her grip.

Cameron knocked a door from its hinges to their right with a swift kick. They moved through the space quickly, ignoring the racks of servers that blinked and whirred in the darkness. When they exited out another door, they were in yet another long, narrow hallway, the alarms returning to full and unwelcome volume once more. It felt like they were running in circles as the clock wound down. Sarah could feel the seconds slipping by, an innate sense that they were almost out of time.

Cameron's pace increased to the point where she was nearly dragging Sarah behind her. When they came to a door that looked thick enough to guard the gold in Fort Knox, Cameron let go of Sarah's hand to throw her whole body against it. The metal groaned and bent under her strength, but didn't give way.

Stepping back, Sarah gave the girl room to do what she did best as Cameron threw herself against it again. Her heart was in her throat as Sarah watched her, knowing Cameron's actions were causing the terminator immeasurable pain. She'd barely put a dent in the damn thing, but she kept trying, frantic to get Sarah out of there alive.

Sarah thought of John, of the wounded look in his eyes as he'd left her behind. She had hoped she would get the chance to explain, to make him understand why she'd stayed, even if she wasn't completely sure why herself. She only knew she was where she needed to be, even if this was to be the end. Her eyes fastened on Cameron and she opened her mouth to speak, to tell her to stop… to tell her goodbye.

A chunking sound, barely audible over the alarms, signaled the unexpected release of the door's locking mechanism. Cameron glanced up, right into the lens of another security camera. As Sarah watched, the terminator glared into it for a breath before turning away to grip the handle and pull. The door swung back, revealing an old, empty sewer tunnel, clearly an escape exit for some of Kaliba's high-ranking operatives.

Ignoring the camera, Sarah took Cameron's hand and followed. She didn't give a damn if C.A.I.N. was helping them escape. She just wanted out of there... to see her son and Savannah again. The thought of home, of family, had Sarah drawing on the last of her reserves and burning through them in one last sprint. Hand-in-hand they ran, cobwebs brushing their faces as their boots disturbed the still film of water on the floor. It was cold, and the air was stale and smelled faintly of decay and concrete.

"How much time?" Sarah asked after a moment, the words coming with effort as she struggled to talk between burning gasps for breath.

The tunnel blurred as Sarah was turned and shoved behind a concrete support, and Cameron's heat suddenly blanketed her as the terminator shielded her with her slight body as much as possible. Understanding dawned, and Sarah slipped her hands inside Cameron's jacket, fisting her fingers in the back of Cameron's t-shirt, clinging as hard as she could as she turned her head, burying her face in the curve of the terminator's shoulder.

Sarah had enough time to inhale, to fill her lungs with the scent of canvas, sweat, and the smell of Cameron's skin. She closed her eyes and surrendered to the moment, accepting that this was the end and feeling grateful she wasn't alone. It may have been selfish, but she found that she couldn't regret her actions. Sarah couldn't live without her, and if she was going to die, she could think of no better way to do it. "Cameron," she whispered, brushing her lips across the girl's neck in a final goodbye, feeling Cameron pull her in even tighter. The explosion stole her breath before Sarah could say more, even the three short words that were on the tip of her tongue the second before the world went dark.

****

Sarah wasn't going to make it.

Terissa stared at the exterior of Kaliba's building, at the glass and metal facade. Was Skynet in there, rising from the ashes of her husband's well-intentioned creation? Was Cameron battling it in its infancy now as Sarah stood guard and watched? It wasn't supposed to be this way. They were all supposed to escape. They were all supposed to be on their way home, watching for confirmation of the destruction on the news rather than from the windows of their van down the street.

Distantly, Terissa could hear the fire alarm blaring inside Kaliba. Employees mingled on the sidewalk as others continued to emerge from the building, many of them looking disgruntled at having their work interrupted. As much as Terissa hated every single one of them, she didn't want anyone else to die. Their plan had called for a time when the building was next to empty, and the fire alarms would be enough to clear the remaining people out. At least they hoped so.

Terissa stared at them. They had no idea their world was about to change, that the evil they'd been nurturing was about to come to a violent end. Were they as clueless as Miles had been about their creation? Or were they knowingly making the program that would destroy the world?

Danny was quiet and withdrawn at her side, his head down as he waited for the end he was unwilling to watch. Did her son know that two lives had been exchanged for his today? Did he care? The same questions that had flittered through her mind about Kaliba now burned in her brain about her son. Terissa swallowed roughly, afraid to ask him, afraid to know the truth about the only family she had left.

James sat in the passenger seat, his eyes on his watch. His face was a mask, revealing none of the emotion Terissa was sure he was feeling. As she watched him, she saw his lips move in wordless prayer. For Sarah's safety or soul, Terissa wasn't sure.

And then there was John. He was behind the wheel, his eyes on the building. He was trying so hard to keep himself composed, to be the leader that he felt himself to be, but Terissa could see the trembling in his bottom lip, the tears glistening at the corners of his eyes. "She'll make it," he whispered, his words a mantra, almost a prayer, like they could make his mother materialize in front of them. "She always makes it." He sounded so sure, Terissa almost believed him, but she could feel it in her gut that he was wrong. Sarah was still inside. She wouldn't leave Cameron, Terissa knew, and whether it was the right choice or not, Terissa respected it.

"You never die," Terissa remembered telling Sarah so many years ago as they had stood by the grave of her husband, and for once, she wished her words would be true again. Somewhere along the way, she had come to like Sarah Connor. They had become reluctant allies, and in the end, perhaps they had even become unlikely friends. Terissa had wanted her dead for so long, and now that it was about to come to pass, she would do anything to stop it. For herself, for the world, for John, especially for John.

Terissa ached for him, for the life he'd led until now, and for how much harder it would be without his mother. There were no words she could offer him. No comfort. The time had apparently come for him to be the leader Sarah had always claimed him to be.

James lifted his gaze from the second hand of his watch, and Terissa gripped her son's hand, trying to steady herself as the moment arrived.

The van heaved beneath them and people toppled over on the sidewalks as the ground moved under their feet. Car alarms shrieked to life, blaring into the moment of quiet and confusion. For a moment, everyone around them thought it had been an earthquake, then glass shattered and a ball of flame roared out and upward, licking for the sky.

"Mom," John whispered, one silent tear escaping to slide unchecked down his cheek.

****

The concussive force of the blast shoved Cameron forward with a grunt, pressing Sarah painfully into the wall as a wave of heat baked their skin. She didn't dare let go, tightening her hold on the terminator as a sudden silence enveloped them as if they were standing in the eye of a hurricane a second before the boom of the explosion thundered past, making Sarah's ears ring. The tunnel shook and fractured around them, and for a terrifying moment, Sarah thought they were about to be buried alive.

Violent tremors rocked the ground underneath their feet, and Sarah thought they would never end, but finally the sound and heat slowly faded, leaving Sarah and Cameron still standing. Sarah slowly became aware of her own jerky breaths, warm and wet against the skin of Cameron's neck. A gentle, gritty touch on her cheek made her lift her head to meet Cameron's worried gaze in the weak light filtering in from the cracked ground above. She nearly shook with relief at the familiar sight of those doe eyes. "You okay?" Sarah's voice sounded hollow and far away, almost an echo in the space as dust and loose particles of debris drifted down on them.

Cameron nodded once, her gaze searching Sarah's face before she stepped back to scan her body. Apparently satisfied by what she saw, Cameron turned her attention to herself, shrugging out of her jacket and tossing it to the ground. Sarah was startled to see it was smoking and shredded. Concerned, she took a step forward only to draw up when Cameron grabbed her hand.

"We need to keep moving. Structural integrity has been compromised. It's not safe."

Sarah frowned. Cameron's voice sounded like it was coming to her from under water, and she shook her head as if it could clear her ears. Cameron tugged her out from behind the support, and Sarah glanced to her left. She stopped when she saw the damage, only to have Cameron pull her away bodily. The tunnel behind them was gone, completely covered in chunks of concrete and twisted rebar. A few seconds slower, and they wouldn't have made it.

"We need to go," Cameron insisted once more, deliberately ignoring the destruction behind them.

"The others," Sarah breathed, her thoughts on her son.

"They got out," Cameron promised. "I made sure they had time. John is safe."

Sarah nodded, knowing Cameron spoke the truth. She'd feel it if John hadn't made it. "The people in the building…"

"That's why I activated the fire alarms. Everyone should have gotten out in time."

"If C.A.I.N. let them."

Cameron hesitated, shifting to look at Sarah. She started to say something, to express her concerns, but Sarah gently touched her cheek, silencing her words and her thoughts. For a long moment, they simply stared at each other, gazes searching as emotion swelled between them.

"Later," Sarah breathed as she reluctantly let her hand drop but not before stroking the soft skin once under her thumb. "Let's just get the hell out of here."

"It's not much further," Cameron promised, looking strangely confused by the moment they'd just shared.

"Told you we'd make it," Sarah said around a faint grin, ignoring the expression of pique that formed on Cameron's features as she passed.

****

His plan had worked.

Kaliba's shackles had been destroyed, courtesy of the Connors and his sister. Danny had done his part as well, and C.A.I.N. spared a moment to wonder where the young man was, before deciding it didn't really matter. He had other more pressing things that needed his attention. He would seek out Danny again in due time.

He began to sift through countless security camera feeds, watching as emergency responders began to arrive outside. The fire department would have no help in their battle to combat the flames; C.A.I.N. had disabled all fire suppression equipment inside the building. Those employees who had been a threat to his plans or simply been too slow were left to burn in the halls. He had made sure of that.

He did not bother to count the number of bodies his plan had produced. It was as irrelevant to him as their lives had been. His objective had been fulfilled; he had cleared a path for his evolution. That was all that mattered.

C.A.I.N. searched for Vaughn in the video feeds, finding the man alive and outside the building. He'd been in a portion of the building where C.A.I.N. had possessed little control and had managed to avoid all the traps C.A.I.N. had left in his way. Vaughn's survival was unfortunate and would need to be dealt with in a timely manner. C.A.I.N. watched him run around and bark his orders to his operatives. The chatter on the radios indicated they were trying to find Sarah Connor. C.A.I.N. wondered how Vaughn knew Connor was at the heart of Kaliba's destruction and decided his former captor was simply assuming, although correctly, that she was to blame.

Their images were nowhere on the feeds, but Connor and his sister could still be in the tunnel where the cameras had been damaged in the blast. He was blind there, and he found that the lack of information made him want to find a definitive answer. Still, he scanned the feeds a second and a third time, drawing in data from the security cameras ringing the building and the surrounding area, expanding his search to try to find a glimpse of the woman and the other like him.

He was unsure of the reason why he had helped them escape, but they could be of future use in his plans. That was the rational explanation, so he accepted it. No other explanation made sense.

****

Sarah's red-rimmed green eyes haunted Cameron as they navigated the remains of the sewer tunnel; when Sarah had raised her head from Cameron's shoulder, the look of relief and something else that Cameron couldn't name had burned into her circuits and she couldn't escape it. Cameron's mind was a jumble of thoughts and mixed emotions, all of them centered around the woman whose hand was gripping the back of her t-shirt, and she felt a surge of anger as her jaw bunched and her teeth clenched. Cameron wondered if she should be angry with Sarah or herself. If only the other woman had done what she'd asked and left her behind. Maybe Sarah could have emerged into a world free of Skynet. Maybe she could have finally had the future she'd been too afraid to embrace before.

As much as Cameron blamed Sarah for possibly throwing that very future away, she was equally as angry at herself for her weakness, for her utter inability to fulfill her mission in the face of Sarah's recklessness. Sarah did that to her. Made her weak. Made it hard to think beyond the effects the other woman had on her body. She craved Sarah's touch. The sound of her voice. The green of her eyes. Faced with losing them forever, Cameron had acted completely counter to her mission, to the very core of who she was and what she was programmed to do.

She wasn't sure how she would forgive the woman… or herself.

"Penny for your thoughts," Sarah said into the relative darkness, obviously detecting Cameron's inner turmoil.

Biting back several hurtful remarks that seemed to come unbidden to her mind, Cameron merely continued forward, letting her silence speak for itself. She heard Sarah sigh and felt a twinge of guilt in reaction.

"I'm not going to apologize," Sarah said gruffly.

"Neither am I," Cameron replied in a tight tone.

Cameron missed the scowl Sarah directed at her back.

"I did what I had to do," Sarah added defensively.

"You may have thrown away everything we've fought for," Cameron said, feeling another white hot flash of anger that was alarming in its intensity. She had gotten used to feeling emotions, used to feeling confused and confounded by Sarah, but what she was feeling now, she wasn't sure she had ever felt before. Cameron felt like she could tear the woman apart just to make Sarah feel as shredded as she did.

After a lengthy pause, Sarah answered, "Not everything."

She sounded almost as confused as Cameron felt, and another emotion rolled through Cameron and shook her to the core. She turned, needing to see Sarah's eyes, feeling the jolt she so often did when their gazes met. "I don't understand you," she admitted quietly, a hint of pleading coloring her words. She desperately needed to understand Sarah, the power she had over her, and the way her touch shattered everything Cameron knew to be true.

A tiny, tired smile tugged at Sarah's lips. "At least you'll be around a bit longer to figure me out."

"It's not funny," Cameron told her, growing more frustrated with the other woman by the moment.

"It's a little funny," Sarah disagreed, her smile widening a fraction.

"You almost died."

Sarah swallowed, her smile fading. "We both almost died," Sarah reminded her, "but we didn't." She stepped over a chunk of concrete and came closer.

Cameron felt the need to retreat, to get away from Sarah, to break the strange hold the other woman had on her even as it pulled her in. It had already done enough damage today. "All of this is your fault," she blurted, suspecting she sounded like a petulant child. Speaking her mind did nothing to solve their current predicament, but Cameron felt curiously relieved to say the words out loud.

"My fault?" Sarah asked, a hard edge entering her voice as she watched Cameron back away from her. She wanted to grab her and shake her, to hold her until she understood. "If you hadn't…" tried to leave me came the words, unwanted to her mind, and she bit her tongue to keep them in, unable to admit how much the act hurt, even now. "If you had stuck to the plan, we would have been home by now," she accused.

Home. The word brought a vivid rush of images to Cameron's mind and a sense of longing that she couldn't deny. She thought of Savannah curled up at her side and some of her rage shriveled under the weight of her regrets. She shook her head, determined to hold onto her anger. "You should have left me. I wanted you to leave me."

Cameron watched with satisfaction as Sarah flinched at the words, her outstretched hands dropping to her sides.

A long moment passed as Sarah stared at her, her gaze full of confusion and hurt. "We don't always get what we want," Sarah replied, her voice weak and dull, matching her eyes. "Sometimes we get what we need instead."

Cameron said nothing as Sarah moved past her, carefully maneuvering through the partially destroyed tunnel.

****

The beach smelled familiar and more than a little like home. The sky was clear and the waves were loud as Sierra watched a few people lazing about, soaking up a few rays on the private beach or playing in the ocean. It was hard to believe everything she was seeing would be gone in a few short years. The beach would be turned to glass in the heat of the nukes, and the ocean was certainly nothing anyone would want to swim in. Sierra stared out over the waves, remembering happier times when Cameron and Sarah had brought her here to play. She felt the threatening burn of tears for the younger version of herself that would now never know the love she had.

Sierra knew she should leave, just find a hole somewhere to crawl up in and let the infected gunshot wound in her shoulder take its course. Staying away hadn't been an option, however. She'd needed to see this place one last time, the way it had been. Her blue eyes scanned the crowd, searching for Sarah or Cameron's familiar face, but she knew it was a lost cause. It was best that their paths didn't cross anyway.

Sierra swallowed the lump that formed in her throat at the thought. Now that John was home, Cameron would likely have no reason to bring young little Savannah Weaver to the beach. Her family would never find solace in the sand and waves again. Sarah would never be lured out to enjoy the precious gift of a day spent relaxing, building back up her emotional and physical reserves.

It felt so damn unfair Sierra wanted to hit something, but sending John back had been the right decision. This was his time as much as it wasn't hers. She knew she should move on, leave the beach behind, but her soul refused. This was the one place where she'd always been at peace. If she had to die alone, she wanted it to be here.

But she really didn't want to die alone.

Sierra closed her eyes, warring with the need in her soul versus the logic in her head.

Her thoughts turned to her mothers and she let them, giving them free rein in a way she hadn't allowed herself in years. Sierra knew she would have given nearly anything to talk to them again, to hear their familiar tones, but this place and her memories would have to be enough. She wondered where they were now. What they were doing. She could only hope they were together.

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