fallout | inspectorboxer

act 2

The sewer cover popped up like a half dollar flicked from the nail of someone's thumb, sailing through the air in a perfect arc before landing several feet away and spinning loudly until it came to rest with a clang on the asphalt. Cameron emerged first, squinting for a moment as her optics adjusted to the blinding daylight after the dark of the tunnel. Quickly scanning the area, she noted the sounds of fire trucks and patrol cars arriving a few blocks over. She was impressed with their response time, a full two minutes faster than anticipated.

The smell of smoke clung to the air, and Cameron could hear the crackle of the flames even at this distance. She knelt on one knee, reaching down to take Sarah's hand. Sarah's palm was cold to the touch and covered with grit, a testament to how close the other woman had come to dying. Cameron wasn't sure if she should draw Sarah in close or shove her halfway across the alley as she pulled her out.

Sarah scrambled out of the sewer, joining Cameron in the middle of the deserted and rank alley. Her nose crinkled in a way Cameron found damnably appealing, and her anger flared as she felt herself weaken once again. She looked away quickly, scanning their surroundings for any new threats. The alley felt close and exposed, an easy place for them to get hemmed in. They needed to move on and quickly.

"So much for fresh air," Sarah muttered as she glanced around, wincing as she spied a dumpster overflowing with rotting food and cardboard boxes. She watched Cameron for a moment, waiting her out as she scoped out the area. Cameron was being cold with her, distant. It was too much of a reminder of how the girl had been when they'd first met. Too much of a reminder that Sarah had just risked everything to save a machine. Sarah sighed. "Now what?" she asked in a subdued voice.

Cameron noted the tone, cocking her head and regarding Sarah openly, wondering what the far off look in Sarah's eyes meant. "If John and the others remained, they are four blocks west of this location."

"So we start walking," Sarah decided, not waiting to hear Cameron's thoughts on the matter. Cameron didn't want to talk to her anyway, and Sarah felt the need to put some distance between them to give the terminator a little time to sort things out in her stubborn metal head.

Cameron watched the other woman head toward the mouth of the alley. She was tempted to simply stand there out of spite, to let Sarah know she didn't control her, that she didn't get to always be in charge, but the further Sarah moved away from her, the more tense and worried Cameron became. As angry as she was with the woman, Cameron still wanted and needed her close. Knowing Sarah Connor made Cameron understand the human proclivity to swear.

Sudden internal alarms had Cameron pulling up short. Numerous heat signatures were converging on their location. Her cybernetically-enhanced hearing caught a soft click, and she surged into motion, her gaze zeroing in on Sarah's back as she called the other woman's name in warning. Every thought, every feeling, evaporated, melted in the fear for Sarah's life.

Cameron saw Sarah pivot, her weapon already in her hand as she looked for a target. She started to yell at the woman to get down, to take cover, but her words were silenced as a bullet, fired from a nearby rooftop, punched through Cameron's shoulder, sending a hot bloom of pain through her back and driving her to her knees.

For a precious few seconds, Cameron forgot she was a machine and all she knew was agony; she heard Sarah scream her name and could see her trying to find the shooter, leaving herself exposed in the process. When Cameron heard the telltale sound of a hammer being drawn back once more, it finally snapped her into motion. She discarded the pain out of necessity, turning her upper body and zeroing in on the location of her assailant on the roof, the rifle in his hands sighted on Sarah.

Squeezing the trigger twice, Cameron watched with satisfaction as the sharpshooter rocked back, one of her bullets between his eyes. There was a loud crash as a door next to the dumpster slammed open, and Cameron heard Sarah open fire on Kaliba's operatives without hesitation.

"Run!" Cameron ordered, leveraging herself upward to put herself between Sarah and their attackers.

Sarah ignored her, sighting down her barrel and squeezing off two shots in quick succession. One of the men rushing Cameron went down in a howl of pain, clutching at his leg. They were the only shots Sarah got to take as three more men rushed her from behind, subduing her with brutal force onto the pavement.

"We got Connor," one of the operatives said into his radio, sounding cocky and sure of their success.

Cameron shoved her pain aside as she dealt with the first of the operatives standing between her and Sarah. A flat palm against his chest and a little push sent him soaring, depositing him in the dumpster like he was nothing more than the trash that fell in on him. She turned her weapon on the others, firing three brutally efficient shots, taking down a man with each of them with deadly precision. She ignored the last agent to check on Sarah, finding her still on the ground, one operative's knee in her back. Sarah continued to struggle, even biting one of them when his hand got too close to her teeth.

"Stupid bitch," the agent snarled. He pulled his gun and pointed it at Sarah's head.

Rage made Cameron see red. After everything they'd just been through, after everything they'd thrown away in the basement of Kaliba, Cameron was not about to let it end in a filthy alley in downtown Los Angeles. Sarah's name sounded like it was torn from her as she watched the man's finger flex on the trigger, but Cameron squeezed first, feeling like the scene was playing out in slow motion as her bullet struck Sarah's would-be killer in the head, effectively removing half of it and sending a spray of blood over the asphalt behind him.

The pressure on her back gone, Sarah rolled up and started swinging, taking one operative down with a solid right hook to his jaw. The other did the only prudent thing and ran.

Cameron rounded on the final agent, the one with the radio. He was staring at her in terror, his gun hanging limply at his side as he backed away.

"Please," he begged, the radio slipping from his fingers and shattering on the pavement.

"Cameron," Sarah called out, panting at the other side of the alley as she watched the terminator advance on the agent.

Cameron grabbed him as he started to run, her hand easily wrapping around his throat. Even though he was taller than her, she lifted him several inches off the ground, ignoring him as he kicked and flailed, desperate for air. He had tried to take Sarah away, to make her a prisoner. Kaliba would have tortured her and eventually killed her, discarding Sarah's body as if she had meant nothing. He had to pay for that, and Cameron had to make sure he would not survive to harm Sarah now or in the future. She watched him choke, her fingers beginning to squeeze with the subtlest pressure, prolonging his death and enjoying it.

"Cameron!" Sarah shouted, her tone more desperate.

The cyborg turned her head, finding Sarah standing almost next to her. She was scraped and winded but otherwise unhurt. Cameron felt the red fade from her vision at the mixture of repulsion and fear on Sarah's face. Turning her attention back on the sole remaining agent, Cameron tilted her head, watching his struggles with cool disinterest. She pivoted a half step and let him go, dropping him neatly down into the sewer.

Sarah shuddered in relief, knowing it was at least possible the man had survived. "Thank you," she whispered, her hand resting on the cyborg's shoulder for a moment, glad she hadn't had to watch Cameron kill him with her bare hands.

"You should have left me," Cameron said again, reminding Sarah that all of this could have been avoided had Sarah simply left her behind. Brushing past the other woman, Cameron headed for the street, ignoring the pang of remorse she felt for taking out her anger and frustration on Sarah. Her right hand clenched into a fist, and she gave into the strange compulsion to hit something, taking a swipe at the corner of the building and watching as brick pulverized on impact, pelting a nearby car. She lashed out at the car, putting her foot through the door. The fear and confusion boiled over; everything she had tried to escape, the killing, the pain, the emotional turmoil, came roaring back. She was back in her body because of Sarah. She was in pain again because of Sarah.

Sarah watched her, glancing around to make sure no one else was witnessing Cameron's violent loss of composure. Obviously any onlookers were a few streets over, watching Kaliba burn. "Cameron," Sarah murmured, feeling like a broken record.

Cameron kicked the car again, this time hard enough to make it tilt.

"Cameron," Sarah said with more force.

"I gave up my mission for you," Cameron said suddenly, rounding on Sarah and grabbing her by the lapels of her jacket. She thrust Sarah against the wall, bringing them face-to-face. "I didn't have to hurt anymore," she told the other woman. "I didn't have to feel anymore. Why couldn't you just let me go?" She was vibrating with anger and grief, feeling herself pulling apart and shaking with fury at the one thing she couldn't take her frustrations out on.

Sarah knew she should have felt fear, but all she felt was regret. She reached up, brushing aside a loose lock of Cameron's hair. "I'm sorry you are in pain," she whispered quietly. "I'm sorry it's difficult. But I'm not sorry you're here. I wish I could be sorry for that, but I can't."

Cameron stared at her, her face grief-stricken and anguished, and Sarah felt a twinge of guilt at the loss etched in the cyborg's expression. She knew what it was to wish for an escape into oblivion. "You put Skynet in me to get me to live," Sarah reminded her, her tone gentle in contrast to Cameron's violence. "I guess I put a little humanity in you to do the same."

Something in her words seemed to do the trick; Cameron blinked as if coming out of a trance. She looked down, seeing her hands fisted in Sarah's coat. "I…" Reluctantly, she turned the other woman loose, backing up a step and staring at her palms as if they'd acted independently of her wishes. "I don't… I could have…" She continued to retreat until her back hit the car. "I could have hurt you," she finished roughly, her eyes fixed on her hands as if she was afraid to meet Sarah's eyes.

Sarah stepped forward, her fingers brushing over Cameron's cheek before lifting her chin. "I wasn't worried," Sarah said with conviction.

Cameron stared at her with disbelief.

"You wouldn't have hurt me," Sarah insisted. "You're just… angry at me right now." She swallowed, unable to stand the confusion and fear on Cameron's face, knowing she was the root cause of both. "You can't hit me so you hit something else. I do it all the time." She tucked her gun back in her jeans, hiding it with her jacket before slipping her phone out of her pocket. "Let me call John," she murmured. "Have them pick us up."

"No." Cameron's voice was loud and harsh as she slipped back into security mode. "Vaughn's men could be monitoring cell phone transmissions in the area. We need to get out of range."

"Cameron," Sarah started to protest.

"We need to get out of range," Cameron snapped then winced, struggling to reign in a sudden temper she hadn't known she had. Pivoting on her boot heel, Cameron tried to ignore the fire in her left shoulder and the blood she could feel oozing down the channel of her spine as she started to move away, to put some distance between her and Sarah.

"You're hurt," Sarah pointed out needlessly.

"I'll live," Cameron retorted, using one of Sarah's popular rejoinders against her.

Sarah stopped walking for a moment, just watching Cameron as she moved further away. Cameron's anger was wearing on her, but at least she was still there to fight with. For now, that was enough.

When they rounded the corner, they both slowed, staring at the destruction they'd wrought with twin expressions of surprise.

"We…" Sarah paused and swallowed. "We didn't set enough explosives to…"

"C.A.I.N.," Cameron realized, the blaze reflected in her brown eyes. "He must not have engaged the sprinklers and other fire suppression methods. He might have even done something to fuel the flames." The damage was far greater than what they'd planned, the fire engulfing a full half block and growing.

"He wants it to burn," Sarah realized, chilled at the thought. "Why?"

Cameron stared as a chunk of concrete tore lose from the structure and tumbled down to the street below, sending firefighters scattering for cover. "I don't know." She glanced at Sarah, seeing the horror in her eyes. "I could have stopped him," Cameron murmured.

"Too high a price, Tin Miss," Sarah replied. "Even if you don't think so." Sarah moved on, trying not to think of how many people might have died inside that building, trying not to think that if she'd been stronger they might still be alive.

With one last look at the flames, Cameron trailed after her, keeping her bleeding back away from curious eyes. What was done was done. Now all that remained was the fallout.

****

It was too quiet. Sabine wished for the sound of a radio, the laughter of her friends and family, but there was only silence. The life she'd led before was long gone, dashed the moment Cameron and Sarah had sauntered through her front door looking for new identities… new lives. For them to get them, others had unfortunately had to die.

No one had ever really told her about the Connors or the strange girl who lived with them, but it had only taken a few online searches and a little imagination to understand their purpose. Their cause was right and just, and her friends' lives meant little when stacked up against the fate of the world.

Sabine looked down at Savannah, letting her hand drift through the sleeping child's hair. The little girl was draped over her lap, holding on tight to the one familiar person she had left. Everyone else was gone, and Sabine knew sometimes they didn't always come back.

They were orphans, her and this child, and a part of Sabine felt a kinship to the redheaded girl she didn't bother to explain. Like the rest of her life, it simply was what it was. She curled her arm protectively over Savannah's shoulders, drawing her in a little closer. Cameron had been clear in what had felt like a final request, and Sabine took the promise she'd made in return seriously. This child was her responsibility now and heaven help anyone who tried to hurt her.

Walther was curled against Sabine's thigh, purring lightly. Having been surrounded by dogs her whole life, she wasn't really sure what to do with the tiny ball of fluff. The more she ignored him, the more of her attention he seemed to want, to the extent that he had crawled up onto her lap several times as the day had worn on, until finally settling in beside her. They were both perfectly content with their current arrangement. He was actually kind of cute, she mused, in a very scruffy sort of way. He reminded her of Sarah, although Sabine would never share that notion with anyone.

The quiet was finally broken by the sound of the van in the driveway. Sabine tensed, feeling her pulse pick up, but she didn't move. Something had happened. She could feel it. Expectation seemed to hang heavy in the air, and she watched the back door, the fingers of her free hand curling around the butt of her pistol beneath the pillow at her side.

When the door in the kitchen opened, John stormed through it, his eyes rimmed with red. One look at his face told Sabine what had happened to Sarah Connor, and she felt her stomach drop, even as her features remained neutral. She let go of the gun, sliding her hand out casually to cup the kitten and draw him closer.

John stopped in the middle of the living room when he saw them, clearly having forgotten they were there. His eyes fastened on Savannah, and Sabine watched an interesting mixture of emotions play across his face. Something in his eyes made her protective instincts surge again, made her almost consider reaching for the gun once more, but then the look was gone, vanishing as grief took its place. John approached and sank next to her knees, staring down at the sleeping child.

"I'm sorry," Sabine said simply, knowing it needed to be said even if it did nothing to help. John met her gaze and swallowed, giving her a tight nod of gratitude even as fresh tears brimmed in his green eyes. "She will be remembered," Sabine promised him, sure that one day Sarah Connor's name would be spoken with reverence.

Terissa came inside, one arm protectively around her son, and Ellison closed the door behind them. Sabine noted with a sick heart that Cameron was also absent. It was just as well, she decided, having seen what Sarah meant to Cameron. Perhaps it was even a blessing that they had perished together.

They all stood in the living room, regarding John worriedly as he watched Savannah sleep.

"She's lost another family," John whispered brokenly, hurting almost as much for the child as he did himself.

"You are her family," Sabine reminded him.

John lifted his gaze, his eyes locking on Sabine's with surprise. "I…"

"They were her mothers. You are her brother."

John glanced down at Savannah again. Whatever he was thinking, Sabine saw an internal war raging in his eyes before he finally reached out, his hand shaking, to gently stroke the little girl's hair. "She would hate that," he murmured suddenly, a tiny smile appearing between his tears.

Sabine didn't understand but she didn't ask. There was a protective glint in John's gaze now, the focus on the child in her lap. He nodded again to himself, his features tightening as he slowly drew in a breath, accepting his new role. His shoulders squared and he looked up at Sabine, a silent question in his eyes. She tipped her head once in acceptance. When John led, she would follow.

Danny Dyson fidgeted nervously behind them, his gaze continually jerking to the computers in the corner of the living room. Sabine finally let some emotion enter her eyes as they glittered dangerously at the man who didn't belong in the home that he had just destroyed. Danny went still when their gazes met, and he swallowed before gesturing at the monitors. "I can…" He paused, drawing in a deep, uneven breath. "I can get into the systems… security systems," he clarified. "Maybe… if there was a chance…"

Terissa looked at Danny with surprise as John slowly sat back on his heels, shifting his gaze to regard Danny with a mix of open curiosity and suspicion.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Ellison said gruffly. "We don't need Kaliba finding this location."

"They won't," Danny promised earnestly. "I know the back doors. I can get in… check the footage… see if they…" He glanced at John. "Your mom is Sarah Connor," Danny murmured as if that explained everything, his tone holding equal parts awe and apology.

Ellison watched John as the young man considered the suggestion. He already knew what John would say, but he felt the need to be the voice of reason. "John…" he began, a warning in his tone.

John held up his hand, silencing the room as he weighed his options. Sabine regarded them all, seeing a glimmer for the first time of the man John was supposed to become in the way his eyes hardened as he regarded Danny. Sabine knew John had no choice. He would need to know what became of his mother and Cameron, even if he saw something he didn't want to see. "Do it," John ordered. "But I'll be watching."

Danny moved to the chair and gladly sunk into it, as if his knees were too shaky to hold him a second longer. He brought the computers online, hyper aware of John as the other young man moved up behind him.

Sabine turned her focus on Terissa, dipping her head in suggestion at the sleeping Savannah. Terissa nodded knowingly. With one last worried look for her son, she scooped the girl up and carried her up to bed.

With a sigh, Ellison settled next to Sabine on the couch. Walther seemed to tire of her company and crawled awkwardly across her legs to clamber into the bigger man's lap. The former agent gave Sabine a sideways glance, and she offered him a silent smirk in return. Looking less than thrilled with his part of pet sitter, Ellison scratched the kitten with one finger as Walther's purring ramped up to obscene levels in response.

Sabine turned her attention away, her smirk fading as she met Danny's gaze in the reflection of the monitor. She let murder enter her eyes, watching with satisfaction as Danny refocused on his task.

"What do we tell Savannah when she wakes up?" Ellison asked no one in particular.

"Nothing," John decided, his voice firmer and eyes clearer. "Nothing until we know for sure."

****

There was something to be said for being a terminator, Cameron thought ruefully as she raked the glass away from another window and climbed through it. Terminators didn't skulk around, moving from building to building to avoid detection. If they wanted something, they chose the most direct route, even if it was through a throng of police cars. As much as she wished she could just plow through the swarm of emergency vehicles blocking their exit route, Sarah definitely couldn't, so they were forced to make the most inefficient escape ever.

Sarah was right behind her, silent but tired if her labored breathing was any indication. Cameron thought about stopping, allowing the other woman to rest, but they couldn't risk it. By now, Vaughn probably had his remaining men making a building-to-building sweep, even if the police hadn't gotten that far.

"You're making a mess," Sarah murmured as they moved through a gutted office building. Lumber was stacked everywhere, and the air smelled strongly of sawdust.

"I have to break the windows in order to gain entrance," Cameron argued, the first words they'd said to each other since leaving the alley. Cameron's shoulder throbbed where the bullet continued to rub her tissue and muscle raw, and she was eager to get somewhere safe so she could remove it.

"I meant you're bleeding all over the place." Sarah's hand gripped Cameron's bicep and urged the cyborg to turn.

Cameron did so reluctantly, frowning when she took full stock of Sarah's sweating and dirty appearance. "You look awful," she blurted.

Sarah paused in surprise before shaking her head, a twisted smile on her lips. "You really know how to flatter a girl," she muttered.

Realizing too late that she'd just insulted Sarah, Cameron felt the strange sensation of heat infuse her cheeks. She began an internal diagnostic to get to the source of the apparent malfunction while attempting to find the best words to remedy her verbal error.

"I meant…" She stopped talking as Sarah stepped closer, feeling a different kind of warmth flush through her as Sarah lifted her fingers and trailed them delicately down the side of Cameron's face.

"That's new," Sarah commented as she watched the blush deepen on Cameron's features. "You look good in red," she teased.

Cameron's hand came up to her own face, feeling the heat she'd detected there. "I'm malfunctioning," she replied testily.

"You're blushing," Sarah corrected, "because you stuck your foot in your mouth."

Brow furrowing with consternation, Cameron opened her mouth to argue.

"It's a saying. I didn't mean it literally." Sarah beat her to the punch. "Why don't we find some tools? Let me get that bullet out of you?"

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine."

They stared at each other, squaring off in the middle of the empty space as dust motes floated between them in the setting sunlight.

"It hurts," Cameron confessed after a moment. "But we need to keep moving."

"I don't like seeing you in pain," Sarah countered.

"Then you should have let me stay in the system," Cameron told her bluntly, but it was said as a fact rather than an accusation.

Sarah drew in a ragged breath and glared at her. "So I could be the one hurting right now?" she managed, the words almost choking her as she came as close as she could to confessing the full extent of her feelings. Something in Cameron's brown eyes seemed to thaw at her words, but Sarah didn't dare linger in case she imagined it.

"Come on, Tin Miss," Sarah ordered gruffly. "Like you said, we need to keep moving."

Cameron watched her go. Her anger was still there, but Cameron felt it slip a little, as if pieces of it were falling away, bit by bit. Dealing with Sarah, being angry with Sarah, was draining, like her power source output was set too low. Finally, she followed the other woman, her face an expressionless mask, like the emotionless terminator she used to be.

****

"Anything?" Vaughn demanded as he lowered the sheet covering the lifeless features of one of his men. There was another on the roof to his left, four more scattered around the alley.

"Not yet, sir," a young man replied, waiting a respectful distance away. His suit was pressed and his was hair neat, but he was sweating as he watched Vaughn's anger grow at the situation.

"They said they had her," Vaughn snarled. "You're telling me nine trained men couldn't take out Sarah Connor and her little straggly bunch of crazies?"

The junior agent swallowed as Vaughn stood, intimidated by his superior's muscle and military air. "The operative they are transporting to the hospital said there were only two of them. Connor and the girl."

"Connor and the girl." Vaughn sauntered over to the open sewer and peered down into its depths. "Did he have a head injury?" he sneered.

Clearing his throat, the young man reached up and loosened his tie. "He said the girl picked him up like he weighed nothing and dropped him down the hole."

The anger vanished from Vaughn's features as he rounded on the other man. "What?"

"He claimed she killed all of your other operatives save for the one that fled and the man Sarah Connor punched out."

Vaughn considered the news, frowning at its implications. "You're telling me Connor has a cyborg. That girl… the one in the bank photos… she's a machine."

"If the agent's report is to be believed, sir."

"Son of a bitch." Vaughn moved away from his dead officers and ordered his remaining men to break off their pursuit. He'd already lost enough agents for one day.

Had his superiors known? Had C.A.I.N.? Vaughn felt a flash of rage at what might have been kept from him, at the implications and what they meant for his role in the plan.

"This changes everything," he muttered under his breath, gaining new respect for Sarah Connor, and even more desire to hunt the bitch down and kill her.

****

The white panel van sat on the curb alongside the office building, deserted and covered in a light layer of soot from the fire burning over a mile away. Sarah started to take a step out of the shadows before Cameron caught her arm and yanked her back, placing her body between the other woman and the empty street. She scanned the street and surrounding rooftops for movement and heat signatures before leading the way to the van, her finger poised on the trigger of her 9mm.

No attack came, and it was almost anti-climactic to slide behind the wheel. Sarah sprawled into the torn vinyl seat across from her, her eyes sliding closed almost as soon as she sat down.

Cameron watched her, feeling sympathy rising up to duel with her anger. "Are you ok?"

"I could sleep for a week," Sarah mumbled as she leaned her head back.

Even dirty, disheveled, and exhausted, or as Cameron had described her earlier, awful, the sight of her warmed something deep within her, and for a moment, Cameron just gazed at Sarah, thinking about the many sensations she had been willing to leave behind. The realization she would never touch Sarah again had been the hardest part of her decision, and ultimately, it had been her undoing. If Sarah hadn't touched her, if she hadn't held her hand… she might have been able to turn away from the scene in the server room and lose herself in the vastness of cyberspace. If only…

Sarah opened her eyes a sliver to find Cameron staring at her with a confused, achingly wishful expression on her face, and a little of the guilt she had felt deep in her gut eased. Even with the world in the balance and the pain her decision had caused, she had been right to force Cameron to return to her body. It had been selfish and desperate and the only thing she could have done, for both of them. She just needed to make Cameron understand. Then maybe…

They could be happy.

The thought swam into her head, and Sarah nearly started giggling hysterically. Happy. The very word seemed so inappropriate and out-of-place and yet so fitting at the same time. Like a terminator humming along to a pop song on the radio, she thought, remembering another ride in a stolen vehicle that felt like eons ago. She hadn't been ready then, and Cameron wasn't ready now, but someday, Sarah thought, they just might be ready together. They just had to avoid killing each other before then.

The look in Cameron's eyes gave her hope, at least. Exhausted from the flight and the emotional rollercoaster of the day, she let go of all of her fears and confusion and held onto that hope.

"Are we just going to sit here?" Sarah asked at long last, to break the silence that had fallen between them.

Startled, Cameron blinked, her eyes wide and her mouth opening as if she were going to say something. But instead, she gave her head a small shake and turned to the steering column. Ripping the cover off caused a twinge in her shoulder, and a frown creased her forehead as she remembered that she might have escaped that pain once and for all.

One last glance at Sarah revealed the other woman's eyes on Cameron's profile, and the cyborg felt her body warm again, reminding her that pain wasn't the only thing she'd almost left behind.

They pulled out into the street, neither aware of the traffic cameras that tracked their progress for miles.

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