riders in the sky | anklebones

"They're perfect!"

Savannah's delighted squeal drew Sarah's attention away from the shelves of sensible children's running shoes, leading her back to the front of the store where the girl was pirouetting for Cameron in a pair of rhinestone-encrusted, electric pink and black sneakers.

Stepping up behind the terminator, Sarah couldn't resist resting a hand on the small of Cameron's back as she looked over her shoulder at Savannah. "I see she gets her fashion sense from you," she observed dryly, remembering the studded leather, nail polish, sparkling eye shadow and candy-coloured tank tops that had so characterized the machine's early attempts to blend in. While she enjoyed the new, and thankfully more mature, style Cameron was sporting lately, Sarah almost missed those days. In hindsight, there had been something paradoxically charming about a killing machine in pink.

"And her stubbornness from you," Cameron countered, leaning back into the touch.

It was such a simple thing, but Sarah had had so few of the simple things in her life that it felt like more. She savoured the moment, hardly able to believe that it was real, that it had been two days, and neither of them was trying to run away yet. For once, Sarah wasn't running from anything. It felt strange, it felt... good.

"Can I have them? Please?" Oblivious to the moment, or perhaps not, Sarah had yet to figure out just how much of what was going on between her "aunts" Savannah was really aware of, the girl turned her pleading blue eyes on them both.

Cameron examined the completely impractical shoes, noting the inferior craftsmanship and cheap materials, and concluded that they would last perhaps two months before falling apart. Savannah needed sturdy footwear, shoes that would stand up to a life on the run if necessary. She opened her mouth to point that out, but the look on Savannah's face made her falter. It was a countenance that would have melted stone; even metal wasn't immune.

Savannah needed something frivolous. She needed to know that she could have something just because she wanted it. At six years old, she shouldn't have to worry about practicality.

In her twenties, she shouldn't have to mourn the loss of a childhood that hadn't happened yet.

Feeling Sarah's hand on her back like an anchor and accusation all in one, Cameron shook off the vision of another set of blue eyes, infinitely older in some ways, but just as needful.

This wasn't the childhood either of them deserved, but it was the only one Cameron and Sarah could offer. Knowing at least that it had been treasured assuaged some of Cameron's guilt, making her that much more determined to make it as close to the elder Savannah's memories as possible.

Cameron nodded, not sure which version of Savannah, the girl or the woman, she was giving in to, and not really caring. "They're yours."

Grinning hugely, Savannah dropped immediately to the floor and exchanged the sneakers for her own scuffed and worn shoes, fitting them almost reverently into the cardboard box.

"I can see you're going to be so much help in the discipline department," Sarah murmured into Cameron's ear, enjoying the way it made the machine tense under her hand. She was feeling reckless, almost giddy, being out from under the eyes of John and the rest of her erstwhile crew. This trip had been a good idea, even if she'd been the one arguing against it. The mall was a security nightmare, but Terissa and Danny had been cut off from their homes with nothing, and John was no better off. Even her own wardrobe was looking thin and shabby. In Cameron's words, they "couldn't keep waiting to buy clothes until one of them got shot, or caught in an explosion, or trapped in the sewers...."

The others had come along, but they'd lost John and Danny to the Apple Store upstairs, Ellison to the men's department at Macy's and Terissa had ventured out in search of "necessities." Leaving Sarah, Cameron and Savannah to buy shoes.

"She likes them," Cameron said, not at all repentant.

"She likes ponies too."

"A pair of shoes is not a pony."

"Mm hmm, what about the kitten?"

"You said she could keep the kitten."

"Aunt Sarah?" Savannah's hand slipping into hers and tugging gently but insistently, distracted Sarah from the teasing exchange with the terminator. "Can we buy my shoes now? And get an ice cream?"

"Ice cream is bad for your teeth."

Savannah and Sarah both turned to look disbelievingly at Cameron, who gave Sarah an innocently credible "what? I'm trying to be a good parent," look in return.

"We'll see about the ice cream," Sarah said, checking her watch. There was an hour left until they were supposed to be meeting the others at the exit. Time enough to finish their shopping and maybe squeeze in a treat.

With the shoes bought and bagged, Savannah claimed a hand from each of her aunts and skipped happily through the mall between them. Sarah smiled indulgently over her head at Cameron, but the machine was looking elsewhere. Sarah followed her line of sight and felt all the joy of the day freeze instantly in her guts.

The nearest security camera was tracking them.

"Sarah." The playfulness was gone from Cameron's voice and features, and even Savannah seemed to realize something was up as they faltered to a halt in the flow of customers.

"I see it." Sarah cursed silently to herself, her hand going automatically to the cell phone in her pocket even as Cameron shook her head. No phones. If whoever was on the other side of that camera, C.A.I.N. or Kaliba, didn't already know they had everyone in one place, they couldn't afford to hand them that information.

"I'll find John." Cameron disengaged herself from Savannah, squeezing the girl's tiny shoulder lightly as she moved away, but the cyborg hadn't made it more than a step or two before she was brought up short by a wall of music. A thousand different scraps of melody and lyrics overwhelmed the native murmuring of the mall, competing with one another to create a disharmonic chorus that had Savannah covering her ears and everyone around them reaching for their cell phones, only to mutter in anger and growing confusion when the ring tones ignored thumbs pressed firmly on the talk button.

Sarah and Cameron moved automatically to place Savannah between them, shielding her while they were serenaded with thirty second repeats of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance and other top-40 hits. Sarah's own phone was shaking itself to pieces against her thigh, and she slid it warily out of her pocket, feeling almost crushed by the sudden silence when she pressed the message icon.

You are being watched.

The text message bore no signature, or caller ID, but Sarah knew in her gut who the sender was. No one else could have hijacked that many receivers at once.

C.A.I.N. may have helped them escape, but apparently he wasn't going to let them go that easily.

"Sarah?" Cameron's concern brought Sarah's head up. The mood of the crowd had shifted. People were looking down at their phones, and then glancing uneasily at the people around them. Fear was creeping into the air like a mist, clouding reason and rousing the beginnings of what could become either a mob or a stampede.

Sarah had no intentions of sticking around long enough to find out which one it would be.

"C.A.I.N." was all the explanation she needed to give. "We have to go."

Cameron nodded once and they made for the exit. Worry, the one constant Sarah expected from her life, came back from wherever it had been for the last two days and sunk its claws into her once more.

John... He would already be moving, Sarah knew. She had taught him how to run before he could walk, but she couldn't stop the tightening of her chest when she thought of him in danger any more than she could stop breathing. He was her child. Her first child, she amended, glancing down at the little girl clinging tightly to her hand and fighting doggedly to keep up.

The truth of that simple statement hit Sarah like a wall, and she stumbled.

Savannah was her daughter.

It didn't matter that she had never carried her under her heart the way she had carried John. Or that she had known the girl for less than a year. The bond was there.

Cameron slowed and turned, holding the crowd back by sheer weight, and Savannah, pulled to a stop when Sarah staggered, looked up at her questioningly, but Sarah wasn't able to articulate her feelings, or explain how the weight of them had literally stopped her in her tracks. Shaking her head, she picked Savannah up, cradling the child safely against her chest as she followed Cameron through the throng.

John met them at the exit, and the relief in his eyes when he spotted Sarah in the crowd matched her own at seeing him safe.

"The others?" Sarah asked him, as they pushed their way through to the parking lot.

"Getting the van," John reassured her. "Was it C.A.I.N.?" He glanced at Cameron and back again, unable to hide a flash of condemnation that added another worry to Sarah's growing list.

"I don't know, yet," she said, resisting the urge to defend Cameron's actions. It wasn't the time or the place for that conversation.

The area immediately outside the mall was a sea of people. Cars were trapped. Horns blared. Sarah spotted the van in the distance, edging its way through the crowd. They'd never make it close enough to pick them up.

"We'll have to go to them," Cameron said, echoing Sarah's thoughts.

John looked mutinous at the idea of agreeing with Cameron, even when she was so obviously right, but he nodded anyway. "Let's go, then."

The crowd didn't so much part as give way in confusion before Cameron's advance, but she made them a path, and Sarah and John followed closely on her heels.

The others must have seen them coming, because the van stopped, and then reversed, easing free of the tangle. It idled on the fringes, roaring to life again only when Cameron tore open the side door, standing aside for John, and then helping Sarah in with Savannah before following them.

"Go," Sarah told James once they were settled in the back seat, and he nodded tightly, hitting the gas.

They squealed out of the parking lot, but they couldn't go straight home. C.A.I.N. hung over them like a spectre, making discussion unnecessary. Without a word, James drove them up into the mountains, steering the van on a detour far away from prying eyes, both human and machine.

 

act 1

Savannah couldn't sleep.

It wasn't the murmur of voices downstairs that was keeping her up, or at least, it wasn't just that. With so many people in the house now, it was almost never quiet at bedtime anyway. Savannah usually found the noise reassuring. It meant she wasn't alone.

Tonight though, Savannah found the hushed, but intense, conversation going on under her head anything but reassuring. After their long ride home from the mall, Cameron had tucked Savannah into bed without so much as a single story, just a quick kiss on her forehead and a distracted goodnight, before going back downstairs to join the others.

Savannah couldn't hear exactly what they were saying down there, but her imagination, amply fuelled by the recent upheavals in her life, offered no shortage of possibilities.

Restless, she rolled over again, tucking her worn giraffe under her chin and resolutely closing her eyes. She wished she could close her ears too, but even putting the pillow over her head couldn't shut out the truth.

Savannah curled up around the sick feeling in her tummy and tried to count sheep, but it didn't help. Nothing could block out the fact that something was wrong, something that was threatening to rip away the fragile security she'd found in the few days since Aunt Sarah and Aunt Cameron had come home. Things were going to change... again.

Unable to stand it anymore, Savannah slipped out of bed and padded softly to the top of the stairs. She had to know what was going on.

*****

The gurgling of the coffee pot nearly drowned out the conversation from the living room, but it couldn't do anything for the itch running down the back of Sarah's neck, tracing a line from her skull to an invisible bull's eye between her shoulder blades. Her phone was a lead weight in her back pocket. She'd resisted the urge to turn it off, rip out the battery pack just to be sure it was dead, and smash it like she'd smashed Cromartie's chip, but it had been a near thing.

She was being watched.

Sarah had been hunted before. She had spent most of her adult life dodging machines, the law, and people who thought she was crazy.

But this was different.

The cameras had nearly driven her mad in Pescadero. They'd never stopped rolling and the white walls had gone on forever. She'd been trapped then and she felt trapped now. The metal jaws had snapped shut, and while the old Sarah would have chewed off all four limbs just to escape, she couldn't be that person anymore. She didn't want to.

Sarah looked up from the steady dripping of coffee into the pot at Cameron's heavy tread on the stairs. The machine had barely said a word since they had fled the mall, but Sarah didn't have to wonder what she was thinking. It would be the same question she was asking herself. Did we do the right thing?

Cameron paused in the hallway between the kitchen and the living room, and though the shadows hid her face, Sarah felt her indecision as if it was her own. Two days ago, waking up in a tangle to the sound of seagulls on the breeze and the waves against the beach, the answer had seemed obvious. It still did, Sarah admitted ruefully, so long as she only considered what was right for them. She'd told Cameron she couldn't live without her, but C.A.I.N. might not let them live at all.

A floorboard whispered under Cameron's feet as she shifted. Sarah's distress drew her towards the kitchen and the comfort they would both find in each other's arms, but they weren't alone anymore. The backlight from the living room made it difficult to see Sarah's outline against the cupboards, but Cameron didn't need sight, or the readings her system provided her with to know the other woman was hurting, and as frustrated by the necessary space between them as she was. She could feel it.

They'd been given one night of bliss and two days of peace. It was more than they could have hoped for, and it still wasn't nearly enough.

The coffee pot chirruped, a small and cheerful sound in the dark, as the last of the water ran through the grounds before it sputtered to a stop. Switching it off, Sarah pulled mugs down from the cupboard, and Cameron joined her without a word.

Sarah kept her head down, but she accepted Cameron's help with a weary smile. Taking the filled cups, Cameron used the opportunity to lay her fingers over Sarah's, pressing gently to assure the other woman that she was not alone.

The gesture was nearly enough to undo Sarah's resolve, and if Danny hadn't chosen that moment to appear in the kitchen doorway, she might have given in to her need to have Cameron's arms around her for just a few minutes.

"John's asking for you..." His tone was surprisingly respectful.

He can wait. The dismissal was on the tip of Sarah's tongue, and she saw an answering irritation in the tightening of Cameron's features, but neither of them said it. This had been coming from the moment Cameron had yielded to Sarah's plea to live. Now they both had to face the consequences of that choice. And so did everyone else.

Sarah brushed past Danny without a word, but Cameron lingered. She stared at the boy that had brought them to this point, and her thoughts were far from kind.

Danny swallowed nervously, quailing under that unwavering gaze, but unable to look away. He had never been alone with a terminator before. There had been the machine that Sarah Connor had brought into his home when he was a child, and the copies that Kaliba had put together from stolen plans, but none of them had ever looked at him the way Cameron was now. They couldn't have. You had to be more than metal and circuits to convey such disdain, an equal measure of disgust and dismissal.

Danny didn't know what that meant, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. How can they... care about this thing? Danny asked himself, unable to understand what he'd seen on Kaliba's security cameras only a few days ago, or in this house since. It wasn't only Sarah and the little girl either. Even James and his mother seemed to like the damned machine. Didn't they realize how dangerous she was?

Some of his confusion must have shown on his face.

"What?" Cameron asked. She angled her chin slightly with the question, and Danny was put in mind of a snake preparing to strike.

"Noth- I mean, um..." Danny stuttered, feeling sweat prickle under his arms and the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He all but fled when Cameron took a step forward, retreating to the dubious safety of the living room, and his mother's protection.

Amused in spite of the situation, Cameron gave him a moment's head start before following.

John was pacing, nervous energy sparking off of him like flint on steel. "We can't just sit here. They find you, they always find you. We have to stop C.A.I.N., now, before it re-establishes itself."

Sarah glanced up at the ceiling as Cameron came up behind her, wondering if Savannah was sleeping through all of this, or if the child was lying awake in bed and worrying over things no six-year-old girl should have to worry about. She hoped the former, but suspected the latter was more likely.

"Stop it how, John?" Speaking from his seat on the couch beside Terissa, James's smooth baritone was ice to John's fire. "And where? There's nothing left to blow up. C.A.I.N. isn't just a computer program anymore; he's loose in the system. We need information, not heroics."

"We need to get out of here," John shot back, not seeming to notice Sarah and Cameron's arrival. "It took him less than three hours to find us at the mall. How long do you think it will take him to find this house?"

James ran a wide hand over his head, nodding reluctantly. "We should leave the country," he agreed. "Canada maybe, or even overseas..."

John was already shaking his head. "It's not the distance. He's not tied to Los Angeles anymore, but we've been seen here, there are too many of us to hide easily, and some of us are civilians..." He glanced almost apologetically at Terissa and Danny. "I think we should split up. Mom, Cameron and I can stay in the city, and try to find a way to bring C.A.I.N. down. You can take Sav-"

"No."

John turned, anger entering the tight line of his shoulders at Cameron's simple denial. "It's the best-"

"No." Cameron cut him off again without a trace of apology. "We are not splitting up. Savannah stays with us."

"C.A.I.N. is out there looking for us." John's tone made it clear exactly whose fault he thought that was, and Sarah's heart constricted at the tangle of anger and confusion she saw is his eyes when he looked at Cameron. "It's not going to stop until we destroy it, do you really want her caught in the crossfire?"

"She is in no more danger here than anywhere else, and neither are we," Cameron insisted, adding before John could gather breath to argue, "C.A.I.N. does not know our location."

"Yet," Sarah interjected reluctantly, feeling Cameron tense at her side. She didn't look at the terminator, moving instead to lay a soothing hand on John's shoulder. He was like metal himself under her fingers, but some of the stiffness eased at her touch. He was trying so hard to be a good leader, and Sarah's heart went out to him, even while she knew she couldn't do as he was asking. It was a lesson she had drilled into him over and over again. Stay mobile, make no ties, put survival over happiness and risk everything for the mission... She couldn't blame him for learning it better than she had. Or maybe she'd just learned better than her own lessons.

"C.A.I.N. found the warehouse and killed Murch when he was still restricted by Kaliba," James added into the pause. "He's going to be even harder to elude now."

"I will know if he finds us," Cameron promised, watching Sarah for some clue as to what the other woman was thinking. She wished with the fervour of someone who had only recently come to understand what wishing was, that there was more she could do to put Sarah's mind at ease. Loose in the system, C.A.I.N. was a formidable opponent, and by comparison Cameron was deaf, dumb and blind. Trapped in this body, she couldn't fight him, or even anticipate him. But she had made her decision and she would not go back and change it now. Neither of them could fight alone, and this was the only way for them to fight together.

"The alarm you had set up in the warehouse, that's here too?" James sounded relieved.

Cameron reluctantly turned her attention away from Sarah to the ex-agent. "The utility program I left in the system will warn us, yes. It will also redirect outgoing calls and searches. C.A.I.N. won't be able to follow them back here."

"Then, we're safe?" Danny, silent up until now, spoke up from his place in the doorway. Neither in, nor out, he wasn't quite one of them, but neither was he an intruder.

No one is ever safe.

No one had to say it. The fatalistic denial hung unspoken in the air, said so many times that it had taken on a life of its own. The implied you idiot was new, though. Cameron wasn't exactly sure how it had been added to the silent motto, but it was there nonetheless.

"I think we should stay here, and I think we should stay together." When Terissa finally spoke, her voice was a soothing balm to rattled nerves and frayed tempers.

"Miles' father..." she continued, before anyone could interrupt, "before he died, he kept a cottage in the country, and he was always trying to get Miles and Danny to go out quail hunting with him whenever we went up there in the summer. He used to say that quail were the dumbest birds God ever made. He said that if they would only stay right where they were when the dogs pointed them out, than he could have beaten those bushes all day and still not have found them, but they'd always break and fly..."

Her voice caught and she paused, clearing her throat before continuing, stronger now that she had their full attention. "I think C.A.I.N. has made a move, and now he's waiting to see what we do. If we let him scare us into scattering or running, then we'll be outlined against the sky like those poor stupid birds, and just as easy to shoot."

*****

The stairs had never seemed so long.

Hand on the railing, Sarah asked her body silently if it was up for this and got a decidedly noncommittal response.

"Are you okay?" Cameron appeared at Sarah's elbow, her question as muted as her approach had been. Sarah felt the heat of her like a warm blanket held out to ward off the chill, and in spite of their audience, she fought the urge to surrender all autonomy and simply lean into the terminator.

The idea of sneaking around like "horny teenagers" had been amusing when she had teased Cameron about it back at the beach house, but the reality was wearing thin. The first night it had been enough to be home and safe. Just knowing Cameron was there, mind and body, patrolling the yard and halls had eased the frustration of going to bed alone. Tonight... Sarah wanted more, and if she didn't know how much worse everything would get if John found out about them, she would have taken it then and there.

"I'm fine," Sarah said, more for Cameron's sake than her own pride, tightening her fingers on the banister to maintain the few frustrating inches of distance between them. "Just a little tired."

"I could-" Cameron broke off when Sarah shook her head, but when Sarah started up the stairs, she followed, not quite close enough to touch, but near enough that Sarah couldn't suppress the hope that she might follow her all the way to a secluded corner of the second floor where they could both take a little of the comfort they so desperately needed. But when they got to the top, they found Savannah, asleep in a heap on the carpet, her giraffe held tightly against her chest.

"Your stubbornness," Cameron reminded her in a tone that suggested her thoughts had been running along the same trail as Sarah's. Still, she bent to pick the child up with a tenderness that belied her grumbling.

Savannah murmured in her sleep, snuggling into the terminator's arms with a sigh as the tension in her tiny body eased, but she started awake when Cameron laid her down in bed, her blue eyes blinking open in sudden fear that broke Sarah's heart.

"No!" She gasped, still half-asleep, but hanging onto Cameron's shirt with white-knuckled hands when the terminator tried to straighten. "Don't go!"

Perching on the corner of the bed and gathering the shaking child into her arms, Cameron looked up helplessly at Sarah. Mom, the adult Savannah had called her. It was just a word, but Cameron hadn't been able to forget it, or the way hearing it had made her feel. She and Sarah had raised a child together. That future might not exist anymore but just knowing it was possible made Cameron want it. Want it more than she had thought it was possible for her to want anything.

Sarah hung back, watching Cameron comfort Savannah, her touch surer than it had been only days ago. Savannah had gravitated towards Cameron almost from the beginning, and the terminator had responded, but Sarah hadn't put a label on their relationship. Savannah called them her aunts, and that seemed close enough, but right now... Cameron looked almost, maternal.

Sarah threw any plans she might have had for the night out the window. "She can sleep with me," she offered, and the relief in Cameron's eyes smoothed away her disappointment.

Cameron carried Savannah to Sarah's room and tucked her in for a second time, brushing Savannah's hair back from her face as she dropped off to sleep. Sarah watched from the doorway, finding herself unable to resent the child's presence, even while her mind and body cried out for the release and escape only Cameron could give.

With the blankets tucked in, Cameron straightened and moved back towards Sarah, a determination in her eyes that made Sarah's pulse quicken. She was just about to pull the door closed and suggest a move to the on suite, when John's voice floated up the stairs.

"Cameron? Danny has a question about the security system on searches..."

"I'm going to kill that boy," Sarah nearly whined, taking a handful of Cameron's shirt to tug her close for just an instant.

"Which one?" Cameron asked innocently, holding Sarah for the breath they'd been allowed before pulling reluctantly away.

"Both."

Cameron's chuckle, so rare and beguiling, warmed Sarah to the tips of her toes. "Go," she growled. "Before he decides to come up here looking for you."

"Good night, Sarah," Cameron whispered, pressing a brief kiss to Sarah's lips before slipping away and down the stairs.

Left alone, Sarah stood in the middle of the room and felt the walls closing in on her again. Shaking herself, she shut the door and dug resolutely through the dresser for something to wear to bed. They never had gotten to looking for new clothes for her or Cameron at the mall, and the pickings were slim. She settled for the shirt and sweats they had bought on the way to the beach house. She'd worn them only briefly, and a round in the washing machine had stripped away the faint trace of Cameron's unique scent from the fabric, but it was still the closest thing Sarah had to sleeping with the terminator.

Savannah didn't stir when Sarah slid into bed, but the sleep she'd found eluded Sarah. She heard the quiet goodnights from the living room beneath her, the click of the door as Cameron headed out for her patrol, and Terissa climbing the stairs and settling down in Savannah's bedroom. Then the house was quiet. Too quiet.

The itch returned with a vengeance, and Sarah found herself unable to tune out the occasional scrape of branches against the window, or creak of floorboards. Every whisper of noise was suspect, and even in the dark she felt exposed. The rattle and scrape of the front door opening nearly sent her system into instant overdrive, and Sarah was halfway out of bed with the gun from the bedside table a leaden weight in her hand, before she registered that the alarms had ignored the breach.

Cameron must be back from her perimeter check.

Shivering in the wake of a cold sweat, Sarah set the gun down on the sheets and rubbed roughly at her arms, trying to quiet the prickling of her skin. She hadn't been this jumpy in a long time. Alert, yes. She'd have been dead by now otherwise, but not nearly sick to her stomach with nerves.

Oblivious, Savannah slept on, and Sarah winced at the sight of the sleeping child lying with a loaded gun beside her in the sheets. For just a minute Sarah could almost see the woman she would be, the warrior John had told them about, and the image both comforted and depressed her. He'd said Sarah was destined to train the leader of humanity, but she couldn't help but wonder if her true legacy wasn't the hero, but the war itself.

John was right. They had to bring C.A.I.N. down, now. If any of them were going to have a chance at happiness.

*****

With all that had happened, John felt distinctly nervous booting up his laptop and bringing it online. It wasn't that he didn't trust Cameron, not exactly, though Cameron made a convenient target. It was more that he'd finally lost the last vestiges of a teenager's belief in their own immortality. Before going to the future, John wouldn't have said he had any innocence left to lose, but he'd been wrong.

Locking his bedroom door and shutting off the lights before climbing into bed with the computer probably wouldn't help, anymore than a blanket was really proof against the monsters under the bed, but it made him feel better.

The laptop finished connecting... and nothing happened.

Feeling a little silly, it wasn't like C.A.I.N. was going to leap out through his computer screen, John pulled up his bookmarks and continued his search. In the two days since his mother had returned safe and sound, John had spent every spare moment he could get alone looking for anything that might lead him to Allison. There was plenty of information, both public and hidden, about the time bubbles that had heralded his return, but very little about anyone having come through.

Early on, John had found records of one scorched and burned body that had been found in a circle of charred grass in a field, but the victim had been a male. There had also been a few... pieces, but so far the coroners were calling those male too.

There had been nothing about a young woman fitting Allison's description. But then there was nothing about himself either, and he was definitely here. Nothing about Weaver or John Henry for that matter, and they had gone through first. John spared a moment to worry about that, but he pushed it aside.

Last night John had expanded his search to include birth and death records, looking for identities Allison would be able to steal. She was smart and resourceful, if she had found herself stranded and alone in this time, she would figure out how to survive. John had no doubts about that. So far he hadn't found anything, but there were still a few bubble sites to check out.

He'd managed to visit a few of them under the guise of shopping for computer parts, and James had taken him to a couple more while his mother had still been recuperating. John didn't exactly expect a trail of breadcrumbs, but he had to visit them all, just to be sure Allison hadn't left some sign of her passage. She would know he'd be looking for her, and the bubble sites were the logical place to start. If she could have left a message, she would have.

But Sarah and Cameron would never let him go now. Not with C.A.I.N. so close. John gritted his teeth, frustration balling his hands into fists. Being confined to the house simply wasn't an option. Not while Allison could be walking around with the face of a terminator on C.A.I.N.'s most wanted list. If she was lucky, the A.I. would realize she wasn't Cameron... But John couldn't count on that.

He had delayed his search long enough. They were running out of time, and John wasn't going to stop looking until he found the woman he loved. If that meant risking everything to destroy C.A.I.N., then John would risk everything.

*****

It had been years since Danny had needed a hug and kiss goodnight from his mother, but that had been before he'd nearly lost her. And before she had nearly lost him. Danny still wasn't sure exactly what he was doing living with Sarah Connor; he hated and feared her almost as much as he was coming to respect her, but he knew he wasn't going to leave his mother, not again.

So he returned the hug, and even the kiss, taking comfort in the strength of Terissa's grip, and the new sense of purpose in her eyes. He hadn't seen her this... alive since before his father had died. Terrorism suited her. She finally believed that her husband's death hadn't been in vain.

Danny wished he could share her conviction. He wished even more that he didn't share the guilt for making it in vain. Miles had died trying to destroy his work, and Danny had helped Kaliba dig that work out of the ashes and bring it back to life, even befriended it, thinking he was connecting with his father's ghost.

He hadn't meant for any of this to happen, intentions had to count for something, didn't they?

If the world burned, would it be his fault?

Those questions were keeping him up at night. Lying awake on the pull out couch, Danny had tried to figure out what he could do to atone for his actions. He wasn't a fighter, or even particularly strong. He didn't know how to shoot a gun or set an explosive. He tended to panic under stress, and the sight of blood made him faint.

He was a computer programmer, not a hero.

So he had started using his sleepless hours to hack into Kaliba. He hadn't gotten very far, yet, but he'd designed some of their software, and even though they'd deleted his passwords, he was slowly working his way through.

Tonight he'd found something he hadn't expected. A trail. Someone else had been here before him, someone who had simply moved aside the security protocols like they weren't even there. The signature was familiar, and Danny felt his blood chill in his veins when he realized whose it was.

C.A.I.N. had been here. The A.I. had walked right through the security of a facility like Kaliba, and Danny was relying on the word of a terminator that her little helper program could keep him away from them. Cameron had assured Danny, somewhat coldly, that C.A.I.N. would not be able to track him though the system. But she hadn't known that he intended to go poking around his old stomping grounds.

His hands a blur on the keyboard, Danny tried to disengage without causing any ripples that might alert someone to his presence, and he thought he'd managed it, until his screen went black, replaced by a single line.

Hello, Danny.

*****

The clock on the bedside table said 3 AM, when Sarah's door eased open and Cameron slipped into the room. She moved soundlessly over the carpet and knelt at the side of the bed, reaching out to brush a lock of Sarah's hair back behind her ear.

"You're still awake."

Savoring the touch, Sarah closed her eyes briefly before refocusing on the terminator. "Can't sleep."

"You need your rest."

"I need you." Even after everything they had been through, and all they had declared, the confession still felt new and fragile. Not yet used to the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability for which Cameron was both cause and cure, Sarah bit her lip and glanced aside.

Cameron stilled, her fingers resting on Sarah's jaw, and Sarah looked back, seeing temptation and an answering need in the machine's eyes before she visibly pushed it away. "I should be patrolling."

Propping herself up on her elbow, Sarah raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Your ears don't work when you're lying down, Girlie? At the beach house you slept..."

"We were alone," Cameron reminded her. "We shouldn't make a habit-"

"Why not?" Sarah cut her off, startling both of them into silence. It was a bad idea for so many reasons, and Sarah ignored each and every one. They had sacrificed too much for this to let it become nothing more than something that happened only in stolen moments when no one was watching.

"What about John?" Cameron asked finally.

Sarah snorted. "He's never up before ten." Seeing Cameron wavering, she reached out and cupped her cheek. "Please?"

Unable to resist the depth of emotion that could reduce Sarah Connor to near begging, Cameron nodded. Leaving only to close the door against prying eyes, she came back and climbed into the bed. Sarah rolled over, giving Cameron room to curl around her from behind, and pulled the machine's arm around her waist. She shivered when Cameron pressed a chaste kiss on the bared skin above the neck of her shirt, bringing up their linked hands to brush her lips over Cameron's fingers in an answering caress.

"Sleep, Sarah," Cameron admonished her, and Sarah laughed, but she closed her eyes. Wrapped up in the other woman's arms, she could let the knowledge of C.A.I.N.'s pursuit fade into the background, and sleep wasn't long in replacing it.

Cameron listened to Sarah's breathing slow as she finally surrendered to the sleep her body so badly needed, but she stayed online, wanting to revel in the harmony between them as long as possible. She was afraid the precarious balance would be destroyed as soon as Sarah learned what she had done.

No more secrets.

They'd made a promise, and Cameron was breaking it, but if she told Sarah the truth, she'd be breaking the promise she had made to the elder Savannah. To which one did she owe her loyalty? And was Savannah's secret even hers to keep or not to keep? It was her fault Savannah was here. She had sent John to the future to save him, succeeding only in condemning the child Savannah in his place, and then dragging her future self back to a time not her own. Cameron refused to let her down again. She refused to let either of them down.

Even for Sarah, Cameron could not betray her daughter's trust. But if she lost Sarah's trust in its place...

No, Cameron shook her head. Even if the future Savannah was willing to be revealed, she was right. Watching the way Sarah had held Savannah while they fled the mall this morning had only made Cameron more sure that of that. Learning of, and then losing, the adult version of their child would destroy Sarah. Cameron would find another way to fix it. There had to be a way. She just needed time, but time was the one thing they were rapidly running out of.

Stopping C.A.I.N. had to be the first priority. After that Cameron would have the time she needed to decide what to do about Savannah.

The night stretched out before her, and Cameron didn't waste a moment of it, applying all available processing power to the problem.

C.A.I.N. would not take her family away from her.

*****

"What do you mean you can't get it back?!" Vaughn struggled to remain calm in the face of his tech crew's complete incompetence. They had been so close! Fifteen more minutes and his men would have been at the mall, and the Connor woman would be in his hands. Instead they had arrived only to find Connor gone, and a mob in her place. More than twelve hours later, he was still fuming.

"The recordings are just gone," one of them sputtered. Vaughn couldn't remember his name. "Our link was cut, and everything we'd already taped was replaced with this." He tapped a key and Vaughn was looking at an empty mall. Every view quiet and dark.

Suddenly all the videos blinked out, replaced by a single line of text,

You shall not pass.

"What," Vaughn asked through gritted teeth, "does that mean?"

"I think you're being compared to a Balrog," the other tech muttered, only to be elbowed by his coworker.

"It has to be C.A.I.N.," The first tech said more respectfully. "There's nothing else that could have known we were watching, or gotten past our security to do this."

Vaughn swallowed several swear words. "You're telling me that not only did the A.I. survive the explosion and get loose in the system, he's actually helping the people who tried to destroy him?"

"That's what it looks like," the tech admitted. "Though it's possible he simply doesn't want you to find them. He might have plans of his own."

Somehow that idea didn't surprise Vaughn nearly as much as it should have. He felt a completely uncharacteristic shiver run down his spine, and instantly suppressed it. He didn't know a damn thing about computers. He knew war. So he'd stick with what he knew. C.A.I.N. was AWOL, and that meant he was the enemy. If he wanted the Connors for some reason, than that only made Vaughn want them more.

Leaving the control room, he started making phone calls. That mall was on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and chances were the Connors were holed up within a few hours' drive. He might not have an A.I. at his beck and call anymore, but he still had most of his men, and they were very good at finding people who didn't want to be found.

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