epoch | inspector boxer and dj shiva

The acrid scent of smoke blended with the stench of burning trash.

Inside the warehouse, the contents of three barrels burned, each container placed a calculated distance apart to warm as much of the space as possible. The meager flames were little help against the night’s chill. Twelve people, all of them homeless, gathered around the makeshift fires to heat their hands and keep the shadows of the night at bay. They’d all fallen on hard times in various ways, but they kept their stories to themselves in the late hour, opting to listen to the crackling fire, the howling wind, and the sheets of rain beyond the crumbling, graffiti-covered walls.

An angry snap filled the air. Everyone turned toward the center of the warehouse, wondering at the source. For a moment, there was only the fire and the storm, and they all began to wonder if they had collectively imagined it. But then it came again.

A flicker of blue light accompanied it; a flash and crackle of electricity making the hairs on their arms and necks stand on end. Frowning, everyone stepped back, assuming the storm they were seeking shelter from was finding a way to sneak inside their haven.

When the third snap came, louder than the others, it brought ice blue fire that split through the air and jittered across the floor. Some screamed, turning to run as others remained to watch in confused horror as a ball of light seemed to rise up and form before their eyes. It expanded, pulsing and swelling until there was nowhere for them to go. When it reached critical mass, the bubble released all the energy it had been collecting, scattering it across the warehouse and sending those that remained tumbling to the concrete. One barrel tipped and fell, landing with a bang as the burning trash spilled out across the floor.

The weak flames revealed a large, naked man curled into a ball in the middle of the warehouse. His skin was steaming as he slowly rose, his dark eyes taking in each of them in turn as they stared back at him with disbelief. Outside, the rain lashed at the door, but the storm they’d all sought shelter from suddenly seemed like the safer alternative.

The stranger zeroed in on one of them, moving forward with sudden purpose and a complete lack of modesty. The others recoiled as he came closer, pointing at the largest man among them.

“You,” the stranger declared. “Give me your clothes.”

A short time later, dressed in ill-fitting jeans and a plaid shirt, the visitor stepped out into the storm, oblivious to the cold, hard rain that struck his sharp features. The weather didn’t slow him down as he began to search for a working vehicle. His mission to the past was simple.

Find his target and terminate.

act 1

The rain was almost peaceful. Sarah watched it fall in the weak light of the porch, the drops disappearing into darkness as they landed in the grass. She sighed and settled back against the swing, feeling the chilly air keenly in every abused joint and jagged scar on her body, but she didn’t retreat to the warmth inside. Things felt simpler where she was, and the damp air seemed easier to breathe.

Cameron was inside, and so were the memories Sarah wished she could wash away in the storm. Either reason was enough to provoke her solitude.

There was nothing left to hide between them now. Sarah knew the secret that had been lurking in Cameron’s doe eyes. She had seen it, almost tasted how much Cameron had wanted to tell her, but she’d been too caught up in their relationship, in feeling almost good for a change, to risk demanding the truth from her and having it all shatter.

Until it did anyway, with Sierra’s blood staining the space between them.

Swallowing, Sarah stared into the darkness, lost in thoughts of the son that had left her and the daughter who had died for her. John was gone once more, having taken John Henry to Sierra’s hanger to get his answers. They rarely seemed to speak anymore, and Sarah knew she was being as stubborn with him as she was with Cameron.

She wanted to stay angry with the terminator for depriving her of the chance to get to know Sierra, but her resolve was fading a little with each passing day. Weeks had gone by since that night on the beach when she’d promised Cameron they weren’t done, but little else had changed to break the stalemate they seemed to be mired in. The logical part of her mind whispered to her that there had been a reason for what Cameron had done, but then emotion took over, her throat tightening as she clenched her teeth and reminded herself that she had every reason to be pissed. The spiral downward into anger held a familiarity, almost a comfort, that wrapped itself around the hurt in its strange soothing way.

Anger. Now that was something she could count on.

So deep in her thoughts, Sarah didn’t even hear the door open until she felt the brush of fabric against her arm. She glanced up, right into the eyes she couldn’t stop thinking about. They looked back at her, dark with grief and loneliness. Sarah felt the sight twist her heart so hard she could barely breathe.

When she finally exhaled, the red heat in her gut subsided. All that was left was a feeling of absence. Emptiness.

“It’s cold,” Cameron said simply but she sounded like she was talking about more than the weather. “You should...” She hesitated, clearly unsure where her place was with Sarah in the strange dance they had been engaged in for weeks. They feigned normalcy in front of Savannah and retreated into isolation when it was just the two of them. Cameron had respected Sarah’s need for space, and she had mostly stopped doing small things for the other woman, afraid to intrude. Her fingers drifted down the blanket she’d laid on the arm of the swing before she stepped back and turned to go.

Sarah wasn’t sure which one of them was more surprised when she reached out and clasped Cameron’s hand, keeping the cyborg there. Cameron looked at her uncertainly, a mixture of hope and trepidation on her features.

When had that happened, Sarah wondered. When had Cameron so flawlessly and unconsciously begun to reveal her emotions like that? In another flash of weak lightning, Cameron looked utterly human to Sarah’s eyes, and despondent and lonely. Before she even realized what she was doing, Sarah tugged her lover closer.

“Stay,” she pleaded.

Cameron looked unsure but her gaze slid to the chair in the corner, assuming Sarah would want her to keep her distance. When Sarah patted the swing beside her, Cameron’s gaze jerked up to the familiar green of Sarah’s eyes in surprise.

“If you think it’ll hold both of us,” Sarah added in a weary voice, but there was a hint of a smile on her features.

Seeing that grin, knowing it was directed at her, caused a flutter of hope to drift across Cameron’s skin. Somewhere her processor marveled over how the feeling begat a physical response; goose bumps and a shiver followed as Cameron sent the extraneous musing into secondary processes and concentrated on the lines around Sarah’s half-cocked smile. Cameron found her courage in the curve of the other woman’s lip, as she finally moved toward the seat. “It will,” she murmured. “I reinforced it to hold my weight. Savannah likes to sit out here with me.”

Sarah looked down at the joined hands. “Did she?” she asked, her voice husky.

Cameron stared at her bent head, knowing by Sarah’s faint inflection on the pronoun that she was talking about Sierra rather than the child sleeping upstairs. “She never mentioned it,” she admitted.

“Did she mention anything...” Sarah broke off and swallowed before shaking her head.

Slowly, afraid if she moved any faster that Sarah would let her go, Cameron sank onto the swing. She kept her eyes straight ahead, still too afraid to look at Sarah directly. “I thought you didn’t want to know.”

“I changed my mind.” Sarah looked up, not bothering to school her features. Cameron heard the naked sorrow underlying the words and felt her eyes pulled back to Sarah’s. She flinched at the expression of loss and anger but she didn’t look away.

“What do you want to know?” Cameron asked, ready to tell her anything, ready to share the daughter she’d loved with the only other person who could understand what she’d lost.

“Everything,” Sarah confessed, tightening her hold on Cameron’s hand.

Cameron ran her thumb across Sarah’s knuckles, amazed at how such simple contact could mean so much. She remembered being in the system, remembered how badly she had wanted to reach out and touch Sarah Connor. The need she couldn’t explain then still drove her now. “You would have been proud of her.”

“I already am,” Sarah confessed. She looked out through the rain at the backyard where Savannah would play. “Our daughter,” she said with faint disbelief. “We were...”

“Her parents,” Cameron finished for her, still marveling at the idea herself. She watched Sarah swallow again and she ached to pull her closer but she didn’t dare. “She wanted me to know... us to know... that she wouldn’t change anything. That she loved us both.”

“Then why? Why didn’t she want to see me?” Sarah met Cameron’s gaze squarely, quietly demanding a straight answer. “If I was a good mother then...”

“I wasn’t supposed to see her, either.” Cameron interjected. She paused, remembering the shock on Sierra’s face, her attempt to get away unnoticed. “It was an accident. She had thought...” She glanced at Sarah, wondering if she would hurt her with the truth.

“She thought what?”

“She thought we wouldn’t have a need for the beach house, that she was safe from seeing either of us if she stayed around there.” Seeing that Sarah did not understand, Cameron continued, “She didn’t think we would bring her there anymore... that we wouldn’t be together in this timeline,” Cameron concluded roughly.

“Why would she think that?” Sarah whispered, hurting for the woman who’d given everything to save her.

“John,” Cameron answered honestly. “When she sent him back...” She trailed off, knowing Sarah would figure out the rest.

Sarah closed her eyes. “She thought we wouldn’t...” She shook her head, understanding how Sierra would have arrived at that conclusion.

“She thought with John back in your life that he would come between you and me, that you wouldn’t need her. Or me.”

“She was wrong,” Sarah ground out, her hand tightening on Cameron’s. “About everything.”

Cameron studied Sarah’s profile. Her lover’s jaw was clenched in helpless frustration, and Cameron didn’t miss the tears collecting in the corners of Sarah’s eyes. “I...” she hesitated, not sure she should share what was on her mind.

Sarah looked at her again, sensing something in Cameron she needed to hear. “What?”

“I thought the same thing. When John came back...”

Head rocking back a little as if she’d just been struck, Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “You thought I wouldn’t love Savannah?” An angry edge entered her tone.

Cameron quickly shook her head. “No. I thought you wouldn’t love... me.”

Sarah drew in a sharp breath and had to look away. She was honest enough with herself to see why Cameron would have believed that. Why Cameron would have thought there was no place with her with John back in the fold. But by the time her son had returned, Sarah knew everything had changed. She had changed, and going back to who she’d been would have been suicide.

She remembered the gnawing emptiness of being alone and her fingers reflexively tightened around Cameron’s once more.

Looking down at their joined hands, Sarah felt a little more of her world stabilize since it had been shaken to its foundations by Sierra’s death. “Cameron,” she breathed, swallowing roughly on the name. “When I told you...” She had to stop and brace herself, the words still not coming easily. “When we were in the basement, and I told you I... that I loved you...” She met the terminator’s gaze, feeling herself come undone by the confusion and pain she saw in Cameron’s eyes. Sarah cleared her throat and had to look back down at their hands to finish. She absentmindedly began to stroke Cameron’s knuckles, unconsciously mirroring what the other woman had done before to comfort her. “That came from the same part of me that loves my son. The same part of me that would die for him.”

Cameron could only stare, sitting impossibly still, afraid any sudden movements would make Sarah stop talking.

“When I told you I loved you... I meant it,” Sarah promised. “And those kinds of feelings... they don’t just stop... even if you sometimes wish they would.”

Slowly, Cameron cautiously slid closer, heartened when Sarah didn’t move away. Sarah had promised her at the beach house that they weren’t done, but until that very moment, Cameron wasn’t sure she had believed her. “I wish I could turn off how I feel,” she admitted.

Sarah looked back up at her with mild alarm.

“About Sierra,” Cameron clarified, realizing too late how that might have sounded.

Nodding, Sarah drew their joined hands into her lap. “This is new for you,” she admitted. “And I haven’t been very helpful...”

“You’re dealing with your own pain,” Cameron said with understanding.

They regarded each other in the weak light, the slight breeze from the rain chilling and dampening their skin.

“Tell me about her,” Sarah pleaded after a few moments’ contemplation.

“Where should I start?”

Sarah sighed as the ball at the pit of her stomach began its slow unraveling.

“Start at the beginning.”

****

Weaver felt the drops of rain sluicing down and puddling on her form but she paid them no heed. She was in plain sight of the porch, mimicking a patch of grass and dirt near the picnic table. Her view of Sarah Connor and the machine was unobstructed, and she watched them both with idle interest.

They seemed... close, she decided. Unusually so. Sarah Connor knew what Cameron was, and yet she held her hand, held the hand of the very thing she’d sworn to destroy. The contact actually seemed to give her comfort, to be something Sarah needed.

Humans not only disappointed, they made little sense, Weaver mused.

But she had to admit she was fascinated by their little dynamic. Cameron was like no terminator she had ever encountered. There was nothing in her movements, in the halting tone of her voice as she shared her memories of Sierra, that felt programmed. The cyborg had feelings. That much Weaver had known, but she hadn’t realized the extent of those feelings. Had she not known Cameron’s true nature, Weaver was certain she would have mistaken her for just another human. The knowledge was both unsettling and intriguing.

Her attention focused on their joined hands, of the movement of Cameron’s thumb across Sarah Connor’s knuckles. A sign of affection... of comfort. Weaver had never learned to adequately employ either with Savannah. Perhaps there was more to Cameron than her inferior chip after all.

Weaver recalled her own words about a machine crossing against the light, filing the thought away for further processing at a later date.

A light winked off from above and Weaver glanced skyward. Savannah was settling in for the night. There was only the faintest glimmer in her of the woman she could someday become, but Weaver saw possibilities in the child. A far cry from the sad little creature that had urinated on herself from fear, it was obvious that Savannah’s reliance on the two women was about far more than just survival. Weaver was puzzled by the dynamic, but quickly categorized its usefulness. For now, James was adequate as an ally in the preservation of John Henry, and Danny was proving to be unexpectedly helpful in that regard as well. But Weaver suspected another ally couldn’t hurt, especially one who could influence Sarah and Cameron the way Savannah did.

Slithering through the rain-soaked grass, she eased up the side of the house undetected, slipping inside to tell her daughter goodnight.

****

Logically, Danny knew the inert figure in the corner couldn’t harm him, but logic did very little to ease his nerves at John Henry’s proximity. The cyborg was sitting in a chair in the corner, slumped against the wall, his eyes mercifully closed. He might as well have been a mannequin, Danny mused. His chip was out and attached to various devices and wires on the desk in front of him. John Henry had no power, but Danny couldn’t help but imagine him lurching to life and coming after him like some sort of metal zombie.

Deciding his mind was doing him no favors, Danny nudged his third cup of cooling coffee aside for the night. He linked his fingers and lifted his hands over his head, stretching his back a little in the cramped space. Once again, Danny wondered why they’d set up shop in the small office of the hanger rather than inside the hanger itself. Granted, the place was a little creepy with the photos and newspaper clippings all over the walls, but it was sure as hell bigger. John had simply told him it wasn't really their space to use, that it belonged to someone else.

But Danny had caught John in there more than once, his green eyes skimming over the images and stories. They seemed to offer him a strange sort of comfort so Danny kept his mouth shut. He also stayed out of the room whenever possible, having decided ignorance was bliss compared to knowing what secrets lurked on those walls. He already barely slept as it was.

Scrubbing his hand over his head, Danny willed his eyes to stop blurring with fatigue so he could read the data on his screens. He’d had little luck with John Henry’s chip, so he’d left the computers to do their thing while he explored other areas of interest.

Shivering, Danny drew his light jacket more tightly around him. Their new, smaller space was little more than thin metal walls and a concrete floor. It served their purposes, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable, especially when he could hear the storm howling outside and the rain drumming on the roof.

None of their discomforts seem to bother John. He was currently sleeping, on a rickety cot no less, and Danny had to acknowledge the rarity of the event. John needed to rest and heal from the trials of the last few weeks, but it seemed that he was pushing himself harder instead, willing his body and mind beyond their limits to get the answers he needed. Every day, Danny saw more of Sarah Connor emerging in John’s motivations and actions. He knew John wanted to mend things with his mother, and the only way he could do that was to find what he needed from John Henry and destroy him, but so far the cyborg was resistant to giving up his secrets.

Danny was secretly a little grateful. As long as they were here, they weren’t around Sarah. Or Cameron.

Sighing, he studied the plans for what John had called a “Hunter Killer.” Danny had used his backdoor into Kaliba once more, satisfied that C.A.I.N. was no longer a threat. He couldn’t find a single line of code from the A.I., and the further he hacked, the easier he breathed. It looked like they had, indeed, destroyed him, and Danny refused to feel remorse at the fact. He accepted that what was done was done; he couldn’t go back and change things even if he wanted to. He wondered if the Connors would ever be able to let things go the way he did.

A soft beep drew his attention and Danny straightened. With a few keystrokes, he found himself looking at a police report about a mysterious ball of blue lighting supposedly forming in a warehouse roughly twenty minutes from their current location. He shivered again, but this time the chill had nothing to do with it.

Licking his lips, Danny’s finger hovered over the delete button. John didn’t need this distraction, and Danny wanted no part in a hunt for another terminator.

“That’s less than half an hour from here.”

Danny jumped at John’s voice, murmuring low and steady over his right shoulder. He hadn’t even heard the other young man stir. He wanted to blame the sound of the rain for masking John’s approach, but he knew better.

“We have to check it out,” John said, no trace of sleep in his eyes or voice now.

“Do we need to call your mom and Cameron?” Danny asked, suddenly wishing they were with them. Both women scared the absolute hell out of him for different reasons, but Danny couldn’t deny that he felt safer with them in a situation like this.

John shook his head as he shrugged on a leather jacket. “This is recon. I’m not waking mom unless I need to.”

“But...” Danny started to protest, tugging his jacket even tighter.

“We can handle it,” John insisted. He turned and moved away, no doubt going to retrieve more guns.

Danny thought that sounded suspiciously like famous last words. At least John had faith in him to help, he thought morosely as he abruptly stood, accidentally banging his knee on the underside of the table. He winced as various items toppled over onto the workspace, his coffee the only thing thankfully still upright. Reaching over his keyboard, Danny set a frame with a photo of his father he’d managed to find upright once more. Miles Dyson looked back at him, smiling from across time. Danny had put the picture there to remind him of his purpose, to remind him of his father’s sacrifice. The anniversary of his death was tomorrow, Danny knew. Maybe this year he would visit the grave with his mother. It had been too long.

“Ready?” John asked from the door.

With a barely veiled expression of distaste, Danny gingerly hefted the gun he kept beside his computer and slid it into his pocket. “Yeah,” he responded with little enthusiasm. “Let’s go.”

****

Savannah was both mesmerized and terrified of storms. The sound of thunder had often sent her scurrying into her parents’ room when she was younger, but once she was there, she had loved to watch the play of light off the walls and listen to the pouring rain. Her parents were gone now, however, and Savannah was determined to be brave for her new mothers.

She didn’t understand everything they were going through, but Savannah was smart enough to know that Sarah and Cameron were both sad and distant. They lavished attention on her, but not on each other, and Savannah had done everything she could think of to make sure the three of them were together as often as possible. Those moments had seemed to help, but when they thought she wasn’t watching, Sarah and Cameron would sink back into their grief.

Walther hopped on the bed, slowly climbing up onto the child’s chest before kneading the blanket for a moment. Savannah welcomed his company, suspecting he didn’t like all the noise, either. She stroked a hand down his head and back and he began to purr before curling into a ball under her chin.

For several minutes, they stayed like that, Savannah aimlessly petting his soft fur and the cat soaking up the attention. Sleep was beginning its siren’s song again, and Savannah felt herself drifting off when Walther suddenly stiffened under her hand. Her blue eyes drifted back open, watching the flash of lightning on the walls. When the cat suddenly sat up and let loose a low, menacing growl at the shadows, Savannah felt a surge of adrenaline sweep through her small body.

She sat up, going for the lamp beside her bed. Walther scampered off her, pausing to hiss before he raced for the door. As her hand found the knob that would bathe the room in friendlier light, Savannah felt a cold hand close over her own. She started to scream only to feel another hand cover her mouth.

“It’s all right, Savannah,” a familiar voice murmured.

Another flicker of lightning revealed the features of Catherine Weaver to the child and Savannah didn’t know if she should be relieved or more terrified. The figure that looked like her birth mother sat gently on the edge of the bed.

“I’m going to remove my hand now. Don’t scream,” Weaver told her in a friendly enough voice. “Understood?”

Savannah nodded and Weaver did as promised, removing her hand and offering the child a forced smile. “You have a cat now,” she commented casually. “I remember you wanting a pet.”

“You never let me have one,” Savannah replied, her voice faintly accusing.

“I’m not fond of animals,” Weaver replied truthfully.

“That’s cuz they don’t like you. They know what you are.”

Weaver’s smile didn't falter. “And what about your friend Cameron? I’m sure they don’t like her, either.”

“Walther does,” Savannah boasted. “He loves Cameron.”

“Does he?” Weaver answered thoughtfully. She glanced toward the hall where the cat had disappeared before her vivid blue eyes focused on Savannah once more.

“Why are you here?” Savannah demanded. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I wanted to see you.” Weaver tilted her head and smiled again. “I’ve missed you.”

“You’re lying,” Savannah accused. “You’re not my mother. All you care about is John Henry.”

Weaver studied her for a few quiet moments, faintly surprised once more by the child’s intelligence and intuition. “No,” she finally said. “I’m not your mother. But I do care what happens to you. Someday you’re going to grow up to be a very good leader, Savannah. I’d like to see that happen. I think you and I could help each other. Together with John Henry we would be unstoppable.”

Savannah’s brow furrowed. She felt uneasy at Weaver’s words but she didn’t understand why. “John Henry killed that woman.”

Weaver leaned back, unsurprised to learn the humans hadn’t told the child exactly who Sierra was. “No,” she corrected. “John Henry wouldn’t hurt anyone. Something is making him sick, making him doing things he doesn’t want to do.”

The child considered that. A part of her wanted to believe. She had loved John Henry, and the thought that he’d turned on them upset her more than she’d let on to her new mothers.

Weaver saw the indecision flicker across Savannah’s face and she pressed her point. “They don’t understand. They want to harm him. Dismantle him. They don’t understand that it wasn’t his fault.” She reached out and stroked a hand through Savannah’s red hair. The little girl didn’t twitch at the contact. Instead, her blue eyes lifted and met Weaver’s own, defiance clear in them.

“Why are you here?” Savannah asked again.

“Because I need your help,” Weaver answered sweetly, sensing victory. “After all, John Henry is your friend. You want to help him, right?”

“Yes,” Savannah said slowly.

“We protect our friends, Savannah,” Weaver purred. “I think I can trust you to help me protect him. Am I right?”

Savannah stared at her, sensing she was being manipulated but not truly understanding. All she had was a feeling, and Cameron had encouraged her to never ignore them. “You need to leave.”

Weaver’s features hardened, but her icy smile remained in place. “Savannah...”

“You need to leave,” Savannah insisted with a little more volume.

When Weaver reached out for her once more, Savannah suddenly released a blood-curdling scream. Weaver stood, glaring down at the child as she heard movement from below. No doubt Sarah Connor and her pet were coming to the rescue.

“That’s a bad girl, Savannah,” Weaver stated coldly before she dissolved before the child’s eyes, slipping back out the window just as the door burst open.

Sarah stumbled into the room a half second before Cameron, her gun drawn as she searched the shadows. Seeing nothing, she moved toward the bed, letting Cameron do a more thorough sweep of the bedroom. She eased across the blankets, drawing a shivering Savannah into her arms and shushing her gently. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“She was here,” Savannah confessed before pointing to the window. “The woman who looks like my mom.”

Cameron crossed the space in an instant, unlocking the window and jerking it upward. Rain swept in, pelting her features and soaking the carpet. She scanned the yard with every spectrum available to her before turning back to her family. She met Sarah’s gaze and slowly shook her head.

“Are you sure?” Sarah asked Savannah carefully. “Maybe you were dreaming...”

“I’m sure,” Savannah swore, a whine entering her voice. “She was right here. She was sitting on the bed.”

Sarah’s gaze met Cameron’s once more and they shared a silent look of concern.

Cameron slowly turned away, focusing her attention through the rain drenching the back yard. Nothing was out of place.

“Stay away from her,” Cameron said in a low tone, not fooled for a second. It shook her to know her words were an empty threat. If Weaver came for Savannah...

Cameron shut the window with more force than was necessary. Sarah watched her stalk out of the room and listened to the thump of her boots as she quickly descended the stairs. A moment later, the back door opened and closed. Sarah knew her lover was out in the elements now, patrolling.

As she felt Savannah burrow deeper into her embrace, Sarah realized that the child had seen the same expression on Cameron’s face that she had as she’d left the room.

Fear.

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