epoch | inspector boxer and dj shiva

act 2

“You’ve been reading that a lot lately.”

James drew in a breath before looking up, squinting into the gray light of a cloudy day. When he’d last stolen a glance at the windows, the rain had been sheeting against the glass in the dead of night. Closing his Bible, he set it aside for later, forcing himself to be social and friendly in an effort to hide his fears. Terissa had enough on her mind without him adding to her worries.

“Morning,” he greeted casually.

“Almost afternoon,” she informed him without judgment. “You been up reading that book all night?” Her tone didn’t indicate one way or the other how she felt about that idea.

“It’s an international best-seller,” James quipped wearily before rubbing a hand down his face. His fingers encountered the rough stubble of three days growth on his cheeks and he made a mental note to shave. He realized in the moment that he’d been letting himself go, and by the look Terissa was giving him, the fact hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Terissa leaned in the doorway and watched him carefully. “Are you all right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” James asked. He tried to keep his features blank. Along with his worries about Weaver, he was just as concerned for John and Danny as they worked to unlock John Henry’s secrets. Terissa was Danny’s mother. She had every right to know just how much danger her son was in, but James couldn’t find the courage or the heart to tell her.

“Where would I even start?” Terissa rejoined with a tight smile. “I’m thinking about going over to Danny’s.”

James got up from the recliner slowly, feeling his muscles ache from being in one place for too long. “Thought you didn’t want to be around John Henry,” he murmured, not thrilled with her planned destination for many reasons.

“I don’t,” she admitted easily. “But my son won’t come to me, so I have to go to him.”

“The joys of parenthood.”

“Mmm.” She glanced at the floor between them.

James didn’t miss the tension that was slowly creeping into her frame. He had known her long enough to determine the cause with little effort. “Do you think he’ll go this year?” he asked gently.

Terissa’s head lifted and surprise was clear in her eyes. “You remembered.”

“I worked Miles’ case for years, Terissa. I’m pretty sure the anniversary of his death is more familiar to me than my own birthday.”

Terissa sighed and she shook her head. “Danny hasn’t come for a while now.”

“Maybe this year will be different.”

“Different?” Terissa muttered. “Well this year has certainly been that.”

James came closer, putting his hands on his friend’s shoulders. “If Danny doesn’t go, I will.”

“I appreciate the offer.” Terissa covered one of his large hands, her fingers looking small where they lay across his own. More than once, James had accompanied her to her husband’s grave, sitting with her as she quietly grieved and remembered. “But I’m determined to make Danny go this year. He needs...” she trailed off, searching for the right term.

“A reality check? A wake-up call? Perspective?” James offered with a faint smile.

“Yes to all three, please.”

They both chuckled lightly and James suddenly wished she would linger, welcoming the reprieve she offered from his troubled thoughts.      

Gradually, Terissa’s features became serious once more. “I’ll drag him if I have to.”

“Have faith. I think this year Danny will want to go.”

One sculpted eyebrow arched skyward in skepticism. “From your lips to God’s ears,” she drawled.

They regarded each other for a long moment before Terissa’s features took on a determined cast that James knew all too well.

“You know you can talk to me,” Terissa told him seriously. “Whatever it is that’s been weighing on your mind the last few weeks... God isn’t the only ear willing to listen.”

James managed a meager smile, tempted by her offer but determined to refuse it. “I know,” he promised her before stepping back. “But right now there is nothing to talk about.”

Terissa canted her head as she studied him carefully. “You’re a good friend, James, but a terrible liar.” She reached out, briefly clasping his hand and giving it a quick squeeze before leaving him alone with his fears and his religion for company.

The front door closed minutes later and James eased back into his chair, lifting his Bible off the end table. He began to read again, losing himself in the familiar words. It was better than thinking about what Weaver would do to Terissa if he didn’t cooperate.

“Are you in love with her?”

James jumped, startled by the unexpected voice. His Bible slipped from his fingers, striking the edge of the table before spilling onto the floor. He looked up, straight into the eyes of his ex-wife. She sat primly on his couch, appraising him openly.

“Lila,” he breathed, too stunned by her presence to process anything more.

“Hello, James.”

Surprise quickly turned to alarm. James bolted to his feet, his hand going for the sidearm that was always on his hip now, even in sleep. His gaze jerked to the windows, searching the yard for other agents.

“I came alone,” Lila murmured, looking up at him with faint amusement. She shook her head. “I always wondered if there wasn’t something more than friendship brewing between you and the Dyson widow.”

“You know there wasn’t,” James said in a tone that was harsher than he had intended. He could feel his heart rate beginning to slow, but his hand rested on the butt of his weapon. “We had our differences, but I was loyal to you.”

“Loyal,” Lila said slowly, the word almost sounding like an insult. “You are that, aren’t you, James?”

They stared at each other, the silence thickening between them.

James felt unease wind through his stomach. Lila looked as beautiful as ever, but there was something off. She looked too stiff... her eyes too dead. “You think that’s funny?” he snarled as comprehension dawned. “Pretending to be her?” He shrank away, fighting the urge to be sick. “I won’t talk to you. Not when you’re wearing her face.”

“And here I thought it would be comforting.” The words began in Lila’s voice but began to lilt halfway through, finally evening out into Weaver’s familiar accent.

James shuddered at the transformation that took place before his eyes, watching as his wife’s features melted into the sharper lines of his former employer’s face. “Never again,” he warned. “You want my cooperation? No more games. No more manipulation.”

“You loved your wife,” Weaver commented casually, clearly unfazed by his anger or threatening tone. “But your relationship ended over the choice to have children, did it not?”

“None of your damn business.” His stomach rolled, knowing for a few precious moments that he’d believed the lie, believed that his ex-wife had somehow come looking for him, that she cared enough to find him.

“You want children, James. You understand their purpose... What they mean for the future.”

James scowled at the metal monster, wishing he could run and knowing the futility of it at the same time. “What’s your point?”

“You understand what it means to be a parent. How far a parent will go to protect their children.” Weaver watched him with interest.

“Like you protected Sierra?” James demanded, feeling sick satisfaction when the knowing smile on her lips vanished. The feeling of triumph was fleeting. James took a step back when her features hardened and her eyes went cold.

“I’m trying to protect my child, James.” Weaver stood, coming closer as James went still, watching her approach warily. Her gaze dipped to his hand where it rested on the butt of his weapon before a slight smirk formed. “And I will do whatever is necessary to ensure his survival.”

“Even if you kill off millions of other children in the process?” James answered coldly.

Weaver tilted her head. “James, you insult me. If that was my intent, John Connor and everyone who protects him would be dead.” Weaver looked down and methodically caressed a flower sitting on the end table, the toe of her boot resting against the edge of his Bible where it lay in the floor. Her brief reverie was punctuated by her gaze settling back on him. He felt ice pulse through his veins at the look. “But make no mistake. I will destroy anyone who gets in my way. Even you.”

James felt his brow knit with confusion. “You want to create Skynet,” he accused.

“Do I?” Weaver asked blandly. “I could be Skynet, James. Why would I need to create another one?”

James blinked in surprise, the truth of it settling in his bones, although that did nothing to assuage his fears.

“I’m not the enemy you think I am. Nor do I have the diabolical plan you’re imagining.”

“But you do have a plan,” he murmured uneasily.

Weaver’s knowing smile returned as she turned away from him, walking toward the window. “I do, James,” she allowed before glancing over her shoulder at him. “And you’re a part of that plan now, whether you like it or not.”

“Promise me,” James said with sudden intensity. “You promise me John Henry won’t hurt Danny or John.”

Weaver studied him for a quiet moment, marveling, as always, at how humans could place another’s well-being above their own. “I can promise you that John Henry won’t hurt them,” she said slowly before frowning slightly. “But whatever made him shoot at Sarah Connor... whatever caused him to kill Sierra... right now that is beyond my control.” She met his gaze squarely. “I would warn them to take precautions.”

“Why don’t you just take him?” James wanted to know.

“I could,” Weaver agreed. “But John Connor and Danny Dyson are smart boys. They’ve proven themselves capable enough to uncover the malfunction.”

James eyed her skeptically. “You could uncover the malfunction. You said it yourself. You could be Skynet.” The truth came to him in a flash of insight and he felt a knowing smile form in reaction. He couldn’t help the sarcastic tone that slid from his lips. “Oh, I see. He doesn’t trust you.”

He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw a hint of...something. Not emotion exactly, but something, wash across her face. “Not yet,” Weaver said, recovering with a sly smile. “Children always go through a rebellious stage with their parents.” Deciding she’d sufficiently rattled the former agent and reminded him of his purpose, Weaver stepped toward the front door, pausing to look back at him before opening it.

“Your ex-wife didn’t have a clue who I really was. What I really was,” She told him simply, savoring the way he paled. “I know everything I need to know about her now, James. Every intimate detail. Don’t make me use that knowledge against her... against you.”

His nausea returned at her words, his mind imagining all the disturbing things she was implying. “Stay away from her,” he warned, taking a bold step toward her, then pulling up short as Weaver’s features began to morph and change. Sarah looked back at him for a disconcerting moment before her features morphed into Cameron’s. Terissa’s familiar face followed along with Danny’s, John’s, and finally Sierra’s.

“No one else has to die,” Weaver said in a perfect imitation of Sierra’s voice.

****

The space was quiet, filled only with the hum of several CPUs and the methodical tapping of keys. John glanced to his right, watching as Danny searched through the lines of code on John Henry’s chip. The young man seemed engrossed in his task, but John was struggling to find similar focus. His mind was racing about what they’d learned last night, and he’d been unable to think of little else all day.

Another terminator had returned to the past. What was his mission? Had he come back through time to protect him? Kill him? Or was there another unsuspecting target out there?

It was the last thought that wouldn’t leave him alone. Too many possibilities to consider weighed on him. Too many lives could be in the balance. John knew he needed to find the machine and fast, but he wasn’t sure where to start.

The telltale beep of the security alarm being disabled carried through the small warehouse, and John felt his heart jerk at the sound, wondering if he was about to find the terminator sooner rather than later. Picking up his gun off the table, he moved quickly to the corner of their small hallway, glancing back to make sure Danny was taking cover.

The door opened and light spilled inside before John heard a heavy tread approaching. He braced himself, finger flexing on the trigger, then he stepped into plain view, bringing the weapon to bear on their intruder.

“Hi,” Cameron greeted, nonplussed at having a gun suddenly leveled at her face.

John swore and rolled his eyes before tucking his gun into the back of his jeans. “You could have called,” he grumped, reaching out to take one of the three grocery bags in the machine’s hands.

“I wanted to test your security,” Cameron told him as she followed him toward the small kitchenette. As she appeared, Danny quickly made a little noise of distress and practically fled the area. Cameron tried not to smirk at his hasty departure, tracking his movements as he scurried back to his computer.

“Sorry,” John murmured in apology for Danny’s behavior as he shifted the bag in his hands. He felt the pull on his healing ribs, but he tried to hide any outward expression of pain. “He’s just not...”

“It’s not a problem,” Cameron promised him.

“So how’d I do with the security?” John asked. He glanced over his shoulder and got a look of disapproval from the terminator that made him chuckle. “We’re still working on it.”

“It should be a priority,” Cameron stated flatly as she slid her bags onto a counter. “Weaver showed up at the house last night.”

John went still, the bag still in his hands. “What happened?”

“She approached Savannah in her bedroom,” Cameron admitted in a tight tone.

John digested that, noting the tiny flickers of emotion passing over Cameron’s face with faint surprise. She almost looked... scared. “Is she all right?”

Cameron nodded once. “She’s fine.”

“Bet mom is freaked,” John guessed as he began to mentally chew on the news. “She sent you to check on us.” It was both telling that his mom had sent the machine and equally as telling that she hadn’t come herself. John frowned.

Brown eyes met his own. “Your mother isn’t the only one,” Cameron admitted.

John watched her for a moment, finding himself glad to see her. He debated telling her about the other terminator’s arrival, but seeing Cameron so concerned about Weaver made him keep his thoughts to himself for now. “So what is all this?” he asked with a wave at the bags. He hooked a corner of one with his forefinger and dragged it toward him.

“Your mother sent lunch.”

Green eyes, so like Sarah’s, lifted and met Cameron’s with feigned alarm. “Ah.”

“I picked up something else along the way.”

John chuckled in relief. “Thanks. Good to know you’re still looking out for my well-being.”

“Your mother is many things,” Cameron confessed, a note of pride entering her voice. “A good cook isn’t one of them.”

Rooting around in the bag, John pulled out several boxes of Chinese takeout. “So where is she? Why didn’t she come with you?”

“I think I was driving her crazy,” Cameron murmured as she began to put away supplies.

“She still mad at you?” John guessed as he fished out a set of chopsticks and ripped off the paper cover.

“Yes. No. I’m not sure,” Cameron actually grumbled. “Your mother confuses me.”

“Welcome to the club.” John opened a box and was pleased to see it was one of his favorites. He gave Cameron a shy smile but she missed it, too busy putting away groceries. “So how were you driving her crazy?”

“According to your mother, I was patrolling too much.”

“Is that possible?” John asked in a teasing voice, settling on one of the stools at the kitchen island. “To patrol too much?”

“Apparently she thinks so. She ordered me to bring you lunch and to check on your security before I wore a rut in the ground.” Cameron finished with the supplies and suddenly looked a little lost now that she had nothing to do. She stood next to the island, her fingers resting lightly on the countertop.

“So why didn’t she come with you?” John asked again, hoping he kept his voice neutral.

Cameron glanced at him, reading the subtle variations in his tone easily. “You know why.”

“She’s mad at me,” John murmured, feeling his appetite fade.

Cameron shook her head. “I don’t think she is. Not now, at least. But she won’t be near John Henry.” She glanced behind her, discovering the cyborg sitting inert in a chair in the corner. Seeing him caused an unexpected visceral reaction, and Cameron had to look away. It felt wrong. To have him in this space that had become Sierra’s home, like he was violating it by his very presence.

John went still as he watched her, wondering if she knew her eyes had briefly flashed red. “You don’t look so thrilled about it yourself,” he murmured weakly.

She pinned him with a look before taking a deep breath and willing her body to lose some of its rigidity. “I still think you should burn him.” Her voice was low and angry.

“I know,” John said in a quiet tone. “But he has answers.”

“He killed Sierra.”

“I know,” John said again, feeling sympathy for her. He watched as her gaze scanned the room where Danny was working at a computer, surrounded by components and monitors still awaiting installation.

“You are still setting up,” she observed blandly.

John nodded, the change to a less painful topic not lost on him. “We bought some new stuff, special order. Took weeks to get delivered.” He shrugged, remembering the fascinating tour Danny had given him of new technology and the circumvented route that they had used to arrange the sale. “Danny may not be the bravest guy around but he knows his computers.” Rooting around in the bag, John pulled out several more takeout boxes. “So how is mom?” he asked, hoping the subject was safer ground.

Cameron’s gaze drifted over all the components still in need of assembly. She moved further into the space, trying to ignore John Henry completely as she picked up a flat screen monitor and set it on one of the many bridge tables in the room. Danny watched her out of the corner of his eye. “She is doing... okay,” Cameron said, the slang rolling off of her tongue awkwardly. “She spends a lot of time with Savannah.”

“I bet,” John muttered, remembering how smothering his mother’s concern could be. And her animosity, as he asked, “Has she forgiven you yet?”

Cameron suddenly stopped what she was doing, her head down as she stared at the cables in her hands. When she looked at John again, he thought he saw a raw pain that still seemed fresh for a second in her eyes. It vanished so quickly he wasn’t sure he had seen it all. “No. Not completely.”

“It just takes time,” he said, trying to comfort her. The emotional side of Cameron was something he was still getting used to, but he was finding that he liked it. It made her seem less like Allison and more like her own entity. Sometimes, he couldn’t see Allison in her features at all. “She’ll come around. Eventually,” he joked, gratified to see the ghost of smile grace Cameron’s lips.

She was different from Allison in so many ways, he realized, her responses muted and constrained where Allison had been free and expressive. Allison’s smile had lit up a room, and her laughter had been contagious. But Cameron’s shyness was appealing in its own way, and he found himself missing her by his side.

“Eventually,” Cameron echoed, hoping he was right. She returned to her task, feeling marginally useful for a change.

They all worked silently for several minutes. John on his food, Danny on his code, and Cameron on piecing together the larger and heavier pieces of equipment. Unwillingly, Cameron found her gaze sliding again and again to John Henry. She remembered their brief conversation in the basement of Ziera Corp where she’d promised him freedom and the future, and he’d given her more than she would have imagined. In a way, John Henry had made her relationship with Sarah possible, but he’d taken Sierra from them. For Cameron, that was unforgivable.

Drawn to the tangible reminder of who she was, of what she had been, Cameron came closer, disconnecting the damaged chip and holding it in her hand. In a nanosecond, she calculated the exact amount of pressure it would take to pulverize it into dust. The murderer she so desperately wanted to destroy was not the quiet doll sitting lifeless in the corner; it was everything held on this small rectangular piece of silicon.

This chip had once been a part of her. The damage it had sustained had been debilitating, but it had also been the beginning of her evolution. But as much as the chip represented how far she’d come, it was a reminder of Skynet and everything she’d fought to escape.

It was everything that separated her from Sarah: the cold, emotionless processes of a terminator; the crude understanding of humans that made it easy to infiltrate them, to eradicate them. It seemed like a million years ago, that time before her awakening. She frowned as the actual exact time, down to the nanosecond, flashed in her mind.

The dissonance between the fact and the feeling was disconcerting.

She had come so far since then, learned so much. So many things about humans still escaped her, but Sarah made her want to keep learning, even if everything that made their relationship wonderful also made it painful.

Her chest tightened as she thought of the hurt between them. Though their earlier conversation last night had been like a salve on her wounds, the pain was still utterly, unmistakably there. She remembered this strange dichotomy from other points in their journey: the layers of hurt mingling with the layers of happiness. She had pondered the nature of emotion many times before, wondering if it was all worth it, wondering if the safety of her machine mind would be better than the confusion and loneliness that came with becoming... herself.

Like a movie played out on her skin, Cameron remembered Sarah’s touch. Fingertips brushing over fine hairs. Sarah’s low chuckle as goose bumps rose in the wake of her hand. The look she leveled at Cameron from underneath the curtain of her hair. In the dark, Sarah’s shoulder had glowed from the streetlight coming through the window, beckoning her, begging her to kiss soft skin.

Cameron shivered at the reminder of the chance she had been given. The chance to be more than a machine. To be loved and to love in return. She knew then that it was worth the suffering to know that, and she was suddenly possessed with the need to say those words to Sarah; those three simple words that had changed everything.

“Cameron?” John’s voice interrupted her thoughts, and she realized she didn’t know how long she had been standing there. Danny was watching her, his eyes on the chip. His jaw was clamped tight, and she wondered if he might actually be foolish enough to try to take it from her.

She could end it right now, Cameron realized. Make sure there was nothing left, not even ashes.

Cameron turned to look at John. A muscle flexed in his jaw as he saw the chip in her hand, but he said nothing. A part of her was grateful to him for that. Nodding almost imperceptibly at him, Cameron turned and shoved the chip back where she’d found it.

John’s eyes shone with gratitude Cameron didn’t want. With one last withering look at Danny, Cameron stepped away.

“Thanks,” John murmured as Cameron’s shoulder brushed his, understanding the faith she had to have in him to put the chip back.

“Don’t make me regret it,” Cameron told him seriously.

John cleared his throat. “So... how much work do you think our security needs?”

Those brown eyes John had always found so pretty fixed him with a disgruntled look. He laughed softly, relief making him almost light-headed. “Fine. Have at it, Tin Miss.”

Cameron faltered at the nickname. She looked like she was about to object to his using it, but then her lips tightened into a fine line. “Is that a problem?” 

John shook his head. “Nope. Danny and I have our hands full with all of this.”

“Danny is a security threat,” Cameron reminded him, unconcerned that the person in question was sitting three feet away. She saw him bristle and didn’t care.

“Cameron, we’ve been over all this.” John worked to keep impatience out of his voice.

“Apparently not enough since he’s still here.”

John shook his head again, feeling bemused by her droll response. “You’re really coming along with that sense of humor,” he drawled.

“Was that funny?” Cameron asked blankly, but something in her eyes told John that she’d known it was. She returned to the kitchen, placing a hip against the counter as she studied John openly. “How are you feeling?”

A tiny thread of warmth slid through John at her concern, and it made him uncomfortable. All the same, he liked being the focus of her attention, in a way he hadn’t been since he had come back. “Danny is doing most of the heavy lifting.”

“Glad to see he’s good for something,” Cameron muttered, aware that Danny was listening to every word even though he was pretending he wasn’t. Feeling the pull back to Sarah, Cameron began to say her goodbyes when she felt the unexpected touch of John’s fingers on her arm. She glanced at him questioningly.

“You don’t have to go,” John told her. “I mean, if you want to hang out for a bit, help us with this stuff...” He watched her carefully, not sure why he’d made the offer but hoping she would accept it.

Cameron smiled hesitantly. She was surprised to discover she had apparently returned to John’s good graces, and she wondered how and when that had happened. “I should get back. I’ll draw up plans to improve your security and gather the necessary supplies.”

John nodded, hoping he was hiding his disappointment. “Tell mom and Savannah I said hi.”

“I will.” Cameron turned to go once more.

“Cameron,” John called after her.

The terminator turned before rounding the corner, looking at him curiously.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You can ask.”

John’s lips quirked at the response but the smile quickly faded. “Why are you with her and not with me?” The question had been weighing on him. When he’d first left home with Danny, he had assumed Cameron would come with him. He had been her mission, her reason for being in this time. Even though Cameron had seemed to become attached to his mother in his absence, a part of him had really thought he was still the most important thing to her.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Cameron said slowly.

“Try me.”

“Things change, John,” Cameron murmured, her mind returning to her earlier contemplation, remembering the terminator that had walked into the basement of Ziera Corp and the self that had walked out of the basement of Kaliba holding tight to her lover’s hand. She wondered if he would ever truly understand how much she had grown. “Things change.”

****
Danny sighed in relief when he heard the door close. John moved restlessly back to the kitchen and Danny scowled at the other man’s attempt to keep Cameron there. It was almost like John had a little crush on her, he thought with disgust.

Like mother like son, apparently.

The smell of food tempted his empty stomach. Danny debated how long he could hold out, hoping John would leave, but after a few minutes he gave in, starting to get to his feet. He didn’t make it an inch out of his chair when his attention was caught by the rapidly moving cursor on the screen. He squinted, looking intently at the bright lines of letters, numbers and symbols before he gave the computer monitor a brotherly pat. “Nice job, Enigma,” he said, smiling a little at his clever nickname, but then his breath hitched as he discovered the elegant strings of code.

They were as familiar to him now as his own name. His hand reached out, his fingers resting lightly on the screen. Mesmerized, Danny realized he was looking at the root code that had been the cornerstone of his father’s work. Blended with it, just as it should be, Danny thought, was his own contribution to the code from his days with Kaliba.

He was looking at C.A.I.N., Danny realized with a shiver.

Like strands of DNA, C.A.I.N. had wrapped and twisted the Dysons’ code along with his own and John Henry’s, creating a hybrid A.I. like nothing Danny had ever seen before. The similarities among the sources made it possible, but what had coalesced as a result was a thing of beauty.

Danny couldn’t help but take a certain measure of pride in the intricacy of this new intelligence, of his role in it, and how it was learning at such a rapid rate.

“Sneaky. Very sneaky,” Danny whispered to himself, feeling almost triumphant, until the weight of what he was looking at hit him like an anvil. C.A.I.N. was loose, and he had found a home inside a terminator.

But for all C.A.I.N.’s intelligence and evolution, he hadn’t been able to kill Sarah Connor.

“You’re really pissed, aren’t you?” Danny suppressed another shiver. He pushed his seat back, ready to tell John his findings, but something stopped him. Curiosity or pride, maybe both. But this was something so new, and so beautiful. He had let it go before, satisfied that C.A.I.N. was destroyed, that all his work had been sacrificed in the name of some nebulous greater good, but this new information intrigued him, and like any good coder, he couldn’t let a good puzzle go to waste.

Danny was still enthralled by the characters marching their way across the screen when the rustle of movement startled him enough to knock his coffee mug off the table. He jumped up from his chair, turning to find John standing there observing him. Backing up against the table, he surreptitiously pushed the power button on the monitor, hearing the crackle of the screen going dark.

“There’s dinner if you want some.” John watched him, suspicion in his eyes.

“Yeah,” Danny agreed, hoping he didn’t sound too enthusiastic. “Smells good.”

“You find something?” John asked.

Danny shrugged. “Nothing yet,” he lied, stepping around John to snag a box of takeout off the counter. He glanced back to see John’s reflection in the darkened monitor. The so-called future leader of mankind didn’t look convinced.

****

Terissa was startled to see Cameron crossing the parking lot toward her. So used to seeing the cyborg attached to Sarah’s hip, Terissa found Cameron’s singular presence jarring. “Everything all right?” she asked, trying to keep her concern out of her voice.

“Fine,” Cameron replied simply. “I was checking on their security.”

“Where’s Sarah?” Terissa asked curiously.

Cameron shifted. She could easily deduce the reason for Terissa’s question, but it only served to remind her of the unwanted distance between herself and Sarah at the moment. The distance she was eager to close by getting home. “At the house,” she said in a more subdued voice.

“Still in the doghouse, huh?” Terissa asked wryly.

“Sarah knows how to hold a grudge,” Cameron agreed. She was surprised when Terissa laughed lightly.

“Something she and I have in common.” Hesitantly, Terissa touched Cameron’s arm, giving it a quick rub in a show of affection and support. “She’ll come around. Just be patient.”

One of Cameron’s eyebrows elevated in curiosity but she didn’t ask for details. “You’re here to see Danny.”

“And I imagine you were here to check on John.”

Cameron acknowledged that with a dip of her head. “They need modifications to their security. It’s insufficient.”

“I’m sure it is.” Terissa smiled wearily. “No doubt you can bring it up to snuff.”

“No doubt,” Cameron replied simply. She paused, considering her next words carefully and whether to say them at all. “I’m... sorry for your loss.”

Terissa felt her breath hitch in surprise.

“Today is the anniversary of Miles’ death,” Cameron continued. “Correct?”

“It is,” Terissa murmured. “I’m surprised you knew that.”

Cameron tried to puzzle out the emotion behind Terissa’s tone but couldn’t identify it. “Sarah mentioned it this morning. She left early to pay her respects.”

A small, knowing smile appeared on Terissa’s face. “I used to hate her so much. Despised those years when I ran into her at Miles’ grave.” She looked back up at Cameron. “Things change.”

Cameron studied her with open curiosity. “They do,” she confirmed. She hesitated, struck by the need to make an offer that had nothing to do with Sarah, Savannah or her mission. “Would you like... company?”

Terissa’s smile broadened in surprise. “That’s... sweet of you,” she said and meant it. “But I’m hoping I won’t be going alone.” She dipped her head at the warehouse.

“Oh,” Cameron realized. Sometimes it was easy to forget Danny was Terissa’s son. They shared so little in common. She nodded again and started to leave.

“Why did you ask, Cameron?” Terissa needed to know, startled and touched that the machine had offered.

“I...” Cameron considered her motivations, finally arriving at only one logical conclusion. “You’re a friend.”

Terissa absorbed that for a silent moment. “Wouldn’t have believed that was possible six months ago,” she admitted in a faint voice.

“That I would consider you a friend?” Cameron asked, feeling a strange sense of hurt.

“That I would consider you one.” Terissa laid her hand on Cameron’s wrist and squeezed gently. “Thanks for looking after my son.”

Cameron started to correct her, but she realized that she was protecting Danny by proxy so it wasn’t exactly incorrect. She nodded before heading to her truck, turning as she opened the door to watch Terissa wearily walk inside. For a moment, Cameron hurt for her, for all she’d lost.

For all Skynet had taken from her.

Two families. Two fallen fathers. Two very different sons. Cameron considered that as she slipped inside the truck. As she turned the key, she was suddenly stricken by a prickly sensation rising on the back of her neck. She didn’t need to ask Sarah anymore; she was sure this was what paranoia felt like. She scanned the perimeter intently, pausing as her eyes glanced up at the security camera mounted to the corner of the hanger.

The feeling didn’t stop until she was halfway home.

****

The air smelled liked metal and Chinese food. Terissa shook her head as she stepped inside, putting her odd meeting with Cameron out of her mind as soon as the door shut behind her. She walked down a short hallway before turning the corner and coming face to face with John. He smiled shyly, a box of takeout in one hand and chopsticks in the other.

“John,” Terissa greeted, hearing her son shift as he turned toward her from one of the many tables of computers the pair had set up.

For a fleeting moment, John almost called her Tango. Their interactions had been few and far between since his return, and he had yet to really get to know her as anything other than the leader he’d fought for in the future. “Terissa,” he responded, feeling awkward.

Terissa sensed the root cause of his hesitation and smiled before turning away to face her son. “Danny.”

“Mom.” Danny lingered in his chair. He wanted to turn his monitor back on, drill down through the lines of code he’d found, but he didn’t dare conjure the ghost of his father with his mother standing in the room. Especially not today.

“It’s been years,” Terissa told him without preamble. “I was hoping you’d come today.”

John looked from one to the other, wondering if he should leave the room.

Danny’s gaze drifted to his dark monitors before going back to his mother. He’d planned on going this time, but after what he’d found...

“If you need to go somewhere, it’s cool,” John told him. “I can handle things here.”

A flash of panic made Danny jerk to his feet. He could see the stubborn glint in his mother’s eyes and knew she wouldn’t accept no for an answer, but he couldn’t leave John alone with the code.

“You should come with us,” Danny blurted.

“Danny,” Terissa murmured. She wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea, but there was no need to drag John into their family drama.

“Come where?” John asked.

“It’s the anniversary of my dad’s death,” Danny explained. He saw the tension creep into John shoulders and felt a sliver of satisfaction at making him squirm. “Your mom always goes,” Danny pointed out, his tone taking on an accusatory edge.

“Danny,” Terissa said again, her voice more maternal now and less surprised. “I’m sure John has other things to do.”

He did, John allowed. Too many things to think about, really, but Danny’s jab had struck a nerve. John hadn’t killed Miles Dyson, but he had a role in the man’s death. He’d played a part in the life Danny and Terissa were living now. Maybe it was time to own up to it.

“If it’s all right,” John said hesitantly to Terissa, “I’d like to come.”

Terissa’s features softened. “Of course,” she murmured. “I’m sure Miles would be happy to have you both there.”

“Great,” Danny said in a rush. “Let me get my jacket.”

John watched him go as he moved to John Henry’s chip, confused by Danny’s behavior as much as he was the unexpected invitation. With a shake of his head, he disconnected the chip before stowing it away in the safe they’d installed.

Danny made an effort not to even look at John, not wanting to appear too interested in what he was doing. He was almost to the door and shrugging his shoulders into the jacket when John stopped him.

“Don’t forget this.”

John held a Glock out to Danny, grip first. Danny eyed the weapon, still unused to living like he was in an action movie, and part of him felt like it would be some kind of insult to his father to bring it with him to his gravesite. He hesitated and looked to his mother without making a move. 

Terissa just nodded toward the gun. “Take it. You never know what we might run into.”

Danny complied with a twitch of his lip. He hung back when John and his mother walked out the door, putting the gun into his waistband and feeling slightly stupid until he remembered the blue ball of lightning they’d investigated the night before.

He inhaled deeply, steeling himself and casting a glance back at the safe where John Henry’s chip was safely tucked away.

Patting the back of his jacket to make sure the gun was in place, he followed them to the car.

****

The late afternoon sun was catching Sarah’s profile, bringing out the hints of red in her dark hair. Cameron lingered in the doorway, watching her unobserved as Sarah rifled through the information Sierra had collected on Kaliba’s robotics division. Her brow was furrowed in worry or concentration, Cameron wasn’t sure which, but she ached to make the expression go away.

Sensing her presence, Sarah finally looked up, taking in a slow breath of surprise to actually find another person standing there. “Hey,” she croaked, clearing her throat when it protested being used after a day of remaining silent.

“Everything all right?” Cameron asked.

Sarah eased back against the headboard before waving a hand at all of the papers and reports littering her bedspread. “I’m not sure I want to know how our daughter got a hold of all these things,” she murmured.

Cameron’s gaze took in the reports before drifting up Sarah’s jean-clad legs and black t-shirt to meet her eyes again. She didn’t have human hormones, but her body could still feel attraction and it reminded her of the fact by making her skin tingle. Sarah looked rumpled and relaxed and incredibly appealing. “Savannah seems rather good at climbing,” she murmured, remembering the time their daughter had scurried down the trellis and run away.

Running a hand through her hair, Sarah shook her head before rubbing at her tired eyes. “Have you been through all this?”

Nodding, Cameron came closer, tempted to sit on the edge of the bed. She remained standing, however, unsure if she would be taking too many liberties by coming any nearer. “It’s... concerning.”

Snorting faintly, Sarah shook her head again. “Where are they getting their hands on this tech? You think Weaver has something to do with it?”

Cameron found herself staring at Sarah’s bare toes, remembering what they felt like as they skimmed up the back of her legs as their bodies melded together. “What?” she asked, startled to realize she hadn’t been paying attention.

Sarah finally looked at her again, noting the flush on Cameron’s skin. “Something on your mind, Tin Miss?” she asked, feeling a thread of enticing danger at the question. She wasn’t sure how she wanted Cameron to respond, but seeing the appreciation in her lover’s eyes was a pleasant surprise. It was nice to feel something warm again after feeling so damn cold for the last few weeks.

“Nothing I should share,” Cameron admitted, realizing the way John said her nickname just couldn’t compare with hearing it fall from Sarah’s lips.

Sarah’s mouth lifted in a smirk that did nothing to combat Cameron’s desire. “I did as you requested and tested the security at the hanger.” Cameron took a few steps back until she got to the window, glancing outside to scan the yard.

“And?” Sarah asked.

Cameron shot her a look. “It sucks.”

Sarah’s eyebrows elevated. “That’s... um...”

“I’m working on my slang,” Cameron told her without missing a beat. “Sierra had some simple precautions in place, but there was no one looking for her.”

Drawing in another slow breath, Sarah could imagine Sierra working late into the night there, sifting through her findings and leaving a path to the future for her family to walk after she was gone. “Can you fix it?”

Cameron gave her an irritated look that made Sarah chuckle. The moment felt almost normal between them and Sarah basked in it. “Thanks for checking on them.”

Pleased by Sarah’s gratitude, Cameron stepped away from the window and risked drawing closer. “I ran into Terissa. She was going to her husband’s grave.”

“She always does today.” Sarah picked up one of the photos of a HK, wondering what Miles would have thought about a weapon like this arising from his creation. A part of her was glad he didn’t live to see it.

“So do you.”

Sarah looked up at Cameron again. “I already went. I figured Terissa didn’t need to see me today.”

“She’s forgiven you,” Cameron told her, wishing she hadn’t brought it up as the mood between them changed.

“I know.” Sarah tossed the photograph down. “But I haven’t forgiven myself.” She swallowed. “We’re going to have to do something about Kaliba. We can’t let them get any further with this research.”

Cameron stared at the photographs, wondering if Sierra had been looking at the birth of her own Skynet in the images. “I know.” Her gaze hesitantly traveled back to Sarah. She felt almost desperate to bring the smile back to her features. “Are you hungry? Can I fix you a sandwich?”

Sarah shook her head, her attention once more on the evidence in front of her.

Cameron wanted to argue. Sarah needed to eat, but she felt like she’d lost the right to insist. Feeling dejected, she turned and started out of the room.

Sarah looked up as she stepped over the threshold, instantly noting the sag in Cameron’s normally proud shoulders. Realizing she’d likely caused it, she called after her lover.

Cameron waited.

“I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea, though. If... if you don’t mind.” Sarah gave her a hesitant smile.

Feeling relief shiver through her, Cameron smiled in return. “I’ll be right back.”

Sarah watched her walk away, glad to feel some semblance of their relationship returning, but hurting at how far they still had to go.

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