|In the Gloaming
Author: Chasing Liquor PM
When they discover that a gray has traveled back in time to ensure Skynet's creation, Sarah and Derek keep John and Cameron in the dark. But with the stakes so high, everyone's in danger. Jameron.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Suspense - John C. & Cameron - Chapters: 5 - Words: 33,765 - Reviews: 94 - Favs: 29 - Follows: 33 - Updated: 06-19-12 - Published: 05-15-11 - id: 6994484
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Hey there! It's been too long. Sorry that I've been keeping busy in real life instead of having fun writing!
I apologize for the long wait, and I hope you enjoy this latest installment. There's some parts I'm not happy with, and other parts that I am. So please leave a review and let me know what you think! And a cookie to whoever picks out the literary reference in this chapter. :)
Warning: There's one pretty disturbing image in this chapter. If you're squeamish, proceed with caution.
Have You Ever Seen the Rain? (Part 2)
"John – "
"Who, Riley?" he demanded. When she ducked her head, he sighed angrily. "Look, there's two options here. You tell me who it is, or I finish what I started. Up to you."
Cameron watched her closely. The girl's shaking worsened. It wasn't theater; she was truly terrified.
"I…" Riley glanced at Cameron, then quickly away. Tears filled her eyes; her lower lip trembled. "John, you… you have to understand, I – I didn't ask for this. It wasn't my choice. I couldn't say no."
"Couldn't say no to who?" Cameron asked.
"I was nothing; I was eating garbage," Riley ranted. "She came and – and – and she took me away. She let me shower; I'd never showered before. She – "
"A name!" John barked.
"Jesse! Her name is Jesse, okay?" Cameron tilted her head, but Riley continued obliviously: "She saved my life, and all she asked was one favor. My life for a favor. All she wanted was one little thing and she'd take me to paradise."
She sounded so wistful that John felt a pang of sympathy. Riley was no more suited to this place than a machine.
"What year?" Cameron monotoned.
Riley shut her eyes, her tear-stained cheeks glistening in the light. It evoked John's more virtuous urges. He resisted them.
"2027," Riley whispered.
The clank of Cameron's boots echoed through the trailer. Riley's eyes snapped open.
There's an eeriness in a person's footfalls that belies reason. Perhaps it's because the sound's slight enough that it gives our brains room to think. So much of fear is derived from waiting.
"I'm not here to hurt him," Riley said meekly.
Cameron was an arm's length away. "You're lying."
"I'm here to save him!"
Riley glowered, but her eyes had a sardonic quality. Only a child—and that's what terminators were—could be so ignorant.
She leaned in, as if to share a secret.
Derek shook his head, gesturing to a side entrance on the blueprint.
"Has to be here," he said. "Back entrance is no good. We'd have to circle all the way around to get to the elevator; that's the only way down to the lab."
"The back entrance gives us options," Ellison rebutted. "Look at this…" He dragged his finger along a narrow corridor connecting to the side entrance. "That's thirty feet long. It's a shooting gallery if they spot us."
"I don't plan on being spotted."
Sarah crossed her arms. "Have either of you even thought about how we're going to get inside?"
"I figured you'd handle that part, since you're keeping John on the bench," Derek snapped.
There's a difference between relationships we choose and ones formed out of necessity. There was nothing to keep them from tearing each other's throats out but their need to prevent Judgment Day.
Sarah's mouth was a straight line. "John's where he needs to be."
Ellison leaned back against the table, watching passively. When Derek only blinked, he addressed Sarah: "My source was able to tell me one thing about security: entry to the building requires a retina scan."
She dipped her head back in frustration. "Any ideas on getting past it?"
Ellison said nothing. Sarah, brows knit together, studied the concrete.
Unlike them, there were no limits on Derek's thinking. He didn't operate under a set of arbitrary moral imperatives. His irises seemed big in the whites of his eyes when he raised his head.
"I know one way."
Sarah frowned momentarily, before tracking his gaze to the padlocked door across the warehouse. Her eyes narrowed. "You wanna bring him with us?"
Derek's face was a cruel mask.
Ellison raised an eyebrow, and it was enough to spark recognition in Sarah. The color drained from her face; her stomach stirred with disgust.
"Jesus Christ," she whispered.
Derek watched her emotionlessly. "If you know a better way, I'm listening."
Sarah looked away. Her forehead creased in the middle.
Is this what they'd come to? It wasn't the barbarism, so much as the rationalization. It was the cold logic of a machine.
Sarah was tired. For seventeen years, she'd serviced two selves: the one before she met Kyle Reese, and the one she'd become. Since John was old enough to hear her, she'd been indoctrinating him with both half-remembered morals and an appetite for violence. The two stood then, as they did now, in contradiction. And she hated herself for that.
"An hour ago, you stormed in here like the Red Cross," Sarah said quietly. "Now you're gonna cut his eye out?"
Derek shook his head. "You misunderstood before. That's not my brother in there," he said coldly. "Only reason I gave a shit if he lived or died is because I wanted information." He looked at Ellison. "We're past that now."
Sarah turned away from them.
"We'll need some sterile tools," Ellison said easily. "And a cooler to keep it fresh."
His effortless voice drew Sarah's gaze again. She'd never seen someone look so placid. He showed neither anger nor doubt. His huge hands lay flat on his thighs.
"Is this God's work, Agent Ellison?"
He was sitting at an angle, so that the light from outside shone on only half his face. "'And thine eye shall not spare,'" he recited calmly. "'Life for life. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Hand for hand.'"
He flexed his fingers. The knuckles cracked.
"You barely spoke with your commanders. Everything came from her."
John glanced at Cameron.
"It is true," she said. "You often used me to relay your orders."
"Because she was running things, not you," Riley posited. "I guess the sex was pretty good. Had to be to turn John Connor into a puppet."
Cameron's eyes were like oil. She moved menacingly forward. "You are lying. I had no sexual relationship with John Connor."
Riley's anger emboldened her. "You're a terminator. They built you to infiltrate. And you did that perfectly, didn't you?" she spat. "You got all the way to the top, and then you used that little body to seal the deal."
Cameron's hand twitched uncontrollably. Riley was hurting John. Her untruths would damage him emotionally and replace his affection for Cameron with distrust and betrayal.
The machine bent down, eyeing Riley's throat. It would be so easy. No more toying with John's emotions; no more conspiring to do him harm. Let the flame flicker out.
"Cameron!" John's voice blasted through her reverie. She looked briefly at her spasming hand, inches from Riley's neck, and then at the girl's terrified face, before whipping around to look at John.
She met those kind, soulful, imploring eyes.
"Don't, sweetheart," he pleaded softly.
Riley watched Cameron's fervor dissipate, replaced by a serenity more human than machine.
Cameron slowly retreated, moving to stand at John's side again.
He looked on Riley contemptuously. "I'm not interested in the future. It doesn't exist anymore. Wherever you came from is dead and gone," he said. "I want you to tell me about the present. Tell me about your plan for Cameron. How were you going to get her out of the way?"
Riley fussed with loose threads on her pants, considering explanations of varying veracity. Cameron stood with a portrait's appearance of seeing everything. And it was that eerie quality that provoked the truth.
"It was hardly thought out," Riley explained distantly. "All she did was put me in school—said I had to figure out the rest. You think I had any clue what I was doing? This was a vague idea operating under the illusion of a master plan."
"Then give me the vague idea," John demanded.
"I was supposed to become your friend. I was supposed to…"
"Supposed to what?"
Riley pushed some hair out of her face; it was sticky with sweat. She pictured John—a year younger with shaggy hair—standing across a schoolyard, punctuated by her own self-loathing sigh.
"I was supposed to make you love me."
John eyed her stonily. He felt a sudden need to hurt her. "Well, if that was your plan, it couldn't have gone any worse," he said flatly.
Riley flinched. And she could have sworn Cameron showed pleasure at it. If the cyborg had been human, Riley would have clawed the bitch's eyes out.
"Jesse told me that if I made you love me, you'd stop messing around with this – " Her eyes glittered darkly. "– tractor with tits."
When John replied to her and she only continued to stare at Cameron, he stepped between them and snapped his fingers in her face. "Hey! Answer me! Are you telling me you were never going to kill her? Do you think I believe that? You don't travel through time just to distract someone."
Riley shrugged. "It's the truth. Truth doesn't always make sense, I guess."
Cameron stepped to one side of John to restore her line of sight. "What about Derek Reese?"
John frowned. "What about him?"
"In the future, Derek Reese and Jesse Flores engage in an intimate relationship," she explained. "She is pregnant with his child before suffering a miscarriage."
John closed his eyes.
Was there no end to the deceptions, or no beginning to the truth? The only living creature he could trust was a machine designed to kill him. His own kin manipulated him to further their agendas.
He thought back to his conversation with Derek, and to the blood on Jesse's phone. That son of a bitch was up to his ears in this.
Derek was still adjusting to the idea that you paid for what you took. He'd been in this store once before—in 2018, or thereabouts. He'd looted it for bandages and ibuprofen.
Here in the present, he marveled at the shelves—upright and filled— and at the old woman comparing drug labels. He wished he could tell her how blessed she was to have the choice.
Derek filled his cart with: bandages; rubbing alcohol; peroxide; antibiotic cream; scissors; needle and thread; an X-Acto knife; paper towels; a dish towel; chloroform; zip-lock bags; duct tape; an eye-dropper; a turkey baster; pickle salt; purified water; a bag of ice; and a cooler.
The check-out girl watched him out of the corner of her eye as she rang him up. He pretended to be oblivious; he was neither cheerful nor rude.
After he paid, she asked if he needed help with his bags. He didn't answer her—just walked off. He was careful to keep his head down as he passed the security cameras.
When he got out to the car, Ellison was loading it with gear from the army surplus store. They didn't say anything; they didn't look at each other.
They got in the car.
Sarah sat, hands clasped in her lap, in a metal chair facing the padlocked door. The air was empty but for the soft sound of his stirring.
They'd only spent two nights together. The first was cold and dark; the second had a kind of magic. And it hadn't faded through the years, as magic is prone to do.
But this isn't him, she told herself. He is a pile of bones.
She thought about his grave. Would it help her to see it? Would it satisfy her tired mind? Or are we just too primitive to pull fact apart from feeling?
Whoever he was, he'd suffer soon. She consoled herself by imagining the tragedies that resulted from his betrayal. She pictured all the compounds the machines would have infiltrated with Kyle's help. She imagined little girls and boys lying dead on the ground, guts scattered everywhere.
There was no moral crisis here. Kyle Reese, son of the machines, deserved his fate.
Sarah thought about John. He wouldn't understand any of this; he was too naïve. He had all the tools to save the human race—the intelligence, the toughness, the weapons and hand-to-hand training—but he was too weak to use them.
The distant sound of metal scraping concrete pulled her out of her thoughts.
She stood up, not drawing her gun, but switching the safety off. She walked slowly toward the small door separating her and Kyle.
When she found the lock still latched, Sarah stood quietly. It sounded like he was handling a metal chain. She pictured him winding it around his one good fist and sliding behind the door. And she could almost see him tilting his head as he guessed at what she was doing
Sarah whipped around as the main door to the warehouse squealed open. The fading sun forced itself through the crack, then all the way in, before Derek and Ellison entered with their supplies.
Sarah joined them at the table, where Derek emptied the bags one item at a time. She flinched when she saw how they all fit together.
"We should do it soon," Derek remarked, unsealing the packages. "While he's still weak."
She glanced back at the storage room. "He's up. Heard him fussing with something."
"He won't be fussing in a minute."
Sarah eyed the chloroform. "Will that keep him out?"
"Hell if I know," he said indifferently. "Won't matter. We'll have him tied down if he wakes up."
Ellison watched her pallor change. He blinked his eyes tiredly, seeing some of himself in her. "He won't wake up."
Derek laid out his tools in neat rows. He cut up the bandage rolls into small squares. Then he started on the homebrewed saline solution. He appeared neither angry nor reticent; he had a surgeon's stern exactness.
Sarah wondered what John would think.
"Where does Derek fit into all of this?"
Riley seemed genuinely puzzled. "Your uncle? How should I know? I've never said two words to him."
"Bullshit. You trying to tell me he wasn't in on your plan for Cameron? They were lovers."
"Look, if he was in on it, she never told me! I didn't even know they knew each other."
John sighed. He shook his head. His voice neither rose nor fell, always continuing on the same low note. "I'm tired, Riley," he said. "Damn tired—living lies, having them told to me. And I look in your eyes and there's nothing to hold onto. There's nothing in your being that deserves my belief."
She glanced down, thinking not for the first time how some people are wired wrong. And she knew now that she was one of them. She blinked back tears.
Cameron tilted her head thoughtfully. "She is telling the truth."
"How do you know?"
"Woman's intuition," she monotoned.
John smirked. She'd been watching more television than he thought. It was frightening to think she was cobbling together her womanly sensibilities from such garbage.
He turned and scratched his head, walking the full length of the trailer before turning back. He wondered when Future John got to be so smart, because right now the well was dry. He watched the tunnel rat tremble.
"What am I supposed to do with you, Riley?" he asked quietly. She didn't say anything—didn't look up. "It's too dangerous to let you go. You know that, right?"
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Cameron's eyes held no emotion. "She's a threat, John."
"She needs to be eliminated."
"Just cool it, okay? Let me think."
"Future John would – "
"Future John's not here!" he growled, slamming his palm against the wall, sending vibrations through the whole trailer. He pointed angrily toward the world outside. "Future John doesn't exist! He's not out there!"
He took a shuddering breath, a dull throb running up his arm. The pain seemed to trigger something. His shoulders fell slightly. He looked away and rubbed his eyes.
"He's not out there," he repeated softly. "It's just me. And I need time to think."
Cameron's cold eyes flickered. His face were so taut, she could actually hear the skin stretch.
After long moment, she finally nodded.
Kyle heard the padlock drop to the floor. He coiled his fist, full of chain, back even with his ear. He stood waiting to strike when the door slammed open, pounding his head into the wall.
He saw sharp flashes of light as he slid down to the floor. His hand unclenched and the chain dropped off. He'd hardly registered what happened when he was pulled up by his collar, stumbling until his assailant steadied him.
Derek's face came into focus.
Kyle admired his brother's lack of emotion as he dragged him out of the room by the arm. Derek's demeanor was that of a terminator. He wasn't motivated by vengeance or cruelty; he was driven by directives—like a good soldier should be, whether human or machine.
"There's still hope for you, Derek," Kyle mumbled. "You can still be saved."
This was it. This was Derek's last chance. Whatever he was about to do would drive him beyond Skynet's salvation. He had to act now, or his only family would be lost. Kyle thought back to childhood—the only part of their lives that would be the same in both timelines.
He spit out some of the blood left over from Sarah's torture. "Do you remember that time… when I was eight," he said raspingly, "and we tried to make napalm in the backyard… with some gasoline… in your old sneakers?"
Derek tugged his arm harsher than he needed to, drawing a gasp.
Kyle continued dauntlessly. "Neighbors… called the fire department. You made me… run inside… and… you told mom and everyone… that you'd set it yourself—that I'd told you not to do it… when it was my idea to begin with."
Kyle's head bobbed to one side, and he could see Sarah and Ellison waiting beside the table, which was filled with sharp instruments and cheap first aid items. In his concussed state, he saw two of everything.
"You knew how much trouble you were going to get in," he rasped urgently, "but you – you didn't care. You just… wanted to protect me." He grunted as Derek forced him down onto the chair. Sarah yanked his hands behind his back and secured him—first with zip-ties, then rope. "It's my turn to protect you, Derek. You have to go. Go far away and think. Think about… the kind of world we could have without… all this anger and hate—the kind of hate… that makes little boys start fires… just because they can."
"Will one of you shut him up?" Ellison asked dryly.
Sarah took a rag and doused it in chloroform. Kyle turned sharply to stare into Derek's eyes.
"I love you, brother," he said in a papery whisper. "And Skynet loves you too."
Sarah smothered his nose and mouth. Derek turned away, but heard none of the muffled cries of a human. There was truly no fear in this man; he accepted sleep like a switch had shut him off.
When he turned back, Kyle was limp, head lulling against his chest.
Derek glanced at Sarah, breathed steadily, his gaze drifting down her body until it fell on the knife. Sarah examined it too.
Slowly, their eyes tracked back to each other. They didn't say anything, but neither one of them had ever felt so naked.
Sarah's breath was a little ragged. Derek's wasn't, and he knew that that mattered. After a long pause, he walked to the table to pick up the knife.
But as he reached his hand down, Ellison's slid in and took it. Derek turned to the black man with a furrowed brow.
Ellison turned the knife over in his hand, thinking how inadequate it was—how gruesome this would be. He met Derek's eyes. "He's not my kin," he said softly.
Sarah looked down.
Derek glanced at Kyle, beaten and helpless, before nodding curtly.
They took the 10 out east toward Bloomington. People didn't ask questions there; they were accustomed to travelers and drifters—and they didn't care to sort out which was which.
This madness would end in Bloomington. From that point on, whatever happened happened.
Cameron sat in back to keep an eye on things. Riley looked out the window like a parrot might a cage. She played with her split ends and bounced her foot on the floor. John just drove, looking grim, but comfortable. That was his resting face where Cameron came from.
At one point, Riley looked at him meekly and said, "It doesn't have to happen this way. There's things I could do for you. I'm smart—you know I am."
John nodded, but didn't look at her, seeming mesmerized by the debris kicking up at the car's underbelly. The dull thrum from pebbles and junk had become a sort of lullaby during all those road trips with his mom. Even now, it hadn't lost its power.
He still didn't look at her.
Riley didn't object when they pulled over to the side of a dusty desert road, or when John yanked her out of the car by the arm and shoved her back a few feet.
Most people picture loved ones, or perfect moments. Riley had none of those. The closest she got to happiness was filling an empty stomach with a half-cooked rodent. That was the reality—the meaninglessness—of her existence. She had accomplished nothing on earth but the discovery of suffering.
Riley didn't believe in God. What father would design such a world for his children? And what creator would let his design be edited through time travel? There was no point to any of this; it simply was. And somehow that brought her comfort.
She turned to look at John. He stood beside the car, watching her intently. The gun was visible in his waistband, but his hands dangled at his sides. Cameron stood rigidly behind him.
Riley took stock of everything with a far-off expression. It was that strange mix of wonder and boredom, as when a child views a museum exhibit. She was no longer a participant in, but now an observer of, her own history. It was liberating.
"Just so you know, John—in case you wonder later—I don't blame you. I understand," she said. "I didn't before, even ten minutes ago, but I get it now. I gave you no choice with what I did."
John wiped his face dry with his sleeve.
She did look at peace. It's funny what death's realization does, how lucid and unpanicked it can make even the most frantic person. And while one may find Jesus, and another Nothing, both are transformed.
He smiled grimly, remembering something from a book.
"You might've been a good woman," John said, "if there'd been someone to shoot you every moment of your life."
He reached behind his waist.
Riley watched in a daze.
Kyle burst through the wall between sleep and awake.
His entire face exploded with pain, and he caught sidelong with his good eye the peril of the other one. Ellison had freed it from its socket and was sawing at the retina.
Kyle howled like a beast, straining against his bindings. His teeth gnashed through his tongue until blood spurted out. His head jerked forward and he bit the air in front of Ellison.
Suddenly Sarah was in front of him, stuffing a rag in his face. He worked at it with his teeth, until his head felt heavy again.
His mouth hung open, the blood dribbling like a waterfall over his bottom lip.
And then Sarah faded, and the pain faded, and he reentered sleep's miasma.
Riley shut her eyes.
She wondered for the first time why John hadn't asked where he could find Jesse. That was the logical thing to do. He asked everything else about her—why not where she was?
Whatever his reason, it didn't matter. Jesse was on her own, and Riley's time was done. The world around her faded, and she waited for death's miasma.
She felt a splash of dust on her legs, flinching but not moving. A hot breeze tousled her sweaty hair. She pictured herself as an hour glass draining its last grains of sand. Almost. Almost.
"Pick it up."
Riley's eyes snapped open.
John gestured emotionlessly to a wad of cash sitting at her feet. At Riley's quizzical expression, he continued, "Should be enough to get where you're going. Wherever that is. I guess that's up to you."
The veil of death lifted off her, leaving Riley trembling. She glanced over her shoulder at the modest spires of Bloomington in the distance.
Her peace was gone. She felt diminished for John's mercy.
"I don't…" She shook her head sadly. "I don't understand."
"No. I don't imagine you do."
"I'm a threat to you. I know about you."
John glanced at Cameron, who was staring at Riley. It took every byte of acquired discipline for her not to waste the tunnel rat right there.
"There's a lot of people that are threats to me," he said. "And I could kill all of them, I guess. But if I don't have to, I'd just as well not."
Riley dipped her head to look at the money again. There was about three thousand dollars there, as best she could tell. She bent down to pick up, barely getting her hands up when John hurled her duffle bag at her. She more blocked it than caught it.
Riley opened it to make sure all her stuff was there, and to deposit her new wad of cash.
"I don't expect I'll be seeing you again," John said.
Cameron's hand twitched at her side. She bore a great pain for her charge. To have suspected Riley, been proven correct, and then forced to let her go was almost too much. But she owed him her trust.
When John walked back to the car, his protector followed.
"John!" He turned back at Riley's voice. "Why didn't you ask where she was? You must've wanted to know."
He waited a beat, considering things, before he dug the cell phone from his pocket and tossed it to her. As he and Cameron climbed into the car, Riley examined it. It didn't take her long to find the blood.
She stood rooted in her spot, staring at the phone as John started the car up, made a u-turn, and left her all alone. The hot breeze blew past her, as if urging her to turn around.
Riley looked down the dusty road to Bloomington.
"You might've been a good woman. If there'd been someone to shoot you every moment of your life."