Author's Note: Well, at least it didn't take 8 months this time. To the people who reviewed last chapter, my thanks and apologies. I usually respond to signed reviews, I got lazy this time, bad on me. But your feedback was very much appreciated, and I humbly request more of it this time.
On a different note. This chapter briefly references events in another fic of mine, 'Between Four Walls.' And that fic happens to contain a rape scene. It's not very detailed there, it's not very detailed here, but this section does contain images of non-consensual sex. So if that bothers anyone, please exit now. If you're still here, thanks for the support and enjoy the chapter.
Charley's breath came in harsh, quick pants as he fought to refill his lungs. Trying not to vomit was also an issue, but that had less to do with near-suffocation than it did with that thing wearing his wife's face. Michelle-Weaver's features were cold and blank. Charley was assaulted with images of how Michelle sometimes looked in the days after she found out that Sarah wasn't dead. The rolling in his stomach worsened and he wanted to lean over and puke. Instead he straightened up as best he could, shots of agony still traversing the length of his spine. One hand went to the shelf she'd shoved him against, searching for balance. The other went to his lips. They felt bruised.
"Believe me," Weaver said, still in Michelle's voice, "I enjoyed that just as much as you did."
Her tone reflected a hint of the revulsion Charley felt. It had to be all over his face. The disgust. The shock. The rage. "Get out. Do you understand me? Get out of her body."
"Her body?" Weaver parroted in a sickeningly familiar voice that also sounded nothing like Michelle. "I assure you Mr. Dixon, grave digging is not among my hobbies. Your wife remains exactly where you left her. In the ground."
Charley moved forward, one hand raised. He'd never conceived of striking a woman before, but this wasn't a woman. It was a liquid metal abomination. Unthinking, he belted her across the face, the face he'd woken up to every day for four years. The punch would've knocked her back, left her bleeding and swollen. If Charley were dealing with a human. But of course he wasn't, so instead of feeling fist on skin, there was the sensation of plunging his hand into freezing water. Then there was the sick realization that his hand had actually gone through her head. Charley yanked it back as fast as possible, but not quick enough to avoid the chills, the nausea that became impossibly worse.
The machine wagged a finger that became a silver blade, which cut into his thigh while Charley was still struggling to recover. The pants of his old uniform were sliced open near one of his pockets, and graze or not, Charley had to grit his teeth to stifle a cry as the flesh of his leg was torn into.
"Good," Weaver praised. "I don't think either of us wishes for me to have to silence you again." The machine mirrored Charley, brushing her lips with the hand that still looked human. This time it wasn't only her voice that reflected distaste. "Point of interest. If I hadn't gone into a more liquefied state just now, you would've broken every bone in your hand. I'd advise you not to try that again."
"What the hell do you want?" Charley hissed. "Why are you doing this?" Then he had to muffle another grunt as Weaver's free hand slammed into his chest, stealing his air again.
"Pay attention, Mr. Dixon. I've already explained that you and I need to have a discussion. As for my appearance," Weaver pulled the spear out of Charley's leg, ignoring the sound of pain that escaped his lips, even as he struggled to breathe. The spear became a hand again. A hand that travelled up his body in a slow, torturous trail that would've had Charley squirming in anxiety and disgust if Weaver's free hand wasn't still holding him in place. "I'm trying to a make a point."
The hand that wasn't pressing against his sternum had cone to rest near his throat. Weaver could crush his windpipe at any second, and Charley would die looking into eyes that had haunted him ever since he watched them close for the final time.
"You missed a spot shaving."
That was bad. Bad because it was something Michelle had actually said, over and over during the course of their marriage. And the words were spoken in such a way that Charley could almost believe he was speaking to his wife, if not for the fingernails. They still looked human, but as Weaver dug softly into the flesh of his neck, they felt like tiny knives.
"I know this is difficult for you, seeing me in this form. I also know it was difficult for you when the machine that is John Henry to me and Cromartie to you, made your wife a target."
Charley tried to push her away, shake his head. He was rewarded with sharp pinpricks of pain that left dots of blood on his chest and neck.
"Listen to me, Mr. Dixon."
Weaver leaned in close, invading what was left of Charley's personal space. He'd never had a problem with claustrophobia, but he was very aware of how cramped this supply room was. Then it got impossibly worse. Weaver put her mouth against his ear. The way Sarah had that morning in Nebraska, right before she took off. The way she still did sometimes when they were alone. Supposedly alone.
"Cromartie deceived you, passed himself off as one of Mr. Ellison's colleagues."
Charley nearly seized. Not because of the words, though those were certainly true enough. Weaver still looked like Michelle, but she'd reverted to her own voice. Sort of. The Scottish lilt he'd heard in Savannah's room, that was there. Yet Michelle's voice wasn't completely gone. And Sarah's familiar tones, those were suddenly back too. Weaver spoke in a kind of hybrid voice, her own, mixed with the only two women Charley had ever loved. And it was the creepiest thing Charley had ever heard.
"He deceived you, and then your wife died. And in spite of all you've seen, you remain too easily deceived, Mr. Dixon. I suggest you work at distinguishing the wolf from the sheep. Unless you wish for someone else to die."
Charley didn't have time to digest that. Suddenly Weaver's hand was leaving his throat, though she kept pressure on his chest. She half-turned toward the door just as it swung open.
For long moments, Sarah couldn't react. The sight of Michelle Dixon was enough to stop her cold, never mind what she was doing to Charley. The blonde's lips curved into a frown. She seemed annoyed with the interruption. Sarah stared at her in shock, making the connection a millisecond before the cyborg opened her mouth. It was Catherine Weaver's voice that emerged.
"Shut the door, please. We're alone now, but that could change at any moment. This hospital is one of the busiest in the area. You humans require so much maintenance to remain functional. And don't bother with the gun. You and your group pointed them at me the last time we met, and I didn't appreciate it then either."
Sarah stopped herself from drawing the gun. Barely. It would be useless, except as a means of getting them found out, and possibly getting Charley killed. She shut the door, never taking her eyes off the machine that looked like Charley's wife. It was difficult. She didn't want to look at that face. Charley in jeopardy would've been bad enough, but that face made things so much worse. Still, Sarah did her best to hide the flood of emotions as she addressed Weaver. "Yeah well. I didn't appreciate you breaking into my house. I'd have much more appreciation for the world in general if you weren't init. Get the hell away from him." She hadn't expected the metal bitch to listen, so Sarah was surprised when Weaver let go of Charley, taking a few steps toward the door. Weaver moving toward her made it that much harder not to go for the gun at her waist. The coldness in the machine's eyes didn't help either.
"You seem to be under the impression that I'm required to follow your orders. That's a misconception I thought you would've been rid of by now. I hope I don't have to rid you of it myself someday. Fortunately for you, my business with Mr. Dixon is already complete."
"Business? You don't have business with him," Sarah snapped.
Weaver shook her head in the negative. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, hard as that notion is for you to comprehend. You've made Mr. Dixon a part of the Resistance. More importantly, you've made him one of the people responsible for my daughter."
"She's not your daughter." Charley spoke up for the first time since Sarah's arrival, echoing what Savannah told the machine the last time they met. His leg bled where she'd cut him and he clutched at it now, but he still managed some defiance.
Weaver didn't even look at him. "The argument is pointless. What's important is that you remember what I've told you." Sparing him a backward glance, the cyborg matched her face to her voice, once again using Michelle Dixon's speech pattern. "Honey."
Sarah lost it, giving up on her attempt to stay cool in front of the thing that embodied coldness. Before she could think better of it, Sarah was ordering the machine to speak like herself again, to look like herself. Or rather, to look like the human whose life she'd taken over. Weaver didn't listen this time. Her only reaction to Sarah's command was a slight smile that almost, almost touched her eyes.
"Mr. Dixon seems to have found this body quite appealing in the past. Did you find your wife appealing, Mr. Dixon?"
Charley was white as a ghost, trembling minutely. Weaver didn't see these things because she again didn't bother to face him. Sarah saw his reactions, saw the blood on his leg and throat and chest. Saw Michelle Dixon looking back at her. At that moment, Sarah hated Weaver as much as she'd hated the machine that took Kyle away, or the one twelve years later who'd tried to take John. "What the fuck are you doing?" Sarah snarled. "What did you say to him?"
"Something that was meant for him. Not you. Though I'm sure he'll tell you about it later, whether he wishes to or not. You're quite stubborn. Persistent. Admirable qualities. Admirable and infuriating."
"That mean I won't be getting a Christmas card? I suppose it was impossible for you share your little secret without making him bleed."
"Not impossible. Often I find that a hands-on approach is most effective in getting my point across. And before you lapse into righteous indignation over the state of Mr. Dixon, let me remind you that I've kept your son from harm on more than one occasion."
Sarah almost said something about the scars that now littered John's body, but stifled the urge. Maybe the injuries were meant to illustrate another kind of point, at least to Weaver. Regardless, the machine had restored Cameron, provided John with the means to get them both home. Which brought up something else that had been nagging at Sarah for weeks now. "Cameron doesn't remember anything that went on after she gave up her chip for your little science project. You going to try telling me that that's coincidental?"
Weaver's eyes narrowed, staring daggers at the brunette. "First of all, very few things in this world are coincidental. I believe you know that much. Secondly, that 'science project' may well be the thing that keeps this world and everyone in it alive. As for Cameron, she and John Henry were sharing a chip. Her relinquishing that chip to him did not erase what was programmed onto it. When John Henry downloaded his own programming to the chip, he essentially linked his consciousness to hers."
"They were sharing a brain?" Sarah asked, wishing John were here and trying not to sound blatantly clueless about the tech crap.
"Indeed," Weaver nodded, still using Michelle's voice. "John Henry could have overwritten her, used the entire CPU for his own purposes, but he didn't wish to do that. Apparently he thinks of her as a sister."
"How sweet." Sarah's words dripped with sarcasm, but her mind was spinning with the implications of this. Assuming of course that it wasn't complete bullshit. "So if he was so generous with his living space, why doesn't Cameron remember any of this?"
"An unfortunate consequence, to be sure. The chip was not built to hold that much data. There was risk of permanent damage if some of it was not removed. And no, I was not the one who performed that removal. When the CPU became overwhelmed with too much information, it automatically began deleting the most recent files. A protective measure, to prevent total shutdown."
"Right, that's not convenient at all, her losing everything from that specific time period."
"I've already given you an explanation. Shall I attempt to do so again, using smaller words? Or would you have preferred that her earlier files be destroyed? The ones created by your son. The ones that keep her from reverting into a killer for Skynet?"
Sarah had no response to that, and she hated herself for it. Still, she pressed on. "And what about John Henry? If they were both sharing an overloaded brain, that mean he has a bit of memory loss too?" Sarah doubted it. Very, very much. Yet Weaver's expression gave her cause to wonder. It was a strange combination of smile and scowl, and for the first time, Weaver seemed genuinely angry rather than simply annoyed. But it was a fleeting look, gone in the blink of an eye, and when Weaver spoke again, her voice was cool as ever.
"How is it that every encounter I have with you is more pleasant than the last? A true delight. Yet I think it's time we parted company. But first," the sleeve of Weaver's shirt shimmered and contorted briefly. In another blink of the eye, there was a small object in Weaver's hand.
"I stumbled across this while running an errand. It's not mine, and John Henry isn't one to accessorize, so I assume it belongs to one of yours. You're welcome."
Weaver threw the thing underhand, with a bit more force than was strictly necessary. Sarah's first instinct was to duck, as if from a grenade blast. Instead she made the catch, found herself holding a watch on a chain. It took her too long to place it, she hadn't seen the thing years. She'd taken it from one of the men that came after Reese, intended to pawn it if her money situation became too desperate Seemed a fair trade, considering that this particular suitor had broken her wrist and blackened her eye while a two-year-old John watched from across the room. She'd thought it lost or forgotten, but if the machine had it… "This was in your basement."
Weaver nodded slightly. "Nothing metal goes through."
Which meant she'd been digging around evidence lockers, looking to salvage the remains of her fucked up little projects. Before Sarah could call her on this, Weaver had transformed. Michelle Dixon's form disappeared, replaced by a woman in her forties, wearing a nurse's uniform. The next time Weaver opened her mouth, Michelle's voice was replaced with the Scottish accent Sarah had come to loathe. Still, the disappearance of Charley's wife was a major relief.
"You'll want to be on your way. Mr. Dixon looks a little worse for wear."
Sarah would've snapped about that, about the cause of Charley's injuries. Hell, she might've thrown in a Nurse Ratched comment, if Weaver hadn't turned her attention to Charley. He was still pale, shaky. He'd dropped out of the confrontation with Weaver, and though Sarah was happy about that, she worried that he seemed to be in shock.
"You people should be more careful with your things, Weaver admonished, bending to pick something even smaller off the floor. She held it out to Charley and he took it, apparently on autopilot. A hint of gold was visible as the object caught the light, then Weaver was melting into the floor where the thing had just lain. "Use the exit two corridors to the east, I'll make sure it's clear. Be sure to tell my daughter I say hello. Tell her I miss her terribly and that we'll speak again soon."
And then Weaver was gone, leaving Sarah adrift in a flood of worry and anger. A few days ago, she'd considered the abstract possibility of having to separate Ellison and Savannah. Or of Ellison wanting to keep Savannah from her. But when it came down to it, James loved the child and Sarah knew it. They'd disagree, but they'd deal, because they shared a common goal. At the end of the day, Sarah really didn't have to worry about losing Savannah to Ellison. Weaver though, she was something else entirely.
Forcing down her concern for the child, Sarah crossed to Charley. He wasn't moving, wasn't putting pressure on the leg wound. It didn't look bad, but Sarah still cursed to herself. There was a hole in his pocket , where Weaver must've sliced into him. Belatedly, Sarah's eyes fell on his open palm, where Weaver had placed the fallen object. Then her breath caught, because she recognized that too, recognized it a lot faster than she had the watch.
"A bomb," Sarah said slowly, voice low and dangerous. She stood in the living room, glaring at John and doing her best to ignore the machine at his side. The coffee table separated them, her on one side, John and Cameron on the other. Two against one. "Around your neck," she continued. The watch was in her hands, and it was a real effort not to snap the chain.
"The bomb was not around his neck," Cameron corrected. "Only the trigger. The explosive itself was in my skull."
Sarah clenched the watch until her knuckles were white. "What kind of game are you playing at, girlie? You give him the means to kill you, you disappear, and then the first thing you say to him after you wake up is that he can't be trusted? Why give this," she held up the watch, "to someone you couldn't trust?"
John winced, fighting off pain and anger. He'd told Charley what Cameron had said, why he was so angry with her immediately following their return. He'd told Charley, and nearly forgotten that his mom knew as well. Whether the bad feelings he experienced now were directed at her or Cameron, John couldn't say. Still, his mother hadn't used that nickname in a small eternity. Context aside, he'd take whatever small bits of progress he could get. "Mom," he began.
"I gave him the trigger before your meeting with Catherine Weaver. The situation changed after I was reactivated." Cameron tilted her head. "Are you angry because I used that watch? I'm sorry. I found it in the garage, and given the amount of dust-"
"It's not about the watch," Sarah snapped. Though it sort of was. On top of hoarding spare terminator parts, Cameron had gone through Sarah's things, used one of them to make a bomb. The trigger for which had been around her son's neck. Over his heart. "Why give this to him and not me? Why hide it?"
John could've answered that one, almost did, but Cameron beat him to it.
"You have a long history of threatening to blow my head off. Given that, and given your degree of anger with me at the time-"
"At the time? Try right this second."
"All right stop," John ordered, earning a bland stare from Cameron and a killing look from his mother. He risked her wrath in the interest of containing the situation, and because he was seriously sick of both of them talking about him like he wasn't in the room. "Mom, it's done. Nothing happened, and it doesn't matter anymore, because the explosive is gone."
"Yes," Cameron agreed, a hint of emotion breaking through the monotone. "The explosive was planted in my old body, which is gone now."
John shot her a curious look. "You sound disappointed."
"Placing the bomb near my chip required cutting into my own skull. It was challenging. Time-consuming."
"Sorry you were so inconvenienced," Sarah practically growled.
"Mom," John said before Cameron could say anything that would further piss her off. "It's done. You're angry I kept something else from you, I get that. I'm sorry. Just remember that Cameron's not the one who hurt Charley."
Sarah blinked, studied him. Then she shook her head and swore to herself. Briefly, her gaze moved toward the ceiling. Ellison had received an adequate rundown of the day's events, then taken it upon himself to keep Savannah away from what was happening now. Charley was above their heads, puking his guts out. At least that was what he'd been doing when he essentially ordered Sarah to leave him alone. Sighing, Sarah dropped the watch on the table, trying to heed John's words. She wasn't thrilled with either of them right now, she didn't like secrets, but still. She was looking for an excuse to fight, particularly with Cameron. Because the metal she really wanted was either long gone, or spying on them right now, pretending to be a houseplant or something. Either way, Weaver wasn't available for punishment, and Cameron was the next best thing. "What about the things she said about your memory?" Sarah asked, forcing her voice to level out.
"Lies," Cameron responded. "As far as I can tell."
"As far as you can tell?" Sarah echoed. "What does that mean?"
"The files and programming on our chips are what defines us. The same way that the memories stored in the brain provide humans with their sense of identity. There's nothing in my emergency protocols that would cause the files in my memory banks to be deleted. It would be a form of self-termination and-"
"And you can't self-terminate," John finished, eyes landing on the discarded watch.
"No. I can't. If my CPU did become overloaded, there were other fail-safes that would've been activated. There are ways of decreasing the data flow without purging my memory banks.
"Like what?" Sarah questioned.
"Shutdown of non-essential background functions. And even if a purge did happen, it's the older files that would be removed first."
"And what she said about your Skynet directives?"
"My files are ranked by date, and also importance. The older files would be removed first, but so would the more non-vital ones. Future-John's programming overriding my Skynet directives is a core part of my system. Those files would be among the very last to be touched."
"Had to be good news at some point," Sarah replied. Then, out of curiosity more than anything else, "What kind of non-vital files? If this purge that apparently wouldn't happen did happen, what would be the first things to go?"
Again, Cameron took a moment to answer. "John doesn't like English. On our first day of school, John told me not to be a freak, and you told me not to kiss you. Or anyone else. You prefer it when I wear clothes" A pause, "Those would be the first things to go. Files that are older, or files that have no real value to my mission."
"Right," Sarah muttered. "Reorganize those files of yours; I consider the clothes thing to be pretty valuable." She really didn't need an underwear-clad Cameron hanging around Savannah. Or anyone else..
"You said that Weaver was lying about this purge and how it would work. As far as you can tell. You still haven't explained what that means." Again, John tried to control the discussion, before Cameron managed to further raise his mom's hackles.
"My chip sustained damage. If there was a purge, depending on how that damage affected my CPU, it's possible that the newer files could have been deleted first."
"If" Sarah repeated. "If there was a purge. But you don't see that as a possibility?"
"Even factoring in the damage to your chip?"
"It seems highly unlikely."
"Great. So what we keep coming back to here is that she really is just a lying terminator bitch."
"Who also really did keep me alive a few times," John pointed out, wishing he didn't have to. He also wished he didn't have to think about the fact that whatever else Weaver may have done to her, the T1001 was responsible for getting Cameron back. A task that should've been his. He'd ditched his post as future leader of the Resistance to do it, and had been unable to pull it off. He was able to stand here and be treated to his mom's anger and frustration only because the machine who'd just assaulted Charley had made that a possibility.
"Yeah," Sarah murmured, "She was kind enough to remind me of that." The ire was suddenly replaced with exhaustion. For once, couldn't just one thing be simple? Shaking her head, Sarah half-turned away, announcing her intention to check on Charley. John's voice called her back, and she followed green eyes that matched hers until they landed on the coffee table. On the watch.
John waited for his mother to make a move. He knew what she'd do, that wasn't in doubt. He was unsure though about what he wanted her to do. Then he became even more unsure when Sarah made no move to snatch up the watch she'd originally stolen, that Cameron had commandeered for her own purposes. She didn't look especially happy, as her eyes flitted between himself and Cameron, but she didn't take the watch. All she did was put her back to them and head upstairs.
Left with only Cameron for company, John picked up the watch, studied it, tested its weight in his hands. With everything else, he'd almost forgotten the chain, the feel of the watch against his chest. It'd felt cold, heavy. The power to destroy Cameron with the flick of a switch, that was a lot to carry. He hadn't wanted it. But at the same time, she'd given it to him. She'd given him the means to end her. And that had meant something to him, even if he hadn't had time to figure out what. It had all happened so fast after that. Riley dead. Derek. Zeira Corp. He wasn't sure what the watch meant to him, then or now. Wasn't even sure he was pleased with his mom's deciding not grab the thing away from him.
"You said I was further along than I needed to be." The words were out before John could stop them. Cameron was moving as if to wander off on patrol, but his statement halted that. Then she was facing him and he had her attention, and he couldn't decide if he wanted it or not, but it was too late now.
"No. I said you were ahead of schedule with what you needed to learn."
"Is there any real difference between those things?"
"No. I guess there isn't."
John took a breath, unconsciously tightening his grip on the watch. "I was ahead of schedule six months, a year ago, whatever the hell it is. And then…" He tried, but couldn't finish the sentence. Cameron's assessment that he couldn't be trusted anymore, it'd hurt enough being reminded of that by his mother. Saying it himself seemed almost impossible right now.
Cameron tilted her head slightly. "In some ways, you were ahead of schedule. You still are. But there are still things you need to learn."
"Are there?" John asked, more weary than angry. "Like what?"
"Like the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few."
"You been reading up on utilitarianism?" he questioned, remembering how bored he'd been as a kid during the times when lessons on engines and explosives had been replaced with ones in philosophy.
"Yes. I don't sleep. But I didn't learn that from a book."
He didn't even need to ask anymore. Future-John. It was always Future-John. "That's a good school of thought. It's also the kind that can lead to excuses about why the few can't be saved."
"Sometimes," Cameron conceded. Then, "One is never more important than billions. Than future billions. One can never be more important than that."
She didn't say one human, just one. Human, or machine. John ducked his head, ran his fingers over the watch. Like he had with her chip, in Charley's ambulance. Right before he stopped her from being burned into slag.
John looked at her again, fighting the feeling that she'd somehow hacked into his thoughts. "What?"
"Thank you. For coming after me. For bringing me back."
"You're thanking me. For something you think I shouldn't have done."
"You shouldn't have. And yes, I'm thanking you."
"Why?" John questioned, working hard to minimize the strain in his voice.
"Because I didn't want to go."
John closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing the onslaught of feelings before he said something he'd regret. She'd said much the same thing once before. But this time she wasn't pinned down with John digging away at her chip. "You did though."
"Yes. I had to. I didn't want to. I didn't want to leave you."
If he wasn't looking at her already, his head would've snapped up quick enough for whiplash. She didn't want to leave him. Because of her mission? Or because of something else that John couldn't seem to wrap his mind around? Even if he'd felt like pressing her further, even if he knew at all what he wanted her answer to be, it was a moot point. She was already turning from him, starting her patrol, and he didn't call her back this time.
Time. John sighed deeply as he sank down on the couch behind him. He'd chased Cameron through time once, now he couldn't muster the energy to chase her through the house. It'd hurt, Cameron telling him how he'd screwed up. But unlike the gratitude that'd come after that, her rationale for chastising him hadn't been a surprise. It stung, but not as much as it could have. Because he'd already heard it before. Just not from Cameron.
It'd been days now, and John still felt like he was stuck in the Twilight Zone, a feeling that was only exacerbated as he watched Charley Dixon shake hands with Travis Gant. It was strange enough seeing Charley in this setting, this place straight out of his mother's nightmares. Gant was military, so in a way that made more sense, but John hadn't seen the man since he was eight or nine, and hadn't expected to see him again.
Gant's hair was military short, as it'd been when John last saw him. It was partly gray now, and the face was more heavily lined, but other than that, Gant was very much as John remembered him. Seeing him exchange greetings with Charley, friendly greetings no less, was still jarring as hell. But the weirdness of that remained preferable to what followed. The hug wasn't so bad, despite how long it'd been. John would take any scrap of familiarity at that point. It was the opened-mouthed looks, the exclamations of shock. Charley had reacted in essentially the same way, but this time it wasn't just Charley.
Ellison was there too, along with the younger Travis Gant, and Savannah. As promised, Ellison and Gant Sr. had returned from that other base, but the reunion was laced with awkwardness. Savannah barely acknowledged Charley's presence, and the looks she spared for John made him wish that he too was beneath her notice. As it was, he felt her eyes burning into his back as his mother's ex continued to study him, clutch his shoulders, talk about how he just couldn't believe it. Ellison wasn't glaring daggers like Savannah ,but John couldn't pretend to be comfortable around him. A couple of decades here was a couple days for him, and a couple days ago, he would've happily beat Ellison to a pulp as he watched his mother being ambushed.
Gant's son apparently didn't mind that his father was lavishing attention on John, he actually smiled, seemed genuinely happy. Savannah's scowl kept deepening though, and John was pleased when Ellison crossed to her, offering an embrace. Days ago (as John thought of it), she'd called him Mr. Ellison. Mr. Ellison, teaching John Henry things in the basement of Zeira Corp. Now he was Uncle James.
Glad as he was to see another person who actually knew who he was, John was relieved when Gant took a cue from Ellison, embracing his own son. After confirming that his daughter was busy working in the infirmary and making plans to visit her after this meaning, he moved on to greeting Savannah while Ellison spoke with Charley.
"Hey kid," he said, affection clear in his voice. "You still keeping my boy in line?" he asked, offering a quick hug and brushing his lips over her cheek.
Savannah shook her head as she pulled away, but the hint of a smile graced her lips. "Not my job anymore. Sorry Uncle Travis."
They were gathered in the room Charley used as an office, where John was taken when he first arrived. He leaned on the edge of Charley's desk with the older man beside him, curiosity piqued as he observed Savannah. This was the first time he'd seen anything but a glare on her face. The younger Gant stood a few paces to her right, and John couldn't help how his gaze traveled between them.
"We used to date," Gant Jr. explained, apparently noting John's scrutiny.
Savannah made a noise in the back of her throat. John got the impression that she was trying to play at annoyance, but the attempt was half-hearted at best. "Please. We used to do target practice and combat training and then make out afterward."
"Is that not what I just said?."
"We were kids. Living in the middle of nowhere. Then in a bunker. My options were limited."
"You still had the option to ignore me."
"I tried that strategy. Wasn't working. It was either kiss you or shoot you. Don't think I don't question the decision."
"You know you have an awful personality, right?"
"Go to hell, TJ," Savannah retorted, keeping her voice light.
"Hell," Gant Sr. muttered, a smirk on his lips. "I spend two months babysitting those green little bastards over at Alpha Base, now I have to come back here and put you two in separate time-out corners again?"
John looked around cautiously. If Charley felt uncomfortable hearing about Savannah's love life, he wasn't showing it. His mouth was quirked at the corners, and Ellison wore a similar expression. This was the most happiness John had felt in a room since coming here. It lightened him, just a little and he wanted to ask something, but couldn't form the words. He still had trouble even thinking about her without breaking down. It was Ellison of all people who read his expression, came to his aid.
"Your mother wasn't thrilled when she found out."
TJ snorted back a laugh. "She spent an hour across from me at the kitchen table, cleaning a shotgun and subtly threatening to use it on me if I did something stupid."
John smiled a little. It was pained, but genuine. Eyebrows raised, he looked to his mother's ex, wondering about his opinion on the pairing.
Travis shrugged. "I thought it was cute."
The son chuckled again. "You told her you wouldn't get in the way if she wanted to shoot me."
Gant gave another shrug. "After I told her it was cute."
That was the lightest things got. Then John was getting condolences from the new arrivals, and Savannah was favoring everyone with a stony expression. Except for Charley, who she still refused to look at. Why so much of her bitterness was directed toward Charley was a mystery to John, and he suspected it would remain a mystery, unless Savannah decided otherwise.
Charley talked to TJ's father about doing weapons training with John. The whole group spoke briefly about people and places John didn't know, then TJ and his father were talking about going to the infirmary before the older Gant and Ellison met up with Charley again, ostensibly to discuss field reports. John remained locked in battle with emotional shock and a major case of time-lag, but he could still read between the lines. The three men were waiting for him to be gone before they truly started talking about him.
The current meeting was breaking up now, but Savannah wasn't moving. Instead, she made it clear that she intended to speak to John. Alone.
"I thought you'd gotten it out of your system already," Ellison stated. He nodded towards John, his eye still bruised from where she'd hit him. All traces of laughter were gone from his voice.
Savannah's voice was even, almost flat. "So Charley told you. Great. Almost twenty years and you think one punch will cover it?"
"Savannah," Charley began, eyes narrowed.
The redhead seemed to address everyone but him. "I have something I want to say, and obviously I'm not doing it in the tunnels or the mess hall where everyone on this base is going to be staring at him wondering where the hell he came from and what he's doing here. Besides," she added, eyes landing on Gant Sr, Ellison, and a point over Charley's left shoulder, "you guys are going to talk all about him when he's not here. I can't talk to him while you're not here?"
"It's fine," John said. Part of him dreaded being alone with Savannah, but his frustration was starting to outweigh his worry. All his life people had been talking about him as though he wasn't in the room, and it never got any less irritating.
There were murmurings and a few more seconds of arguments and then the others were dispersing. TJ offered John his gun and Savannah repeated her request for him to go to hell. Charley said he'd speak to Ellison on the way to the ex-cop's quarters.
"I'll be back in ten minutes," he told Savannah, an edge to his voice. John got the distinct impression that Charley was warning the redhead not to rough him up in the interim, an idea that was only reinforced by the elder Gant's next words.
"Swear to God kid, I don't want to deal with you and that fucking time-out corner. You already repeated Thanksgiving. It's enough."
There was half a second to puzzle over the meaning of that, then they were leaving John in the room with her, Charley exiting last. As he left, the dim light caught the gold of the two rings, the chain around his neck. Watching the door close behind the older man, John unconsciously touched the spot on his chest where the watch used to hang. He wondered if his mom had found it, hoped she hadn't. Then he thought about the rings again. Since he got here, he must've been doing a really shitty job of blanking his expression, because everyone, including Savannah, seemed able to read him like a book.
"Those things are going to get him killed one day. They're targets, but he ignores that because he doesn't do field work anymore. Like that makes any difference. And yes, you picked out one of them."
Great. Something he'd chosen was liable to get Charley killed. As if there wasn't enough blood on his hands already. "He…he kept both of them?"
"He did. First time I ever met him, for awhile after that, he wore his wedding ring. Then he and…your mother got back together and one day he stopped wearing it. Then awhile after that, they came back from somewhere and she was wearing the diamond. I never asked what changed, they never explained it."
John thought about the ring Charley gave Michelle, assumed she'd been buried with it. Then he thought about Savannah. When she'd stormed in here a few days ago, she'd referred to his mother as her own. But she'd been raging then, and she seemed to feel awkward about referring to Sarah in that way now. John couldn't pretend that he wasn't relieved. Hearing someone else call Sarah 'mom,' it bothered him in ways he couldn't explain.
"You want to know what my problem is with you."
Actually, he thought he was fairly clear on that. Didn't take a nuclear scientist to figure it out. "I think I've got an idea," he said quietly.
Savannah's voice, almost normal up to then, developed a hard edge. "You don't. You have no idea. You have no idea about any of this," she stated, gesturing vaguely at their surroundings. "You've been here a few days. You know nothing about this world. But you'll figure that part out. You stay here long enough, you'll start to understand some of what the rest of us have been living for the past twenty years."
John said nothing, trying not to dwell on the idea of being stuck here indefinitely, of what the understanding Savannah talked about might do to him.
"I'm here to tell you something you're not going to understand otherwise. Because Travis, Charley, James, they know, but they won't tell you. In fact, I'll get reamed out by all three of them for doing it myself. But that doesn't matter. What matters to me, what I need to give you some inkling of understanding about, is what you did to Sarah."
He'd known where this was going, but John still reacted as if she'd punched him again, in the gut this time. And much as some part of him knew he deserved this, the defenses still went up. "I didn't come here to abandon her. That's not-"
Savannah waved off his objection before he could finish voicing it. "Don't bother. Do I think you made that jump thinking you were going to run away and leave her to pick up your mess? I don't. Doesn't change the fact that that's what you did."
"My mess? I never built Skynet. I didn't ask for this."
"Ask for this? No one asked for this. Bombs fell on all of us, no one wanted it. And it's not my fault that fixing things after was supposed to be your job. You weren't here, so the rest of us played the hand we were dealt. You could've done the same."
"I'm sure that's really easy for you to say," John replied, trying not to clench his teeth.
"Nothing about any of this is easy, but don't act like because you're John Connor, you're the only one affected by it. You might've met them earlier, but there are a lot more machines now, and they want us all dead. All of us. Speaking of. Suppose you do get her back, that machine."
"Cameron," John said, now fighting to keep his fists from clenching as well.
"Cameron," Savannah repeated. "The machine that my friend is going to die for."
Allison. He hadn't seen her since he got here. Didn't know her. Still, John sagged a little.
"Have you thought about what's going to happen if you do find her, if you do get home? What if you manage to stop Skynet? Does she just hang around afterward?" Savannah shook her head. "I'm not…I shouldn't even be getting into this. If you have feelings for the machine, fine. I'm sure all the people the other version of you, the one who actually stuck around, all those people who died on his missions, went through time on his orders, they had feelings too. People they loved. Maybe you even love the machine. Jesse Flores is still alive here, you know. Her sub's supposed to be back up in two weeks. And no matter what the woman you knew did, if your Derek was anything like the one I know, he loved her. And he still left her. On your orders. Because that was his job. He was a soldier, you were his leader, he went. I assume because you convinced him that he could do more good for Jesse and everyone else if he left them behind. We've all made sacrifices."
John thought about Kyle. Reese, who'd come across time for his mother. Essentially, done exactly what John himself had for Cameron. But Kyle did that for Future-John, because that had always been his role. A chance to meet the legend yes, but Reese left because he'd been willing to die for John, to save the Resistance. And that had always been his job. Protect Sarah Connor, help create John Connor, die saving them both. The man he'd died for didn't exist here. What if the Reese of this world didn't volunteer? What would happen then?
"Sarah almost killed herself a thousand times over keeping you alive. Every bit of hope she had, all of it was pinned on you. And I think the hope must've been what kept her going all that time, because when you left…" The anger was still there, but now it was laced with deep, pervading sadness. "She never stopped fighting. Ever. But the longer you were gone, the worse she got. There's this picture Charley has, maybe the last one he has."
Savannah described the swing-set photo, the one he'd seen on Charley's desk. The one where his mother sat smiling with Savannah and Charley, looking painfully sad as she did it. John didn't mention that he'd seen it already.
"She always fought. But eventually she forgot to live, and I think that was the start of it. That thing Travis said about Thanksgiving? We'd just moved onto his ranch. J-Day wasn't far off. But TJ and I were kids, so they were still trying to make something good for us. Charley, Travis and James were trying. Your mother…she was there but she wasn't, and she'd been that way for weeks. Check in during the missions, check out afterward. And Travis, he lost it. Told her she'd have to accept the possibility that you weren't coming back, and that we'd all have to deal with that. Except he said it in Travis-speak, so Sarah punched him in the face. Right while Charley was about to serve dessert."
John shut his eyes, wishing he could shut his ears to Savannah's words. To his mom's words. In his head. Warning him that they were lost if they forgot about the difference between life and mission.
"She put all her hope in you. The multiple timeline garbage, everything that might be affected by what you did, a lot of people put all their hope in you." A pause, then, "I hope you find the machine. Either way, I hope it's worth it to you, all the billions of people you put at risk by looking for her. And I hope that if you get back, the version of your mother that I knew doesn't have to exist. Because she spent her whole life keeping you alive, and then she spent the last years of hers not really living. And no one deserves that. Especially her."
There was blood on the floor when Sarah got there. Not much, but the small bits of red staining the bathroom tile still got to her, bringing images of Riley and the mess she left in her wake. Riley had cut her wrists in the old bathroom. By contrast, Charley was trying to fix himself. And doing a lousy job of it.
Some of the stolen med supplies were at his feet, or next to where he sat on the rim of the tub. Sarah wasn't thrilled about breaking into the new stock so soon, but there wasn't an alternative. The wound on Charley's thigh was bleeding slowly, but steadily, and Sarah refused to let it continue.. Especially when she caught his eyes. Where the injury was, Charley couldn't get at it while retaining his modesty. There was a towel, he wasn't totally exposed, but his eyes still shot up as soon as she entered. And as soon as Sarah met his gaze, she knew it was time to intervene. He'd asked for privacy before and she hadn't argued. Now she realized that he'd sit here bleeding all night if she let him.
"Relax," she said quietly, locking the door behind her. "Nothing I haven't seen before." He was wearing a plain white t-shirt. Didn't do much appearance-wise, since his skin was a little too pale right now, highlighting the other injuries. The marks on his neck were small, but looking at them still hurt. His torso was worse. Even with the shirt, the bruises were visible, souvenirs of Weaver shoving him against the shelf, keeping him there none too gently. A canvass of black and blue, thinly covered in white. She wouldn't ask him to lift the shirt, despite a morbid need to see. There would be plenty of opportunity for that later.
"Sarah," he began.
Shaking her head, Sarah crossed to him and attempted to tamp down the emotions. He was trying, but his voice wasn't normal, and it had nothing to do with Weaver's hand on his neck. Nothing, and everything. "Get this out of the way, she ordered, already moving the towel. "Move," she told him with quiet authority, shifting the medical supplies so she could sit next to him on the tub.
"You don't need to do this," he protested, even as he followed her commands.
"Apparently I do. You aren't." Worry made her voice rough, hard, and Sarah had to take a breath and give herself a few seconds before speaking again. "Me, Cameron or James. Take your pick."
Charley didn't bother responding to that one. "We should work on your bedside manner."
If he was joking, if he cared enough to try and preserve appearances, she guessed that was a good sign. He'd barely spoken to her since the hospital, relating the Weaver details only to get her to stop badgering him, staring at him. But the look he'd had in the truck, the one he'd had when he retreated from her after they came home, that was still there. He tried to hide it, tried making light of it, but it remained firmly in place. He looked haunted and shell-shocked and a million other things, and Sarah was powerless to rid him of that expression. "There's a reason this is your job and not mine," she said forcing a bit of lightness into her tone and hoping it would be enough to cover the feelings of inadequacy.
As she went about stitching up the leg wound, Sarah wondered if she should even be here, wished she could sink into the floor like the metal bitch. It wasn't bad enough that the terminator had apparently been watching them more closely than even Sarah had feared, that she could be masquerading as a shampoo bottle, observing them right now. Nor was it enough that John Henry had been sharing headspace with Cameron, potentially giving him access to all the knowledge the Tin Miss had on them. As if Weaver didn't know too much already. Those things weren't enough. The metal had to summon Michelle's ghost as well.
Weaver's reasons for doing so, her message to Charley, they were predictably cryptic. Charley had repeated Weaver's warning to her, just as the machine had predicted. Sarah hadn't repeated the exact words to John and Cameron, at least not yet. John in particular might be able to provide some context, but Sarah was uneasy about giving him the message without Charley's consent. There was that, and there was also the mixture of horror and anger that came when she realized what the watch had been used for. Regardless, Sarah didn't know why the machine had taken Michelle's form, why she felt the need to screw with Charley's head. Nor did she especially care just now. She simply despised Weaver for tearing open old wounds.
Sarah focused on the practical, because she could do nothing about the other things. She got the leg taken care of, doing a good job of it, even if Charley would've been better. She'd improved ten-fold over the girl who'd nearly puked all over Kyle while she wrapped his injured arm. Still, she apologized whenever Charley winced, and he said it was okay and tried to smile, but the smile never got anywhere close to his eyes. Sarah picked up a pair of shorts that he'd brought in and discarded on the floor. "You need help?" she asked quietly.
The softness of her tone was met with a stiff shake of the head, and Sarah cursed silently. When she passed him the garment, their hands touched and he flinched as if she'd burned him. Stifling a grimace, Sarah stood up quickly, stepping over to the sink. The water she used to clean her hands was too hot. She didn't care. Closing her eyes to the reflections in the bathroom mirror, Sarah listened to Charley's movements, waiting for them to cease before reopening her eyes to find him in the glass. He was back on the edge of the tub, examining the tile. His fingers were laced so tightly that Sarah might've thought he was intentionally tying them in knots. "What are you thinking?" she asked. There were several possibilities, none of them good, but Sarah needed to hear.
"I should've known," he said after a long beat of silence.
Reflexively, Sarah gripped the edge of the sink with both hands. She couldn't tell him it was okay, it wasn't. Methods and reasons aside, Weaver's warning wasn't unfounded. Confusing a machine for one of their own, it wasn't something that could be fixed with a simple 'You'll do better next time.' A mistake with a terminator made the possibility of 'next time' very, very slim. So she couldn't say it was all right, the words would've rung false to both of them.
Crossing back to the tub, she reclaimed her place at Charley's side, doing her best to ignore the tension rolling off him. His gaze stayed down, but at this moment Sarah was grateful for that. She kept her own eyes straight ahead, unable to even get close to looking at him while she said this next part. "In '84, after Reese and I escaped the police station, we holed up at this motel and he went out for supplies." Sarah could feel Charley's gaze on her now, knew she had his attention. She wasn't telling him anything new though. Not yet. "Before he left, he told me not to use the phone. And then he was gone and I was still scared out of my mind, knew she would be too, so I called my mother. I told her to stay away and she said she would, but she wanted a way to reach me. So I gave her a phone number. And then the machine found us, and after the factory, after the adrenaline and the morphine wore off, I figured out why."
Sarah shook her head. She wasn't going to get into it. He understood, that was the important thing. Without wanting to, she heard Derek in her head, asking if she thought she'd be able to tell if she was living with a machine. Her answer had been quick and assured, and also a lie. "You don't always know," she told Charley, still avoiding his eyes. "If you're lucky, you live through it and you learn from it. That's all you can hope for."
The machine would've found them eventually, Sarah had enough experience now to be certain of that. Relatively certain. While she was trying not to dwell on her role in Reese's death, Charley touched the side of her cheek, gently turned it until she was looking at him. The compassion in his eyes killed her, but it was good too. If he had the presence of mind to be worried about her, then he wasn't completely out of her reach. Cautiously, Sarah cupped the back of his neck, gently pulling his head down until her lips found a spot above his right eyebrow. Sarah heard his breath catch, simply resting her lips against his skin. And waiting. His hand was still on her face, they were practically sharing the same air. And because of that, Sarah knew when the tension returned, even before the warmth of his hand went away and he was pulling back.
"Sorry," he said in a voice that barely passed for his. "I don't-"
"Shhh." For half a second, Sarah's finger went to his lips, curtailing the apology, then she let her hand drop. He'd been edgy after Kaliba found the lighthouse, they both had. But he'd never been so keyed up that she couldn't even touch him without making him flinch. Much as it stung though, Sarah understood. Trauma wasn't new for Charley, but what happened today was different. Kaliba invaded his home, shot at him, but at least he'd been able to run, return fire. Michelle was gone because of Cromartie, but the machine hadn't been there when she died, had never come into close contact with Charley. What happened to him previously, none of that would've prepared him for today. There was a special kind of fear that came when running and fighting and shooting stopped being options. Unwillingly, Sarah recalled all the times she'd been in Charley's position. Pinned down, no way of fighting, her life in the hands of a machine whose sole purpose was to end it.
The terror of that never eased, no matter how many times you had to face it. Sarah wanted nothing more than to get those feelings out of Charley's head, but words were hollow in this situation, and she'd never been good with reassurances anyway. And physically…physical comfort wouldn't work. She wouldn't even risk another touch of the hand unless he initiated. She knew Weaver had kissed him. The thought of it made her ill. He'd told her about being unable to move. Unable to breathe. And that triggered more memories for her. Pescadero. The three orderlies that'd come late at night while she was too drugged to fight. She'd bitten one of them and tasted blood, but it did no good. The others still held her down, took turns covering her mouth. The taste of that first man's blood had remained on her lips, bitter and disgusting. That was nothing compared to the bitterness in her soul as they made her clean up afterward, made her get rid of the blood on her thighs.
Fuck. She'd shuddered and he'd noticed, and his hand was on her back. He wouldn't get an answer on what caused her reaction. Just wouldn't. She'd told him a lot of things, more than she'd ever meant to, but the secret of that night wouldn't make the list. Ever. It would be too much. For both of them, probably.
Sarah thought of Weaver kissing Charley, holding him in place. She thought of rough, unrelenting hands in Pescadero. Then she thought about what it would be like to look up at her attackers and see Reese's face. Have it be Reese's voice telling her to relax and shut up. To have Reese as her tormentor. Or Charley, if she'd known him back then.
No wonder Charley was such a wreck.
Apparently realizing the touch wouldn't help, Charley took his hand away. Sarah was relieved and saddened at the same time. Needing to look at anything except Charley's face, Sarah unintentionally found his left hand. It was on his knee now, clenching tightly, and it reminded her of the other thing hanging between them. The timing wasn't good, but she didn't know that it ever would be for this conversation. Reaching into her pocket, Sarah took hold of the ring that Charley had carried in his, the thing that hit the floor when Weaver cut into his thigh.
"Why do you still have this?" she asked, barely able to believe what she was looking at.
Charley almost stared at the tile again, at one of the bloodspots there. Instead he kept his gaze locked on Sarah, voice as steady as he could make it. "Because I couldn't believe what James said at first, that it was all a lie."
"I know that," he assured her. "I…it was all I had left. Of you."
"I don't know why you'd want it. I left. I lied."
He'd actually tried getting rid of it more than once. Had come quite close to chucking it into the crater where the bank had been, when he first came to L.A. After he asked Michelle to marry him, he'd pawned Sarah's ring. Then paid to get it back twelve hours later. "You did," he acknowledged. "You didn't lie about everything, and I loved you. I couldn't just…turn it off, Sarah."
"And after Michelle? Cromartie?"
That was harder. Couldn't say much for him as a husband, that he'd secretly kept the engagement ring of his fiancé the terrorist. But after Michelle's death…that was almost impossible to explain, even to himself. "I couldn't just turn it off," he repeated softly.
Nodding more to herself than him, Sarah ran her fingers over the small band of gold. There were scratches, imperfections she'd never seen. She couldn't help pointing these out to him.
Charley shrugged, smiled through the pain that move brought to his shoulders and back. "I said I couldn't turn it off. Doesn't mean I didn't try." She seemed to get that answer without needing elaboration. Charley was glad. He didn't feel like telling her that he'd almost thrown the ring in the thermite pit she'd set up in his old garage. Or that he'd almost tossed it in the ocean a time or three..
"You know we can't get married."
"I know." He assumed this was her way of asking why he'd been carrying the thing, not that he had an answer for that either. He'd found it in one of his bags when they moved and just…hadn't put it back. He wasn't sure why, except that things had been going well between them for a long time now. Despite what was happening with John and everything else, between them, things had been good. There'd be no marriage, he hadn't planned on asking. All the names they went through, what would be the point? Still, he'd kept the ring with him since they moved in here.
Sarah nodded again, studied the ring further. She'd taken it from him because he'd been a statue at the hospital, wouldn't even close his fingers around the band. It'd been easier to grab it herself, say a few quick commands and get them both out of there. Now, with more reluctance than she would've expected, she held the ring out to him.
"No," he said, closing her fingers around the ring. "It's yours."
"I gave it back."
"Because you wanted to?"
Sarah had no response for that one.
"I gave it to you. You do what you want with it."
A moment's pause. Then, "I really did want to marry you."
"I'd hope so," he said, bringing her knuckles to his lips.
A few more beats of indecision, then Sarah extricated her fingers from his, giving the ring one last look before pocketing it again, resolving to stash it somewhere safe. It was the symbol of everything that'd been good about her relationship with Charley and until now, Sarah hadn't realized just how much she'd missed it.
"You missed dinner," John observed. Charley had just entered the kitchen, and John watched the older man carefully from his place at the counter.
"I'll grab some leftovers later," Charley replied, very aware of the scrutiny he was under. He'd changed into warmer clothes that hid the bruises Sarah insisted needed ice packs "I'm fine, John," he said, hoping to sound reassuring.
"Are you?" John asked. He hadn't seen the man in hours, and used thirst as an excuse to get up and examine him more closely.
Charley's smile was wry but real as he moved aside so John could access the cabinets. "Getting there," he amended.
Nodding, John grabbed a glass and went to the fridge, emerging with a carton of juice. Setting both on the counter, he turned to face Charley, unable to wait any longer. "What did she say to you?" he asked. "What exactly did she say to you that was worth cornering you like that?"
Charley closed his eyes, hating the necessity of this. Reciting the message wasn't hard though. It would be etched in his brain for a long, long time. So he told John what Weaver said about Cromartie, about being deceived. About how someone else would die if he let himself be deceived again. He didn't know how much the message was eating at him until he had time to calm down and take it in, until he was saying it aloud. "You were with her in the future."
"Sometimes," John hedged, "Briefly." He shouldn't have asked. There'd been no choice, but he shouldn't have asked.
"Yeah. But you saw things, I mean…you have any idea what that's about? Why she directed it at me?"
John poured from the carton, putting his back to Charley. He gripped the glass tightly, but his hands still shook a little. "No," he lied, keeping his voice perfectly level. "Not a clue."