Chapter: 12.5 - Interlude - Part I
Summary: Hers is only one of many: stories, lives, pasts and futures. Cameron Phillips' life is a coil, a twist of time unraveling, the end chasing the beginning. Cameron origin fic.
She needs a shower. She also needs to eat. There's a whole list of things she needs to do, but somehow she can't quite make herself leave his bedside for longer than it takes to travel the distance to and from the lavatory. Her teeth feel a little grimy and rough against her tongue; she scrubs them with a finger dipped in tepid, cloudy water while trying not to stare at the hollow smudges under her eyes in the cracked mirror fused to the wall. (She glares at her reflection anyway, because the world ended but there's still room for vanity.)
He's still sleeping when she resumes her post, stiff limbs folding back into the rigid angles of the only chair they could spare.
She doesn't take his hand from where it rests at his side, half-closed and nearly colourless against the dingy not-quite-white of infirmary bedsheets. She doesn't whisper platitudes to unconscious ears, doesn't lean against his shoulder where it sticks out over the edge of the narrow bed. She doesn't cry either.
She falls asleep with her arms crossed and her feet resting on the tiny bit of free space at the end of his bed. She wakes up cramped and aching and oh god, her neck might actually be stuck -
Her neck unsticks with a nasty sounding crack and it feels almost as good as the smile she can't quite stop from twitching onto her lips. “Hey.”
“You look like shit.” His voice is thin and rasping, as painful as the dry red-rimmed eyes that are finally, finally open.
“Don't look so good yourself.”
“Yeah, but what's your excuse?” His mouth moves in a way that she can picture exactly what expression he's trying – and failing – to make. Her eyes burn with saline and there's something inside of her chest that's finally relaxing for the first time in months.
His lips are cracked and rough and it's a fleeting touch that barely qualifies as a kiss, but when she rests her cheek against the cool corner of his pillow, their skin touching just enough to extend their awareness around the other, it feels so damned good that she doesn't notice the tears that run warm and slow into the threadbare cotton. I missed you is what she doesn't say but he hears anyway.
The harsh, wracking sound of his coughs bounce off the steel walls, twisting in the sharp angles and echoing off-key. His body sinks into the worn mattress, drained just from the effort of breathing. It would be pathetic if he wasn't so tired.
“Hello, John.” He can just about see Toby standing guard at the door before it closes behind her; still standing in exactly the same spot, which is expected and all, but it seems like machines should have some kind of equivalent to a muscle cramp, creaky joints maybe, but considering they can regrow skin all on their own, maybe –
“How are they?”
“The same.” When humanity is on a downward spiral, the same means worse. Worse is dying out, decaying; a secret on the verge of being divulged. “We found them.”
“We found them.” She deposits – because dump, toss, drop are words that don't convey the precision with which she does so – an unavoidably tattered stack of papers on his – their, her – desk. (As it turns out, there's only so many times you can re-process, re-bleach, re-constitute paper before it starts getting a little less than pristine.) So the charts, maps, reports spill over despite her.
But she has his attention. He pushes the fatigue away, himself out of bed, the urge to cough down, and pretends neither of them notice that his hands aren't quite steady when she hands him the first of the lot. The equator is a comfortingly familiar line bisecting the page; x marks the spot.
“Just where you thought, then. Good to know habits transcend universes.”
“Good to know.” She gives him exactly nine minutes to read the brief, which means his eyes have just reached the end of the last sentence when she speaks again. “How should we proceed?”
For a few moments, there's only the sound of his breathing, laboured and coarse and he hates how he can feel her measuring the rise and fall of his chest, analyzing the soundwaves for the crackle of fluid. He hates this even more: “Can we trust them?”
“I don't know, John. The memories you extracted are incomplete.”
He knows this. He knows and it's threatening to burst out of him, how much he hates the way she reminds him as if it's dementia that's plaguing him, the way humanity can't seem to let go of their stupid faith in him, the way this future is crumbling.
“If the relays are ready, make contact,” is all he says instead, and doesn't manage to suppress the next fit before she leaves.
Seeing gets spotty and it feels like his bones are rattling with every cough. When it's over, her seat is vacant and he's leaning on her just enough to make him feel like he might fall over if she moves. The thought makes him nauseated; he tightens his muscles in response, forces his body to do what he tells it and right now, that's to not need anyone else just to function. Fucking pathetic.
He sits upright, rigid with effort, and tells himself that he'll stand in a minute and leave this godforsaken room (he will), tells himself that he doesn't feel lonely as hell feeling her fingers stroking the back of his neck (he does).
(It's one of those days.)
She wishes they would just extract her already. She's sick of the war, sick of being hungry and tired and dirty, sick of humanity. Whining, whinging, weak humanity. But she hasn't thought of herself as human in years and suppresses the impatience until it's a tiny knot tucked somewhere behind her heart.
This is how to be strong. And she is. She's stronger than any of them, better than any of them. Better than even Connor, revered for the illusion of insight that comes from time and knowing, because Connor is weak and she is strong and knowing isn't his alone. She wields hers with precision.
The transmission is complete by the time her meal rotation begins and the crew of the Jimmy Carter is easy enough to spot in the half-filled mess hall. Someone pulls up a chair when she pauses at the head of their table, tray in hand and half-smile in request. Names make their way around mouthfuls of food and she'll pretend to forget them at first because faults are disarming. She's very good at disarming.
She tosses her conspicuous hair back and her smile lights up her freckled face when the introductions come full circle: “Savannah Weaver.”
“Was it him, then? Was it Fischer?”
Derek clenches his jaw so tightly she can feel it where their heads touch. “Yeah, it was him.”
“That fucking bastard. Traitorous little piece of shit.” Her hands are gesturing wildly in her agitation and it's a mix of deftness and luck that he manages to catch them before she smacks him by accident.
“Hey. Hey. It was already a tiny bed with just me on it and I'm already beat up enough, so stop flailing.”
Jesse twists in his arms and presses a dry kiss to his rough, stubbly chin in apology. “I'm going to kill him.”
His hand slides up her side, feeling the ridge of every rib and the unnatural smoothness of tiny near-invisible scars, until his thumb finds the curve of her breast, stroking the soft unblemished skin absently. “You'd have to find him first.”
“Oh, I will.” She catches his bottom lip between her teeth, nips and soothes the tender flesh with her tongue when he hisses. One slender arm comes up around his head, a pointy elbow just touching the soft spot in his shoulder; in another minute she'll pin him down and toss her hair over one shoulder and smirk and kiss and stroke and grind until he begs – he's smiling, just a little, in anticipation.
Her short nails scrape along scars, old and new, finding the marks even where they can't quite be seen; she knows them.
“I'm going to kill him,” she breathes against him.
He knows the sharp angle of her hips, the sloping line of her back, the fierceness in her warm eyes; all soft and hard is how he knows her. “I love you.”
She hides her smile in a kiss, but he can feel the tiniest curve of lips against his. It's stupid, but he feels like laughing.
“Sophie, your mother's here!” The older woman smiles in a way that's half apology and half amused, kids – what can you do?
“Sophia.” Savannah's voice cuts through the din to the ears of a under-sized girl, and why not – it's been the difference between life and death too many times in her six (and a half) years to be ignorable now. “Come here.”
She obeys, of course. She likes the child centre and she thinks the other kids are mostly okay, but she never resents the end of the day. Mom's hand is cool and dry and when it tightens around her smaller one, she feels the familiar mantle of protection settle invisibly around her. Rule 1: Nothing is safe, Sophia. Nothing except for Mom and the space under her bed. But she never says that out loud.
She waves a silent goodbye to Miss Kathleen, who has the ugly line in her forehead again which is okay because most people don't seem to like Mom very much anyway. No one stops them on the way and she stays silent until they reach the family living network. She has to tilt her head far back enough to make her neck hurt to look him in the face: “Hello, Nathaniel.”
The guard's lips stretch in a way that she's known him long enough to recognize as a smile on an otherwise unexpressive face; Nathaniel is a cyb and Mom says that the rest of the motors or something in his face are broken. (She's still working up the courage to ask if it hurts.) “Hello, Sophia.”
It's two steps before she feels the tug on her hand and realizes that Mom isn't moving.
Mom shakes her head, making her long ponytail swish. “Nothing yet. Have you found a messenger?”
“Yes. A captain.”
“Is he true?”
“He recognizes the necessity.”
“Fine. I'll tell them.” Mom glances at her, just for a second. “If they go back, I'll need her delivered.”
“It won't be a problem.”
Sophia wonders who her is.
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