The light cast from the single naked bulb that hung over the table washed the room in a dim, yellow glow. The bright spots that shifted with a slight circular swing directly above didn’t seem to bother her, and she didn’t look up when the door scraped open. She didn’t seem to take notice of him at all as he stepped into the room, dragging his feet and dropping a dirty canvas bag on the ground next to the bed roll.
“How did it go?” She didn’t so much as tilt her head in acknowledgement when he addressed her.
“I should be asking you the same question.” Her eyes never left the schematics on the table in front of her.
“Mission complete.” His voice was low and rough, full of weariness and what should have been the relief that went along with his words. She finally looked up to find him closing his eyes, shutting some unknown trouble out along with the meager lighting of the small room. Against the backdrop of gray-brown concrete walls, dingy sparse furniture, and the scattered pieces of computer equipment, the tattered John Connor looked like he belonged. Part of the mismatched, broken-but-not-quite-repaired scenery.
When he lowered himself none too gently into the small squeaky arm chair, his sigh was almost a grunt. Duct tape was all that seemed to be keeping the thing together, his weight not doing it any favors. She eyed the tape on the arm rest for a moment before fixing her gaze on him once more.
“We lost Benson,” he whispered as he laid his head back. Eyes that saw no expression on her face drifted up to the ceiling where they stayed while her attention returned to the stack of papers in front of her.
A few minutes later, amid the near-silence that bore only the sounds of breathing and rustling paper, he coughed, jerking upright, but still warranting no response from her. Standing up, he shrugged out of most of his jacket before walking the three steps over to the bowl that served as a sink. John leaned over and splashed water on his face, the jacket discarded on the floor behind him.
She watched him now as he rubbed his neck, still bent over the basin, her eyes taking in and cataloging every movement. He rubbed his forehead, turned his head from side to side, and raked his hand through hair that hadn’t known shampoo in weeks. A button popped off as he unbuttoned his shirt, and while his eyes followed its roll and eventual stop at the wall, he carefully laid the shirt over the back of a chair, smoothing out the fabric, minus one button. As he swatted at the patches of dirt clinging to his pants below the knees, she followed the rhythm of his hands and the shadows they made, keeping time even after he straightened up and found his eyes meeting hers.
“I’ve replaced Benson in the watch rotation.” He made no move, no acknowledgment at first. Then he smiled.
“Watch rotation,” he said flatly and taking an audible breath. “Practical. That’s you. Miss Details 2027.”
“Yes. That’s me.”
He laughed. “How is it that you still can’t tell when I’m being sarcastic? I should upgrade your speech interpretation software.”
There was a knock at the door. John stepped back farther away from the single light and joined the darkness in the corner. She crossed the small room and pulled the metal door open enough to let in a few inches of light and the blonde head of a soldier. One more step back and he was against the wall, sliding down into a sitting position, feet flat on the ground and knees pointed towards the ceiling, practically blending into the concrete. He watched as she spoke to the boy and took a file from his hands. Nodding her head twice, he heard her say, “Dismissed,” before pushing the door closed once more.
“The RDC report came through. It’s taken care of,” she said, standing in front of him, the bulb over the table backlighting her and casting her face in shadow. He nodded and put a hand up to rub his neck.
“Who did you put on watch? In Benson’s place?”
“Do I know him?”
“She’s a recent recruit. Bedell pulled her out of a tunnel two weeks ago.” A tremor shook the room for a few seconds. John didn’t even bother to hold onto anything anymore. Muffled voices shouting from behind the thick door made the silhouette standing in front of him incline her head toward the sound for a moment, draping one half of her face in the light.
“Food,” was her only explanation. She was once again a complete dark outline as she let him draw his own conclusions about the fight over food that was breaking up down the hall.
“Bedell found her?” Back on topic like nothing happened, she simply nodded. “Please tell me she’s actually held a gun before.”
“Good.” He let his forearms rest on his knees and leaned his head against the wall. “We don’t need another Kendall on our hands.” He closed his eyes for a moment and found her unmoved when he opened them. “Would you not stand there like that? Sit. Please.”
She took a seat on the bed roll perpendicular to his spot against the wall, her fully illuminated face staring straight ahead. They let the silence and stillness take the room as he put his head in his hands and concentrated on simply breathing. After a few moments, he looked up and found her unpacking his dusty bag.
“Cameron, leave it.” He put a hand out in her direction. “You don’t have to… I mean, it can wait.” Her hands stopped moving and he looked into her eyes. “Actually, I need you to do something for me.”
She nodded. “I need you to go find Pete Benson’s sister. I think she’s camping in one of the eastern tunnels.” He paused and rubbed his face, laughing nervously. “God, I can’t even remember her name.”
“Mindy,” he said, casting his eyes to the floor. “Tell her… God, she shouldn’t have to find out from just anybody.” He sighed. “Tell her…” he groped for words.
“Tell her?” she asked with a tilt of her head.
“Tell her he died saving my life,” John conceded, looking up at her again. “Tell her Pete was a hero. Say her brother will be missed.” He paused and took a shaky breath. “Say you’re sorry.”
“Sorry? For what?” she said flatly.
“Sorry for her loss. You say you’re sorry for her loss.” They stared at one another for a moment and she tilted her head to the right. “It’s just something you say when someone dies. It’s a sympathy thing. Lets them know you understand. That you care.” Frowning slightly, he watched her head tilt back to the left. “You don’t have to mean it. You just have to say it.”
He made a noisy production of getting to his feet, groaning and rubbing his back as he straightened up. Following suit, she stood quickly and watched him as he walked over to the table to rifle through the papers illuminated on it. He unfolded a map and leaned over it, his head casting a round shadow from the bulb above. After a few seconds, he turned his head back towards where she was still standing, listening.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
He straightened up and faced her. “No. You have to say it to Benson’s sister.”
“Mindy,” she corrected.
“Mindy. Say it to her.”
“But I’m sorry for your loss.”
“My loss?” He shifted from foot to foot and crossed his arms.
“Pete Benson was your friend.” She took a step towards him. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
He stared at her and narrowed his moist eyes before letting a warm smile take over his whole face. “Thank you, Cameron.” John looked down at the floor, still smiling to himself, and let his arms drop to his sides. “Now go find Mindy before the tunnel talk gets to her first.”
“I’ll tell her I’m sorry.” The light over the table swung with the slight tremor that barely shook the room, bathing John in light for every other fraction of a second. He watched her walk to the door and reach for the handle.
“Cameron.” She turned to look back at him. “You should say it,” and she nodded, “but try to mean it.”
He watched her open the door and walk through it. A second later it closed, and he listened to her steps fading down the hallway until he couldn’t hear them anymore.