Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Disclaimer: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is not mine...though since Fox appears to be dropping it, rightfully it should be up for grabs.
Summary: Slightly alternate time-line, Riley lives...Cameron's glitch continues to make itself known, and Sarah...well Sarah gets to learn what it's like to be in John's shoes...in more ways than one.
AN: Many thanks as always to inspectorboxer, for her input and advice on the ending, and to revolos55 for the grammar beta
Chapter one / Chapter two / Chapter three / Chapter four / Chapter five, part one / Chapter five, part two /Chapter six
For Sarah, morning did not so much break as hit the floor with the damp squelch of a wet towel. She fought her way out of a drug-thickened sleep only to lay back and wonder why she’d bothered waking up at all. The day stretched out in front of her with all the promise of a dried-out corpse, and it was only habit and grim determination that forced her out of bed and onto her feet to face it.
She got dressed on autopilot, choosing her clothing by the simple expediency of taking whatever came to hand first. A shower was far beyond her capabilities before coffee, and she managed her teeth only because she was fairly certain that morning breath would seriously undermine her authority.
A glance at the clock in the hallway revealed that she had slept in. Way in. It was only a few minutes short of ten, and Sarah could hear the sounds of people moving around and talking downstairs, mingled with the overly enthusiastic commentary of a morning radio show.
The volume increased as Sarah made her way down the staircase, using the railing and watching her feet carefully so that she wouldn’t miss a step. By the time she got to the bottom, she could distinguish Riley and Lauren’s bright tones, and John’s slightly deeper replies. It sounded like the kids had gotten themselves up.
Feeling every year her age, and a few more thrown in just for kicks, Sarah shuffled into the kitchen, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the sudden glare of the eastward windows.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” John quipped, sliding out of his chair and heading for the coffee maker.
“Hmm…” Sarah couldn’t quite bring herself to use the word ‘morning,’ let alone put a ‘good’ in front of anything at the moment. Looking around the room she squinted and blinked, rubbed at her eyes, and blinked again. The scene didn’t change. The kitchen looked like the apocalypse had been and gone, and left its friends behind.
Dirty dishes overflowed the sink, the counters were covered with cooking ingredients; bags of flour and sugar, an open carton of eggs, and various bottles jars and packages. Mixing bowls smeared with batter, cutlery, spatulas and spoons littered every available surface, and even the floor bore the carnage of a baking experiment gone horribly wrong.
At first glance, Sarah didn’t see any evidence of an actual product of this nightmare, so she could only assume that whatever had been made, it had already been either consumed or deemed inedible. She would have guessed the latter, but experience had taught her that teenage boys will eat almost anything, so she presumed that John at least had benefited from the experience.
“What…?” Sarah trailed off.
Lauren looked up from her spot at the table. She was sitting in front of Cameron, who was actually on the table, with
Riley sat down at the other end of the table, a pile of magazines and cosmetics spread between her and Cameron. She had clearly been in the middle of trying out some of the tips in the latest issue of Flare, and of all the people in the room, she was the only one who had the grace to look abashed.
“Wait.” Sarah held up a hand when it looked like Lauren was going to speak. “I don’t want to know… I just don’t.”
John pressed a cup of coffee into her hands with a characteristically sheepish grin and she managed a tight lipped smile in response. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t see this,” she said, chucking him lightly under the chin. “Try to clean it up before I’m all the way awake. I’m going outside.”
She paused as she passed Lauren and Cameron. The terminator glanced up almost guiltily, as if she expected Sarah to take her to task for being a part of the madness.
Sarah nodded at the baby in Cameron’s lap. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
Cameron looked down at the smiling
Sarah felt like the world’s worst curmudgeon. Presented with what was, objectively, an adorable domestic scene, she was inexplicably made crankier. Why shouldn’t Cameron enjoy playing with a baby and getting her nails painted? Because she‘s a deadly and potentially unstable machine. Sarah’s cold logic pointed out. But it was more than that. With her usually indomitable will blunted, Sarah could admit that she was jealous of the terminator’s apparent levity. Faced with the possibility of imminent destruction, Cameron was managing to live in the moment, while Sarah could barely put one foot in front of the other.
It was irrational, and completely ridiculous, but she felt oddly left out.
Suppressing the urge to drag Cameron down with her, Sarah shrugged and left them to their fun. She took her coffee out to the porch, and it was there that she found the only other person it the house who might be feeling more wretched this morning than she was.
Derek sat on the porch swing, his feet up on the railing, a rifle leaning against his legs and a beer in his hand. He looked like a gun toting redneck and it cheered Sarah up immensely.
“Little early for that isn’t it?” she asked, indicating the beer.
“You saw them in there?” Derek asked in turn, taking a swig off his bottle. He looked up to see Sarah’s nod and he shook his head. “It’s not too early.”
Sarah took some petty joy in the fact that she was not the only one whose equilibrium had been shaken by a group of teenagers, and one cyborg, facing down the end of the world with baking, magazines and nail polish.
Derek reached down beside him and retrieved another beer, holding it up to Sarah without a word.
Tempted, but unwilling to drown her worries in alcohol before noon at the very earliest, Sarah waved the offer off with a regretful smile. “Thanks,” she said honestly. “But I’ll stick with my coffee.”
“Suit yourself.” Derek set the bottle back down on the porch.
Sarah stood for another few breaths, but in the end, she chose convenience over pride and took a seat next to Derek on the swing. They sat in silence while Sarah sipped at her coffee, and Derek drained one beer and started in on another. The last dregs were cold in the bottom of Sarah’s cup when Derek finally spoke.
“Last night…” he started haltingly. “Last night there were a lot of things said. Things that didn’t need saying.”
Sarah waited, sensing that he wasn’t finished.
Derek took another swallow and stared at his boots as if they could deliver him. “We were all upset. People do and say things they don’t mean when shit like that goes down.” He dropped his feet down from the railing and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, eyes on the beer cradled in his hands. “I’m not saying that I agree with you, about everything, or anything… but we’re all here for John, and I forgot that. He needs us to stand together, not tear each other down.”
Sarah sat very still, letting Derek’s disjointed confession sink through her lethargy and ease some of the anxiety gnawing on her soul. She knew better than to think that this meant he was going to stop fighting her decisions, but something indefinable that had been awry between them settled back into place, and she felt lighter for it. Theirs would always be an uneasy alliance, but they had the same goal, and they could work in the same harness so long as they both remembered that.
“Thank you,” Sarah said sincerely, and “How’s Jessie doing,” she asked because if Derek could bend, then so could she.
“Still out of it.” He shrugged. “But she ate a little, and she’s taking the antibiotics and painkillers.”
“Good…” An awkward silence followed her comment, and Sarah wracked her reluctant brain for something to extend the fragile peace between them. Her eyes alighted on a stack of real estate printouts and flyers piled carelessly on the deck beside the half-empty case of beer. “Were you looking at those?” she asked.
Derek followed her gaze and picked up the papers, flipping through them with his thumb. “Yeah,” he confirmed. “A few of them are promising. I thought I might go and take a look at one or two today.”
Seeing an opportunity to clear the house so that she and John could have a heart to heart about Cameron, Sarah nodded. “You should. Take the girls with you…” She smiled wryly. “They need something to do.”
“Hah,” Derek laughed. “And you want your kitchen back.”
“There is that…” Sarah sighed. “I’ll keep John and Cameron here. I want John to scan the net for anything in the news about the fight at the halfway house yesterday.” She didn’t need to give a reason for not sending Cameron with him. They both knew neither Derek nor Cameron would mind being separated.
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Sarah promised.
John recognized that tone. It was the tone his mother reserved for those moments in which he had screwed up more spectacularly than usual, and it conveyed disgust and disappointment in equal measures.
“Sort of…” he hedged, rubbing the back of his neck. “I thought it was just her arm at first.”
“At first?” Sarah bit the words off, her expression suggesting his explanation had better be damned good. “And when you figured out it was something else?”
John dropped down onto the double bed, and looked at his shoes. “I didn’t want to worry you.”
He glanced up to see his mother close her eyes and take a deep breath. She was standing just inside her bedroom door. She’d brought him there as soon as Derek and the girls had cleared the driveway, and proceeded to grill him about Cameron’s twitching.
John shifted uncomfortably on the bed, picking at the comforter and scuffing the carpet with the toe of his sneakers. This was always the worst part. He knew she wanted to yell, and also that she wouldn’t. Not that his mother didn’t yell; she was perfectly capable of tearing into him at a moments notice, and expecting him to take it. But that was only when she was scared. Any other time, she held her temper in careful check, too careful. Her calm frightened John far more than her fury.
He wondered sometimes, what it cost her to swallow all of that rage. Rage against Skynet, against the machines, against the world for getting in her way, and against him for not being as hard, as driven, as she was.
“John,” Sarah began, and her voice was soft. “You can’t keep hiding secrets like this from me.” Opening her eyes, she crossed the room, sitting beside him on the bed. “Even if you’re trying to protect someone… I need to know what’s going on, so I can protect you.”
“You keep secrets,” John protested, turning to face his mother, watching as she held back her first response to the accusation, her jaw clenching and releasing.
“I don’t keep secrets that can hurt you,” she said finally, reaching out to brush a hand over his hair.
John kept his opinions about that to himself. He was well aware that his mother would tell him only what she thought he needed to know and nothing else.
“Is that why we’re talking about this now?” he asked instead. “You think Cameron will hurt me?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah admitted, surprising him. He had half-expected her to say that she had the thermite and the pliers waiting, and would he please go and fetch Cameron for her last rites.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” John asked warily. “You always know.”
“I mean,” Sarah answered carefully. “That we need to think about this… I want you to talk to her, look at her chip. See if it can be fixed.”
“And if it can’t?” John was aware that his shoulders were stiffening and his jaw was taking on a mulish tilt, but he couldn’t help it. He had his mother’s stubborn streak, and it came out at the worst times.
Indecision, and something almost like guilt passed over Sarah’s face. Standing abruptly, she ran her hands through her hair and paced the room. Jerking around to face him, she crossed her arms defensively. “I promised her I’d end it myself,” she confessed, her voice raw.
John stared. “You talked to her about this?” he asked, shocked. “And you threatened to kill her?”
“No.” Sarah shook her head. “I mean yes… I talked to her, but it was a promise not a threat. She asked…”
“She asked you to kill her?”
“She knows it might be necessary,” Sarah snapped, her eyes wounded. “Her mission is to protect you, even if that means her death.”
“Just like you?” John growled, surging to his feet. “I don’t want anyone else dying for me!” He hated how alike they were, Cameron and his mother. Keeping secrets, thinking they knew what was best for him, even insisting on dying for him, as if their own lives meant nothing compared to his. What was the point of saving humanity in four years, if cost the lives of the people he loved right now?
“Too bad.” Sarah was unmoved by his explosion. “Your job is to survive; ours is to make sure that you do.”
John wondered if his mother realized she was grouping herself and Cameron together, using words like death in reference to the destruction of a machine. He doubted it. “So you’ll kill her?”
There and gone again, almost too quickly to identify, Sarah’s mouth contracted in some remembered pain. “Only if I have to,” she insisted.
John nearly didn’t believe her. He hadn’t forgotten the last time there had been a question of fixing Cameron or burning her. For all of her sympathy, Sarah had been immovable, merciless. But there was something in her eyes, something in the brief flash of pain he had seen that made him think things might be different this time. The way she had handled Cameron’s threat against Jessie… there seemed to be a kind of understanding between the two of them now, one that hadn’t been there before.
John hadn’t forgotten the change he had made to Cameron’s programming, or the reason he had done it. If there was even a chance that it was working, that Sarah was letting Cameron take on some of her burden, then he had to trust that it would be enough to save the terminator.
“You promise that you’ll let me try to fix her?”
She didn’t want to, he could see it in the way that she glanced aside and gritted her teeth, but eventually she nodded. “I will... but if you can’t, then you have to let me do what needs to be done.”
“Deal.” John stuck out his hand, and with a tight-lipped smile, Sarah accepted it. They shook once, and John was struck by the realization that despite their positions, this was the first time in a long time that it felt like they were on the same side.
Cameron looked back and forth between Sarah and John. “You wish to terminate me?” she asked, with the slightest tremble to her voice that made Sarah’s heart drop down to her shoes.
“No,” she cut into John’s explanation, leaning forward over the table. “We just need to look at your chip, to see if John can fix it.”
Cameron raised a hand to finger the hair over the access port in her metal skull. “You will put it back?”
John hastened to reassure her, but he fell silent at Sarah’s sharp glance. “We will… but Cameron, he might not be able to even see what’s wrong, or fix it if he does.” Sarah paused, finding this harder than she had thought it would be under the girl’s strangely vulnerable brown-eyed stare. “We need to talk about what happens if…” Sarah literally couldn’t continue, and she cursed the unexpected swell of pity that wouldn’t let her speak the bare truth they all knew.
“If I’m broken,” Cameron finished for her, refusing to drop her gaze. “You promised…”
“I know,” Sarah agreed. “No one else will touch it.”
Cameron nodded. “You will let me say goodbye to John?” She glanced at the boy, and Sarah couldn’t deny the affection she saw in those cybernetic eyes.
Sarah swallowed hard, wishing more with every minute that Cameron had never told her about her damned chip problems, or that Jessie had kept her mouth shut. Then they wouldn’t be having this conversation, and she would not have given a promise to a machine that made her feel like a murderer. Because it would be murder. Sarah could no longer hide behind words like deactivate, destroy, terminate, and pretend they didn’t mean the same thing where Cameron was concerned.
“Yes,” she managed finally. “But we have to get this done now. If Derek gets wind of any of it, he’ll be out for blood, and not just yours… or whatever it is that you use for blood.”
“I’m ready.” Brown eyes locked on Sarah’s, and the unmistakable trust she saw there stole the breath from her lungs.
John cleared his throat, making Sarah jump, and breaking the moment. Feeling the back of her neck heat, she dropped her gaze, struggling with a rising sense of embarrassment that didn’t seem to have any readily definable source. She shrugged off John’s questioning look and he shook his head.
“Can we not assume that I’m going to fail please?” he asked. “Just for fun, let’s try being optimistic for once.”
Sarah snorted and slanted a glance at Cameron, seeing her own amusement mirrored there. “Why not,” she agreed, a smile in her voice. “What do you say, Tin Miss, feeling lucky?”
“Luck: an unknown and unpredictable phenomenon that causes an event to result one way rather than another,” Cameron recited. “To feel lucky is to have a feeling of unexpected good fortune…” She tilted her head, pondering. “It seems irrational.”
John rolled his eyes and Sarah grinned. “That’s my girl,” she teased, and this time she completely missed John’s sidelong look of surprise, entirely distracted by Cameron’s smile.
They chose Sarah’s room. Jessie was still in John’s, and Cameron’s own had been fully claimed by the other girls. If anything went wrong, then Sarah’s bedroom was considered sacrosanct, and they could count on hiding Cameron there indefinitely.
John took several trips back and forth, bringing in his computer equipment and setting it up. He’d be using the same game platforms to analyze Cameron’s chip that he had used on Vick’s, but this time he’d give it enough juice to let Cameron help him. It was the only way for her to be able to get a physical look at her own chip, and hopefully between the two of them, they could figure out what the problem was.
His mother was hovering, unable to help, but refusing to go away and let him get it done. He sent her after a couple of surge protectors and some extension cords, just to get a little breathing room to work.
Cameron was out doing a last perimeter check before she allowed herself to be switched off. John could tell that it was worrying her, leaving them defenceless, but there wasn’t an alternative. She’d admitted that her own diagnostics could be flawed, so the chip had to be looked at, and he couldn’t do that with it still inside of her head.
John was trying not to think about what he was going to do if the chip was damaged beyond repair. He knew that Cameron would side with Sarah, but he wasn’t sure if he could actually bring himself to hand her chip over and watch his mother destroy it. The very thought made him ill. Cameron wasn’t just a friend… she was the big sister he’d never had, always looking out for him, nagging him and embarrassing him. He could admit that he was attracted to her, who wouldn’t be? But Riley was a much saner focus for that part of his life, or so he’d instructed his teenaged libido. Mostly, it listened.
“Is it ready yet?” His mother was back, holding out the requested cords with a look of impatience.
“Almost,” John assured her, turning to take the cords and weave them into the system he had running from the table they’d set up beside the bed. “Is Cameron back?”
“She’s just checking the locks.” Sarah shifted restlessly. “How long is this going to take?”
John sighed, fitting the last plug into the back of his laptop. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “It depends on what we find. It could take an hour, or all day.”
“Hmm…” Sarah leaned over his shoulder as John sat down and switched everything on.
“Could you watch from a little farther away please?” he asked. “This is kind of complicated, and I don’t need you looming.”
His mother snorted, but she backed off, sitting on the edge of the bed. She was used to playing the spectator in these situations. Finding out that a computer system is destined to send robotic assassins after your son kind of takes the shine off of them. John could sympathize, but knowing his fate only made him more fascinated by technology, not less.
They both looked up as Cameron padded into the room, her face a neutral mask and a switchblade in her hand. “The perimeter is secure,” she intoned flatly, crossing to the bed and handing Sarah the knife.
John watched without a word as his mother shifted so that Cameron could climb onto the bed and lay on her back, arms at her side. When she was settled, Sarah slid closer, one leg curled underneath her and the other hanging over the side of the bed, her foot resting on the floor. She raised the knife and Cameron turned her head obligingly, closing her eyes.
Sarah set the point of the blade to Cameron’s head, but there she froze, her fingers shaking. Opening her eyes when the expected cut didn’t come, Cameron looked up at Sarah.
“It’s okay,” Cameron reassured her. “I have adjusted my pain receptors. I won’t feel it.”
John saw his mother nod, but her hand didn’t move. Taking pity on her, he left his chair and took the knife out of her fingers. “I’ll do it,” he offered, and walked around to sit on the other side of the bed so that he could reach Cameron more easily.
It wasn’t anything like the last time he had done this. That had been a definitive mission. There had been no question of whether or not Cameron would be getting up again. This time it felt like torture.
Cameron shivered as John began the cut, and he wondered if she had lied to his mother about the pain receptors, or if it was fear that caused the slight trembling he could feel through the hand he had placed on her shoulder to steady himself.
Wide brown eyes slid up towards him when he folded back the half circle of scalp and hair and exposed the bloody shine of metal underneath. Shame and doubt were eating holes in his stomach, and John concentrated on the job in front of him, tying to avoid seeing the panic in those dark brown depths.
Sarah’s voice, softer than he’d heard it in a long time, broke the silence, and he glanced up to see her lay the back of her fingers against Cameron’s cheek and tilt the girl’s head towards her.
“Focus on me,” she whispered, and John blinked at the unexpected warmth in her words. He didn’t know what was passing between his mother and Cameron, but whatever it was, watching them felt like an intrusion.
A little confused, John turned his attention back to what he was doing. He wasn’t fast enough though, to miss Cameron’s hand groping across the blankets, or Sarah reaching down without looking, to take it in her own.
A lump formed in his throat and John jammed the knife tip under the circle of metal covering Cameron’s chip, flipping it off before he could think about what he was doing. The pliers were in his back pocket, and he pulled them out, clamping them around the top of the chip.
“Stay with me?” Cameron pleaded just before he twisted it loose, and Sarah nodded.
“Right here,” she answered, tightening her grip on Cameron’s hand.
Neither of them spared a glance for him as John turned his wrist and pulled, drawing the chip free and turning out the lights for the girl lying between them.