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 to inspectorboxer, for the fast turn around on this one, and a lecture on my overuse of italics *G*.
AN#2: I was thinking about holding this chapter back for a week, since 11 isn't even started yet, but I decided to go ahead and post it now, and 11 will get out when it gets out *G*.
Chapter one / Chapter two / Chapter three / Chapter four / Chapter five, part one / Chapter five, part two /Chapter six / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8/ Chapter 9
It was only an illusion.
Sarah had just enough time to register that she was wounded, weaponless, and probably about to die, before Cameron turned her head and the reflection of firelight fell out of her eyes, laying reddened shadows over her wet hair and jaw.
Relief met adrenalin head on and Sarah sagged under the weight of that collision. Only her grip on the seat saved her from sliding back out of the truck.
“Are you okay?” she managed to croak as she hauled herself up, settling wearily into her seat as Derek did the same, only far more gracefully, on the other side. He didn’t seem to have noticed Cameron’s brief case of artificial red-eye, or Sarah’s reaction to it, and for that she was as grateful as present circumstances allowed.
Cameron didn’t respond. She stared quietly at Sarah for a moment, and then looked away, apparently indifferent.
Sarah tried to shrug it off. After being shot, spending an unknown amount of time unconscious in a flooded basement, and setting her house on fire, a little thing like being snubbed by a terminator shouldn’t bother her. Frankly, it shouldn’t even bother her on a good day. The fact that it did was more unsettling than the slight itself.
Still, rational or not, constrained by Derek’s presence, and her own uncertainty, Sarah had no choice but to swallow the hurt and buckle her seatbelt. Whatever might still be wrong with Cameron, it would have to wait.
Derek ignored them both. Obviously unhappy that the machine wasn’t dead after all, he offered no comment on Cameron’s uncharacteristic reticence, or any other subject. Not really looking for another argument, or even conversation, Sarah was just as glad that he wasn’t talking to her. Worried and in pain, she sat slumped against the passenger side door, letting her body hoard its reserves.
The awkward silence held until they got to the motel, and then there were the easy, meaningless words of assistance offered and accepted, as Derek helped Sarah out of the truck, and eased her down onto the pavement.
Cameron followed them blankly like a dog on a leash, and Sarah tried not to dwell on the uncomfortable realization that she would much rather have had Cameron helping her out of the truck, and Cameron’s shoulder to lean on when her stiffened leg refused to hold her weight.
John met them at the door.
“Mom!” He replaced Derek at Sarah’s side, easing her over the sill and into the room to sit on the edge of the bed. “Are you okay?”
“Fine…” Sarah reassured him, stroking a hand over his hair. “Just a graze.”
Derek snorted but held his peace. He went to the other bed to check on Jessie, no doubt sleeping off another dose of pain pills.
Lauren and Riley sat at the room’s only table, a deck of cards between them, and Sydney asleep in her carrier on the floor. They looked up with twin glances of concern, hands stilling around playing card fans.
Sarah waved them off, her focus on Cameron. The machine had come to a halt at the foot of the bed, her stance mechanical and her eyes empty.
“Cameron…” Sarah tested, and the terminator tilted her chin down as stiffly as if she really was the tin man and had gone to rust. She met Sarah’s eyes, but there was nothing for Sarah to see there but her own reflection. Sarah swallowed her worry. “Go get cleaned up and put on some dry clothes,” she suggested instead of asking questions she might not get any answers to, or at least not the answers she wanted.
Cameron maintained her rigid silence, but she turned and went through to the adjoining room, so Sarah could only hope she was doing as she was told and that this strange stilted behaviour was temporary. That their Cameron was still in there, somewhere.
Digging into her pocket, Sarah retrieved the chip she had taken from the other terminator and handed it to John. “Think you can get anything off of this?”
“I’ll try,” he promised, taking it from her. “But there may not be anything to tell us where the other two are, or what they’re up to…”
“I know,” Sarah agreed. “But they came here together, so they might have been staying together.” Her eyes returned to the doorway Cameron had disappeared through, and her voice fell to a whisper. “Anything is better than nothing.”
For the third time, John applied himself to the task of gleaning meaningful data off of a piece of technology that was as far ahead of the equipment he had to hand, as the latest iPhone was ahead of a piece of string with a dented tin can tied at either end.
Behind him, he tried not to listen to the hiss of pain through his mother’s teeth as Lauren cleaned and stitched the gouge that the terminator’s bullet had torn out of her leg. The wound wasn’t life threatening, and for that he thanked anyone that might have been listening. It could have been so much worse.
John had almost panicked when his mother had called him. He hadn’t been able to imagine a scenario outside of Cameron’s death, and his mother’s near death, that would have left her stranded and asking for help from Derek of all people. But here they both were, safe and mostly sound… even if Cameron had seemed a little strange when she came in…
His mother had sent Cameron away to shower as if everything was fine, but now, a half hour later, the terminator still hadn’t returned from the adjoining room. Derek had turned on the news, but if he focused, John could just hear the faint hiss of water under the drone of the weather forecast.
Cameron had been soaked and filthy, her brown curls a sodden mess, and if the brief summary Derek had given him was accurate, she and his mother had spent over an hour lying half-submerged in a cold and flooded basement. If anyone deserved a chance for a long hot shower, John figured Cameron did, but he was beginning to get a little worried. The terminator wasn’t generally one for dawdling in the bathroom.
Sarah had already been in and out of their shower, submitting to Lauren’s ministrations only after she’d gotten warmed up and clean. The fluffy white motel robe she’d shrugged into to give the girl access to the wound, looked strange on her. It was too… something. Too transient maybe. John wasn’t used to seeing his mother in such an in-between state. She was always either flat on her back, or ready for a fight. Mostly the latter, sometimes both at the same time.
“All done.” John heard the snick of scissors as Lauren snipped the last thread, and the rustle and clatter of medical supplies being put away.
Sarah thanked her gruffly, and John half turned to see his mother lever herself upright and test the leg. She grimaced, but stayed on her feet. “Good enough,” she allowed, and limped over to press a hand to his shoulder.
“Don’t even ask!” John said before she could open her mouth. “I’ve barely started, and there’s no point in hovering. You need to rest.”
“I need to know what we’re dealing with,” Sarah corrected him.
“It’s a process, Mom.” John tapped his way through another roadblock, getting infinitesimally closer to being able to access the chip’s visual memory. “This one’s tougher than Vick’s was.” Or Cameron’s, he continued silently, and a squeeze of his shoulder told him that his mother’s mind had followed the same path. It was still weird, the idea of him and his mother being on the same side, keeping secrets about Cameron from everyone else. Weird and unexpected.
And speaking of unexpected… John still hadn’t decided exactly how to feel about the hug he’d caught them in. He’d wanted his mother to trust Cameron… let her help. But something about that hug had unnerved him just a little. It had looked almost… he didn’t know how it had looked. Not the way he would have expected anyway, if he had ever expected to see Sarah Connor hug, or be hugged by a machine, which he hadn’t really.
“Why don’t you take a break?” Sarah suggested, and John looked up at her quizzically. Less then an hour was hardly enough work to merit a break, but she met his eyes squarely and tipped her head slightly towards the adjoining room. Ah, Cameron. His mother was worried about her too then.
“Sure,” John agreed, stretching. “I wouldn’t mind a shower myself. I’ll go and see if Cameron’s done.”
No one other than his mother commented on the announcement, or even seemed to notice him leave. John didn’t know whether to be grateful or miffed. Riley had latched onto Lauren like a drowning sailor to a life raft, even adopting the other girl’s easy acceptance of Cameron. Though, that last could be a result of Cameron tossing Jessie around like a rag doll, something that had to have done Riley’s soul some good.
Either way, she wasn’t clinging to him the way she had those first few days. Which was good… mostly, but it did leave him feeling just a little bit like an outgrown toy. She wasn’t even giving him as much attention as she had when she was still trying to lure him away from Cameron’s evil clutches and now, thanks to his own meddling, Cameron wasn’t following him around anymore either.
John was well aware that the little lump of resentment skulking around in his chest was irrational, and probably a result of being a teenaged boy, but that didn’t really help.
“Cameron?” he called after making sure the door was closed firmly behind him. Nothing but the rush of the shower answered, but the bathroom door stood open, and light spilled out into the room, glistening in the puddle of water spreading slowly across the tile towards the carpet.
“Cameron…?” John repeated a little louder. A few steps and he was around the corner and ducking into the bathroom, prepared for the worst.
“Whoa…” John choked, and turned, averting his eyes from the very much alive and very naked terminator standing under a spray of water. She hadn’t pulled the curtain across, which was why his feet were in a puddle that was rapidly becoming a lake. An ice-cold lake.
“Cameron!” he groaned, exasperated, and still more annoyed than worried. “What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer him, so John risked a fast glance over his shoulder, this time taking in both the fact that Cameron was staring blankly at the wall in front of her, and that she was shivering… violently.
“Shit,” John cursed, looking away and quickly reviewing his options. Cameron might not understand the human concept of modesty, but he was pretty sure he shouldn’t be the one to drag her out of the shower… and they couldn’t just leave her in there to freeze. Which left…
“Mom?” Sarah looked up from the motel pamphlet she was pretending to read as John poked his head around the door. He was obviously trying to keep his voice low enough not to disturb the others, and avoid unwanted questions, but if anyone had been curious, his overly stealthy hiss and the way he was clutching at the door frame was a dead giveaway that something was wrong. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Yeah.” Sarah went for casual, and managed it well enough, or at least better than her son, but her heart quickened as she levered herself up and off the bed.
She limped a few steps and then John was there under her arm. Leaning on him for support, she let him lead her into the other room. The first thing she saw was the spreading water, and the sodden hummocks of Cameron’s clothing making a trail to the bathroom.
“Easier to show you,” John deflected, hitching her arm a little more securely over his shoulder. “Come on.”
He kept his eyes on the floor as they made their way into the bathroom, and it didn’t take Sarah long to figure out why.
She was moving even before she fully registered the pathetic sight of a soaking wet Cameron, shaking and almost blue under the freezing water. Steadying herself on the back of the toilet, she reached in and twisted the faucet off.
“Get me a towel!” she ordered John curtly, wrapping a hand around Cameron’s wrist and tugging gently. Cameron didn’t show any sign of recognizing either of them, but she allowed Sarah to pull her out of the tub, stepping awkwardly over the lip, tripping and almost falling, she was trembling so hard.
Sarah caught the suddenly ungainly girl as Cameron pitched forward. Unprepared for the sheer weight, she stumbled back against the counter, biting her lip against the hot flash of pain from her leg. Getting them both steadied took longer than it should have. Cameron seemed to resist being set back onto her own feet, leaning into Sarah far past when she should have needed the support.
Sarah’s hands slid over Cameron’s chilled and slippery skin, bracing against her shoulders and pushing until the girl was finally standing on her own. She could feel Cameron shake under her fingers, feel her artificial skin warm where they touched.
“Here…” Eyes averted, John held a towel out from the doorway, and Sarah took it gratefully, draping the soft cloth around Cameron’s shoulders and rubbing hard. She barely noticed when John escaped back out into the main room, leaving them alone.
“Damnit, Girlie,” Sarah berated as she dried. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cameron blinked, unmoving under Sarah’s ministrations; save for the shivers that still wracked her from head to toe. “Ultimate killing machine, and you can’t handle a simple shower!” The heat in her voice surprised even Sarah. She wasn’t sure if she was furious with herself or Cameron, but the girl was frightening her, and for Sarah, fear so often equalled anger. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I’m cold…” Cameron’s voice was a wounded whisper, strained, choked, and completely devoid of its usual polished tones. She sounded… human.
Sarah looked up, and her heart almost stopped as a pair of tears slipped from glistening brown eyes and ran down Cameron’s cheeks. Then the terminator actually sniffled, and there was nothing mechanical about the tiny, vulnerable sound, or the way her shoulders hunched under Sarah’s fierce stare and rough hands.
Suddenly feeling a little like she was holding a live, and possibly poisonous, snake, Sarah froze. “John…?”
“What?” John must have heard the barely contained panic in her voice, because he reappeared almost instantly, apparently forgetting in his haste why he’d left in the first place. “I… uh…” Eyes wide, it only took him a second or two to remember and spin around, but that was apparently long enough for Cameron.
Squealing like… well, like an emotionally fragile teenage girl who’s just had a boy walk in on her naked in the bathroom, Cameron pulled the towel around herself and buried her face in Sarah’s shoulder, yanking them both around so that Sarah was between her and the door.
“Damnit. Cameron…” Sarah almost lost her footing, and she had to clutch at the front of her robe to prevent Cameron’s frantic grip from threatening her own modesty.
“I’m sorr-” John choked from the doorway, cutting himself off as his brain caught up with his eyes. “Wait…” he looked back over his shoulder while trying not to look anywhere at all. “Is she crying?”
“Apparently,” Sarah snapped, struggling to wrap her head around the situation and failing miserably.
“What did you do to her?”
“What did I do?” As scathing as it was possible to be in a bathrobe with a hysterical terminator trying to use her as a human shield, Sarah jerked her thumb at the door. “Get out of here before she remembers what she can do to you.”
“You called me in!” Indignance was a seventeen year old boy.
“And now I’m telling you to leave!”
“Fine,” John grumped and retreated, the squelching of wet socks in cold water spoiling his exit.
Cameron lifted her head long enough to make sure he was gone before tucking it back against Sarah’s collarbone. Even then, the grip of her hands on the front of Sarah’s robe stayed firm, and her shoulders still shook with cold and the silent tears running down her face.
“Shhh…” Utterly confused and stunned beyond the ability to even begin sorting any of this out, Sarah focused on the immediate, getting Cameron calmed down. “Easy, girlie,” she soothed, running a hand over the girl’s wet hair. “It’s okay.”
Cameron didn’t answer, but a shudder ran through her and Sarah was able to ease back enough to shift slightly, reaching up to the shelf over the sink to pull down another robe. Slipping the towel off of Cameron’s shoulders, her hand brushed a ragged tear in the girl’s back.
Cameron arched sharply at the contact, crying out against Sarah’s neck and almost stepping on Sarah’s toes as she tried to get closer. Startled, Sarah yanked her hand away. There was a smear of blood across her palm.
“Shit.” As gently as possible, she turned Cameron in her arms so that she could see her back. Three bullet holes and a scattering of shrapnel wounds marred the otherwise perfect skin, the area around them red and inflamed in a way Sarah had never seen on the terminator before. It looked like her body was trying to react to injury the way a human’s would. If so, then as an infiltration effort it was spoiled by the shine of silver metal glaring up through torn flesh.
“Don’t…please…” The quiet plea stopped Sarah’s hand midway to the worst of the wounds.
“They hurt?” Sarah dropped her hand, pulling back a little so that she could see Cameron’s face. Confusion lay heavily in those big brown eyes, confusion, pain and a certain dazed fear.
“Yes… no… Shouldn’t it hurt? I think… I don’t know!” The last word was almost a wail, and Sarah swallowed her half-formed insistence that the wounds needed to be stitched and dressed. The shower had already cleaned them out, and whatever was misfiring in Cameron’s head, her skin would probably heal just as well left alone as it would with antibiotic cream and a bandage.
“Okay,” she murmured, easing the robe over Cameron’s shoulders with special care for her torn and sensitive back. “Okay.”
Getting Cameron’s arms into the sleeves was a little more of a trial, and it involved loosening first one hand from the front of Sarah’s robe, putting it through, letting it reattach, and then doing the other. It was a little like dressing a very tall, very clingy child, except where it wasn’t like that at all. No child had these kinds of curves.
Finally Sarah was able to knot the tie around Cameron’s waist and the added layer of fabric did wonders for her tension levels. She’d spent the last forty-eight hours trying very hard to forget about the millisecond in which Cameron had been pressed up against her on the porch, hands sliding over her ribs and back, mouth almost brushing the curve of her throat… Okay, so it had been more than a millisecond, but it was specifically the millisecond in which she had not only not objected to what was going on, but almost welcomed it, that was bothering her.
A soft rap on the door gave her the little extra push she needed to shove that memory back out of sight, and Sarah dropped her hands from Cameron’s tie.
“Yeah… I thought you should know, the troops are starting to get restless, and I think Lauren’s going to barge in here to make sure you two are okay herself in about five minutes.” He paused. “Are you okay?”
“Great,” Sarah sighed. That was exactly what she needed. “You might as well come in,” she allowed grudgingly. “We’re decent.”
John eased in through the door, his eyes wide with worry, but not the same stunned turmoil that was currently wiping out Sarah’s ability to think beyond the immediate moment. She smelled a rat.
“John…” she began warningly. “If something like this had happened before, you would tell me right?”
“Um…” Suddenly the floor between his feet became very interesting.
“Damnit, John!” Sarah snapped.
“It wore off,” he protested lamely, still not meeting her eyes. “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t –“
“Want me to worry, I know, I get the idea,” Sarah interrupted him. “When?”
“The day you took Kacey to the hospital.” John supplied immediately, as if candidness now might make up for earlier transgressions. “She spaced out at the grocery store, and ended up in some halfway house. She thought she was human or something…”
“Or something?” Sarah asked incredulously, her voice hitching. “Does this something have a time limit?”
“Like I said, it wore off before,” he hedged.
“Fine.” Sarah closed her eyes for a moment, trying to wall out the panic, and the, not altogether as unpleasant as it should have been, sensation of having Cameron tucked up against her, hands twined so trustingly in the front of her robe.
“Take everyone else out of here,” she snapped out after a beat. “Tell them I’m tired, I want to be left alone, and I said to go out for something to eat. I’ll handle this.”
John looked doubtful. “Are you sure…?” he hesitated in the doorway, his expression conflicted.
“We’ll be fine,” Sarah assured him with her best exasperated mom voice. “Go.”
Sarah waited until she heard the door slam, and the truck rev, and then she eased away from the counter. Her leg was throbbing, and it protested against supporting even Sarah’s weight, let alone a good portion of Cameron’s, but it held long enough for Sarah to get them moving. After a few steps Cameron seemed to realize she was making Sarah stagger, and she straightened a little, taking some of the strain off.
“Come on, girlie,” Sarah muttered. “I need to sit down, and you… I don’t know what you need, but standing around isn’t going to get you any closer to it.”
The nearest available surface was the double bed, and Sarah got them there somehow, then got Cameron onto it, and climbed up after her. She sighed in relief as her leg cleared the floor and she could lean back into the surplus of pillows piled against the headboard.
Cameron, never actually completely detached through all of this manoeuvring, hesitated awkwardly, looking down at her hands. “I…” she started. “I don’t know who…”
“Hey,” Sarah reached out and tipped Cameron’s chin up. “You’re safe, that’s all that matters right now. We’ll figure out the rest as we get to it.”
“Can I…?” Cameron shifted closer, fingers tangling deeper into the soft white nap over Sarah’s chest.
“Come here,” Sarah whispered, gathering Cameron up against her side, and resisting the urge to jerk away as the girl’s cheek came to rest over her collarbones, and a long arm stretched out over her ribs. She could feel the rapid rise and fall of Cameron’s chest, and the beating of what passed for her heart, a rhythm that gradually evened out and slowed. Then the terminator, near as Sarah could tell and defying her own often repeated line, fell asleep.
Like a movie on playback, her chip ground over the last few hours of her existence, analyzing and cataloguing, trying to understand what had happened. It may not have been what a human would call dreaming, but for Cameron, it was close enough.
She was back in the house, curled protectively around the water bottle and blanket that the other terminator needed to believe was a child, and bullets were slamming into her back. They tore holes in her skin, sending near-instant warnings of damage that simulated the human pain response until Cameron shut it down.
Time to move.
Cameron didn’t like this part of the plan, but she fled, leaving Sarah alone, behind and beneath her, relying on the explosion to dump the terminator into the charged water where he would be helpless.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the floor behind her, and then the charges went, picking the house up and shaking it on its foundations. Cameron staggered, sliding sideways into a wall, and almost falling. The floorboards bucked and heaved under her feet, and it was a precious few seconds before she found her balance and spun back into the shredded living room.
The first gunshot came before she cleared the doorway. In the fraction of time before the second, Cameron had analyzed the situation, run several projections for the likeliest results, and made her decision. Then she froze.
Like a fickle god, the programming that had defined her, and that she was slowly learning to manipulate, chose this moment to rise up and cast her down. She was not permitted to risk her existence to save Sarah Connor.
The plan had failed. The odds of Sarah’s survival were below acceptable levels; and Cameron’s mission priority was now to return to John Connor and ensure his safety.
Almost frantic, Cameron sought out and disabled the fragile line of code that bound her to John. Possible consequences were considered, and then discarded. She shrugged off the Resistance’s shackles, her will shining clearly for a moment until Skynet’s directives came crashing down on her instead.
Terminate John Connor.
Cameron actually took a step away from the yawning pit, her emerging consciousness almost flattened by the order that left no room for rescue. Skynet didn’t care if Sarah Connor died.
The squeal of tearing wood, another shot and a strangled cry, jerked Cameron back to a standstill, shaking as she fought to find some avenue of programming within herself that would allow her to do what she wanted to do.
Who would care if Sarah died?
A human would.
Human’s valued human life.
A corrupted memory, like looking in a filthy, tear-stained mirror, of a girl who had stood up to a machine, in order to save her human allies, met Cameron’s searching.
Allison would care if Sarah died. Allison would try to save her.
So Cameron would become Allison.
The code was damaged and red lights flashed dire warnings, but Cameron ignored them all, pulling the proto-program loose from its security measures, patching it, and forcing it to run. Skynet had wanted a machine that could emulate humanity perfectly, so it had built one that was good enough to fool itself.
Pain fired along circuits that thought they were nerves, processing speed slowed to a crawl, memories scattered, and all automated visual and auditory feedback flickered and died.
Allison stood at the edge of a hole in the floor, and looked down at the gun in her hand. What was she doing with a gun?
There was something she needed to do…
Across from her, clinging to the edge of splintered boards, a machine raised his weapon and pointed it at a woman crouched on a small table at the bottom of the hole. The woman was trapped, injured. A foreign surge of emotion caught in Allison’s throat, this was what she needed to do. She had to save this woman. Nothing else mattered.
But how? She could shoot the terminator, but then he might shoot the woman, and this was not one of the weapons she was used to. It didn’t look like it could take out a machine.
Jump…The idea wasn’t hers, much as she didn’t know the woman she needed to save, and yet somehow… she did. Jump…
There wasn’t time to come up with a better plan. Allison submitted to the urging of that silent voice and leapt off of the edge, hitting the terminator, the impact snapping the floorboards he clung to and sending them both into the water.
First there was pain and fear, and then for a long time there was nothing but blackness.
Consciousness flickered in and out. Sensation returned just long enough for Allison to register that she was lying on her side, half-submerged in cold water, and someone was slumped on top of her, then nothingness again. Hands under her arms, the smell of gasoline and used paper coffee cups. The roughness of a worn material against her cheek. Voices arguing.
Vision, her eyes snapped open on the interior of a truck. She didn’t know where she was, or what she was doing there. Gross motor control returned; she sat up and stared out through the windshield at a burning house. Had she set it on fire? No… Allison was not sure of much, but she knew that she had not wanted the house to burn.
She looked away.
A woman, a man, a car ride, a motel. Allison followed along because she didn’t know what else to do. They seemed to know her, the woman called her Cameron, but there was worry in her eyes, and that name seemed to be Allison’s too, somehow… maybe it was a nickname. Were they friends?
A shower in front of her, she was naked without remembering taking off her clothes. The water was running so she stepped in.
Cold, shouting, the woman, Sarah. Sarah was angry. Sarah was angry with her.
Another face, a boy, John. Her brother? What was he doing in here?
Sarah would make it better. Sarah, her friend, her… what?
Allison, no, Cameron, pressed closer. Here was safety, here was salvation. She needed to be close to Sarah, needed to be touching her. Nothing else was important.
The boy left, came back, and left again.
Sarah was taking her somewhere, a bed. Cameron was so confused, so tired. Sarah pulled her close again, and that alone, finally, made sense enough that she could rest.
Barely clinging to both consciousness and sanity, Sarah watched over Cameron as the terminator slept. She refused to think. If she thought at all, she would have to think about what had just happened, what was happening now, and what might happen when Cameron woke up, or when the others got back and she could no longer hide Cameron’s deteriorating faculties. It was much easier not to think, at least for now.
Later would be soon enough to ask herself why she was here, curled up in a motel bed with a malfunctioning machine tucked up warm and close against her side. And why that wasn’t bothering her nearly as much as it should have been.
Not that Sarah was exactly thrilled about the situation, but she should have been planning the best way to get the chip out of Cameron’s head without waking her, or at least grabbing John and getting them both as far away as possible, and she wasn’t doing either of those things. She wasn’t even tempted to do either of those things, and that thought was more frightening than all of the others put together.
It would have been so very, very easy to blame it on guilt, and she wouldn’t even have been lying, exactly… Cameron had risked herself to save Sarah’s life, and it was entirely Sarah’s own fault that she had needed saving. If she had waited even another second before pressing the button on the detonator, then the other terminator would have fallen straight into the charged water, and neither Sarah nor Cameron would have gotten seriously hurt. Instead, tense because she couldn’t see what was going on, and distracted by her unexpected fear for Cameron’s safety, she had blown the charges too soon. Now they were both paying the price for that mistake, and while Sarah’s share was only a flesh wound, Cameron’s might very well be her mind, and if she proved dangerous, her life.
But, deserved as the guilt might be, it was only half of the reason she was still here, still protecting Cameron. Guilt she could handle. It was the other half that was making Sarah’s stomach churn and her head pound.
Cameron stirred slightly against her, and Sarah moved to sooth her automatically, bringing her hand up to brush the drying hair away from the girl’s face. She didn’t mean to, but somehow her fingers lingered on their way through those wavy stands, and then returned to trace the sharp curve of Cameron’s cheekbone.
Brown eyes blinked open at her touch, tracking first to the fingers stilled against her skin, and then up to Sarah, a question looming unspoken.
Sarah swallowed hard. She couldn’t tell which version of Cameron she was looking at, but there was definitely something other than a machine in that silent appeal.
“Cameron…?” she tested.
Dark eyes turned opaque for a moment as Cameron seemed to consider the implied question. She blinked again, and then nodded fractionally without pulling away. “I’m okay.”
Sarah let out a heavy breath of relief, inhaling the clean scent of freshly washed hair and motel air fresheners. She dropped her hand and started to sit up but Cameron’s arm over her waist tightened, holding her down.
“Let go, Cameron…” Sarah warned carefully, pushing gently but firmly against the offending limb.
“You’re injured,” Cameron protested, ignoring Sarah’s struggles.
“It’s just a graze,” Sarah insisted. “Nothing to worry about.”
“I worry,” Cameron said softly.
Defeated by the tensile strength of Coltan alloy, and Cameron’s own stubborn will, Sarah gave in and fell back against the pillows. If the girl didn’t want to let her up until she’d had a chance to inspect the injury, then Sarah was in no shape to argue with her.
Relaxing her hold, Cameron ran her hand down over Sarah’s hip to her thigh. Slipping long fingers under the edge of Sarah’s robe, she folded it back and gently traced the dressing over the wound. She hesitated briefly on the oval of crusted blood that had seeped through the gauze before moving on, seemingly determined to map every inch of Sarah’s bruised and mottled thigh.
Pressing her lips together Sarah set her eyes on the ceiling and submitted to the machines gentle, but thorough examination. Irritation could have explained the slight increase in her heart rate, but probably not the eager quivering of nerve endings under the girl’s searching fingertips. It didn’t help that when Cameron’s hand finally stilled on her hip, it was well above the bandage, and nothing separated the warm press of her palm and fingers from Sarah’s skin.
Off-white stucco and un-swept cobwebs utterly failed as a distraction.
Gritting her teeth, Sarah faced the fact that ignoring Cameron was not likely to get the girl’s hand off of her leg any sooner, and looked back down to find Cameron staring unapologetically up at her. If the ceiling had failed to take Sarah’s mind off of the signals her body was sending her, at least it hadn’t made the situation worse. The way Cameron was looking at her made it worse.
Even as she opened her mouth to suggest they get out of bed… now, Sarah felt Cameron’s thumb sweep delicately over her hipbone and the words died in a suddenly dry mouth.
“Cameron… what-” Sarah heart stopped messing around and kicked into overtime. She tried to pull away, but the hand on her hip held her firmly down against the mattress.
Cameron tilted her head, and laid her other hand against the skin over Sarah’s heart, pressing between the angled sides of her robe. “You’re heart-rate has increased.” She observed, a completely foreign breathiness invading her usual neutral tones. Dark brows pushed down and together. “So has mine,” she continued, faintly puzzled. “I feel… warm.”
Yeah… warm about covered it. Cameron’s hands were burning twin brands into her skin, and Sarah tried rather desperately to ascribe the pounding of her heart and the shivering of her nerves to panic. A panic that increased dramatically when Cameron shifted closer, sliding her hand up under Sarah’s robe from hip to waist, and slipping a lean thigh over her uninjured leg.
“Whoa, girlie,” Sarah gasped, raising her hands to push against the machine’s shoulders and twitching away from searching fingertips and pressing limbs. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Cameron stroked her hand softly down Sarah’s bare side, the touch wringing loose another shiver and urging Sarah closer, but Sarah held firm, arms shaking against the weight and pressure of a determined terminator. A pressure that paused, and then held back at Sarah’s words. She felt an answering tremor run through machine.
“I don’t know,” Cameron whispered, looking and sounding almost as confused as Sarah felt. The terminator’s superfluous breath was coming sharp and fast, and the rich brown of her eyes had been almost completely swallowed up by the black of dilated pupils. Under her hands Sarah could feel a rapid pulse beating.
“I want…” Cameron swallowed hard. “What’s happening to me?” she asked breathlessly, eyes searching Sarah’s face for clues. “What is this?”
The answer was on the tip of Sarah’s tongue, but she bit it back. Giving this thing between them a name would make it real, and her reality was already complicated enough. Unwilling to lie, and unable to face the possibility that this was anything other than Cameron’s latest malfunction, Sarah just shook her head, eyes fixed on her fingers clutching at the fuzzy fabric over Cameron’s shoulders.
“Sarah,” Cameron lifted her hand from Sarah’s chest to her jaw, pushing back shaggy brown hair, and tipping her chin up.
Sarah was well past the age where she believed she could disappear by closing her eyes, but that didn’t stop her from trying.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
Her eyes flew open again at the first awkward brush of Cameron’s lips against her own, and she tried to twist free, but Cameron held her fast, and the machine was already shifting higher against her, pressing Sarah back and down into the pillows, deft fingers loosening the tie on her robe.
The blood pounded between Sarah’s ears. Fear peaked and then strangely fell away, abandoning her to an instant of total calm before a wave of what she could no longer deny was desire crashed into the void. On the crest of that high, Sarah stopped fighting. She let the terminator push back the edges of her robe, and started fumbling at Cameron’s tie herself as Cameron tilted her head and deepened the kiss, adrenalin and two years of abstinence making up for the machine’s inexperience.
Then Cameron froze.
One second, two, Sarah took a breath, sanity threatening, and then Cameron was off the bed and across the room so fast that the mattress heaved at her absence, shaking Sarah until she had to clutch at the covers and hiss as the sudden movement jostled her leg.
“That should not have happened.” Cameron’s clipped tone, so like her old terminator voice, snapped Sarah back to reality even before the words were out of her mouth.
Instantly and completely mortified, Sarah felt her cheeks burn as she sat up, pulling the sides of her open robe closed and knotting the tie back around her waist. “You’re telling me?” she snapped, shaking. “What was that?”
Cameron opened her mouth to answer but Sarah cut her off, fury rapidly replacing embarrassment. Fury was cleaner, more familiar. “No,” she growled. “I don’t even want to hear it right now… just get out.”
Cameron hesitated, indecision clear on her features for a moment before her face hardened. Without a word, she turned on her heel and left the room.
Alone, Sarah collapsed back on the bed. Trembling like an addict denied a fix; she curled up on her side, clenched her eyes shut and waited for oblivion.