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: Thank you to inspectorboxer, as usual. Whoever though robes would be cause for an edit eh? *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 / Chapter 10
Night descended on the nearly vacant motel parking lot. The neon sign of a twenty-four hour Dairy Queen flickered and hummed to life across the street. Nearer, the fluorescent glare of dirty, bug-speckled lamps hung in a sullen line over an equally disreputable row of doors. Doors that might have been white before time, weather and a certain professional indifference had worn them down to a cadaverously mottled grey, their edges peeling back like dried skin, flaking and speckled with mold.
It was possible to see here and there where an attempt had been made to brighten things up. Potted plants, a fresh shine to the brass numbers on the doors and in the rooms themselves, new linens and the overly luxurious bathrobes, all of it as out of place in this setting as a high-priced escort in a den of hookers. Rather than improving their surroundings, these little touches served only to throw everything else into starker relief. The poor among the poor had dignity, it was only in the company of the rich that they became detestable.
Cameron stood alone outside of rooms five and six. If she cared about, or even noticed the general state of decay and disrepair around her, nothing in her utterly rigid stance betrayed that opinion. She would have guarded the rooms behind her no more vigilantly if they belonged to a grand palace, and not a motel more likely to rent them for an hour than a night. Two vehicles, a jeep and a battered truck, their engines still cooling in the oncoming chill of the night air, were her only company.
Behind the doors, female voices rose in argument, but Cameron was too preoccupied with the struggle going on inside of her own body and programming to listen. Even if she had tried to eavesdrop, she would have found it difficult. Her hearing was fading in and out like a radio station just out of range. As confused as the rest of her senses, it couldn’t seem to decide whether to be human or machine.
Cameron sympathized. She might have remembered who and what she was, but the infiltration code that had three times now fooled her into believing she was a human girl named Allison was still active, and it was fighting her efforts to shut it down.
Under the influence of that code, Cameron’s artificial limbic system had reacted to Sarah’s touch like virgin tinder to a well placed spark, flaring into an unexpected wildfire. Even now, as if that short, but explosive, taste of freedom had given them a hunger for life, the parts of her that pretended to be nerves, hormones and emotions, refused to lie quiescent or return to their previously biddable state.
Just thinking about Sarah made Cameron’s synthetic heart pound, and her pulse race. Flashes of heat and chills chased each other around her body, triggering sweats and shivers that should have been under her conscious direction. While Cameron could seek out and switch off one physical manifestation of the code at a time, as soon as she turned her attention to a second or third, the first one would wriggle out of her grip, and turn itself on again.
As a design intended to make a machine seem human, it was brilliant. As a rogue malfunction it was driving Cameron as close to crazy as a cybernetic organism could get.
She couldn’t focus.
She couldn’t think.
She tried to direct her attention to the mission, having rather guiltily reactivated her resistance codes, but thoughts of John inevitably led to thoughts of Sarah… and then she was lost again. It was the most frustrating experience she had ever encountered, and the most… stirring.
Cameron had touched Sarah before, even touched her deliberately, in the hospital, the Jeep, the house when she’d cleaned her wounds and bound her ribs, but the small, tame satisfaction she’d gotten from those stolen moments of contact barely registered in comparison to the storm she was under now. If this was what it was like to experience desire as a human, Cameron didn’t wonder that their species was so plentiful. On the contrary, she found it curious that they had found time to build Skynet at all. Perhaps they had some kind of built in filtering device? They couldn’t possibly be walking around feeling this way all the time. Maybe this was why they had invented clothing, as an attempt to reduce temptation.
Thinking about human fashion trends distracted Cameron for a moment, but it was only a matter of seconds before contemplation of clothing became contemplation of the absence of clothing. Sensing an opportunity, her chip threw an image at her, captured in the instant that she had pulled away; Sarah, laying underneath her, the sides of her robe thrown back and her eyes dark with the same intensity that was torturing Cameron…
Cameron swallowed, her fingers curling into fists as she fought to stay still, stay outside, stay away from Sarah… Yes, this must be exactly why clothing had been invented.
“No.” Head aching, Sarah put as much finality into that single syllable as she could dredge out of the maelstrom of confusion and self-loathing that was her current state of mind. Leaning on the back of an overstuffed, floral armchair for support, and dressed in the torn jeans and a faded t-shirt that had been the first clothing she’d pulled out of her bag when the idea of staying in that robe for another second had made her physically ill, she was well aware that she made a less than imposing figure. If it weren’t for the scattered remains of her pride, she wouldn’t be standing at all.
“You can’t stop me.” Lauren, her bag in one hand, Sydney’s carrier in the other, seemed determined to test the very limits of Sarah’s endurance. Little did she know how close Sarah was to throwing it all over for a bottle of scotch and a one-way ticket to anywhere that wasn’t here.
“I don’t have to,” Sarah pointed out coldly. “There are two machines out there that will do it for me. You leave now, and you’re putting your sister in their hands.”
Lauren paled, but she refused to back down. “You don’t know they’re after her.”
“I know one of them was,” Sarah snapped. “That’s enough for me, and it should be enough for you. You’ve seen what they can do, what they have done, but you still have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
Behind Lauren, John cleared his throat nervously. He and Riley had come from the other room to join Derek and Jesse as silent spectators when the raised voices had penetrated the thin motel walls, but until now, they hadn’t interfered.
“Mom’s right,” he said cautiously. “We have no idea whether or not your sister was the only target, and we won’t until I can finish examining that chip, maybe not even then. You’re both safer here.”
“Are we?” Lauren rounded on him. “Sarah almost died, Cameron got fried and they blew up a house! Now you want to find out what those other machines are up to so you can hunt them down? Your life is the opposite of safe.”
“I’m still alive,” John reminded her.
“You are,” Lauren agreed bitterly, “and if it comes down to a choice between your life and my sister’s or mine, we’ll lose. You’re the future leader of mankind, not me, and not Sydney. This isn’t our fight.”
“Too bad,” Sarah cut in before John could reply, yanking their attention back to her. “Do you think they care that you didn’t sign up for this? That you’re just a kid? That you’re scared? Believe me, they don’t. You can’t run away from them. If they want Sydney dead, they will find you, and then they will kill you.”
The blunt truth hurt, even on this end of it, but Sarah didn’t have the time or patience to be gentle. Habit made her look past Lauren for Cameron, the silent support she had never asked for, and whose presence might have ended this argument before it began. But Cameron wasn’t there. Sarah had banished her. Furious with herself for the lapse, Sarah cast the terminator out of her thoughts and fixed her eyes back on Lauren.
The girl was looking at the rug, her shoulders quivering under the strain of her bag and the little sister she hadn’t asked for, but loved enough to die for. If Sarah had had so much as a scrap of sympathy left for herself, she would have offered it to Lauren, but any self-pity she’d once entertained was long gone. All that was left was a raw determination to win and it wasn’t enough, it was never enough.
“Give it up kid,” Derek put in from his place against the wall. “She might not be able to stop you, but I’m betting her metal girlfriend will, and that’s trouble you don’t need.”
Sarah stiffened, but she refused to acknowledge the jab. Derek couldn’t possibly know how close to the bone he’d cut, and she had no intention of enlightening him. She had almost hoped they were past this kind of undermining bullshit, but apparently forcing his hand back at the house had pissed him off more than she’d thought. Perfect.
The tension mounted, then without another word Lauren dropped her bag and knelt to un-strap Sydney from her carrier. Riley brushed past John to help, and Sarah left them to it. She walked past John and Derek and Jesse with no sign that she even saw them, retreating back into the other room and shutting the door behind her with a quiet click.
John found Cameron outside. Her back to him, she gave no more sign of life than the crumbling posts to either side of her. Less. The posts at least communicated a rather desperate uneasiness as they struggled to hold up an overhang that looked ready to give up and fall apart at the slightest excuse. Cameron communicated nothing.
“Hey,” he muttered, speaking half to the machine and half to the cracking pavement under his feet.
The pavement didn’t answer him, and neither did Cameron.
John tried again. “So are you okay now? You were pretty out of it…”
“I’m okay.” The two word answer was given grudgingly, any emotion or personality stripped from it like the embroidered initials picked off the edge of a handkerchief by a thief. It was both like, and unlike Cameron’s usual neutral tone. The difference between something taken away, and something that hadn’t been there in the first place.
More worried about his mother than Cameron right now, John almost missed the distinction. If it weren’t for the way Cameron was holding herself, almost as if she was trying to look like a machine, he might not have noticed it all. Something was less than okay here… and John couldn’t help but think that if he could see it, then something was really not okay.
What that meant, John had no idea. Did his mother know? Were they both hiding something from him now, or had Cameron managed to convince his mother that she was fine? The latter seemed more likely, but taking his mother’s mood into account, he couldn’t rule out that there was more going on than either of them wanted to tell him. If Cameron were a person, he’d assume that they’d had a fight and Cameron had retreated to cool off… could a machine lose her temper? His mother certainly could, and he wouldn’t put it past her to send Cameron outside so that she could cool off.
All John knew was that Cameron was supposed to be supporting his mother, and she needed that support right now, more than she needed to be sitting alone and sulking over whatever it was that had happened while he’d been gone. Maybe Cameron needed to be reminded of that.
“Mom and Lauren had a fight,” he offered into the silence, hoping to clue her in.
“I know.” Cameron’s tone still gave nothing away, other than that there was something to give away, something she was deliberately withholding, but a slight hitch to her shoulder and a fraction of a glance in his direction betrayed her tension.
“I heard.” Cameron paused, “I don’t know what it was about,” she allowed stiffly, as if the mere admission of curiosity was out of place for a machine.
John looked back at the motel wall, skeptical that plywood, drywall and plaster were any kind of a barrier to a terminator’s audio sensors, but he wasn’t going to call her on it now that she was talking to him, albeit grudgingly. “Lauren wanted to take Sydney and leave,” he explained. “Mom said no.”
“It’s not safe,” was the utterly predictable response.
“They’re not really safe with us either,” he countered.
“Sarah makes the decisions,” Cameron said with an air of finality, but was that a trace of bitterness and hurt that had escaped along with it? John was torn between a petty satisfaction at being right, and uneasiness over Cameron expressing emotion at all… let alone expressing it in a way he could read.
“Yeah, she’s been doing a lot of that lately,” he fished, and the tightening around Cameron’s mouth further confirmed his suspicions. There was definitely something going on between them, something that was hurting his mother.
“So what did you do?” John asked bluntly. “You’re standing out here like a puppy that’s been banished to the porch for eating someone’s seven hundred dollar boots, and Mom’s a wreck, but she’s not saying anything...”
“I am not a puppy,” Cameron deadpanned, but it wasn’t a joke. She meant it, and John didn’t think he was imagining the small glint of anger in the corner of her eye. So he was right about the sending away thing, and Cameron wasn’t happy about it.
He shrugged. “So go back inside.”
“I-” Cameron stopped, composed herself, which for her was the difference between something that could almost be interpreted as an expression, and no expression at all. “Sarah doesn’t want to see me right now.”
John snorted. “Derek and Jesse are inside. Trust me, she doesn’t want to see anyone right now. That doesn’t mean she should always get what she wants.” He eyed the machine sideways. “You’re sturdy… she probably can’t kill you.”
The attempt at humor earned him a look that fully acknowledged his presence for the first time while simultaneously dismissing his opinion. “It’s not a good idea,” she insisted.
“So you’re just going to stand out here all night?” John demanded, sighing when Cameron simply looked away. “Fine,” he surrendered, heading back inside. “But sooner or later you need to start making your own decisions. Being ‘Sarah Connor’ doesn’t mean she’s always right.”
Cameron didn’t turn or say anything when he left, but looking back over his shoulder before he closed the door, John could see that it wasn’t only the posts that were struggling.
If not for the loaded 9mm in the front pocket, Cameron’s backpack could have belonged to any seventeen-year-old girl. Sitting on the edge of the bed with the bag open-mouthed in front of her, Sarah pulled out yet another bottle of nail polish and pushed aside a stack of thin strapped tank-tops, but nothing met her searching fingers except more clothing.
The connecting door opened behind her.
“That’s my bag.” Cameron could have been a life-sized doll with a pull string for all of the inflection in those three words.
Sarah covered her surprise with a jerky shrug, refusing to turn around. “I know,” she answered shortly.
“What are you looking for?”
Sarah yanked harder than was necessary on a pair of jeans, cursing when they came free in a flurry of what had been neatly folded underwear. Why a terminator needed a hot pink thong was not a question she needed to be asking herself right now. Pretty much any questions involving Cameron and underwear were on the “not now, and hopefully never” list, but that didn’t stop her thwarted libido from offering several possible answers anyway, answers that threw her into even greater confusion.
Sarah counted to ten, slowly. “I’m looking for my pills,” she answered finally, when she was fairly certain that she could get the words out without snarling. “I need to sleep.”
Cameron didn’t reply, but she padded softly across the room and leaned past Sarah to reach into the front pocket of her bag. Sarah gritted her teeth when Cameron’s leg brushed her knee. At least the girl had gotten dressed.
Sarah stared resolutely past Cameron to the wall. Her fingers itched to trace the inch of skin that had been bared between the bottom of the girl’s shirt and her jeans, but even while the temptation seared through her veins, Sarah denied it, blaming it on shock, guilt, temporary insanity, anything but the desire to touch a machine.
“Here.” Cameron pulled back with the bottle of sleeping pills in her hand. She passed them to Sarah and without another word, headed for the door.
Sarah stared down at the little bottle, the printed prescription label a reminder that she’d wrecked her cell phone and blown up her house phone. The doctor would have no way to contact her about the results of her blood tests… she would have to call him. Thoughts of the hospital, the doctor, and a little white pill left on her bedside table every night, twisted inside of her.
“Cameron…” The terminator paused, looked over her shoulder. “I…” Sarah rubbed at her aching eyes and tried again. “Thanks.” She half-raised the bottle, and Cameron nodded.
The terminator moved to go, then stopped again. She looked back at her clothing and personal items strewn across the bed and then up at Sarah. “You could have asked,” she stated plainly, and it may have been the mildest rebuke Sarah had ever received, but somehow those soft words cut.
Shame made her snap. “Right, like you asked before you-” she stopped, looking away and biting her tongue before she gave voice to the intimacy Cameron had forced on her only hours before. The intimacy Cameron had forced her to admit to wanting…
Cameron turned to face her fully and there was no mistaking the anger in her eyes and the stiff tilt to her chin, or the slight trembling in her fingers. “I didn’t mean to, I-” She shut her mouth abruptly as the door between the rooms opened and John stepped through, looking concerned and a little wary. He closed the door behind him.
“Are you two okay now?” He addressed Cameron first, ignoring both the crackling tension and the disgorged contents of Cameron’s backpack on the bed.
Sarah quickly tucked the hand holding the bottle of pills behind her back. “We’re fine,” she interjected before Cameron could offer her own, possibly more truthful, answer.
John nodded, some of the stiffness leaving his shoulders. “Good, because Lauren and Riley are sleeping in the other room and that means the three of us are in here.
I don’t need this… Sarah felt the aching of her head suddenly intensify at the thought of spending an entire night shut up in the same room as Cameron. “That’s fine,” she lied. Cameron shifted, but Sarah didn’t take her eyes of John.
“Um…” John looked back and for the between them, comprehension slowly dawning as he realized he’d walked in on an unfinished conversation. “Well…” He trailed off. “Okay… I’ll go get my stuff then.”
“Do that.” Sarah tried to dredge up a reassuring smile, failing miserably. John didn’t seem to notice. He was probably used to the absence of reassurance by now. When the door shut behind him, Sarah quickly shook a pill out of the bottle and swallowed it. Then she tossed the bottle back into Cameron’s bag. It could stay there for now, fewer questions that way. She still couldn’t quite bring herself to look at Cameron, but she didn’t need to look to feel the machine’s stare burning into her skin.
“We’re not fine.”
Sarah sighed. “I know.” She pushed herself shakily to her feet, pathetically grateful when Cameron didn’t offer to help. She didn’t think her sorry excuse for sanity would survive skin to skin contact right now. Hell, even eye contact was pushing it. She could sense Cameron wanting to help, but evidently the machine’s self control was better than she’d thought, because Cameron stayed where she was.
Sarah limped the few steps to her own bag on the floor and dug out a toothbrush. No way was she getting undressed. Sleeping in jeans wouldn’t kill her for one night.
The walk to the bathroom was pushing it; Sarah gritted her teeth and did it anyway. She could already feel fresh blood seeping out from around the stitches in her leg, but she was used to pain, and at least this was clean pain.
Sarah paused at the bathroom door, her eyes firmly on the fake wood paneling. There was one question she had left to ask. “Whatever went wrong with you today, does it make you a danger to John?”
Sarah heard Cameron’s feet shift on the carpet and she tensed, but the machine didn’t come any closer. “No,” she answered finally.
“Then we’re fine enough.” Sarah started to turn the knob, but Cameron’s near whisper held her back.
“No,” Sarah cut her off. “This never happened, and it will never happen again. You need to stay away from me.”
“Yes,” Cameron agreed immediately. “That would be best.”
Later, sinking into a medicated sleep despite John’s snoring from the other bed, and the weight of Cameron’s silent vigil at the window, Sarah told herself she was relieved, not disappointed by Cameron’s lack of protest… she couldn’t be disappointed, could she?
“Mom!” John’s urgent demand, and a rough hand on her shoulder, dragged Sarah up and out of oblivion, although not fast enough to avoid more shaking. “Mom, wake up!”
“Urhg…” Sarah groaned, cracking her eyes open to the sickly light of the motel room. The lamps were on, and only the palest of gleams came through the blinds, so it wasn’t late. What did they want from her now? “I’m awake,” she added when the hands threatened again.
The hands retreated, John’s hands she realized when she rolled over and opened her eyes fully. He was sitting on the edge of the bed in the same shirt and sweatpants he’d slept in, his hair not yet brushed, and an expression of such desperate worry on his face that the last of the cobwebs fled.
“John.” Sarah freed herself from the tangle of blankets, sitting up and gripping his shoulder. “What happened?”
“Lauren’s gone,” he explained, wide eyed. “Riley too.” He swallowed. “I think Cameron went with them. Derek and Jesse didn’t hear anything, but the woman at the front desk says there was a call out to a taxi company a few hours ago.”
Cameron was gone. Sarah closed her eyes as the full impact hit her. John didn’t give her time to absorb it.
“I need a minute here, John.” Sarah focused on breathing as she tried to get her brain to catch up. Cameron couldn’t have left them… she had promised to keep John safe, hadn’t she? Or had she only promised not to kill him? What the hell did that idiot girl Lauren think she was doing?
“John, please!” Sarah opened her eyes and instantly regretted snapping. John wouldn’t be pushing her if he didn’t think he had to. “What else?” she asked more softly.
“It’s been on the news all morning…” That was all he managed before Sarah pushed past him, out of bed, hissing when her leg took the strain of standing. She hobbled to the television and turned it on, panic clawing at her throat as the picture swam into focus and the newscaster’s voice, a syrupy sweet drawl, came over the speakers.
“…early this morning, a man was found shot to death in his own bed. The Police have identified the body, and we’ve been told that the victim’s name was Charles Dixon. No motive has yet been found…”
Sarah staggered back, swayed, and would have fallen if not for John’s arm around her waist. He helped her back to the bed, leaving only to get a cup of water that she drank gratefully while he knelt in front of her, hands on her knees.
“It’s not him, it’s not Charley,” he kept repeating, over and over, until Sarah was able to nod.
“I know,” she said weakly. “I hid him, but it doesn’t matter, we know who the next target is.”
“And it’s not Sydney,” John agreed. “Which I’m guessing is why Lauren left.”
And Cameron? Sarah didn’t voice the question aloud. She didn’t know why it mattered so much to believe that Cameron hadn’t known what she was leaving Sarah to face, but Sarah clung to that belief as if it were her last link to sanity.
Banishing the thought, she pulled John up and into a rough embrace. “We’ll save him,” she whispered into his hair, wishing it were as easy to reassure herself. She needed more than words, she needed Cameron, and Cameron was gone.