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 her continued suggestions and support *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 / Chapter 11
A bus stop. Human traffic flowing in and out, children crying, people shouting, calling, laughing, hugging, and above it all, the announcement that bus number seventeen was delayed. Again. Cameron glanced up at the electronic schedule just in time to see the departure time of Lauren and Riley’s bus switch from nine fifteen, to “Please Standby.” A chorus of complaints and cursing rose around them, and Cameron returned her attention to the waiting crowd, alert for any threat. This was not a safe place.
There were too many people, too many windows, and too many exits. Of the four walls, only two of them were solid enough to guard their backs, and one of those was taken up by the ticket counters and bathrooms. Cameron had chosen seats against the other for the girls, and put herself between them and the rest of the room.
It wouldn’t be enough if a machine wanted them dead. Cameron calculated that in the case of an attack, she would be able to save one, maybe two, but not all three of them. Lauren and Sydney would be the logical choice, but the chances of getting away with Riley were much better. She wasn’t a direct target.
While they waited, Cameron formulated and ran several different simulated escape plans. She wanted to be ready, and the monotonous task distracted her from worrying about the continuingly unpredictable and unnerving fluctuations in her senses.
Cameron had spent the entire night trying to isolate and neutralize the Allison program, but without success. The code, like the rest of her programming, had been designed to infiltrate, and that’s exactly what it was doing, separating and burrowing deeper every minute. Cameron could chase the scattered pieces, but there were places inside of herself that she couldn’t go, blank walls and dead ends. Without warning the code would disappear, only to show up as a sudden and almost incomprehensible craving for pastry when they walked past a coffee cart, or a sharp pain that ignored her override instructions when a man in a suit stepped on her foot.
“You should come with us,” Riley suggested into the silence for the seventh time, clutching her diet-coke so hard that the plastic sides bowed under her fingers.
Cameron ignored her. She had answered in the negative the first four times, and that had only prolonged the conversation. Cameron didn’t want to argue with Riley, she didn’t want to talk at all. She wanted to see them safely onto their bus and then get back to John and Sarah. She had already been away too long, and the need to be nearer to Sarah was almost a physical thing. Even now, when the most prominent emotion Cameron could label with regards to Sarah wasn’t exactly a positive one, that need dragged on her like a rope around her neck, adding to the general confusion and disequilibrium.
“She’s not coming with us, Riley,” Lauren answered for her. “Let it go.”
“Let it go,” Lauren repeated wearily, leaning back into the hard plastic seat as if there was some comfort to be found there and it was simply eluding her. “She said no five times already, and she’s ignored you for the last two.”
“Four,” Cameron corrected her automatically. “I said no four times.”
“You said it once back at the Motel too,” Lauren pointed out. “That makes five.”
“I said I would help,” Cameron clarified.
“I can’t believe you two are arguing at a time like this!” Hunched and wretched in her seat, Riley was becoming increasingly agitated the longer they waited. She was frightened, and almost sick with it. Deep down, Riley was always frightened. Fear was a constant state of being in the tunnels, it was how Riley and others like her survived, and she had brought that fear into the past with her. At first she had been afraid of Cameron, but familiarity and John and Lauren’s influence had persuaded her that Cameron was someone to hide behind, not from. Without that focus, the fear had built up until it was almost unbearable.
Lauren sighed. “We’re not arguing. We’re making conversation to try and pass the time.”
“Well, I think you should stop.”
Even Lauren couldn’t seem to find anything to say to that, so they lapsed into silence once more. Sydney had fallen asleep in her carrier an hour ago, despite the noise, and Lauren was idly rocking her back and forth on the next seat. Another five minutes passed like that. Cameron watching, Riley worrying, Sydney sleeping and Lauren rocking.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Riley announced abruptly, looking at each of them in turn expectantly.
“So go.” Lauren’s response held an edge of frustration. She was frightened too, and Riley’s nerves were a millstone around her neck, steadily grinding down her own ability to cope. “No one is stopping you.”
“I can’t go by myself!”
“Are you three?” Lauren demanded. “It’s twenty feet away.”
“Cameron…” Riley’s whine scraped painfully over Cameron’s sensitive ears, triggering a surge of annoyance so far beyond anything she would have expected that Cameron was startled. Feeling her fingers twitch, she clamped down on the irritation and the immediate urge for violence it prompted. She had no specific directive to protect Riley, but the girl was not a threat, and Cameron did not kill just to kill. She would not give in to that side of her nature.
“We will go with you,” she agreed, both to avoid a potentially destabilizing argument, and because splitting up was an unnecessary risk.
In spite of Lauren’s eye rolling, they made a troop movement to the bathroom, dragging the girl’s bags and Sydney along with them. Cameron waited outside, and Lauren stayed with her.
“So why are you helping us?” Lauren asked once Riley had shut the door behind her. “This can’t be fun for you, and Sarah’s not exactly going to be happy when she finds out about it.”
That inevitability had occurred to Cameron. Surprisingly the idea didn’t upset her, instead it made her feel vaguely…. satisfied.
She knew that humans often made irrational decisions based on emotions like anger or hurt, but until now she hadn’t fully understood how they could ignore logic and reason in favour of something as tenuous as a feeling. Until now, her feelings hadn’t been strong enough. For the first time, Cameron felt she was beginning to understand some of what drove Sarah’s own sometimes illogical and inefficient behaviour, and even in the midst of her rebellion, she sympathized.
“You put John at risk,” Cameron said finally, settling for a piece of the truth, just not all of it. “You’re a target. A smaller group is easier to hide. He will be safer with you gone.”
“Yeah.” Lauren leaned back against the wall, looking down past the heavy weight of Sydney’s carrier in her hands to the dirty floor. “It’s safer for John.”
Cameron wasn’t sure why such a simple statement of agreement should make her feel guilty, but it did. “It may also be safer for you,” she added hesitantly, unused to considering the wellbeing of anyone other than John and Sarah, but finding it more natural than she had expected. She did not want to see Lauren hurt. “What we do is dangerous. People die.”
“People like me.”
“People like you,” Cameron agreed.
“That kind of sucks,” Lauren said with a half grin.
“Yes,” Cameron said thoughtfully, considering Lauren’s courage, her dedication to the protection of her sister, and the way Lauren had treated Cameron herself from the beginning, like a person, a friend. “It sucks.”
Vaguely uncomfortable with that realization, and the flurry of conflicts it triggered, Cameron turned away from Lauren to scan the room again, her gaze lifting to the flat screen television hanging from the ceiling and broadcasting local news. The audio was muted, but highlights ran in a bar across the bottom of the screen. Cameron hadn’t been able to see it from their previous seats, but she took advantage of it now, reading and processing the captions faster than they could appear.
She barely noticed the bathroom door swinging open behind her as a familiar name caught her complete attention.
“Hey, Cameron, what are you-” Riley broke of with a squeak when Cameron whirled around, a red film creeping into the edges of her vision. She fought it back, but there was no question that both girls had seen that brief flicker. They stared at her dumbly.
Cameron didn’t have time to reassure them, she held out her hand, frustrated when Riley jumped back. “I need your phone. Now!”
“Mom, wait. You can’t do this by yourself!” John pleaded, following Sarah around the room as she packed a duffel bag with weapons and medical supplies, her injury almost forgotten. She would pay for it later, but for now she was riding high on adrenalin and a couple of Jesse’s prescription painkillers.
“I don’t have a choice.” Sarah turned, found John blocking her path, and went around him to retrieve the gun from under her pillow and stuff it into the back of her jeans. She threw on a light leather jacket to cover it.
“Do you want us to hold our ground here?” Derek crossed into the room with a bottle in his hand that he tossed to Sarah. More pain pills. She added them to the bag and yanked the zipper closed.
“Please,” she said, her civility matching his. A mission made them all more focused, less liable to chew on each other, and he hadn’t commented on Cameron’s apparent defection, or questioned Sarah’s decision to go after Charley. Sarah appreciated both. “Keep an eye on John, and I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
“What about Cameron?” John cut into their exchange. “Her bag is still here, Mom. She’s coming back. You don’t have to do this alone.”
Sarah and Derek exchanged silent glances. For once, he seemed to get it. “If she comes back we’ll send her after you,” he said for John’s sake. Sarah nodded. She had pushed her own panic and hurt down below the mission and the pills. Like ignoring her leg, she would pay for it later, but right now Charley needed her. She couldn’t be thinking about Cameron.
“I can’t wait on a maybe John,” Sarah added, hanging the bag over her shoulder. “Charley isn’t answering his phone, I have to go now.”
“She’s coming back,” John repeated, following Sarah outside. “Mom!” he shouted when she didn’t stop. “She wouldn’t leave you!”
Sarah halted, her hand flat on the Jeep’s driver’s side door. She focused on the hard, slick surface, trying desperately to hold onto her focus even as it cracked and crumbled through her fingers. John stood a few feet away, stiff with the self righteousness of youth. He couldn’t possibly know how deeply his words cut. He was just projecting his own fears. He had to believe that Cameron wouldn’t leave him.
But she had. She had left them both.
“John, don’t-” Sarah started, only to be interrupted by the shrill demand of John’s cell phone. He scrambled to pull it out of his pocket without taking his eyes off of Sarah. Traitorous hope rising in her chest, she waited through the somewhat strangled hello and the exchange of security codes.
“Cameron!” he exclaimed with a pointed look at Sarah. “Where have you- Sure, she’s right here.”
Sarah took the phone with shaking hands and a thudding heart. “Hey,” she managed.
“I’m coming,” was all Cameron said, and it was enough.
Sarah leaned hard against the Jeep, all of her bravado falling away in an instant. “Please hurry,” she whispered.
Cameron didn’t make Sarah wait long. Within half an hour she was there, all three of the fugitives and a stolen car in hand. Sarah was happy to leave the interrogation and watchdog duties to Derek, settling instead for a hard look at each of the offending teenagers that further deflated their already wilted egos. She didn’t know what Cameron had done or said to make them come back, and she didn’t want to. It was enough that they were safe. Consequences could wait until Charley was safe, too.
They were on the road in a matter of minutes, Cameron only letting Sarah drive alone as far as the shopping mall a few miles out of town so that they could ditch the stolen car. After that there was only the Jeep, and Cameron drove. Sarah didn’t really mind. Relief at Cameron’s return was uncomfortably mingled with the tension that still stretched tautly between them, and Sarah was content to leave it alone, staring out the window and watching the world go by.
They hadn’t spoken beyond what was necessary to fill Cameron in on the situation, and most of that had come from John. Hanging back, Sarah had found her eyes following the girl while she quickly put her own bag together. There was a strange new fluidity intermingled with Cameron’s usual stiffness, the same almost-human combination of grace and carelessness that Sarah had noticed the night before. It wasn’t as prominent, and every few seconds Cameron seemed to catch herself, forcing her joints back into their customary rigid lines, but it was there.
Sarah knew she shouldn’t be staring, knew she needed to forget whatever it was Cameron had made her feel. She couldn’t be attracted to a machine, it was insane. But something fundamental had changed between them, and there didn’t seem to be a handy off switch.
The miles disappeared beneath their wheels while Sarah brooded. They stopped once so that Sarah could get something to eat and use the bathroom. Cameron didn’t even ask, she just pulled into the fast food restaurant and took the keys out of the ignition. Her meaning was clear. They weren’t going any further until Sarah ate. Sarah didn’t argue. Cameron got a coke that she didn’t touch, sitting patiently in the opposite seat until Sarah was finished. They didn’t talk.
It was Sarah who finally broke the silence. Trying to climb back into the Jeep, she cursed when her leg gave way and she slipped, banging it against the edge of the door. Cameron was there in a second, steadying Sarah until the pain ebbed enough for her head to clear, and then helping her up into the seat with a gentle hand on her waist. Cameron’s fingers were warm where they pressed against her skin and Sarah bit her lip against the heady mixture of pain and pleasure.
“Thanks,” she said when Cameron had joined her in the front seat and started the engine.
“You needed assistance,” Cameron replied flatly, glancing over her shoulder as they backed out of the parking lot and returned to the highway.
Sarah winced, looking down at her hands in her lap. “Not just for that,” she clarified, her voice tight with disuse and tension. “Thank you, for coming back.”
“I wouldn’t leave you,” Cameron said evenly, unknowingly echoing John’s words, her eyes on the road.
“John,” Sarah corrected her, even as she had silently corrected John. “You mean you wouldn’t leave John.”
Cameron shook her head. “That’s not what I said.”
Sarah looked up at that, staring across the car at the machine’s cold and empty profile. No, not empty. Closed. Cameron was wearing her mechanical nature like armour, guarding herself against something she didn’t want anyone to see. Sarah had seen Cameron hurt, insulted, even annoyed; she had grudgingly come to admit that the machine might have feelings similar to a human’s. She had never seen Cameron like this.
“Why?” she whispered, not sure she even wanted the answer. “Why do you care? What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know!” Cameron snapped, and it was a snap, though she quickly resettled her features, only her white knuckled grip on the steering wheel betraying the anger she’d been concealing.
Anger at Sarah… the same anger Sarah had seen in her eyes at the motel before she’d sent her away, and again when John had interrupted them. Both times that Sarah had put the sole blame for what had happened between them on Cameron’s shoulders, shutting her out without a second thought. Sarah closed her eyes as the memory of that encounter washed over her, the feeling of Cameron’s hair running though her fingers accompanied by the uncomfortable realization that for all her self righteousness…. She had started it. Cameron might have gone too far, but it was Sarah who had touched first.
“I’m sorry…” Sarah said finally, the confession bitter on her tongue. “I just… I freaked out a little.”
Cameron eyed her slantwise, accusation still hovering in the corners of her eyes, but that awful stiffness was fading. “You freaked out a lot.”
Sarah snorted, but it was almost a chuckle as a great deal of the tension suddenly drained out of the interior of the Jeep. “I freaked out a lot,” she admitted, rubbing a hand over the grin tugging on the edges of her mouth. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair to you.”
Cameron pursed her lips, and Sarah couldn’t shake the impression that she was trying not to smile. “I forgive you,” she conceded magnanimously.
“Thanks…” Sarah said with just the barest hint of sarcasm.
Cameron tilted her head thoughtfully. “You shouldn’t worry so much. Sexual experimentation is common amongst heterosexual women in your age group. It doesn’t mean you’re gay.”
Sarah choked, tried to hide it in a cough, and then coughed in earnest as her lungs rebelled on principle. When she managed to draw in a deep enough breath to speak, the word came out in a hoarse squeak. “What?” She cleared her throat and tried again. “You think I freaked out about being gay?”
Cameron betrayed absolutely no reaction to Sarah’s near death by shock. “People do,” she said simply. “It seems like it would be a concern.”
Sarah just stared at her. She literally couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that. Nothing polite anyway. Cameron bore up under the scrutiny for a minute or two, glancing between Sarah and the road until she finally asked, “What?”
“Cameron…” Sarah started helplessly. “You’re not a girl, you’re not even human! Gender is not the issue here.”
“I am physically female,” Cameron protested, ignoring for now the question of what the issue actually was. “My body is capable of producing chemicals that mimic female hormones, I have breasts and-” she glanced down, and Sarah cut her off before the cataloguing of Cameron’s feminine traits could go any further.
“Stop, right there,” she interjected, holding up a hand. “This conversation is officially over.”
Cameron subsided reluctantly, a decided pout to her lower lip. Sarah tried to ignore it, but for a machine, Cameron did sulky exceptionally well, and Sarah was still feeling guilty enough that she couldn’t quite pretend not to see it.
“Fine,” she allowed grudgingly. “You’re a girl.”
Cameron’s lips curved in a smile that did unsettling things to Sarah’s insides.
John twitched away as Lauren leaned over his shoulder once again to watch him flip through the visual memories of the terminator who had been trying to kill her sister. John could see where she had a right to be curious, but she was getting to be worse than his mother with the hovering thing.
“How about I let you know when I find something?” he suggested tersely. Lauren made him uneasy. If Cameron was his big sister, then Lauren was fast becoming her friend across the street who bossed him around. Which made no sense, because she was roughly the same age as he was. Maybe it was a girl thing. They seemed to be born bossy, or, you know, built. “Why do you even care anyway, weren’t you running off and rescuing my girlfriend from all of this?”
Lauren shrugged. “That plan clearly worked,” she said without apology. “I don’t think Riley really wanted to go. She just got scared when that thing nearly took Sarah and Cameron out.”
“And you?” John pressed, closing down one catalogue of memories and opening up another.
“I never wanted to be part of this in the first place,” Lauren said frankly. “I appreciate what you guys did for me, but I meant what I said, your life isn’t safe enough for my sister.”
“So why come back?”
Lauren snorted, turning and leaning her hips back on the table. “Would you argue with Cameron when she goes all red-eyed and freaky? She saw the name of that dead guy, stole a car, and practically threw us into it. I wanted to keep my head, thanks.”
“Hey,” John warned. “That guy could have been Charley, and Cameron’s not a freak.”
“Easy cowboy.” Lauren held her hands up in surrender. “I know that now, and I didn’t say she was a freak. Cameron’s a friend. I don’t care what she has going on under her skin. I just respect that whole deadly thing. She says move and I’m moving.”
“Well, good,” John huffed. “Nice to know someone cares about her.”
“You’re talking about your mom?” Lauren hazarded, seeming completely unconcerned about what might and might not be her business. “Yeah, I saw some tension there. I wouldn’t say she doesn’t care though… ”
John shook his head. “Something happened last night. They were actually doing a lot better. Now mom’s treating her like a prisoner of war again.” He glanced up to see Lauren giving him the most unreadable look he’d gotten from anyone other than his mother or Cameron. “What?”
“Nothing.” She shrugged the topic off, looking down at the screen again. “Hey, was that a lighthouse? Didn’t your mom say something about this Charley guy living in a lighthouse?”
John jerked his attention back to the computer. Switching back through the videos, he found the lighthouse, but the images it switched to next turned worry into panic.
Lauren shifted beside him. “That’s me…” Fear made her sound young again. “Why are there pictures of me on this thing? I thought it didn’t know what we looked like… That’s why it killed that other girl first, right?”
“I don’t know.” John watched dry mouthed as clips of surveillance over several different days played on the screen. Lauren going in and out of the halfway house with Sydney, Lauren and Sydney shopping, Lauren and Sydney at the park… the screen went black just as John saw himself and Riley walk into the halfway house.
“What does that mean?” Lauren asked after a moment of stunned silence. John just shook his head.
“Get Derek,” he told her, snatching his phone up from the table. Cameron answered after the second ring and once they got through the security codes she passed him over to his mother.
“Mom,” he began, navigating back to the footage of the lighthouse. “We have a problem…”
“It’s a trap.”
“You don’t know that.” Sarah dialled Charley’s number again, waiting impatiently through the endless ringing. There was no answering machine. It wasn’t safe she had told him, better not to have even his voice recorded where a machine might hear it. On the tenth ring she slammed the phone closed and threw it up onto the dashboard. “Damnit!”
“That’s our only phone,” Cameron reminded her. “John might need to call us again.”
“I’m not going to break the damned phone, Cameron!” Sarah snarled; worry making her snappish and irritable.
Cameron ignored her tone. “We need a plan.”
“We have a plan,” Sarah argued. “We find Charley, and we put him somewhere safe.”
“We had a plan,” Cameron corrected her. “Things have changed. It knows where he is. It could be waiting for us.”
Sarah really didn’t want to argue about it. She wanted to get this done and go home. Except that home was a smoking ruin, and there was no done, not for her. There was only more of this. “I don’t care,” she retorted childishly. “I’m not going to leave him in danger.”
“We’re all in danger.” Cameron still showed no sign of reacting to Sarah’s mood, her blank mask firmly back in place as she steered the Jeep ever closer to their destination. “If there is a terminator waiting for us then Charley is safer if we stay away from him.”
“And what if we’re wrong?” Sarah demanded. “What if the first time was a fluke? What if they have a schedule and John and Riley interrupted it? It could have been a coincidence. There’s no proof that these are traps.”
Cameron just looked at her, and Sarah fell back into her seat, her weak attempts at finding an alternate explanation for the images John had found on the chip falling apart like so much chaff.
“A coincidence is unlikely,” Cameron said without pity. “Skynet knows that these people’s lives are important to you. It knows you will come out of hiding to protect them.”
“Then why not kill me and John when it had the chance?” Sarah asked desperately. “The first one let him run away, and then stepped right over me to attack you. Why draw us out and not kill us?”
“I don’t know,” Cameron admitted. “It’s possible that the terminators don’t know why they were sent. Sydney and Charley may be the primary targets. Skynet could be hoping to catch you and John in the crossfire.”
Cameron’s words felt like nails banging home in Charley’s coffin. Even if she was right and Skynet was trying to force them out into the open, how long before it decided Charley was expendable, before it decided to use him as a goad to make them try harder to save the next one? “I want Charley safe,” Sarah said again.
“And if it’s a trap?”
“Then we deal with it.” Sarah retrieved the phone, determined to try once more. “Just like we dealt with the first one.”
“The first one almost killed you,” Cameron pointed out, betraying the first sign of emotion since John had called, her eyes dark with worry. “I might not be able to save you this time.”
And there it was, the reminder that Cameron had risked her life for Sarah, not John, Sarah. Now Sarah was asking her to do the same for Charley, someone who hadn’t shown anything but fear and disgust for what Cameron was. It was a lot to ask. More than she had a right to. “Please, Cameron,” Sarah asked, almost begging as the phone once again rang on without answer. “I can’t let him die.”
Cameron stared out the windshield, her hands tight on the steering wheel. Sarah could see the conflict in the stiff line of her shoulders, in the way she held herself just a little too still. Hating herself for it, Sarah reached out and touched the back of one of those delicate looking hands. “Please,” she repeated.
Cameron shivered at the contact, her eyes sliding shut for an instant before refocusing on the road. They held that pose for a heartbeat, two, then Cameron jerked her hand out from underneath Sarah’s fingers, tucking it into her lap. “It would be better if you didn’t touch me,” she rebuked Sarah sharply.
Stung, Sarah withdrew back to her side of the Jeep. Unable to meet Cameron’s eyes, she looked out the window, feeling all of the unasked and unanswered questions lying heavily in the air between them. They kept driving, getting ever closer to the point where they would have to make a decision one way or the other and the unbidden memory of Cameron lying cold and motionless in a flooded basement chilled Sarah to the core.