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, as alwasy to my beta inspectorboxer, who had twice the work with this double-length chapter.
AN#2: This is part one of a two-part chapter, I had to split it into two posts for length.
Chapter 1/ Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5a / Chapter 5b /Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8/ Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12
Riley sat curled up in one of the threadbare armchairs by the motel window, her arms wrapped around her knees, tucking them up against her chest. She looked like a lost heroine in a badly written novel, waiting for someone to rescue her. John watched her from the doorway for a few minutes, torn between pity and frustration. He was starting to realize that there was more damage to Riley’s mind and soul than he could lie at Jesse’s feet, but he didn’t know what to do for her. He wondered if there was anything anyone could do.
He wasn’t sure if he loved Riley. He knew he wanted to save her, but that wasn't the same thing, and he was starting to think that there might not be enough of her left to save.
“Hey,” John said quietly when Riley finally looked up and saw him standing there.
“Hey yourself,” she responded with a shaky smile.
“You all packed and ready?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe. “Derek wants to get going.” John was a little uneasy about pulling up stakes without his mother, but she’d been adamant on the phone that they needed to go, and go now. If someone was playing them, they needed to try and stay a step ahead.
Riley nodded. “I didn’t really unpack.”
“Yeah.” John crossed the room, hesitating a beat before crouching down in front of her. “You okay?”
Riley shrugged. "I'm fine." She deliberately relaxed, crossing her legs and cradling her chin in her hands, elbows on her knees. "Why are you being so serious all of a sudden?"
John frowned, not liking the fake carelessness anymore than he liked the despair. "Riley, you ran away… "
"Oh, that." Riley waved it off as if she and Lauren had only taken an ill-conceived jaunt instead of trying to disappear. "Don't be mad, it's not like we actually got anywhere."
"I'm not mad," John protested. "I'm worried about you."
Riley rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm fine, silly, so let's just forget about it, okay?"
"No," John said firmly, struggling with his rising temper and concern. He took hold of one of Riley's wrists, pulling it down between them and pushing her sleeve back to bare the slowly healing scar. "This is what happened the last time you said you were fine."
Riley went white. John loosened his grip and she yanked her arm back, clutching it against her chest. Curling in on herself, she hunched her shoulders and looked down at her feet. “I’m scared," she whispered eventually, all of her artifice gone.
John reached out and tipped her chin up. “Hey, look at me,” he coaxed, waiting until she lifted those fragile blue eyes. “We all get scared.”
“But you didn’t run away.” She sniffled, tears spilling over from the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry, but this is who you are. You, your mom, Cameron and Derek, you’re like this epic group of badass fighters or something, and I’m not. I don’t want to die, John.”
“I know,” John soothed, pulling her up and into a hug. “I know.” He held her tightly against his chest and let her cry into his shirt, wishing there was some way he could set her free. This wasn't who she was. It wasn't her fight and she wasn’t a warrior, not like his mother, or even Lauren, but there was nowhere else for her to go, nowhere safe. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he promised, pressing his lips to her hair. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Tall and white, the lighthouse stood on the hill like a modern day tower for a forgotten hero. Built as a beacon for lost ships, it made a fitting home for a lost soul. Charley tied his boat off at the dock, automatically scanning the perimeter, a habit he hated almost as much as the machines that made it necessary. The eight foot fence, top of the line security system, explosives buried in the sand and attached to the bottom of the dock, might keep him alive… but it wasn’t much of a life.
The last of Charley’s safeguards, a big yellow
Kosacki came at Charley’s whistle and followed him inside, his blunt nails clicking on the hardwood floors. Charley punched the code into the alarm system, a daily necessity that always reminded him of Sarah. She had built him a tower and locked him inside, safe, and far away. He hadn’t quite figured out whether that was for his benefit or hers. Both probably. There was far too much anger, pain and guilt between them now for anything but distance to mute. He couldn’t think of her without thinking of Michelle, and how she had died. It wasn’t that it was all Sarah’s fault. She had warned him, told him to leave, and he hadn’t listened until it was too late, but Charley could know that, and still not be able to feel it. Not the way he still felt Michelle’s absence, an open wound that wouldn’t heal.
The cupboards were almost bare. Time for a supply run. Between his garden and the sea, Charley could get most of what he needed right here, but the staples were a little harder to come by. His bank account, opened under a false name, always had plenty of money. He didn’t ask where it came from, he tried not to think about it.
“Peanut Butter sandwiches again,” Charley told the dog, who was more interested in his own supper. Kosacki sat by his bowl, dark brown eyes at their widest, the picture of starvation. Unable to stand that piercing stare for long, Charley set the peanut butter and bread out on the counter, and went to the pantry for the dog food.
He was bent over the bin, trying to fill the scoop with the salty smelling kibble while keeping Kosacki’s big yellow head out of it, when the dog suddenly went very still. Losing interest in the food, Kosacki growled, so low that Charley could barely hear it, and turned back around to face to the kitchen, a ridge of fur standing up along his spine. Charley heard the front door open and shut, footsteps on the floor, coming closer.
Charley wrapped a hand around the dog’s collar, holding him back. Slowly, he eased the gun out his belt, and clicked the safety off. The footsteps stopped. Pulling Kosacki with him, Charley straightened and slid his feet along the floor until he had his back against the wall to the left of the pantry door. With the dog trapped between his knees, Charley could feel Kosacki’s low bass growl vibrating against his legs.
The footsteps started again, this time heading directly for the pantry. Charley’s heart jumped erratically in his chest and the burning sting of adrenalin made his muscles ache. The footsteps stopped right outside the doorway. Turning his head to the side, Charley could just see an indistinct shadow thrown against the open door by the setting sun. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his sweaty grip on the gun, loosed Kosacki, and spun around the edge of the door, ready to fire, ready to die.
Surprise made Charley hesitate, and a second’s hesitation was all it took. He had been expecting a machine, but not this machine. She took advantage of his surprise to disarm him, wrenching the gun out of his hand and ignoring the dog snarling and snapping at her feet.
“You!” Charley choked out, taking hold of Kosacki’s collar again and wrestling the dog back under control. Thwarted, Kosacki started barking, a great heavy sound that promised murder to the funny smelling girl who had made his master afraid.
“Me,” Cameron confirmed blandly. “We have to go. Now.” With no more explanation than that, she gave him back his gun, turned and headed for the door.
“Wait, what? Why?” Charley followed her, hampered somewhat by his grip on the dog, still barking and lunging against the hand on his collar. As if on cue, the perimeter alarm sounded, a piercing scream that drowned out Kosacki’s threats, and renewed Charley’s panic.
“That’s why.” Cameron paused at the door, putting her back against the wall and peering through the window, her own black assault rifle held ready. She looked as calm as if this was something she did every day, completely unfazed by Charley’s shock, the dog that wanted to tear her apart or the alarm.
“There’s a machine coming for you,” she said, raising her voice over the noise. “Sarah has a boat ready at the end of the dock. When I open the door, you need to run. Get on the boat and go. I will cover your escape.”
“Wait-” Overwhelmed, Charley protested, trying to understand what was going on.
“No time.” Without warning, Cameron pulled the door open, caught him by back of the shirt and literally threw him out onto the gravel walk. He hit the ground rolling and a spray of bullets over his head brought the situation home. Scrambling to his feet, Charley did as he was told and ran, Kosacki at his heels.
The gunfire came from the left. As soon as Charley was on his feet and heading for the dock, Cameron focused completely on the terminator striding purposefully up the driveway, returning fire and forcing him to target her. Initial scans indicated another low level 800 model, tough but not very imaginative. In the future they would be one of the easiest series to reprogram. It was the 900’s that had begun to think.
Bullets churned the gravel under Cameron’s feet and ricocheted off the house behind her. She ignored them, aiming for the terminator’s gun and arms to send his own shots wide. Sarah had insisted that disabling the terminator was not their first priority, saving Charley was. Cameron disagreed, but since saving Charley was still the fastest way to get Sarah out of harms way, she made no attempt to close in for the kill. Instead, she backed slowly towards the dock, keeping herself between the terminator and Charley.
The first bullet that connected drove everything from Cameron’s thoughts but pain. The second, hitting her high on the chest, mere inches away from the first, knocked her down. Blood, hot and wet, ran down underneath her shirt.
Cameron had told Lauren that she felt pain. She’d been wrong. She had never felt anything like this.
Bracing the rifle against the ground, Cameron levered herself to her knees. Waves of sharp-edged agony tried to convince her that she’d received a mortal wound, but Cameron fought the insidious little pieces of code that wanted her to play dead and made it to her feet. The other terminator’s steps crunched on the gravel; he was thirty feet away, twenty and then ten... Behind her, Cameron could hear the roar of the motor boat and Charley’s boots pounding hollowly on the long wooden dock as he ran for safety. Ran to Sarah. For an instant, a fraction of a second, Cameron considered letting the terminator kill him. Sarah didn’t need Charley. He was nothing but a burden, an inconvenience, an obstacle. They would be better off without him. But Sarah had said please.
Keening like a struggling engine, Cameron threw everything she had against the burning in her chest and felt it give. The switch flipped and the pain loosened its hold, retreating to a faint, almost polite, warning. Strength flooded back into her limbs, and Cameron snapped the rifle up in time to use it as a club to smash the terminator to the ground.
Spinning, she sprinted for the end of the dock and the trigger for the explosives lined out under their feet. She was about halfway when she saw Charley make it safely onto the boat, lowering the yellow dog in first and jumping down after him. Sarah cast one unreadable glance back over her shoulder and twisted the wheel, driving them out and away from the dock, out of range. That had been Cameron’s condition, and Sarah had promised.
The switch was mounted on the wooden pillar at the right end of the dock, and the safety cover flipped up smoothly. Hand hovering over the button, Cameron faltered when the motor boat doubled back, looping around so that it would pass no more than ten feet from the end of the dock. Sarah, it appeared, had her own ideas about a safe distance.
“Jump!” Sarah yelled over the roar of the engine, spinning the wheel at the last second to bring the boat just close enough. Torn between frustration with Sarah’s disregard for her own safety, and a completely illogical swell of gratitude, Cameron dodged the other terminator’s awkward grab, jammed the button down, and leapt.
Thunder snarled in a clear twilight sky, tearing the dock apart and spitting it out in a shredded cloud of wood and metal. A rush of superheated air propelled Cameron farther than she had expected and she landed badly, scrambling for a grip on the edge of the boat while shrapnel rained down around them.
Sarah and Charley had dropped when the dock blew. With no one at the wheel, the boat careened wildly, pitching in the sudden waves. A surge of water broached over the side, soaking Cameron and making the metal under her hands even slipperier. She had almost found her balance when a wet yellow body flung itself out of the bottom of the boat with a murderous howl, closing sharp teeth on the arm that she threw up hastily to block it. The dog’s momentum cost Cameron her grip and they both tumbled back and into the sea.
“Cameron!” Scrambling out of the bottom of the boat, Sarah made a grab for the damned dog’s collar but her fingers closed on nothing but a handful of wet fur. He jerked out of her grip, leaping at Cameron and taking her over the side. The water churned and nausea bit deeply into Sarah’s gut at the brief pink tinge to the crests of the waves before the dog surfaced behind them, paddling desperately. There was no sign of Cameron.
Swearing, Sarah shoved past a staggering Charley and took the wheel again, bringing the boat under control and steering back towards the dog. They were about thirty feet out from the ruined dock, and a quick glance revealed no trace of the other terminator. Safe enough then. Sarah cut the power, and Charley reached down and hauled his dog back up into the boat.
“Easy boy,” he soothed, running his hands over the dogs back and legs, checking for injuries. “He’s okay,” he announced after a moment, looking up as if he expected some kind of positive reaction to the news.
Sarah just barely resisted the urge to kick both him and his dog off the boat. “Good for him,” she snapped instead, wrenching open the two storage containers on either side of the boat one at a time and digging through them.
“What are you doing?” Charley asked after a few seconds of tense silence.
“What does it look like?” Sarah finally found what she was looking for, a fifty foot coil of white nylon rope. She yanked it free. “I’m going in after her.”
“Can’t she just walk to shore?” Charley protested.
A nasty comment on the tip of her tongue, Sarah slammed the container shut and twisted around. Charley was crouched at the far end of the boat, one arm around his dog, and his face openly puzzled. He didn’t give a damn about Cameron’s well being, and as far as he knew, neither did Sarah.
“There’s another machine down there somewhere,” Sarah reminded him, looping the rope over her shoulder and around her chest. “He’s not going to just let her go.”
Charley blanched when the implication sunk in. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her back from the edge of the boat. “Sarah, she’s just a machine, you can’t risk your life for that! What about John?”
Sarah could have hit him. “She’s not-” she started with a snarl, faltering to a halt when her brain caught up with her mouth and she realized exactly what she’d been about to say. She’s not just a machine… Almost saying the words didn’t come as half so much of a shock to Sarah as the understanding that she actually meant them, and the two together…
Sarah clenched her teeth. “If John were here, he’d be the first one into the water,” she pointed out instead, knowing it was true, even more believable. “I’m going. You’ll be safe so long as you stay in the boat.”
Charley didn’t understand. Sarah could see it in his eyes, but she didn’t have time to make him understand, her would just have to trust her. Looking past him to the beach, she saw the other terminator dragging himself out of the waves onto the sand. He was limping, but other than that he seemed more or less in one piece. Cold fear tightened her chest when he didn’t run, or even walk away. He just stood there… watching them, as if there wasn’t anything left that he considered a threat. Cameron…
Charley followed her gaze, but Sarah didn’t wait for his reaction. Yanking her arm out of his grip, she stepped up onto the side of the boat and dove in.
It took three dives to find her.
The water was colder the farther down Sarah got, and her lungs burned. Salt stung her eyes, and every kick sent fire through her injured leg. She kept going. With the light fading fast, Sarah was searching more by feel than sight when her fingers finally found fabric and skin instead of sand and rocks. Cameron lay limply on the sea bed. A hurried and fumbling examination didn’t reveal any obvious damage, but she wasn’t moving.
Quickly running out of air, Sarah tied the rope around Cameron’s chest and shoulders. Once it was secure, she took the other end and kicked for the surface. Spots were dancing in front of her eyes by the time she reached it, and for a few seconds she could only tread water and breathe
As soon as her head cleared, Sarah struck out for the boat. Charley met her at the side and pulled her in with gentle hands, taking the rope and securing it to the railing before passing her an emergency blanket from the storage containers.
Sarah took it gratefully, shaking from a combination of worry, exhaustion and the cool evening air on her wet skin. She made a move for the rope, but Charley got in her way.
“I’ve got this,” he told her firmly, a hand on her shoulder. “Sit down.”
Too spent to argue, Sarah sat and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders while Charley slowly but steadily pulled Cameron up and out of the ocean. Sarah stepped forward to help once he got her to the side, and they laid her out in the bottom of the boat. Sarah dropped down beside her, fingers going immediately to Cameron’s head and searching for the cover over her chip. She was relieved to find it in place, the scalp over it undisturbed.
Charley had tied the dog up at the front of the boat, and Sarah was grateful not to have to deal with it while she cupped Cameron’s face, looking in vain for some reason why the girl was offline. The skin under her hand was clammy and cold, and in the last of the light she could see a faint bluish cast to Cameron’s lips and fingernails. John’s voice rang suddenly and unexpectedly in Sarah’s head, she thought she was human… and Sarah remembered the way Cameron’s skin had inflamed around her wounds, the racing of the girl’s heart under her hands, the unmistakable taste of desire when their lips had met. Human…
“I need some light over here!” Sarah shouted abruptly, understanding bringing with it a new sense of urgency. How far would this malfunction go? Would it mimic brain damage, death?
“Right.” Charley didn’t ask for an explanation, he just moved, switching on the boat’s running lights and coming back with a high powered flashlight that he held so that it shone down on Cameron and Sarah. “What’s wrong with her?”
Sarah didn’t waste time answering. Lacing her fingers together, she pressed down on Cameron’s chest between her breasts, ignoring the fact that the girl’s metal endoskeleton made it impossible to do a real compression. If she was right, it wasn’t about reality, it was the appearance of reality. If Cameron’s chip thought she was human enough to drown, then she should react to CPR… or at least, that’s what Sarah hoped.
Thirty compressions, and then Sarah tipped her chin back, pinched her nostrils closed and covered Cameron’s mouth with her own. Charley watched silently. Despite his expertise, he didn’t offer to help, but he kept the flashlight steady, any questions he might have had behind his teeth.
Tears burned the back of Sarah’s eyes as she repeated the sequence once, twice, and a third time bruising her hands against unyielding metal. “Damnit, Cameron,” she cursed. “You’re a machine! Machines. Do. Not. Drown!”
How long could a human go without oxygen before there was no hope? Ten minutes, fifteen? It had already been twice that long and more. Sarah forced one last breath, her lips drawing back over Cameron’s mouth in a caress that was almost, almost a kiss.
With no idea what else to do, she pulled away just far enough to rest her forehead against Cameron’s, laying a hand flat over the stillness in the girl’s hollow metal chest. She almost missed the first faint pulse, only raising her head sharply when a second beat throbbed against her palm. Sarah held her breath. For a moment there was nothing else, and then Cameron heaved under her touch, gasping, coughing and choking up seawater.
Relieved to the point where she no longer gave a damn what it looked like, Sarah steadied her, supporting the girl as she struggled to her hands and knees, her head hanging down between her arms while she caught her breath. She was shaking, and Sarah stripped the blanket off of her own shoulders without a second thought, throwing it over Cameron and gathering both girl and blanket hard against her chest.
“Sarah…?” Cameron rasped, craning her head back and looking around as if she couldn’t quite figure out how she’d gotten back onto the boat.
“Shh…” Sarah ran a reassuring hand over Cameron’s hair and settled her more comfortably between bent knees. “You’re safe… I’m safe.” She smiled weakly. “Even Charley and the damned dog are safe.”
Cameron took that in, nodded once, and relaxed, the tension draining out of her in a rush. She let her head come to rest on Sarah’s shoulder and hesitantly wrapped her arms around Sarah’s waist, clinging a little more tightly when the move didn’t meet with any protest. Sarah exhaled slowly, surrendering to the moment, and content just to be for as long as possible.
Later, she wouldn’t remember much of the trip back to shore. Some part of her knew that Charley had started the boat, she must have told him about the empty cottage where they’d left the Jeep, must have given him directions, but if she had, she’d forgotten it as soon as the words left her lips. The only thing that was real was bottom of the boat, her back pressed against the side of the seat, and the girl she held tightly in her arms.
Cameron felt Sarah stiffen underneath her when they docked. She lifted her head and drew back, searching Sarah’s face for some hint of her mood, but Sarah wouldn’t meet her eyes. You’re safe… I’m safe. Out on the water, that had been enough, but as the hull of their stolen boat scraped against wooden planks, Cameron sensed Sarah putting the walls back up between them.
She didn’t like it.
The boat rocked when Charley stood, stepping off to tie them up without a word. Cameron’s gaze flicked over to him, then returned to Sarah, understanding making her shift back onto her heels. Charley was going to be a problem. Putting that aside for now, she eased upright, letting the blanket that had covered them fall and extended a hand to Sarah, balancing easily in the unsteady boat.
Sarah accepted the help after a second’s hesitation, and Cameron pulled her gently to her feet, offering a shoulder when Sarah’s leg refused to hold her weight. Manoeuvring them both up over the side and onto the dock took a few minutes, and Charley hovered, his disapproval obvious. Cameron ignored him, keeping Sarah close against her side as they made their way back to the Jeep.
Sarah had been right, it would be better for them to stay away from each other. Cameron wasn’t thinking clearly, and neither was Sarah. She should not have risked her life for Cameron’s. Cameron should not have allowed her to risk both of them for Charley, shouldn’t have ignored logic and reason just because Sarah had asked her to. Whatever was happening between them, it was a threat to their mission, and threats must be eliminated.
Cameron examined that conclusion, and then discarded it.