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 two 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 / Chapter 13a
They stopped at a seedy little roadside gas station to refuel and get cleaned up. Sarah left Charley at the pumps and limped around to the back of the Jeep to pull out their bags. Cameron joined her, taking both of the bags out of Sarah’s hands without a word before leading the way around the back of the building to the washrooms. Sarah followed, feeling Charley’s eyes on the back of her neck. She was going to have to talk to him eventually, explain, but right now she didn’t have the first fucking clue what to say.
At least the washrooms were the kind with an outside entrance, and they weren’t locked. The cold seawater had washed most of the blood out of Cameron’s shirt, but under even the half-hearted, flickering fluorescent lights of a station like this, there would have been no disguising that she had been shot, and the bite marks on her arm were ragged and dark with bruising.
Sarah locked the door behind them and Cameron threw the bags up onto the tiny counter, leaving them to Sarah so that she could strip out of her wet things. Sarah dug out the medical supplies and some dry clothing, piling the latter on the last square of free space beside the bags and sorting through the former for gauze, pliers and tape. She glanced up without thinking, catching sight of Cameron in the mirror, and the question she had been about to ask died on her tongue.
Mute and paralyzed, Sarah watched as Cameron pulled her shirt over her head, and skimmed water-soaked jeans down her long legs. Every move was smooth and deliberate. Where an normal person trying to get out of cold and clammy clothing might have shucked it off with no more thought than they put into breathing, Cameron undressed with the same attention to detail that she did everything else. It was hypnotizing. Sarah had seen Cameron in her underwear before, but this was different. Very different.
Cameron’s eyes lifted, meeting Sarah’s through the reflection, and Sarah dropped her gaze hastily, turning around with the medical supplies clutched against her chest like a shield. “You ready?” she asked gruffly, her eyes on the floor.
“Almost.” Cameron’s feet entered Sarah’s field of vision and pivoted. “I require assistance.”
Sarah dragged her eyes upwards. Cameron had pulled her hair forward over her shoulder, and her back was a patchwork of superficial cuts, scrapes and burns, all of them raw and crusted over with salt. The narrow band of her bra cut a sharp horizontal line under her shoulder blades, pink elastic spotted and stained with blood, its little metal clasp bent and twisted by the same shrapnel that had sliced up her skin.
A lump catching in her throat, both at the extent of the damage and the mute appeal, Sarah put the supplies back down on top of the clothes, and raised her hands to the damaged fastener, bending the hook back into place so that she could undo it. Her fingers were trembling by the time she got it to release, and she stepped back when it finally gave way, leaving Cameron to shrug the straps off of her shoulders on her own.
“Thank you,” Cameron said softly, gathering up her discarded clothing and piling it neatly on the down-turned lid of the toilet.
“You could have just broken it,” Sarah pointed out shakily, her gaze fixed firmly on the opposite wall.
“I could have,” Cameron agreed, moving back into Sarah’s line of sight, her expression completely innocent. “But I like that bra.”
Sarah snorted, retrieving the gauze and pliers and getting to work. “Of course you do.”
She found she could stay objective so long as she focused on the mess of torn flesh and shining metal under Cameron’s collar bones, and didn’t let her eyes wander. The two bullets came out easily, and Sarah rinsed the crusted salt from the wounds as gently as she could, but Cameron still twitched and shivered. It didn’t take a hell of a lot of insight to realize that if a machine could drown, then a couple of bullet holes probably hurt like a son of a bitch. Sympathy warred with a slow rising fury.
“You’re angry with me,” Cameron observed quietly when Sarah put aside her blood soaked cloth and started taping down the gauze.
Sarah didn’t look up. “You lied to me,” she charged, and felt Cameron stiffen under her hands at the accusation.
“I didn’t lie.” The machine’s tone was defensive, guarded.
“At the motel, before we-” Sarah stopped, rephrased. “When you woke up, you said you were okay.”
Cameron shifted, and Sarah could see the familiar head tilt in her mind's eye. “I tried to explain,” she said finally with a trace of reproach. “You didn’t want to hear it.”
Oh… right. Sarah winced. One for the cyborg. “Well, I’d like to hear it now.” She secured the last piece of tape and stepped back, wiping her hands free of blood with the rest of the gauze.
Cameron studied her for a moment, and then nodded. “There is a malfunction with one of my original programs,” she admitted. “All terminators designed and built after 2025 have a complete artificial autonomic nervous system that mimics human sensation and visceral functions. We breathe, we have a heart beat, we feel pain… but the level of feedback and our physical reaction to environmental stimulus is under manual control.” She paused at Sarah’s blank look and rephrased. “We can turn it on and off.”
Sarah took a moment to process that, twisting the gauze in her hands as she thought. Demonstratively, the problem here was that Cameron, for some reason, could not turn it on and off. Suddenly the scene back at the motel made a lot more sense, at least in regards to Cameron acting like a hormonal teenager, if not the underlying cause. That didn’t explain her reaction though… She wasn’t thinking about that. “What you’re saying,” she hazarded. “Is that you’ve got a stuck switch?”
“Yes,” Cameron confirmed after a moment’s thought. “The switch is stuck.”
“So, how do we fix it?” Sarah demanded, shoving aside the repressed little voice that wondered if maybe she wasn’t being just a little too hasty about all of this? There were benefits after all… benefits that were currently on full colour display right in front of her.
Cameron didn’t answer directly. “Do you want it fixed?” she asked instead, an unmistakable challenge to the angle of her chin as she gave voice to the very question Sarah had been trying so hard not to think about. It hit a little close to the bone.
“Are you insane?” Sarah snapped. “You just drowned. I almost lost you! This isn’t about whether or not I’m so desperate for a little company that I want to have sex with a goddamn robot. I-”
She’d gone too far. Sarah broke off as Cameron moved forward without warning, forcing her back against the wall beside the counter and trapping her there, hands pressed flat to the painted grey brick to either side of her head. “I am not a robot,” she warned Sarah levelly, leaning in until she held Sarah in place with nothing more than the weight of her body.
Damp cotton and denim were not adequate barriers. Sarah’s breath caught at the press of soft breasts and lean thighs. A minute ago, Cameron's skin had been cold under her fingers, chilled from sitting too long in wet clothing. Now she was warm, and quickly getting warmer. Her heat wrapped itself around Sarah, banishing the last of the chill and smothering her protest before it could take shape.
Inhaling sharply when she realized she'd forgotten to breathe, Sarah tasted salt, copper and a hint of strawberry lip balm. She just barely managed to remember why she didn’t want a more thorough sampling of that last flavour, and tried to pull back, but there was nowhere to go.
Completely unrepentant, Cameron slid a hand down the wall to tangle her fingers in Sarah’s hair and tip her head back. Her touch was gentle, but insistent. Sarah wanted to be furious, she was furious. She was absolutely going to take Cameron apart for this, just as soon as she could think again.
“Cameron, stop.” Sarah found a last scrap of resistance and clung to it, using it to force the words out. “What are you doing?”
“Showing you something,” Cameron whispered fiercely. “You make me feel things,” she explained, brushing her thumb over the shallow dip of Sarah’s temple, her eyes searching Sarah’s face. “Things I don’t understand, things I can’t control.” She paused. “You feel it too.”
“It’s not real,” Sarah protested, wondering a little frantically whether she was trying to convince Cameron, or herself. “You said it yourself; it’s just a broken switch.”
Cameron shook her head. “This is different,” she corrected Sarah firmly. “This was there before, but I didn’t know how to feel it, not all the way.
“And now?” Sarah asked.
Cameron’s other hand left the wall, gliding over Sarah’s shoulder and tracing a line down between her breasts before coming to rest on her waist. She toyed with the hem of Sarah’s shirt, her long fingers working their way under the edge of the wet fabric, stroking Sarah's stomach and making her tremble. “Now I can't stop,” she confessed, pressing closer.
“This is a bad idea…” Sarah whispered helplessly into Cameron’s hair as the girl dipped her head to brush the lightest of kisses over the pulse beating rapidly under Sarah’s jaw. Sarah closed her eyes against an unexpected, and thoroughly embarrassing, wave of light headedness when those soft lips touched her skin. Great, now she was swooning. So much for age and gender… when they got back, she owed John one hell of a fucking apology.
“I know,” Cameron agreed, her breath cool against the dampness left on Sarah’s skin by her kiss. “This is not part of our mission. It is an unnecessary complication.” She drew back just far enough so that they could look at each other, passion and confusion mixed in her dark eyes. “I shouldn’t want you, I shouldn’t be able to, but… I do." She licked her lips, her expression firming as she said it again. "I want you.”
“I…” Sarah struggled to bring her scattered thoughts back together. Cameron wasn’t playing fair. This…whatever it was, connection, attraction, insanity, was beyond Sarah's ability to cope with. She was being seduced by a machine, a collection of metal and wire that walked and talked. It was crazy. Or maybe Sarah was crazy, because despite all of that, she was very close to damning the consequences and letting Cameron take her on the floor of a filthy gas station bathroom.
Sarah reached up hesitantly, threading her fingers through Cameron's half-dried hair, stiff with salt and sand, and laying them against the back of her neck. Pressing gently, she urged Cameron forward, leaned in and…
A sharp bang rattled the door on its rusted hinges. The first knock was followed swiftly by a second and third, and Cameron snapped back at the sound, releasing Sarah and pivoting to stand between her and the door.
“Sarah?” Charley called. “Are you all right in there?”
“Fine,” Sarah answered weakly, letting her head fall back against the wall. She wasn’t sure whether to bless his timing or curse it. “We’ll be right out.”
Cameron didn’t seem to be so conflicted. She shot a glare at the door that was unambiguously homicidal.
“Okay…” Charley’s footsteps faded as he left the door.
Amused despite herself, Sarah offered Cameron a strained, but apologetic smile that was almost a smirk. “He’ll be back,” she said gently. “We need to go. John and the others will be waiting.”
The drive to the new hotel was tense. Cameron did not like having Charley Dixon sitting behind her where she couldn’t see him. He didn’t like her. He didn’t understand her relationship with Sarah, and that made him uncomfortable. Cameron could have told him that she didn’t understand it either, but she doubted that would improve the situation, and she was pretty sure Sarah wouldn't appreciate it.
Sarah was upset enough. It had taken Cameron one hour and thirty seven minutes to convince her to take the pain medication for her leg, and even when Sarah had finally given in, the pills had only dulled her physical pain. Cameron was aware that she was one of the main causes of Sarah’s mental and emotional distress, and she didn’t know what to do about it.
Cameron knew what she wanted, but she didn’t know what Sarah wanted. Sarah had almost kissed her at the gas station, but then she had walked away, and Cameron had let her. She was physically stronger than Sarah, but she could not forcibly take what she wanted from her. She needed Sarah to give it to her willingly or, somehow, it wouldn’t mean anything, and Cameron wanted it to mean something. She just didn’t know what it was supposed to mean… she hadn’t figured that part out yet.
Sarah shifted in the seat beside Cameron and glanced over her shoulder, a tired smile tugging at the corner of her mouth when she saw that Charley had fallen asleep. “Lucky bastard,” she muttered quietly.
“You could sleep too,” Cameron suggested, moderating her voice. She had no desire to be considerate of Charley Dixon’s rest, but so long as he was asleep, she could ignore him.
Sarah shook her head. “Too keyed up,” she said wearily, running a hand through her hair and rubbing at her temples. “My brain’s running around in circles.”
“You’re worried about Skynet’s plans,” Cameron guessed.
Sarah snorted. “That,” she agreed, looking over at Cameron. “And other things…”
Cameron felt her body temperature rise under Sarah’s scrutiny. “I’m sorry,” she offered automatically.
“Are you?” Sarah asked, turning sideways in her seat, and studying Cameron, a wry smile on her lips even though her eyes were worn.
Cameron glanced between Sarah and the road. The meaning she had been searching for was here somewhere, she could feel it hovering at her fingertips when Sarah looked at her like that, but she could quite catch it. Was she sorry? For upsetting Sarah, yes. For wanting to be with her, to touch her, no. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
“Yeah,” Sarah sighed, looking back at the road. “Me neither.”
They lapsed into silence. Charley and his dog snored from the back seat and the miles flashed by outside the windows. Cameron snuck glances at Sarah every few minutes, unable to help herself, becoming more conflicted as Sarah sagged further in her seat, exhaustion warring with the worry in her eyes.
An idea occurred to Cameron, but she didn’t know how Sarah would respond. She debated the move for a few miles, weighing the possibility of making things worse against the increasing weight of not doing anything at all. Eventually, Cameron couldn’t stand it any longer. She reached across the seat and took one of Sarah’s hands, drawing it back to her lap and twining their fingers together.
Sarah watched her with a raised brow, not protesting, but not exactly cooperating either. The tension thickened while Cameron waited for some kind of response, her eyes on the road, but her thumb moving gently over the back of Sarah’s hand. Cameron was just about to give it up and let go when Sarah blew out an exasperated breath, and tentatively returned the pressure, arranging their fingers a little more comfortably before relaxing back into her seat.
Cameron kept a hold of Sarah’s hand even after Sarah had finally succumbed to sleep. She was still confused, but here and now, this was enough.
John was half asleep when Cameron called to let him know they were almost there. He almost dropped the laptop off of his knees and onto the floor when his cell phone rang, nearly falling out of the chair himself in his haste to answer it. She asked him to meet them in the parking lot.
He stopped at Derek and Jesse's room to let them know where he was going, and then paused outside of the room Lauren and Sydney were sharing with Riley. If the girls were asleep he didn’t want to wake them, but he didn’t want to wait alone in the dark either…
A soft tap brought a clattering of metal as the chain was unfastened. Lauren opened the door, one dark brow raised in silent question. She was still dressed, but the room behind her was dark.
"Hey," he said softly. "Is Riley…?"
"She's asleep," Lauren told him, keeping her voice down, but there was a hint of censure in it, as if he should have known better than to come around bugging Riley in the middle of the night. "She had a really rough day. Is something wrong?"
John couldn’t help but notice that Lauren said she not we. He didn’t know if that was because something had happened to Riley that he didn’t know about, or if Lauren simply didn’t think it had been a rough day by her own standards. He wondered briefly what Lauren’s life had been like for the last nine months, but it really wasn’t any of his business. "Cameron called,” he explained, putting the question away for another time. “I'm going down to meet them."
"Oh." Lauren slipped out into the hallway and closed the door behind her. "I'll come with you."
"You don’t…" John trailed off. Lauren, not waiting for his permission, was already heading for the elevators. "Okay then," he sighed and followed. Lauren wasn't generally his first choice for company, but pushy and condescending was better than nothing.
“So they rescued this Charley guy all right?” Lauren asked in the elevator, when they no longer needed to worry about volume.
John nodded. “Cameron said they're all fine, but the terminator got away.”
“So it’ll probably just go after someone else then?”
“Maybe.” John shrugged. “It might have only been programmed to target one person.”
“Then it might come here?” Lauren frowned. She didn’t sound happy about that idea, and John couldn’t blame her.
“Mom knows everything there is to know about running from machines,” he said, trying to sound reassuring. “She won’t let it get anywhere near your sister.”
Lauren snorted at that, preceding him out into the dimmed lobby when the doors opened and heading for the exit. “Won’t let it anywhere near you, you mean. I think we come in somewhere a little lower on her priority list.”
John couldn’t argue with that, it was true. Cold, but true.
They got to the parking lot to find the Jeep already parked, and Charley and Cameron locked in what looked like some kind of standoff outside of the front passenger door. John frowned, a sense of apprehension gripping his chest. This did not look good. He jogged over, leaving Lauren to catch up.
“Hey, Johnny,” Charley called softly, turning away from Cameron to pull him into a hug. John returned it wholeheartedly, relieved to see Charley alive and uninjured. Even with all that had happened, all the time that had passed, Charley was still the closest thing John had ever had to a father. Derek might have come closer in time, but the soldier couldn’t ever really see him as a kid, he was always John Connor.
Letting go, John looked past Charley to see his mother asleep in the front seat. Cameron stood firmly between her and Charley. The terminator was even less expressive than usual, but it was that same stripped away sort of blankness that he'd noticed the night before. Something told him she wasn't nearly as neutral as she looked.
“She won’t let me near your mom,” Charley grumbled, assuming John had been talking to him rather than the machine.
“Sarah needs her sleep,” Cameron insisted before John could even open his mouth, and the glare she levelled at Charley made John’s blood run cold. It was the same way she used to look at Riley, only worse… a lot worse. "He will wake her up."
“Cameron…” John began tentatively, shifting until he was standing in front of Charley. "Maybe…" He was spared having to come up with a diplomatic way to resolve the situation by Lauren’s delayed arrival.
“Who’s this?” She asked brightly, opening the rear door for a madly wriggling yellow lab. The dog leapt out and immediately began dancing around her feet. He seemed to have accepted Cameron's presence, trusting his master's decision. John wasn't sure if that indicated intelligence, or the lack of it. Lauren dropped to a crouch and rubbed the dog's ears familiarly.
“That’s Kosacki,” Charley said fondly, relaxing a little.
“Kosacki?” Lauren looked up.
“Yeah,” Charley confirmed with a pointed glance at Cameron. “After Jozef Kosacki, the guy who invented the first portable metal detector.”
“We’re going to have to smuggle him upstairs,” Lauren pointed out, ignoring the dig at Cameron in favour of keeping Charley’s attention. “This place is a little fancy for dogs."
“Right.” Charley rubbed a hand over his head, looking back at John. “You okay here?”
“I’ve got it,” John assured him, making a mental note to thank Lauren later for the timely interruption. She glanced back as they left, a brief wink enough to let him know that it hadn’t been accidental. Once they were gone, he turned back to Cameron with a sense of dread, but she seemed to have forgotten all about the confrontation. She gently unbuckled his mother’s seatbelt, lifting her easily out of the Jeep. Sarah murmured softly when she was moved, but she settled back against Cameron’s shoulder without waking up.
John shut the door behind them and then led Cameron around the back of the hotel to the rear entrance. He figured the stairwell was a less conspicuous choice with Cameron pulling the Prince Charming routine. They made it to the third floor without incident, and John took her to the room they'd gotten for his mother. She was the only one who wasn't sharing, and Cameron got her settled onto the double bed while John set out the key cards on the desk.
“Thank you,” she said pointedly when he hesitated, unsure whether to leave the machine to it, or wait for her. Come to think of it, he didn’t know which room Cameron was supposed to be staying in anyway. She didn’t sleep, but she couldn't exactly just stand in the hallway all night either.
Unwilling to make an issue out of it, John took the hint. He backed out, pausing just before the door latched, a strange extension of his earlier apprehension prompting him to glance back through the narrow crack. He watched curiously as Cameron slipped Sarah's boots off and covered her with the blanket. She started to turn away, paused, then reached down to brush a lock of hair out of Sarah's face. Her fingers lingered, and John's stomach dropped as she leaned down and pressed a brief kiss to his mother's forehead.
She didn’t do any more than that, and from anyone else the gesture might have been a chaste sign of affection, but John knew better. Cameron didn’t do casual touching, and paired with her reaction to Charley, John suddenly had a very bad feeling that he might have done something incredibly stupid. He stood frozen outside of the door long after Cameron had gone into the bathroom, the hiss of the shower a clear sign that she had no intentions of leaving.
Feeling like he'd been hit on the back of the head, John took a shaky step back, pulling the door closed and locked. He made his way back to the room he was sharing with Charley in a daze, completely overwhelmed, and without the faintest idea what he was going to do about it.