Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Disclaimer: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is not mine... I'm just playing with it.
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, many thanks to my beta inspectorboxer! Thanks for sticking with me through the longer than expected hiatus on this one!
AN #2: My apologies to all of you readers for the delay on this chapter, I was hoping to work on this story and the VS simultaneously, but alas... the best laid plans. But while this is a short-ish chapter for me, I'm back in the saddle and muse willing, the updates should go back to normal after this.
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 / Chapter13b
Rousing briefly when Cameron laid her on the bed and tucked her in, Sarah just barely felt the press of warm lips against her forehead. The kiss snagged at her fading consciousness, dragging her far enough awake that she became aware of the soft mattress underneath her, the distant latch of the door and the faint tang of salt in the air as Cameron moved away from the bed.
Sarah fingers twitched against the sheets in a fleeting urge to reach out and stop her, pull her back, but she was just aware enough to hesitate, and then the moment was gone. Still, Sarah felt her senses straining after the machine, as if she was waiting for Cameron to come back and take the initiative the way she had on the road.
Soft footsteps over carpet, and then linoleum, allowed Sarah to track Cameron to the bathroom. She heard the shower switch on, the rush of water drowning out any chance that Cameron would be pushing anything tonight. Good.
Sarah tried to deny her brief surge of disappointment, tried not to listen to the hiss and brush of fabric over skin as the machine undressed, or picture the lean and graceful body she'd refused to acknowledge until it had been pressed up against her. She failed on all three counts.
The click of the bathroom door sounded louder and more final than it should have.
Denied anything to focus on, Sarah's senses turned inwards as the muted roar of the shower lulled her towards sleep. Considering the soundtrack, it wasn't surprising that she should slip into fantasies of warm water and soap suds sliding over smooth, wet skin. Even semi-conscious, Sarah should have been appalled at the direction her thoughts were taking. Instead, she surrendered with only the faintest twinge of guilt. There would be time enough and more for denial and self-recrimination in the cold light of day.
Fantasy became almost-dreams, then true dreams, and Sarah was finally chased into sleep by the question of what might have happened if she hadn't hesitated. Would Cameron have stayed? Would she have…?
Could a machine even…?
Cameron didn't want to leave, but she couldn't stay.
Against her better judgment, she had returned to Sarah's bedside after her shower, and now she found herself stuck there, struggling between a concern for Sarah's welfare that insisted she let the exhausted woman sleep, and an unsettling, all consuming, want that prodded her towards the complete opposite.
Humans called it desire, lust, or infatuation. Cameron didn’t know what machines called it. As far as she knew, they’d never had the need to call it anything. Machines didn't feel. Not the way Cameron was feeling now.
She was aware of the distinctions humans made between familial, platonic and sexual relationships. Cameron knew that the steadily increasing pull she felt towards Sarah had shifted and intensified since she had used the damaged remains of an experimental program to save her life. Cameron had wanted Sarah to like her, now she needed Sarah to want her the same way she wanted Sarah.
Cameron's eyes shifted to the alarm clock on the bedside table. 2:00 am. Sarah needed at least six hours of sleep. That meant six hours of waiting, six hours of not touching, not talking… and by then, the others might be awake as well. Cameron accepted the hot and tight feeling behind her eyes as frustration. She wanted Sarah to herself, but she could not abandon her other responsibilities. John must be protected, Jesse and Derek had to be watched, and she was beginning to feel the need to take care of Lauren and Sydney as well… Not to mention Charley's presence…
Knowing that Charley was only a few thin walls away made it even harder for Cameron to remember why she should be resisting her attraction to Sarah. Logically, he was not a threat to anything other than their ability to hide effectively. Logically, he was not competition for Sarah's attention. Logically, he should not make Cameron want to claim Sarah like a dog staking out its territory. But logic was having less and less to do with Cameron's thought process with regards to Sarah.
She looked at the clock again. 2:17 am. Cameron had never understood the human expression referring to time as crawling before -time moved at a consistent rate- but she was beginning to understand a lot of new things, and time was indeed crawling for her tonight.
Sarah shifted in her sleep, lines forming at the corners of her eyes as her brows dipped and furrowed. She clenched her fingers around a fold in the blankets, a faint sound escaping from the back of her throat that could have been pain, fear, anger or some other complicated human emotion.
Cameron reached out, almost touching Sarah's shoulder before she caught herself. Her hand hovered until Sarah settled again, and she was able to force herself to pull back. Nightmare or not, Sarah needed to sleep. If Cameron could have trusted herself to stop at soothing, she might have tried to ease Sarah into a more peaceful rest, but if she gave herself permission to touch, she wasn't sure she'd be able to stop.
All it would take was a little too much noise, a slight jar to the mattress…
No. Cameron clenched her fists at her sides and took a deliberate step backwards. She needed a distraction. A glance around the room revealed very little in the way of occupation. The television was out of bounds. Even without sound, the lights might disturb Sarah. A careful search through the drawers of the nightstand came up with very little in the way of reading material. Cameron discarded the worn bible she’d memorized long before, and sat down in the chair under the window to skim through the guest handbook.
Five minutes later, Cameron was fully informed on the hotel’s policies, procedures, and room service menu, but no less conflicted, restless or impatient.
Her feet found their way back to the side of the bed. Fine. Avoiding the temptation wasn't working, what about confronting it? If Sarah woke up, then what? Cameron's databanks provided a wealth of suggestions, techniques, positions…
Cameron blinked, a shiver running through her metal frame. Did she want to…? Was she even capable of…?
She conferred with her systems, finding the answer to both questions to be an emphatic yes.
Raw need burned through Cameron's synthetic nerves, and she wrenched herself away from the bed before she gave in. Staying in the room was no longer possible.
After closing the door quietly, but firmly, behind her, Cameron wandered the hallway, pacing from one end of the long L-shape to the other. There were seventy-five feet of hall on one side and fifty on the other, twelve doors, eighty ceiling tiles and one hundred and twenty-five feet of carpet. Cameron memorized the hotel map on the wall during her first pass, and spent subsequent trips cataloguing every scuff in the carpet and bit of damage or spot of discoloration on the walls and doors, and adding them to the map in her head, creating a schematic of minor repair and maintenance needs. She counted two hundred and forty-three pieces of foreign matter on, stuck to or embedded in, the carpet, one hundred and thirty-seven of which could be removed by a vacuum, and the rest of which would require an industrial strength cleaner. By the time an hour had crawled by, Cameron had drawn up a complete mental list of everything that needed to be done to return the third floor to its original pristine condition, determined a schedule, and estimated the cost in thirteen different currencies.
It didn’t help.
From there, Cameron moved onto a catalogue of the people behind the doors. Eight of them, spread across four rooms, were her responsibility, either to guard or guard against. She paused outside each of the doorways that were not Sarah's in turn, using the cadence of the individual heartbeats to tell her who was inside.
Derek and Jesse were asleep, so was John. Charley was still awake, and Cameron acknowledged her resentment of his presence before moving on. The girl's room was next. Three heartbeats there, two adolescents and one infant. Riley and Sydney were asleep, Lauren was not. Cameron paused, head tilted to one side as she listened to that heartbeat coming closer.
Lauren jumped when she opened the door to find Cameron on the other side. "Whoa, no wonder you freak people out, sometimes. What are you doing wandering around the hallway?"
Cameron blinked. "Patrolling. This hotel is not secure."
"Shouldn’t you be standing outside John's door then?" Lauren sidled out of the room and shut the door behind her. "He is the savior of mankind after all."
"I was," Cameron agreed. "He's fine. Where are you going?"
Lauren held up a plastic bucket with the hotel logo emblazoned on it. "I can't sleep, I thought I'd get some ice."
"Oh." Cameron glanced down either end of the empty hallway, contemplating a long night of walking from one side of the L to the other by herself. The prospect was unappealing. She brought her attention back to Lauren. "May I come with you?"
"To get ice?" Lauren sounded skeptical.
Cameron nodded. "Yes, to get ice. The cooler is on the fifth floor, between rooms 503 and 504. "
Lauren shrugged and headed for the stairwell. "Sure, not the most exciting trip ever, but I'm not going to turn down the security detail."
"Thank you." Cameron followed Lauren to the stairs and up two flights to the fifth floor. Lauren didn’t seem bothered by the intrusion, and Cameron was grateful for the distraction.
The cooler was right where the map had said it was, and Cameron stood by while Lauren filled her bucket. A single piece of ice tumbled free, falling to the industrial grade carpet with a soft thud. Cameron bent to pick it up, holding the soft edged cube in the palm of her hand and watching, fascinated, as it melted from the heat of her skin.
"Isn't that cold?" Lauren shut the lid of the cooler, and leaned against its metal side.
"Yes." Cameron analyzed the temperature of the ice compared to her skin and deduced that the contrast would, to a human, be considered unpleasant. But for the moment her unpredictable pieces of code seemed to be in agreement that she was a machine, because her body was registering only the degree of sensation without offering any reaction to it.
"Huh." Lauren watched quietly for a moment, until the ice was almost gone. "So did you get Sarah to bed okay?"
Sarah… Cameron's hand jerked, shaking the tiny shard of ice free, and she stared, brows pulled together, at the bright red mark on the palm of her hand. With the mention of Sarah's name, her skin had begun to burn, as if her synthetic nervous system had only just noticed that she was holding something too cold for her. Interesting. Cameron wiped her hand against her jeans and lifted her head to see Lauren looking at her quizzically.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes. You have your ice?"
"Yeah…" Lauren trailed off. "Are you sure you're all right? You're being kind of weird."
"Weird," Lauren affirmed, walking back towards the stairwell. "Even for you, which is, you know… weird."
Cameron considered that. "I'll try not to be weird," she offered tentatively.
"No." Lauren turned with the door half open under her hand. "That's not, I mean… look; I’m not judging, but if there’s something going on with you… I’d like to help.” She hesitated, biting at her lower lip. “John thinks you had a fight with Sarah, and that she’s mad at you for something, but from what I saw, you just about handed that Charley guy's spleen to him on a plate to keep him away from her, so I think maybe John has got it backwards…”
Cameron's fingers twitched with the memory of lacing them with Sarah's, the thrilling pressure of the other woman's hand in hers. She did not think Sarah was mad at her right now, but she had been last night and this evening. Would she be mad again in the morning? The thought dampened some of Cameron's anticipation.
"We're okay," she said, hoping it was true.
"Hmmm…" Lauren raised a dark brow, but let it go. "If you say so, just take care of yourself okay? And if you need to talk…"
Cameron nodded, and they went back to the third floor in silence.
"This is me," Lauren said unnecessarily, hesitating at her door, ice bucket under one arm and her eyes downcast.
Cameron nodded. She had no desire to return to her solitary wandering, but she would not keep Lauren against her will. "Goodnight."
"Yeah, goodnight…" Lauren swiped her key card, waited for the green light and twisted the knob. She pushed the door open a few inches and hesitated again, glancing back as if waiting for something.
Cameron was unaccustomed to humans looking to her for anything other than violence. Even to Sarah, whatever else might be happening between them, Cameron knew she was first and foremost a weapon to protect John and destroy Skynet. So she almost missed Lauren's unspoken appeal, only recognizing it at all because it was the same need that was making her want to find a reason for Lauren to stay.
Cameron pieced it together slowly, exploring this new understanding as tentatively as if it was a base in enemy territory, ready to retreat if it was some kind of trap. "If you need to talk…" she echoed, glancing away and then back again.
The door was pulled closed, and Lauren shrugged. "I guess, I mean, if you're not busy…"
Cameron shrugged in perfect imitation, catching every nuance of a teenage girl stiff with bravado. "I don't sleep."
Lauren snorted and grinned at the unexpected hint of aggrieved frustration that had infiltrated Cameron's usually neutral tagline. "Not always a plus, huh?"
"No," Cameron agreed feelingly.
Lauren's grin got a little wider. "Guess I'd better keep you company then." Leaving the ice bucket by the door, she headed back towards the exit. "Come on, Number 5, if we stay out here we'll wake someone else up and they're not all as warm and fuzzy as you are."
Cameron followed. "I am not a fictional robot," she felt the need to point out as they left the hallway. “Or fuzzy.”
Lauren's laughter echoed softly through the stairwell.
They ended up by the pool.
The air was close and warm and filled with the scent of chlorine, so strong it nearly made even Cameron’s eyes water. Their footsteps echoed strangely in the silence, overly loud and yet muffled. The only light came from under their feet, fluorescent half globes set into the slick, stucco sides of the pool, glowing like monstrous eyes. Distorted by water, the lights cast strange shifting shadows on the walls and ceiling, lending the entire room an eerie other-worldly feeling, as if Cameron and Lauren had stepped into another dimension.
Lauren discarded her shoes and socks almost immediately, rolling up her pant-legs and dangling her feet in the water. Cameron hesitated, finally sitting with her legs folded underneath her. The movement of the water, the way it lapped against the sides of the pool, awoke a new twisting feeling in the pit of her stomach that her shower had not.
They sat quietly for a few minutes, Lauren idly swirling the water with her toes, and Cameron trying not to look.
"I'm sorry," she said abruptly, her words sounding as strangely squashed by the silence as their footsteps had been.
Lauren's feet stilled. "For what?"
"I brought you back." Cameron focused on the words, avoiding the memory of the water closing over her head, the weight of her metal endoskeleton dragging her down, and the glitch that had forced her to fight for air she didn’t need. Caught both by what she was and what she was pretending to be, Cameron had never felt so helpless, so trapped. "You and Riley were almost free, and I made you come back."
"You didn’t have much of a choice. Sarah needed you."
"She did," Cameron agreed, still not looking at Lauren. "But I could have let you go."
"So why didn't you? John and Sarah would have been safer if you didn't have to worry about us."
Now Cameron turned her head to study Lauren, seeing both confusion and hurt in the girl's eyes. She wasn't sure why, but she wanted to make that hurt go away. "John and Sarah would have been safer," she echoed. "But you might not have."
Lauren shook her head. "Safer than here… bullets start flying, we’re not going to be the first ones with our butts covered."
"You say that a lot," Cameron observed, unsure why Lauren felt the need to repeat something they all knew. The continued reminders had begun to sound like a challenge, as if Lauren was almost daring someone to disagree with her. "Why?"
Lauren shrugged, but her chin rose, firming with stubbornness that Sarah would have been hard pressed to equal. “I don’t want to forget,” she said fiercely. “I can't pretend anyone else is going to take care of us. That’s how people get killed. Mom and Dad died because Mom forgot the rules, and then expected Sarah to come and pick up the pieces again. They died because they couldn’t face the truth. I can. I’m all Sydney has. It's my job to protect her."
"You're angry with your parents," Cameron observed quietly. This emotion she was familiar with. John had been angry with his mother as long as Cameron had known him in this timeline. Less so lately, but the resentment was still there, tempered with love, but there.
"Yeah…" Lauren snorted derisively, bravado blocking some other, more fragile, response. "I guess I am. Pretty screwed up, huh? I'm mad at them for dying."
"No,” Cameron disagreed, thinking hard about the limited relationships she'd observed, and everything she knew about the contradictions of human emotions. "You are angry with them for leaving you alone, for leaving you alone to protect Sydney." She paused, taking that thought further. "You are also angry with Sydney, for needing to be protected. That is why you push John, because he's like her. People will die to protect him, to protect who he'll become, the way your parents died to protect Sydney. You are jealous of them… and of Riley. They get to be afraid.”
“I’m not jealous of Riley!” Lauren snapped, her expression closing down in an instant. She yanked her legs out of the pool and stood up. “What do you know anyway! You’re just a-” Nearly shaking, Lauren bit off the last word, casting her eyes down to her feet to avoid Cameron’s gaze.
"Machine?" Cameron finished for her. The label hurt, a pain deep in her chest that registered on no physical sensor she could identify. “Yes. I am a machine. I do not know what it is to have a family, or to lose them. I don’t know love.” She paused, rising smoothly to her feet before reaching out to tip Lauren’s chin up. “But I do know what it is to exist only to protect another, and I know that it is lonely.” She tilted her head to catch Lauren’s eyes. “I want to help you, if you will let me.”
"You…" Cameron saw Lauren visibly try to hold herself together, to continue to project the self assurance that so annoyed John and attracted Riley, and she almost managed it, but then the tears she had been refusing to cry spilled over and Cameron felt her own eyes widen as the girl flung herself into her arms. Hot tears fell on her neck and Lauren's shoulders shook under Cameron’s hesitant embrace. Remembering everything Sarah had taught her about hugging, Cameron supported Lauren without squeezing her, but it was very different than hugging Sarah. There was none of the bright heat and yearning, but rather comfortable warmth that slowly suffused them both.
Lauren pulled back after a few minutes, red-eyed, but with a nearly visible weight lifted off her shoulders. There was still something there, something that hadn’t been said, but Cameron left it alone for now.
“You feel better,” she observed instead, marveling anew at the human ability to repair by breaking down. She had witnessed it before with Sarah and John, but distantly, without the added perspective of Allison’s ability to feel overlaying and extending her own.
“Yeah.” Lauren stepped away, sitting back down at the edge of the pool and wiping at her eyes, “It helps, to have someone to talk to who gets it, you know?”
“No,” Cameron admitted wistfully, sinking down next to her. “I don’t.”
Lauren blinked. “Oh… I guess you wouldn’t, would you…?” She frowned thoughtfully. “We’ll have to fix that.” Squaring her shoulders, she made a beckoning gesture and smiled. “Bring it on,) Number 5, tell me what’s troubling that metal head of yours!”
The temptation to do just that was so strong that Cameron nearly gave into it before she realized what she was doing. She stopped herself through sheer force of will, aided by the thought of what Sarah would do to her if she found out Cameron had told anyone what had happened between them… or hadn’t happened. A polite denial on her tongue, Cameron was halted again by the look in Lauren’s eyes.
Lauren wanted to help. Needed to help. This was something she could do. It was something friends did, confiding in each other, leaning on each other. Lauren needed a friend, and so did Cameron.
“I’m broken…” Unable to fight it any longer, Cameron gave in to both of their needs, releasing the words in a rush, and almost tripping over them in her retelling of the past week. Lauren’s expression first sobered, and then inched towards incredulous as Cameron went on. She nearly choked when Cameron relayed what had happened with Sarah in the hotel room the night before their aborted escape attempt, but by the time Cameron got through the rescue of Charley and the interruption in the bathroom, Lauren seemed to have gotten used to the idea.
“Huh…” she said after a moment’s silence when Cameron had finished. “Wow.”
“Wow?” Cameron echoed her awkwardly, a shivering and chill that she interpreted as nervousness gripping her under her metal ribcage.
“Wow,” Lauren said again, more decisively. “Wow is definitely the right word for this. I mean…” She shook her head. “You’re a terminator who made a move on Sarah Connor, and not only did she not shoot you, she saved your life, and then almost made out with you in a gas station.” She snickered. “No wonder you don’t like Charley. You’re jealous, Number 5.”
“Charley’s presence poses a risk to John,” Cameron protested, only to be taken aback by the sulkiness in her own voice.
“Sure.” Lauren grinned.
“And I would not have died.” Cameron felt the sudden need to steer the conversation elsewhere. “The Allison program only mimics death. My chip would have rebooted as soon as I was alone."
"Are you sure about that?” Lauren asked doubtfully. “I mean, from what you've told me, aside from your other coding problems, that program is pretty scrambled, who knows what it will and won’t do..."
“I would not have died,” Cameron asserted again, but she heard doubt in her voice, and felt it in her chest, echoing the pressure of suffocation. Again she felt the water, cold and without purchase as she scrambled for the surface. She felt it weigh her down, and slide down her throat when she took the last involuntary gasp of the drowning victim. She had been afraid when she realized she was broken, and afraid when she had consented to John and Sarah removing her chip to examine it, but she had not yet known real fear until she knew Allison’s fear. Human fear.
It was different.
“Okay…” Lauren held up her hands in defeat. “You wouldn’t have died. Sarah didn’t know that, so we’ll still call it saving your life. So,” she grinned conspiratorially, “what are you going to do about it?”
Cameron barely heard Lauren though the buzzing in her ears. She could have died. She might die still, if she left her coding the way it was. She could not protect Sarah and John as a machine that thought it was human. She could not protect Lauren and Sydney, or Riley. Allison was invading her programming, tangling it all together… taking away her control, making her feel whether she wanted to or not…
Cameron remembered the ice cube… the sharp spike of pain that had been evoked by nothing more than Sarah’s name. Cameron had unleashed Allison on her systems in order to save Sarah, and now the woman seemed to be at the very heart of the messy knot the errant code was making of her previously orderly mind.
So long as Cameron indulged her feelings for Sarah, she would not be able to banish Allison. The switch would stay stuck, and she might not be able to do her job.
“Nothing,” Cameron said woodenly when Lauren’s question finally penetrated, forcing herself to disconnect from the pain of that decision. “I will do nothing.”