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 for her patience with this story over the last nearly two years... hopefully I'll get it wrapped up soon.
AN #2: To anyone still reading this story, thanks for sticking around through the second of two outlandishly long hiatuses. Chapter 16 is half written already, and I think I'm back on track now.
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 Chapter 14
Sarah groaned as she uncurled under the sheets. The bed she found herself in was unfamiliar, but after seventeen years of running she was used to that. Still, even half asleep, she couldn't deny a moment of longing for the home she had burned to the ground, for more than a handful of mornings waking up in the same place… but that life was dead and gone. With the ease of long practice, Sarah set it aside. There was no comfort in whining for what she couldn't have. They had lived in hotels before and they would again. For now it was enough to have a roof over their heads, and time enough to rest.
And heal, Sarah added sourly to herself. Her leg ached from hip to ankle, a sullen, nagging sort of pain; as if it resented how little care she'd taken of it in the last twenty-four hours. It was annoying, but not debilitating. Ignoring it along with the belligerent muttering from the rest of her abused and battered body, Sarah swung her legs over the side of the bed.
In spite of her resolve, she winced. Stiff with dried sweat and salt from her swim, the gauze wrapped around her thigh had adhered to the scab beneath, and it pulled sharply at the movement. Sarah braced herself for the wet heat of fresh blood, but after its initial protest, the wound settled back into a sulky throbbing.
"Damned thing must finally be closed," she muttered, running her hand down her thigh. It twinged in response, but there was no heat, and the inflammation had gone down. Still, she'd be playing chicken with infection if she didn’t get it redressed. There were medical supplies in her bag, maybe Cameron…
Still sluggish and reluctant from the ragged night and the pills that had eased her into sleep, Sarah’s thoughts staggered and tripped over Cameron as if she were an outthrust foot on a familiar path. And then, as if Sarah's sanity were something her libido had decided to kick while it was down, a kaleidoscope of memories, fantasies, dreams and half dreams, all featuring the beautiful girl, took advantage of the opening, bombarding Sarah until pain was the last thing she was feeling.
Denial and self recrimination, postponed the night before, were weak shields against the battery, and Sarah didn't have the strength to maintain them. Sinking her head into her hands, she finally faced the inevitable. Cameron was going to be a problem. Specifically, her response to Cameron was going to be a problem. A big problem.
Needing something more, some definition, explanation or description of her situation to hang onto, as if by making sense of it she could turn it into something she could set aside the way she had her homesickness and pain, Sarah groped after words capable of encompassing the extent of her madness and came up with nothing better than "a really big problem." Apparently her vocabulary wasn't coping with this any better than she was.
A knock on the door forced Sarah to gather herself. "Yes?"
Shame, hot and damning, swept over Sarah. Not only because she had a pretty good idea of just how appalled John would be if he had any idea of what kind of thoughts he’d interrupted, but because while his voice was welcome, it was also disappointing. As conflicted as she was, her son was not the person she wanted checking in on her.
When exactly had that changed?
Had it been the first time Cameron had bullied her into eating? A few days ago, when she had done her best to banish Sarah's doubts with a hug? Or last night, when she had refused to let Charlie stop her from personally seeing Sarah safely into bed? Sarah’s memories of the night before were hazy, but she didn’t think she’d forget how safe she had felt in Cameron’s arms any time soon. However much she might want to.
“You’ll have to give me a minute, here, John.” He couldn’t know she was talking about more than the physical effort of getting herself to the door with only one good leg, and Sarah didn’t illuminate him. She took a deep breath, and deliberately put the problem of Cameron aside.
It didn’t stay there for long.
Levering herself to her feet, Sarah used the bureau as a support until her leg grudgingly agreed to be more than a limb-shaped decoration and took some of her weight. Her feet were bare, her boots lined up neatly by the door, but other than that, she was still dressed in yesterday's clothes, complete with smudges of Cameron's blood down the front of her shirt.
Unbidden, the fear that had driven Sarah into the ocean and made her dare to hold Cameron in the face of Charlie’s censure returned to make a mockery of her efforts to avoid thinking about the machine. She couldn’t help herself from scanning the room for any sign of Cameron's presence, recognizing her backpack on one of the chairs under the window with a mixture of apprehension and relief. Apprehension because if Cameron was planning on sharing her room then she wouldn't get the kind of distance she needed to put this all behind her any time soon, and relief… well… relief for pretty much the same reason...
John started when Sarah finally opened the door, glancing furtively behind her before refocusing on her left shoulder.
"Looking for someone?" she asked dryly, leaning on the doorframe to take some of the pressure off her leg.
"No," John blurted. He seemed to realize that he had answered too quickly as soon as the denial was out of his mouth, wincing and changing the subject before Sarah could so much as raise an eyebrow. "How are you feeling?"
Sarah felt a frown line forming between her eyes. John had never had much of a poker face when it came to hiding things from her, and for the most part she'd let his minor indiscretions fly under the radar. A boy needed some secrets from his mother. But a certain personal edge to his nervousness was raising her hackles. "I’m not dead yet, so it’s a good day," she answered carefully. "You?”
John shrugged, crossing his arms, and then uncrossing them, all without looking up. “Fine, I'm fine," he mumbled, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I was just checking in, Lauren and I are going down to breakfast and she told me, I mean, I thought, we should see if you to see if you wanted to come with us, but if you’re not up to it…” John glanced nervously down the hall, every line of his body suggesting he wanted nothing more than to be at the opposite end of it.
Worried in earnest now, Sarah tried to catch his eye but he evaded her. “I could eat,” she offered, wishing she knew if this was something he wanted to talk about, and unsure how to ask without scaring him off. It had been a long time since they had been able to talk to each other without a wall of resentment and failed expectations between them. Still… she thought they'd been doing better lately. "John…"
"Okay," he interrupted her, edging away. "I'll see you downstairs then."
"John…?" Sarah called after him, but he was already halfway down the hall. Baffled by his behaviour, Sarah let him go. She wasn't quite alarmed, not yet. If it was something dangerous he'd tell her. Probably. Maybe. Trying not to think about how long he'd hidden Cameron's malfunctioning chip from her, Sarah put worry about John aside along with all of her other problems, and shut the door. The bathroom beckoned, and she heeded its call, putting another layer of wood between herself and a reality that was becoming more complicated by the minute, and using the roar of the faucets to drown out the protests of her conscience.
Finding a new home, unravelling Skynet's latest plot, tracking down at least two terminators, juggling a mismatched band of soldiers and civilians, eluding dangerously attractive cyborgs, and dragging information out of her recalcitrant son… it was all going to have to wait until after she'd had a hot shower.
And a cup of coffee, Sarah added for good measure, stepping under the spray.
The breakfast room was nearly deserted, the sign on the door proclaiming that the continental breakfast, such as it was, would only be available for another fifteen minutes. "Slept late again," Sarah muttered under her breath as she pushed through the door, but the guilt was fleeting.
She was greeted by the smell of toast, orange juice and the siren's call of fresh coffee. Sarah's stomach rumbled uncertainly, almost tentatively, as if it had forgotten what genuine hunger felt like after months of smothering the sensation in stress induced cramps and acid. Startled, she tried to place the last time she'd been able to think of food with anticipation rather than nausea and couldn’t.
Was it a sign that the doctor's instructions were working? Or had her body had finally gotten sick of being the proverbial canary for the state of her mental health and decided to go it alone? The latter option seemed more likely, but Sarah found herself surprisingly willing to believe that she might actually be getting better. It would be one damn thing that was going right.
She looked for John first. It was automatic, a needle questing after north, and she found him sitting at the back of the room in a corner. Lauren and her sister shared his table, and if the beleaguered expression on his face was any indication, the older girl wasn't exactly helping with whatever it was that was chewing on him.
Maternal instincts satisfied, Sarah looked for Cameron, expecting to find her shadowing John, but there was no sign of the machine that had been doing her best to hijack Sarah's thought process from the moment she'd opened her eyes.
Disappointment, sharp and pointed, nearly did what nerves had not, and Sarah felt her enthusiasm for the meal wan. On her way down, she would have said Cameron’s absence could only make things easier, but the truth was, she had been looking forward to seeing her. Eating breakfast together would have been almost… normal. Sarah could use a little normal right now.
Lauren saw her first. She looked up with a wave and a half-grin. On any other day Sarah might have caught the knowing gleam in the corner of her eye and wondered about it, but she was far more concerned with John. This time when his anxious gaze went past her, Sarah suspected who he was looking for, and it made her uneasy. Had Charley said something? Surely he wouldn’t… but if he thought John knew…
No. Engagement ring troubles aside, Charley wasn’t the type to pump a kid for information. If he was worried about Sarah’s relationship with Cameron, he would ask her, not John. Whatever had John jumping at shadows, it wouldn’t be anything Charley had said. She hoped.
Stalling as much for sanity as time, Sarah didn’t rush through pouring a cup of coffee and arranging a blueberry muffin, a few slices of melon and a bowl of cereal on plate. Her appetite might have fled, but she wasn't up to facing Cameron's disapproval if and when she found out that Sarah had skipped a meal.
“Where’s Cameron?” John demanded as soon as she was within earshot, confirming Sarah's guess that he had expected the metal girl to be with her. Not an unreasonable assumption she had to admit given that other than her short side trip with the girls, Cameron hadn't been much farther than her shadow for days.
“She said she was going to patrol,” Lauren offered before Sarah had to admit that she didn’t know. “I couldn’t sleep,” she added almost apologetically. “Cameron kept me company.”
“Cameron was with you all night?” John might have plucked the words right out of Sarah’s head, but while he sounded oddly relieved, Sarah found herself struggling with a completely unexpected surge of jealousy. When she'd finally surrendered to sleep, she'd been half expecting Cameron to spend the night hours watching over her. It stung more than she liked to discover that Cameron had gone to Lauren instead.
“Most of it.” Lauren shrugged. “She doesn’t sleep.”
“You should, though,” Sarah growled, thunking her mug down on the table with more force than was strictly necessary before pulling out a chair and sitting down. "Cameron's supposed to be guarding John, not getting her toenails painted." Or watching you sleep, the voice of reason pointed out unhelpfully.
"Relax, Mom." John's discomfort seemed to take a momentary backseat to disapproval at Sarah's tone. "Cameron couldn’t exactly stand in the hallway outside my room all night. We're not at home anymore, she had to go somewhere, and the girls' room makes sense."
"We were just talking," Lauren added quietly, and the gentle understanding in her voice put Sarah's teeth on edge.
"Whatever," Sarah muttered, pulling her muffin to pieces and scattering its entrails on her plate. She knew she was being irrational, and that just made it worse. She told herself she didn’t want Cameron's undivided attention, but the more honest side of her wasn't buying it.
Last night Cameron had seemed determined to force Sarah to acknowledge what was growing between them, regardless of the danger. Her intensity had been both frightening and horribly attractive. Sarah had nearly let it sweep her away, would have let it, if not for Charley's interference.
For the first time in years, Sarah had longed to take a risk, not for John, not for the world, but for herself, and the cold light of day hadn't banished that urge the way she had hoped it would.
She reached for the guilt and the shame that should have followed that realization, needing their sting to remind her who she was, but what she found instead was a tentative acceptance. She wanted a machine. She should have been horrified, but for some reason her battered psyche looked at the idea one more time and instead of retreating into screaming horrors… shrugged.
Jealousy was one hell of a way to find clarity, but Sarah had to admit it was effective. Apparently, the only thing worse than having a twisted relationship with a machine, was the idea of anyone else having it.
Not, of course, that Sarah was planning on pursuing said relationship. Moment of madness aside, she had no business putting her mission at risk for something as trivial as attraction, particularly attraction to a terminator. No. Admitting what she wanted didn't mean she had to act on that admission. In fact, facing her weakness would make it easier to resist it. Right?
As if that thought freed something inside of her, Sarah's stomach rumbled again, cheerfully ignoring the tension that was tying the rest of her up in knots. She ate the remains of the muffin to shut it up, chewing slowly in hopes of masking the awkward slant to the silence at the table.
John poked at his waffle with his fork, as if expecting it to jump up and deliver him from the torture of eating breakfast with a crazy woman for a mother.
"I should go work on the chip," he said abruptly, dropping the fork onto his plate with a clatter and pushing his chair back. Lauren made way for him without a word, shooting Sarah a questioning look that she ignored. Admitting she had no idea what was bothering her son was a weakness Sarah wasn't willing to show. Especially not to a kid half her age who had enough of her own problems without taking on any of Sarah's.
The breakfast room seemed empty without John. A couple conversed quietly over coffee in Styrofoam cups a few tables away, and a man in a suit sipped orange juice while texting on his phone in the other corner, but there was nothing to distract Sarah from her inner turmoil, or her uncomfortably mixed feeling for the girl sitting across from her.
She caught herself glancing towards the door more than once, unable to completely quash the hope of rescue.
"She said she needed time to think," Lauren offered quietly, correctly surmising the subject of Sarah's thoughts.
Sarah resisted the urge to snarl a denial, aware that she was reacting as much to her own transparency as Lauren's knowledge of Cameron's state of mind. Her time at Pescadero, where her every move had been watched, weighed and recorded, had changed her. Sarah knew it had left scars, scars that made it nearly impossible for her to be comfortable exposing any vulnerability to anyone, no matter how harmless they might seem. Only with Cameron had she been able to lower those walls, proving the machine's oft repeated opinion that humans were illogical. Senseless as it seemed, she felt most safe with the one who should have represented the greatest threat.
A lie would have been easy, but Sarah was growing heartily sick of lying, even to herself. So she shrugged, relieved when Lauren let it drop.
Lauren finished the rest of her breakfast in silence, wiping Sydney's face and hands with a wet nap from the baby's bag when they were finished. Sarah watched her as unobtrusively as she could with only the three of them at the table. Something had changed in the girl. Sarah could see it in the way she held herself, the new purpose in her eyes. Lauren wasn't running away anymore. Wondering just what her conversation with Cameron had consisted of, Sarah was about to swallow her pride and ask when the opportunity passed.
"I'm going to check in with Riley," Lauren said, hoisting Sydney on one hip and slinging the bag over her other shoulder. "She wasn't feeling well when I got up."
Sarah nodded, warming her hands around her coffee. She was all too aware of the emptiness of the day stretching out ahead of her. Until John found something for them to investigate, all she was doing was marking time. Prudence suggested that she should seek out Charlie, and find some subtle way to ask him to keep what he had seen to himself while not revealing what it had meant. And then she should track down Derek and check in on Jessie, and make an attempt to find out what was bothering John…
Distaste rose in her guts like bile. Sarah had no patience for politics this morning. She had fallen asleep to the sound of Cameron in her shower, still warmed by the metal girl's kiss and the spectral feeling of their fingers laced together, but she had woken up alone. She didn’t know quite where to go from there, and in spite of her confusion, that question loomed larger than any other. More than settling things with Charlie or talking to her son, she wanted an answer to the "really big problem" of her position with Cameron. To go forward was unthinkable, but so was remaining here in the morass of uncertainty. They needed to talk, and soon.
The question in Sarah's voice made the girl pause. "Yes?"
Sarah hesitated, caught between a habit of reserve so ingrained it was nearly involuntary, and her need for information. "Do you know where…" she managed finally, not quite able to mention Cameron by name.
Lauren didn’t answer right away, and Sarah could feel her indecision. "She mentioned the roof," she said, abruptly, as if she wasn't sure if she was betraying a confidence or not, but had decided to go with her gut. "She might still be there."
Not waiting for a thank you, even if Sarah had been able to manage one, Lauren took her sister and left. Sarah looked down at the plate of food still in front of her and nearly pushed it away, but the promise she had made to Cameron before their house had burned down wouldn’t let her. Setting herself to the meal as if it was a task she must complete, Sarah told herself she ate quickly because she had no heart to linger, and not because she hoped to catch a moment with a girl on a rooftop.
The air was colder nine stories above the ground, but Cameron didn't feel it. Not until the door to the roof opened and closed, and familiar footsteps made their way to the edge of the building beside her. Cameron didn't have to turn her head to know who it was. If there had been any doubt, the chill suddenly coming up from the cement through the soles of her boots would have been proof enough. The breeze carried Sarah's scent to her, bringing with it the memory of touch and taste, and Cameron closed her hands convulsively around the rail, shuddering at the clash of desire and fear inside of her. The ever present stream of data that overlaid her vision, always analyzing and offering feedback on everything around her, flickered, and it took all of Cameron's available processing power just to hold onto her identity.
“Lauren told you where I was," she said once the upheaval in her code had steadied.
“She might have mentioned you’d be up here,” Sarah admitted. "You weren't at breakfast."
Cameron wasn't deaf to the question hiding in that statement, but she continued to stare out over the half-empty parking lot to the busy highway. She didn’t think her resolve would survive visual stimulation right now.
Just having Sarah there was hard enough. “I don’t eat.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
The breeze picked up, whistling over the rooftop and making Cameron shiver. In her peripheral vision, she saw Sarah cross her arms and tighten her shoulders against the cold, but Cameron stilled the automatic admonishment that had leapt to the tip of her tongue. Sarah wouldn't appreciate being told that she should have brought a jacket.
Another gust of wind increased the trembling of the thin layer of muscle under Cameron's skin. She didn’t have the skeletal muscle structure that was necessary for true shivering. There was no need for a cybernetic body with a nuclear power source to use that kind of homeostatic function. Extreme cold could damage her organic components, but so long as she was functioning, she could maintain adequate temperatures throughout her systems. She knew that, but pieces of her code refused to believe it.
A warm hand on her arm made Cameron startle and sidestep, but Sarah didn't let her go far.
Wrapping her fingers around Cameron's bicep, she held her in place firmly enough that Cameron would have had to risk hurting her to get free, and she wouldn't do that. Couldn’t, even to save herself. "You're freezing!"
Cameron met accusing green eyes reluctantly, fighting her body's reaction to the warmth of Sarah's touch. It was a battle she had been losing from the moment she'd jumped through a splintered hole in the floor. "I'm fine," she muttered, dropping her gaze because it was either that or give into the urge to do something they would both regret.
Sarah snorted, but her grip softened. "Then why are you shaking, girlie?"
Freeing herself carefully, Cameron took a step back and froze Sarah in place with a look not unlike the one Sarah had turned on her for the same purpose more than once. "You know why."
"The switch," Sarah began, but Cameron cut her off with a shake of her head.
"Not just that." Glancing away, she raised a hand to the breeze. “I can read the temperature to a fraction of a degree, compare that number with human tolerance levels in this climate, and conclude that it is low enough to be considered uncomfortable without a jacket. But knowing that would not make me cold. You make me cold… and warm. When you're near me…" Cameron frowned. "Even when I think about you, I don’t have to analyze anything, I don’t have to pretend. I can't pretend. You make it so I can’t not feel. My body doesn’t obey me!”
Caught up in her own frustration, Cameron was surprised by Sarah's rough chuckle. She looked up sharply, feeling a faint stirring of anger. Long association and the new depth to her ability to interpret human emotion allowed Cameron to see the edge of hysteria underneath Sarah's amusement, but still, she found herself offended.
Sarah sobered at Cameron's glare, but there was a suspicion of humour in her eyes. "Mine isn't exactly listening to me either," she admitted ruefully. "Looks like you're not the only one with a stuck switch."
"You make it stickier," Cameron muttered, recognizing the sulkiness in her own voice, but at a loss as to what to do about it.
Sarah sighed, but she didn't try to touch her again. Instead she rested her forearms on the rail, casting her gaze out pensively over the parking lot. "There's something you haven't told me," she said finally. "Isn't there?"
Cameron nodded miserably, and then realized Sarah wasn't looking at her. "Yes," she admitted. "There is something I haven't told you.
Sarah's silence sounded like a command, and Cameron took it as such.
"I…" At an unfamiliar loss, she tried to find the words to explain what she had done, and why. She was mortally certain that there was no way to phrase her confession that wouldn't get her into even more trouble than her broken chip had. But maybe that was a good thing. It was going to be hard enough to keep her distance from Sarah.
"When you blew the explosives early," Cameron began, trying to ignore how much the idea of driving Sarah away hurt and failing miserably. "The odds of your survival became too low to justify the risk of attempting a rescue. I was unable to override the directive to return to John and ensure his safety."
Sarah's jaw tightened, though whether in anger or worry, Cameron couldn't tell. "You shouldn't have tried it," she said. "I'm not your mission."
"You're here for John."
"We're all here for John," Cameron corrected her. "He needs you."
"He needs both of us."
Cameron nodded. "That is why I deactivated my resistance codes." She felt more than saw Sarah stiffen, turning to meet her eyes. "It was the only way," she said before Sarah could loose the scathing reprimand Cameron knew she deserved. "I could not let you die."
"You damned well should have!" Sarah was white to her lips. "If you ever do that again-" She broke off, dropping her head and swallowing visibly. Cameron let her regain her composure, suspecting Sarah was imagining every way her decision could have gone horribly wrong, knowing what it meant for John if Cameron went bad. "Did it work?" The question was a growl.
"No," Cameron admitted. "Skynet doesn't care about human lives."
"Only ending them," Sarah agreed bitterly. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and nodded once, giving Cameron permission to finish.
"There is another line of code on my chip…" Cameron looked away again, feeling the presence of Allison's ghost in the chill of the rail under her fingers. "It was designed to improve our ability to infiltrate, to make a machine think it was human until it was within striking distance of its target."
"You were a sleeper agent." There was no emotion connected to that statement, no judgment or reaction. Cameron sensed Sarah had put her own feelings aside for the moment, intent only on gathering the information she needed.
"You saved me by putting yourself back to sleep." It wasn't a question, but Cameron answered anyway.
"Yes," she said again. "Soldiers don't leave each other to die."
"Neither do you, apparently," Sarah said softly.
"Are you mad?"
Sarah shook her head. "No… Yes…" Running her hands through her hair, she clenched her eyes shut and let out a long breath through her nose. "I don’t know." She refocused on Cameron. "I should be. I should be furious. I should take your damned chip out of your head and let Derek smash it the way he's been aching to do since he got here. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't," Cameron admitted, surprising herself with the answer. "I was feeling. I was feeling too much." She frowned. "It took up all the room I had to… be. I knew I was acting against my mission, but that didn't matter. Only you mattered… if you died…" Cameron faltered to a stop, awash in the upheaval of her code. She wrestled it back into submission, but the effort brought sweat to her temples.
"I am unstable and unpredictable. I put your life ahead of the mission, ahead of John. I can't be trusted." She paused. "You promised."
It took Sarah a moment to catch up to Cameron's line of thought, and once she had she looked sick. "No."
"It might be necessary," Cameron countered, but Sarah waved her off.
"If taking stupid risks to save someone's life was an executing offence I'd have to put a bullet in my own head for jumping into the goddamned ocean after you."
"I am not a life," Cameron said softly. "I am a tool, and broken tools should be replaced."
Sarah laughed, but there was no humour in it. "Right, because I can drive down to the electronics store on the corner and get a new model. No. Whatever is wrong with you, we'll deal with it."
Cameron studied her hands on the rail, watching them as if she was afraid of what they might do if she relaxed her vigilance. "I'm not sure we can."
"I'm sure," Sarah said firmly, turning the conversation back before Cameron could protest. "So when you woke up? You were… what? Confused?"
"I didn’t wake up completely," Cameron admitted, ducking her head. "I still haven't. Part of me is trying to stay asleep."
Cameron hesitated, but she owed Sarah the truth. "The part that wants you," she whispered finally. "The part that is able to want you. Machines don’t feel desire the way humans do… We don't… We can't…" Strangely tongue-tied, she glanced up and actually felt herself flush at Sarah's raised eyebrow. It was uncomfortable, and frustrating, to have her circulation adjusted without her permission. Cameron told her blood firmly to go back to where it was supposed to be, but she might as well have been human for all it listened to her.
Sarah took pity on her, dryly finishing the thought Cameron hadn't been able to articulate. "You're saying that you drowned because your code wants to get laid?
Cameron managed a nod.
Sarah snorted, seemingly caught between amazement and disbelief. "So what does this mean? Will it happen again? What if you get shot? Hit by a car? Damnit, Cameron, you were in pain! You nearly died, I thought you were dead."
"I will get hurt," Cameron admitted, obscurely pleased by Sarah's reaction, even while she sought to alleviate it. "I might go offline, but I don't think I will die."
"You don’t think?" Sarah sneered. "You want me to send you out in front of bullets on the theory that while they might cause excruciating pain, they probably won't kill you?" She shook her head in disgust and pushed angrily off the railing, pacing back and forth on their little patch of roof.
Cameron watched her, lost for a moment in the stark lines of her body against the drab grey of the concrete building. Sarah was beautiful when she was angry. Cameron hadn't noticed that until now. Or hadn't realized what she was seeing. Sarah had always been Sarah, her aesthetic appeal was simply a part of her, like her height or hair colour. Certainly the narrowing of flashing green eyes and the way her skin flushed over her cheekbones had never made Cameron's synthetic heart skip a beat before. She had been too busy checking to see if Sarah was carrying a weapon.
"I will fix it," Cameron blurted, needing to sooth herself as much as Sarah, one direct look from the other woman with all that electricity behind it, and she would lose what control she still had.
Swerving back to the rail, Sarah confronted Cameron directly, the challenge in her voice at odds with the naked vulnerability in her eyes. More than the fury, that was nearly Cameron's undoing. "What if I don't want it fixed?" she demanded. "Isn't that what you asked me last night? What if I want to take that risk? What then?"
Cameron very nearly gaped. Shock gave her code an opening, and she wanted nothing more than to give in to it, closing the distance between them for an answer. As impossible as it seemed, she suspected Sarah would have let her, might even have been deliberately provoking that exact response, unable to make the damning move herself, but Cameron resisted the temptation, nearly shaking with the effort. "It's not safe. Not for you, not for John."
"And not for you either," Sarah added softly, the fight going out of her in a rush. She stepped back, giving Cameron some much needed room before she asked, "if I'm the trigger, can you still protect John?"
Letting Sarah walk away hurt in a way that had nothing to do with her pain receptors, but Cameron didn’t follow. "I think so. I will work on the switch, but it will be easier if…"
"If you stay away from me," Sarah filled in for her.
"Yes," Cameron admitted, aching for the bitterness in Sarah's voice. If she could have sacrificed herself to make it go away, she would have. In a world without Skynet she could have been human for Sarah, but in a world without Skynet she wouldn't exist.
The breeze returned, slipping between them and playing with the ends of Sarah's hair. Dark curls fell over her eyes and Cameron's fingers itched to brush them back, but a chill followed the wind, and in its aftermath there was nothing left to say.
"You should go," Sarah offered after a moment's awkward silence. "John said he was going to work on the chip, he might need your help."
Sarah was right, in the former point if not the latter, but Cameron hesitated. "You'll be all right?"
"I'm a big girl," Sarah assured her, leaving no room for argument. "I can take care of myself."
Cameron nodded because there was nothing else she could do. No comfort she could offer. That door was closed to her now. If it had ever really been open anyway. She left Sarah to the solitude of the roof, to find whatever peace there she could, and set out to find John and the only role she had left.