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: Another long wait for this chapter. Life has been... interesting. I've been dealing with some pretty major health problems I won't go into, but the short form is; brains need oxygen to function. Not enough oxygen equals unhappy brain, which results in all sorts of problems. Otherwise,many things are looking up, including working on my own business and trucking along in my day job towards summer vacation, and hey, another chapter of this story I started almost three years ago. Hope y'all like it and I'm hoping (for real this time) to get it updated more regularly.
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 Chapter 15
I can take care of myself…
As a lie, it sucked, but Sarah delivered it with all the conviction she wished she could feel, and Cameron didn't challenge her.
Still, the door had barely closed behind the machine before Sarah was wishing she had. Gripping the railing like a lifeline, she resisted the urge to call Cameron back, to demand that they at least try to find another way out of this mess. She was so damned tired of being alone…
It's not real, the voice of reason countered. What she claims to feel for you. It’s just a glitch. She's a machine, and machines don't feel.
A month ago, Sarah would have been able to believe that. A month ago, she had believed it. Completely and utterly.
But that was before… and she'd seen too much of the person Cameron was becoming inside that thick metal skull to believe it anymore. There was more to this than a broken switch. There had to be. Cameron had gone way outside of her programming to save Sarah's life, putting not only John and the mission at risk, but her own existence, even her identity… For a machine whose entire being was founded on strength, Cameron had made herself surprisingly vulnerable.
And she had done it willingly. For Sarah. A woman who until recently had shown her nothing but suspicion and contempt.
Whether Sarah liked it or not, Cameron wasn't thinking or acting like a machine anymore. A machine could never be that illogical. A machine wouldn't have cared about a human life, couldn't have cared.
Cameron was becoming something other than a machine. Something more, something dangerous.
Broken tools should be replaced…
Half sick with a combination of fear, anger and grief, Sarah faced the choice Cameron had laid at her feet. Killing Cameron would solve everything. No Cameron, no problem. No more scary blurring of lines between human and machine, no more fighting with herself, no more falling asleep to the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall, no more big brown eyes full of questions she didn't know how to answer, no one at her back. Just Sarah, alone.
It would be easier. Definitely safer. For her and for John
But Sarah couldn't do it.
They would manage somehow, avoiding each other until Cameron could fix whatever was broken, and then they could go back to the way it was before. They way they had been before. All of this would be nothing more than an embarrassing memory. Temporary insanity brought on by one too many blows to the head and loneliness so deep that Sarah couldn’t reach the bottom of it anymore.
Making a decision should have made her feel better, but Sarah just felt tired.
It was an indication of her state of mind that when Derek found her, she was actually glad to see him.
"I talked to Charlie."
Sarah tried to remember if simple hellos had ever been something she'd exchanged with Derek, and couldn't. In no mood to talk about Charlie, she shrugged, intending the gesture as both acknowledgement and dismissal of what Charlie might have had to say, and hoped he'd take the hint, but Derek lingered, joining her at the rail.
He'd been drinking again. Sarah could smell the beer on him, and a sideways glance revealed the dark circles under his eyes and rumpled clothing of someone that had spent the night more awake than asleep. She'd seen both in the mirror often enough, and Sarah felt a moment of empathy for the soldier.
They had been fighting for so long… Their struggles had strengthened them, but it was a rigid strength. Neither of them was very good at bending.
"He told me what happened," Derek continued. "That you jumped in after the machine." He shook his head. "What were you think-"
"Don't." Sarah cut him off, more weary than angry. "Not now."
Derek subsided, folding like a poker player with a pair of twos, as if he had no more stomach for this fight than Sarah did, but he didn't leave, and Sarah didn't ask him to. Difficult company was better than the inside of her own head at the moment, and she owed him one.
"Thank you," Sarah said finally, earning herself a wary look.
"For taking care of John while I was gone yesterday," she explained. "I didn't get a chance to say thank you."
"Oh." Derek was silent for a moment. "You're welcome," he said finally, as if it had taken him that long to remember how it went. "You know I'll always take care of John."
"I know," Sarah admitted. "It might not always seem like it, but I know. He could do worse."
Derek just looked at her for a moment. He didn't seem to know how to deal with her uncharacteristic lack of antagonism, it made him uncertain.
"Look…" He scrubbed a hand over his hair. "I'm sorry. It's not that I mean to keep tearing you down… it’s just, you and that machine… Sarah, you used to know what she was…”
"You're right," she agreed, surprising him again. "I did."
Sarah met the challenge in his eyes, acknowledged the temptation to lie just to end the conversation and discarded it. There had been enough of that already. "What does it matter?" she asked instead.
“It matters because I need to know what team you’re playing on here.”
Not for the first time, Sarah wished they could find a bigger piece of common ground to stand on when the shadow cast by her son's parentage seemed to be getting smaller every day. "Why can't we all be on the same team?"
Derek shook his head at the naiveté of that idea. "Because she's a machine," he said helplessly.
"You need to get over that."
"What if I can't?"
It was a good question. In light of recent developments, Sarah wasn't sure she had put her own reservations about Cameron's origins behind her, but she knew they needed her, and not just for John. She needed Cameron, even if it was at arm's length.
She jerked her chin at the exit. "There's the door. It's your choice. Be a part of my team or get out of my way. The same goes for Jesse."
Derek snorted. "You think she’ll just let us go this time?"
Unbidden, the memory of a dented truck and churned gravel stained with blood made Sarah hesitate, but "yes," she got out around the lump in her throat. "If I ask her to."
"If you ask?" Derek sounded half-choked. Strangling on what Sarah could only imagine was a lengthy rant that, somehow, he managed to swallow, though by the look on his face it was going down the wrong way. "Are you listening to yourself, Sarah?" he wheezed. "You shouldn't be asking her anything. She's a machine. We tell, they do. She should be following orders, if not yours than John's."
Sarah didn't answer him. There was nothing she could say. She wouldn't lie, and the truth would force Derek to start a war that would tear them all apart. He would never accept Cameron with free will. He couldn't. Maybe no one who had been through what he had been through ever could.
And maybe he was right, maybe it was Sarah who was fooling herself, and letting Cameron live would get them all killed.
There were too many questions, and not enough answers, and the answers she did have she didn't like.
"Stay or go," Sarah said, brushing past him. She would have left it at that, but the thin thread that bound them, the thread woven with the names Kyle and John, caught her and made her pause.
"John needs you," she said, not raising her eyes from her hand on the door. "He needs all of us. I don't want him to lose anyone else. Do you?"
Silence. Sarah waited.
"You promised me that she was under control," Derek said, finally. "Has that changed?"
Everything changes. “I'm asking you to trust me."
"I don’t know if I can do that," Derek admitted.
"Neither do I," Sarah admitted, opening the door. "But I hope so."
John was tempted to ignore the knock on the door, but he suspected it would have been a wasted effort. There weren't exactly an overabundance of people in his life who took no for an answer. Cameron would just break the door down. His mother would pick the lock, and Derek would simply stand there, radiating disappointment at him until John had to open the door and throw himself at his uncle's feet promising to try harder to be the great and glorious leader the soldier remembered, and not a selfish boy who wanted a few minutes to himself.
There were days John wished his last name was anything but Connor.
"Oh," he said when he opened the door. "It's you."
"Try not to sound so excited," Lauren drawled. She didn't wait for him to invite her in, seeming not to notice that she had to turn sideways to get through the door, given that John hadn't exactly thrown it open in welcome, but then Lauren was another person who didn't seem to understand boundaries. Or any boundaries but her own anyway.
John sighed and closed the door behind her. His life up till now had bred a certain weary resignation in the face of imposition. "I was busy."
"I know." Lauren dropped a paper take out bag on the bed and flopped down in his chair in front of the desk, taking in the spread of computer equipment and streaming video on the laptop with interest. "I brought lunch," she explained gesturing to the bag. "So, any progress with this thing?" Lauren reached out towards the chip in it's prison of metal and wires but John nearly leapt across the room to snatch her hand back.
"Don’t touch that!"
"Hey, chill Power Ranger, I was just looking." Lauren glanced pointedly at his fingers still wrapped around her wrist. "Can I have my hand back?"
"Can I have my chair back?"
"Didn't see your name on it," Lauren taunted, but she relinquished the chair with a dramatic flourish, taking the edge of the bed instead once John released her.
He sat down on his prize grumpily, still feeling somehow like he was on the losing end of a sparring match he didn't remember agreeing to. Not an infrequent occurrence around Lauren he was learning. "Power Ranger?"
"You never watched Power Rangers?" Lauren was incredulous. "Come on, teenagers facing down evil to save mankind? That's right up your alley. They fought machines or used machines to fight or something…" Lauren rolled her eyes at John's total lack of comprehension. "You were so sheltered."
"I grew up in a jungle," John reminded her.
"That would explain the fashion statement."
John glanced down at his shapeless grey shirt and worn jeans and conceded the point. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
Lauren shrugged. "Than save the future of mankind from boredom and starvation? Nope."
"What about your sister?"
"Sleeping, Cameron's watching her." Lauren started pulling food out of the bag on the bed beside her, sorting out the greasy, paper-wrapped bundles and cartons.
"And Riley?" John asked a little desperately. "Isn't she usually at your heels?"
A raised brow told John he hadn't succeeded in keeping all of the bitterness out of that last question. "Jealous, Connor?"
"No," John lied. He was jealous, he just wasn't sure why. Riley's company was becoming less restful and more confusing every day.
"Riley and Charlie took the dog for a walk." Lauren held out a burger and a carton of fries. "They're probably swapping 'how falling for a Connor ruined my life' stories. I wasn't up for the melodrama."
"So you decided to pester me instead?" John asked, taking the offered food and letting the dig go by. He suspected Lauren was doing it on purpose, and he wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of knowing how close the bone her aim was.
"Maybe I enjoy your company. The misunderstood, tortured, obsessed hero thing is really doing it for you."
John snorted. "It's the legendary Connor charm."
Lauren actually laughed, and John couldn't help but see the difference between her and Riley. She wasn't awed by him at all, in fact she gave the impression of expecting absolutely nothing from him in the way of heroics, and John found that curiously… restful… even if she drove him crazy.
"Any chance of getting rid of you?" he asked without much hope.
"Not until the baby wakes up."
John sighed, and tilted the computer her way. "This is what I've found so far…"
Sarah took the stairs down.
She told herself the exercise was good for her, and even if her leg disagreed, it confined its protest to a nagging sort of grumble. At least for the first few floors… Around the seventh she started to limp, by the fifth she was sweating, and by the fourth the damaged muscles of her thigh were trembling so badly she had to stop.
Idiot, she accused herself, pausing to lean against the wall on the landing. The tile was cool against her skin and Sarah closed her eyes, breathing shallowly through her nose until the pain ebbed. Should have taken the damned elevator… But it had been too exposed, too confined, and altogether too likely to have people in it she would have to talk to.
Sarah wasn't used to dodging people from own side, but then there had never been this many of them before. If they actually were on her side… Maybe she should be calling it John's side, membership would probably improve now that his mother was the one with the freaky attachment to a machine. If she and Cameron had accomplished nothing else, at least there was that. Sarah didn't have to fear that her son's resistance would come to doubt him. They could doubt her instead. Hell, she'd probably be dead by then anyway. They could hate her corpse all they liked, so long as John was safe.
Thoughts of martyrdom suited her mood, and Sarah indulged them until she felt ready to move on.
One flight of stairs left. Sarah took her time and used the railing. There was no one there to judge her, and right now she didn't really care. Her most damning sins weren't visible anyway.
The door to the third floor loomed ahead of her, but Sarah hesitated, torn between taking shelter in her room and following the stairs all the way down to the ground and away. No one would miss her for a few hours. They needed supplies, and she felt like she might actually be able get her head into some kind of order on the road. She had always been able to think better when she was moving.
No luck. Sarah felt her shoulders tie themselves into another knot as Charlie and Riley came up the stairs from the second floor with the dog at their heels.
Her tongue frozen to the roof of her mouth, Sarah could do little more than nod in greeting.
Kosacki bounded up the last few steps and wiggled across the landing, practically dancing at Sarah's feet. Unable to remain indifferent in the face of such unbridled enthusiasm, Sarah sat down on the step and took his head in her hands, scratching his ears until he nearly fell over in bliss.
A door opened somewhere above them and they all stilled, but the steps that echoed through the stairwell were going up, not down.
"We'd better get him out of sight," Riley said gesturing at the dog.
"Yeah," Charlie called Kosacki back and he went, reluctantly leaving the scratching fingers behind him. "Would you…"
Riley seemed to read his mind. "I'll take him." She clipped the leash back on and Kosacki followed her willingly enough, leaving Charlie and Sarah alone in the stairwell.
"Hey ," Charlie said hesitantly, joining her on the landing. "How's the leg?…"
Sarah shrugged. "I've had worse."
Charlie winced at the reminder. He'd seen the scars, intimately, and even if he hadn't known where they had come from at the time, he did now. Sarah could practically see him imagining all the possible scenarios in which she'd been shot, stabbed, cut, bruised or burned, and the list added years to his face. “Do you want me to take a look at-“
“No,” Sarah cut him off more roughly than she’d intended, but she couldn’t bear the thought of anyone touching her right now. “It’s fine,” she added, aiming for apologetic and coming up short.
“Is it?” Charlie made no effort to hide his scepticism, and his hurt. “Or is someone else taking care of it for you?”
I really can’t handle this right now... Sick to death of this conversation, Sarah would have walked away if she thought she could have done it without her leg buckling under her. “Don’t do that,” she said instead.
“Act like I’m in bed with the enemy.”
"Come on, Sarah. You jumped into an ocean after her, nearly killed yourself to get her out, and then you hold her in your goddamned lap all the way back to shore. She carries you to bed like some sick metal version of Prince Charming and I'm the one who’s out of line because I'm worried about you?"
"Don't be," Sarah snarled, using the railing to lever herself to her feet. Her leg muttered dire warnings of revenge, but it held.
"Fine." Charlie snapped back, his eyes holding such a mixture of pain, anger and guilt that it nearly broke Sarah’s heart just to look at him. He was as much a casualty of this war as the bodies lying broken in her wake. Worse, because he had to live with this. Had to keep trying to find meaning in a world that had taken away nearly everything he’d ever believed in.
“Charlie...” She reached out to him, catching his hand as he started to walk away. “I know how hard this has been...”
"No.” He jerked away from her as if her very touch was painful. “You don’t. You have no idea how hard this is because you've forgotten there's anything else. You've taken this and made it your life, and maybe that's what you had to do, but it's changed you. You don't see how insane this all is, because you're the one who’s crazy."
Sarah froze. "Don't call me crazy, Charlie. Don't ever call me crazy."
He had the grace to look ashamed. "I'm sorry, but Sarah, a machine?"
"It's not what you think...."
"No? Do you even know what it is anymore? Why you keep her around?” He shook his head. "She terrifies me, Sarah. I know she saved my life, and I know she's protecting John, probably better that any of us could, but all I see when I look at her is the end of the world. What do you see?"
I don’t know! "I don't know,” Sarah admitted aloud. She might have tried to find a better way to spin that, some answer that Charlie could accept, but Lauren chose that moment to find them.
"Sorry to interrupt," she said looking between them from the stairwell doorway, but John's found something."
“You should not go alone.”
Sarah released the key in the ignition without turning it, sitting back in her seat as Cameron slid into the Jeep next to her. “I thought you were supposed to be staying away from me,” she pointed out, making no move to start the vehicle.
Cameron closed the door and buckled her seatbelt before glancing at the space between them. “I am currently twenty-two inches farther away from you than I want to be.” She met Sarah’s eyes with nothing but complete seriousness. “That is far enough.”
“Not far enough for me,” Sarah muttered.
“I know,” Cameron said softly. “But I cannot let you go alone into danger. Even if you don’t want me there.”
“I didn’t say I … Damnit…” Suddenly feeling like a bitch for making this even harder on both of them than it had to be, Sarah hit the steering wheel hard with the heel of her hand. Cameron followed the motion but if she had anything to say about Sarah taking out her frustration on the car, she kept it to herself, lowering her gaze back to her lap. Sarah bit her lip, wrapping her fingers around the wheel until she could feel every pulse of the blood under her skin. She wanted to scream, she wanted to break something, she wanted to put a gun to the universe's head and demand an accounting.
She wanted to bury her hands in the front of Cameron's leather jacket, yank her across the front seat and kiss her senseless.
It frightened her that it was the last impulse that was the hardest to subdue.
But subdue it she did. Along with the tempest of other emotions that were boiling around somewhere under her breastbone and making it difficult for her to think. She needed space desperately, but Cameron was right, and a lot more stubborn than the others.
"Hey," her voice, far gentler now, brought Cameron's head up. "We're still a team, okay?"
Cameron studied her, brown eyes moving over her face as if searching for any indication that Sarah was lying to her. "Okay," she said finally.
It was a damn fool thing to do, but Sarah couldn't seem to get that message from her brain to her hand in time. Before she knew what she was doing, she had reached out to brush a strand of Cameron's hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. The side of her thumb grazed Cameron's jaw and she leaned into the touch, the look in her eyes making Sarah's stomach drop.
"Okay," she echoed shakily, retreating to the safety of her side of the Jeep and wrapping her hands firmly around the wheel again before she could give into the impulse to do more than touch. The temperature in the front seat felt like it had gone up about ten degrees, and Sarah stared out the window, afraid to look at Cameron, afraid to see approval at her restraint, even more to see disappointment. She wasn't sure she could handle either.
"We should go." Cameron's voice was steady, but when Sarah glanced down to put the Jeep into reverse, she saw that her hands were knotted into fists in her lap. Guilt twisted in Sarah’s gut, but whether it was because she’d stopped herself, or because she very nearly hadn’t, she had no idea.
She avoided the question by starting the Jeep.
They said little as Sarah steered them towards the condemned church John had found in the first terminator’s memory files. So far he had isolated a dozen distinct recordings, ranging from a few seconds, to five minutes, including a glimpse of the machine that had attacked Charlie. It wasn't much, but it was enough to give them an address, and that was all the excuse Sarah had needed.
Not that she was planning a full frontal assault tonight. The dates on the video files were old enough that the chances of finding the terminators still in residence were slim. Still, it was worth looking into. There might be something there that could give them some idea of what the machine's ultimate goal was. Anything was better than what they had right now, which was next to nothing.
The church loomed on the corner, it's boarded up windows menacing in the half-light offered by the streetlamps. The reason for its abandoned state was apparent was soon as Sarah parked the Jeep. Soot blackened the jagged walls that ended in the middle of the second floor, and scaffolding on its left side bore piles of burnt lumber and ruined bricks. Someone had taken the time to remove the damaged material, but as far as Sarah could see, nothing had been done in the way of repairs.
Taking her 9mm from the glove compartment, Sarah tucked it into the back of her jeans and met Cameron's eyes across the seat. "Ready, girlie?"
Cameron nodded. "Let's go."