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: Many thanks as always to inspectorboxer, for her input, and to revolos55 for being the grammar police *G
Chapter one / Chapter two / Chapter three / Chapter four / Chapter five, part one / Chapter five, part two
The kitchen was too small for eight people, even when one of them was no more than nine months old, and Sarah felt the old familiar dread of enclosed spaces rising like bile in her gut as soon as she and Cameron edged their way in through the back door. Riley had preceded them by no more than a few minutes, but John was already busy trying to fill her in on the situation.
It had been an awkward moment in the driveway, when the sight of the churned mess of red-stained gravel and dented truck had jerked the returning Riley to a wide-eyed halt. Confused, she had initially turned to Sarah for illumination and reassurance that the older woman hadn’t been able to give her.
Sixteen years as a mother and a fighter had not provided Sarah with the tools for these circumstances. She didn’t have any magic words to soothe the trauma out of Riley’s wounded blue eyes. The cruel truth was, she simply had nothing left to offer. Riley was going to have to find her own way to cope.
Likewise Lauren; another orphan of the Skynet vendetta. Except that Lauren seemed quite willing to stand alone in the trap of her own impossible responsibility. It was a cage in the guise of a sister but, as Sarah well knew, that made it no less confining than one of steel and iron. Even now, taken up by near strangers and not knowing anything about the situation she’d just become a part of, Lauren was doing her best to soothe her sister. Awakened by the chaos, Sydney was expressing her general confusion and displeasure at a volume that made even Cameron look like she wanted to cover her ears.
“Get that kid out of here!” Derek roared finally, raising his eyes from Jessie’s fractured wrist to glare at Lauren.
For her own part, buffered by the dubious blessings of shock, Jessie was strangely quiet under Derek’s ministrations. She perched shakily on the edge of the kitchen table, staring blankly ahead with her uninjured hand clenched between trembling knees. Her usually rich skin tone had gone grey. Livid bruises marked a macabre trail, around the gash in her forehead, blossoming down over her cheek and jaw to wreath her neck in stark purple and black. She alone seemed completely unaffected by the crowd and noise surrounding her.
“Don’t start, Derek.” Sarah shouldered past Cameron, hoping to gain a little distance from the terminator. Hallow-eyed and neutral as ever, Cameron’s expression suggested complete indifference to the sudden uncertainty of her fate. But she had stuck closely to Sarah’s side since leaving the driveway, allowing no more than a few inches of space to come between them at any given time.
Considering the circumstances, Sarah was feeling generous, or evasive, enough to excuse Cameron’s behavior on the basis of the lack of available space, but inexplicable motivations aside, she really needed some room to breathe. “This isn’t her fault.”
“I’m not blaming her…” Derek answered pointedly, shifting his gaze briefly to Cameron, who had once more, without a word, narrowed the gap between herself and Sarah.
Sarah gritted her teeth and tolerated the terminator’s proximity. Now was not the time to deal with Cameron’s recent disregard for personal boundaries. “Let’s leave blame out of this for now, shall we?” she suggested tersely, edging past Derek and placing her hands on Lauren’s shoulders to gently guide the girl and her sister out of the room. A quick glance over her shoulder collected Riley and John as well, with Cameron trailing mechanically along behind the five of them like a killer puppet on a string.
A very short string, Sarah observed irritably, turning and fixing the girl with a silent glare. Her mute command went unnoticed by the children, but it acted on Cameron like a sudden and invisible wall, rocking her back on her heels. Two feet of space… it was an improvement, albeit a small one. Sarah ignored the unreadable look Cameron pinned on her, focusing instead on her son.
“John, the medical supplies from the upstairs bathroom, can you get them please?”
“Sure.” Relieved to have a task, John didn’t hesitate, followed quickly by Riley, who muttered something about helping.
“What can I do?” Lauren asked, tirelessly bouncing the fractious
Sarah looked down at the frightened but determined girl with the same mixture of guilt and respect that Lauren had evoked in her the first time they’d met. As much as she had loved him, Sarah had never quite forgiven Kyle Reese for robbing her of the life she had planned on living. Finding herself in the position of asking for that kind of sacrifice from someone else had else had given Sarah a new appreciation for the toll it took, and much of the old hurt had faded away. Kyle had needed to believe that Sarah had the strength to succeed, and now she felt the same way about Lauren.
“Take care of your sister,” Sarah answered gently, unwilling and unable to ask any more of Lauren than that. It was all any of them could do; their job, and nothing more.
Lauren nodded, her expression clearing with the security of the familiar task. “I can do that,” she answered, relieved. A sudden strangled cry from the kitchen made her pale, and she hastily excused herself, following John and Riley up the stairs, singing softly all the while to the baby in her arms.
Sarah tensed as she felt Cameron take advantage of the now empty space around her to edge closer. “Cameron…” she warned under her breath.
“You’re injured,” the terminator insisted from just behind her shoulder, a note of concern in her voice that was becoming unsettlingly familiar. “You’re in pain.”
“Not the first time,” Sarah muttered, hissing through her teeth as Cameron slipped a hand under her arm without warning, spreading long fingers over Sarah’s aching ribs and sliding them gently downwards. Sarah allowed the contact for the briefest of moments before catching the girl’s wrist and pulling it firmly away from her side. “None of that, girlie.”
“But you’re injured,” Cameron repeated, resisting the grip on her wrist only enough to express her disapproval. “You require medical attention.”
“Not from you,” Sarah snapped, her tone leaving no room for argument. The understanding that had passed between them in the driveway was already fading, overshadowed by the very real fear of what it had meant, and where it could lead. Sarah would not allow herself to trust, or even sympathize with, a terminator, particularly one that had already admitted to being damaged. It didn’t matter how guilty that made her feel, or how much she might be tempted to lie some of her burden down on metal shoulders.
“You said we were a team.” Cameron’s response was unexpectedly harsh, even accusatory, and she yanked her wrist out of Sarah’s grip. “You lied to me.”
Stung by the abrupt change in the metal girl, Sarah turned, catching herself reaching out and barely managing to stop her hand in time. Unnerved, she shoved the impulse aside and redirected her fingers to rub at her own aching temples instead.
“No… I…” Dismayed both by Cameron’s reaction and her own response to it, she didn’t know how to finish that thought.
“No, we are not a team, or no, you did not lie to me?” Gone was the half-pleading, big-eyed puppy of a terminator that Sarah had seen so much of lately. This Cameron was cold and stiff, almost inhuman save for the subtle catch of anger to her voice.
Looking up, Sarah was completely unprepared for the small thrill of fear that uncoiled in her belly at the fierceness in those big brown eyes. “I didn’t lie to you,” she admitted, stepping back and dropping her hand. “But I can’t handle this, you, right now. Just… later, all right?”
Cameron regarded her for a long, tense moment, and under that indecipherable scrutiny, Sarah felt the fear joined, and eventually overwhelmed, by something else. Something new and completely indefinable that rolled over her, taking everything else with it and leaving her feeling scoured and confused.
“Later,” the terminator agreed at last, and the word was almost a threat, but not quite, and it settled something between them, easing the tension until Sarah was actually able to look at Cameron for the first time since they’d gotten home.
“You look like hell,” she observed, surprised at the level of concern evoked by the girl’s injuries. It wasn’t that Cameron hadn’t sustained similar damage in the past, but the amount of metal showing through her mangled skin disturbed Sarah more than usual.
“I was hit by a truck,” Cameron reminded her blankly.
“Yeah… I remember.” Unease was replaced briefly by anger, and Sarah decided she was going to have her own uncomfortable little chat with Derek and Jessie about that.
“I was also shot.” Cameron looked down, pointing to ragged holes in her chest and shoulders. “Here, and here.” She catalogued her injuries without emotion, seemingly unconcerned, and even a little condescending, about the damage to her organic coating.
Sarah was unexpectedly reminded of a small boy, showing off his bruises with the same unaffected pride. “I see that,” she acknowledged with a dry smile, reluctantly amused by the comparison. “Why don’t you go and put yourself back together?”
“You won’t need me?” Cameron asked suspiciously, a glint in her eyes suggesting that she was well aware of Sarah’s motives in sending her away.
“Later,” Sarah repeated, and the terminator nodded, satisfied, leaving the room with a last inscrutable glance over her shoulder.
Sarah watched her go, delaying the inevitable moment when she would have to return to the kitchen as long as possible. She didn’t want to talk to Derek. She didn’t particularly want to help him patch Jessie up. What she wanted to do was to take John, get in the Jeep and drive, not stopping until they had left all of this far, far behind them.
For so long her only focus had been her son. Keeping him safe. Keeping him hidden from those who would kill him for the man he might become. She had molded herself to that purpose, discarding everything that didn’t fit, until there was nothing else left.
But now Sarah could feel the edges of her armor cracking. Each life that she accepted responsibility for increased the pressure, stretching the walls she had built to the limits of their endurance. She could not be everything that they needed her to be. Sarah Reese, Sarah Baum, Sarah Connor, she had been so many people that sometimes she wasn’t sure which one was real anymore. In her darker moments she wondered if Sarah Connor, the hardened warrior, ever vigilant, never giving up, wasn’t the biggest lie of them all.
A door closed upstairs and footsteps padded down the hallway above her head John appeared at the top of the staircase a moment later, his arms overflowing with medical supplies. Riley was conspicuously absent.
“Where’s the girl?” Sarah asked automatically, still not quite used to the idea that her son’s girlfriend was one of them now… or always had been.
John gave her an odd look as he came down the stairs, handing off some of the boxes and bandages once he’d reached her. “She’s helping Lauren with
Accepting the packages, Sarah wondered a little at his defensive tone. “Everyone needs that sometimes,” she answered slowly, realizing belatedly, that John had expected her usual acerbic reaction to anything that Riley did. It seemed that he had also forgotten how much things had changed in the last few days. They were both going to have to relearn how to be human among humans.
Letting go of everything else for just a second, she pulled him into a one-armed hug, the medical supplies bunching and rustling between them. They didn’t need words, they rarely had. John leaned into her long enough to echo the unspoken message, and just before it would have been necessary to label the moment, Sarah let go, running her fingers once over his hair and down the back of his neck.
Good naturedly shaking himself free of her touch, John offered a half smile and led the way into the kitchen. Her balance restored, if only temporarily, Sarah was able to follow him.
“How bad is it?” she asked, coming up to stand beside Derek as John spread the medical supplies out on the counter. She kept her eyes on the wreck of an arm cradled in Derek’s hands, unwilling to look Jessie in the face.
“Bad,” Derek answered shortly. “She needs a doctor…”
“You can’t take her to a hospital,” Sarah warned him. “They’ll think someone tried to kill her.”
“Something did!” Derek’s hands remained gentle on Jessie’s skin but his voice lowered dangerously.
“Mom’s right.” John finished sorting through the supplies and brought over a glass of water and some pills. He gave them to Derek who coaxed the vacant-eyed Jessie to swallow the prescription strength painkillers supplied by Charlie so long ago, and sip at the water.
“If she goes into a hospital looking like that, there are going to be questions,” John continued. “We’re already running too high a profile.”
“I could take her out of town,” Derek suggested.
“Too risky,” Sarah countered almost reluctantly. That would be the perfect solution, wait for them to leave and pack up the house, leaving two of her biggest problems behind. But she couldn’t take John’s uncle away from him. That was the whole point of what they were doing here after all. John needed his family, difficult as it might be. “You’re a fugitive, and I don’t trust her alone.”
Derek sagged, but he tried one last tack, “What about Dixon?”
Sarah acknowledged, and then pushed aside, the familiar ache that came with the mention of her ex-fiancé. Regret, guilt, love… she didn’t even know what it was any more, only that it was over. “I don’t know where he is,” she lied. She knew exactly where he was, she had set it up herself, but she was not dragging him back down into her world, not again.
Defeated, Derek rubbed at the sweat on his forehead. “I can’t fix this arm,” he admitted. “The bones are shattered, there’s no way to put them back together again… not without surgery, and we don’t have the tools, or the skill.”
“Yes we do,” John supplied unexpectedly. “Cameron,” he explained when they just looked at him blankly. “She could set the bones… we have ether to knock her out, and I’m sure Cameron could get into a hospital and steal the plates and pins or whatever.”
“That machine did this!” Derek growled. “You think I’m going to let it touch her again?”
“It’s that or she’s never going to have use of it,” Sarah replied brutally. “Your choice.”
Jessie whimpered suddenly, beginning to sag on the table. The painkillers were working in tandem with shock to tip the balance between consciousness and oblivion, and she was losing the battle. Derek let go of his confrontation with Sarah long enough to ease Jessie down onto the table, accepting John’s help to arrange her limbs, both sound and shattered, so that she could rest as comfortably as possible.
Clearly torn, Derek stroked sweat-dampened hair back from Jessie’s forehead as the woman sank into a drug induced sleep. Sarah could see the conflict in his eyes as the ex-soldier fought between his hatred for the machines and his concern for the woman he loved.
“Fine,” he conceded stiffly, not looking up. “Make it happen.”
“John,” Sarah gripped her son’s shoulder, pulling him away from the table. “Go tell Cameron what we need her to do, but don’t say anything to the girls… There’s a hospital supply warehouse on the highway, get her the address. She’ll have to wait until dark to go in, but I’d like her to head out as soon as she’s patched up. Tell her to come and talk to me before she goes.”
Sarah had her own reasons for sending the terminator out of the house. She wanted Cameron away from Derek until she’d had a chance to talk to him about what had happened in the driveway, and she needed some time to herself. The farther away she could push that later that was looming over her, the happier she’d be.
“Got it,” John acquiesced without question. He spared a last look between Sarah and Derek, probably wondering if it was a good idea to leave them effectively alone together, but he went without voicing his concerns aloud.
Sarah was grateful for his silence. She’d had more than enough of difficult questions and nursemaiding today.
“What are you going to do about the metal?” Derek asked bluntly once John was gone, snatching her imagined reprieve away before she could even begin to savour it. “You can’t tell me what happened down there wasn’t some kind of malfunction. Bitch is unstable.”
“I don’t need to do anything,” Sarah replied in kind. She couldn’t pinpoint the moment when she had decided that Cameron’s glitch was on a need-to-know basis, but with that last sentence Derek had put himself firmly in the camp that did not need to know. “And neither do you.”
“Why?” Derek sneered, turning around to face her. “Are you going to ask her nicely not to do it again?”
Sarah gritted her teeth and leaned back against the counter, gripping the edge with her hands to keep them busy. She’d been wondering how long it would take Derek to bring up her performance in the driveway, and the undisguised disgust in his voice didn’t disappoint. But there had been more than enough strangling for one day.
“Cameron was protecting John,” Sarah managed finally, keeping her tone civil by sheer force of will. If she lost her temper, then Derek would fly apart. “That’s all you need to know.”
“That’s bullshit, Sarah, and you know it.” Derek crossed his arms. “Jessie isn’t a threat to John.”
“Jessie has a bad habit of taking things into her own hands,” Sarah pointed out grimly. “We both know how that ends. A lot of people wind up dead.”
Derek’s lowered brows told her she’d scored a point. Sarah could practically see him reliving his discovery of the murdered bodies of the resistance fighters that had jumped back in time with him. Men that were dead because they had all been chasing their own leads, making their own calls. It had only taken one sloppy surveillance mission to bring the terminator Vick down on them.
“That’s not going to happen here,” Derek protested.
“You’re damn right it’s not!” Sarah confirmed, her voice gone harsh with lidded fury. “You lied to me about her Derek. You lied to John. You knew she was up to something and you hid it from us.” Shaking with the effort required to keep herself in check, Sarah swallowed hard. “I don’t know who to trust anymore, but it isn’t her… and I’m not sure it’s you either.”
Derek took a step back from the bleak verdict in her eyes. “So you’re going to trust a machine instead?” he asked, putting his back to the table, as if its physical support could translate into moral reinforcement. “A machine that just tried to murder a woman in cold blood?”
Sarah didn’t answer that directly. She couldn’t, because she didn’t know the answer herself. Trust Cameron? The idea was only marginally less frightening than trusting Jessie, but Sarah’s life was full of narrow margins that could mean the difference between life and death for her and her son.
“A woman? Or just the wrong woman?” she asked quietly, her anger replaced by a sudden and overwhelming exhaustion. “Because that’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what Jessie had planned for Riley, or had you forgotten that part?”
“At least Jessie remembers that killing is the only thing those machines are good for.” Derek snapped, but he leaned heavily back on the table as he said it, the conviction in his voice wavering.
Sarah let that go by. There were only so many battles she could fight at once. She didn’t need to change Derek’s opinion of Cameron. There probably wasn’t a force on earth that could convince Derek Reese that they wouldn’t all be better off if the metal girl was dead and burned, and she wasn’t going to make herself crazy trying.
“You’re right.” She said instead. “They’re very good at killing. Which is why I should have let Cameron do what she does best the moment that woman walked through the door. This is it Derek. No more chances. Either Jessie becomes a willing member of this team, or next time I won’t stand in Cameron’s way. Do you understand me?”
For a long moment Sarah thought this was going to be the one time she couldn’t push the ex-soldier, but just when she was sure that he had to either lash out or implode, Derek surprised her.
“I want your word that the machine is under control,” he requested frankly. “Trust goes both ways.”
Sarah looked into his eyes, watching them burn with the righteousness of a man who is convinced the entire world has gone crazy. “Would I let her anywhere near my son if she wasn’t?” she asked in turn, avoiding the truth that would send him over the edge.
Derek nodded once, grudgingly, before turning back to Jessie. He might not trust her judgment where Cameron was concerned, but he trusted in her love for her son. Sarah wished she could share his conviction. She didn’t try to comfort herself by pretending she wasn’t lying to him. Evasive wording didn’t change that fact that she was deliberately hiding the terminator’s damaged chip from him, and it didn’t mean that she hadn’t just crossed a line; one she was wasn’t going to be able to uncross.
Cameron knew that Sarah would want her to close the bathroom door before taking her clothes off, but even that thin divide seemed like too much of a barrier between her and the rest of the house while there was a clear and present threat. Jessie was still in the house. Cameron could not relax her vigilance so long as that woman was near John and Sarah.
She should have killed her… but Sarah had told her to let Jessie go, and Cameron had meant to. She had intended to step aside, but her body had not obeyed her command. There had been a… conflict. She had been unable to do what Sarah told her, even though she’d tried. Jessie was a threat, and she had needed, no wanted to eliminate her.
That was new. Cameron had not wanted to kill anyone before. She had killed when the mission required it, because it was usually the simplest solution. She had been programmed to kill, but Sarah had explained to her the difference between being compelled to do something, and wanting it. Knowing that, Cameron could not blame her programmers for her desire to kill Jessie. She had wanted that for herself, and for Sarah.
Cameron processed that while she laid out the disinfectant, gauze and medical tape from the first aid kit. Taking a last look at the open door, she compromised by pulling it halfway shut before stripping down to her underclothes in order to asses the extend of the damage to her organic components.
The bullet wounds to her chest and shoulder were the most severe; they would require stitches in order to heal cleanly. There was also piece of skin missing from the side of her neck where a bullet had grazed her, and the right side of her face was abraded. The rest of the damage was mostly to her back and one knee. There were several places where the skin had been scraped away almost completely.
Cameron’s clothing was likewise torn, but unlike her skin, it couldn’t repair itself, and the blood would not wipe off. Holding up what had previously been her favourite pair of jeans, Cameron added their destruction to the list of reasons why Jessie should be killed. At least she hadn’t been wearing her leather jacket.
Distracted, Cameron hadn’t noticed Lauren approaching the bathroom. The girl was leaning against the doorframe, her arms crossed, taking in the damage to both machine and wardrobe.
Cameron quickly reviewed the meaning of that word, cross referencing it with what she had discovered so far of current slang, and applying the results to the present context. “Yes,” she agreed after a moment. “It is harsh.”
Lauren smiled at that, but she didn’t leave.
“Did you require the bathroom?” Cameron could not think of any other reason for the human girl to be standing there staring at her, so she tossed the jeans into the trash and began gathering up her medical supplies.
“No, no…” Lauren shook her head, coming all the way into the room and halting Cameron’s effort to clean up by laying a hand on the back of her wrist. “I was just on my way downstairs, and I saw the door was open, and I thought you might need some help…”
Cameron looked down at the hand on her arm. She was not used to such casual contact from humans; it was disconcerting, but not unpleasant. She glanced back up at Lauren, “Where is your sister?”
“She’s with Riley,” Lauren explained with a shrug, taking her hand away as casually as she had put it there. “She needed someone else to focus on for a little while. She’s still a little messed up about that Jessie woman.” As she was speaking, Lauren retrieved a washcloth from the cupboard and turned on the faucet, adjusting the temperature until she was satisfied before wetting the towel.
Cameron watched her curiously. “Jessie wanted me to kill Riley,” she said to fill the silence.
“You didn’t though.” Once the washcloth was soaked, Lauren turned the water off and wrung it out.
“No,” Cameron conceded. She took a quick step back from the counter as Lauren raised the washcloth towards her chest. “What are you doing?”
“Helping,” Lauren explained frankly. “Now hold still, you’re covered in blood and asphalt.”
Confused, and lacking any precedent to fall back on, Cameron submitted wordlessly, allowing Lauren to clean her up without further protest. The girl was extremely gentle, treating Cameron’s injuries as carefully as if she were a human instead of a machine. It was… strange. John had occasionally assisted Cameron with injuries she couldn’t reach properly on her own, but no one had ever offered to tend to her in this way before. Cameron did not understand why Lauren should care, and that uncertainty held her rigid while the girl worked her way around the machine.
“Does that hurt?” Unaware of the inner turmoil she had triggered, Lauren ran the cloth over Cameron’s back, tsking at a particularly raw patch of skin.
“Yes,” Cameron answered honestly. “But it does not hurt in the same way that you feel pain. I am not emotionally affected by damage to my living tissue. Pain is merely a signal that I have been damaged… though in large quantities it can be distracting.”
“Huh… cool.” Lauren continued her ministrations, seemingly completely unaffected by such a bald discussion of Cameron’s nature. “Some of these are going to need stitches,” she added a moment later.
“There are surgical needles and thread in the first aid kit,” Cameron informed her. “Are you familiar with their use?”
Lauren laughed shortly. “I took Home Economics in high school; they taught us how to sew a seam. Does that count?” Finished with the cloth, she tossed it into the hamper and got out the needle and thread. “I can’t promise that it’ll be pretty, but I can sew it closed.”
“That is sufficient.” Cameron tensed as Lauren took hold of her shoulders and turned her around so that her back was to the light. “You are not afraid of me…” She spoke suddenly, realizing what it was about Lauren’s attitude towards her that was so different from that of everyone else who knew what she was. Even John was uneasy around her at times, but Lauren seemed as unconcerned as if Cameron were really just another teenage girl.
“Nope,” Lauren replied easily.
There was a long pause and Cameron could feel the needle dipping in and out of her skin, dragging the thread behind it as the edges of the wound were pulled together.
“You saved my life,” Lauren answered finally.
“That was my mission,” Cameron countered, not understanding.
Lauren sighed, tying off the string and snipping it before moving onto another tear in Cameron’s back. “Your mission was to protect my sister,” she began. “Sarah took my mom and hid me in a closet, I didn’t know if I’d ever see either of them again, or my dad. Then you found me and took me with you. You didn’t have to do that.”
Cameron considered that. She had been offline when Sarah decided to run, taking only Lauren’s mother, but in Sarah’s place she would have done the same thing. As a human, Sarah could not protect more than one target at a time. Once Cameron had rebooted, she had been faced with a similar decision. Alone, she could have caught up with Sarah more quickly, but it had not seemed like the right choice to leave Lauren by herself. Living with Sarah and John had taught Cameron a great deal about the bond between mothers and their children. They needed to be together.
“I did not think you would wish to be parted from your family,” Cameron confessed.
“Exactly!” Lauren agreed triumphantly. “You’re not just a robot. You’re alive, Number 5.”
“No, I am a cybernetic organism.” Cameron twisted once Lauren had snipped another thread. “Who is Number 5?”
“Hello, Short Circuit? It’s only the best robot movie ever.” She took in Cameron’s blank stare and sighed. “He’s a robot that comes to life when he’s struck by lightning. He ends up with a crush on this woman named Stephanie who hides him from his creators because they think he’s dangerous and they want to take him apart. It’s a classic. We are so renting it.”
“That wouldn’t work,” Cameron protested. “A burst of high voltage electricity could not bring a robot to life.
Lauren rolled her eyes. “It’s a movie, not science. The point is that it questions the nature of humanity.” She came around to Cameron’s front. “Are there still bullets in there?” she asked, pointing at the clean, but still ragged holes in Cameron’s chest and shoulder.
“Yes, there should be pliers in the first aid kit.”
“Huh,” Lauren said as she retrieved the tool. “This is officially the only time I’ve ever seen pliers considered emergency medical equipment.”
“I get shot a lot,” was Cameron’s only reply as Lauren set to work on extracting the bullets. They weren’t buried very deeply, and it was only the work of a few minutes to dig them out. Cameron could have done it herself, but she was beginning to understand that Lauren saw helping her as repayment for what Cameron had done for her, so she didn’t point that out.
Lauren was just securing the last bandage when there was a knock on the half open door. “Cameron, are you in there?” John sounded hesitant, as if he wasn’t sure if he was about to get an eyeful of naked terminator. Cameron often forgot that she was supposed to make sure she was fully dressed before opening a door.
“Yes, John,” Cameron called back, “Lauren is assisting me with my repairs.”
“Oh, that’s good… are you dressed?”
Cameron looked down at herself. “How dressed?” she asked.
“All the way dressed, Cameron.”
“No.” All the way dressed meant at least one layer of clothes overtop of her underwear. Sarah had been very clear about that.
“Give us five minutes,” Lauren chimed in, laying another piece of surgical tape. “We’re almost done.”
“Okay, meet me downstairs when you’re ready Cameron; Mom’s got a job for you.”
“I will be there,” Cameron answered quickly. Stepping away from Lauren, she began pulling on the clean clothes that she’d brought into the bathroom with her.
“You’re kind of gone on her aren’t you?” Lauren asked casually, leaning back against the counter as Cameron dressed.
“Gone?” Cameron paused, her jeans half on, unsure of what Lauren meant.
“You like her, Sarah,” the girl elaborated. “You sure weren’t listening to anyone else down there in the driveway.”
“We’re a team…” Cameron said slowly, finishing with her jeans and reaching for the pink t-shirt she’d left on the counter. She did not understand what Lauren was trying to say, but she didn’t want to keep Sarah waiting.
“So if you’re Number 5, she’s kind of like your Stephanie?”
“No,” Cameron answered shortly, after giving the comparison due consideration. “Sarah would not hide me. If she thought I was dangerous, then she would take me apart herself.”
“You still like her though…don’t you?” Lauren did not seem deterred by Cameron’s response.
“I…” Cameron did not know how to answer that question. Lauren was putting an emphasis on the word like that indicated something more than approval or simple affection. Cameron had come to the conclusion earlier that day that she wanted Sarah to like her, but she had not intended to use the word the same way Lauren was… had she? “I do not want to talk about this.” Confused, Cameron ended the conversation along with her internal analysis of it. “Thank you for your assistance.”
Lauren finally seemed to realize that Cameron was not enjoying this line of questioning and she raised both hands in apology. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry, I was just curious… and you’re welcome, any time.”
Cameron nodded once and left the bathroom. She filed the conversation away to consider later. Right now Sarah had a job for her to do.
It was close to 2 a.m. before Sarah could wash the blood off hands. Once she’d agreed to go, Cameron had made a successful raid of the medical warehouse, but on her return it had taken another nerve-wracking two hours for the terminator to piece the fractured bones of Jessie’s arm back together and secure them with the little plates and screws that would hold them in place until they could heal.
No one but Cameron and Sarah would know how close the surgery had come to not happening at all. When Sarah had taken her aside and explained what she wanted her to do, the metal girl had flatly refused to help. In her opinion Jessie was far preferable helpless, and she had no intentions of doing anything to return her to threat status. Furthermore, she did not like the idea of leaving Sarah and John without protection, no matter how indisposed to causing trouble Jessie might have been at the time.
They had ended up making a bargain. Cameron would do as Sarah asked, if Sarah would stop fighting the terminator over the doctor’s instructions, and allow Cameron to tend to her injuries. Later was the only proviso Sarah had attached before grudgingly accepting the metal girl’s terms. Cameron had frowned, but she had gone, and to her credit, she had not responded to Derek’s ungrateful attitude upon her return.
Jessie was now sleeping off the ether in John’s bed. Derek had initially intended to put her in Cameron’s bed, insisting that since the machine didn’t sleep, she didn’t need it, but that had been the only moment when the terminator’s control had slipped. Seeing the now telltale shivering of Cameron’s fingers, Sarah had intervened, and John had backed her up, offering his own room. Riley was already settled into Cameron’s he argued; Lauren and Sydney could share with her, and he was happy to take the couch.
Why it mattered so much to Cameron who slept in her room, Sarah didn’t know, but she had to admit that she didn’t like the idea of putting Jessie in her own bed either, so irrational or not, she was happy enough to indulge Cameron in this.
What she was less happy about was the meal the terminator had forced her to eat before she would start the surgery. Even hours later, the leftover Chinese was sitting heavily in Sarah’s stomach. It had roiled there unpleasantly during the operation, and it wasn’t resting any easier now that it was over.
Sarah stiffened as the door of the master bathroom was pushed open behind her. “Don’t you knock?” She clipped, shutting of the water and reaching for a towel to dry her hands and arms.
“The door was not latched,” Cameron replied easily as she stepped over the threshold. “Is it later now?”
Sarah turned and leaned back against the counter, running the towel through her fingers. Cameron was carrying an assortment of medical supplies, and her resolute expression suggested serious mayhem if Sarah attempted to put her off again.
“If it gets any later it’s going to be early,” she agreed wearily and hung the towel up over the bar beside the sink. “We might as well get it over with.”
Cameron nodded and placed her supplies down on the counter. She ran a critical eye over Sarah, her gaze lingering on the scrapes and bruises that she’d gotten from her collision with the terminator and the street. “You will need to remove your shirt,” the terminator ordered. “I need to examine your ribs and disinfect the abrasions.”
Sarah would have liked to refuse, but there was nothing untoward in Cameron’s request. She couldn’t very well tend to Sarah’s injuries through cloth. Without a word, Sarah slipped her long-sleeved black shirt over her head, grunting softly as the material pulled at half-formed scabs.
Without being asked, Cameron stepped forward to help, easing the shirt away from the wounds where it had adhered to the dried blood. When the shirt was off, the terminator reached innocently for the front clasp of Sarah’s bra, but this was where Sarah drew the line. She caught Cameron’s hand just as the girl’s fingers settled on the fastener, holding it there between her breasts for a moment. “Nothing you need to see under there, girlie,” she said softly before pulling Cameron’s hand away and releasing it.
“Your injuries are extensive,” Cameron replied accusingly.
“Yeah well, you’re the one who threw a terminator at me.” Sarah kept her tone light, as Cameron picked up a cotton pad and the bottle of antiseptic.
“You should not have come back,” Cameron rebuked her, moistening the pad and lifting it to Sarah’s cheek. Evidently she had decided to go with the top-down approach.
The sting of the antiseptic distracted Sarah momentarily, but she couldn’t completely ignore the terminator’s disapproval. “Seems a bit of an overreaction,” she teased weakly. “You couldn’t have settled for a scolding?”
“Ineffective. You never listen.” Cameron’s delivery was as deadpan as ever, and it took Sarah a minute to realize that she was going along with the joke.
“Good point.” Sarah smiled once Cameron was finished with her face. “What’s your next plan? There won’t always be a handy terminator lying around.”
“I could tie you up,” Cameron mused as she worked her way down Sarah’s neck, leaning close enough in her determination to do a thorough job that Sarah could feel the girl’s breath on her wet skin.
Sarah shivered and blamed it on the fact that it was chilly and she wasn’t wearing a shirt. “You’d leave me helpless?” she asked, focusing on the conversation instead of the slow slide of damp cotton over her collarbones and down to her chest. The terminator’s overly gentle ministrations were starting to make her distinctly uneasy…
Cameron had bent so that she could reach the scrapes over Sarah’s ribs and abdomen, but she paused and looked up at Sarah’s words. “You are never helpless,” she countered with absolute sincerity.
“But I can get hurt,” Sarah acknowledged.
“Yes.” Finished with the antiseptic, Cameron straightened and put it back on the counter, tossing the used pads into the garbage. “I do not like it when you get hurt.”
“I gathered that,” Sarah agreed wryly. She tensed as Cameron began an examination of the ribs on her left side. The flesh over them was an angry, mottled purple and they ached like fury, but Cameron’s touch was soft and almost disturbingly soothing.
Disarmed by the unfamiliar sensation of being taken care of, Sarah could feel the pressures and stress of the day draining out of her under Cameron’s hands, leaving her defenseless against a slow and subtle tension that crept up from the soles of her feet, whispering through her body and thrumming in unison with the soft fingers on her skin. Startled, she recognized it as the same uneasy discomfort she had dismissed in the Jeep the night before, when Cameron had innocently brushed her lips.
Sarah refused to put a name to the feeling. It had been too damned long since she had been touched, that was all. Two years of being alone added to the adrenalin of a long and harrowing day, and her nerves would probably hum if she brushed up against a wall. Still… it was not a little alarming that she had relaxed that far around the terminator.
“I believe you have cracked two of your ribs.” Cameron’s assessment pulled Sarah’s wandering attention back to the matter at hand. “They need to be wrapped, and you should take it easy.” She suited actions to words, taking her hands away from Sarah to unwind a long elastic bandage.
Sarah’s skin felt cold where Cameron’s fingers had been a moment before, and she frowned more at that than the diagnosis. “I know what cracked ribs mean,” she retorted harshly, regretting it almost instantly when she saw the subtle flash of hurt across Cameron’s face.
The girl didn’t respond, she simply began winding the bandage around Sarah’s middle, leaving her feeling like even more of a bitch. “I don’t like being useless,” she offered by way of an apology.
“I know,” Cameron replied neutrally, but she didn’t look up from her task.
“Derek doesn’t know,” Sarah blurted suddenly, the need to atone for her attitude, not just now, but over the entire day, abruptly overcoming her reserve. “About the damage to your chip,” she explained. “I didn’t tell him.”
Cameron’s hands stilled midway through fastening the bandage. “You lied for me?” she asked.
Sarah bit her lip. “No…” she began, thinking of her wording, but Cameron deserved the entire truth. “Yes,” she admitted slowly. “He suspects that you’re unstable. I let him believe you’re under control. Are you?”
Cameron finished securing the end of the bandage before stepping back, her dark eyes searching Sarah’s face for some clue as to how she should answer that question. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “Sometimes, yes.”
“But sometimes no,” Sarah echoed her. She picked up her shirt off the counter for something to do while she thought, but the idea of putting the torn and dirty clothing back on was unappealing.
“Have you decided what you’re going to do?” Cameron asked, the tone of her voice giving no clue about her feelings on the subject. She could be frightened, angry or completely indifferent as far as Sarah could tell.
“No,” Sarah admitted. “I need to talk to John first.”
“That is a good idea.” Cameron nodded. “He fixed me before… he will know which areas of my chip were damaged.”
Sarah pushed her brows together. “Can’t you analyze that?”
Cameron shrugged. “I cannot trust my own diagnostic tools.”
“So it could be anything…” Sarah swallowed hard. “Are you a danger to John?”
Cameron paused, considering. “I do not think so,” she concluded at length. “There is currently no conflict with my mission to protect John.”
Sarah realized that she would have to be content with that, though a frisson of fear licked down her spine. She did not ask if Cameron was a danger to her, she didn’t want to know. “Good,” she rasped instead, pushing away from the counter. “Thank you,” she gestured to the medical supplies.
“You’re welcome.” Cameron seemed to understand she was being dismissed. She began to leave, turning around in the doorframe with a question in her eyes. “Sarah…” she began.
“If you and John decide I need to be terminated, please don’t let Derek or Jessie do it.”
Sarah jerked, caught unprepared by the wave of compassion and understanding that swept over her in response to that direct, but painfully sincere, request. Shaken, she could barely meet the calm acceptance in Cameron’s eyes. “I’ll do it myself,” she promised, her voice tight with all of the things she couldn’t express. Guilt, regret, grief…
Cameron nodded, relief clear in the subtle loosening of her frame. “Thank you,” she said quietly, leaving the door swinging open behind her as she left.
Sarah waited long enough to be sure that Cameron would be well away before leaving the bathroom. When she was certain, she snapped off the light and dragged her weary, bruised and aching body step by step towards the bed.
In a strange echo of the night before, her bedside lamp was once more switched on, revealing a second glass of water and another little white pill. Sarah realized that Cameron must have set it up before coming into the bathroom, and she didn’t hesitate this time, swallowing the sedative with a gulp of water. She had made a bargain, and even if they had to burn Cameron’s chip tomorrow, she intended to keep her side of it.