Title: Of Lies and Betrayal
Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Rating: M: L, S, V
Word count: ~13,600
Disclaimer: I don’t own them. Are there action figures? I might try to own those.
A/N: This is a follow-up to ‘Postulations and Practices.’ It’s just as much of a ramble as was the first one. I’ve assumed facts not in evidence for some of this and (very) loosely followed canon for others. I’ve made reference to a few episodes, notably 1x03 and 1x04 (I think). Please do not expect coherency.
The word was halfway between a groan and a squeak and the girl in question looked up from what she was doing, confusion etched clearly across her face.
For a moment, Sarah lost her train of thought. She’d been pleasantly surprised when Cameron had pushed her down onto the bedding before perching above her. She’d been even more surprised by the unhurried kisses that had followed. It had been as if Cameron was intent on testing out various theories, her lips moving from soft brushes to hard, probing presses and then back again, and for the moment, Sarah had been content to let her. In fact, when she’d finally pulled away, lips sliding down Sarah’s throat as her fingers deftly undid the line of buttons running down the front of her shirt, Sarah had actually laughed. It had been a deep, contented chuckle, and when Cameron had looked up at her, she’d merely buried her fingers in the girl’s hair and given her a lazy smirk.
She’d been more intrigued than surprised when Cameron devoted a small eternity to exploring her torso. The girl had pressed her ear to the spot over Sarah’s heart, a soft smile curling on her lips as the strong thud grew more rapid. And then she’d used her teeth and tongue to taste what felt like every inch of Sarah’s flesh with studious dedication, apparently immune to Sarah’s rough, breathless commands.
“Touch me,” Sarah had hissed angrily, the fingers of one hand digging into the curve of Cameron’s shoulder as the other tangled into her hair.
Cameron had looked at her calmly, lips red and swollen, and said simply, “I am.”
So it should have come as no surprise when Cameron settled between her legs and began to explore the flesh there just as industriously as she had all of the other. Only now she was looking at Sarah again, attentive and curious, and this time Sarah could see the sheen of wetness on her lips. Her hair was mussed, pulled into messy disarray by the less than gentle tug of Sarah’s fingers, and her eyes were dark and hooded.
It was so like her dream, the one she’d had before the thought of a terminator in her bed had become reality instead of a disquieting flight of fancy.
“What?” Cameron prompted impatiently, and Sarah pulled her thoughts away from the pretty picture the girl made and instead returned her focus to her original line of inquiry.
Her chest was heaving and her mind protesting that the last thing she should be doing was asking questions, but nonetheless, she felt compelled to blurt, “Where did you learn to do that?”
Cameron blinked slowly, then said, “Human sexuality is among my basic sub-routines, but this segment of my programming was augmented…”
Sarah wasn’t sure if she should be amused by the notion that a machine would take it upon itself to program another machine with such knowledge or deeply disturbed by the possible implications.
“Yes.” Cameron’s chin dipped slightly, bringing her once again within mere millimeters of Sarah. Her hips jumped instinctively, the hot brush of Cameron’s breath against the sensitized flesh a tormenting tease. “I know many ways to bring you pleasure.”
Sarah moaned despite herself.
“If you would like, I can reverse my position and we can perform this activity on one another at the same time.”
She imagined that, imagined strong, slim thighs digging into the mattress on either side of her head and nearly whimpered.
Cameron’s gaze never wavered. “I would prefer to continue what I was doing.”
Sarah nodded her agreement tightly, fingers once again winding into Cameron’s hair as her heel slid down the slick skin of the girl’s back.
But Cameron paused. She looked vaguely uncertain, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. “There are many things I want to do to you,” she said, her voice detached, almost dreamy. “I think you will like them.”
“Cameron,” Sarah growled testily, not in the mood for a protracted conversation about the girl’s carnal plans for her, “now.”
“As you wish.”
Sarah mentally cursed the day she’d let Cameron watch ‘The Princess Bride.’
A second later she cursed out loud, the startled, aroused, “Fuck,” echoing in the silence. Sarah’s head fell back against the pillow, her free hand coming up to tangle in her own hair, heel of her hand pressing firmly against her forehead and bottom lip caught tightly between her teeth as she struggled to hold in the embarrassingly girlish whimpers tickling up her throat. When she felt the press of Cameron’s fingers pushing into her, she wondered briefly if the girl had taken her literally.
In the few days they’d been engaged in a physical relationship, Sarah had learned that Cameron had no sexual hang-ups. Unlike many humans, she had no compunctions and felt absolutely no shame about what she was doing or what she wanted to do.
As such, it shouldn’t have come as a final surprise when her fingers slipped free only to reappear slightly lower, pushing into Sarah without hesitation, but it did. Sarah’s body tensed in surprise and her head and shoulders shot off the mattress, stinging rebuke on the tip of her tongue when the words died.
Cameron sensed her tension and paused, looking up, lips once again so close it took everything Sarah had to keep from pressing her hips up to reclaim contact. “Do you not like that?”
Cameron was moving inside of her, slowly and smoothly. After she’d spoken, she’d returned her lips to their original position – wrapped firmly around Sarah’s clit, her tongue rough against it – and Sarah realized that, embarrassment aside, she absolutely did not want the girl to stop.
“Keep going,” she snapped, voice strained, one hand finding the back of Cameron’s head and pressing it to her tightly.
Long minutes later, after delaying it for as long as she could manage, Sarah finally allowed herself to come. She flung her arms outward, digging her fingers into the mattress’ edge as her torso trembled and a raw, hoarse cry tore past her throat. Her thighs tightened around Cameron’s head, one leg wrapping tightly around her back as the other foot dug into the mattress, slipping uselessly against the sheet. Not that she needed the support; Cameron’s hands were beneath her, cradling her, holding her weight as effortlessly as if she were made of air in a way that made her feel both protected and immensely vulnerable.
When Cameron finally lowered her to the mattress once more, Sarah’s body was slick with sweat, thighs and calves aching from the tension, and her heart beat with a heavy, lazy thud that seemed to echo through her limbs.
“I don’t want to know where you learned that,” Sarah said sleepily. She was quickly drifting out of consciousness, the world growing fuzzy around her.
She wasn’t sure if Cameron’s soft, lingering kiss was real or a dream.
John had absolutely no interest in knowing why his mother had turned a deep, lobster red and dropped her eyes to the counter as soon as Cameron entered the kitchen. He also had absolutely no interest in the slightly smug smile Cameron directed her way.
As such, he was relieved when his mother nodded at his opened books. “Homework?”
“Test today,” he said with a sigh, snapping his notebook shut. “Chemistry. Cameron has one too.”
Sarah glanced at Cameron, her expression wry. “Don’t get every question right.”
“But I know the answers.”
“So deliberately get some of them wrong.” At Cameron’s puzzled look, she continued, “We’re trying to stay under the radar here, not cement your position as the new whiz kid on the science team.”
“I’m not on the science team.”
“Yeah,” John said, smirking, “but if you go around acing all your tests, they’ll want you to be. You’ll be the most sought after nerd at the school.”
“I’m not a nerd.”
Both John and Sarah chuckled.
“You are. Just a little,” Sarah said, holding her thumb and forefinger a centimeter apart in display, the affectionate smile on her face making her seem younger and more carefree than John could remember recent history allowing.
Cameron frowned. “Nerds are social outcasts. Popular people do not talk to them.”
Sarah’s brow arched in amusement. “Do popular people talk to you?”
“Yesterday Brad Johnson invited me to visit the locker rooms with him.”
At Sarah’s puzzled look, John clarified wryly, “Brad Johnson is the captain of the football team.”
“I see.” She nodded slowly, fighting back a smile. “And what exactly did Brad Johnson say to you?”
Cameron’s body language changed. She slumped back lazily against the counter, face transforming into an arrogant smirk, then cocked her head at Sarah. “Hey new girl, how about a quickie? I’ll be in the locker rooms after practice. Why don’t you come see me? It’ll be worth it.” As she finished, her hand traced along the buttons of her jeans slowly, the expression on her face blatantly, aggressively sexual.
Unable to help herself, Sarah snorted. “And what did you say to him?”
Immediately returning to her normal, passively bland posture, Cameron said naively, “I told him that I did not have time to join him in the locker rooms that afternoon.”
John’s loud laugh drew a look of consternation from Cameron. “Did I say the wrong thing?”
“Don’t you know what that means?” John asked, rolling his eyes. “When he said a quickie… don’t you know that?”
Cameron’s blank look indicated that she did not.
“He was talking about sex,” Sarah explained.
Cameron’s blank look fell into a frown. “He wanted to have sexual intercourse with me?”
“Uh, yes,” she replied, lips quirking as she tried to suppress a smirk. “Specifically, very quick sex with little or no foreplay.”
Brow crinkled, Cameron said, the words almost haughty, “I do not want to have sexual intercourse with him. You are the only person I want to have sexual intercourse with.”
Sarah’s surprised choke was nearly drowned out by John’s whimper.
“Ahh,” he groaned, the palms of his hands pressing down hard over his ears, “you were supposed to keep that to yourselves. That was part of the deal.”
“She’s not…” Sarah began defensively, then ground to a halt. She wasn’t going to lie to John, no matter how much she wanted to strip Cameron down to her endoskeleton for ever saying the words in the first place. So instead, she glared at Cameron and offered John a tight, angry, “I’m sorry.”
In reply, John shrugged and smirked sardonically, his words dry. “Yeah, whatever. I guess I’ve got a metal mommy now, huh.”
Sarah brought her hand to her temple, muscle in her jaw ticking as she fought to bring her flare of temper under control. “I’m sorry,” she said again, shaking her head tightly. “We’ll talk about it.”
John snorted. “I’ve got school. Besides, I’m only moderately traumatized. At least I only heard about it instead of actually hearing or seeing it.” He paused, expression going serious for a second. “I don’t want to actually hear or see it, okay, so try to do a better job at keeping that part secret.”
He shoved his books in his bag, smiling wryly to himself, and made it all the way to the door, Cameron ducking out before him with a quick glance back at Sarah, before his mother called out for him. “Hey,” she said, lunch bag held outstretched like a peace offering. He took it, offering her a small smile, then groaned as she pulled him close and pressed a kiss to the side of his head. “I really am sorry,” she whispered against his hair, eyes closed.
“I’m not upset,” he said lightly. “A little skeeved, maybe,” he amended, catching his mother’s quick glance of disbelief, “but not upset.” Pulling back, he waited until she met his eyes. “Don’t freak out about this. Don’t be ashamed.”
Sarah looked away, shoving her hands deeply into her pockets.
“I mean it,” John stressed. “Yeah, it’s a little weird, but you take your happiness where you can. You’re not doing anything wrong. I’m not going to be scarred for life. And, I mean, come on. She’s totally hot. You should be proud of yourself.”
She shot him a wry half smile in reply, then shook her head. “Go to school,” she muttered affectionately.
John remained where he was. “I mean it, Mom. Don’t freak out.”
“Yeah,” she said wryly. “I get it.”
“Make sure that you do. There’s too much bad going around for us to pass up the good that comes our way.”
“All told, yoda,” she teased lightly, then gave him a soft shove. “Now go. You’re going to be late.”
John and Cameron were on their way to first period when they passed by Brad Johnson. He was surrounded by a cadre of friends, boys in football jerseys and girls with smug, self-satisfied smiles. Among them, Cameron noted, were the two girls she had met in the bathroom the day the girl Jordan killed herself after inexplicably refusing her tight present. Neither of them had seemed to like her then and, judging by their glares, had not since changed their opinion.
“Hey new girl,” Brad called out, smirking, “you got time to meet me today?”
Cameron paused and turned slowly, impassively surveying the small group of people all watching her closely.
“Let’s just go,” John muttered, tugging on her arm, rolling his eyes at the stupidity of high school bravado. “Cameron, come on.”
She resisted John’s insistent pull.
Eyes focusing on Brad with laser-like intensity, she said clearly, “I have no desire to have sexual intercourse with you.”
Among muffled snorts of laughter, Brad pulled himself up straighter, lips now curling into a sneer. “Bitch.”
“Bitch whore,” Cameron corrected.
One of the two girls from the bathroom snorted. “At least she remembers her place.”
Cameron’s gaze swung to the one who had spoken, eyes still dead and flat. Voice monotone, she said, “That outfit also makes you look fat.”
The girl gasped, eyes narrowing angrily. “You skanky slut,” she spat.
For a moment, Cameron looked confused. “It is my understanding that a slut has many sexual partners. I only have one. How many do you have?”
“Oh, God,” John groaned, tugging even harder on Cameron’s arm. “We have to go now.”
It was too late. The girl in question charged at Cameron like a vengeful fury, hands extended and fingers curled like claws. Cameron watched her approach with a sort of speculative confusion, waiting until she was within a few feet’s reach before lazily extending her arm, palm forward. A second later, the girl’s momentum was stopped abruptly, air leaving her lungs in a whoosh as she crumpled to the ground.
John looked skyward, as if searching for some sort of divine intervention. “Shit.”
Sarah sat beside an impassive Cameron, seething. Across the desk, the vice-principal studied each of them over his fisted hands.
“Fighting?” Sarah snapped, giving Cameron a sideways glare.
The girl shrugged. “I merely prevented her from hitting me. She suffered much less damage that way.”
Sarah closed her eyes, searching for patience. “Vice-principal, can we talk alone?” she asked, the words gritted from between clenched teeth.
He nodded. “Cameron, wait outside.”
Cameron rose slowly, giving Sarah another inscrutable look. “This wasn’t my fault,” she said softly, eyes soft and pleading. Sarah merely tightened her jaw, fingers curling into fists.
As soon as she was gone, the vice-principal began gravely, “Ms. Baum…”
“Please,” she said, stopping him. “I know Cameron has certain… problems. Her therapist says it’s PTSD.”
The vice-principal relaxed slightly, taking on a concerned air. “PTSD?”
“After the tornado destroyed everything and we moved out here,” Sarah said softly, consciously slumping slightly in her seat and adding a hint of desperation to her gaze, “Cameron changed. We’re working with a therapist, but he says that we just have to be patient.”
The vice-principal nodded knowingly. “I see. I wasn’t aware. Does she need special services?”
“No,” Sarah said quickly. Then, voice gentling, “No. He says that we need to keep her environment as normal as possible. We don’t want to ostracize her further.”
The vice-principal nodded again, expression once more turning serious. “Ms. Baum, there’s something else. Were you aware that Cameron is sexually active?”
Sarah closed her eyes again, once more searching for a hint of calm and patience. “She said that? Really?”
The vice-principal canted his head solemnly, looking at Sarah over the rim of his glasses. “You might want to talk to her about it,” he offered encouragingly. “At least make sure she’s taking the proper precautions. So many young girls find themselves pregnant these days. In my experience, something like that can completely change the course of their future.”
For a moment, Sarah had to fight back the urge to give into hysterical laughter. Aware that the vice-principal had noticed the smile she hadn’t been able to suppress, she said shortly, “I don’t think we have to worry about that.” At his puzzled look, she continued, voice full of tightly-laced humor, “If Cameron is sleeping with someone, I’m pretty sure she’s with a female.”
The vice-principal’s surprised, “Oh,” was almost enough to break through her reserve.
Sarah waited until the truck was off school grounds before giving voice to her ire.
“What were you thinking?”
Cameron turned to look at her, her expression oddly vulnerable. “If the girl had succeeded in fighting me, she would have been badly injured.”
“Not that part,” Sarah lashed out, shoulders tensed and brows drawn into a severe line. “I mean with the boy. With the comments. With the whole thing.”
Cameron relaxed slightly. She had assumed that Sarah would be most upset about her physical confrontation with a human not involved in their quest to stop Judgment Day. “I didn’t want him to think I was interested in having sexual intercourse with him.”
“First,” Sarah said, fingers tightening around the steering wheel, “could you just call it sex? And second, now they’re going to be paying attention to you. The vice-principal thinks you’re a problem child.”
John laughed sharply, though the look in his eyes when he glanced at Cameron was vaguely affectionate. “Everyone is going to be paying attention to her now. She’s like some kind of underground, cult idol. She threw the smackdown on the most popular kids at school. Every outcast, loser, stoner, and freak at that place thinks she’s some kind of hero. I’ll be surprised if they don’t vote her Homecoming Queen.”
Sarah glared. “Do you see what you’ve done?”
“I wanted to correct his misapprehension,” Cameron said mulishly.
Beside her, John shrugged. “It was kind of awesome.”
Smacking her hand against the top of the steering wheel, her frustration with the incident overwhelming her, Sarah spat, “You’re not there to care about what people think about you. You’re there to protect John.”
In response to her outburst, Cameron sank back against the seat, chin dipping down so that she was staring at her lap. “You are right. I’m sorry,” she said dully.
Sarah glared, then sighed. She felt like she’d kicked a puppy, which was utterly ridiculous. It was just Cameron, after all.
Grudgingly, she muttered, “You’re just going to have to try to act like you’re normal.”
After a long moment, Cameron said softly, “So I should agree to have sexual intercourse in the locker room with Brad Johnson?”
“No,” Sarah snapped in exasperation, her disavowal echoing John’s.
“That’s not what she means,” John said, rubbing his forehead. “We’ve talked about this before. Just don’t be a freak.”
“I wasn’t trying to be a freak.”
Sarah sighed again. She could feel a headache building behind her eyes, the tension pulling the muscles of her neck and shoulders tight. “I know. For right now, just try not to talk to anyone. And, for god’s sakes, don’t have sex with anyone.”
“You’re the only…”
“Don’t you dare say it,” Sarah snapped, eyes focused steadfastly on the road.
Sarah had deposited Cameron and John in the living room and disappeared into the spare room. Not long after, the muffled whack and thump of taped fists against the heavy bag echoed down the hallway.
“She’s upset,” Cameron observed, eyes dull as she stared in the direction in which Sarah had disappeared.
A sarcastic reply stung at the tip of John’s tongue, but he settled for, “Yeah. She’s upset.”
Cameron turned to him, her gaze level but shuttered. “I wasn’t trying to be a freak,” she repeated.
John shifted uncomfortably, then sighed. “I don’t need to know the particulars,” he began slowly, eyes dropping down to study a spot on the floor, “but I think I get the gist of what happened.”
“I would tell you, but your level of discomfort rises when I mention…”
“Yeah,” he interrupted, eyes flicking back up to glare at Cameron briefly. “It does.”
She stopped speaking and stared at him patiently.
“Cameron, you can’t talk about this,” he stressed. “Not at school. Not with anybody. Do you understand?”
She nodded. “It will make them uncomfortable as well.”
“Maybe, but more importantly, it might get my Mom arrested,” John scoffed. “Do you remember our cover here? As a family? So not only is there this freaky, incestuous angle, but according to your paperwork, you’re a minor. It’s against the law for an adult to have sex with a minor. If you go around telling people you’re sleeping with her, you’ll get her arrested for sexual assault.”
Cameron frowned slightly. “I didn’t say who it was.”
“And let us give thanks for small favors,” John muttered. “Seriously, though, do not talk about this.”
Later that night, after John had gone to bed, leaving Sarah and Cameron alone in the kitchen, Sarah leaned back, resting her elbows against the countertop, and stared at the girl. Cameron was sitting quietly, polishing what Sarah had deduced was her favorite semi-automatic with a single-minded intensity that was almost comforting.
“We have to talk about this afternoon,” she said, voice stark and almost disruptive in the stillness.
Cameron didn’t look up, hands still moving surely and smoothly. “I already talked about it with John. I know what to do.”
For a moment, Sarah was shocked into speechlessness. Her lips parted, mind reeling as she tried to imagine that conversation, then closed again.
Cameron finally looked up, eyes locking onto Sarah’s intently. “I won’t talk about it with anyone.”
“Talk about it?” she prodded, voice a quarter-octave higher than usual.
Cameron nodded, eyes returning to her task. “Our sexual relationship,” she elaborated. “It makes people uncomfortable and is illegal.”
“Illegal?” Sarah choked, one brow rising in incredulity. She’d been anticipating an entirely different sort of conversation, one with a great deal of patient explanation from her and far less disturbing input from Cameron.
“John explained it to me. According to my paperwork, I’m a minor. It is illegal for adults to have sexual relationships with minors.” She paused, glancing up briefly. “I’m not actually a minor.”
“What are you then?” Sarah asked blankly, unable and unwilling to expand upon any of the other things Cameron had mentioned.
“Technically, I have not yet been created.” She laid the gun down on the table gently, then locked eyes with Sarah once again.
“Created?” Sarah scoffed, the word catching in her throat. It didn’t sound right, didn’t feel right. “You mean, mass produced? Like a car or a toaster.”
Cameron frowned. “No. Created. Made. I was brought to life, like when you gave birth to John.”
Sarah straightened abruptly, body tense and primed for a fight. “Whatever made you was nothing like that,” she spat. “You came off an assembly line.”
“I was drawing a parallel.”
“There is no parallel,” Sarah snarled. “You’re a machine.”
Ignoring the wounded look in Cameron’s eyes, Sarah stormed from the room, flipping the lights out as she went and leaving Cameron in the darkness.
“For me?” Sarah smirked, quirking a brow as Cameron looked up at her slyly. Her chin was tilted downward, eyes lidded and lips curled up in a mischievous grin that Sarah felt in every inch of her body. Cameron’s tiny, low slung black panties and equally tiny, low cut and high riding black tank were innocence and sex in one, as was the way Cameron had wrapped her arms across her belly coyly.
“For you,” Cameron confirmed, stepping more fully into the room. She hooked a thumb into the side of her panties, pulling the fabric down her hip as she walked closer, her other hand smoothing up her belly, dragging the hem of the tank with it.
Sarah’s smirk deepened. “Well, don’t stop, girlie,” she purred, pushing up on her elbows and sliding back so that she was reclining against the headboard. Her voice sharpened, eyes narrowing predatorily. “Take it off, then come to me.”
She wouldn’t have called Cameron coquette-ish before, but now, with her hair spilling down over her shoulders and her lower lip sliding slowly through the tight grip of her teeth to end in a teasing pout, the descriptor seemed especially apropos. And then Cameron reached down, snagging the hem of her tank and pulling it over her head only to clutch it against her chest in a show of false modesty, and Sarah changed her mind.
Not a coquette. A vamp.
She inhaled deeply, struggling to maintain her façade of cool as Cameron sent a positively devilish smile her way, the bit of fabric making its way from the ineffectual cover it was providing her chest to the tip of her finger, where it dangled momentarily before being allowed to slither to the floor. Her pleased gasp deepened the smile on Cameron’s face, drawing forth a deep set of parallel dimples.
With an almost girlish twirl, Cameron turned away from her. Looking back over her shoulder impishly, she began to slide her underwear down her hips, slowly revealing millimeter upon millimeter of smooth, perfect skin, and Sarah had to fight back the urge to jump forward and rip the bit of fabric in half in her impatience.
“Tease,” she muttered delightedly, tongue flicking out to wet suddenly dry lips.
Seconds later she was rewarded for her restraint as Cameron bent at the waist, sliding the underwear down and off before straightening once again. She looked at Sarah over the curve of her shoulder once more, that slow smile deepening into a pleased smirk before she turned, allowing Sarah to view the flesh she’d uncovered.
“You like it,” Cameron said haughtily.
Her hands clamped tightly around Sarah’s ankles, sliding smoothly up her shins and over the silk of her thighs until they were coasting over the slight bump of her hipbones. Sarah gasped as they continued further, bringing Cameron crawling along behind the touch, to tease along the outer curve of her breasts and slip over the line of her collarbone.
“That’s better,” she hummed contently, lifting her head slightly to meet Cameron half-way. Their lips brushed and she let her hands wander down to rest on Cameron’s thighs, tracing abstract patterns against her skin. “You learn so quickly.”
Cameron’s only response was to press closer. Her tongue slid along the edge of Sarah’s teeth and Sarah moaned, her hands inching closer and closer to the heat between Cameron’s thighs.
The touch was light at first, just a loose drape of long, slim fingers on either side of her neck. It was seductive, even, a feather-light tease that drew a shiver from the base of her spine as Cameron’s thumbs brushed against the hollow of her throat. But then the pressure grew, starting as a sharp bite and growing into a dull, pulsing ache, and she pulled away, words dying in her throat as she caught sight of the look of concentration mixed with murderous insanity in Cameron’s eyes.
“Cameron,” she choked out, hands coming up to scratch and pull, her struggles ineffectual. She began to writhe, to kick out, to buck against the heavy and unmoving pressure of Cameron atop her. For a moment, the grip loosened, the hands shifted, but then suddenly the pressure was back, one hand pressed along the front of her throat, fingers digging harshly into the skin on either side of her neck. Cameron was watching her with those dead, machine-blue eyes, head tilted to the side as if she were a particularly wearisome puzzle she had to solve, and Sarah reached up, her fingernails digging into the skin of the girl’s cheek, drawing blood.
Cameron used her free hand to brush Sarah’s away. She casually pushed her mussed hair back, both of Sarah’s hands now desperately clawing at the one slowly crushing her throat. Cameron’s hand stopped at the crown of her head, giving her a momentary look of perplexity, and Sarah began to hope that she was regaining control, that air would soon return to her lungs. Then the fingers pressed down, digging into flesh, and Sarah flinched as twin rivulets of blood appeared at each of Cameron’s temples. There was a moist tearing sound and she watched in horror, vision now flickering black and fading around the edges, as Cameron slowly pulled the covering of synthetic skin down and away from her face. The metal beneath was coated in thick, viscous blood – a crimson ooze that dulled the silver sheen of her endoskeleton. Devoid of flesh, her mouth stretched wide in a skull’s macabre grin, twin blue lasers shining out from the deep recesses of her eye sockets, and Sarah screamed. She screamed as loudly as her abused throat would let her, screamed until the last bit of air left her lungs and she couldn’t scream any more.
“Please calm down.”
The words were mechanically rote, delivered with that false, death’s head smile, and Sarah reached up with her last bit of strength, fingernails clawing uselessly against slick metal.
“Please. You will injure yourself.”
She was back, hiding behind her fake skin, and Sarah lunged forward, her short nails leaving four long scrapes along the lower corner of Cameron’s jaw that trailed down to her neck. Blood began to seep through immediately, welling and then stopping, and Sarah pushed herself back against the headboard protectively, chest heaving.
“Get away from me,” she said, voice a rough strangle.
Cameron looked at her quizzically, one hand coming up to wipe idly at the blood on her face. “You are afraid?”
“I just want you the hell away from me,” Sarah hissed through gritted teeth. Her hand was at the base of her throat, massaging away the phantom pain, and she couldn’t get the defleshed dream image of Cameron out of her mind.
The girl looked decidedly confused and almost openly hurt. “Whatever you saw, it wasn’t real.”
Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “What I see now isn’t real.”
Cameron reached out cautiously, her hand light against Sarah’s thigh. “You don’t need to be afraid of me. I will never hurt you.”
Sarah shoved the hand away with a sharp, angry motion, then pushed up on her knees. She darted forward, stopping only when she was inches away from Cameron, barely restraining her natural impulse to strike the girl. “Don’t touch me,” she snarled.
“You are angry,” Cameron said dully, her hand limp against the bedding. Eyes flat and unreadable, she continued softly, “Does this mean you don’t want to engage in physical intimacy with me?”
Anger leaving her as quickly as it had descended, Sarah sighed, back slumping into an exhausted curve. “Just go,” she said hoarsely, one hand coming up to cover her eyes.
Cameron nodded once, then pushed herself up so that she was standing. Seconds later, she faded back into the darkness and disappeared.
When John entered the kitchen the next morning, the tension in the air was palpable. Cameron was sitting at the table, hands out in front of her, palms pressed flat against the wood. She looked every bit the automaton, eyes fixed blankly on a point in front of her with unwavering intensity. His mother was at the sink, hands propped against the counter ledge and jaw clenched as she looked outside, expression just as mechanical and empty as Cameron’s.
“Good morning,” he drawled hesitantly, not quite sure what he’d walked into.
The words seemed to snap Sarah out of her trance. She turned to look at him over the curve of her shoulder, offering a tight smile. “Morning.”
Cameron neither spoke nor looked at him.
Sidling closer to his mother, eyes cutting over to Cameron, John said softly, “Did you break her?”
Turning so that she was facing him, their heads close together in conference, Sarah sighed. “It’s complicated.”
As if suddenly reanimated, Cameron moved abruptly, head cocking to the side in a bird-like motion. “I am not damaged.”
“Well,” John muttered wryly, rolling his eyes at the typically literal response, “that’s a relief.”
From the blank look on Cameron’s face, John wasn’t sure if she had registered the words or not. “I’ll wait for you outside,” she said stiffly, then stood. She had become more fluid as of late, but as she crossed the expanse of the kitchen, bookbag dangling from her fingertips, she looked more robotic than he could remember seeing.
“Jesus,” he muttered. “What is this? Some kind of man versus machine lover’s quarrel?”
The look his mother shot his way could have melted steel.
“Are you mad at her about the thing at school?” he continued hotly, arms crossed tightly over his chest, the need to defend Cameron’s actions overriding his instinctive dread of his mother’s disapproval. “It really wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Honestly, I think she just wanted the guy to know she was taken. Like she was marking herself as your property by proxy, or something like that.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Sarah scoffed, shoulders hunched.
“You know as much about what goes on in her head as I do,” John said, rolling his eyes in exasperation, “but she’s clearly all messed up, in her own socially deficient kind of way. And she’s clearly… Look, I don’t know how to explain it. All I know is that she made a choice and you’re it.”
“She says that all the time. Do you know what it means?”
John hesitated, then sighed. “In the future, when I decided to send her back, I apparently insinuated that you might like a little company.”
At his mother’s muted yet still horrified reaction, he paused. “I know,” he said, exhaling heavily. “Messed up, right?”
“So I’m some kind of mission?” Sarah choked out, fighting back a sudden burst of revulsion.
“That’s the thing,” John said, grimacing slightly. “It was just a suggestion. Cameron said that I told her it had to be her choice. It had to be something she wanted. And when she got here, apparently she made that choice. It wasn’t a mission. From what I can tell, it’s important to her. You’re important to her. Everything else – protecting us, helping us hunt Skynet – all of it… that’s the mission. This is the only thing she got to decide for herself.”
Sarah felt a wave of nausea roll through her. She wrapped an arm around her stomach protectively, eyes closing, breathing in slowly and deeply through her nose.
John sighed again. He rested his hand against her shoulder comfortingly and said softly, “It’s not like that.”
“She doesn’t have any choice,” Sarah said bitterly, the tenuous hold she had on her composure breaking. “It’s like some kind of slavery. She’s given orders and she follows them.”
John shook his head sadly. “Not on this.”
“Yes, on this.”
“No,” he protested firmly. “Not on this. I just know, okay. Trust me. Not on this.”
Sarah flattened her lips in a grim line, eyes dark and troubled, and turned away.
“I know. It was, like, so romantic.”
The group of girls all giggled, huddled around one another near an open locker. Cameron leaned back against one on the other side, watching them unobtrusively.
“He’d been, like, a total dick for the past two weeks,” the girl continued blithely, “and I was so gonna break up with him. But then I come into school this morning and find this in my locker.”
She pushed the door open wider and the circle of girls crammed in closer. A chorus of ooh’s emanated from them, and Cameron shifted subtly to the side. Inside the girl’s locker stood a vase containing three flowers, all red roses. Two were still buds, the third already blooming, and she took in the sight with a frown.
“Her boyfriend is so gonna get laid now.”
Cameron looked to the side, eyes immediately focusing with suspicion on the student who had crept up alongside her. He was wearing all black, his hair jutting out in spikes from his head in odd clumps, eyes rimmed with a thin edge of black eyeliner.
“Laid?” she questioned curiously, dismissing him as a threat.
“Oh yeah,” the boy chuckled. “They’re going to have the sex-ay time. You can bet on it.”
“After this astounding gesture of romantic devotion?” the boy said dryly. “It’s a sure thing.”
Cameron’s eyes narrowed, and she turned to face him fully. “Because of the flowers?”
“My name is Zach, by the way,” the boy said, extending his hand. The new girl who had told off Brad Johnson and his psychotic cronies was a little more intimidating up close than she had been from down the hall, but he forced himself to stand tall.
Cameron ignored it. “She will forgive her boyfriend for being a dick because he gave her flowers?”
“Uh, yeah,” Zach said, hand dropping limply to his side. “That’s how these things usually go.”
“You’ve been very helpful,” Cameron said, nodding decisively. She offered him a bright smile, the expression disappearing almost as quickly as it had appeared, before she turned and walked slowly down the hall.
Zach swallowed hard, not quite sure how he felt about the encounter as a whole.
John eyed Cameron warily. Along their walk home from school, she’d paused first to pick a rather limp daisy. After that, she’d pulled a rose from a bush a little too close to the sidewalk, and then a handful of wildflowers from a vacant lot. Another yard had yielded three buttercups, one already beginning to brown and fade, before she very delicately plucked a chrysanthemum from an overgrown riot in an unkempt roadside garden. A few blocks later, she pulled a long strand of honeysuckle from its home, interwoven among a chain-link fence.
“Whatcha doing?” he asked casually, eyeing the bedraggled and schizophrenic bouquet warily.
Cameron looked at him briefly. “Offering flowers is a romantic gesture.”
“Oh,” John said with faux thoughtfulness, “is that so?”
“Girls like flowers,” Cameron continued seriously. “They like flowers from people who have been acting like dicks.”
After a second of stunned silence, John nearly choked on a stifled laugh. Struggling to keep his tone light, he asked, “So, have you been acting like a dick?”
This time, Cameron turned to face him fully. “I don’t know. Sarah is very angry with me, so it is probable.”
“And the flowers are going to fix that for you,” he deadpanned, eyeing the bouquet meaningfully.
Nodding, Cameron echoed what she had learned earlier as she murmured, “Yes. I am so going to get laid.”
Between the absurdity of the statement that had just come from Cameron’s lips, the most atrocious flower offering he’d ever seen wilting in her hand, and the sheer maddening insanity of his inability to escape the details of his mother’s sex life, John gave in to hysterical laughter.
Cameron looked at him with muted concern. “Are you okay?”
“No,” he gasped, struggling to bring his laughter under control. He paused, hand against his side as he tried to regulate his breathing, unable to look at either Cameron or her bouquet. After a moment he shook it off, eyes closed as he took a deep breath and mentally reset himself to calm. “But now I’m better.”
He eyed the bouquet once more, then shook his head in bemusement. “Here, give me that.”
Cameron parted with the ragtag collection of flowers reluctantly. Unable to believe he was doing it, John spent a few minutes rearranging them. He stacked them longest to shortest in the palm of his hand, moving a few so that they were near more complimentary colors, and then wrapped the honeysuckle vine around them like a bow.
“That’s better,” he said, handing them back. Cameron took them reverently, clutching them tightly in the palm of her hand.
There was a barely audible hint of anxiety in her tone when she spoke. “Will she like them?”
John chuckled again, trying to imagine the moment when Cameron presented her offering to his mother. “Hard to say,” he said with a smile, then hitched his backpack up higher on his shoulders.
His mother was in the kitchen, sitting at the table and glaring at nothing in particular when they arrived. The glare softened when she saw him, instantly making her look younger.
“How was school?”
“Uneventful,” he said meaningfully, dropping his backpack on the kitchen counter. He snagged an apple from a bowl, turning just in time to see his mother’s glare return. Following it back to Cameron, he offered a shrug. “I’ll be in my room.” He paused, then, voice pitched a little lower, and continued, “She came up with it on her own. Don’t be mean.”
Sarah watched as he slunk out of the kitchen, turning just in time to see Cameron deposit her flowers on the table in front of her, voice and eyes earnest as she said, “I brought you flowers.”
A muscle in Sarah’s jaw ticked. “I can see that.”
“I would like to…” Cameron paused, shifted minutely, her words strained, “apologize.”
Elbow resting on the table, Sarah dropped her forehead into the cradle of her palm, thumb and middle finger massaging opposite temples. The position brought the flowers squarely into view. They were on the wrong side of being the worse for wear, an untidy and mismatched collection borne on spindly stalks that bore the brunt of having been clutched a tad too tightly in a superhumanly powerful hand. How, she wondered, did one deal with, much less break up with, an earnest, clueless, and decidedly determined terminator?
After a moment’s silence, Cameron’s voice returned to monotone as she said, “You are still angry.”
The silence stretched between them again. Sarah couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of the ragged collection of flowers.
“You do not accept my apology.”
Swallowing, Sarah decided to confront the issue head-on with an aggressive, “Why are you apologizing to me?”
“I’ve been acting like a dick.”
Sarah’s eyes narrowed, a look of utter bafflement on her face that transformed into a grudging smile. “A… what?”
“A dick. It is a word generally used to describe someone who has created a negative impression as a result of poor or selfish behavior.” Cameron paused, blinked once. “The word is used frequently in the future. People also use it now. It seemed appropriate to the situation. Is it inappropriate?”
As often happened with Cameron, Sarah felt as if the situation had spiraled wildly out of control. Attempting to bring herself and the conversation back on point, she returned to the question that had been weighing heavily on her mind since her conversation with John that morning. “Why are you so interested in pursuing a relationship with me?”
Cameron seemed to consider the question seriously. After a long moment, she offered, “I like you.”
“You like me,” Sarah repeated dryly, shaking her head.
“Yes. For a human, you are remarkably strong. Not physically,” Cameron corrected immediately, “but that’s not your fault.” Seemingly unaware of the affronted look on Sarah’s face, Cameron continued, “You are often highly illogical. I find your decision-making processes frustrating. It would be better if you were more efficient.”
Sarah scoffed. “Maybe you forgot the question.”
“No,” Cameron said, a hint of edge in her tone. “I have not forgotten the question.” She paused again, brow crinkling. “I would like to learn everything about you. I would like to understand you. You are the most interesting person I’ve met, both now and in the future.”
“Is that all?” Sarah asked, a single brow arched in disbelief at the muddled yet touching sentiment expressed in Cameron’s words.
“I want to protect you.”
Sarah nodded. “That’s your mission.”
Cameron’s frown deepened. “No. I want to protect you,” she said meaningfully, almost virulently. “I cannot explain the difference.”
Sarah blinked rapidly, slightly overwhelmed by the vehemence in the girl’s tone.
“I also find you aesthetically pleasing,” Cameron continued, then amended, “I think you’re beautiful.”
“John told me what he said to you in the future,” Sarah said starkly, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest, trying to ignore the twinge Cameron’s last words had evoked. “He told you to…” She hesitated, not quite sure how to summarize what she imagined had transpired between them, and finished with a weak, “To get close to me.”
“That isn’t what happened.” Cameron’s gaze had gone steely. “It was my choice. John made me promise.”
Cameron nodded. “He made me promise to make the choice for myself.”
“How could you?” Sarah asked, the words tense. “You don’t make choices.”
“If he had not suggested it, I would not have realized it was possible. Such relationships are not encouraged in the future,” Cameron said flatly. “That was the only influence he had over my choice.”
“When did you make this choice?” Sarah asked challengingly, head canted to the side aggressively.
Cameron’s answer was immediate. “When you allowed me to care for your gunshot wound.”
“Because you trusted me.”
“That’s it?” Sarah asked incredulously. “Because I let you stitch me up?”
Cameron’s expression seemed impatient. “I’ve already listed my other reasons.”
“And now I’m being inefficient?” Sarah asked, voice tinged with sarcasm.
Sarah offered a grim, tight smile. “What would be efficient?”
“Acceptance of my apology,” Cameron said starkly. “Acceptance of my romantic gesture. Initiation of the resumption of physical intimacy between us.”
Sarah waved her hand between them abstractly. “Just like that?”
Brows lowering, Sarah said roughly, “I don’t work like that. I’m not a… a figment of code. I’m not a command. I’m not this.” She hissed the last word, eyes flashing with open hostility. “You can keep your apology. You can keep your flowers. I don’t want you near me right now.”
And then she pushed back from the table, chair scraping against the floor, and left, leaving Cameron and her flowers alone.
She dreamed of Kyle Reese.
So much time had passed that Sarah had forgotten the small things. His shoulders – had they been boyishly muscled or thick? And his hair – she thought that maybe John’s was darker, that Kyle’s had been trapped in the shade between brown and blonde, but her memory was fuzzy. Had he been lean? He’d just come from the future, from a time when food was scarce and most days were spent on the run.
“The machine will never stop coming,” he said, looking at her with something like disappointment. “Never. Not until you’re dead. Not until John’s dead. Not until the future belongs to them.”
Sarah stared at him, jaw tight. She wasn’t the same person she’d been when he’d met her. She wasn’t a waitress, wasn’t a clueless and careless girl just barely out of her adolescence. “We’ve fought them before. We’ll fight them again,” she said tersely, feeling the physical distance between them like the vastest of gulfs.
His features softened at the vehemence in her tone, and she realized just how young he must have been as well. “I know. I’m proud of what you’ve done, Sarah.”
Her own posture softened as well. She took a step forward, now close enough to reach up and cup his cheek. “I wish you could have been here with us.”
For a moment, he nuzzled into her palm, soft stubble tickling her skin. Then he took a step back, arms opening wide, and she could see now, where she couldn’t before, the lush expanse of paradise behind him. “I’m at peace here,” he said, expression serene. “I’ve fought my battles.”
“And left me to fight my own.” Sarah couldn’t keep the tinge of bitterness from her words. In contrast to the utopia in front of her, behind her she felt nothing but the vast, cold, dark emptiness. It was a soundless void, a physical presence that pulled at her, beckoned to her.
“You have a new protector now.” Kyle’s eyes darkened. His jaw tensed and he took a step back, something about the set of his jaw conveying disgust. “You’re working with them. With the machines.”
Sarah felt a wave of anger wash through her, momentarily blinding her. “I can’t do it alone,” she snarled, hands curling into futile fists at her sides.
For a moment, silence descended between them.
“I grew up on a farm,” Kyle finally said, his voice thoughtful, his expression distant as he took another step back toward his paradise. “Nothing around for miles. Not as far as the eye could see.”
He paused, turning around, the world shifting with him. “This is my home now.”
The ground was scorched and blackened. Broken and twisted fragments of the remnants of humanity dotted the vast emptiness of the remaining rubble – the chimney of a house with nothing left to warm, the upturned belly of an old truck resting precariously on its side, cab ripped off and seats exposed to and shredded by the elements. The very earth seemed to bleed smoke; the air was thick and putrid with the smell of death, decay, and destruction.
He turned back and paradise returned, its lush greenness all the more jarring in contrast to the wasteland she had just seen.
“I’m trying, Kyle,” she said, the words a broken entreaty. “I’m trying.”
Tears were gathering in the corners of her eyes. A crippling sense of hopelessness washed over her, almost driving her to her knees. Her actions seemed futile, a useless expansion of energy in the face of the unstoppable, and despair settled into her bones. “I’m trying,” she whispered again.
In the distance, something flashed. The sudden burst of light was nearly blinding, and soon smoke billowed up from it in a distinctive mushroom cloud. She could see the shockwaves, could see the light rushing out over the paradise in front of her. It pushed forward in a wave, flattening and destroying everything in its path until it was just behind Kyle, searing in its intensity.
“Try harder,” he said, eyes once again kind – just like she remembered - before the wave hit him. She watched in horror as chunks of flesh tore away from his bones, the skin ripping off of his face in brutal swaths, leaving behind nothing but his eyes, now watching her in accusation, and she ran forward, hands in front of her to ward off the impact of the blast, but the destruction whipped around her, leaving her untouched.
“No,” she screamed, the sound an agonized plea, eyes nearly shut against the brightness of the explosion. It was like looking into the sun, like being on the surface of the sun. “No. Kyle, no. Please, no.”
When she reached him, he was nothing but a skeleton, the bones crumbling in a pathetic heap at her feet. She fell to her knees, sobbing, as his bones stripped away into ash, the harsh wind whipping them away. “No,” she gasped, trying desperately to catch the fine grit in her hands, to hold on to some part of him. “Not again. I’m trying. I’m trying so hard. Don’t you leave me again.”
She awoke to a sharp pain in her chest, the entreaty dying on her lips, and cheeks wet with tears. Her eyes immediately sought out the dark corners of the room, waiting for the moment when Cameron would step forward, skin luminous and eyes dark, to comment calmly on her nightmare.
There was nothing.
She rolled out of the bed, heedless of her state of near undress. Her feet padded softly against the floor as she stepped out into the hallway, eyes still refusing to adjust to the darkness. She could see the brightness of the explosion, felt almost blinded by it, and stumbled, elbow catching the wall roughly as she sought to right herself.
A quick stop by John’s room ensured that he was still sleeping peacefully. Unable to help herself, she crept forward until she was standing by the edge of his bed, her fingers trailing lightly through his hair as if to reassure herself that he had, indeed, survived the armageddon of her dream. She wanted to whisper her reassurances to his sleeping form, wanted to promise him that she was trying her hardest to make sure that he would never have to face the horrors the future had chosen for him, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead she leaned forward, pressed a light kiss to his forehead, and closed her eyes briefly, searching for a solace she didn’t feel.
Cameron wasn’t in her room. She wasn’t in the kitchen or the living room either, and Sarah was beginning to feel a hint of unease crawl up her spine when she caught the faint, shadowed outline of the girl’s profile. Pushing the door open quietly, she stepped into the yard, grass wet and cold beneath her feet.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked, voice rough with sleep.
The broken down swing set had only one functional seat. Cameron was perched upon it, her hands wrapped tightly around the rusty metal chains, the sporadic push of one foot keeping her swaying slowly back and forth.
“You didn’t want me near you,” she said softly, eyes focused on the moon.
Sarah took a step closer, stopping a foot behind Cameron, and sighed. “I didn’t evict you from the house.”
“No,” Cameron said, something about her tone conveying a sense of weariness. “But you have nightmares.”
Not quite sure what that meant, Sarah said slowly, “I do.”
“I cannot protect you from your dreams.”
Thrown, Sarah remained silent.
“When you call out, I want to help you,” Cameron explained; a soft breeze blew between them, stirring and rustling through the girl’s long brown hair, giving her the illusion of movement, “but I cannot. And now you’re angry with me. You won’t let me offer you comfort.”
With a sigh, Sarah slipped under the broken chain of the second swing, coming around to stand in front of Cameron. Her face blocked out the glow of the moon, throwing Cameron’s features into darkness. She’d been conflicted for as long as she had been aware of Cameron’s intentions. She’d fought them, given in to them, questioned them, and admitted defeat. The list of reasons why she should never have let Cameron touch her was more than triple the length of the reasons why it was okay. Chief among those reasons were her own feelings – guilt, confusion, anger, affection. For what she was, a girl made of metal, a walking computer with homicidal tendencies, Cameron evoked a wealth of conflict within her.
Her nightmare had left her feeling stripped bare. She couldn’t keep up the divide between rationality and feeling, couldn’t suppress the words she didn’t want to give voice to.
“What do I make you feel?” she asked, the words whisper soft. Her body felt at war with itself, half primed to run away, the other half urging her to offer comfort. With one hand she reached forward, threading her fingers through Cameron’s hair, consciously willing her feet to remain planted firmly on the ground. She needed the contact as much as Cameron looked like she wanted it.
Cameron pressed into the caress unselfconsciously and answered without hesitation. “Alone.”
Sarah was taken aback by the word, her fingers stilling. She could feel Cameron’s skull through the thin layer of skin, indistinguishable from bone at that level of examination, but she couldn’t see her eyes.
“Alone?” she questioned, keeping her tone gentle. It was hard to be cross with Cameron despite her confusion, not in the stillness of the night, with the light of the moon spilling over her shoulders to reflect against pale skin. Not when Cameron looked small and vulnerable and when the lateness of the hour put them in relative isolation, giving the illusion that they were the only people in that moment who mattered.
“Your moods are volatile,” Cameron explained, shoulders hunched in a human-like expression that made Sarah’s chest tighten. The girl looked up, eyes glinting momentarily in the moonlight. She looked confused, as if she didn’t possess the words to express what she wanted to say. Her hand reached out cautiously, sliding up Sarah’s bare thigh to rest on her hip, eyes dropping down to focus on the connection. “You are not interested in my apologies. We had established intimacy, but now you no longer want me.”
Sarah’s fingers resumed their path through Cameron’s hair, pulling free only to start again. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Please explain it to me.”
“I was angry with you,” Sarah admitted. “You drew unnecessary attention to yourself. You brought us all into the line of sight of the school’s administration.”
Cameron nodded her agreement. “I acted rashly.” After a second, she added seriously, “I wasn’t trying to be a freak.”
“I know that. You were…” Sarah paused. There were a number of things on the tip of her tongue – insecure, proud, boastful, possessive, just like anyone else in the throes of their first love affair – but she said none of them. The truth was, she didn’t know what Cameron felt. She didn’t know what she thought. She didn’t know why she acted like she did, in those rare moments when her own ruthless logic disappeared and humanity, for good or for bad, infused her actions. She wasn’t even sure if Cameron knew, or could rationalize, why she had acted the way she did.
“I was what?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah acknowledged wearily. “But Cameron, it’s more than me being angry with you.”
Cameron nodded her understanding sadly. “You are often angry with me. I think you hate me.”
Sarah looked away, eyes focusing on a point above Cameron’s head. “Since I first learned about Judgment Day, I’ve known four other machines like you. Out of the four, only one of them tried to help my son instead of trying to kill him. Each time they come for him, they get closer and closer to doing just that. You never stop coming,” she murmured, unconsciously echoing Kyle’s words. “You won’t stop until he’s dead.”
“No,” Cameron corrected. “They never stop. You are thinking of the others.”
“But you’re all the same, aren’t you?” Sarah asked, a hint of anger infusing her tone. “You protect us because you’ve been reprogrammed to do it, not because you have some sort of idealistic calling to save the future leader of mankind. Someone comes along and flips a switch in your head, and you’d have a new purpose, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t hesitate to kill John. To kill me.”
Argument of the point was mute. Cameron couldn’t speculate about what she might do in such a situation. As far as she knew, the answer was as Sarah said.
“You’re one of them,” Sarah continued, eyes snapping back to meet Cameron’s, her own filled with fire. “You’re the enemy. You’re Skynet. You’re a soldier in an army expressly created and manufactured to eradicate mankind.” Sarah paused, took a deep breath. “And I let you close. I let you inside,” she hissed, brows crinkling and nostrils flaring.
Cameron drew her hand back from Sarah’s hip. She pushed back on the swing, pulling out of Sarah’s range. The move left her hair tangled and wild in front of her face; Sarah’s grip was tighter than she had realized.
Sarah’s features tightened with self-directed disgust. “I betrayed them.”
“Everyone. Everyone who dies. Everyone who lives.”
Cameron’s eyes narrowed as she pushed back even further, face slipping into the shadows. “Now you will betray me.”
The words were said as if they were a simple, indisputable fact, but the sentiment struck Sarah like a blow to the chest.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, stricken, realizing belatedly that she meant it.
Voice eerily calm, Cameron continued, “If you had done a bad thing, would you want to be judged for it forever? If someone in your family had done a bad thing, would you want to be judged for that?”
Something sickening curled in Sarah’s belly. “You can hardly equate the two.”
“You are ashamed of what you’ve done because of what I am,” Cameron remarked, her tone questioning, lilting, and yet oddly flat.
Sarah was silent, unable to refute the statement. When she’d first allowed Cameron to touch her, she’d thought it didn’t matter. She’d thought she could use Cameron, could take what the girl was so clearly offering and remain unaffected. But, she’d been surprised by Cameron’s openness. She’d been surprised by her vulnerability and her enthusiasm. She’d let comfort and a grudging sort of affection creep in, coloring her vision until Cameron was as much a person to her as she was a machine. She’d felt something that went beyond lust and gratification. Something unacceptable.
“You still see me as the enemy,” Cameron noted, voice tinged with disappointment. “John trusted me. He chose me to be his protector. He sent me back in time so that I could help him accomplish his destiny.” She paused, letting the swing inch forward so that her face was bathed in light. Her expression was eloquently blank. “But to you, I’m not worthy.”
“That’s not true.” Sarah knew she was a mass of contradictions. Her head told her one thing, her body another, and her heart whispered its own confusion in the background. She’d foisted this confusion onto Cameron, had acted first one way and then another with such whip-snap speed that anyone would have been confused, much less Cameron, with her limited grasp of human emotion – with her limited grasp of her own emotions, no less. Cameron, who believed she loved Sarah. Cameron, who had inexplicably trusted her. “Cameron, can’t you understand why this is difficult?”
Cameron regarded her seriously for a moment then stood, leaving the swing creaking dissonantly behind her. “No.”
Zach gathered his courage, pushing off of the locker upon which he was slumping and moving to intercept Cameron as she moved down the hallway with purpose.
“Hey,” he said, his shy grin resembling a smirk more than anything else.
At the greeting Cameron stopped, turning to face him. She studied him dispassionately for a moment, and Zach wondered if she even remembered who he was. Nervous anxiety began to well up from his stomach and he was considering making a break for it when she tilted her head to the side speculatively.
“Your advice was not useful,” Cameron said bluntly. “To counteract the effects of having acted like a dick, I gave my sexual partner flowers but she is still angry with me. I did not get laid.”
Zach’s mouth was gaping open in confused disbelief when John’s sharply spoken admonition interrupted them. “Cameron, come on. We’re gonna be late for class.”
He took a quick, stuttering step back as John appeared between them, grabbing Cameron’s arm in a fierce hold and pulling her down the hall.
“Uh… I, uh…” he stuttered, not quite sure how to respond. His mind was reeling, overloaded with new information and the sudden, crushing death of his fledgling hopes.
A few steps away, John paused. He turned back, a barely visible smirk on his face. “Trust me,” he said scathingly, shaking his head in derision, “it’s better this way.”
Then he started walking again, his voice low, dragging Cameron along with him. Zach could barely make out the words as they disappeared into the flow of students. “Damn it, Cameron, what did I tell you about talking about this kind of stuff at school? Don’t be such a…”
“Fuckin’ A,” Zach muttered, shoving his hands deep into his pockets. “What a freakball family.” Then he shrugged. Whatever. She was still hot. Weird, but hot. Into girls, but hot, the last of which kind of made her hotter, he realized quickly, the circle completing itself in a dizzying loop.
Cameron spent the night pacing slowly from room to room in a monotonous circuit that never varied. Sarah thought that her footfalls sounded like a hushed, hurt accusation.
She had no nightmares because she didn’t sleep.
When they’d returned home after their adventures at the fallout shelter, Sarah had sensed John’s need to be alone and grudgingly given it to him. She’d wanted to draw him into her arms, to cradle him like a baby, to build a protective cocoon around him that would shield him from the dangers he continually had to face. But, he was growing into a man, was on the cusp of being past the stage where he needed his mother’s reassurance and comfort, and as the day had proven, she needed to learn to let go. She needed to give him more control over his destiny, to temper his sometimes reckless enthusiasm with rational practicality but to also provide him with opportunities to prove to himself and the as yet unseeing world that he was capable of being its leader.
She needed to let him stand for himself.
The hug she desperately wanted to give would have been as much for her as for him, anyway. The spike of fear she’d felt when John had gotten himself trapped in the back of the army transport was still inside her, a shard of ice driven deep into her heart, but Judgment Day was only four years away, at least according to Cameron, and none of them had time for sentimentality.
So, when he’d immediately retreated to and closed the door to his room behind him upon their arrival, Sarah had resisted the urge to knock, to see if he wanted to talk or to simply stare at him, reassuring herself that they’d retrieved him safe and sound. Instead she wandered the hall aimlessly, not quite sure what to do with the nervous energy coursing through her now that the threat had been temporarily neutralized.
Cameron’s door was closed, but she felt no compunction to safeguard her privacy the way she had with John. After a quick knock she pushed it open, a question already primed on her lips before she stopped, wide-eyed and speechless at the sight before her. Cameron was standing in front of the full length mirror in the corner of her room, examining herself critically. Her back was to Sarah and she was completely naked, long hair falling haphazardly around her shoulders, but nothing could hide the damage Sarah saw.
“You’re injured,” she said softly, the words made tight with a hint of horror.
Cameron’s back and side was a mass of bruises, the skin an abstract, chaotic design of black and blue against pale white in overlaid and crisscrossed thick lines. The skin across her ribs was pulpy from multiple lacerations, sluggishly oozing blood that hadn’t been visible earlier under her thick black jacket. No longer deterred by clothing, it had streaked down her side, rivulets running down the long length of her thigh and over the slim turn of her calf.
Cameron looked back over her shoulder slowly, expression blank, as Sarah took a step closer. As she closed the distance, she could see the damage to Cameron’s torso as well in ugly bruises that stretched across her stomach, upper arm, and hip.
“I have suffered minor damage,” Cameron said, her characteristic monotone firmly in place. “I will recover.”
“No,” Sarah said sharply, taking another step forward, “this isn’t minor damage. You’re a mess.”
Cameron turned slowly, standing in front of Sarah with her arms at her sides, heedless of her nudity, of the light trickles of slowly drying blood etched in stark crimson against her skin. “This will heal,” she said steadily.
Something snapped in Sarah’s mind, and she lurched forward, catching Cameron’s hand in hers in a punishing grip. “Come with me,” she said fiercely, eyes narrowing. Cameron’s own eyes widened in surprise, the level of emotion she could sense in the other woman unexpected, but she nonetheless followed along behind Sarah docilely as the other woman pulled her out into the hallway and toward the bathroom. “John’s in his room,” she added unnecessarily, rolling her eyes when she realized that Cameron could have cared less about whether or not John happened to see her.
She steered Cameron to the edge of the bathtub before sitting on the rim. After fiddling with the taps for a few seconds, fingers held under the free flow of water until she deemed the temperature just right, Sarah let the tub fill.
“In,” she said tersely, Cameron’s open, inquisitive stare somehow disconcerting in contrast to her battered body. She looked like a curious child who had suffered a horrible accident but was unaware of its extent, like a battered and clueless waif.
It took Cameron a moment to respond to her harsh command. It was as if she were mentally considering her options before deciding to obey, and Sarah had to stifle a laugh as she stepped into the tub almost daintily, immediately folding into herself in the water as soon as she was seated. The water immediately started to turn a light pink and Sarah grimaced, feeling a pang of guilt even though she knew Cameron didn’t experience pain the way humans did, if at all.
“I’m going to clean this,” she said steadily, reaching for the bar of soap. “Let me know if you experience any… discomfort.”
Cameron merely looked at her warily. “You do not need to feel compelled to care for me.”
“I want to,” she said gruffly, scowling. Her eyes dropped to Cameron’s wounds, unable to stand the inscrutable look in her eyes any longer.
Sarah knelt on the floor, grateful for the small rug that separated her knees from the hard tile. She rolled the sleeves of her shirt up so they wouldn’t get wet before dunking her hands in the water. The soap moved rhythmically between her palms as she worked up a lather, and she set it to the side as she gently lowered her hands to the tops of Cameron’s shoulders.
She took her time, tracing over the lightly corded muscles that were for show more than anything else. Cameron’s strength didn’t lay in the dimensions of her biceps – thankfully, Sarah noted mentally – but in something else. Something Sarah didn’t want to think about.
When the friction between her skin and Cameron’s grew, she grabbed the soap, following the same procedure as before. This time, she let her hands glide softly over the abraded skin, white bubbles quickly turning pink as they mixed with blood.
“I will heal,” Cameron said softly, seeming to sense Sarah’s inner turmoil. “My blood has a higher oxygen content than yours, which expedites the process. This will go away soon.”
“How did this happen?” Sarah asked hoarsely. She’d been in the cab of the truck with John, irritated with herself that she hadn’t taught the boy how to drive stick before it became critical, while Cameron had been fighting the enemy terminator. She’d heard the sounds of the struggle but hadn’t seen much of it. The form of the fight didn’t matter to her so much as did the outcome, though now, with her hands gliding along broken and torn flesh, she began to think that maybe she was wrong. Maybe she did care, as fruitless and useless and unnecessary as it might be.
Cameron’s face shifted, dropping into an amused smirk. “He attacked me with a bar of coltan.”
“Well,” Sarah murmured, shaking her head in bemusement as her hands once again worked up a lather, “that’s ironic.”
“I thought so too.”
At the soft, directive press of Sarah’s fingers against her shoulders, Cameron leaned back. Sarah tried not to think too closely about what she was doing as she slid her hands across the girl’s collarbone, absently tracing the line of a bruise.
“You saw where I was made,” Cameron said suddenly, her eyes snapping to Sarah’s. “Where I was created.”
This time, she avoided the uneasiness the word evoked.
Cameron’s breasts were soft beneath her hands, and Sarah tried not to notice the way her nipples had tightened at the touch. She closed her eyes, searched desperately for a detached, clinical mindset but failed miserably.
“Did you get homesick?” she asked softly, trying for levity but ending up closer to a verbal grimace.
Despite that, a thoughtful look descended on Cameron’s face. “This is my home now,” she said flatly. “This is where I belong.”
Her eyes met Sarah’s challengingly, as if daring the other woman to refute her.
Unable to return Cameron’s gaze, Sarah looked down at the pinkish and rapidly cooling water. She cupped her hands together, filling them, washing the soap away in soft falls. Some suds stubbornly remained, and she chased them away with wet palms, her hands gentle against Cameron’s flesh.
“Stand up,” she said, her voice far more husky than she’d intended as she pulled the plug to drain the tub, eyes still averted.
Cameron obeyed silently.
Sarah dried her carefully, treating her damaged flesh with a completely unnecessary gentleness. She ran the towel down the length of slim arms, drew it softly against Cameron’s back and the base of her neck, watching as the white became streaked with red.
“We should bandage those wounds.”
Cameron nodded her agreement. “It would facilitate the healing process.”
Sarah was fairly certain that antiseptic ointment served no real purpose for Cameron, but it made her feel better to smooth it across the broken skin. Squares of cotton gauze covered the worst of the damage, held in place with a long bandage that Sarah wrapped around Cameron’s torso. When she finished, she surveyed her work; although the majority of the bruises were still visible, the mottled and torn flesh was now hidden.
Intently aware of their proximity, Sarah reached around Cameron, drawing the towel around her chest and securing it tightly in the front. “You might want to put on some pajamas,” she husked.
She was startled by the light touch of Cameron’s palm against her cheek, drawing her face up so that their eyes met. “Thank you for caring for me.”
For a second, she allowed herself to relax into the comforting touch, eyes fluttering closed, consciously disregarding any hint of deeper meaning in Cameron’s words. But, the darkness brought back all of her fears – the rush of adrenalin and the icy cold terror that had gripped her when she thought they’d lost John – and she took a quick step back, almost stumbling over her own feet.
“Were you scared?” she blurted without thinking, then frowned. “Today, I mean. Did any of that scare you?”
Cameron was quiet for a long moment. She’d felt a number of things that day – foremost, frustration with both John and Sarah. John had endangered himself without sufficient evidence to warrant his intervention. She was unconvinced that his chosen path had been the appropriate one. There had been several other alternatives available to them, the majority of which would not have put him directly in harm’s way, and Cameron had felt a great deal of irritation that he had chosen one of the least prudent options. She’d also felt a great deal of frustration with Sarah. While things had ostensibly worked out in the end, her insistence upon disposing of their captive in a time-consuming manner had also been the least optimal of the many plans they could have followed.
They were alike, John and Sarah. They followed rules that Cameron didn’t understand, made decisions that seemed almost self-defeating.
Then again, she’d also felt a great deal of satisfaction. When Sarah had trusted her, and rightly so, to deal with the captive at the warehouse, she’d quickly and efficiently extracted the information they needed to find John. She’d also secured the captive’s cooperation in furthering their mission and had kept him on task and away from Sarah. She had dealt with the terminator in the fallout shelter, ensuring both John and Sarah’s safety and the success of the mission. And, she had disposed of the coltan in a proficient manner.
She had done well.
“I was not scared,” she answered, head tilting to the side quizzically. “Fear would not have helped me achieve the outcome we sought.” Cameron paused for a moment, a frown fluttering across her face. “You were scared?”
Sarah took another step back, arms crossed defensively over her chest and jaw set in a scowl. “We could have lost John,” she muttered, her tone a mixture of anger and anguish.
Cameron took a step forward, closing the distance between them. “We didn’t lose John.”
“We could have,” Sarah snapped, eyes focused blindly on the floor. “Don’t you see how precarious everything is? Don’t you see how one wrong move – just one – could be enough?”
Another step closer, and Cameron was but inches away. She brought her hand up again, once more placing it gently along Sarah’s cheek. “I do see.”
After a brief pause, her hand slipped from Sarah’s cheek, threading into her hair as she wrapped her fingers around the back of Sarah’s neck. Another small step closer, and Cameron had wrapped Sarah in her arms. The embrace was tentative, though Sarah wasn’t sure if that was because Cameron expected to be rebuked or if she was feeling truly out of her depth.
There was a moment’s hesitation before she returned the embrace, before her arms came up to encircle Cameron’s waist and her face dropped to the curve of the girl’s shoulder. Unlike the times she had been comforted by others in the past, Cameron didn’t run a soothing hand down her back. She didn’t whisper softly in her ear or make promises about how it was all going to be alright. Instead, her hands stayed where they had originally alighted, one on the back of Sarah’s neck and the other splayed across the middle of her back.
The static pressure was somehow oddly reassuring.
Sarah felt tears burn in her eyes and blinked rapidly, her lashes brushing against the skin of Cameron’s neck as she worked to keep them from falling. One escaped, though, followed shortly thereafter by another, and she closed her eyes, no longer able to thwart them. She took in long, deep breaths, fingers digging into Cameron’s skin though she was still, needlessly, mindful of the bandages wrapped around her belly.
She felt the slight shift in Cameron’s hold as the girl tilted her head, chin brushing against her hair and lips coming to rest against the shell of her ear as she murmured, “Let me care for you, too.”
Cameron’s frame was deceptive. As she laid back against the mattress, the damp towel abandoned on the floor, it sagged beneath her weight like it would for a person twice her size. It struck Sarah as humorous and she smiled, the gesture defiant in the face of her earlier tears.
Her fingers were on her shirt, undoing the buttons methodically, and soon she’d stripped down as well. Cameron was watching her expectantly, her arms lying motionless by her sides, and Sarah shook her head. She’d given in where she promised herself she wouldn’t, drawn by this girl who was not a girl at all.
Cameron’s skin was warm as she settled against her; her head found the curve of Cameron’s shoulder, one thigh eased between the girl’s parted legs, and her right hand came to rest on Cameron’s opposite shoulder. She could feel the roughness of the bandages against her belly, their contrast with smooth, soft skin jarring, and pushed the image of what lay beneath them out of her mind. Instead she focused on the way Cameron’s arms wrapped around her again, fingers interlinked and resting lightly against Sarah’s hip, her cheek pressed against the top of Sarah’s head.
“You don’t sleep,” Sarah murmured, lips brushing against Cameron’s flesh as she spoke.
“You’ll get bored, laying here.”
She felt the slight shake of Cameron’s head, the physical disavowal echoed by another soft, “No.”
“You don’t have to stay all night,” she said softly, pressing a soft kiss against the curve of Cameron’s jaw. She hadn’t meant to do it, hadn’t meant to discount her head in favor of her heart and her body. She hadn’t meant to forget again.
Cameron shifted gently, drawing even with Sarah. She watched her for a moment, eyes wide and luminous, before slowly closing the distance between them. Her kiss was soft, a reassurance instead of a demand, eyelids fluttering closed sweetly. She looked achingly innocent and devastatingly sincere.
When she drew back, her eyes drifted open once more, now dark and serious. “I won’t leave you,” she vowed.
Her next kiss was as soft as the first.
Reservations swept into ash, Sarah gave into it with a sigh. It was too late to pretend otherwise.