metal and wire

metal and wire

Two: The First Movement

"Dude," Morris says over lunch one day, his eyes trailing Cameron as she goes through the line, "I seriously think I might be in love with your sister."

John blinks, his mind going briefly fuzzy as the words settle there. He doesn't quite understand them. "Oh, okay," he says, just before milk spews out his nose. "You WHAT?"

Morris throws him a despairing glance. "Face, dude. Clean it." He rolls his eyes. "It makes sense. She's smokin' hot, she's got the best deadpan in the history of women, and oh—she's got a totally cool head under pressure. She's like Angelina Jolie without the litter of foreign kids."

John wonders if he should say something in her defense, but he's not quite sure what. The idea of protecting Cameron from anyone is laughable.

"I'm not entirely sure it's me you should be telling this to," he mumbles, compromising. "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit."

Morris laughs, but John watches as Cameron stares at the food on her tray. She walks slowly, concentrating hard on her plate like it is something she doesn't understand. When she sits—next to John, although Morris left a chair ajar for her—she pokes experimentally at the food.

"What is this?" She asks, frowning.

Morris leans over. "Uh, looks like you went for the sloppy jo. Bad choice, Cam. If I teach you nothing else, always stick with the pizza. All they do is heat it up so you know it's safe."

Cameron frowns again. "It's not food," she argues. "Mom's cooking is the worst in the world and since this is worse than that, it cannot therefore be food."

The boys laugh, John pointedly, so Cameron smiles along with them. It's so rare that she smiles, and John likes it. He doesn't care what that implies. She's just a machine (he knows, he has to remind himself every five seconds) but she's also a pretty girl, and he's sixteen, and God, forgive him if he's not completely able to keep from noticing someone who walks around the house in her underwear.

"So, about prom," Morris is saying, his attention focused intently on Cameron, "What color is your dress? Apparently that sort of thing matters."

She stares blankly at him. "Why?" She asks, turning her wide eyes on John. "I like pink."

"Yeah, but what color is your dress? We wouldn't them to—clash, or . . . whatever." He sends her a funny look, like she's the weirdest girl he's ever met (and uh, Morris, you have no idea). Cameron still looks baffled and furrows her brow (in that way she has).

Eventually John takes pity on her. "She hasn't picked out a dress yet," he explains to Morris. "Kinda a sensitive subject, Mom's been really lame about how much money she can spend."

Morris makes a sympathetic face. "Tight-ass, huh?"

"Extremely," Cameron answers. "She exercises it every day. It explains why she wears such tight pants all the time."

It starts to look like someone punched Morris in the face, and John can't risk any more possibility that people might think that their family is a cesspool of incest, so he adds quickly, "Uh, haha, yeah, to hide the huge stick she's got shoved up there," and sends Cameron such a pointed look that she just shrugs and looks down at her plate. He leans over. "Cameron. For future reference, lay off the comments about Mom's—uh—butt, okay? It's weird."

"I only meant—"

"I know what you meant," he snaps. "But I also know that you are a killing machine designed specifically to murder innocent human beings, so it doesn't really count."

She purses her lips at him and—he swears to God—rolls her eyes. "Whatever," she tells him dismissively, and for a second she looks just like any other teenage girl being harassed by her brother.

He hate it when she does that. Sometimes he thinks that she pretends to be completely inept at fitting into human society purely to piss him off. She had, after all, done it perfectly when they first met. He'd had no idea who—what she was.

After a while, she excuses herself (and him) from the table, leaving Morris with an expression like a kicked puppy, and she holds his hand all the way to their classroom. He doesn't try to shake her off, even though it might be weird from an outsider's prospective, even though he really doesn't need something else to draw attention to him. He can't help it. He likes the way it feels, her hand in his. (Weird fact: her skin is warm, just like anyone else's; he always thought it should be cold and… plastic-y, but it's not, it's warm and makes his whole arm tingle.)

"What's wrong?" He asks, frowning. She is reaching for her locker, studiously ignoring him. "Cameron. Hello. Earth to Data."

With casual annoyance she says, "Don't call me that."

He blinks. "Don't call you what?"

"Data. Character on the '80s and '90s TV show Stark Trek: The Next Generation. He was a robot who had no emotions, no personal thoughts, and no soul."

"So . . . he was kinda like you."

"No. He was nothing like me. He was primitive and—robotic, and . . ."

She pulls the locker door open with more force than is necessary, and for one horrifying moment he thinks that he must have somehow hurt her feelings. Then he shakes his head. She's a robot. She doesn't have feelings, even if something it looks like she does, even if sometimes he swears to God she looks at him like—

Like—

"I'm sorry," he offers timidly. "I didn't mean to . . . um. I didn't realize you didn't, uh, like it."

She sends him an exasperated sideways look. "It's all right," she says after a moment's pause. Then she reaches into the locker and pulls out a small stack of photos, a tiny bewildered smile on her face. "I took these. I didn't know which one was the best for a prom. Look at them and let me know which one is the most human."

He laughs, taking the photos and shaking his head. "They're all human, Cam, they're just—"

And then he breaks off, because she is not wearing a prom dress in the first photo. She is wearing a hula skirt with a coconut bra. And in the second it's a gypsy outfit. In the third it's a business suit. And the last . . .

Dear God. She was in a moomoo.

He chokes, torn between horrified laugher and stunned silence. "Oh my God," he breathes. "Oh my God, Cameron. These aren't—this isn't—oh my God. You can't . . . prom isn't . . . oh my God."

He is answered by only silence and looks up to see a tiny smirk on her face. He sobers, folding his arms over his chest. Her teasing is subtle, and his Mom and Derek are incapable of seeing it for what it is, but he knows better. "Give me the real ones," he demands. "So not funny."

"You laughed," she points out cheerfully, handing over the real stack of photos obediently. These are much more appropriate—gaudy and flowy just like a teenager's prom dress should be.

She makes them look pretty though, elegant and somehow . . . classy, despite all the sequins and ruffled.

"Well?" She asks impatiently. "Which one? Your Mom said I had to choose by tonight or she was going to give me one of her old pantsuits to wear."

"She wouldn't actually do that," John tells her absently, caught up in the last photo. The dress is blue and simple, in both design and color, and it reminds him so much of Cameron that he smiles. "This one. Get a white corsage, I don't know about all this matching shit." He pauses. "You look beautiful in it," he offers hesitantly.

Cameron shrugs. "They made me to look beautiful, it's part of my design."

The words sting, for whatever reason, so he shrugs and says brusquely, "Well, they did a good job."

She smiles, looking genuinely pleased, and hastily shoves the photos back into her bag. "I thought I looked like Data," she tells him in her usual deadpan.

John doesn't look at her as he says: "No. Sometimes you just sound like him."

"I'm much more advanced," she says again, a touch defensively.

He smiles. "I know," he assures her, offering a hand as they walk down the hallway. "You're the digital to his analog, baby."

And she smiles, pleased.