Playing Doctor

by Big D

Disclaimer: Not Mine. No Profit. No Shit.

AN: Takes place directly after "Samson and Delilah". This was an idea I had poking around my head before I started on "All the Other Kids Were into Nintendo", but I only ended up writing it after starting on chapter three, which opens with a somewhat similar scene. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if this is a flashback from that story or a non-canon standalone. Frankly, I'm not totally sure myself.

Sanctuary.

He and his mother had spent years looking for it.

In all that time, he'd never thought it'd be lit with blue neon.

The lights of the small chapel had been extinguished, all except for the glowing blue tubes that traced shallow alcoves along the walls and outlined the three foot tall crucifix set just above and behind the alter. Ghostly light shone from them, seeming to hide more than it revealed. Cameron sat in the front pew, perfectly still in a way that no real teenage girl ever could have matched, staring apparently transfixed at the image of Jesus on the cross.

John knew that she could hear him as he approached, knew that she could hear the quiet rattle of metal shifting against metal that emanated from the toolbox in his right hand, but she didn't turn around.

"Are you here to kill me, John?"

It's the second time today she's asked him that question.

"Do you want me to?"

She half turns her head towards him, the steady yet insubstantial light throwing her face into a fitful, mottled shadow.

"No," she said in a near whisper.

"Would you stop me if I tried?"

A tiny, almost immeasurable pause.

"No."

He came around the pew and set the toolbox down beside her, then went over to retrieve one of the stools that lined the wall where the choir would normally sing. Cameron watched him in silence as he set the stool in front of her and adjusted it so that his sightline was roughly equal to the top of her head. He opened the toolbox and pulled out a battery operated shop light.

"Hold this," he told her, flipping the light on.

Cameron reached out with her right hand and took the light unquestioningly, holding it so that it illuminated the side of her face and scalp. John reached into the box again and produced a small, sharp knife. She lowered her head and tilted it slightly so that he could more easily access the port cover that protected her CPU, but John wordlessly took her by the chin and lifted her face back up, turning it to one side.

Hyper-alloy armor, stained with dried blood, shone dully between the jagged, three pronged laceration that split open her right cheek and sliced its way down nearly to the bottom of her chin. She had haphazardly closed the wound with what looked like heavy-duty staples, which John began to cut free, one at a time, dropping them onto the floor as they came loose.

"I can do that," Cameron said after she realized that John was tending to her wounds rather than deactivating her.

"But you haven't," he said, pulling another staple free. "You've been sitting here in the dark, sulking for the last three hours."

"Sulking?" She had a definition for the word, but couldn't understand how it applied to her.

"It's when you stare at the wall and refuse to talk to anyone because you feel sorry for yourself."

She started to turn and look at him, but stopped when he impatiently pressed her face to the side again. "I'm a terminator. I can't feel sorry for anyone, much less myself."

He sounded vaguely amused. "And yet here you are, showing all the symptoms of a good sulk. You're not patrolling, or fixing yourself like you're supposedly programmed to, or even trying to figure out where Cromartie went after he killed all those cops. You're just sitting here." He leaned his head around so he could look her in the eye. "Sulking."

She took a moment to process that comment. While she did, John worked in silence, his hands moving across the side of her face. She found herself increasing the sensitivity of her tactile receptors, despite the increased awareness of pain that accompanied it, suddenly finding a new appreciation for why humans valued touch, one that went beyond a simple intellectual understanding of their genetic history as social mammals. The process was… soothing, despite the fact that there shouldn't have been anything inside of her to soothe. Every once in a while she would lose track of a finger tip, as it slipped between the rents in her flesh and brushed against the metal underneath. Her internal clock measured those microseconds the same as they would any other, but to the flesh surrounding her endoskeleton, the brief disappearances seemed longer.

"You stare at the wall and refuse to talk sometimes," she asked. "Does that mean that you're sulking?"

"I don't sulk," he answered defensively. "I brood."

"What's the difference?"

"Well," John said, drawing out the word slightly. "The difference is that I'm a boy hero with the fate of the world resting on my narrow and unready shoulders, and you're a girl."

Cameron looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "So boys brood, and girls sulk?" That didn't sound very logical to her. The name of an action shouldn't change depending on the gender of the person performing it.

John apparently disagreed. "Pretty much."

She got the impression that she would have been offended by that comment if she were human. "Thank you for explaining."

"To be fair," John continued, "Some boys do sulk. But only because they're sissies."

"I see. Does Sarah sulk?"

"Oh, god yes," he answered emphatically. "In her defense, it's almost brooding, but she still can't quite get past the estrogen barrier."

John plucked the final staple free and set the knife aside. He retrieved a medical kit from the toolbox and opened it, pulling out a set of pre-packaged needle holders and threaded single-stitch sutures.

"Fair warning," he said, pulling on a pair of surgical gloves. "I've only ever done this on stuffed animals and pillows."

A ghost of a smile flickered across her face. "In the future, you are a highly capable field medic."

John grunted irritably and set to work, first cleaning the wound with an iodine swab. Infection wouldn't be a problem, but particulates had inevitably gathered at the edges of the torn flesh and would need to come out before it could heal properly.

Cameron had meant her statement to be reassuring, but she had noticed that while this younger version of John often joked about his own destiny, he grew uncomfortable when others mentioned it. The jokes were a coping mechanism, her psychology subroutines told her. Gallows humor, she had heard it referred to. It was a concept she had trouble understanding. It just didn't seem to fit into the framework of "appropriate responses" that Sarah and John kept trying to drill into her.

"I'm sorry," she told him. She wasn't sure exactly what she was apologizing for, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

John was silent for several moments as he gained a feel for what he was doing. "We make mistakes sometimes," he said, carefully tying the first stitch. "People, I mean. We screw up and then we want to be left alone because being around everyone else just reminds us of what we did and how much worse it could have turned out. So we end up sulking… or brooding, as the case may be."

"I'm a machine," Cameron told him. "I didn't make a mistake, I malfunctioned."

He shrugged. "Maybe so. But you're acting like you made a mistake, so that's the way I'm treating it. You go off and sulk for a while, I give you a little time to get over yourself, then come over and play doctor while I remind you that no one got killed and everything worked out in the end. It's what friends do."

"Sarkissian and his partner got killed," she reminded him.

John's tone went flat and hard. "No one who'll be missed."

"The house got blown up."

"I was sick of that house anyway."

Cameron hesitated, then spoke.

"You made a mistake too. You shouldn't have reactivated me."

"Yeah," he said, not sounding surprised by her statement. "Why's that?"

"My chip has sustained damage. The likelihood that I will revert to base programming again, or malfunction in some other way, is statistically significant."

He leaned over to look at her again, flashing an unconcerned smile. "It doesn't feel like a mistake."

She smiled back.

"I would have killed you."

John felt his smile evaporate. "Wah," he asked, blinking in surprise.

"If you had released me from between the trucks. I would have killed you."

"Oh… that." He frowned. "Kinda figured that was the plan. If it makes you feel any better, I would have killed you if you hadn't left my mom alive."

"You would not have gotten the chance if she hadn't arrived when she did."

"Please," he scoffed. "I don't need mommy to save me. I was so just about to kick your ass."

Cameron's lips twitched a smile again. "Unlikely."

Her face settled into it's familiar blank expression again. "What I said to you…"

"You know what," John interrupted her, not taking his eyes off what he was doing. "Why don't we just skip that conversation for now?"

Cameron said nothing and the two of them settled into a mostly comfortable silence. It was well past midnight before John finally finished closing the huge gash on the side of her face, then applied three more stitches to a smaller one on her forehead. He took the light from her and carefully examined his handiwork.

"How long before it heals enough to take them out," he asked.

"A day or two at most."

He nodded. "So what about the leg? If you don't want to fix it, we could just get you a big floppy hat and a pimp cane to go with the limp."

Cameron didn't react to the joke. Maybe she didn't get it. Most likely it wasn't that funny.

"The connection assembly has become misaligned," she told him. "My extremities are designed to be removed and replaced when necessary. The upper quadrant locking pin in my hip was jarred loose by the explosion and needs to be reset."

He snickered. "Knocked out your alignment, huh? Need a better warranty. So how do we fix that?"

Cameron immediately stood up and began undoing her pants. She slipped them off, along with her underwear, letting them fall to her ankles, then pulled up her shirt to just under her ribs.

"You will need to cut here," she said, pointing to a spot on the side of her waist just above her hip, then dragging her finger down to the inside of her thigh. "In a semi-circle, like this. Then you can access the assembly."

She glanced up and saw that he was staring rather blankly at where she was pointing, his head tilted slightly to the side in a an all-too familiar gesture.

"John?"

He started and looked up at her, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck. "Sorry, I went somewhere else entirely there for a second." He shook his head to try and clear it, with moderate success. "Right, where am I cutting again?"

Cameron reached out and took his hand, pulling it towards her and pressing it against her leg. "Here. Feel where the joint ends? Then down like this." She slid his fingers around in the same rainbow-like motion, so that his hand was resting on the soft flesh just below where her thighs met.

"What the fucking HELL is going on here," Sarah's voice snarled from the doorway.

John screwed his eyes shut and prayed to any deity that might be listening that his mother really hadn't just caught him feeling up his cyborg sister.

Cameron calmly turned to look over her shoulder at Sarah.

"We're playing doctor," she answered in her usual monotone. "John says it's what friends do."

John's eyes popped open in shock and he leaned over to peek out at his mother from behind Cameron's bare hip. Her jaw had gone slack and veins from all over her body were migrating northwards to bulge out along her forehead.

"Nope," he muttered quietly to himself. "This isn't awkward at all."

(end)

AN: I don't think I like how this turned out. I like the idea of John looking after Cameron after she went apeshit, but I had a lot of trouble getting into her head. Generally speaking, emotions are almost always related to partially uncontrolled physical sensations that are relatable to the reader through the proper imagery. But that doesn't really work with a cyborg. She doesn't have a stomach to drop, or a heart to flutter, or a throat to seize up, so what I tried to portray is a kind of split personality. The machine underneath and the living girl surrounding it, playing tug of war with each other. Somewhere in the middle is where you find the real person.

I don't think it came out the right way, though. I'll keep plugging away at it and hope it gets better.