Staring down at the bird, a slow cold chill crawls down his spine.
Something is wrong with her, something he has a solution to hanging around his neck disguised as a pocket watch. He can feel it there, as a heavy as a stone, pushed against the top of his stomach. The thought of what's concealed inside it makes his insides twist with nausea.
He walks into the house, heading straight to the kitchen for a plastic bag. Mom is stalking around somewhere, oddly keeping away even though he knows she watched him come inside. Grabbing a bag from the drawer he heads back outside to the bush and bird.
She doesn't know, he tells himself. What she does, what's she's doing. A machine with no objective, like a car with no steering wheel or a gun with no crosshairs. Dangerous to everyone and everything around it.
She seemed, hell, almost sorry she'd done it. Bringing the bird outside to let it go, arm malfunctioning to the point where she slit open the flesh just to fix it. Pulling him in to help, curling her hand around his for a fraction of a second.
He's selfish, he realizes as he pulls the dead bird from the leaves. Keeping her here, knowing what he does, knowing he'll never tell Derek or Mom about what's going on.
Crazy, he realizes that too. He believes her when she says she didn't do anything to Riley, believes that she didn't kill her because he said not to. Because he wants to, because he has to.
Tossing the bird away in the garbage can he peeks into the shed, sees her still sitting there, staring down at her left hand.
Something is different. An instinctual feeling he has no explanation for, watching her stare at the floor, no objective.
He walks in, ruining the touching moment from only minutes before. She doesn't look up as he comes in, eyes wide and unfocused. Something is not right.
"Cameron," he says, but she still doesn't look at him. "Cameron."
She looks up finally, through him at first, like he's not even there. But slowly something comes into focus, though still blank, still unsure.
"Is that her name?" She asks softly.
He scowls instantly. Now what? Is this some kind of ploy? To play on his sympathies even further, to make his trust in her so completely he will never use what she gave him?
Watching as she lifts that left hand in front of her, looking at the palm then turning to look at the back.
"What are you talking about?"
She looks at him then, a sort of recognition there, but not the kind he's come to expect. It's as if they've just met, she and him, but have seen each other before in passing.
Something so easily human in her eyes, he realizes, he's seen it before. What did she say her name was?
She laughs brokenly, looking at him with those big brown eyes, hand still outstretched with fingers spread.
"Am I real?" She asks.
He doesn't know how to answer that.
"Who are you?" she asks.
He's sick of this. Too many questions and never enough answers, marching right up to her and grabbing that hand, she shrinking back from him.
"Whatever you're doing stop," he hisses through clenched teeth.
Wide eyes, a tremble of the lip, "you're hurting me."
She pulls her hand away, looking at him, through him.
"She didn't want to hurt the bird."
He can barely breathe, so confused.
Feeling the pendant against him he truly understands why she gave it to him.
He manages to get her up to her room before Mom sees. Following him mutely, she looks around her as if seeing the house for the first time. It's a strange feeling, being annoyed and terrified all at once.
Parking her on the bed she never uses, he moves to close the door partially, it would arouse suspicion closed all the way.
Back to staring at nothing, the floor seems to be of the utmost interest to her at the moment, and if he didn't know better he'd swear there were tears pooling at the corners of her eyes.
"Cameron," he tries to no response.
She plays with her hands, interlocking each finger and quickly letting go, then idly scratching at a spot on her left wrist. He assumes it's because she's still healing the cut she made, but watching closely her fingers stay in a focused area far too small to be the injury from before.
"It's gone," she says.
Looking up at him, god those are tears threatening to fall, she sighs before turning her face to stone.
"The bar code," she answers, holding up wrist. "Right here, it's gone."
Like the one Derek has, he thinks. Standard issue Skynet prison camp.
"You keep calling me Cameron," she says.
"It's your name," he replies. "I mean, it's what you told me your name was when we first met."
"Is that who I am to you?"
"Who else would you be?"
She smiles sadly.
"Allison," she replies. "Allison Young."
He just stares, remembering the name from the last time.
"Please stop," he asks. "Whatever this is you have to stop."
She stares back.
"I remember you," she says. "From that center, I… I don't remember your name."
"Yes you do."
"Humor me?" She asks, something broken in the way she says it, so lost, he hates how it's making him feel.
"John," he says. "Connor."
The way her face lights up you'd think he just told her he was a movie star, arms around him suddenly, a hundred whispered words into his shoulder, not understanding a single one of them until she comes up for air.
"I didn't tell them where you were," she says. "I would never. And I think… I think they…"
She gets quiet again, sniffling to herself.
"I'm sorry," she says wiping at her nose. "I'm not really acting like a solider am I?"
Not acting like anything sane, he muses, wondering vaguely if Cameron kept any neuropathic parts inside that box of hers. Something is wrong with the chip that much is obvious, some kind of personality clash going on inside the mechanical brain, but for a second he lets himself enjoy the feel of her huddled against him.
"I'm tired," she says looking at him.
Deciding the best thing to do for now is to play along, he nods, moving his hand to her shoulder and rubbing gently.
"Sleep," he says. "If that's what you need to do."
"Yeah," she laughs. "I feel like I could sleep for days."
He tries not to show just how ridiculous that statement is coming from her mouth, but he nods and rises from the bed, watching her fall back onto to it, curling up into a ball and closing her eyes.
Looking for longer than he intends to, the need to know what the hell is happening keeping his feet planted, her eyes open to meet his again.
"It's okay John," she says. "I'll be okay."
Depends on what exactly that means, he thinks.
Nodding again he moves toward the door.
"John?" She calls reaching for him. "I didn't tell them anything."
"I know," he replies, having no clue what she means.
"I'd never betray you," she says.
Her hand in still grasping gently onto his, heart beating rapidly with the connotations of what her statement means.
"Don't go," she says.
Yawning as he makes his way into the kitchen the next morning, Mom is standing at the counter with a cup of coffee, waiting expectantly. He heads straight to the fridge, needing a shot of vitamin C before whatever conversation they're about to have.
She looks grim, well, grimmer than usual so whatever it is it's going to be big.
"Where's Cameron?" She asks.
"In her room."
She tosses the newspaper his way.
"Body Found in LA River" is the headline.
He looks at it, stomach instantly hitting the floor.
"Teenage girl," Mom says. "Found with a bullet in her chest."
"Riley?" It shakes on his breath as it comes out.
"Not sure," Mom replies. "But there's a good chance it is."
Hands almost start to shake, the silent refusal to believe it's her, staring back at Mom who looks like she wants to do the tough love thing, but the sympathy in her eyes betrays it.
"It wasn't her," he says instantly.
"How do you know?"
Because I asked, he thinks. Because she's upstairs right now, asleep and has been there all night. Trust me I know.
He can't tell her this, because the explanation of why she felt the need to sleep, why she's actually sleeping, why she is calling herself Allison again, is too much for her to understand. Being aware of such malfunction with Cameron, she'll want something done. Something he doesn't want to do.
"I just know," he says firmly.
"That's not good enough John."
If it really is Riley in that headline, he'll be sorry he couldn't find her, he'll be sorry he ever let her run off in the first place. He'll be sorry she wouldn't tell him whatever was going on, and he'll be sorry he couldn't help.
He won't be sorry for believing Cameron didn't do it.
"I had a nightmare," she says as he walks into her room.
It hits him square in the chest, the fact that robots can't dream, can't feel, that all of this is nothing short of insane.
"What about?" He asks, still playing along.
"I was in a room," she begins. "Someone kept asking me questions. Their voice, it was off, robotic. Like metal."
She looks at him.
"They asked me questions, interrogated me, but I didn't tell them anything John. I didn't say anything about you."
He believes her
"It had my face," she goes on. "I think it, no, I know it killed me."
Staring down at her hands.
"I died," she says quietly. "I died but I'm still…"
Looking at him again, tapping the side of her head.
"I'm not alone."
It's not the first time he's broken into a morgue.
He wanted to leave her behind, Cameron/Allison, whoever is out to play right now but it would have left Mom with too many questions. He'd coached her, told her not to say anything unless spoken to, and to give short precise answers when she did. Trust him, it's for the best.
Mom is out in the office distracting the director while they slip inside.
Looking at all the doors mounted on the wall, scanning for the number to match the one next to her name on the clipboard, he does not want it to be her.
Hand on the latch, he closes his eyes and counts to three, before opening it and pulling out the tray.
Clenching his hands into to fists, it takes all he has not to go punching the wall and screaming his head off.
No fate but what we make it, he thinks angrily. This was hers.
Riley is so cold below him, silent and gone forever. He doesn't know how to say goodbye.
Hand on his shoulder, doesn't shrug it off.
"You never get used to it," she says behind him. "No matter how many you see, when it's someone you care about it's even…"
"Tell me you didn't do this," he interrupts still looking down at Riley's pale face.
The hand falls away.
"She didn't do this," she answers.
Spinning on his heels, both hands on her shoulders, nearly shaking her senseless.
"She? She who?" he hisses, "Cameron?"
"John," she replies, "you're hurting me."
Letting go instantly.
"Sorry, I'm sorry."
She looks at him, head tilted in that familiar way.
"She's important to you."
He doesn't know who he's looking at.
"I need her."
When they get back to the house Mom heads straight for the kitchen, eyeing him all the way, the not so subtle hint to follow.
He looks at her, nods up the stairwell, which she goes without question. If only she was so cooperative on a regular basis.
Soon as he's in the kitchen Mom makes her way out the back door, following across the yard, as she heads straight into the shed. Already standing on the opposite side of the table, the grim look is back, lips a thin straight line.
"I know you cared about her," she says.
He knows where this is going to go, doesn't want to hear it regardless.
"Why are we out here?" He asks.
"You know why."
"Cameron didn't do it."
Of course she doesn't believe him.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because she told me."
She doesn't like that answer, her gaze on him hardening even more.
"Just like she told you she destroyed every part we ever captured. Just like she tells us what she does every night when we go to sleep."
He looks down.
"Hey," she reaches right over that table and pulls his attention back to her. "Just like she told you she loved you."
Soon as she said it, he knew it was a lie, a play on his emotions so he wouldn't do what he did. But now he's not so sure. Now there might be enough of a person inside that shell for her to have meant it.
Sick of this, of Mom always questioning his motives, his thought process when it comes to Cameron. The doubt he sees in her whenever she spies to the two of them in close proximity. The fact that she doesn't trust him to make his own decisions, that she doesn't trust a decision the man she's trying to make him already made. Anger crawls through his body, so much that he slams his fists on the table, the pendant bouncing off his chest.
"You don't know anything," he seethes.
It's true because he won't tell her. He never tells what Cameron says about future him, why she lies sometimes about important things, why she wants to be helpful at times where she clearly doesn't need to be. When she gives him the means to destroy her should he see fit to do so, when she glitches and becomes a real girl.
She looks taken aback, not so much surprise at the outburst but the force of bitterness behind his words.
"I'm done having this same conversation."
He walks away, ignoring her calls after him, not at all shocked that she doesn't bother to follow.
She's sitting on the bed with her legs crossed in front her, looking vacantly out the window, not acknowledging his presence. Moving to the end of the bed he doesn't sit, looking down at her, wondering what's going on in that metal skull.
"Why am I here?"
"I don't know."
"You were fighting," she says, the almost blank way it comes out causing him to wonder which one he's talking to.
"Not about you," he offers.
Finally turning her head to him, the smirk is too natural, something stirs in his stomach.
"You're usually a better liar."
He doesn't know how to take that.
"Allison," he tries out, her response an expectant lift of her brow. "Where did you come from?"
He blinks, not expecting an actual place of origin. Hell, he's been to Palmdale.
"What's your mission?"
"Scouting the marine facility in Long Beach."
He was expecting protect John Connor.
"Do you know what you are?"
"I'm a private first-class, first platoon, second battalion."
Not expecting that either he moves closer, feeling brave, lifts a hand to her face.
"No," he says firmly. "Do you know what you are?"
"I don't understand."
He takes a breath.
"You're not a real person."
"What are you talking about?"
"You said you died."
Denial all over her face because she knows something is going on that neither of them has an explanation for, and fear that he's telling the truth.
"That was a dream."
"You said someone with your face killed you."
Shaking her head.
"It wasn't real."
He reaches for her wrist.
"This is living tissue over a metal exoskeleton."
"I'm not," she insists. "I'm not a-" Tears in her eyes again, a weird knot in his chest at the sight. "Why are you saying this?" A low broken whisper.
"Because this, whatever it is, you need to know you're not Allison Young," he answers. "You're not human." Placing a gentle hand back on her cheek, leaning in. "You need to know that I don't care."
"Does she know?" Allison asks later, when they're crouched behind a bush on some narrow North Hollywood road. Derek actually asked for their help with some snatch and grab on some lawyer who's somehow involved with Skynet. It's not the first attempt and he (predictably) didn't go into detail on how the last one was botched.
"That you ne-"
"No," he shoots down, knowing what she's going to say. "She can't."
"You mean you don't want her to?"
He looks at her.
"I mean she can't, she's a machine, she doesn't feel anything."
She looks right back.
"But I'm in here, I feel."
"You're a-" He cuts himself off, doesn't want to say glitch, doesn't want to upset her again.
"Before I died," she says quietly. "The metal said something about respecting you, something about peace."
A million questions pop into his head, but Derek flashes the signal, derailing the conversation.
"We're on," he says instead.
They're watching the increasing glow of oncoming headlights.
"I'm scared," she admits.
"You won't get hurt," he assures. "Trust me."
Looking through him again.
"That's what scares me."
Reaching out, latching onto the collar of his jacket, she pulls him to her with strength that surprises only one of them.
"I'd die for you again," she says fiercely. "We all die for you."
Lips on his, soft and human, he doesn't want to let go but she's off sprinting toward the car with guns drawn. Bullets rip through the night, echoing along with screams from men in the cars. John watches as Derek jumps out from his cover, followed quickly by Mom, both their guns drawn too, shouting for the lawyer to come out.
Of course their request is refused, and Cameron/Allison opens fire again, placing precise shots that lead him to believe there's a lot more of the machine in control than Allison wanted to admit.
One of the cars accelerates, headlights swerving from behind the lead, engine roaring and heading straight for the girl who isn't a girl. Mom and Derek still have their guns trained on the car with the lawyer, neither concerned with the renegade vehicle because they both know it's not going to hurt metal.
He's afraid that the girl inside is not going to believe it.
"Cameron!" he shouts to avoid confusion, "lookout!"
She looks as if she'll manage to side step the car at the last second, but a swift cut of the wheel by the driver, and it plows straight her, knocking her back a good ten feet. He runs over, ignoring Mom's calls to get back out of sight, falling to the ground next to her, face down and still.
"Allison," he says so no one can hear. "Allison get up. Come on, come on, we have to get out of here."
He starts counting even though there's no reason to think she's rebooting, and gets to fifteen before he head twists to look up at him, eyes wide but focused.
"Are you okay?" He asks.
She moves to an upright position, looks down at her body, then back to him.
"No internal injuries," she states. "I was struck by a Mercedes sedan traveling at thirty-five miles an hour, but I am fine."
He thinks his heart stops, just for a second, the tone of voice familiar.
Her hand snaps outward whip quick, the gun in it firing rapidly before he can even cover his ears. A body hits the ground next to his, one of the men in suits, gurgling his last breath on the cold hard asphalt.
Mom and Derek rush up, the lawyer held in check by a pistol whip, staring at the two of them still on the ground.
"We need to go," Derek states flatly. "Now."
John gets to his feet and hold out a hand for her, which she accepts graciously, he takes one last caress of her hair as she moves to stand. He can feel Mom's eyes burning a hole in the back of his head for the gesture, but ignores it.
Turning to move back toward the truck he comes eye to eye with his uncle.
"What was that about?" he asks.
He can't help but sneak another look at her, wishing to see something human in those eyes, but only finds purpose in them, an objective. The girl inside is gone, just like that.
He looks at his uncle.
"Thirty-nine hours are missing from my memory logs," she says from the doorway.
Laying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, he doesn't bother to look as she steps into the room, boots heavy on the floor.
"Do you know why?"
She moves to sit on the edge of the bed, folds her hands in her lap and looks down at him. Something off in the way she carries herself, the way she sits, it's never relaxed. It's easier this way, he thinks, when it's clear what she is. He doesn't shift toward her like he found himself doing with Allison, doesn't feel the need to touch so carelessly.
"You had a glitch," he answers.
"Was I deactivated?"
For a long moment he just looks, feels the need to touch her regardless of what he thinks, and fights against the urge as always.
"You really don't remember." He says flatly, trying not to make it a question.
"No," she replies, averting her eyes in a learned reaction, before looking back. "You did not use the failsafe."
"I wasn't in any danger, if that's what you're worried about."
"You're always in danger."
Not this time, he doesn't say, not from you. He hates this, hates that it pulls him in two directions, because Cameron gave him the means to destroy her, but Allison showed him why she deserved to live.
He feels the pendant on his chest, her eyes on him, and sighs.
"Who is Allison Young?" He asks.
The look on her face, he imagines, is the closest thing to surprise she can make without mimicking a human response.
"Why do you ask?"
Of course she doesn't answer easily.
"You're not the only one who lies about important things," he retorts.
"John-" Her voice goes soft and natural because she's looking to get a reaction from him.
"Don't," he says firm. "Don't try to be normal, not now."
She tilts her head at him, leaving him to wonder if that's just something she does, or is it something she took from the girl inside.
"She was a soldier in John Connor's army," she answers.
"And she died."
"She was captured on a scouting mission in Long Beach."
"Did you kill her?"
No instant answer again.
"Cameron," he starts.
"I don't know."
Of all the ridiculous things.
Something inside him burns at the idea of a Terminator not knowing if it killed someone or not. He believes her when she says yes or no, because it's cut and dry, true or false. When she killed the bird, it was a glitch, but she admitted it.
"Is that why I, future me, keeps you around? Because you remind me of her?"
"Is that why I sent you back?"
"Do you love him?"
"I'm a machine, I can't love."
Yeah, he knows.
"Does he love you?"
"No," she replies evenly. "He loved her."
Shifting to throw his legs over the side of the bed, he moves into a sitting position, matching her eye level.
"One day you'll have to destroy me," she says just as evenly as her declaration of future John's love for a dead girl.
One day, he thinks, because all probabilities indicate he will have to, though he knows, no matter what, he won't want to. He'll want to fix her again and again.
"I know," he says quietly. It's what she needs to hear.
It's better that Allison is gone, he thinks. Easier to deny what he feels because he is who he is, and she is what she is.
Cameron's unwavering look stares straight into him, curious, calculating, and cold.
He just might miss her a little anyway.