Riley sat curled up in one of the threadbare armchairs by the motel window, her arms wrapped around her knees, tucking them up against her chest. She looked like a lost heroine in a badly written novel, waiting for someone to rescue her. John watched her from the doorway for a few minutes, torn between pity and frustration. He was starting to realize that there was more damage to Riley's mind and soul than he could lie at Jesse's feet, but he didn't know what to do for her. He wondered if there was anything anyone could do.
He wasn't sure if he loved Riley. He knew he wanted to save her, but that wasn't the same thing, and he was starting to think that there might not be enough of her left to save.
"Hey," John said quietly when Riley finally looked up and saw him standing there.
"Hey yourself," she responded with a shaky smile.
"You all packed and ready?" he asked, leaning against the doorframe. "Derek wants to get going." John was a little uneasy about pulling up stakes without his mother, but she'd been adamant on the phone that they needed to go, and go now. If someone was playing them, they needed to try and stay a step ahead.
Riley nodded. "I didn't really unpack."
"Yeah." John crossed the room, hesitating a beat before crouching down in front of her. "You okay?"
Riley shrugged. "I'm fine." She deliberately relaxed, crossing her legs and cradling her chin in her hands, elbows on her knees. "Why are you being so serious all of a sudden?"
John frowned, not liking the fake carelessness anymore than he liked the despair. "Riley, you ran away… "
"Oh, that." Riley waved it off as if she and Lauren had only taken an ill-conceived jaunt instead of trying to disappear. "Don't be mad, it's not like we actually got anywhere."
"I'm not mad," John protested. "I'm worried about you."
Riley rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm fine, silly, so let's just forget about it, okay?"
"No," John said firmly, struggling with his rising temper and concern. He took hold of one of Riley's wrists, pulling it down between them and pushing her sleeve back to bare the slowly healing scar. "This is what happened the last time you said you were fine."
Riley went white. John loosened his grip and she yanked her arm back, clutching it against her chest. Curling in on herself, she hunched her shoulders and looked down at her feet. "I'm scared," she whispered eventually, all of her artifice gone.
John reached out and tipped her chin up. "Hey, look at me," he coaxed, waiting until she lifted those fragile blue eyes. "We all get scared."
"But you didn't run away." She sniffled, tears spilling over from the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry, but this is who you are. You, your mom, Cameron and Derek, you're like this epic group of badass fighters or something, and I'm not. I don't want to die, John."
"I know," John soothed, pulling her up and into a hug. "I know." He held her tightly against his chest and let her cry into his shirt, wishing there was some way he could set her free. This wasn't who she was. It wasn't her fight and she wasn't a warrior, not like his mother, or even Lauren, but there was nowhere else for her to go, nowhere safe. "I won't let anything happen to you," he promised, pressing his lips to her hair. "I'll keep you safe."
Tall and white, the lighthouse stood on the hill like a modern day tower for a forgotten hero. Built as a beacon for lost ships, it made a fitting home for a lost soul. Charley tied his boat off at the dock, automatically scanning the perimeter, a habit he hated almost as much as the machines that made it necessary. The eight foot fence, top of the line security system, explosives buried in the sand and attached to the bottom of the dock, might keep him alive… but it wasn't much of a life.
The last of Charley's safeguards, a big yellow Labrador named Kosacki, barked excitedly as he tore up and down the stretch of beach inside the fence. He'd been cooped up on the boat all day, and he needed to stretch his legs. Charley waited for him. He had no reason to hurry, and the dog's glory in the setting sun and warm sand eased his own melancholy. Maybe he'd bring dinner out to the back porch tonight. After a day on the water, the house seemed dark and confining.
Kosacki came at Charley's whistle and followed him inside, his blunt nails clicking on the hardwood floors. Charley punched the code into the alarm system, a daily necessity that always reminded him of Sarah. She had built him a tower and locked him inside, safe, and far away. He hadn't quite figured out whether that was for his benefit or hers. Both probably. There was far too much anger, pain and guilt between them now for anything but distance to mute. He couldn't think of her without thinking of Michelle, and how she had died. It wasn't that it was all Sarah's fault. She had warned him, told him to leave, and he hadn't listened until it was too late, but Charley could know that, and still not be able to feel it. Not the way he still felt Michelle's absence, an open wound that wouldn't heal.
The cupboards were almost bare. Time for a supply run. Between his garden and the sea, Charley could get most of what he needed right here, but the staples were a little harder to come by. His bank account, opened under a false name, always had plenty of money. He didn't ask where it came from, he tried not to think about it.
"Peanut Butter sandwiches again," Charley told the dog, who was more interested in his own supper. Kosacki sat by his bowl, dark brown eyes at their widest, the picture of starvation. Unable to stand that piercing stare for long, Charley set the peanut butter and bread out on the counter, and went to the pantry for the dog food.
He was bent over the bin, trying to fill the scoop with the salty smelling kibble while keeping Kosacki's big yellow head out of it, when the dog suddenly went very still. Losing interest in the food, Kosacki growled, so low that Charley could barely hear it, and turned back around to face to the kitchen, a ridge of fur standing up along his spine. Charley heard the front door open and shut, footsteps on the floor, coming closer.
Charley wrapped a hand around the dog's collar, holding him back. Slowly, he eased the gun out his belt, and clicked the safety off. The footsteps stopped. Pulling Kosacki with him, Charley straightened and slid his feet along the floor until he had his back against the wall to the left of the pantry door. With the dog trapped between his knees, Charley could feel Kosacki's low bass growl vibrating against his legs.
The footsteps started again, this time heading directly for the pantry. Charley's heart jumped erratically in his chest and the burning sting of adrenalin made his muscles ache. The footsteps stopped right outside the doorway. Turning his head to the side, Charley could just see an indistinct shadow thrown against the open door by the setting sun. Taking a deep breath, he adjusted his sweaty grip on the gun, loosed Kosacki, and spun around the edge of the door, ready to fire, ready to die.
Surprise made Charley hesitate, and a second's hesitation was all it took. He had been expecting a machine, but not this machine. She took advantage of his surprise to disarm him, wrenching the gun out of his hand and ignoring the dog snarling and snapping at her feet.
"You!" Charley choked out, taking hold of Kosacki's collar again and wrestling the dog back under control. Thwarted, Kosacki started barking, a great heavy sound that promised murder to the funny smelling girl who had made his master afraid.
"Me," Cameron confirmed blandly. "We have to go. Now." With no more explanation than that, she gave him back his gun, turned and headed for the door.
"Wait, what? Why?" Charley followed her, hampered somewhat by his grip on the dog, still barking and lunging against the hand on his collar. As if on cue, the perimeter alarm sounded, a piercing scream that drowned out Kosacki's threats, and renewed Charley's panic.
"That's why." Cameron paused at the door, putting her back against the wall and peering through the window, her own black assault rifle held ready. She looked as calm as if this was something she did every day, completely unfazed by Charley's shock, the dog that wanted to tear her apart or the alarm.
"There's a machine coming for you," she said, raising her voice over the noise. "Sarah has a boat ready at the end of the dock. When I open the door, you need to run. Get on the boat and go. I will cover your escape."
"Wait-" Overwhelmed, Charley protested, trying to understand what was going on.
"No time." Without warning, Cameron pulled the door open, caught him by back of the shirt and literally threw him out onto the gravel walk. He hit the ground rolling and a spray of bullets over his head brought the situation home. Scrambling to his feet, Charley did as he was told and ran, Kosacki at his heels.
The gunfire came from the left. As soon as Charley was on his feet and heading for the dock, Cameron focused completely on the terminator striding purposefully up the driveway, returning fire and forcing him to target her. Initial scans indicated another low level 800 model, tough but not very imaginative. In the future they would be one of the easiest series to reprogram. It was the 900's that had begun to think.
Bullets churned the gravel under Cameron's feet and ricocheted off the house behind her. She ignored them, aiming for the terminator's gun and arms to send his own shots wide. Sarah had insisted that disabling the terminator was not their first priority, saving Charley was. Cameron disagreed, but since saving Charley was still the fastest way to get Sarah out of harms way, she made no attempt to close in for the kill. Instead, she backed slowly towards the dock, keeping herself between the terminator and Charley.
The first bullet that connected drove everything from Cameron's thoughts but pain. The second, hitting her high on the chest, mere inches away from the first, knocked her down. Blood, hot and wet, ran down underneath her shirt.
Cameron had told Lauren that she felt pain. She'd been wrong. She had never felt anything like this.
Bracing the rifle against the ground, Cameron levered herself to her knees. Waves of sharp-edged agony tried to convince her that she'd received a mortal wound, but Cameron fought the insidious little pieces of code that wanted her to play dead and made it to her feet. The other terminator's steps crunched on the gravel; he was thirty feet away, twenty and then ten... Behind her, Cameron could hear the roar of the motor boat and Charley's boots pounding hollowly on the long wooden dock as he ran for safety. Ran to Sarah. For an instant, a fraction of a second, Cameron considered letting the terminator kill him. Sarah didn't need Charley. He was nothing but a burden, an inconvenience, an obstacle. They would be better off without him. But Sarah had said please.
Keening like a struggling engine, Cameron threw everything she had against the burning in her chest and felt it give. The switch flipped and the pain loosened its hold, retreating to a faint, almost polite, warning. Strength flooded back into her limbs, and Cameron snapped the rifle up in time to use it as a club to smash the terminator to the ground.
Spinning, she sprinted for the end of the dock and the trigger for the explosives lined out under their feet. She was about halfway when she saw Charley make it safely onto the boat, lowering the yellow dog in first and jumping down after him. Sarah cast one unreadable glance back over her shoulder and twisted the wheel, driving them out and away from the dock, out of range. That had been Cameron's condition, and Sarah had promised.
The switch was mounted on the wooden pillar at the right end of the dock, and the safety cover flipped up smoothly. Hand hovering over the button, Cameron faltered when the motor boat doubled back, looping around so that it would pass no more than ten feet from the end of the dock. Sarah, it appeared, had her own ideas about a safe distance.
"Jump!" Sarah yelled over the roar of the engine, spinning the wheel at the last second to bring the boat just close enough. Torn between frustration with Sarah's disregard for her own safety, and a completely illogical swell of gratitude, Cameron dodged the other terminator's awkward grab, jammed the button down, and leapt.
Thunder snarled in a clear twilight sky, tearing the dock apart and spitting it out in a shredded cloud of wood and metal. A rush of superheated air propelled Cameron farther than she had expected and she landed badly, scrambling for a grip on the edge of the boat while shrapnel rained down around them.
Sarah and Charley had dropped when the dock blew. With no one at the wheel, the boat careened wildly, pitching in the sudden waves. A surge of water broached over the side, soaking Cameron and making the metal under her hands even slipperier. She had almost found her balance when a wet yellow body flung itself out of the bottom of the boat with a murderous howl, closing sharp teeth on the arm that she threw up hastily to block it. The dog's momentum cost Cameron her grip and they both tumbled back and into the sea.
"Cameron!" Scrambling out of the bottom of the boat, Sarah made a grab for the damned dog's collar but her fingers closed on nothing but a handful of wet fur. He jerked out of her grip, leaping at Cameron and taking her over the side. The water churned and nausea bit deeply into Sarah's gut at the brief pink tinge to the crests of the waves before the dog surfaced behind them, paddling desperately. There was no sign of Cameron.
Swearing, Sarah shoved past a staggering Charley and took the wheel again, bringing the boat under control and steering back towards the dog. They were about thirty feet out from the ruined dock, and a quick glance revealed no trace of the other terminator. Safe enough then. Sarah cut the power, and Charley reached down and hauled his dog back up into the boat.
"Easy boy," he soothed, running his hands over the dogs back and legs, checking for injuries. "He's okay," he announced after a moment, looking up as if he expected some kind of positive reaction to the news.
Sarah just barely resisted the urge to kick both him and his dog off the boat. "Good for him," she snapped instead, wrenching open the two storage containers on either side of the boat one at a time and digging through them.
"What are you doing?" Charley asked after a few seconds of tense silence.
"What does it look like?" Sarah finally found what she was looking for, a fifty foot coil of white nylon rope. She yanked it free. "I'm going in after her."
"Can't she just walk to shore?" Charley protested.
A nasty comment on the tip of her tongue, Sarah slammed the container shut and twisted around. Charley was crouched at the far end of the boat, one arm around his dog, and his face openly puzzled. He didn't give a damn about Cameron's well being, and as far as he knew, neither did Sarah.
"There's another machine down there somewhere," Sarah reminded him, looping the rope over her shoulder and around her chest. "He's not going to just let her go."
Charley blanched when the implication sunk in. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her back from the edge of the boat. "Sarah, she's just a machine, you can't risk your life for that! What about John?"
Sarah could have hit him. "She's not-" she started with a snarl, faltering to a halt when her brain caught up with her mouth and she realized exactly what she'd been about to say. She's not just a machine… Almost saying the words didn't come as half so much of a shock to Sarah as the understanding that she actually meant them, and the two together…
Sarah clenched her teeth. "If John were here, he'd be the first one into the water," she pointed out instead, knowing it was true, even more believable. "I'm going. You'll be safe so long as you stay in the boat."
Charley didn't understand. Sarah could see it in his eyes, but she didn't have time to make him understand, her would just have to trust her. Looking past him to the beach, she saw the other terminator dragging himself out of the waves onto the sand. He was limping, but other than that he seemed more or less in one piece. Cold fear tightened her chest when he didn't run, or even walk away. He just stood there… watching them, as if there wasn't anything left that he considered a threat. Cameron…
Charley followed her gaze, but Sarah didn't wait for his reaction. Yanking her arm out of his grip, she stepped up onto the side of the boat and dove in.
It took three dives to find her.
The water was colder the farther down Sarah got, and her lungs burned. Salt stung her eyes, and every kick sent fire through her injured leg. She kept going. With the light fading fast, Sarah was searching more by feel than sight when her fingers finally found fabric and skin instead of sand and rocks. Cameron lay limply on the sea bed. A hurried and fumbling examination didn't reveal any obvious damage, but she wasn't moving.
Quickly running out of air, Sarah tied the rope around Cameron's chest and shoulders. Once it was secure, she took the other end and kicked for the surface. Spots were dancing in front of her eyes by the time she reached it, and for a few seconds she could only tread water and breathe
As soon as her head cleared, Sarah struck out for the boat. Charley met her at the side and pulled her in with gentle hands, taking the rope and securing it to the railing before passing her an emergency blanket from the storage containers.
Sarah took it gratefully, shaking from a combination of worry, exhaustion and the cool evening air on her wet skin. She made a move for the rope, but Charley got in her way.
"I've got this," he told her firmly, a hand on her shoulder. "Sit down."
Too spent to argue, Sarah sat and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders while Charley slowly but steadily pulled Cameron up and out of the ocean. Sarah stepped forward to help once he got her to the side, and they laid her out in the bottom of the boat. Sarah dropped down beside her, fingers going immediately to Cameron's head and searching for the cover over her chip. She was relieved to find it in place, the scalp over it undisturbed.
Charley had tied the dog up at the front of the boat, and Sarah was grateful not to have to deal with it while she cupped Cameron's face, looking in vain for some reason why the girl was offline. The skin under her hand was clammy and cold, and in the last of the light she could see a faint bluish cast to Cameron's lips and fingernails. John's voice rang suddenly and unexpectedly in Sarah's head, she thought she was human… and Sarah remembered the way Cameron's skin had inflamed around her wounds, the racing of the girl's heart under her hands, the unmistakable taste of desire when their lips had met. Human…
"I need some light over here!" Sarah shouted abruptly, understanding bringing with it a new sense of urgency. How far would this malfunction go? Would it mimic brain damage, death?
"Right." Charley didn't ask for an explanation, he just moved, switching on the boat's running lights and coming back with a high powered flashlight that he held so that it shone down on Cameron and Sarah. "What's wrong with her?"
Sarah didn't waste time answering. Lacing her fingers together, she pressed down on Cameron's chest between her breasts, ignoring the fact that the girl's metal endoskeleton made it impossible to do a real compression. If she was right, it wasn't about reality, it was the appearance of reality. If Cameron's chip thought she was human enough to drown, then she should react to CPR… or at least, that's what Sarah hoped.
Thirty compressions, and then Sarah tipped her chin back, pinched her nostrils closed and covered Cameron's mouth with her own. Charley watched silently. Despite his expertise, he didn't offer to help, but he kept the flashlight steady, any questions he might have had behind his teeth.
Tears burned the back of Sarah's eyes as she repeated the sequence once, twice, and a third time bruising her hands against unyielding metal. "Damnit, Cameron," she cursed. "You're a machine! Machines. Do. Not. Drown!"
How long could a human go without oxygen before there was no hope? Ten minutes, fifteen? It had already been twice that long and more. Sarah forced one last breath, her lips drawing back over Cameron's mouth in a caress that was almost, almost a kiss.
With no idea what else to do, she pulled away just far enough to rest her forehead against Cameron's, laying a hand flat over the stillness in the girl's hollow metal chest. She almost missed the first faint pulse, only raising her head sharply when a second beat throbbed against her palm. Sarah held her breath. For a moment there was nothing else, and then Cameron heaved under her touch, gasping, coughing and choking up seawater.
Relieved to the point where she no longer gave a damn what it looked like, Sarah steadied her, supporting the girl as she struggled to her hands and knees, her head hanging down between her arms while she caught her breath. She was shaking, and Sarah stripped the blanket off of her own shoulders without a second thought, throwing it over Cameron and gathering both girl and blanket hard against her chest.
"Sarah…?" Cameron rasped, craning her head back and looking around as if she couldn't quite figure out how she'd gotten back onto the boat.
"Shh…" Sarah ran a reassuring hand over Cameron's hair and settled her more comfortably between bent knees. "You're safe… I'm safe." She smiled weakly. "Even Charley and the damned dog are safe."
Cameron took that in, nodded once, and relaxed, the tension draining out of her in a rush. She let her head come to rest on Sarah's shoulder and hesitantly wrapped her arms around Sarah's waist, clinging a little more tightly when the move didn't meet with any protest. Sarah exhaled slowly, surrendering to the moment, and content just to be for as long as possible.
Later, she wouldn't remember much of the trip back to shore. Some part of her knew that Charley had started the boat, she must have told him about the empty cottage where they'd left the Jeep, must have given him directions, but if she had, she'd forgotten it as soon as the words left her lips. The only thing that was real was bottom of the boat, her back pressed against the side of the seat, and the girl she held tightly in her arms.
Cameron felt Sarah stiffen underneath her when they docked. She lifted her head and drew back, searching Sarah's face for some hint of her mood, but Sarah wouldn't meet her eyes. You're safe… I'm safe. Out on the water, that had been enough, but as the hull of their stolen boat scraped against wooden planks, Cameron sensed Sarah putting the walls back up between them.
She didn't like it.
The boat rocked when Charley stood, stepping off to tie them up without a word. Cameron's gaze flicked over to him, then returned to Sarah, understanding making her shift back onto her heels. Charley was going to be a problem. Putting that aside for now, she eased upright, letting the blanket that had covered them fall and extended a hand to Sarah, balancing easily in the unsteady boat.
Sarah accepted the help after a second's hesitation, and Cameron pulled her gently to her feet, offering a shoulder when Sarah's leg refused to hold her weight. Manoeuvring them both up over the side and onto the dock took a few minutes, and Charley hovered, his disapproval obvious. Cameron ignored him, keeping Sarah close against her side as they made their way back to the Jeep.
Sarah had been right, it would be better for them to stay away from each other. Cameron wasn't thinking clearly, and neither was Sarah. She should not have risked her life for Cameron's. Cameron should not have allowed her to risk both of them for Charley, shouldn't have ignored logic and reason just because Sarah had asked her to. Whatever was happening between them, it was a threat to their mission, and threats must be eliminated.
Cameron examined that conclusion, and then discarded it.
They stopped at a seedy little roadside gas station to refuel and get cleaned up. Sarah left Charley at the pumps and limped around to the back of the Jeep to pull out their bags. Cameron joined her, taking both of the bags out of Sarah's hands without a word before leading the way around the back of the building to the washrooms. Sarah followed, feeling Charley's eyes on the back of her neck. She was going to have to talk to him eventually, explain, but right now she didn't have the first fucking clue what to say.
At least the washrooms were the kind with an outside entrance, and they weren't locked. The cold seawater had washed most of the blood out of Cameron's shirt, but under even the half-hearted, flickering fluorescent lights of a station like this, there would have been no disguising that she had been shot, and the bite marks on her arm were ragged and dark with bruising.
Sarah locked the door behind them and Cameron threw the bags up onto the tiny counter, leaving them to Sarah so that she could strip out of her wet things. Sarah dug out the medical supplies and some dry clothing, piling the latter on the last square of free space beside the bags and sorting through the former for gauze, pliers and tape. She glanced up without thinking, catching sight of Cameron in the mirror, and the question she had been about to ask died on her tongue.
Mute and paralyzed, Sarah watched as Cameron pulled her shirt over her head, and skimmed water-soaked jeans down her long legs. Every move was smooth and deliberate. Where an normal person trying to get out of cold and clammy clothing might have shucked it off with no more thought than they put into breathing, Cameron undressed with the same attention to detail that she did everything else. It was hypnotizing. Sarah had seen Cameron in her underwear before, but this was different. Very different.
Cameron's eyes lifted, meeting Sarah's through the reflection, and Sarah dropped her gaze hastily, turning around with the medical supplies clutched against her chest like a shield. "You ready?" she asked gruffly, her eyes on the floor.
"Almost." Cameron's feet entered Sarah's field of vision and pivoted. "I require assistance."
Sarah dragged her eyes upwards. Cameron had pulled her hair forward over her shoulder, and her back was a patchwork of superficial cuts, scrapes and burns, all of them raw and crusted over with salt. The narrow band of her bra cut a sharp horizontal line under her shoulder blades, pink elastic spotted and stained with blood, its little metal clasp bent and twisted by the same shrapnel that had sliced up her skin.
A lump catching in her throat, both at the extent of the damage and the mute appeal, Sarah put the supplies back down on top of the clothes, and raised her hands to the damaged fastener, bending the hook back into place so that she could undo it. Her fingers were trembling by the time she got it to release, and she stepped back when it finally gave way, leaving Cameron to shrug the straps off of her shoulders on her own.
"Thank you," Cameron said softly, gathering up her discarded clothing and piling it neatly on the down-turned lid of the toilet.
"You could have just broken it," Sarah pointed out shakily, her gaze fixed firmly on the opposite wall.
"I could have," Cameron agreed, moving back into Sarah's line of sight, her expression completely innocent. "But I like that bra."
Sarah snorted, retrieving the gauze and pliers and getting to work. "Of course you do."
She found she could stay objective so long as she focused on the mess of torn flesh and shining metal under Cameron's collar bones, and didn't let her eyes wander. The two bullets came out easily, and Sarah rinsed the crusted salt from the wounds as gently as she could, but Cameron still twitched and shivered. It didn't take a hell of a lot of insight to realize that if a machine could drown, then a couple of bullet holes probably hurt like a son of a bitch. Sympathy warred with a slow rising fury.
"You're angry with me," Cameron observed quietly when Sarah put aside her blood soaked cloth and started taping down the gauze.
Sarah didn't look up. "You lied to me," she charged, and felt Cameron stiffen under her hands at the accusation.
"I didn't lie." The machine's tone was defensive, guarded.
"At the motel, before we-" Sarah stopped, rephrased. "When you woke up, you said you were okay."
Cameron shifted, and Sarah could see the familiar head tilt in her mind's eye. "I tried to explain," she said finally with a trace of reproach. "You didn't want to hear it."
Oh… right. Sarah winced. One for the cyborg. "Well, I'd like to hear it now." She secured the last piece of tape and stepped back, wiping her hands free of blood with the rest of the gauze.
Cameron studied her for a moment, and then nodded. "There is a malfunction with one of my original programs," she admitted. "All terminators designed and built after 2025 have a complete artificial autonomic nervous system that mimics human sensation and visceral functions. We breathe, we have a heart beat, we feel pain… but the level of feedback and our physical reaction to environmental stimulus is under manual control." She paused at Sarah's blank look and rephrased. "We can turn it on and off."
Sarah took a moment to process that, twisting the gauze in her hands as she thought. Demonstratively, the problem here was that Cameron, for some reason, could not turn it on and off. Suddenly the scene back at the motel made a lot more sense, at least in regards to Cameron acting like a hormonal teenager, if not the underlying cause. That didn't explain her reaction though… She wasn't thinking about that. "What you're saying," she hazarded. "Is that you've got a stuck switch?"
"Yes," Cameron confirmed after a moment's thought. "The switch is stuck."
"So, how do we fix it?" Sarah demanded, shoving aside the repressed little voice that wondered if maybe she wasn't being just a little too hasty about all of this? There were benefits after all… benefits that were currently on full colour display right in front of her.
Cameron didn't answer directly. "Do you want it fixed?" she asked instead, an unmistakable challenge to the angle of her chin as she gave voice to the very question Sarah had been trying so hard not to think about. It hit a little close to the bone.
"Are you insane?" Sarah snapped. "You just drowned. I almost lost you! This isn't about whether or not I'm so desperate for a little company that I want to have sex with a goddamn robot. I-"
She'd gone too far. Sarah broke off as Cameron moved forward without warning, forcing her back against the wall beside the counter and trapping her there, hands pressed flat to the painted grey brick to either side of her head. "I am not a robot," she warned Sarah levelly, leaning in until she held Sarah in place with nothing more than the weight of her body.
Damp cotton and denim were not adequate barriers. Sarah's breath caught at the press of soft breasts and lean thighs. A minute ago, Cameron's skin had been cold under her fingers, chilled from sitting too long in wet clothing. Now she was warm, and quickly getting warmer. Her heat wrapped itself around Sarah, banishing the last of the chill and smothering her protest before it could take shape.
Inhaling sharply when she realized she'd forgotten to breathe, Sarah tasted salt, copper and a hint of strawberry lip balm. She just barely managed to remember why she didn't want a more thorough sampling of that last flavour, and tried to pull back, but there was nowhere to go.
Completely unrepentant, Cameron slid a hand down the wall to tangle her fingers in Sarah's hair and tip her head back. Her touch was gentle, but insistent. Sarah wanted to be furious, she was furious. She was absolutely going to take Cameron apart for this, just as soon as she could think again.
"Cameron, stop." Sarah found a last scrap of resistance and clung to it, using it to force the words out. "What are you doing?"
"Showing you something," Cameron whispered fiercely. "You make me feel things," she explained, brushing her thumb over the shallow dip of Sarah's temple, her eyes searching Sarah's face. "Things I don't understand, things I can't control." She paused. "You feel it too."
"It's not real," Sarah protested, wondering a little frantically whether she was trying to convince Cameron, or herself. "You said it yourself; it's just a broken switch."
Cameron shook her head. "This is different," she corrected Sarah firmly. "This was there before, but I didn't know how to feel it, not all the way.
"And now?" Sarah asked.
Cameron's other hand left the wall, gliding over Sarah's shoulder and tracing a line down between her breasts before coming to rest on her waist. She toyed with the hem of Sarah's shirt, her long fingers working their way under the edge of the wet fabric, stroking Sarah's stomach and making her tremble. "Now I can't stop," she confessed, pressing closer.
"This is a bad idea…" Sarah whispered helplessly into Cameron's hair as the girl dipped her head to brush the lightest of kisses over the pulse beating rapidly under Sarah's jaw. Sarah closed her eyes against an unexpected, and thoroughly embarrassing, wave of light headedness when those soft lips touched her skin. Great, now she was swooning. So much for age and gender… when they got back, she owed John one hell of a fucking apology.
"I know," Cameron agreed, her breath cool against the dampness left on Sarah's skin by her kiss. "This is not part of our mission. It is an unnecessary complication." She drew back just far enough so that they could look at each other, passion and confusion mixed in her dark eyes. "I shouldn't want you, I shouldn't be able to, but… I do." She licked her lips, her expression firming as she said it again. "I want you."
"I…" Sarah struggled to bring her scattered thoughts back together. Cameron wasn't playing fair. This…whatever it was, connection, attraction, insanity, was beyond Sarah's ability to cope with. She was being seduced by a machine, a collection of metal and wire that walked and talked. It was crazy. Or maybe Sarah was crazy, because despite all of that, she was very close to damning the consequences and letting Cameron take her on the floor of a filthy gas station bathroom.
Sarah reached up hesitantly, threading her fingers through Cameron's half-dried hair, stiff with salt and sand, and laying them against the back of her neck. Pressing gently, she urged Cameron forward, leaned in and…
A sharp bang rattled the door on its rusted hinges. The first knock was followed swiftly by a second and third, and Cameron snapped back at the sound, releasing Sarah and pivoting to stand between her and the door.
"Sarah?" Charley called. "Are you all right in there?"
"Fine," Sarah answered weakly, letting her head fall back against the wall. She wasn't sure whether to bless his timing or curse it. "We'll be right out."
Cameron didn't seem to be so conflicted. She shot a glare at the door that was unambiguously homicidal.
"Okay…" Charley's footsteps faded as he left the door.
Amused despite herself, Sarah offered Cameron a strained, but apologetic smile that was almost a smirk. "He'll be back," she said gently. "We need to go. John and the others will be waiting."
The drive to the new hotel was tense. Cameron did not like having Charley Dixon sitting behind her where she couldn't see him. He didn't like her. He didn't understand her relationship with Sarah, and that made him uncomfortable. Cameron could have told him that she didn't understand it either, but she doubted that would improve the situation, and she was pretty sure Sarah wouldn't appreciate it.
Sarah was upset enough. It had taken Cameron one hour and thirty seven minutes to convince her to take the pain medication for her leg, and even when Sarah had finally given in, the pills had only dulled her physical pain. Cameron was aware that she was one of the main causes of Sarah's mental and emotional distress, and she didn't know what to do about it.
Cameron knew what she wanted, but she didn't know what Sarah wanted. Sarah had almost kissed her at the gas station, but then she had walked away, and Cameron had let her. She was physically stronger than Sarah, but she could not forcibly take what she wanted from her. She needed Sarah to give it to her willingly or, somehow, it wouldn't mean anything, and Cameron wanted it to mean something. She just didn't know what it was supposed to mean… she hadn't figured that part out yet.
Sarah shifted in the seat beside Cameron and glanced over her shoulder, a tired smile tugging at the corner of her mouth when she saw that Charley had fallen asleep. "Lucky bastard," she muttered quietly.
"You could sleep too," Cameron suggested, moderating her voice. She had no desire to be considerate of Charley Dixon's rest, but so long as he was asleep, she could ignore him.
Sarah shook her head. "Too keyed up," she said wearily, running a hand through her hair and rubbing at her temples. "My brain's running around in circles."
"You're worried about Skynet's plans," Cameron guessed.
Sarah snorted. "That," she agreed, looking over at Cameron. "And other things…"
Cameron felt her body temperature rise under Sarah's scrutiny. "I'm sorry," she offered automatically.
"Are you?" Sarah asked, turning sideways in her seat, and studying Cameron, a wry smile on her lips even though her eyes were worn.
Cameron glanced between Sarah and the road. The meaning she had been searching for was here somewhere, she could feel it hovering at her fingertips when Sarah looked at her like that, but she could quite catch it. Was she sorry? For upsetting Sarah, yes. For wanting to be with her, to touch her, no. "I don't know how to answer that."
"Yeah," Sarah sighed, looking back at the road. "Me neither."
They lapsed into silence. Charley and his dog snored from the back seat and the miles flashed by outside the windows. Cameron snuck glances at Sarah every few minutes, unable to help herself, becoming more conflicted as Sarah sagged further in her seat, exhaustion warring with the worry in her eyes.
An idea occurred to Cameron, but she didn't know how Sarah would respond. She debated the move for a few miles, weighing the possibility of making things worse against the increasing weight of not doing anything at all. Eventually, Cameron couldn't stand it any longer. She reached across the seat and took one of Sarah's hands, drawing it back to her lap and twining their fingers together.
Sarah watched her with a raised brow, not protesting, but not exactly cooperating either. The tension thickened while Cameron waited for some kind of response, her eyes on the road, but her thumb moving gently over the back of Sarah's hand. Cameron was just about to give it up and let go when Sarah blew out an exasperated breath, and tentatively returned the pressure, arranging their fingers a little more comfortably before relaxing back into her seat.
Cameron kept a hold of Sarah's hand even after Sarah had finally succumbed to sleep. She was still confused, but here and now, this was enough.
John was half asleep when Cameron called to let him know they were almost there. He almost dropped the laptop off of his knees and onto the floor when his cell phone rang, nearly falling out of the chair himself in his haste to answer it. She asked him to meet them in the parking lot.
He stopped at Derek and Jesse's room to let them know where he was going, and then paused outside of the room Lauren and Sydney were sharing with Riley. If the girls were asleep he didn't want to wake them, but he didn't want to wait alone in the dark either…
A soft tap brought a clattering of metal as the chain was unfastened. Lauren opened the door, one dark brow raised in silent question. She was still dressed, but the room behind her was dark.
"Hey," he said softly. "Is Riley…?"
"She's asleep," Lauren told him, keeping her voice down, but there was a hint of censure in it, as if he should have known better than to come around bugging Riley in the middle of the night. "She had a really rough day. Is something wrong?"
John couldn't help but notice that Lauren said she not we. He didn't know if that was because something had happened to Riley that he didn't know about, or if Lauren simply didn't think it had been a rough day by her own standards. He wondered briefly what Lauren's life had been like for the last nine months, but it really wasn't any of his business. "Cameron called," he explained, putting the question away for another time. "I'm going down to meet them."
"Oh." Lauren slipped out into the hallway and closed the door behind her. "I'll come with you."
"You don't…" John trailed off. Lauren, not waiting for his permission, was already heading for the elevators. "Okay then," he sighed and followed. Lauren wasn't generally his first choice for company, but pushy and condescending was better than nothing.
"So they rescued this Charley guy all right?" Lauren asked in the elevator, when they no longer needed to worry about volume.
John nodded. "Cameron said they're all fine, but the terminator got away."
"So it'll probably just go after someone else then?"
"Maybe." John shrugged. "It might have only been programmed to target one person."
"Then it might come here?" Lauren frowned. She didn't sound happy about that idea, and John couldn't blame her.
"Mom knows everything there is to know about running from machines," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "She won't let it get anywhere near your sister."
Lauren snorted at that, preceding him out into the dimmed lobby when the doors opened and heading for the exit. "Won't let it anywhere near you, you mean. I think we come in somewhere a little lower on her priority list."
John couldn't argue with that, it was true. Cold, but true.
They got to the parking lot to find the Jeep already parked, and Charley and Cameron locked in what looked like some kind of standoff outside of the front passenger door. John frowned, a sense of apprehension gripping his chest. This did not look good. He jogged over, leaving Lauren to catch up.
"Hey, Johnny," Charley called softly, turning away from Cameron to pull him into a hug. John returned it wholeheartedly, relieved to see Charley alive and uninjured. Even with all that had happened, all the time that had passed, Charley was still the closest thing John had ever had to a father. Derek might have come closer in time, but the soldier couldn't ever really see him as a kid, he was always John Connor.
Letting go, John looked past Charley to see his mother asleep in the front seat. Cameron stood firmly between her and Charley. The terminator was even less expressive than usual, but it was that same stripped away sort of blankness that he'd noticed the night before. Something told him she wasn't nearly as neutral as she looked.
"She won't let me near your mom," Charley grumbled, assuming John had been talking to him rather than the machine.
"Sarah needs her sleep," Cameron insisted before John could even open his mouth, and the glare she levelled at Charley made John's blood run cold. It was the same way she used to look at Riley, only worse… a lot worse. "He will wake her up."
"Cameron…" John began tentatively, shifting until he was standing in front of Charley. "Maybe…" He was spared having to come up with a diplomatic way to resolve the situation by Lauren's delayed arrival.
"Who's this?" She asked brightly, opening the rear door for a madly wriggling yellow lab. The dog leapt out and immediately began dancing around her feet. He seemed to have accepted Cameron's presence, trusting his master's decision. John wasn't sure if that indicated intelligence, or the lack of it. Lauren dropped to a crouch and rubbed the dog's ears familiarly.
"That's Kosacki," Charley said fondly, relaxing a little.
"Kosacki?" Lauren looked up.
"Yeah," Charley confirmed with a pointed glance at Cameron. "After Jozef Kosacki, the guy who invented the first portable metal detector."
"We're going to have to smuggle him upstairs," Lauren pointed out, ignoring the dig at Cameron in favour of keeping Charley's attention. "This place is a little fancy for dogs."
"Right." Charley rubbed a hand over his head, looking back at John. "You okay here?"
"I've got it," John assured him, making a mental note to thank Lauren later for the timely interruption. She glanced back as they left, a brief wink enough to let him know that it hadn't been accidental. Once they were gone, he turned back to Cameron with a sense of dread, but she seemed to have forgotten all about the confrontation. She gently unbuckled his mother's seatbelt, lifting her easily out of the Jeep. Sarah murmured softly when she was moved, but she settled back against Cameron's shoulder without waking up.
John shut the door behind them and then led Cameron around the back of the hotel to the rear entrance. He figured the stairwell was a less conspicuous choice with Cameron pulling the Prince Charming routine. They made it to the third floor without incident, and John took her to the room they'd gotten for his mother. She was the only one who wasn't sharing, and Cameron got her settled onto the double bed while John set out the key cards on the desk.
"Thank you," she said pointedly when he hesitated, unsure whether to leave the machine to it, or wait for her. Come to think of it, he didn't know which room Cameron was supposed to be staying in anyway. She didn't sleep, but she couldn't exactly just stand in the hallway all night either.
Unwilling to make an issue out of it, John took the hint. He backed out, pausing just before the door latched, a strange extension of his earlier apprehension prompting him to glance back through the narrow crack. He watched curiously as Cameron slipped Sarah's boots off and covered her with the blanket. She started to turn away, paused, then reached down to brush a lock of hair out of Sarah's face. Her fingers lingered, and John's stomach dropped as she leaned down and pressed a brief kiss to his mother's forehead.
She didn't do any more than that, and from anyone else the gesture might have been a chaste sign of affection, but John knew better. Cameron didn't do casual touching, and paired with her reaction to Charley, John suddenly had a very bad feeling that he might have done something incredibly stupid. He stood frozen outside of the door long after Cameron had gone into the bathroom, the hiss of the shower a clear sign that she had no intentions of leaving.
Feeling like he'd been hit on the back of the head, John took a shaky step back, pulling the door closed and locked. He made his way back to the room he was sharing with Charley in a daze, completely overwhelmed, and without the faintest idea what he was going to do about it.