Setting: Just after "Dungeons and Dragons"
A/N: Thanks for all of the wonderful reviews – you persuaded me to give this another go, but I don't know if I'll continue or not. Probably depends on what turns the show takes. But I like the idea of Cameron's increasing human-ness, and of how John would react to that, so I hope you enjoy this chapter and find time to review!
John had always thought finding out more about his family – and by "family," he meant his father, Kyle Reese – would give him more of a sense of belonging in the world. The same way he had always wondered if sleeping in the same bed in the same house his entire life would have given him a much-needed sense of security, John had always privately believed that had his mother been a bit more forthcoming about the few brief hours she had spent with his ill-fated father, John might have felt more like a real person, birthed of two living, breathing parents, instead of a messiah who had been dropped from the skies.
Sometimes, he thought it was easier for his mother to think of him that way – like he had been immaculately conceived. Whenever Sarah spoke of Kyle Reese, a tightness around her lips told John plainly that the grief of losing the first man she had ever loved was almost more than his incredibly strong mother could bear.
Because he loved her, John had never pressed the issue. He had looked for small openings in conversations to slip in a casual, nonchalant question; he had kept his ears pricked for the tiniest scraps of information dropped here and there, by chance or accident, usually when his mother was lecturing him on the importance of his destiny. But he could not bring himself to demand answers outright. He couldn't stand bringing more pain into his mother's life.
Only now, with his uncle, his father's brother and his own flesh and blood, sleeping in the next room, Kyle Reese had become a very real, very unavoidable fact of their lives.
Down the hall, Sarah was tossing and turning in a fitful sleep. John could hear her mattress springs squeak each time she rolled over, and he wondered what nightmares were haunting her this time – her son's death, her lover's death, the end of the world, or something else entirely. Maybe something to do with Charlie Dixon.
Standing at the kitchen window as they took leave of one another in the yard, John hadn't missed the tenderness with which Charlie had embraced his mother. They still loved one another, that much was obvious.
John wasn't sure how he felt about that. On the one hand, he, too, loved Charlie. He trusted him, enough to bring him into their crazy world (which was more than John could say about most people in his life), and he admitted readily to himself that he missed the father-son camaraderie Charlie had introduced into his life. On the other hand, though, John couldn't stop himself from feeling, no matter how nonsensical the emotion was, that his mother was betraying his father by having such longings for another man while Kyle Reese's brother lay half-dead on their kitchen table, sent back through time, just like John's father, to save them and the world.
Sixteen years. More than that, considering that they had jumped across time, but in Sarah's memory, it had been sixteen years since she had seen or touched Kyle Reese. How long could one person be expected to go on grieving? How lonely could one person be expected to make her life in honor of a memory?
Hadn't she sacrificed enough for the future Kyle Reese had come back to protect? Wasn't she entitled to some happiness?
John rolled over in bed, tugging the pillow down tighter over his ears to shut out the sounds of his mother's distress. Theoretically, he was going to save the world in a few years' time, lead the human resistance against the machines so expertly that an entire race would have him to thank for their survival. Hours ago he had pumped his own blood into his uncle to save his life. But he couldn't do the simplest thing in the world, the only thing a son ever really wanted to do.
He couldn't make his mother happy.
In fact, he was risking making her a great deal more unhappy than she already was, because another thing John couldn't do was stop thinking about his kiss with Cameron.
"Stop fantasizing about the damn robot" had become an unending mantra, running through John's brain like a CD stuck on repeat. Cameron seemed to have taken his order to forget the entire episode to heart. Her treatment of him vacillated between aloof respect and ardent friendship, just as it had for their entire acquaintance. She might have been a tad more reserved, a bit more secretive. Or that could have just been John's imagination. Because the truth was, he didn't want Cameron to have forgotten about their steamy embrace. Especially since the memory of her lips on his filled the majority of his waking hours – and, like tonight, often chased away sleep when he wanted those waking hours to end.
Finally abandoning the possibility of a restful night, John kicked back the covers and, quiet as a mouse, slipped into an old pair of sweats and a much-battered pair of running shoes. He was under strict orders from his mother (and Charlie) to rest; he had donated a good portion of his own blood to save Derek, and he needed to let his body recover. Logically, John understood this. But his warring emotions over his mother, his father, Derek, Charlie and Cameron all conspired to make him feel that he might lose his mind if he didn't burn off some of his restless energy.
So, silently lifting the sash of his bedroom window, John slipped out into the muggy southern California darkness and jogged off down the sidewalk at a slow, easy pace.
John had ceased to fear robot assassins years ago. His mother was constantly looking over her shoulder, but John, while he appreciated the reality of the danger, had realized that for the sake of his sanity he couldn't always duck around a corner whenever he thought he heard footsteps behind him. John tried his best not only to appear but also to live as a normal person – the sort of teenage boy who could go for a late-night run without fearing anything other than a mugger in the shadows of his run-down neighborhood. Although it might not have been the most prudent approach for his personal safety, for John, it was necessary to convince himself that he was the same as everyone else.
For several blocks, the exertion worked its magic, clearing John's troubled mind and leaving him with the pleasantly washed-out feeling he associated with good, hard cries (always conducted a safe distance from his mother's sharp ears) and strenuous exercise. He fell into a sort of running meditation, his mind separating from conscious thought, broken only when he suddenly became aware that his legs were slowing down, his knees turning rubbery beneath him.
You idiot – you just drained a couple of pints of blood out of yourself, and you go for a six-mile jog in the middle of the night on no sleep and no food?
John sank onto a wooden bench along the sidewalk, shaking and shivering despite the balmy night air. He didn't recognize the neighborhood he had entered, but the well-manicured lawns, locked two-car garages and darkened two-storey windows reassured him that at least he wasn't going to pass out in a place where he was likely to be stabbed or shot. Certainly if he could drag himself onto someone's porch, one of these clean-living middle class families would take pity on him and call his mother. Of course, that meant getting to his feet and walking, which at the moment, John realized with an encroaching sense of panic, he couldn't do.
His heart was alternately racing and weakly fluttering. A wave of sickness swept over him, doubling him over; he retched dryly, his stomach too empty to bring anything up. His tongue felt swollen, his lips burnt. Walking was most definitely out of the question, at least for now. John stretched himself out on the bench, thinking that if he could just rest, he would soon feel better…
He thought he was delusional when Cameron's beautiful face appeared above him, her dark hair cascading toward him, her brow furrowed with concern.
"You're sick," she declared, kneeling beside him. She placed a cool palm on his clammy forehead. John gulped for air. "You shouldn't have been running. Your blood sugar is too low."
"No shit," John managed thinly. "Can you get me home?"
"I could carry you, but that would attract attention." Cameron was unwrapping a Kit Kat bar she had produced from the pocket of her jeans. She pressed it, still warm from the heat of her skin, into John's hand and guided it toward his mouth. "Eat this, and you'll feel better."
The gooey chocolate nearly choked John, whose mouth was painfully parched. Still, not unaccustomed to physical discomfort, he dutifully chewed and swallowed while Cameron crossed the street to a small park he hadn't noticed and filled her cupped hands with water from a fountain. John struggled into a sitting position so he could sip the cool liquid from her palms. Ill as he was, he couldn't help but notice that her fingers, when his lips accidentally brushed across them, tasted salty.
Stop. Fantasizing. About. The. ROBOT.
In a few minutes, with his blood sugar normalizing and his thirst sated, John felt well enough to stand, though his quavering knees forced him to lean heavily on Cameron. "We could steal a car," he suggested hopefully, dreading the six-mile trek back to their house.
"Not a good idea. The authorities would be called – "
"I was kidding," John grated out, irritated by Cameron's relentless focus on her mission. Now that his brain was fully functioning again, he also found himself rather miffed about her presence on the nighttime street at all – lucky for him she was there, obviously, but that didn't mean he enjoyed being followed.
"Did my mom tell you to spy on me?" he challenged. Cameron's arm was wrapped securely around his waist, his arm draped loosely over her shoulders; to anyone driving by, they probably looked like a young couple making their way home from a night of hard partying. "Is that why you're out here?"
Cameron shook her head. Her hair brushed John's cheek as she did so, sending tingles down his spine. "I was on the swing-set when you climbed out your window. I followed you."
"Why? Oh, right, because you're all about keeping me safe," John answered his own question sarcastically. "What were you doing out on the swing in the middle of the night anyway?"
"Your mother told me not to pace the house because of the injured man. She said he needed to rest. So I went outside." Cameron stopped abruptly, her grip tightening on John's waist. "You should sit down before we go farther. Your heart rate is elevated again."
Grateful for the respite – he was feeling rather light-headed – John plunked himself down on a high concrete curb separating the sidewalk from a Little League baseball field. Cameron stood in front of him, her eyes moving across the dark field behind them, then over the empty lawns lit dimly by the street lamps. In spite of his annoyance with her for dogging his every move, John couldn't help noticing how pretty Cameron looked in the orange-yellow glow, her skin so fair it was almost translucent, her dark eyes luminous behind thick lashes.
"You didn't leave me."
Cameron's non sequitir baffled John. "What're you talking about?"
"That's why I came after you. I thought it might not be safe for you to be out here alone in case Cromartie found you."
"I get that part," John broke in impatiently. "But what do you mean, I didn't leave you? Leave you where?"
His heart gave a painful little thump of excitement. Did she mean in the future? Was she going to tell him more about who he was in that post-apocalyptic world, about how she had come to be selected for this oh-so-important mission, about why she seemed so much more human than any machine should have been able to?
For one wild second, John had the fleeting hope that Cameron would declare that in the future, the two of them were madly, passionately in love. That he had reprogrammed her and made her into something so human that everyone, all of his friends and admirers and followers, cheered on their romance. That he had saved her from being a mindless killing machine, given her a purpose, helped her become human –
John slammed a mental lid on those ridiculous imaginings. One thing he knew, one thing he had learned from the cradle, was that life was no fairytale. Cameron was a machine, built to destroy human beings with the utmost speed and efficiency. Her loyalty to him had nothing to do with "feelings"; it had everything to do with a chip in her head, like the one she had torn out of that Terminator who had nearly blown his uncle in half, which John's future self had soldered and rewired in order to give her a new mission.
Circuits and wires, metal and bolts, that's all she was. Living tissue over a metal exoskeleton. A combat chasse, not a ribcage; a motherboard, not a brain. Cameron was not a girl, and if she thought of him as a boy, well, that was only an aspect of her programming, intended to help her seem human when she first made contact with him under the guise of a high school beauty.
Except now, Cameron was turning those not-human eyes on him with a quiet intensity that drove all thought from John's mind, just as her gaze had on a not-so-long ago night when he had ended up taking her in his arms. "When we were rescuing Derek Reese," Cameron patiently explained. She moved forward one small step, so that she now stood directly in front of where John was seated, their toes touching. "When I was fighting with the other Terminator. I saw you. Charlie Dixon and your mother tried to make you get in the car, but you wouldn't. You wouldn't leave me."
John's mouth was dry again, but this time, he knew the cause was not his blood sugar. He recalled that awful moment vividly: Rationally, he had known Cameron could hold her own against the other machine, yet seeing her beaten and crawling had awoken something primal in him, an instinct to protect her, to save her.
Because you're falling in love with the damn robot, like an idiot.
The voice in John's mind sounded eerily like his mother's. He thought of Sarah's pained expression whenever she spoke of his father; he thought of the nightmare her life had become because she had allowed herself to love someone she should never have loved, a hero come back through time, a man who had not, when he had known her, technically even been born yet but who had managed to impregnate her with a son. Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor had defied all laws of nature by loving one another, and look what had come of it.
John stood, telling himself that he could do this, that he could look directly into Cameron's lovely eyes and lie to her and to himself. That he could end this, whatever was happening between them, with a word.
Perhaps Cameron recognized his intention, for she never let him get that word out.
Sliding her fingers into the scruffy hair along the nape of John's neck, Cameron wordlessly guided his mouth down to hers. John didn't fight; for a split-second, he was too shocked at how expertly she had taken the initiative – a very human and very woman-like (not even girl-like, woman-like) thing to do – to turn away. And then?
Well, then he was swimming in her. The soft lips urging his to press harder, the sweet-tasting tongue delving into his mouth, the slender leg curling itself around his, all of these things became the extent of John's world, blotting out his best intentions to end the madness before it could begin.
His hands, seemingly of their own volition, settled on Cameron's waist and drew her closer. This time, the kiss was long and lingering, smoldering instead of explosive; there was urgency, yes, but also a mutual desire to take their time, to melt into one another slowly, mouths and bodies fused under the cloudless starry sky. John felt himself sinking back onto the curb, drawing Cameron down onto his lap, wondering only vaguely how far he should let this go while knowing, in his heart of hearts, that it would, if not tonight then some night, go all the way, regardless of consequences.
Cameron tipped his head back gently and kissed away from John's mouth, down his jaw and across his neck, her tongue skimming his earlobe and making him shiver. His skin was on fire for the touch of hers; his fingers crept under the hem of her tee-shirt, moving along her belly, inching upward –
The sharp, piercing wail of a police siren jolted John back to reality. Cameron leapt to her feet, eyes scanning for the source of the sound. For one awful second, John thought they had been spotted by a late-night patrolman. Probably some jerk of a cop, too, who would demand to know what two kids were doing out so late, alone, and who would insist on driving them home, waking John's mother, creating all kinds of havoc and confusion in the Reese/Connor household.
Luckily, however, the sirens were coming from the freeway a few miles east. John and Cameron exchanged a quick, guilty grin as they realized their escape. For a moment, John was unsettled to find that, unlike their other kiss, this one had not left him feeling ashamed or guilty. In fact, he felt light as a feather.
Which could have had something to do with his blood loss, of course, but seemed to him more connected to the amazing creature now sliding her arm back around his waist and steering him toward home.
They walked in contented silence for quite some distance. As the little house they called home for now came into view, however, Cameron asked, almost shyly, "Do we forget about this, too?"
John hesitated. He could say yes; he could still end this, still prevent whatever heartache might come of it, still spare his mother the horrified pain of ever learning that her son had fallen head-over-heels for the one thing she hated most in the universe – a machine. If he told her to, Cameron would "forget" this latest passionate embrace as well. She would accept his order. She was programmed to do so.
Or would she? A small flicker of doubt darted across John's mind. She had behaved so boldly minutes earlier, kissing him like that at just the moment when he had been about to shut down any possibility of future kisses. Had she known that was what he meant to do? Had she stopped him, deliberately, or had she simply reacted to…what? The memory of their earlier kiss, her mechanical interpretation of what humans did in such situations based on that previous encounter?
No, that made no sense. Cameron had acted on desire. And desire was a feeling, not a computer program. Desire was human. Desire couldn't be programmed.
Fear rose up in John. If Cameron couldn't be programmed, she couldn't be controlled. A Terminator that couldn't be controlled – a machine that couldn't be programmed – that was what would trigger Judgment Day.
But she's on our side. She's good. She cares for me.
And anyway, could I destroy her, just on the off chance that she might be a threat to us someday?
Such thoughts were too painful for John to entertain. He felt a lot more sympathy for his mother's plight all at once. He could understand, with a clarity never before possible, why she would simply not want to think about how her relationship with Kyle Reese had ended, why she would rather remember nothing besides their brief happiness. The end was too awful. Easier to remember the ecstasy of infatuation, the intoxication of first love, than to recall the horror of loss.
They continued on to the house as John mulled over his answer. Cameron led him over to his bedroom window, still unlocked and partially open; inside, all was dark and silent. It seemed Sarah had finally fallen into more peaceful dreams, or at least hadn't woken enough to go check on her son, because if she had noted his absence in the middle of the night John was certain the house would have been abuzz with activity.
One hand on the window sill to steady himself, John dropped a light kiss into Cameron's hair and smiled, perhaps a little shakily, at her. "No, we don't have to forget," he answered, speaking over his doubts and fears. Cameron's liquid-brown eyes, lit up with the diamond-sparkle of a thousand midnight stars, made it simpler to shove any unhappy thoughts aside. "But I think we'd best keep this a secret, or my mom'll be taking the first chance she gets to turn you into scrap metal."
Cameron nodded solemnly. "A secret. I can keep a secret."
Whatever unease that comment might have stirred in John was chased away by Cameron's tender good-night kiss.