DISCLAIMER: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and its characters are the propert of James Cameron and Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Big thanks to inspectorboxer for the support, enthusiasm, and beta on this. This was supposed to be my epic proportions fic, and thus this is just the first part of a very long story. Iím trying to do more of an action-adventure story, which is a stretch for me. ralst demanded the fic supplied the prompt, so, my queen, this is for you.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Gambit
By zennie

 

Part 4

Eventually, the cold seeped up from the floor; Sarah pulled back and started to disentangle herself from Cameron, surprised at how reluctant she was. It had been a long time since someone had held her, since she had allowed someone to hold her, and the fact that it was a terminator was not lost on Sarah, but neither was the fact that it felt good to lose herself in the warmth and comfort of a body, even one artificially warmed.

It was a moment of weakness, certainly, but she spent so much time being strong, living up to the larger-than-life image John had of her, that moments like this were rare. Sometimes she wondered what damage was being wrought to her psyche in trying to live up to John's expectations; he asked, no, he demanded, that she stop Judgment Day, change the future, for him, for everyone, and rather than disappoint him or tell him it may not be possible, she dedicated herself to trying to do that. But then, John wasn't entirely to blame. She was the one who first created the image that John now idealized. In the early years, she had made herself hard as a way of coping; it was only later, as she grew older, that she realized that hard could also be brittle. Sarah remembered trying to pull the trigger as Miles pleaded with her and feeling that strong, steel core she thought she had created shatter like glass.

Even rarer than a moment of weakness was someone not judging her for it. Maybe because she had so little experience with humans and their emotions, Cameron didn't have the expectation that Sarah had to be strong all the time in order to be strong at all. She certainly understood that Sarah could be helped and even held, and Sarah rested her hand on Cameron's cheek for a second in a silent gesture of thanks. Cameron seemed reluctant to let go as well, initially resisting when Sarah tried to pull away but finally releasing her hold and allowing Sarah to stand.

Just as Sarah straightened, a powerful cramp rippled up her calf and she grabbed for her leg, nearly overbalancing. "Damn it," she growled as she collapsed into the chair. She clawed at the fatigues, trying to pull them up so she could massage the muscle that felt like it was twisting into knots. Soft, sure fingers met hers as Cameron eased the boot off and slid her hands up under Sarah's pant leg.

Sarah stared as Cameron began to work on easing the cramp, a look of utter concentration on the terminator's face as her fingers dug into the muscle. Her hands were blazing, hotter than a human's, and Sarah realized that Cameron must have done something to increase her body temperature. The cramp migrated down into Sarah's foot and her toes began twitching uncontrollably, and Sarah gritted her teeth as her whole lower leg seized. Cameron was there, rubbing the ball of Sarah's foot with her thumb while her other hand worked on Sarah's calf muscles, and the spasm began to ease.

Relaxing into the chair as the pain in her leg became bearable, Sarah watched the dark head bent over her leg. A strand of hair fell forward, and Sarah's fingers were almost touching Cameron before Sarah realized what she was doing and stopped her hand in mid-air. The terminator didn't seem to notice the hasty retreat of her fingers, but Sarah could feel a blush creep up her neck and heat her cheeks.

To fill the suddenly uncomfortable silence and to get an answer to a question that had been nagging her since their earlier conversation, Sarah asked, "Why? Why do you want to take care of me?" Cameron's hands stilled for a moment, and then she continued to knead the pain away. "Is it because I'm part of the mission or because of that evolution thing you were talking about?"

Cameron slid both her hands down to Sarah's foot, carefully working out the kinks, seemingly intent on her task. Just when Sarah thought she wouldn't answer, she did. "Both." She eased Sarah's foot down and stood up abruptly. "You need to drink more water and take some potassium to avoid cramps." Then she wheeled around and was gone, leaving a puzzled Sarah in her wake.

A few seconds later, she pushed off the chair and followed the terminator up the stairs, limping a little on her sore leg. "Cameron?"

The terminator was standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, looking like indecisive teenager in search of a snack. Sarah's lips quirked up at the sight. "You should eat. It's been several hours since your last meal."

"I can…" The look Cameron directed at her was decidedly annoyed, and Sarah threw up her hands in mock-surrender and took a step back. Cameron was apparently very serious about the 'taking care of her' thing, Sarah thought in amusement. A little relieved at a moment of levity after the serious turn their interaction had taken, Sarah decided to wait before questioning the terminator further.

Cameron busied herself with removing several items from the refrigerator, including spinach, tomatoes, apples, and two different types of melon. She began to, precisely and expertly, chop and dice the assorted vegetables and fruit. "A salad?" questioned Sarah, a teasing note to her voice.

"Spinach is high in potassium," Cameron explained as she added a handful of pecans.

"Okay, Julia." Cameron stopped her preparation to turn her full attention to a grinning Sarah, a look of what could be called trepidation on her face. "Julia Child. A famous chef," Sarah supplied helpfully, trying to keep from bursting out into full-fledged laughter at the dismay on Cameron's face. With a slight shake of her head, Cameron returned to her task, pointedly ignoring Sarah. She slid a plate across the table in front of Sarah, who picked up her fork with a decided lack of enthusiasm.

It wasn't bad, considering it was salad, thought Sarah, although she didn't voice the thought. Instead, she decided to return to her earlier line of questioning, "So why the abrupt departure?"

Cameron didn't look up from where she was neatly cubing a cantaloupe. "You became angry and frightened the last time we spoke about my evolution. I didn't think it was a good idea to continue the conversation."

Sarah took another bite as she considered the terminator's words. She continued to be surprised by the nuances of Cameron's responses. It was, after all, very human to avoid an uncomfortable topic of conversation. She voiced the thought, "You're so different. From the others. The first terminator was purely a killing machine, relentless, driven. He killed Kyle." Sarah paused as she remembered the medics closing the body bag over his sightless, staring eyes. "He very nearly killed me."

"He caused the injury to your leg."

"Yeah." She remembered that too, the agonizing pain of the shattered pieces of bone rubbing together as she pulled her leg through the gate, the feel of those cold metal fingers tightening on her neck. She shook her head to clear it of the images.

"The second terminator, the one sent back to protect John, he was more like you. John taught him slang and how to high-five." She smiled a little at the memory of her son and the terminator under the Mexican sun. "But he was always mechanical and stiff; he never seemed human. Not like you." There was a hint of accusation in Sarah's voice. "You're… fluid. The things you learn, you incorporate them into your interactions smoothly, like they become a part of you rather than a piece of added programming. Is that because of what John did?"

Cameron placed a bottle of water and a bowl of melon in front of Sarah. "I don't know." She didn't look happy with the answer.

"And you look different, too. All the terminators, even Cromartie and the others, look like big, bulky men." Sarah had a sudden thought. "In the future, did you see other terminators? Were there others that John reprogrammed?"

"Yes."

"Did they, were they, like you? Small, female…?"

"No."

"Did John change them, the way he changed you?"

"No."

"So why you? Why did John choose you? Why did he send you back?"

Cameron now looked decidedly uncomfortable. She stood with her eyes fixed on the table until she felt Sarah's gaze on her. "I do not know." She turned, carrying the knife and the cutting board to the sink.

"Do you remember was it was like before John changed your programming so you could evolve?"

The knife clattered in the sink and Sarah caught a splash of red where the terminator had cut herself. Cameron ran water over her hand. "Yes," was her soft reply.

"What was it like?"

"Structured. Orderly." There was a long pause. "Isolated. I didn't see the world, only the mission. Everything narrowed down to a single focus and anything outside of that focus didn't exist." Cameron stopped washing the dishes and turned off the water, but she did not turn to face Sarah. "Nothing related to me; it was all about how things, people, related to the mission, how they could be used to achieve the goals set out by my programming. I… did not exist."

There was something wistful in Cameron's voice that prompted Sarah to ask, "Did you like it better?"

Cameron didn't answer; instead she moved to the coffee maker, dumping the grounds and filling the pot with fresh water.

"Cameron?"

"John could undo it. He could change my programming back." Her voice was back to a bland monotone, so at odds with the enormous change she seemed to be proposing.

"What?"

"You are afraid. Of me. Of what I might become. When we get out, John can undo what he did. He can make me back into a machine."

Sarah sat, stunned. The image of Cameron, her chip removed, motionless, helpless, flashed through her mind's eye, and the image was both tempting and sickening. Cameron had to know that Sarah was thinking about destroying her, and she was offering herself up for it. Once the chip was out, Sarah could do anything she wanted. The offer was either a brilliant ploy or an amazingly selfless act.

In fact, even if John simply reprogrammed her, she, Cameron, the sentience she had achieved, would be destroyed. When Cameron turned to face Sarah, Sarah could tell she understood that. "Why?" Sarah asked.

"You are afraid of me. Of what I might do. I do not want you to fear me." Her eyes flickered down and then up again, locking on Sarah's. "I do not want to hurt you."

Sarah remembered the fear in the terminator's voice when she asked what she would become. Sarah wasn't the only one fearful about Cameron's evolution, she realized: Cameron was too.

"It would be better, if I were a machine."

Sarah lapsed into a thoughtful silence as Cameron set a cup of coffee at her elbow and disappeared into the sleeping area. It was an awe-inspiring offer, if it was legitimate. Cameron, this Cameron, the one who had stopped her from harming herself and held her, would cease to exist and in her place… Sarah couldn't repress a shudder of revulsion at the thought.

She dropped her forehead into her hands, raking her nails through her hair, confused by the contradictory nature of her thoughts. She could easily stomach the thought of destroying Cameron, of crushing her chip and incinerating her body, but the idea of seeing a soulless, empty machine staring out of those hazel eyes filled her with disgust. But how could she do one and not the other? Weren't they both the same thing?

But they weren't, not really. If Cameron were gone, Sarah would… miss her, perhaps even mourn her. But Cameron present yet not Cameron, that Sarah couldn't do. Not even to a machine, or at least not to Cameron. It was all or nothing where Cameron was concerned, and Sarah wasn't sure which she wanted.

Hearing Cameron returning, Sarah raised her head and watched as Cameron made her way across the floor; there was something different, something wrong, with how Cameron walked. She had lost some of her fluidity; the sway of her hips and the light placement of her steps was gone and in its place was a stiff, awkward gait. It came to Sarah in a blink: Cameron was trying to act more machine-like. It was as if she was trying to be what Sarah wanted her to be, to live up to Sarah's expectations the same way Sarah tried to live up to John's. This, too, was scarily human and oddly endearing.

Cameron set another pill cup beside the cup of coffee and turned to leave. Sarah stopped Cameron with a light touch on her wrist. "You don't have to be anything but," and here she almost slipped and said 'who' but she caught herself in time, "what you are."

Cameron's hazel eyes were unreadable as her gaze rested first on Sarah's fingers and then on Sarah's face. "You don't like what I am," she stated without rancor.

Sarah caressed the soft skin, watching as her fingers stroked up the underside of Cameron's forearm and down again, before lifting her head to meet Cameron's eyes. She had no idea why she suddenly wanted to touch Cameron or what prompted her to whisper, "In time, I might grow to like it."

This time, when Cameron turned to go, Sarah let her.

Something had just happened between them, but Sarah was at a loss to explain what. And now, when her thoughts should be on getting out of the silo, was not the time to figure it out. There would be time later to decide what to do about Cameron. Alone, without even the echo of Cameron's passage down the stairs, Sarah felt the chill of the vast space and rubbed her arms. Remembering the stockpile of clothes in the sleeping area, she hoped that someone thought to provide something heavier than a t-shirt.

Searching through the small chest of drawers in the wardrobe, Sarah found several military-issue sweaters and a black web pistol belt with a holster and ammo pouch. She pulled on the sweater, adjusted the belt, and snapped it around her waist, stowing her 9mm and adding a few extra clips to equal out the weight.

Warm, well-armed, and freshly-caffeinated, Sarah headed back down to finish reading the last of the manuals. As she was about to sit down in the worn chair, a flash of white in the demolished safe caught her eye. It was a small manual, compared to the others, laying flat in the deepest recesses, but the title, "MCC Titan II Silo Emergency Procedures," stood out in stark relief on the pale blue cover. The cover itself was not sprinkled with dust and bits of concrete from Cameron's demolition of the safe the day before, and alarm bells began to go off in Sarah's head. She skimmed through several pages as an awful truth revealed itself.

A noise by the entrance to the control room snapped her attention to the terminator, who was standing just inside. Cameron's eyes narrowed in on manual in her hands, and then raised to Sarah's face. Her bland mask was in place, but Sarah could see a flicker of apprehension in her eyes. Sarah wasn't even sure when she had pulled her gun, but its weight was reassuring in her hand.

"There's a way out. You knew. You locked me in here deliberately, didn't you?" Cameron didn't answer, but a frown pulled at the corners of her mouth. "Didn't you?" Sarah snarled.

"Yes." Cameron's reply was barely audible, even in the deathly quiet that surrounded them.

There was no mistaking the threat in Sarah's voice as she demanded, "Let me out."

"I can't. The door is not operational."

"Why not?"

"I disabled it the first day." Cameron's voice, even in betrayal, was light and melodic to Sarah's ears. "While you slept."

This matter-of-fact response felt like a punch in the gut, and Sarah felt nauseous as she realized thoroughly she had been deceived, how completely she had been drawn in. She had believed a machine and the implications were staggering. "I let you in. I let you protect John. You were just waiting…"

Cameron took a step forward, shaking her head emphatically. "No, I…"

The retort was deafening in the vast space, and Sarah's ears rang as the weapon bucked in her hand. The first shot spun Cameron back, and away, from the entrance; the second knocked her down. Seeing her opening, Sarah sprinted past the terminator, down the long corridor, to the silo, the blood beating in her ears and the sound of her passage echoing through the space.

She scrambled down several flights before she paused, drawing in great, gulping breaths and listening for the sound of boots above her head.

Part 5

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