DISCLAIMER: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and its characters are the propert of James Cameron and Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to ralst for the beta and advice on how to fix the pacing; I knew I was missing something and you pointed it right out.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Fifth part of the Mixed Emotions series.

By zennie


Sarah stares at the chip, the silver sparkling against the white porcelain of the plate as it rocks slightly, back and forth, the burnt roast forgotten. She looks at Derek to avoid looking at Cameron, and asks, unnecessarily, "Where did you get this?" Unnecessarily because she knows the answer, she's just trying to delay the inevitable.

"Her room."

Cameron doesn't deny it. Instead, she reacts like a typical teenage girl, protecting the privacy of her room, which Sarah might have found cute under any other circumstances. "Why were you in my room?"

Sarah's eyes flicker toward the girl-terminator, keeping the hurt and betrayal she's feeling hidden with effort. Her voice is remarkably calm. "You told me you destroyed everything." Cameron meets her gaze for a second, then looks down at the chip, not answering. Sarah, mindful of the fact that Derek and John are both in the room, resists the urge to grab Cameron and shake her.

Derek gloats as he answers the question Sarah asked of Cameron, "She lied."

In her mind, Sarah hears echoes of Cameron's voice saying 'I swear.' She had trusted her, it, a soulless, programmed machine, and suddenly Sarah feels a cold sliver of fear make its way down her spine. She had treated and reacted to Cameron as though she were a human, asked her to swear and promise as though she had the honor and humanity to make such commitments. A fundamental flaw in her reasoning, Sarah now sees, to imagine that the act of swearing has any meaning in a terminator's programming.

A terminator follows two sets of rules: programming and orders, all externally given. The messy logic of promises, bound as it is to the personal integrity of the person uttering the oath, is a matter of pride or principle; without such grounding, a promise is simply a programmed response, a means to an end. A terminator, Cameron—Sarah forces herself to name the terminator in their midst—obeys the dictates of its mission, lies without thought when convenient and betrays without guilt when necessary. This realization chills Sarah to the bone, and Cameron's explanation of her lies, mission expediency and cold strategic logic, do nothing to warm Sarah.

The images on the chip do not reassure Sarah either: this other terminator, Vick, lived with a woman, as a human, a husband, a lover. This woman was no doubt a means to an end, and deep in her gut, Sarah worries at the parallels between Barbara and herself, a nagging concern haunting the edges of her consciousness.

Sarah sips her coffee and ignores the plaintive look on Cameron's face, afraid to look at the hollow imitation of human warmth in those hazel eyes and to forget the cold, calculating machine beneath. She's done that far too often in the last few weeks, and in the face of betrayal, she can't afford to make the mistake again.

Cameron, for her part, listens apathetically as they discuss the plan to go to the house where the other terminator resided. Sarah has only spoken directly to Cameron once in the last 12 hours and 29 minutes, ordering her out of the bedroom when she awoke from a nightmare that Cameron's hand-holding had not soothed.

"At least now we have an address to go to."

"That chip is really creepy," John says, the dark circles under his eyes testament to his restless sleep the night before as well.

"We've seen some creepy things."

"He's protecting her," Cameron volunteers, wanting to draw Sarah's attention to her, wanting those green eyes on her, even for a second. Cameron is not sure why it matters so much, nor why the lines of tension and exhaustion on Sarah's face prompt a feeling akin to empathy, as if she too is weighted down with the emotional toll of the last few hours.

"Why? And why like that?" Sarah questions, the skeptical tone keeping Cameron from trying to ascribe any kind of emotional or sentimental motives to the other terminator's actions.

"Because they're twisted... that's why," Derek sneers, cutting off Cameron even if she had wanted to reply. He picks up the duffel. "I'll be in the Jeep."

In the void left by Derek's exit, John defends Cameron as she stares at the tabletop. "She didn't do it. She didn't give up the safe house, she's not like that other one."

Cameron waits for Sarah's response, the programmed rhythmic rise and fall of her chest stilled for the moment.

"I hope not."

The words, once uttered, do not reassure Cameron; in fact, they cause a sharp pain in her chest that she analyzes and labels as disappointment.

The day at school is mostly uneventful; it isn't pizza day, after all, although Cameron fails to see the significance that the other students attribute to the day. John spends most of the day and night working on the chip, until he calls them all together to show them a nightmare scene interspersed within domestic normalcy. As they watch, Cameron sees Sarah swallow past a lump in her throat when Vick breaks the woman's neck.

"He gained her trust, made her think he was human…" she pauses and meets Cameron's eyes for the first time in hours, and the look is not kind, "killed her."

"It's what they do," summarizes Derek, his eyes cold, and even John looks at her suspiciously.

"John, get the flashlights, we're going to find her."

"Finding Barbara's body should not be a mission priority."

Sarah's quiet, "You're right," solidifies the distance between them. Her words explicitly place Cameron outside of their circle, highlighting the fact that her lack of understanding is precisely her lack of humanity. "But we're going to do it anyway."

Arriving at the clearing, they spread out to look for the body, and Cameron follows two paces behind Sarah. She feels a need to be close to the other woman, and when the interaction is denied, Cameron finds her self at a loss. She realizes that she needs to make it up to Sarah but how can she apologize for being who and what she is, for following programming she is unable to change? She is not human, she cannot be human, and Sarah blames her for this fact.

Sarah slows, allowing Cameron to catch up to her, and leans over to ask, "You see anything?" Sarah is close enough for Cameron to smell sweat and shampoo, and Cameron's skin twitches with the need to touch her. Instead, she scans the area slowly, preserving the moment, the closeness, before reporting, "No."

As Sarah again walks on ahead, Cameron tries to puzzle through this latest human inefficiency. "I don't understand your need to find her. She's dead."

"That's because you don't value human life."

Sarah's words are edged, but Cameron focuses on the exact wording of the response. "But she's not life; she's a body. Bones and meat."

Sarah pulls up short, her expression stricken, horrified, and Cameron realizes that she has misjudged the subtly of human conversation yet again. "Was that bad to say?"

Sarah just shakes her head mutely and walks away, her disgust clear in the tight set of her shoulders and the jerky, uncoordinated way she pushes through the brush.

But then Derek rolls the body over and it isn't Barbara, and Sarah feels an immediate sense of relief. Releasing a breath she wasn't even aware she was holding, Sarah glances over at the terminator speculatively and tries to keep a thin sliver of hope from cracking open her walls yet again. If Vick didn't kill Barbara, then maybe he cared for her, maybe he was capable of that, maybe Cameron is. Maybe, just maybe, killing isn't all they do.

Sarah even allows herself a moment of teasing the next night, walking in on John and Cameron in his room, saying, "I smell nail polish." John grimaces at the joke, like he would ever wear nail polish, and Cameron extends her fingers, showing the color, pleased that Sarah showed an interest. But the tense silence in the room keeps Sarah from her planned apology.

Even when they discover that Cameron didn't lead the other terminator to Derek's safehouse, there is not a single word of apology uttered. Yet she lies still, quietly directing John as he removes her processor, the core of her, trusting even as her sight blips to nothingness.

After John and Derek leave, Sarah kneels on the bed, stroking Cameron's hair, staring into Cameron's lifeless eyes. She feels as laid bare as Cameron as she stares at the bloody hole John cut, exposing the machine beneath. Sarah knows that, if she were as cold and focused as she pretends to be, she would drag the inert endoskeleton to the garage and incinerate it before they return. Touching the soft lips gently, she imagines pouring the thermite and watching Cameron burn to nothingness in the white hot fire, and Sarah curses her weakness when she realizes that she can't do it.

Later, Sarah watches Barbara's last minutes, horrified. He had caressed her cheek, lovingly cupped her chin, and then strangled her. Love and death, by the same hand. Vick had protected Barbara, like Cameron had suggested, but only until she completed the program. He had cared for her ability to help with her mission, nothing more.

Cameron steps into her bedroom, approaches the bed. "I…"

Sarah doesn't lift her head from the still image on the screen, the terminator's hand around Barbara's neck. "Get out."

Earlier, she had told Derek, 'You lie to me again, I'll kill you.' That threat is easy to issue, and easy to carry out; he is, after all, only human. The same threat is empty when it's Cameron; the very things that make her the best protector also make her the worst threat. Sarah's weakness earlier had stopped her from destroying the threat during her single best chance, and now she has to live, or die, with the consequences.

Cameron stretches out her hand, looks like she is going to brush the back of her hand across Sarah's lips, and Sarah shudders and knocks the hand aside angrily. "Stay away from me."

The End

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