DISCLAIMER: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and its characters are the propert of James Cameron and Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Tomorrow Is Another Day
Sarah has had dreams or nightmares (and in the end, what difference would it make dreams, nightmares, they both hurt just as much) of how the end might have come about. There was a recurring one in particular that had her running and running in no direction, in all directions. All she knew was that she needed to run or else she would be swallowed up. She could remember the way the fire had leaped and tried to eat at her heels, could remember the sound of metal (so, so many of them) as they crunched the earth beneath their unimaginable weight and gained on her shadow steadily. She could not breathe, could not scream Sarah felt like she simply could not. This time proved to be the real one. The end did come and she had survived more intact than even the best-case scenario she had ever dared to imagine.
The end came quickly, more quickly than she had ever expected it to. It was a series of bang and whams and then silence. The sort of silence that choked, that strangled; the sort of silence that somehow was still loud, that was the din that reigned after chaos had settled; the sort of silence that lingered and made everything fade to black like almost fainting or, worse, falling into an eternal sleep (whichever came first).
"Cameron?" Sarah whispered and the smoke made it hard to see, made it even harder to speak. She knew that she should not be calling, she knew that Cameron was probably gone and, and if Cameron did not answer to her calls, what would she do and how would she survive? But Sarah needed to know, needed to make sure (even if knowing was really the last thing she wanted). "Cameron," she croaked again and she felt her eyes starting to burn up. It's the smoke, she told herself. Just the smoke.
"Cameron," Sarah murmured, her voice torn between sobbing and maybe shouting and her knees felt so heavy that she finally gave in to the temptation of falling down. When she did, she sort of folded in half (broken in more ways than one) and the ground felt sharper than it ever should to her hands, felt grainy to her fingers and something felt wet and warm and
"Cameron," she hissed, scratching at the unidentifiable mess the floor of the warehouse had become. This was where they had set up the trap for Skynet and this was where Cameron had stood when the explosion began. Sarah just knew that she had begun to bleed her fingers, her knees, her legs (her heart). A nagging voice kept telling her, kept reminding her that the blood on the floor could not be just hers, had to be someone else's.
She wanted to cry, she wanted to scream (and maybe, just maybe she wanted to die). "Cameron." Her throat seemed to constrict, seemed to expand all at the same time as she began to sob, began to pour forth all this pain building, growing inside of her and her eyes hurt, hurt, hurt (but it was the sound of her heart shattering that hurt the most, that sounded the loudest).
No one needed to know that the day Skynet ended was the day that Sarah Connor grieved for a terminator's termination.
"How is she?" John asks, setting his bag down on the kitchen counter. School has finally started, but he cannot stay away to properly celebrate the end of Skynet. He cannot even bid an appropriate farewell to that former life that his mother and he (and at a later date, his uncle as well) have spent so much on fighting and running (only to have to do it all over again every single time they think they have won like some sick clockwork routine). Real life, just like what people say, does not wait and it keeps on moving forward around them. Now that there is an option, a chance for them to live a normal life, John has to and would like to do his best to learn to stay in pace.
"She's eating. Finally," Derek answers gruffly, sniffing disdainfully as he drops what looks suspiciously like a burnt mackerel onto a plate. He lets go of the still smoking frying pan into the sink and turns to face John. He has an apron on with huge pink hearts plastered all over a glaring purple background and the words 'Kiss the Cook' emblazoned across it in equally loud colours (it had been Cameron's favourite apron) and John has to fight to stop the laugh he knows is trying to break free.
John eyes the charcoal on the plate in an attempt to rein his mirth in and cautiously ventures a necessary question, "What did you feed Mom exactly?" John had thought it hilarious the first time Derek went into the kitchen, but even this ludicrously inappropriate picture of domesticity Derek had painted for John has lost its entertainment value and now simply gives way to some genuine health concerns. He can only endure so much burnt food after all before he caves in to his common sense. He has experienced enough charcoal parading as food with his mother; he needs not take it from his uncle as well.
"I bought her donuts," Derek answers, looking slightly affronted as he crosses his arms over his chest. "With sprinkles on them." Derek actually sneers. "She specifically asked for the blue sprinkles."
John perks up visibly and a grin slowly emerges as his attention turns away from Derek's horrendous cooking. "She seems better. Did Charley come by?"
"Charley said there's really nothing too wrong with her. She's just a little shell shocked is what he said yet again. The guy's an insufferable smartass. Told us to keep her fed and watered and to make sure she gets a lot of rest." Derek sniffs again. "It's not like she's our pet."
John rolls his eyes and lets out a weak chuckle. "I'm going up to see Mom," he announces and starts for the door. He stops just short of walking through it. "Uh, why don't we just call for pizza tonight?"
Derek's snort is John's only answer.
There is pain in every movement and stiffness in every joint. A strange loudness fills her ears and she thinks what feels and almost tastes like ash is packed into her mouth. She attempts to speak and the noise that escapes her lips barely registers, but still a hollow echo reprimanding in its ambiguity resounds in the space she suddenly is aware enough to find herself in.
It feels like waking from a dream with the fogginess that lingers in the background of her mind and the alarming clarity that assaults her as she looks around and almost remembers things, but fails to quite place them. She stares up at what looks like the charred remains of the roof of a warehouse and tries but fails to hold on to snippets of that dream.
She wets her lips and clears her throat a couple of times before attempting to make another noise. "Hello?" she whispers and is quite pleased to find that she can actually speak. It appears that she has not recovered all her faculties quite yet. She does not seem to remember who she is, let alone where she is or how she came to be here in the first place. She only knows that she needs some answers and there is no way she can get them by staying put.
Before sitting up and then standing up, she first needs to remove this heavy thing pressing down on her chest. She figures that it is probably more rubble. It had taken her a few moments before then to get her head free and now she simply needed some time to regroup herself before attempting more heavy lifting.
At least she knows this is what her sentiment should be, but she feels no fatigue when she so obviously should. She is hardly daunted or affected in any relevant manner, as far as she can tell, by the task and there is a coiling of energy, a tension that practically begs to be released in her muscles. Something tells her however that this strength, for the lack of a better word, is merely a fraction of her true capabilities whatever they are.
Ignoring that line of thought for now, she flexes her fingers a couple of times before grabbing onto the rubble. She heaves it off of her in one try and the air rushing back into her lungs leaves her quite pleasantly winded. Everything still hurts a little from whatever must have happened to cause her to be underneath all that concrete, but what bothers her the most is that she simply cannot recall anything.
She sits up slowly, wincing at the tugging pain in her abdomen and presses a hand almost instinctively against the gaping wound. She needs to get to a hospital, she knows this, but where can she find one when she does not even know where she is? More so, that little voice inside her head tells her that it would not be wise to go to a hospital to take care of these injuries.
She does not know why, but she somewhat understands that it would be more than a little difficult to explain the injuries she has sustained. Sighing and feeling the exertion needed for such a simple undertaking, she knows that she cannot however just remain there and bleed to death.
She gets to her feet with more effort than is probably required and, she would hate to admit this, but it takes almost all she has to begin walking. She has to concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other, gritting her teeth against the pain the entire time. One step at a time, she tells herself as she peers in the direction of the setting sun, one step at a time.
It has been three days since that fateful day, since the day Skynet more than met its match. John remembers all too clearly how worried he had been until he finally managed to coax his uncle to go with him to find his mother. The two of them had stayed behind in an agreed safe house and were supposed to stay there until Sarah came to pick them up. Sarah never came. They waited and waited it almost felt like they had been waiting for years until John finally snapped and had just about enough of the uncertainty. In reality, the two of them had only waited for half a day, give or take a few hours, since the agreed time had lapsed.
The warehouse had looked like it had seen better days it had been quite the picture of devastation. The hinges creaked, the walls crumbled, the floor gave way and there was that unique, unmistakable scent of death, of an end that permeated throughout the structure. Seeing that it had been the silent witness to an actual battle, a battle that perhaps was the most important in human history and yet would remain unknown to most everyone, it seemed only fitting that it should look and feel the way it did. Amidst all the rubble and ruins, John and Derek had frantically looked for any sign of life, for any sign of Sarah and Cameron.
Derek had cheerfully reminded John that the chances of Cameron's surviving was most likely nil and they should really cease all their efforts at finding her and instead focus on Sarah. John's glare had snuffed out all the joy from his balloon and stopped him from saying more. But John knew that Derek was most probably correct in his assumptions. John had been involved in the planning for Skynet's demise and so had Derek, but the trap was ultimately Cameron and Sarah's idea. His mother and Cameron never shared more than they absolutely needed to about the plan.
John felt a little guilty that he was more than appropriately relieved with that set-up. He did not particularly feel like the supposed future of mankind not now with Skynet finally gone, not before when they were still planning Skynet's end or even before then but he was a little shamelessly grateful that he might never have to learn how to be. After years and years of having been groomed to be the future leader, it was just nice thinking and now knowing that he could be another typical dot in the American middle-class landscape. Being average had never appealed so much before.
So, he could live without having to the credit of destroying Skynet. His sacrifice was minimal and it seemed simply human that he be thankful for that and to try his best to keep it that way. He never needed to know how much pain he suspected both his mother and Cameron had endured in the planning, both probably knowing all too well that one or both of them might very well die in the attempt.
But John did remember seeing the grave looks on his mother and Cameron's faces and the sombre way they had gone about life in the days leading up to the execution of the plan. There was an odd gentleness in the way Sarah and Cameron interacted with each other that brought it home to John that yes, both Sarah and Cameron had fully expected the sacrifice that the ordeal would demand of them.
He had lived with the constant fear of death, a fear that was and grew more real with each passing day but he could not quite wrap his mind around the idea that his mother and Cameron had planned away while knowing that walking away alive might never be one of the more possible outcomes. He was not yet ready to fight till his last breath and now, thanks to his mother and Cameron, he would never need to learn how to.
"I found her!" Derek called out suddenly, breaking John out of his reverie. "John, I found your mother!"
John roused himself from the stupor and began making his way towards Derek's side of the warehouse. His sneakers slipped and skidded over the looser bits of the rubble and he lost his footing more than once as he made the trek. But the sight of Derek waving his arms energetically and with such hope written on his face made John go even faster. "Where? Where is she?" he panted, stopping to stand beside his uncle.
"There," Derek told him as he pointed to a big block of concrete just a few feet away from where they stood.
John brushed past his uncle and strode over in the appropriate direction. He found his mother lying in a foetal position just behind the aforementioned block of concrete. Her hands and her knees were bleeding, her cheeks were smeared with what looked like dried tears and her eyes were glazed as they stared unseeingly at a spot just beside her. The ground she laid on was stained red with blood and, for a brief moment, John worried that it had all been Sarah's but her injuries seemed too superficial to have made that much of a mess.
"Mom," he said softly, his voice broken and his gestures gentle. He felt a little like he was approaching a wounded animal and something cautioned him not to be rash. "It's me, John."
Sarah's hands twitched a little where they had remained still a moment ago in her lap. Her fingers began to move and started scratching at the red, red ground. "John, you're safe," she murmured and the tears started anew. "Cameron -"
John fell to his knees beside her as quietly as he could manage and gathered his mother into his arms. His chest felt like squeezing in and he tried his best not to notice the hint of a prone body crushed beneath that block of concrete his mother had remained guard over. "It's okay," he began to sob as he ran his hands down her back and up again. John was not quite sure whom he was trying to comfort: his mother or himself?
"Please get her out. Please," Sarah choked out, holding onto John with a strength that surprised her son.
"We can't do it alone," John whispered, trying to be reasonable, but failing as Sarah's tears flowed more strongly. He turned to look at Derek.
His uncle in turn shrugged and trudged back to the truck they had come in. "I'll get something to move the concrete," he called back as he walked away.
Before John could thank him for being considerate, police sirens had broken through the silence and the three of them stared at each other in shock. "We need to get out. Mom, you need to get up."
After that, it had been a wild race to leave and escape without the police noticing, but they made it back to the safe house in one piece. Sarah has not spoken since nothing substantial anyway and, whenever she does say something, they are rarely coherent and are merely bits and pieces of phrases uttered in between frenzied dreams and fevered nightmares. When John tries to pay attention, tries to hear what she is asking for, he thinks his mother is calling out for Cameron, but that cannot be it.
John has had this vision of a peaceful life, of how life will be like without Skynet looming over them all the time, of how his mother, his uncle and he will live together happily. He had never realised before 'that day' that he has somehow needed Cameron to be around to complete that image he has.
Derek is not particularly affected by Cameron's absence and, honestly, John would have been surprised and more than a little sceptical if he suddenly was. His uncle has been careful not to be giddy about it. Or at least not to be outspoken of how giddy he is about it. But Derek does seem to at least respect Cameron's sacrifice. John supposes it is some sort of a soldier's empathy.
John knows to be grateful that Derek chooses to display some of his appreciation by volunteering to keep an eye on the warehouse for when they can go in and try to retrieve Cameron or at least, what they can find of her. John knows that his mother is holding out hope that Cameron will reboot and come home, but obviously Cameron has done that yet and the time required for her reboot has long come to pass. Sarah needs to accept that Cameron is in fact gone.
He himself is saddened by the terminator's loss. Like that first terminator that had died to protect them, John has come to appreciate Cameron's many little quirks. Her sacrifice comes as a bittersweet surprise and he feels it is only appropriate that he grieves for her. But he cannot grieve for her like she has been a human being because she is obviously not. She had come from the future to protect them and protect them she has. A part of him has expected her to die in the attempt and he has been proven to be right. It is a shame that she has died, but she is a terminator and she has simply done her job.
So, it surprises John to no end that his mother is taking Cameron's loss so badly. Sarah has never bothered to hide her resentment for the terminator and John somewhat expects Sarah to be relieved now that the "advanced toaster" is no longer skulking around the house. Judging by the way Sarah is now acting and by the way she has acted while planning for Skynet's end, John feels that he has been quite mistaken.
"Hey, Mom," he calls out as he pushes the door closed behind him.
Sarah turns to face him and smiles grimly. "Hey," she croaks out.
"You look better," John comments lamely.
Sarah rolls her eyes at him. She can feel the bags under her eyes and she feels oh so tired. "I don't even want to know how I looked like," she replies, falling back against her pillow. "How are you?"
"Pretty good," John answers. "School's started again."
"So I heard," Sarah says. She pats the space beside her. "Come sit with me."
John waits until he is properly seated before he speaks again. "Do do you want to talk about it?"
Sarah sighs. She could have just evaded the question, but they need to have this conversation sooner or later. "No," she breathes. "But we have to."
"She's Cameron's gone, you know that, right? If she had rebooted, she would have come back here -" John feels like kicking himself. He knows he is being cruel, but he figures that being blunt may very well be the only way to make his mother see it too.
"Yeah." Sarah looks like she is about to tear again and the sight wrenches at John. Here is a woman who John knows and has admired his entire life for practically being the epitome of strength, both physical and mental, and she is breaking down like her entire world has crumbled down. "I know that." Sarah turns to look at him. "But I just needed to hope, you know? There was no harm in waiting for her to come home. And now now I'm just glad you're safe. So, it's I've accepted that she's gone."
"Oh." It feels a little stupid to say that, but what else is he supposed to say?
"Do you mind do you mind going there and picking up her her remains?"
"Yeah, I'll do that. You just rest, okay?" John chokes out, kissing his mother on the forehead. "Just rest and I'll do everything else."
"Why are we doing this again?" Derek grumbles, slamming the driver's door shut and kicking a loose pebble with the toe of his boot. He looks around, but is feeling otherwise pleased with himself when he confirms what he already suspects the police are gone and all that is left of them is the fluttering yellow tape barricading the warehouse from the rest of the world.
"Because Mom asked me to and I asked you to," John answers, getting slightly irritated by his uncle's whining. "Just come on, okay? I don't want to stay too long in case the police comes back."
They trudge in silence back into the warehouse, looking around to make sure that the place is still empty and the authorities are not still swarming down on it. There is a thin trickle of blood leading out of the warehouse that John is pretty sure has not been there days ago. John shakes his head and tries to ignore what that says.
"She's gone," Derek says in what sounds a little like outrage. He is standing right by the block of concrete. Only that block is now shattered and is more than a few feet from where it originally is.
"What?" John asks in disbelief as he sprints towards his uncle.
"Look," Derek tells him, pointing at an empty spot. The ground there is redder than everywhere else and it seems it is from that spot the trickle of blood has started. "She's still alive," Derek spits out.
John's jaw drops. Cameron's still alive?
The rain is coming down harder and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon. The air is getting damp and JJ hates when the weather gets like this. The canvas stretches and then falls back upon itself, the surface now wrinkled. As a result, her mood just gets worse and worse. She thinks if she just squeezes her eyes just so and moves maybe a little to the left, a little to the back, the paint looks somewhat muddy and the overall picture seems a little, no, definitely distorted like something someone throws up. Yeah, she definitely has no good memories of rainy days and she obviously is not going to start now.
"Have you finished the painting?" Layla enquires in a perfectly pleasant tone as she enters the room, rubbing dripping hands on the front of her apron, a streak of flour across her cheek and her dark hair mussed, completely out of order and so, so vibrant.
JJ chokes on her tongue and manages to force herself to look away and out of the window. She tries to ignore how transfixed she had gotten with just one look and how much she had wanted to linger in that moment. "How many times do I have to tell you?" she chooses to growl instead, clenching her hands and grinding her teeth as she tells herself to calm down, her heart to stop racing. "You don't ever finish the painting."
Layla rolls her eyes and crinkles her nose. She rubs the backs of her hands against her cheeks, but fails utterly in getting rid of the flour and simply ends up distributing it across the rest of her face. JJ doubts, however, that cleaning herself up was what Layla initially had in mind. "Yeah, yeah. 'The painting is never complete'," Layla recites what JJ has told her too many times already for her to forget, making quotes in the air with her fingers and dropping her voice by a few octaves to mimic JJ's. "It makes one wonder why you'd want to put so much effort into something that just ends up being unfinished products."
She steps further into the room and eyeballs the painting JJ has been immersed in for the past few weeks. "But you're the artist," she admits with a touch of fondness. "So I suppose you're fully entitled to whatever opinion you might want to have about your own art." Layla crinkles her nose again and smiles down at JJ. "I don't understand much about art, but this painting feels really warm for some reason."
"It's barely finished," JJ points out reasonably, looking at her own painting as well. She is a disciple of the abstract expressionist school and, most of the time, she does not even think twice about what she is painting. She paints what she feels like painting. This time, however, she knows all too well the subject of her painting and that subject is standing just a few inches away. JJ blushes suddenly.
"Yeah, but it's still warm. It's a very pleasant feeling. I don't know quite how to explain it." Layla taps her finger on her bottom lip. "It's a little like being in love, that's what this painting feels like," she comments wistfully. "I'm almost jealous." She laughs weakly and begins moving towards JJ, but stops just as abruptly.
"Huh?" JJ lets out, moving her eyes back up quickly, missing all the hesitation in Layla just a few moments earlier.
"No, nothing," Layla says evasively, brushing loose strands of her dark hair behind her ear. "It's nothing." She flushes a little and it is only thanks to her dark complexion that JJ fails to notice anything. "I'll go and finish dinner now." She is about to return to the kitchen and JJ is about to make some excuse to stop her and make her stay for a little longer when the both of them pauses and turns to look in the general direction of the front doors in unison. "Were you expecting someone?" Layla asks in a tone JJ can only describe as petulant.
"No," JJ answers, feeling more than a little perplexed herself. It has only been the two of them since the accident three years ago. The only visitors they get nowadays are never of the personal sort: only JJ's agent and the morning staff she has hired to help with the upkeep of the manor. The doorbell rings again and it sounds a little more persistent than before. JJ jumps slightly in her wheelchair, or at least it feels like she would have given the circumstances, and exchanges a look with Layla. "Stay here while I get the door."
Layla shakes her head. "No, I'm going if you are."
JJ smiles faintly. "Why can't you ever do what I tell you to for a change?"
"If I ever do what you tell me to for a change, would I have stayed when all the others didn't?" Layla retorts.
"Touché," JJ admits her defeat. She sighs as the doorbell announces itself once again. "Let's just get this over with whatever or whomever this may be."
The dreams were getting to be an incessant feature and they occurred even during her waking hours. She thinks she must have dreamt as she walked, dreamt as she trudged on through terrains that were becoming increasingly monotonous. She dreamt of a faceless woman, a wandering touch and kisses that did not, that never settled and she ached, hurt, longed for this phantom of hers to say something, to do something other than just taunt and tease and call out.
So it is in this state of mind that Cameron for she has had enough time on her own to at least recall her own name finds herself a few footsteps away from the front gates of an imposing manor. It is lonely as it stands overlooking grounds that seem to stretch on and on before hitting the boundaries of another manor just as sprawling as this one. Cameron pulls her eyes back to the predicament at hand and reaches for the doorbell. Her hand shakes a little as she finally makes contact, the pitter-patter of the rain as it hits her skin strangely loud to her ears.
"Yes?" a voice fizzles through the intercom, suspicious and wary, but it is someone else's voice and Cameron thinks she has never been so happy to hear another's voice as she is at this precise moment.
"Hello?" she whispers back. Clearing her throat, she tries again, "Hello? I'm sorry, but I'm lost and I've been wandering around for days. Would it be all right with you if I spend the night here? Anywhere you can spare is fine. I promise I'll be gone first thing in the morning."
There is a protracted silence and Cameron prepares to leave. This here is yet another to turn her away and she really cannot blame these strangers for being so suspicious. She knows she would have probably done the exact same thing if she were in their shoes. "The door should be open in a few moments. When it does, just proceed up the driveway. We'll be waiting by the front doors."
Cameron shivers, rubs her hands up and down her own arms and watches as the gates whine a little as they swing inward. Cameron takes it as a welcoming sign. She takes her first step onto the private property and releases a breath. No one has come and told her to leave. Not yet at least. She walks up the driveway wearily, but quickly enough that it would have been impossible to believe that she had been walking without food or water for three days and three nights straight.
There are two women waiting for her when she finally approaches the veranda, though she does not think that the word does the actual structure any justice. One of the women is seated on a wheelchair. Tall, lean, with features so handsome and proud they border on regal, Cameron has a nagging hunch that this is the owner of the impressive property. Standing next to her is a woman maybe a decade or more her junior. Beautiful as well, with a dark complexion and warm, brown eyes, but she has yet to grow into her looks. Cameron offers the both of them a shy smile and resists the urge to wring her hands or, worse, turn around and run away.
The taller woman, with her salt-and-pepper hair and wary, grey eyes, speaks first, "My name is JJ and this is Layla, my housekeeper."
"My name is Cameron," Cameron offers, teeth chattering a little as she finally begins to feel the cold.
Layla squeezes JJ's shoulder and gives her a meaningful look.
JJ sighs and sweeps her hand towards the open doors. "A more enlightening conversation can wait until we're all in a warmer, dryer spot, I suppose."
"Are you sure?" Cameron asks carefully, eyeing the expensive-looking carpet that stops just an inch shy of the front doors and then looking down at her own wet self.
"You'll catch your death out here if you don't accept the offer," JJ counters chidingly.
"JJ," Layla says sweetly, perhaps a little too sweetly.
JJ grimaces. "What I mean to say is that yes, of course I'm sure. Please, go on in. I wouldn't want to have to go into town tomorrow morning to report your death or some other foolishness."
Layla rolls her eyes.
Cameron smiles. "Thank you."
"It's my pleasure. Now, please, go on in before my housekeeper takes her formidable, wooden spoon out for the both of us."
"What?" Sarah asked as she fought to gather her grey matter about her. "What do you mean she's still alive?"
John looked dubiously at his mother and repeated what he had said oh maybe only a dozen times already, "What I mean is that she's still alive. Cameron is alive, Mom."
Sarah whipped her head around to look at Derek, as if asking for a confirmation. "Yeah, the robot's still alive and kickin'. Didn't figure she'd be able to withstand so much heat." Derek looked more than a little disappointed and Sarah allowed herself to hope that maybe, maybe John was not pulling her leg. If he were, this was not funny at all.
"She's still alive," she whispered to herself and, much to her embarrassment, felt the tears start pouring down her face all over again. She did not remember ever crying so much; not even when Kyle had died, not even when she thought John had died. Sarah allowed herself a small smile and slowly looked back up at John. "She's alive, right?"
John smiled a little unsurely and patted his mother's hand like one would an incoherent invalid. "Cameron's alive, Mom," he repeated.
There was a moment of silence as both men stared at Sarah's downturned head and Sarah just stared at nothing. It was Sarah's sudden gasp that broke it unceremoniously. "Skynet! What about Skynet? If Cameron had survived it, Skynet must have as well!"
John squeezed his mother's hand in an effort to calm her down. "We worried about that too. So, we did a quick perimeter check and we can confirm that Skynet is gone. We even found its chip or, at least, what remains of it," John says quickly. He reached into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out a mangled, charred corner of a chip. "Skynet is gone, Mom. It's okay."
Sarah sighs and exhales. "We thought that Cameron was gone, John. Never ever say that Skynet's gone. We never know for sure."
Sarah opens her eyes and looks straight into the blinking digits of her alarm clock. It is nearly midday and she cannot recall when she has last slept in like this. Of course, she cannot recall most of what a normal life is like. It is like she has never ever experienced one. Sitting up with some effort, she stretches to work out the kinks in her back and shoulders. The door slowly swings open and, by the time John is revealed to be the intruder, Sarah already has her gun in her hand, the safety released and the barrel aimed steadily for a direct shot at John's heart.
John swallows whatever it is he is about to say and the smile slides off of his face. He puts down the food tray he is carrying and approaches his mother's bed carefully. "Mom, it's just me, John, okay?"
It takes a few moments for Sarah to turn off the automated response and reorient herself. "Sorry," she whispers, putting the safety back on and dropping the gun onto her lap. She stares at it like it is a foreign object and tries to ignore how empty her hands feel without its reassuring weight. "Sorry," she says again, but what she really wants to say is: 'You should have knocked.'
"It's okay," John answers cheerfully, taking a seat next to his mother with more than a little care on his part. Sarah feels more than a little disgusted with herself. Her son is actually scared of her. "It's okay. We just need to get used to being normal."
"Yeah," Sarah agrees without any real enthusiasm. She diverts her attention to the tray John has left by the door. "So, what have you got for me?"
John's smile returns and his voice grows animated as he stands up to fetch the tray. The stories of Derek's culinary skills or, rather, the severe lack of them, of insipid happenings at school, of the neighbours' crazy antics rattling off of his tongue like they have always been his biggest concern.
Sarah is pleased that he is adapting so well to a Skynet-less life. She just wishes she could move on just as quickly.
"So, shoot," JJ encourages Cameron when she has settled comfortably in her wheelchair. The three of them had spent the better part of an hour drying and warming Cameron up. Once that was done, Layla had bustled about trying to find clothes that fit the girl. JJ was too tall for Cameron and Layla was a little shorter, a little fuller to fit Cameron too well. They compromised by getting Cameron JJ's mother's clothes. They might be a tad out of fashion, but at least they fit well.
Besides, JJ thinks, the girl has the kind of figure that allows her to look flattering no matter what it is she wears. Her features are aesthetically well proportioned, like the features of a sculpture, features born out of reflection and skill, out of dreams and wishful thinking. It is almost unnatural how beautiful this girl. JJ itches to paint her, to immortalise her on canvas and in paint.
Cameron looks up and at JJ like the older woman has lost her mind or something. "You want me to shoot someone?" she asks incredulously.
"Hell, no!" JJ answers. "I mean, tell me your story." Layla glares at JJ. "Uh, I mean, feel free to have some dinner first. I'm sure the story can wait."
Cameron smiles and pushes away the bowl of soup Layla had set down earlier. "It's okay, I'm not too hungry." And she is not just being polite, it is surprisingly the truth. Maybe the exhaustion has whetted her appetite. "You wanted to know my story. To tell the truth, there really isn't much of one. I think I was in an accident or something.
"I don't remember what had happened, where I'd been or even who I am until recently. I've been walking ever since I came to my senses, but everything else is still such a blank -" She remembers the phantom of her dreams: the bright eyes, the strong smile, the warm embraces "I can't remember anything else."
"You've got to be kidding me," JJ blurts out.
Layla pinches her hard on the arm.
JJ yelps out in pain. "It's a real-life case of amnesia. Wouldn't you have reacted the way I did?"
"Of course not!" Layla huffs indignantly as she crosses her arms over her chest.
JJ rolls her eyes. "Anyway, take your time recovering your strength. Feel free to stay here until you've remembered more. We have enough rooms for a garrison anyway," she jokes.
"I'll leave first thing tomorrow morning," Cameron tells her hosts.
"You'll do no such thing. You'll get better first, then we can talk about what to do," JJ says firmly. "Now, we'll have dinner because otherwise Layla will have both of our heads."
"Thank you," Cameron whispers.
"Don't mention it," JJ responds. "And I've always wanted to play the Good Samaritan at least once in my Ouch, that hurt!"
Layla glares at JJ, JJ blows a raspberry at her and Cameron allows herself to laugh for the first time in days.
"What have you found?" Sarah asks without a preamble, not looking up from the novel John has left to keep her occupied.
"Nothing," Derek grumbles, shuffling his feet as he remains by the door. "Nothing so far," he adds quickly when Sarah glares murderously at him.
"Don't tell John," Sarah reminds Derek. "He doesn't need to be anything more than a normal teenager now." She puts down the novel and wraps her hand around the handle of her gun. Funnily, she feels a little less tense that way. "And remember our deal. You talk to anyone, I'll shoot you."
"Don't worry, I remember," Derek sneers. "I can't believe you're willing to do so much for a freakin' terminator -"
Derek never gets to finish as a bang suddenly resounds in the room and a bullet grazes his cheek. "You talk, I shoot," Sarah repeats, the smoke leaving the barrel of her gun is more than adequate testament that she is willing to back her talk with action. Some logical part of her registers their good luck in having John out of the house for the night and most of the neighbours much too far to be able to raise a ruckus about the noise. "That includes when you're talking to me. You only need to tell me about Cameron. You don't need to tell me how you feel about having to do that. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Derek hisses, failing a proper smirk. "Are we done here?"
"You may go," Sarah says after a beat, picking up the novel once more. She waits until the door is shut and Derek's footsteps have died away. It is a dangerous gamble that she is playing, but she does not want to involve John in it. Until she is recovered enough to go out and find Cameron on her own, however, she will simply have to rely on Derek and hope that her threats are incentive enough to keep him working.
"What?" Sarah murmured out even as her eyes remained closed. She had been attempting to sleep, but her efforts had been in vain. Something had been troubling her, but no, that could not be it because something was always troubling her and she had always slept just fine. Maybe, maybe it was the all too real awareness that Cameron was not too far, was now in fact in the room with her and when was it that the terminator manage to get in anyway? (Or maybe she had intentionally stayed awake for Cameron's routine patrol to bring the terminator to her bedroom door. Maybe she was waiting for that tiny period where they were frozen together in time and all Sarah had needed to pay attention to was the gentle, unnatural breathing of a terminator.)
"Are you awake?" Cameron asked softly after a moment or two had passed. The floorboards creaked under Cameron's deceptive weight as Sarah imagined her take a step closer.
"Obviously," Sarah replied. She kept her eyes closed. The darkness helped her maintain the civility in her tone (and the composure in her being). "Do you need something?"
Cameron took some time to respond. Sarah was tempted to open her eyes then and there, to see for herself that Cameron was in fact still in the room with her. She was a little afraid that the Cameron she was speaking to now was perhaps only a very real manifestation of her overactive imagination or, worse, dreams. "Do you dream, Sarah?" Cameron queried in a small voice, as if she had just read Sarah's mind.
Sarah wanted to chuckle, but mostly she wanted to choke. "Why do you want to know?" she asked warily instead.
"I overheard a girl in school today," Cameron answered and her voice sounded close enough to cause Sarah's cheeks to start heating up. "She was telling her friends about this wonderful dream she had had the night before." There was a brief touch, just a barely there feeling of something against or on Sarah's cheeks (whatever it was, it was warm warm like a summer afternoon and Sarah wanted the sensation to remain). "It sounded like a fairy tale when she told it."
Sarah's voice shook a little when she spoke next, "And what do you know of fairy tales?" She really should open her eyes now, she really, really should.
"Enough to know that we at least are not living in one," Cameron responded simply.
Sarah smiled a little and she opened her eyes finally. "Correct me if I'm mistaken, but you don't sleep, do you?"
Cameron smiled back at her. She was kneeling beside Sarah's bed and her hand was hovering over Sarah like it had been in the process of moving toward or moving away from her (Sarah did not want to consider the implications of preferring the idea of the former). She brought her hand down and out of Sarah's sight. "Not in the sense that you do. So, no, I do not sleep," she concurred.
"Then what's the point of asking me whether I dream or not if you probably won't be able to understand it?" Sarah quipped not unkindly back.
Cameron tilted her head a little and leaned in a little closer. "Sometimes -" Cameron's voice broke and dropped in volume when she started speaking again, "Sometimes when I am with you, I feel like I can just understand it. When I am with you, Sarah, I think that is when I come closest to dreaming."
Sarah bit her bottom lip. "Haven't you gotten a little cheeky?" she remarked, moving her hand up hesitantly. It was the imploring look in Cameron's eyes that finally sealed the deal. Cameron's skin did feel as good as it looked like, Sarah discovered, and, most surprising of all, her cheek was warm when Sarah's hand finally landed on it. Stroking it, she whispered to Cameron, "Will you stay the night with me?"
Sarah groans as she slowly stirs awake. Her joints feel stiff and her back hurts from the position she has fallen asleep in. "What is it?" she responds thickly.
"What are you doing?" John demands, setting his bag heavily down on one of the kitchen stools.
Sarah blinks and looks down at the impressive assortment of dismantled guns and cleaning supplies spread out on the dining table before her. "Sleeping?" she tries.
John glares. "Why were you doing maintenance on your guns?"
"It's just a habit that's hard to drop at a moment's notice," Sarah counters defensively, picking up a cleaning rag.
"And you're still doing it!" John points out. He sighs and a frustrated look crosses his face. Then he smiles and it is a little forced, a little sad a little like pity and Sarah has to remind herself not to wince. "It's okay, Mom. Skynet is gone. If you don't start letting your guard down a little and living, what was the point of fighting for a life without Skynet?" John reaches across the table and pats his mother awkwardly on the shoulder. "I'm going to school now. I'll see you later this afternoon." He gets up, bumping the legs of the chair against the legs of the table and the scraping of wood against tiles hurts Sarah's ears, but not as much as the obligatory consideration John is showing her. "Be good, okay?" he calls out and Sarah cannot tell whether he is joking or not.
She has to be losing it. John is right. She has a life to live now, time enough to pick up what sixteen years of running have left for her to pick up. Only where and how does she start? How could she start, though, knowing that Cameron is still out there, knowing that maybe she is Cameron's only hope of coming home? Home how does she start to find that? Sarah picks up the cleaning supplies again and sets about doing what she should not need to be doing anymore. Until she finds Cameron, she will just have to learn to live in this strange place between the past and the future, with the present hovering over her like a knife suspended by a thread.
Cameron has tried to go to sleep, but she has found it an elusive pursuit. There is something profoundly disturbing about the stillness of the mansion. Maybe she has gotten used to living with constant noise after enduring the harshness of the road. Or maybe it is something that she is slowly starting to remember from her past life? Whichever it is, she may as well just get up now and stop wasting time in bed.
The mansion feels bigger than it had been the night before during the brief tour Layla had given her to ensure that she would not get lost. The big windows only serve to make her feel even uneasier and somehow, in an attempt to find a secluded area, she has found herself in what looks like a studio of sorts. Here, at least, the windows are shut properly to prevent sunlight from pouring in, but the curtains are not so thick that the early morning sunlight still manages to push against the fabric it is a little like closing her eyes, only to have the sunlight filtering through her eyelids. It calms Cameron somewhat though to be in this pseudo-darkness.
She closes the door behind her and steps further into the room. The scent of paint, of turpentine is thick in the air and there is a slight rustling in every step she takes. Looking down, she can see the amount of paper littering the floor. There are discarded canvases, some empty, some not, here and there as well. There are paintings propped up against the wall, there are paintings hung up on the wall and there are those still set up on easels - waiting to be completed. Cameron pauses in front of one of these unfinished paintings and takes a moment to simply ponder it.
"You enjoy art?" a voice breaks through the tranquillity she has managed to shield herself in.
Cameron turns just enough to be able to look at JJ as she responds, "I'm not particularly sure."
JJ scoffs. "You either do or you don't. It's really that simple."
Cameron returns her attention to the painting. "In that case, I do."
JJ chuckles and follows the path of Cameron's eyes, setting her eyes on her own painting. "You're quick to decide," she remarks cheerfully. "How did you sleep?"
Cameron considers the questions and presumes it may be rude to tell the truth, so she settles instead for a white lie. "Great. How did you sleep?"
"As per usual," JJ answers. "Do you feel better?"
"Very much." Cameron turns to JJ again. "I cannot express my thanks enough."
"You're not obliged to. I don't need you to." JJ smiles. "Just get well. That's all I ask." JJ pats the hand she can reach. "Now, how about you take charge of wheeling me to the kitchen? Layla should be preparing breakfast right about now and since we're both up early anyway, why don't we surprise her by offering to help?"
"Sounds good to me."
There is a crash, followed by a stunted, incoherent grousing. "I'm home," a drunker slur from Derek then punctuates the string of vileness, the front door slamming shut behind him as he tosses his set of keys in the general direction of the coffee table.
Sarah looks disapprovingly at Derek from where she stands in the doorway of the living room. "It's eleven in the morning," she announces.
Derek looks dismissively at the clock. "There are no time constraints to drinking," he argues, standing unsteadily, looking as if he were about to fall any second now.
"No, but there are at least some constraints to it," Sarah hisses back. "Didn't you think about what kind of example you're setting for John?"
Derek snorts. "Being a real man, a real human, that's what I'm trying to show him. I'm being true to the cause," he growls back at Sarah. "I'm not the one fixated with some pretty, robotic ass and I sure am not the one shedding tears over the loss of some goddamn terminator -"
Sarah has her gun up and pointed at Derek, daring him to say more. She is so furious she can barely form a sentence in her own head.
"Oh yeah, I talk, you shoot, ain't that the rule?" Derek taunts. "But, see, that rule only works when you're the only one wielding a gun. But, oh, lookie." Derek pulls out something from inside his coat. "Look at what Derek's got." He gestures at the gun with his free hand. "That's right, Derek's got a gun as well."
Sarah grits her teeth together and says carefully, "You're not thinking straight."
Derek's eyes blaze and they grow alert for a second before dimming again, shrouded in a haze of alcohol and rage. "No, you're the one that's not thinking straight!" he yells. "You're the one that's all sappy over the freakin' terminator! So what if she's alive? Why give a freakin' damn? Just get on with our lives and pretend she doesn't exist!" He sneers. "Better yet, why don't we go and terminate her? That way we can ensure that Skynet will never ever be revived."
"Shut up," Sarah snaps, releasing the safety of her gun.
Derek shouts back, "No, you shut up!" With that, he releases the safety of his gun as well. "You think you're some big shot, ordering me around just because your son happens to be the future saviour of mankind. News alert, he's not going to be the future saviour of mankind. There's no need for a future saviour of mankind! He's just a nobody. Who the fuck do you think you are to order me around? I'm not your freakin' lapdog!"
"Get out of my house," Sarah forces out. "Right now. Get out of my house and never ever come back."
"You think John will stand for that? I'm his uncle," Derek snarls. "He'll hate you if you kick me out."
Sarah glares. "Like you said, he's not going to be the future saviour of mankind. In which case, he's just my son and he happens to live under my roof, under my rules. If he doesn't like it, well, that's just too bad. We'll simply cross that bridge when we come to it. As for you, I told you to get out already. Do not make me repeat myself."
"You don't get to order me around!" Derek cries out.
"Don't try my patience!" Sarah returns.
Two shots are fired simultaneously and, by the end of it, the silence is all that remains.
Cameron dreams of gunshots, but she cannot quite tell which side of the gun she is standing on. There is a burning pain in her chest, enough to bring tears to her eyes and coax a gasp out of her lips. She opens her mouth, wets her lips and works her throat there is a name begging to be called out, if only she could remember it.
The door to her bedroom well, what serves as hers for as long as she stays in JJ's mansion swings open suddenly, the doorknob banging loudly into the wall. Cameron jerks from the noise, her ears extra sensitive from the all too real dream she had just had. "What happened? I heard you scream," Layla asks, her face pale and her eyes flicker with genuine concern as she approaches Cameron.
Cameron sits up and draws her knees to her chest. "It's just a nightmare, Layla, I'm sorry for waking you up."
Layla shakes her head and puts her hand carefully down on Cameron's shoulder. She squeezes once. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Cameron blinks away her unshed tears and smiles at Layla. The woman's compassionate nature is so endearing. "It's fine, Layla. I don't really remember what happened," she lies. She can still hear the gun or were there two? going off. Her ears still ring and her hands still curl around the handle of a phantom gun. Was I the one shooting? Or the one shot? She relaxes her fingers and hides them underneath the sheets.
"Are you sure?" Layla asks, placing the flat of her hand against Cameron's forehead.
Cameron smiles. "I'm sure, Layla. I'm sorry for waking you up. Pass on my apologies to JJ too."
Layla flushes immediately, her hand flying back to her side as if Cameron had just burned her. "What we're not JJ's still asleep! In her own bed! We're not " she stutters.
Cameron tilts her head to the side. "I don't understand," she remarks sincerely. "Did I say something wrong?"
Layla's blush dies down a little and she looks somewhat relieved. Strange, Cameron thinks. "No, no, you didn't. Go back to sleep, Cameron. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, Layla," Cameron calls softly as the door clicks shut behind Layla. She presses a hand against her right shoulder. Why is it aching?
"What the hell happened here?" John asks furiously, pacing up and down the living room. His mother is sprawled on the couch, sporting a bullet wound in her right shoulder, her face pale and drawn. Charley is sitting by her, his lips pursed as if he is trying not to interrupt.
Sarah manages a glare at John. "Language, young man," she hisses, eyes closing involuntarily. Her body jerks as Charley dabs at the wound.
"Gee, Mom, I guess I wasn't thinking. I mean, my mother's only been shot and apparently the shooter is my own uncle," John replies sarcastically, dropping to his knees next to Charley. "What happened?" he tries again, his voice gentler, calmer this time, but his knuckles are white as he holds onto Sarah's hand.
Sarah forces herself to smile. "Nothing happened," she repeats what she has been saying ever since John had come home to find her unconscious on the floor, bleeding all over the carpet. Her gun had still been clenched tight in one hand, another gun John recognised immediately as Derek's had been lying a few feet away and there had been a trail of blood leading out of the house.
John rolls his eyes. "Mom," he grouses, exasperation evident in his voice and posture. The image of a helpless Sarah is still imprinted behind his eyelids and there is a weight in his throat that makes it hard for him to speak. He has gone complacent, he realises, bloated with peace and to have come home to see his mother like that "You scared me," he confesses in a whisper. Charley discreetly moves away, muttering something about getting clean bandages.
"I'm fine," Sarah assures him, squeezing his hand.
"Mom, something must have happened. You were shot for goodness' sake. Why won't you just tell me what happened?" John asks, his voice rising in frustration.
Sarah grimaces as John increases the pressure on her hand. "John, my hand "
He winces in sympathy and loosens his hold. "Sorry."
"Look, it was just an accident. So there's no need to be too worried, okay?" Sarah finally offers.
"Mom. Seriously, you were shot. I think I'm well justified to be even more worried. Derek shot you, didn't he?"
Sarah frowns. "And what do you intend to do if he did? This is hypothetically speaking of course."
John scowls deeply, his jaw clenching and his teeth grinding. Finally, he says, "I'm not going to shoot him back if that's what you're worried about."
Sarah chuckles despite the circumstances. "I'd be surprised if you were planning to."
"I'd punch him in the face. No one, not even my own uncle, hurts my Mom," John says fiercely.
Sarah grins, but turns sombre quickly. "He was drunk, John."
"Which simply makes it worse. He could have very well killed you," John points out angrily.
"Well, I'm still alive and kicking, thank you very much."
"You really scared me, Mom."
"I'm sorry." Sarah pauses before asking, "Did you find him though?"
"Who else?" Sarah rolls her eyes.
"Just clarifying, Mom. And no, I didn't find him. He's still alive though, isn't he?"
"I wouldn't have hit him if he hadn't lost his footing. But I suspect he's still alive. I barely grazed his arm."
"Do you want me to find him?"
Sarah takes a moment before answering, "No. John, to be honest, I kicked him out before we shot each other."
John's eyebrows shoot up. "Why?"
Sarah sighs. "I asked him to look around for clues on Cameron's whereabouts."
John's eyebrows very nearly join his hairline. "And he shot you because of that?"
Sarah sighs good-naturedly. "I'm not finished, John."
"Oh, sorry, go on, Mom."
"Anyway, I asked him soon after the two of you confirmed that Cameron was still alive." Sarah tears her eyes away from John's. "I wouldn't have asked for his help, but I was still bedridden and I just couldn't wait until I wasn't."
"Why didn't you ask me, Mom?"
Sarah smiles at him. "You were so happy about being a normal teenager that I just couldn't bring myself to ask. Besides, about Cameron, I no, I just I just felt, and I still do, that it was my fault that she got hurt in the first place. She was protecting me. If she's still alive, I think I ought to try to find her. I owe her that much at least." It is all true, she tells herself, but gratitude is not the only reason I want no, need to find Cameron.
"Well, then what happened, Mom?" John frowns a little. True, he likes his normalcy, likes the predictability of his life now. However, to think that he has prioritised his own needs over his mother's, over Cameron's he feels somewhat guilty and selfish now. Future saviour of the humankind, he thinks, starting to be furious at himself, what a joke. I knew Cameron was still alive and I didn't make any attempt, didn't offer to do anything to bring her back.
"He didn't like being ordered around," Sarah replies with a snort. "And he certainly didn't like that I was trying to find Cameron and making him help me do so. This morning, he just snapped." Sarah sighs. "I guess it was my own fault in a way. I shouldn't have asked Derek for help. But I was in such a rush. I wasn't exactly thinking straight."
"I'll help, Mom," John offers softly, not quite meeting Sarah's eyes.
"No," Sarah says flatly. "You just stay as your average high school student. I'll find Cameron, just as soon as this heals."
"Mom, I don't think your wound's going to heal anytime soon," John points out reasonably. "Let me help."
"No," Sarah repeats stubbornly.
"Please, Mom. I kind of miss Cameron too," he admits sincerely. "Besides, if I help you look around for clues, you'll be able to focus on healing."
"I don't think so, Mom." John eyes the wound uneasily. "Maybe we should go to a hospital "
Charley chooses to reappear at that moment. "He's right, Sarah. You should be going to a hospital. As it is, I can only do so much."
Sarah grits her teeth as she forces herself to turn around. Glaring at Charley, she says firmly, "It's not the first time I've been shot. Just finish wrapping me up, Charley."
Charley crosses his arms over his chest and he stands his ground. "Fine, I'll do my best, but you have to promise you'll stay in bed for an entire week at the very least. You're lucky the bullet missed any vital 'bits and pieces' as you called them and you should regain both fine and gross motor skills in a few days. But I'm serious, Sarah, you need to rest."
"Listen to Charley, Mom."
Sarah turns her glare on John, but John looks back defiantly. "Fine!" she snaps. "One week and then I'll do what I want."
Charley and John exchange a triumphant smile.
"God, I'm only shot. It's not as if I'm an invalid," she grumbles, choosing to ignore Charley's disbelieving snort and John's raised eyebrow.
"So, I'll look around for clues?" John asks from behind Charley.
"Have it your way," Sarah grumbles.
Bitch, bitch, bitch, Derek chants to himself. He ties the rags around the graze on his left arm into a secure knot with his teeth and one good hand. At least my dominant hand is still working, he grumbles as he climbs off the upturned garbage can.
I'm going to kill her, he vows, mind still foggy with alcohol and negative emotions amplified with rage. Siding with a fucking terminator, with a fucking robot. Bitch. Mother of future saviour of humankind, pah! What the hell did Kyle see in her?! Traitor! She's a traitor! Siding with the fucking robots just because she can't control her fucking hormones. Shit! I'm going to fucking kill her.
Derek sways on his feet, throwing out his right hand to steady himself. He looks to his left then to his right. The alley reeks of death and decay and, as he emerges onto the sidewalk, he imagines he carries with him those telltale scents. He bumps into strangers, ignoring curses and not offering apologies, as he makes his way determinedly to where Cameron is.
Oh yes, he knows where she is. It was not that difficult to find her and Derek was motivated not for the same reasons Sarah was driven by, but motivated enough. Fucking robot's damaged, he remembers, it shouldn't be too hard to finish it off. Then, when it's finished He starts laughing aloud, falling to his knees as he does so.
Strangers eye him carefully and give him a wide berth. Derek sobers up after a few moments and searches his pockets. I need guns, he realises, having forgotten to bring his own when he fled. Getting to his feet with some difficulty, Derek 's eyes gleam with his newfound purpose. He knows he needs to be quick. Sarah might just find Cameron before he does and it certainly will not do to have that terminator running around as if it has a right to exist. I need guns, he repeats to himself as he sets off again. His gait is a little more secure this time.
Cameron looks dubiously at the sketchbook JJ had just handed to her. "What am I supposed to do with this?" she asks warily as JJ places a stick of charcoal on the flat of her palm. "And this?" she adds.
JJ rolls her eyes indulgently. "That's a sketchbook," she points to the object in question in a tone that suggests she is speaking to a very young child or a very slow person. "And that's charcoal for drawing."
"JJ, I realise what they are," Cameron replies, mimicking JJ's tone and ignoring JJ's good-natured chuckle. "What do you want me to do with them?"
JJ gives her a small smile and returns her attention to the unfinished painting before her. Picking up her palette and mixing the colours to the appropriate consistency, she replies, "I heard you had a nightmare."
"I'm fine," Cameron offers quickly. She does not wish to bother the people who have given her so much help already. "I'm sorry if I disturbed your sleep."
JJ waves away her concerns and apologies. "Everyone has a nightmare or two to tackle," she remarks.
Cameron purses her lips and looks down on the cover of the sketchbook. "I don't remember it. Just the aftershocks, I think."
"I'm not asking you to tell me. Not unless you want to, in which case my ears are wide open." JJ picks up a brush. "Some nightmares, they just don't stop. They get worse or they get better, but they don't disappear." She gestures at her dead legs for emphasis. "When I first came home after the accident, it was exactly like that."
She narrows her eyes at the canvas before her and continues, "Layla, she tried to be supportive, offered me her ears, her shoulders, her arms when needed. My family forced me to go for sessions with this shrink, with that shrink. It didn't help any. The thing with your worst nightmare is that you have to overcome it yourself. Now, you said it yourself you don't remember, but the nightmare won't stop just because of that."
JJ dips her brush into the dollops and begins painting. "So, I thought you could try to give the nightmare a shape and a form. That probably sounds counterproductive, but it is only when you know what you are fighting that you can fight it back, isn't it?"
Cameron nods. "So, you're suggesting I draw the nightmare out?"
"Anything really. The muse knows more than she's given credit for," JJ remarks. "First, the nightmare. Then, whatever else comes to your mind. It's not a bad idea, isn't it? Sure beats going to the shrink. You could maybe remember something in the process too. Two birds with one stone."
Cameron nods again. "Okay," she says. "Thanks, JJ."
"Anytime, now start drawing," JJ orders with a grin.
Only the soft scratching of charcoal against paper and brush against canvas breaks the comfortable silence that follows.
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