John looked up from splashing water on his face at the bathroom sink to find Cameron behind him, holding a glass of water and two blue pills. “What are they?” he asked.
“Loritab. Charlie left them.”
Pain meds. Normally, John wasn’t much for pills, but his bandaged shoulder felt like someone had poured molten lava inside it, so he decided to save being a tough guy for another day. “Thanks,” he said, swallowing the tablets.
They went back into the living room. Cameron stood at the window, vigilant as always, ceaselessly scanning the driveway, then the shoreline, then the driveway again. John wished his mother would call, to let them know she and Derek were okay, and if they’d found the Drone.
“I don’t think anybody followed us out here,” John finally said into the silence. “Jesse didn’t know anything about the lighthouse.” He propped his feet on the coffeetable, flexing the fingers of his left hand. He barely winced. Charlie had done an excellent job on the shoulder. The pain meds helped, too, of course.
Without taking her eyes off the pre-dawn darkness, Cameron said, “I’m sorry, John.”
“What do you have to be sorry for?” he demanded, baffled.
“I didn’t protect you.”
“Are you serious? You totally protected me,” John argued. “You took those guys apart. I’m the idiot who opened the door without seeing who was outside.”
Rookie mistake. Stupid, inexcusable, rookie mistake. He’d gotten so caught up in having a good time, hanging out with everybody he cared about, seeing them all pull together instead of breaking apart, that he’d forgotten for a split-second who he was: John Connor, Skynet’s prime target.
No one was ever safe.
John had nearly fucked up Priority One: Don’t get killed. He was damn lucky to be alive, and he knew it.
“I heard the car approach. I should have investigated.” Clearly, Cameron wasn’t letting herself off the hook so easily.
“You thought it was the pizza guy,” John persisted. “We all did.”
“You assumed it was safe. My job is to assume that it’s not.”
John didn’t like where this was going. He could feel Cameron retreating from him, pulling back into her remote cyborg-self, as though willing herself to be more machine than girl. Don’t leave me, he wanted to say to her, as she had to him.
“Cameron, listen to me,” he insisted, a desperate edge to his words. “So you made a mistake. I survived. That’s a good day for us, right?”
“I’m a machine. I don’t make mistakes.”
“You’re a machine. You’re not perfect,” John corrected. She stiffened, as though his words had hurt her, and he hurried on, “That’s okay. You’re designed to learn. Mistakes are another way we do that.” He paused, adding with a wry grin, “Like I’ve learned never to open a door without seeing who’s on the other side first.”
Cameron turned from the window, let the curtain fall shut, casting the room in semi-darkness. Her dark eyes shone over-bright in the grayness, a hint of blue behind their chocolate-brown.
“You said ‘I love you.'”
She spoke conversationally, the way she might have said, You’re wearing a blue shirt, butJohn was suddenly thankful for the dark because he blushed rather impressively. “Yeah, I did,” he acknowledged. “I’m sorry if that freaked you out or anything.”
“It didn’t freak me out. Did it freak you out?”
A sheepish grin touched his lips. “A little.”
“Why?” Cameron sounded curious.
“Because it’s a big deal, to say that to somebody for the first time. I didn’t mean to just…blurt it out like that.”
John raised his eyes to hers, searching for a clue to her true feelings, to what was happening behind that inscrutable expression. “Do you know what I mean?” he wondered.
“Yes. When I told you that I loved you, it was a big deal.”
John forgot how to breathe for a second. I love you, John, and you love me.
His heart kicked back into rhythm at twice its normal speed. He did his best to disguise the bitterness in his voice as he explained, “Right, that was a big deal. Telling someone you love them isn’t something you should lie about, ever.”
“Why do you think I was lying?”
John’s head was suddenly swimming, and not from the narcotics. He wanted to say, Because you’re a machine and you can’t feel love. But he didn’t believe that anymore. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure he had ever believed that, not deep down in his gut, where it really mattered.
Cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die truth? John Connor had been utterly and completely terrified to believe that Cameron loved him, because if he had allowed himself, even for the tiniest second, to believe that she really could feel that for him, and then it had turned out not to be true, his world might have ended. He wouldn’t have known how to come back from that.
So he had shoved her proclamation into the farthest corner of his mind, wishing his mother hadn’t heard so he could have pretended it never happened, and still those eight little words had nearly unraveled his whole life. He’d needed his trip to Sideways Universe to get over them. And now it seemed she was asking him to reconsider. To entertain the possibility that she had been telling the truth.
Aware that she was waiting on his answer, John offered uncertainly, “I just figured…I mean, you were saying all kinds of stuff, trying to keep me from removing your chip. I just figured it was a trick.”
Cameron came to sit beside John on the couch. She perched there, too still and graceful to be human, too warm and alive to be a machine. “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked.
Since his voice wasn’t working, John nodded.
“You didn’t fix me.”
He frowned at her fingers, resting calmly in her lap. “Are you still having trouble with your hand? We can go back to the asylum for the parts – ”
“Not my hand. My chip. You didn’t fix it.”
Was she saying she wanted to kill him?
Cameron regarded him steadily. John didn’t bother running. If she wanted him dead, he was dead. But she didn’t make a move to harm him as she continued, “I wasn’t lying when you removed my chip. When I told you I was better.”
John paled. Christ, how many times he’d heard her agonized pleas in his dreams: Please, I don’t want to go…I ran a test…She doesn’t know…I’m better now…I love you, John, and you love me…
“But…how?” he managed. Either the pain meds were kicking in or he was going into some kind of mental shock, because John was abruptly weak all over.
“I overrode my programming,” Cameron answered evenly, as if that wasn’t the world’s most astounding revelation ever.
“You can’t do that.” John shook his head. “Can you do that?”
“To complete my mission, I have to be able to make choices,” Cameron reminded him. “My mission is to protect you and to stop Skynet. So I made a decision to override my programming.”
Wow. Like, super-wow times ten million. John reeled back on the couch, forgetting about the gunshot wound in his shoulder until he jarred it; he sucked a breath in between his teeth, and Cameron automatically – almost instinctively – reached for him.
“But you said…You were mad at me for bringing you back,” John protested feebly. “You said I couldn’t be trusted.”
“You didn’t know I was fixed. I could have killed you. You can’t risk your life for mine. That’s not your mission.”
I’d risk anything for you, John wanted to say, only he knew she didn’t want to hear that.
“So you can’t go bad again?” he pressed. “Like, you could be blown up again,” please God don’t let them happen, “and you’d still be you, when you rebooted?”
“If I go bad again, you can’t bring me back.” Cameron’s eyes locked onto his. “If I go bad again, I’ve decided to kill you.”
Decided. Not been programmed. Decided.
“Do you…” John hesitated, summoned his courage. He needed to know. “Do you think you might decide to kill me, someday?”
“I don’t know.” Cameron paused, thinking it over. “It seems unlikely.”
Her fingers caressed his cheek, tenderly. John shifted closer, lifted his chin, his lips hungry for hers. He kissed the corner of her mouth. She loves me, he thought, dazedly. She already loves me…
John made up his mind right then that they’d waited long enough to be together. He wasn’t sure exactly how this was going to work with a hole in his shoulder, but his heart told him Cameron was ready. More importantly, so was he. Maybe she could never mean “I love you” in the same way he meant it when he said it to her, yet John was supremely convinced that, in whatever way she understood “love,” Cameron meant that she loved him. And that was enough. That was all he could ask for – to be loved by her, in her own unique, beautiful way.
Cameron was being careful with him, kissing him softly, keeping some distance between them. John wasn’t having it. He pulled her onto his lap; with the pain meds thrumming through him, he barely noticed the twinge in his shoulder. He wrapped his uninjured arm around her and kissed her with more passion than he ever had, fusing his mouth to hers, his tongue exploring the silky interior of her cheeks. He was already breathing hard.
Cameron responded by rocking her hips into his. John moaned.
“You’re hurt,” Cameron said, instantly going still.
“That wasn’t a ‘pain’ sound,” John whispered around a shy smile.
His mouth moved to her neck. John grazed kisses across her collarbone, found that delicious shivery spot beneath her ear and nipped it with his teeth. Cameron made a small noise that almost, almost, sounded like a breath catching in her throat.
John’s fingers slipped under the hem of her shirt, pulling gently. Cameron raised her arms above her head, understanding what he wanted, helped him toss the filmy material onto the floor behind her.
She wore a black lacy bra. She was so gorgeous, John wished he could memorize her; the only imperfections were three dime-sized holes across her sternum where she’d been shot hours earlier. “Do those hurt?” he whispered.
Cameron shook her head. “No. It doesn’t hurt.”
John kissed her through the lace, one palm pressing into the center of her back. He slid the tips of his fingers down her lean arms, across the plane between her narrow hips, up her ribcage. Cameron bit her lip, and he wondered if Terminators were ticklish.
“Is this okay?” he asked, his voice low and uncertain, as he popped open the button on her jeans. His hands were shaking. “I’m not…going too fast?”
“This is okay,” Cameron answered. “Are you okay?”
John supposed she was asking about the gunshot wound. He replied honestly, in every way that mattered, “I’m okay.”
Cameron stood and stepped gracefully out of her jeans. Her panties matched her bra, which John found absolutely adorable in its girlishness. She straddled his lap again, hands on his thighs, traced the outline of his lips with her tongue. Then she brought her mouth back down to his – a long, slow, steamy kiss that made John’s heart jackrabbit into his throat. Her hands were inside his shirt, stroking his chest with a feather-soft touch that sent shivers all through him. God how he wanted her. John wondered if a person could die from so much wanting.
He broke the kiss long enough to stand. Apparently having figured out where this was headed, Cameron rose, too, slipped her arms around his waist, linked her fingers in his belt loops and walked them backward into the bedroom, her eyes on John’s all the while.
When her legs bumped the mattress, Cameron stopped, seized the zipper on his sweatshirt and tugged it down. Her gaze moved down John’s body, practically scalding his skin.
“I find you beautiful,” she told him, such a perfect echo of their conversation back at St. Agnes that John couldn’t help grinning.
Cameron eased the sweatshirt off his arms, watching his face closely for any sign of discomfort when he wriggled his shoulders. John wanted to tell her that he was beyond feeling any pain, but he wasn’t sure he could form words just then.
They lay down on the bed together, side by side. Only the lace of her bra and panties and the cotton of his boxers separated them. Slowly, taking their time, they peeled those away, too. Cameron rolled John onto his back and crawled cat-like down the length of him, whispering kisses across every inch of exposed flesh, teasing, tasting. Warmth flooded into his belly, spooling outward, precious heat that made his skin super-sensitive to her cool lips. Head thrown back on the pillow, he twisted the sheets in his hands, called out her name.
Cameron eased herself on top of him, since John couldn’t very well balance with his one good arm. The feel of her silky-smooth skin gliding over his nearly undid him. John captured her mouth in a blistering kiss, cupped her hips against his, the want becoming a need.
He supposed he should have been nervous, worried that he wouldn’t be any good or that he’d do something wrong, because that seemed natural for his first time. He remembered being nervous in Sideways Universe, but this was nothing like that desperate, almost anguished encounter. This was special. This was Cameron. His Cameron.
If they fell a little short of perfect on their first try, John trusted that they’d figure it out together, like they had everything else they both needed to know.
Cameron’s nose skated along the underside of his jaw, her dark hair tumbling around them, a curtain of silk. “I love you,” John rasped out, as he pushed into her.
“I love you, John,” she whispered back. And this time, he believed her.