Love that is not madness is not love. – Pedro Calderon de la Barca
John ran. Out the door, through the alley, across the grounds, back to the psych ward, where the guard buzzed him in. “Hey, kid, you okay?” the officer asked, as John rushed past. He nodded mutely.
The truth was, John was not okay. He was shaking all over; tears streamed down his cheeks; his breathing was shallow and quick. A panic attack, he supposed.
“John?” Michelle hurried down the hallway toward him. John stepped into his room and collapsed on the bed. The nurse knelt beside him, her eyes wide, alarmed. “John, is Riley…?”
“I didn’t hurt her,” John said into his pillow. “I wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
“I know that, honey. I know that.” Michelle was smoothing his hair; he glanced up, realized her fingers were sticky with blood. “You’re hurt. Your head. What happened?”
For an instant, John flashed out of Sideways Universe into the E.R.: The doctor with the Indian accent was shining a light in his eyes, saying, “We’re going to need to suture this head laceration.”
Then he was back with Michelle, stammering, “I – we – I bumped my head against a doorframe.”
“I’m so sorry, John. I told her this was a bad idea, coming to see you here.” Michelle smiled at him so kindly John wanted to curl up in her lap and let her rock him to sleep, the way Sarah had done for him when he was small and woke up from a nightmare.
“I’m going to get something to clean up that cut.” Michelle straightened, faltering when she noticed Cameron standing in the doorway, her dark eyes fixed on John. “Cameron, maybe now isn’t the best time for visiting…”
“It’s okay,” John interrupted quickly. “I want her to stay.” He almost said, I need her to stay, but he was afraid Michelle might not understand. The instant he’d seen Cameron, his heart rate had slowed to normal, and he immediately felt safer.
Safer, around a killing machine? Yeah, maybe he was nuts.
Michelle ducked out in search of bandages and antiseptic, while Cameron floated gracefully over to the bed, her eyes roving over John, checking for further injuries. She ran her fingers gently through his hair, just above the cut, a soothing, very un-Cameron-like thing to do. Or maybe a very Cameron-like thing to do. She had touched him before, hadn’t she, on just a few occasions, each one charged with meaning?
“Your head is bleeding,” she observed.
“Michelle’s going to fix it.” John leaned back on the pillows, watching her watch him. He felt ridiculously guilty for the make-out session with Riley. Could she tell? Did she know what had happened? Would she care, the way she’d seemed to back in reality?
You were with Riley.
And the whole time, he had wanted to tell her then, as now, I wanted to be with you. But I can’t be, and it’s driving me crazy.
“I think I really might be losing it,” John confessed.
Cameron tilted her head to one side. “If you’re crazy, then I’m crazy. I’m not crazy, John.”
He studied her. Part of him wanted to say, Prove it. Terminator Cameron had super-strength; she could have picked up the whole bed with him sitting on it, one-handed. She could also make her eyes glow blue. Or she could punch a hole through the concrete wall with her bare fist. There were any number of ways for him to know for sure that she was really a machine, and that he was really John Connor, Skynet’s number-one target. John had known that all along, of course, so why hadn’t he asked her to prove it?
Because part of me doesn’t want Skynet to be real.
The truth of that hit John like a body-blow. That was it, then: Deep down, he was a coward. He wanted to run away from his responsibilities, from the future where he saved the world. Deep down, he’d always known he was no hero. He was just a scared kid. His mother was the hero, and Derek, and his father, and even Cameron, in her way, overcoming her programming to help protect people even though she’d designed to kill.
He wasn’t strong. He wasn’t good. He wasn’t who they wanted him to be. Maybe it was better for everyone on the planet if he really was some whack-job rich kid with a tragic past, because he was fairly certain the human race was fucked with him as its savior.
“What are you thinking?” Cameron asked.
John laughed. It was a short burst of sound, with a hysterical edge that made her frown. He bit his lip, hard. Keep it together, John, he heard his mother – the Sarah Connor who could face down an army of Terminators without so much as flinching – say in her most commanding voice. You’re going crazy here. You need to get out.
The world flashed out of focus again, and he was hovering above his body again, staring down at his prone, bloodied form on a cot in the E.R.: Sarah was cradling his hand, saying, “You need to come back to us, John. You need to wake up.”
Cameron was eyeing him worriedly. Drawing in a deep, steadying breath, John met her gaze directly. “We need to get out of here,” he declared, a snap decision he instantly knew was right. If he stayed in the loony bin another night, he really was going to end up in a little padded room. He needed fresh air, time and space to think, to figure out his next move.
“I mean it. I want out of here, tonight. Can you do that?”
Cameron nodded without hesitation. “I can do that.”
John and Cameron escaped from Pescadero about two o’clock in the morning.
He was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, fingering the butterfly-sutures on the back of his head where Michelle had cleaned and dressed his cut, when he heard someone cry out in pain. He ran to his door and peered out the small square window; Cameron was moving briskly down the hall, the security officer’s keys jangling in her hand. He saw a pair of boots sticking out of her room a few doors down.
She unlocked the door. “Ready?” she asked calmly, like she hadn’t just laid out a full-grown man twice her size.
“Ready,” John said.
Remarkably, they encountered no resistance on their way off the ward. John spotted two nurses and an orderly slumped behind the nurse’s station. “Did you…I mean, are they dead?” he whispered to Cameron, as she buzzed them out into the dark, empty main lobby.
“No. Not dead.” She held up the security guard’s Taser. “They weren’t much of a threat. Deadly force didn’t seem necessary.”
We aren’t built to be cruel, she had told him once, not very long ago.
Cameron seemed to know exactly where she was going once they exited the main doors of the hospital. Almost immediately, a wailing siren pierced the night air; John jumped, but Cameron continued on smoothly, motioning for him to keep up. They slipped into the alley between the old hospital and the new building – John winced, remembering the ugly scene with Riley there that afternoon – but instead of going inside, Cameron strode purposefully over to a metal grate half-hidden behind a large gray dumpster and lifted it easily out of the ground.
“Down,” she ordered him.
John didn’t argue. He descended into pitch-blackness – the foul smell told him they were in some part of the sewer system – and pressed himself against the wall, fearful of stepping off into an abyss. He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Cameron dropped gracefully into the hole beside him.
“Can you see?” he asked her.
“Yes. I can see.” She turned, her eyes glowing faintly in the dark – not a robot thing, just a Cameron thing, her own peculiar intelligence shining out of her like a captured star. She held her hand out to him. “Come on. I won’t let you fall.”
They stole hand-in-hand through the tunnels. Cameron charted a deliberate path, ignoring the rumble of traffic overhead as they crossed beneath the freeway, not even pausing to consider which way to go when they reached a crossroads. “You’ve done this before,” John realized.
“How many times have you escaped through these tunnels, exactly?”
“Once. Two weeks ago.”
Terminators had amazing brains, John decided. He would have been hopelessly lost two steps into the tunnel.
About thirty minutes later, Cameron stopped in front of a ladder. “We climb up here,” she told him.
“Ladies first,” John offered.
She frowned. “I don’t understand.”
He loved that about her – how she could probably have calculated the square root of nine million seventy-six thousand in less time than it took him to breathe, but she couldn’t work out stupid little sayings like “ladies first.” Weirdly, it made her more human.
“It’s just something guys do,” he said. “To be chivalrous, or whatever, we let girls go first when we’re leaving somewhere.”
“Oh. Thank you for explaining.”
Cameron grabbed the ladder and hauled herself up, sliding aside another metal grate that covered the sewer entrance. John clambered up behind her. They emerged onto the kind of street he would normally have avoided at two in the morning: Dilapidated industrial buildings crumbled on either side of the dark alley, the neon lights of a strip club glowed faintly across the street, a sour-smelling old drunk slept under a pile of newspapers beside the overflowing dumpster. Cameron walked fearlessly over to a battered door in the side of an abandoned warehouse and pushed it open with a loud creak. Glancing around to be sure no one was watching them, John followed her in.
Apparently, during her previous escape from the mental hospital, Cameron had set up a safe-house here. She led him up two flights of rusted metal steps, the slap of their plastic flip-flops echoing strangely in the vast space of the empty warehouse floor, and opened a door into what had once been a manager’s office. The room was bare except for a pile of blankets shoved into one corner, like someone had been sleeping there (not Cameron, obviously, since Terminators didn’t sleep) and a battered desk holding a computer and a .9 millimeter handgun.
Cameron stood beside the door, watching John wander around the small space. There wasn’t much to see, but he felt edgy, not in the least because he had just now realized he was all alone with Cameron. No Sarah. No Derek. No mental hospital staff. Just John Connor and the machine, alone, in the dark.
“What now?” he asked her, trying to distract himself from those thoughts by focusing on the absolutely hopeless mess they were in.
“We have the leads from the wall in the basement,” Cameron replied. “We can check those out. Maybe we’ll find out how Skynet did this to us. This can be our home base.”
“And my mom and Derek?”
“They’re a threat to you now, John. If you seek them out, they’ll send you back to Pescadero. A T-triple-eight already found you there once,” Cameron reminded him. “I can protect you more easily out here, on our own.”
On our own. John swallowed hard. He’d never been on his own, not really. After his mother had gotten herself locked up, he’d bounced from foster home to foster home, and he’d pretended like he was a big tough guy, looking out for himself, yet the truth was, shitty as they’d been, his foster parents had actually taken good care of him. Once Sarah was free again, he’d hardly spent a day out of her sight in the past six years. Could he really do this? Could he really fight Skynet all on his own, with just his Terminator bodyguard as back-up?
“What would future-John do now?” he inquired of Cameron, only half-joking.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “What would he do?”
Somehow, in one instant, the moment went from innocent to electric. John’s eyes crashed into Cameron’s, and he read something there, something he was fairly certain a machine wasn’t supposed to be able to feel: desire.
He didn’t stop to think about what it meant, if here was his proof that Sideways Universe was real and he was delusional and so was Cameron. He just let his feet carry him forward, overriding all rational judgment, until he was toe-to-toe with her.
Cameron stiffened, almost like she expected him to attack her, but she didn’t pull away when John slipped his hand into her long, dark hair and tilted her face up to his.
What the hell, he thought. Either he was crazy and Cameron was, too, in which case they might as well enjoy being crazy together, or this was all a freaky dream he was going to wake up from at some point.
Besides, love made people crazy, didn’t it?
“Can I tell you a secret?” John said to her, his voice harsh with feeling.
“Yes,” Cameron said back, her gaze holding his.
“You are the best thing in my life.”
It felt good to say those words aloud, to release the secret he’d been holding in for so long, terrified someone – especially his mother or his uncle – would figure out how he really felt about the machine.
It felt even better to kiss her.
Cameron did not kiss like Riley, and John was glad of that, because he really didn’t want to think about Riley right then. Her kiss was endearingly innocent – not chaste, but sweet and soft, her lips tasting his, savoring him. She made him want to take things slow. He held her head firmly in his hand, afraid she would turn away, and he was determined to kiss her now that he’d started. To finally fulfill all this longing he’d been carrying around since the first time she’d smiled at him back in that stupid little hick town whose name he couldn’t even remember at the moment.
She didn’t pull away. Catching his hips, Cameron gracefully walked John backwards – without breaking the kiss – until she was pressed against the wall. She wrapped one ankle around his calf, and John’s breath hitched in his chest. His hands slid down to her shoulders, massaging her collarbone with his thumbs; she shifted closer, her tongue darting across his lips. He had been wanting her for so long, and to have her now, in his arms…John could hardly breathe, his heart bursting inside his ribs, his body quivering against hers.
“Are you scared?” Cameron whispered, her lips brushing his.
John shook his head. His mouth was almost too dry to say, “Not scared. Why?”
He laughed, a low growl in his throat. “Not scared,” he whispered again. “This isn’t scared. This is…” He tried to think of a word that could accurately convey what he was feeling. “This is wanting.” Needing. Dying for you.
“Wanting.” Cameron’s fingers inched beneath the hem of his T-shirt.
He managed to nod. “I want you. Do you understand that?”
“I understand wanting,” she replied, and kissed him again.
John took his mouth away from hers long enough to let her pull his shirt off; her fingertips traced slow circles on his chest, and he shivered, leaning in to her again, capturing her mouth with his.
I love you, John, and you love me, she had said to him. He understood now that he’d been running from those words ever since. Running from the truth.
He wasn’t running anymore.
They undressed one another slowly, not talking, pausing as each piece of clothing hit the floor to kiss softly. Cameron’s skin slid over his – silky-smooth arms, flawless legs, flat stomach – and John longed to wrap his whole body around hers and never let go. He spread one of the blankets out on the floor and tugged her down with him, his lips exploring every inch of her, pleased when she reacted in a very human way, with soft little animal sounds that made his stomach tighten and his fingers tremble.
He thought she might have been just imitating him when she flipped him onto his back, pinning his wrists on either side of his head with her strong grip, and repeated the exploration. But the fire in her dark eyes seemed real enough when she sealed his mouth in a burning kiss that swallowed both of their cries as they moved together, finding their way through unfamiliar territory for them both, clumsy and earnest and smiling.
She was perfection, John decided, and this was madness, and he was, for once in his life, absolutely and completely happy.
If this is a dream, he thought later, drifting off to sleep with Cameron on his chest, her dark eyes wide and watchful, please don’t let me wake up.