I Could Stay

Chapter one

”You bring danger into Riley’s life.”

”I know that. I’m not stupid.”

”But sometimes you do stupid things. It would help me to understand why.”

”Humans do stupid things. So don’t worry about it and be happy you’re a machine.”

”I’m a machine. I can’t be happy. But I understand more than you think. I understand that being John Connor can be lonely.”

”Oh yeah? How do you understand that?”

”You and I talk about it a lot.”

”We do?”

”We do. We will.”

John Connor took a deep, steadying breath. He was lying on a too-small bed on top of ridiculous kindergartener sheets next to the most beautiful and alluring creature he’d ever set eyes on – who happened to be a machine, though his sixteen-year-old body couldn’t seem to remember that pivotal fact. Cameron was looking right back at him in her forthright way, her dark eyes pinning him in place, and what she was thinking, or how she thought, and what she was feeling, or if she felt, was driving him crazy.

He blinked. The future leader of mankind tore his gaze away from the machine’s and stared up at his ceiling, his heart hammering like a jackhammer in his chest. He was aiming for a cool dismissal, but his voice faltered as he said lamely, “I need – I need to get some sleep.”

“I could stay.”

John sifted through those three little words, searching for the hidden meaning. Did she mean, I could stay because I’m pretty sure you’re planning to sneak out of the house and go meet Riley for a weekend rendezvous in Mexico, and I’m your bodyguard from the future and you are not leaving my sight? Or did she mean, I could stay because I want to be here, with you?

“I don’t want to go,” she had begged a few weeks ago, when he’d been prying her chip out of her head so she wouldn’t kill him. Was this a trick, too, like that had been?

“You don’t sleep,” John pointed out irritably, as if that somehow settled the issue.

“No, but you do,” Cameron returned evenly.

“Whatever. Stay if you want.”

If he ordered her out, John reasoned, she would know something was up, and then he’d never be able to sneak out. She’d probably camp out in the hallway. The best strategy – and John Connor knew a little something about strategy – was to play it cool and stay alert for an escape route. Riley would just have to be patient. He’d warned her it might be difficult getting around his mother’s security (which happened to be named Cameron).

John stood up. Cameron’s dark eyes followed him, her lithe body motionless on the bed. His bed. He took another deep, calming breath.

“I have to change into my pajamas. Shut your eyes, okay?”

Obediently, Cameron shut her eyes.

John snatched an old white T-shirt and a pair of black sweat pants out of his bottom drawer. “So what else do we talk about?” he asked, stripping out of his jeans and doing his best not to think about the fact that he was undressing with Cameron less than two feet away. On his bed. In a mini-skirt.

“I don’t understand.”

“In the future,” he clarified, tugging the T-shirt on over his head. “What else do we talk about?”

She turned her face toward him with her eyes still shut. He climbed back onto the bed and switched off the lamp. “Can I open my eyes now?” she asked.

In spite of himself, John smiled. “Yes.”

Her brown eyes snapped open, finding his in the dark. John swallowed hard. Maybe this was a bad idea.

“We talk about your mother a lot,” Cameron told him. “About how she took care of you when you were little. How she prepared you for the war. You miss her.”

Grief clawed at John’s heart. Whenever they talked about the future, any of them, they always somehow managed to pretend Sarah Connor was in that future, though they all knew she wasn’t. He couldn’t imagine a world without his mother. It would be like the sun going dark.

“What else?” he pressed, eager to change the subject from his mother’s death.

Before she answered, Cameron gracefully slipped off her boots, lifted her hips, and eased underneath the covers with him. John’s pulse skyrocketed. She rolled on her side so she was facing him, their heads together on his pillow, and he was absolutely certain this had been a bad idea.

A very, very bad idea.

“We talk about what happens after you defeat Skynet and we win the war.”

“What does happen?” John wanted to know, intrigued. This future Cameron and his uncle talked about always struck him as a bleak, colorless wasteland; the war was the only thing he could even halfway imagine about it, and he was sure even his worst nightmares didn’t come close to capturing the reality. Yet the idea of future-John fighting for a future peace was almost comforting. Like maybe someday he could stop being a soldier.

“We rebuild,” Cameron said, in a way that suggested she was reciting his own words – his future words – back to him. “We make a world without machines.”

John’s breath caught in his throat. He snuggled a little deeper into the pillow, frowning at her. “Without any machines?” Cameron nodded. He licked his lips, surprised by how dry his mouth was, by how much her words had upset him. “And that doesn’t bother future-me? To talk about you not existing?”

“I don’t know.” Cameron tilted her head slightly to the side, studying him. “Does it?”

He wanted to turn away, but she might have been holding him in a death-grip: He could barely blink. Worldessly,Cameron lifted her fingers and brushed his lips. John shivered, recoiling the slightest bit from her touch as he recalled what she’d said about the video from Vick’s chip, how he’d seduced his unsuspecting human wife: “That was effective.” Was she trying out the same tactic on him?

“What are you doing?” he demanded, and his voice was rough, almost husky, and a little angry. Cameron didn’t answer, so he persisted, “Are you doing this because of Riley? Because you want me to get rid of her?”

“If I wanted to get rid of Riley, I would kill her.”

She said it the way she might have said, I’m going to take a walk now, or, The sky was really pretty today – no inflection, no emotion, no remorse. The rage that was always close to the surface in John these days bubbled up. He drew back and snapped at her, “So why don’t you then?”

“Because it would hurt you.”

She’d done it again, taken the sting right out of his righteous anger, leaving him a helpless teenager swimming into her lovely eyes. Her fingertips rested against his cheek. John lifted his chin the tiniest bit – she was close enough that he could smell hints of her jasmine-and-honey shampoo – and whispered, “Is that something you worry about? Hurting me?”

“Yes,” Cameron whispered back. He didn’t know if she was whispering because he was whispering or if because, like him, she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. His head was spinning. “I worry about hurting you.”

She kissed him. Later, after everything fell apart, John would find that significant – that she had been the one to close those last few millimeters between them and press her lips against his. She almost seemed to realize that was a line he could never, ever have allowed himself to cross, no matter how desperately he wanted to.

But once she kissed him, John’s resistance melted. He grabbed her waist and pulled her closer, his mouth bruising on hers, drinking her in. Cameron’s hands slipped behind his neck; she wrapped one perfect leg around his, fitting herself expertly to him. Kissing had to be part of her programming, because she sure as hell knew how to do it.

When they broke apart, John gasping for air, he was flushed and trembling. Cameron, totally unruffled as ever, touched her swollen lips wonderingly, watching him with a curious little half-smile.

Cameron scooted down on the pillows, resting her head against his shoulder, and John rolled onto his back and wrapped his arms around her. He knew she could hear his heart slamming into his ribs, yet he wasn’t embarrassed by that, for once. He was human. He did stupid things. Possibly she understood that now.

“I should let you sleep.” Cameron sat up, her dark hair falling prettily over her shoulder, and gazed down solemnly at him.

John frowned at her, puzzled. Was that it? Mission accomplished – she’d kissed him and now she was sure he wouldn’t be seeing Riley anymore? Or could she sense that if she stayed in his bed, they were going to go a lot farther than kissing?

“Or I could stay,” she added.

He smiled. At one time in his life, John Connor had smiled easily. That time had passed. It felt incredibly liberating to smile broadly again, to smile from deep inside, as if for one moment everything was the way it used to be.

“No,” he decided, “you better go.” For a million different reasons, that was true.

Cameron kept her eyes on his. “And Riley?”

The perfect moment passed. John folded his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling, once more unable to meet her eyes. “I know,” he said, even though the truth was, he didn’t know anything – what he would do, who he would become, how it would all end. “I know.”

Chapter 2

Setting: Season 2, “Strange Things Happen at the One-Two Point”

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire. – Robert Frost

”Knocking. How not like you.”

”Sarcasm, how not like you. Oh, wait, that’s exactly like you.”

John laughed.

”I just wanted to stop by to let you know that I reject your rejection. Do you want to go for a walk?”

”Mom, I’m going out for a while.”

John wondered if Cameron had overheard that little exchange, because when he came back from his walk with Riley – a blissfully normal affair that involved chocolate milkshakes and extra whipped cream, without the words “robot” or “Skynet” or “nuclear apocalypse” once being uttered – Cameron was waiting for him in his room, sitting primly on his bed.

“You didn’t sleep,” she greeted him.

John didn’t know how she knew that, since she’d been gone all night with his mother, chasing the three dots. She was still wearing the sleeves black dress she’d gone to dinner in; he did his best not to stare at the graceful curve of her neck, the tendril of hair curling softly against her cheek.

They hadn’t spoken about The Kiss (as John had come to think of it). Two seconds after Cameron had left his room that night, he’d vaulted out of bed, thrown on his clothes, and beat a path to Riley’s front door. A disastrous decision, as it had turned out, one that had almost cost him his life in Mexico. Yet John was fairly certain he’d done the right thing. If he’d stayed, he was ninety-nine percent sure he would have succumbed to the temptation to drag Cameron back into his bed, and he suspected his mother would have found that more horrible than their shoot-out with Cromartie in the church.

Now, John kicked his tennis shoes off and stood in front of Cameron with his arms folded, putting on his best future-leader-of-mankind, I-take-no-crap-from-anyone expression. “So I stayed up all night. Is that somehow endangering the future?”

“Are you worried about your mother?”

What he alternately loved and hated about Cameron was the way she cut right to the heart of an issue in her unaffected, childlike way, disarming him by speaking truths people learned early on to censor. For a machine, oftentimes Cameron was the most real person he knew.

John scuffed his toe along the floor. “Should I be worried about her?” he asked softly, fear edging into his voice. Even Derek had intimated that Sarah might be cracking up, chasing ghosts – Derek, who routinely pulled a gun on his own shadow.

“Sarah Connor is strong. She’s the best fighter you know.” Once again, John had the impression he was hearing his own words from the future parroted back to him. “But she has a high level of stress. My being here upsets her.”

“You existing upsets her,” John corrected. “Don’t take it personally.” He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to clarify that for Cameron. It wasn’t like Sarah disliking her could hurt her feelings, was it? She didn’t have feelings.

“I have sensation,” she had said to him a few days ago, riding along with her slender foot hanging out the car window. “I feel. I wouldn’t be worth much if I couldn’t feel.” Yeah, like that hadn’t totally screwed with his head.

“She doesn’t like the way you respond to me.”

Color crept up John’s neck. He wanted to turn away, but Cameron’s dark eyes held him in place. “Oh, yeah?” he managed, his voice husky now with something much different than fear. “How do you know that?”

“She told me.” Gracefully, Cameron stood. Since John was standing directly in front of her, that meant they were abruptly toe-to-toe. He ordered himself to back up, put some distance between them, except his body wasn’t taking commands at the moment, so instead he dropped his hands to his sides and stared helplessly into her exquisite face.

“Are you in love?”

The air left John’s lungs in a whoosh. “I love you, John, and you love me,” he heard her sob, the most beautiful and most awful words he’d ever heard anyone say.

“I…What?” John was befuddled. He’d never really understood what that word meant – an archaic, silly word, something he’d had to memorize for an eighth-grade vocabulary test – until now. His brain had stopped functioning. Adrenaline gushed through him like he was in a fire-fight, yet he couldn’t move, couldn’t run away.

“People don’t sleep when they’re in love. I’ve been reading Robert Frost. He was a twentieth-century American poet. He wrote many poems about love,” Cameron went on.

“What are you talking about?”

“You went to Mexico with Riley. You booked the honeymoon suite. You smile when she smiles to you.” Cameron recited these things as if they mattered, as if they meant something – which they did, when John wasn’t in her presence, and she wasn’t in a killer dress, and she wasn’t looking at him like he’d betrayed her. Like he’d broken her heart.

“I’m not in love with Riley,” John managed to grate out. “I’m just…we’re just seeing each other, okay? People do that. They have friends. They go out with them. Sometimes they even kiss them. It doesn’t mean they’re in love.”

“Oh.” Cameron tilted her head to one side, considering him. “Thank you for explaining.”

He waited for her to walk away. She didn’t. If she had been a normal girl (by which he meant not a machine), he would have thought she was waiting for him to kiss her. Only that couldn’t be. He had convinced himself that Cameron kissing him had been her way of distracting him from Riley; he had to believe that, because otherwise, he really might lose it, the way Derek seemed to fear he would.

The ugly truth, the truth he tried not to admit even to himself, was that there were moments – and this was one of them – when John could imagine allowing Judgment Day to happen just so Cameron would be created. Those feelings sickened him. How could he even think of allowing millions of people to die, of allowing the whole world to be destroyed, simply so one person could be born?

No, not born, he heard Derek say in his head. Built. She’s a machine, John. Metal.

Cameron didn’t feel like metal as she reached up and linked her arms behind his neck. She felt like…like velvet and rose petals and silk and whipped cream, everything soft and luscious. John licked his lips; her gaze flicked to his mouth, and his knees threatened to give way. He drew in a ragged, steadying breath.

Cameron laid her head on his shoulder. John stood stiffly in her arms, refusing to return the embrace like he wanted to. She nuzzled his neck with her nose. He nearly fainted, his heart rocketing off into a furious rhythm.

“You smell like chocolate,” she noted, her lips a fraction of an inch below his ear.

“Milkshakes,” John said, stupidly.

Her nose skimmed his jaw. He shut his eyes, shivering. Did machines understand desire? Did they feel desire? Did she have any idea what she was doing to him, or was she acting out a part, something she had read other people did, like – he smiled, remembering – like “making conversation”?

She kissed the corner of his mouth. That settled it for John: She clearly knew what she was doing. What he didn’t know was why she was doing it.

“Cameron,” he started. He meant it to be a protest, but it came out as a breathy whisper, more of a caress.

She sealed his lips with hers. This kiss was different than their first – smoldering, burning him slowly from the inside instead of exploding in a shower of sparks. Cameron slid her fingertips down his arms, took his wrists, and placed his hands on her waist; the material of her dress was rough, and, elegant as she looked in the gown, John desperately wanted to tear it away, to feel the smoothness of her warm, silky-smooth skin against his. He urged her closer. She came willingly, her palms sliding up his chest, bunching his black sweater in her fists.

He didn’t resist when she tugged his shirt off over his head. He didn’t resist when she tilted his head back and seared kisses down his neck, across his collarbone, back up to his mouth, which was hungry for hers. He didn’t resist when she paced back once, a perfectly measured step, and sank onto the bed, pulling him down with her. He didn’t resist when she rolled him over, stretching herself along the length of him, kissing him deeply.

Glass shattered below.

John jumped; Cameron tensed. His eyes flew open, staring into hers. For a fraction of a second, they stayed that way, and somehow, though he didn’t know how she thought, John knew what Cameron was thinking: I won’t let anything happen to you.

Because he was thinking the same thing about her, and it scared him to death – what he would have done to protect her.

Cameron rose, effortlessly graceful, and tossed John his shirt on her way out the bedroom door. He rushed after her, clumsily sticking his arms through the sleeves. He wasn’t thinking clearly or he would have realized he didn’t even have a weapon.

His mother was kneeling on the bathroom floor, picking up shards of glass from the broken mirror over the sink, when John and Cameron appeared in the doorway. John would later realize how lucky he was that Sarah had been so distracted in that moment; otherwise, his flushed skin and well-kissed lips would have tipped her off immediately to just how intensely he responded to the robot.

“What happened?” Cameron demanded, in full Terminator mode as she scanned the tiny bathroom for hidden enemies.

“I broke a mirror,” Sarah snapped back.

“That’s seven years’ bad luck,” Cameron informed her.

In spite of himself, John laughed. “That’s just a superstition,” he assured her. To Sarah, he said, “Are you okay, Mom?”

“Yes,” Sarah said. John could tell she was lying, but he figured she was entitled to her secrets. He sure as hell had his.

“Come on.” John took Cameron’s hand; he saw his mother frown and hastily dropped his hand back to his side, finishing lamely, “It’s late. We all need to get some sleep.”

“I don’t sleep,” Cameron reminded him, when they reached his room.

John pulled her inside, closed his bedroom door, and pushed her against it, his eyes boring into hers. “When you kiss me,” he said, “what does it mean to you?”

“Mean?” Cameron echoed, in her adorably quizzical way.

“How does it make you feel?”

“Warm.”

“No, not physically.” Although the idea that kissing him made her feel warm nearly undid him right then and there. “Emotionally. Do you have emotions?”

She thought about that for a long minute. “I understand emotions. People smile when they’re happy. They cry when they’re sad. Poetry is the language of emotion.” Cameron returned his gaze evenly. “I don’t have emotions the way you have emotions, John. I’m a machine.” He winced; she noticed. “That bothers you.”

“Yes, it bothers me.” John was angry again, and so very, very tired of being angry. “It bothers me that you only exist because an evil computer system that takes over the world made you. It bothers me that my destiny is to make sure that you’re never built. Do you understand that?”

“I understand that.” I understand that being John Connor can be lonely.

“Do you understand that it bothers me that you don’t feel anything when you kiss me? Do you understand that I do feel something, not just physically?”

“I understand.” Cameron touched his cheek. “I’m sorry, John.”

Later, at the end of it all, he would remember how she looked when she said that: I’m sorry, John, her expression so wistful he couldn’t believe that she didn’t feel sadness.

He turned away, blinking back tears he refused to shed in front of her – the machine who could never share his pain. “I need to get some sleep,” he said gruffly.

Wordlessly, Cameron nodded. This time, she didn’t offer to stay.

But if I had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice. – Robert Frost

END

Continue to Blackout

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