Word Count: 2490
Summary: When John finally realizes his destiny, Cameron's left alone to figure out her evolving humanity. And Derek Reese becomes a sort-of friend.
Podfic by juniperphoenix
Her evolution is slow, but John is patient.
She learns anger first, when the destruction of her favourite pair of jeans is more than an inconvenience; she destroys the T-888’s chip without hesitation, and when John frowns at the useless bit of metal she hands him, she does not apologize. Later, she wonders why she has favourites at all.
She likes dancing and skating. She tells him she likes the way they make her feel. Light, she says. Freed from the realities of her construction. He tells her that she’s smiling and she asks him what that means.
When Sarah Connor is killed, her tear ducts activate without her command and she feels something that she cannot describe. Until she hears strange noises coming from John’s room and she slips in to investigate. What she finds is called grief. He reaches for her and she knows he will teach her this too.
But he cannot teach her how to laugh, or how to empathize. He cannot teach her love. He cannot teach her hope. He tells her that he has enough for the both of them. He doesn’t need to teach her how to lie.
There comes a day when he convinces himself that she is limited, that the slowly evolving emotional range of his best friend will never be advanced enough to understand what he tries to teach her. The truth is that she is a child, tentative and curious, and he is a soldier, a leader, and what he needs is something she cannot yet give him. He convinces himself that he can no longer wait for her.
“I love you.” This isn’t the first time he tells her, but his mouth has never been so cruel and he’s never looked so hurt. “And you…you love dancing and you love shotguns and you love the god damned squirrels in the park, but me…I fucking love you, Cameron. But you don’t, do you? You can’t.”
There comes a day when she tells him she doesn’t want to be human. Her eyes are wide and trusting, believing that he will understand, because he always does. She isn’t human and she doesn’t want to be. She simply is, and that should be enough for him. She doesn’t understand why he would want her to change, to be something she is not. She doesn’t understand why he turns away from her.
“John? John, please. Please, John, I don’t – I can’t – John, why are you – I don’t understand, John,” she struggles to find the words he wants to hear, the words that will keep him here, safe with her. “John?”
The humans call it Judgment Day.
She blends in, because that is what she does. She alters her biological processes and bruises and scars start appearing on her unmarked flesh. They call her weird, odd, sometimes a freak, but they never question her humanity and that is sufficient.
“We’re two of a kind now.”
She looks up from the elaborate blueprints and plans that encompass her rickety desk to stare at the man leaning against her doorway. His words carry the slightest tang of bitterness, but she doesn’t understand.
“Alone,” he says.
“Yes.” Yes, they are alone. Without John, they are alone, two people displaced and struggling. Kyle Reese is not this Derek’s brother and John Connor has no known living family. She is feeling things she should not, things she is struggling to make sense of, to control the evolving mess that is neither human nor machine. This is not the future they know.
This is what binds them together, connected by something that no longer exists, tinged by faded animosity.
“I am lonely,” she says to him, because John isn’t there anymore.
His eyes leave the wall, find hers and she recognizes sympathy in his face. “We all are. But for you and me…John’s been the center of our lives for the last ten years. And now…”
He doesn’t finish his sentence but she can extrapolate what he would have said from the indisputable truth that eats at them both, and she says it for him. “He doesn’t need us. Not like before.”
John has soldiers and advisors and the remnants of species ready to do what they’ve been doing for more than a decade. And Kate, she adds silently, even if she can’t quite understand why the human woman comes to mind.
“Two of a kind,” she echoes.
They develop a strange kind of companionship.
She tells herself that he is busy, that he isn’t deliberately sending her out for longer and longer assignments, that this time, he will smile at her when she returns. She tells herself that he will come to see her soon, come to show her new things and discuss his plans with her the way he used to.
On the day they happen to be in the same debriefing session, when his eyes find her in the crowd, when his gaze moves on without hesitation, she tells herself that she feels nothing.
She volunteers for a mission the humans call suicidal but the word means nothing to her; she cannot self-terminate.
She is captured and imprisoned, and when they brand her wrist with a barcode, she suspects that Skynet – this Skynet – does not recognize what she is. It’s inexplicable and damn near impossible but she doesn’t want to consider what it might mean. She doesn’t notice the bits of memory and data missing from her own mind.
Her tiny room is untouched, despite the fact that she’s been gone for months. They should have assumed she was dead and reallocated the space. She wonders who kept it for her.
She’s aware of the approaching footsteps well before the metal hatch creaks open, is careful not to let her disappointment show when Derek appears. He grasps her shoulders, stares into her eyes as if he can see into her CPU. The fact that she’s alive, that she isn’t going on a murderous rampage…he doesn’t understand it either, but he doesn’t pull a gun on her and he doesn’t try to rip her chip out.
“Is John safe?”
He releases her, steps back, runs his fingers through his dirty hair. “He’s safe.”
She nods, busies herself with tidying her dusty desk.
“Cameron.” He shifts uncomfortably, wondering when he started to care about hurting a machine’s feelings, when he’d accepted the possibility that they even had feelings. “I thought you should know…a month after you disappeared, John married Kate Brewster.”
The logic she was built upon, the logic she cannot escape ensures that she is not surprised, but it doesn’t protect her from the way it makes her feel. “Oh.”
“He loved you first.” She can see that it’s killing him to say it, which is how she knows that he’s not being deliberately cruel. He touches the black tattoo on the inside of her wrist, marking her as one of them. “I’m sorry.”
She already knows.
Time passes and war rages on and they’re finding their places. She runs tactical teams and designs weaponry when she’s supposed to be sleeping. Derek is the soldier he always was, though she knows he keeps a distant eye on Kyle Reese and his younger self. They’re two of a kind and their only friendships lie in each other and sometimes when they’re together it’s almost enough to make them feel like they’re not alone and the irony is almost enough to kill them.
Then a raid recovers a prototype model and she’s summoned to the reprogramming bay.
John is the only one there when she arrives, and some part of her is aware that she hasn’t been alone with him in years. He is different, but so is she, and suddenly they’re strangers.
Her identification systems remind her of her primary mission, taunting her with everything she cannot do, everything that has been taken away from her.
No one calls her Cameron anymore; she’s been Phillips for so long she doubts anyone knows her first name.
He looks at her for a moment longer, taking in the familiar face. Somehow, he’d expected her to look exactly the same, to be exactly she same. She isn’t and some deep down part of him wants to know her again, to be the way they were.
But they can’t and they aren’t and he forces himself to return his attention to the body laid out behind him.
Her expression doesn't change when she joins him, and he wonders if she’s even surprised at all to see herself lying inert before them. She reaches out to touch the perfect cheek, the perfect hair of her double.
“I didn’t expect her to be me.” She can’t take her eyes off the deactivated terminator. She knows for a fact that her human counterpart did not survive Judgment Day.
“Skynet works in mysterious ways,” he says wryly.
“What are you going to do with her?” She runs a finger down the side of her face, feeling smooth skin where she has a thin white scar.
He catches her wrist, turning it up toward the light, his thumb running over the black mark. “Why do you keep this?”
“I have to appear human. Humans scar, their tattoos do not just disappear.”
“I always wondered how you managed to trick Skynet into thinking you were human.”
She pulls her wrist away, covering the barcode with her sleeve. “I guess I didn’t.”
“When you disappeared on that mission…I thought you were dead.”
“I know.” She isn’t sure why he’s telling her this, what this is supposed to change. But her memory is clear and perfect and she can recall exactly how she felt when she returned. “But I wasn’t. And when I came back, you didn’t even–”
“What are you going to do with her?” she interrupts. The very last thing she wants to hear is another apology, another justification.
“Reprogram her. Send her back.”
“With what mission?”
“To protect me.”
She closes her eyes. “My mission.”
“Do you still have a mission?”
She looks at him sharply. “My mission has always been to protect you. To be there, with you.”
Silently, he hands her the chip that is the duplicate of hers, turns to leave her to her task.
“She will not fail.”
Her words are not meant for him, but he can taste their bitterness on his tongue. His resolve is as steely as hers; this time, he won’t fail her either.
“Must be weird, reprogramming yourself.”
She gives him a reproachful look, but he smirks at her from his position in the corner. “She isn’t me.” Her eyes flick over the screens without really seeing them. “She’ll have choices. She can change things.”
Her fingers still over the battered keyboard, her gaze irresistibly drawn to her. All of her hopes tied up in that fragile little chip, in the metal shell that will house it. She’s going to make her special, make her different. She’s going to make her everything she should have been. “Yes.”
“You know…we could switch you. Send you back instead. No one has to know.”
What he’s suggesting tastes of insubordination, but the temptation is overwhelming. She wants to escape this, to take the chance, to go back and do things right this time. But this is who she is now, this half-human creature, this is her place.
“You could copy yourself over,” he says. “Make her into you.”
“She wouldn’t be me,” she snaps. “She will be her and John will send her back and I’ll still be here. And maybe when she goes downtime all of this won’t exist anymore and then there will only be her. Maybe she’ll make things the way they should be.”
Derek considers her carefully, stares at his only friend – he thinks of her as a friend now, although he can’t quite figure out how they got here (he suspects desperation) – and recognizes the expression on her face, the hardened mask they all wear.
“If you change your mind,” he says hesitantly, “I’ll help you.”
She doesn’t look at him, doesn’t say anything, but he knows she hears him.
The day before TOK-715 is scheduled to go downtime, Cameron Phillips is terminated in action.
Despite everything that she has learned, everything that makes her different, she is fundamentally a machine. She is acutely aware of her systems failing, the irreparable damage to her power cell, and the electrical surges that threaten to fry her CPU. She is immobilized, one of the fallen, but she can isolate John’s voice from the cacophony of explosions and gunfire and he’s alive, he’s alive and he’ll be safe and that’s all that matters.
She has the rare privilege of knowing exactly how long she has left; she can watch the seconds tick down to zero.
She wonders if her body will be recovered, if her secret will be revealed at last. She wonders if Derek will miss her at all. She wonders if John will notice.
Her vision flickers and she closes her eyes, listens to the whirrs and hums that animate her body falling into silence. Her last thoughts are not of the human resistance or Skynet, not of Derek Reese, not of John Connor. In the moments before her chip overheats and burns, before her death, she thinks of the machine that will take her place in the past, the tin girl into whom she’s poured all her humanity, all her hope and love.
She can rest now, she thinks, and if she still had control over those functions, she would have smiled.
And then the clock runs out and she doesn’t think anything anymore.
“What is your mission?”
“Find and protect John Connor.”
He nods, satisfied. But her head tilts and she speaks again, “You are sad. Why?”
“Someone important died yesterday.”
“This is a war,” she tells him, confident as ever. “People die all the time.”
“It is always sad when someone dies,” he says with a patience he thought he’d lost long ago. “Don’t forget that, Cameron.”
“Cameron? Is that my name?”
“Yes.” He turns away from her inquisitive gaze to calibrate the TDE, knowing that she’s watching his every move.
“Cameron was sad too,” she says unexpectedly.
His head snaps up. “How do you know that?”
“She told me.” She gauges his reaction, observes his body language and facial expression and comes to the conclusion that he wishes for her to elaborate. “She told me many things.”
The room hums with the power being drawn to the TDE, the air crackling with electricity. She steps back to stand at the center of the dais, a faint blue sphere taking form around her.
“Like what?” He seizes his last chance, even as he tells himself he probably doesn’t want to know.
She smiles. “She told me I would change everything.”