John is alone in the house with Cameron again. Derek has disappeared somewhere, something which has been happening more and more lately but John feels ashamed to ask, like he’s admitting he doesn’t fully trust his uncle. Sarah’s gone too, probably out interrogating some unsuspecting civilian about three dots, but she has left the radio on. It’s tuned to an 80s station, the one she likes to listen to when she’s baking or doing prep work for a new mission. Through the static John can hear the opening strains of "How Soon Is Now?", the thrumming of the guitar stretching into a wail. It reminds him of the elusive normalcy he often craves, the kind that not so long ago seemed possible. Mexico proved otherwise. But a long, hot afternoon pervaded by a very mundane sense of boredom is enough to make him forgetful.
"Would you have actually gone to prom with him? Morris, I mean."
Cameron is seated at the dining room table. She looks up from the shotgun she’s cleaning (her favorite one, John thinks, if she could have such a thing) and fixes a stare upon him. "If it was necessary for your protection," she says.
He is incredulous. He thinks by now he shouldn’t balk at anything that comes out of her mouth, and the fact that he still does frustrates him immeasurably. "For my protection? What sort of trouble could I have possibly gotten into there? It’s just a normal thing people my age do."
"Like a date. Morris would have been my prom date."
"Yes, something like that. And it would have been totally fine." He knows it’s a lie even as he speaks. (Cromartie had been hunting him in those hallways, and who’s to say that fatal persistence wouldn’t have seen past their little charade? Something could have lead him back.) But it’s insignificant on the scale of falsehoods he tells himself daily just to keep his head clear; he doesn’t care. Cameron turns her attention back to inspecting the barrel for residue, apparently uninterested in him for the moment.
I am the son and the heir
of nothing in particular
He walks into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator door and looks into the bright light for a moment. Shuts it. He returns to stand behind her and watch as she wipes down the outside of the barrel with unnecessary precision. His cyborg "sister" is proving an unexciting distraction this time. He’s about to head back upstairs when she finally speaks.
"Would Riley have been your prom date?"
John swears he can hear the slightest hint of scorn in her voice as she says Riley’s name. It pisses him off.
"I didn’t know Riley then." Even if had known her, he wouldn’t have asked her; he wouldn’t have asked anyone. Somehow it would have felt like too big of a lie, even more so than the rest of the haphazard John Baum fabrication. Cameron doesn’t have to know that.
"I was planning to ask Cheri. You remember her."
"Cheri," Cameron says, tilting her head in that odd way she does when she’s assessing an idea unrelated to mission strategy. "I don’t think that would have been a good idea. There was something wrong with her. She was a potential security risk." Cameron rises from her seat at the table and moves towards him, but he shifts away from her. The song fades into the bark of a DJ’s voice, so he reaches over and turns the dial to OFF. Cameron watches him silently, her eyes following the movement of his hand as he lifts it to rub his forehead, exasperated and growing increasingly tense, his fingers brushing through cropped hair.
"Your hair is getting longer," she says.
He shrugs. "What makes you think I would have even wanted to go to prom anyway?"
"Because it’s a normal thing people our age do. Just like you said."
"Yeah, well, maybe so. But you’re not even a real teenager." What he means is you’re not even human.
"No. But I was learning what it’s like. I’m still learning. You told me I would."
She’s talking about his future self again, the John Connor he’ll become. He’s bad enough at being John Baum when he’s with Riley; being the leader of the Resistance will be infinitely more difficult. He can’t imagine holding such sway over the hearts and minds of his followers, much less commanding them. He only hopes he has the strength to wear that mask. John finds himself staring into her blank face. No, not blank, never blank: merely impassive, emotion replaced by dispassionate analysis of every word he says. Yet, he remembers it changed, transfigured into an all too human image of terror as she begged for her life. She said she loved him. He was merciful. He knows the other John would have done the same.
"When you tell me these things, about me, about my future, what are you trying to accomplish?"
She steps towards him, a hand’s width away, near enough to touch. "To let you know that John Connor is not alone. To make it easier to leave this life, this time, behind."
John Connor is not alone, but John Connor is lonely. John Connor can tell her things that he doesn’t tell anyone else. He is beginning to understand, and what's there thrills even as it frightens him: Cameron is both the benefactor and the redeemer of his isolation.
She is too close.
Their shoulders bump together when he brushes past her. He can feel her turn and begin to follow as he moves towards the stairs, and he listens to the loud thump of her boots as she ascends behind him. They reach his bedroom and pause. The door is ajar, so John pushes it open with one hand and steps inside, never turning around. Cameron waits at the door frame while he sits down on the bed, then crosses the room to sit next to him. They are silent, and they do not touch. John is unsure how long they stay like that—five minutes? thirty?—but he knows Cameron can feel every second.
"Cameron…I…could you leave me alone for a while? I really need to work with these drives." He gestures vaguely towards his computer and the electronic debris scattered around it. She stares at him for a moment, then rises from the bed and tromps out of the room. He waits until he can hear her moving about downstairs. She’s turned the radio back on.
He pulls his cell out of his pocket and dials Riley’s number.