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Tricks, Treats and Terminators

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There was a loud, determined knock on the front door. Cameron was there instantly, her hand reaching for the hidden shotgun as she peeked through the heavy, frosted glass.

Sarah reached the door a second after Cameron, pushing the muzzle of the gun out of Cameron’s hand with a wry smile. “Stand down, Tin Miss,” she directed, stepping neatly around the terminator to throw the door open to a loud cry of “Trick or Treat!”

Cameron cocked her head to the side, peering out from behind the door with a blank look as Sarah distributed candy from a large bowl into shopping bags and large, orange plastic pumpkins. The smile on Sarah’s face was unusual, as was the way the children were dressed and the odd names Sarah called them. Cameron struggled to cross-reference the words, goblin, Dracula, ghost, with the children in their ill-fitting, artificial plastic teeth and sheets and torn jeans and green make-up.

Sarah shut the door as the children wandered off into the night. She set the bowl down on the entryway table and regarded the terminator. “What?”

“A goblin is a mythological creature, from fairy tales and folklore. That was a child.”

Sarah’s smile widened a little, but it was mocking rather than friendly. “It’s Halloween. The kids are trick-or-treating.” When Cameron still stared at her blankly, she suggested, “Look it up.”

Cameron nodded once, curtly, and strode determinedly down the hall. Sarah shook her head, but had no further time to contemplate the terminator as another knock signified the beginning of a steady stream of children to the door.

Sarah was just sliding a candy bar into the pumpkin of a young girl dressed as a pink and white fairy princess, when the girl’s eyes grew wide and she pointed back toward the house. “What is she supposed to be?” Sarah glanced over her shoulder to find Cameron back at the door, her army fatigues and a hard, blank look transforming her into something otherworldly and alien. Sarah looked back at the girl with a reassuring smile. “She’s a terminator.” The little girl opened her mouth to ask another question but her mother pulled her away and back toward the street.

Seeing a break in the crowd, Sarah eased the door shut, the quiet snick seeming to unleash a torrent of words from the terminator. “Halloween is a holiday based on an ancient Celtic festival named Samhain, held on October 31st because of the belief that on that day, the boundary between the living and the dead dissolves.”

Sarah reached into the bowl and handed Cameron a metallic-gold wrapped bar, which the terminator turned over in her hand, her head tilting to the side. “For doing your homework,” explained Sarah with another mocking smile.

“I don’t understand. Why would you give candy away to strange children?”

“It’s a custom,” Sarah explained as she brushed past Cameron. “It’s what we do.”

Cameron frowned when she noticed the way Sarah stressed the word “we.” “We” obviously meaning humanity or everyone but the terminator. It was Sarah’s customary excuse when she didn’t really want to explain something. “Children shouldn’t eat sweets,” Cameron remarked. “It makes them hyperactive, causes tooth decay, and contributes to obesity.”

Sarah looked at her for a beat then turned and walked away, heading toward the kitchen.

Undeterred, Cameron followed.

“We’re in a nice neighborhood with lots of kids,” Sarah said as she went to the fridge and retrieved a cold soda. “Think of this as a strategic exercise. We don’t want to look out of place as the only house not handing out candy, do we?” She smirked as she popped the top open and took a sip.

Cameron watched her. She understood she was being teased but she didn’t mind. “We’re blending in.”

“We’re blending in,” Sarah agreed in a somewhat playful tone and a relaxed grin, and Cameron realized Sarah was actually enjoying herself.

Another knock sounded.

Sarah motioned with the can for Cameron to go answer the door. “Your turn, girlie.”

Cameron stood still for a moment, but she complied when Sarah nodded her head in an implicit command. She opened the heavy oak door and was greeted by a gaggle of children, all barely hip high. The one in front wore a white plastic mask, completely covering the child’s face. Cameron tilted her head in puzzlement when they all spoke at once.

“Trick or treat!”

The terminator turned and looked toward Sarah for help. Sarah was lounging in the doorway to the kitchen, a small smile on her face. Cameron wasn’t sure if it was the children bringing the welcome expression to Sarah’s features or Cameron’s pleading look.

“What do we have here?” Sarah asked as she shoved off the doorframe and sauntered closer. “Wow. A stormtrooper,” Sarah exclaimed as she took the bowl from Cameron’s fingers and began to drop candy in each bag in turn.

“Stormtrooper?” Cameron murmured as she searched her databanks for this reference, but none was forthcoming. She watched as Sarah handed out the candy, far more for each child than was prudent. All the kids said their thanks and wandered back off into the night.

Sarah shut the door and shoved the bowl back into Cameron’s hands. “Think you can handle it now?”

Cameron looked at the bowl then Sarah’s retreating back dubiously. “You like this holiday?”

Pausing in the doorway to the kitchen, Sarah turned and looked at her. “It’s a bunch of kids having fun. What’s not to like?” She found her can on the table and took sip, relaxing back against the doorframe.

Cameron did a quick scan and determined no other children would be arriving for five point three minutes. “Did you do this as a child?”

Sarah straightened a little. “Why?”

“Is it inappropriate to ask?”

“No,” Sarah replied, running her hand through her hair and wondering what she had started. “No, of course not.“ She paused for a moment, as if unsure as to how to answer the question. “Yeah, I trick or treated as a kid.”

“In costume?”

“That’s sort of the point, Cameron.”

Cameron tried to imagine the woman before her as a child, dressed in a plastic mask or a frilly pink and white gown. She could recreate Sarah’s face to a facsimile of what it would be as a child, but she couldn’t see the grave, serious woman in a costume, young and carefree. “What did you wear?” Cameron was fascinated by this rare window into Sarah’s past. She’d never imagined John’s mother as a child before.

Sarah set her soda down and slipped her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. She shrugged. “Can’t remember.”

The far away look in Sarah’s eyes belied the truth. Cameron took a step closer and tilted her head. She ran through the crowds of children she had seen, analyzing the choices of the young girls. “A princess?” she asked.

Sarah’s green eyes lifted and met the terminator’s gaze. “Hardly.”

“You said you didn’t remember.”

Sarah’s eyes narrowed but she looked more amused than mad. “Why do you care?”

Cameron mirrored a human expression she had seen before, lifting her shoulder into a shrug. “A stormtrooper?”

Sarah barked out a laugh this time. Cameron watched as the other woman seemed to lose herself in memories for a long moment.

“My mom made my costumes. We didn’t have a lot,” Sarah finally said, her voice a little rougher. “My family. We didn’t have a lot of money so I couldn’t afford the kind you buy in stores.”

“What did she make for you?”

A knock sounded behind them, interrupting the moment just as Cameron felt she was about to gain a glimpse into Sarah’s past. Sarah looked at her then, as if realizing whom she was strolling down memory lane with and her features closed off and her eyes lost their humor as she turned away.

“It doesn’t matter, Tin Miss. Answer the door.”

The knock sounded again and Cameron watched Sarah return to the kitchen with a frown. Reluctantly she returned to the door and opened it, revealing yet another cluster of oddly dressed children.

“Trick or treat!” they all chimed.

Cameron smiled because she knew it was what she was supposed to do. One quiet little girl in the back caught her attention. She had golden blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and was wearing pink slippers and an even brighter pink tutu. “A ballerina,” Cameron said with satisfaction at finally identifying one of the costumes.

The young girl turned and ducked her head, hiding her face against her mother’s leg.

Cameron could hear footsteps and realized Sarah had returned to the doorway in the kitchen and was undoubtedly watching her. She wanted to turn, to see what expression was on Sarah’s face, but she didn’t look away from the children. She put two pieces of candy in each bag until the ballerina finally was all that was left.

“I’m a ballerina, too,” Cameron told her.

The girl finally peeked at her. “Really?”

Cameron noticed the child was missing her two front teeth and while it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing according to the art books she had studied, she didn’t find it ugly. “Uh-huh,” she said just like the teenager she was programmed to emulate.

“You’re pretty,” the girl told her.

Cameron blinked at the unexpected compliment. “Thank you,” she replied hesitantly. She felt a warm hand touch her back and she turned her head as Sarah appeared next to her in the doorway.

Sarah smiled at Cameron for a fraction of a moment then turned her attention on the little girl. “Speaking of pretty…” She looked up at the mother. “She’s adorable.”

Cameron added an extra piece of candy to the bag then winked at the child who giggled in reaction. She was aware of Sarah’s gaze on her, but she didn’t meet it. It was strange how a simple look from Sarah Connor could affect her systems and just how many of them seemed to function in their full capacity around the other woman, as if they were afraid they’d miss a single inflection, a simple muscle tick. Cameron found herself wanting to process it all, every nuance of Sarah’s personality.

Mother and child left and Cameron watched them walk away.

“You’re a ballerina, huh?” Sarah asked after a quiet moment.

“I took the lessons. I like to dance.”

“Do you?” Sarah’s voice was faintly mocking but lacked the normal edge. “You’ll have to show me some time.”

Cameron looked at her then, studying Sarah’s shadowed features in the castoff from the porch light. She didn’t have a chance to say anything as another wave of children arrived.

A flash of silver caught Cameron’s eye and her hand automatically went for the 9mm tucked into the waistband of her jeans. Sarah’s grip seized her wrist before she could draw it even as the boy aimed his weapon at Sarah.

“You got me!” Sarah played along and staggered back, hand on her chest, as the little cowboy made shooting noises. He giggled and Sarah smiled beautifully in response. Cameron found herself without words as she stared at the other woman, entranced by seeing Sarah Connor in a way she rarely did.

Happy.

“Cameron.”

The terminator jarred herself out of her thoughts when she realized Sarah was looking at her expectantly. Sarah’s hand relaxed it’s hold and Cameron released the butt of the weapon with an apologetic look. She handed out the candy to the ten or so children and watched them scurry away to the next house over.

“No shooting the children,” Sarah muttered when they were gone. “That’s not blending in.”

“I saw him…”

“I know,” Sarah cut her off. “You were just trying to protect me. But it was just part of the costume. I’m pretty sure a cap gun wouldn’t do much damage.”

Cameron was pleased that Sarah didn’t leave her again and for the next hour they stood close as they waited for the clusters of children. Cameron discovered she was enjoying the night, enjoying the break from their normal routine. She was especially enjoying the way Sarah reacted to the colorfully dressed children, how she seemed to delight in the vast array of costumes that paraded past their door. Again, Cameron found herself trying to imagine what Sarah Connor would have looked like at the age and in the different costumes.

Sarah obviously noticed her perusal. “What?”

Caught staring, Cameron glanced away. “Nothing.”

There was a moment where Cameron thought Sarah was going to push for an answer, but instead the woman just sighed, flipped off the porch light and stepped outside.

Cameron watched her curiously as Sarah set the nearly empty bowl of candy aside and settled on the front stoop. The October air was somewhat chilly and Cameron grabbed Sarah’s leather jacket off the hook near the door and brought it outside with her, draping the material over Sarah’s shoulders as she sat down next to her. Her eyes automatically scanned the area but she didn’t see any threats.

“What?” Cameron asked when Sarah shot her a sideways look. “Did you want to be alone?”

Sarah considered the question and gave a tiny shake of her head. “Not in much of a mood to talk though, Tin Miss.”

Cameron set her elbows on her knees then leaned forward, emulating Sarah’s pose. “Okay,” she said simply, knowing that Sarah would soon talk anyway. John’s mother was uncomfortable with silence and would find a topic to fill it. She glanced at Sarah and noticed the other woman watching her with a slight smirk, as if Sarah knew exactly what was going through Cameron’s mind.

They sat in silence for nearly five minutes before Sarah sighed. “I was an astronaut.”

Cameron looked at Sarah quizzically.

“For Halloween. I was an astronaut one year. I loved the night sky when I was a kid. I wanted to go to the moon and it was all I could talk about when I was in fifth grade.”

The terminator scooted closer and was pleased when Sarah didn’t seem to notice or mind. “How did you mother make your costume?” she asked, hoping Sarah would keep talking.

Sarah snorted softly. “She used an old hose from our dryer, that silver tubing? She made my arms and legs out of that.” Sarah shook her head with a smile, obviously recalling a happy memory. “I carried around a fish bowl as my helmet. My mom spray painted it white and had a gold circle for the sun shield.”

Cameron tried to imagine the costume on a young Sarah Connor. “I bet you were adorable,” Cameron complimented, using the word Sarah had used with the ballerina earlier. Sarah’s eyes went wide for a moment, then she shook her head. They sat in silence for a few minutes, the light in Sarah’s eyes as she gazed at the night sky dimming.

“I never got to make a costume for John,” Sarah confessed in a soft voice. “Some other woman got to do it. Some other woman got to share nights like this with him.”

“Because you were in the institution?” Cameron asked quietly.

Sarah didn’t have to answer. Cameron saw the other woman’s eyes tear a second before Sarah looked down the now deserted and dark street. “I missed out on so much. There are so many ways I never got to be a good mother.”

“You’re a good mother now,” Cameron pointed out, wanting to keep Sarah from falling back into her usual bitter state.

“Am I?” Sarah looked at her again. “Am I a good mother? Or even a mother at all? I’m a protector, and lately a jailer.” Sarah sighed and looked down at the sidewalk. “You protect him now, better than I ever could, and he doesn’t want my help anymore. Maybe he doesn’t even need it.”

Cameron considered what Sarah was saying in silence. “Your John is a teenager. He’s rebelling.”

Sarah propped her head on her fist and turned her head to look at Cameron. “And what about your John?”

“He’s still rebelling.” That got Sarah to smile a little, but it didn’t stop Cameron from trying to reassure her. “His biggest regret is that he thinks you died without knowing.”

“Died without knowing?” Sarah repeated questioningly

“He loves you.” Cameron answered simply. Sarah’s eyes brightened for a moment, and then she nodded thoughtfully. Cameron didn’t say any more, content to let Sarah sit in silence and stare at the sky, and unsure if reassurance from a terminator would truly help anyway.

Finally, Sarah said, “Make a wish.”

“What?”

She pointed, her finger to trace a flash of light in the sky. “You’re supposed to wish on a shooting star.”

“Why?”

“We just do, Cameron.”

Cameron stared at the light in the sky, trying to find a connection between an astrological event and a wish. “What do I wish?” she asked at long last, giving up the attempt to find logic.

“Whatever in the hell you want.”

“I wish…”

“Don’t say it out loud!” Sarah interrupted her.

Cameron looked peevish but did as she was told. They sat in silence again, and Cameron scanned the sky, automatically cataloging the different constellations but seeing no other falling stars. Finally, she said, “I don’t understand.” Sarah glanced at her. “It seems foolish.”

“Wishing?” Sarah groused.

“Wishing for something you know will never come true,” Cameron explained.

Sarah paused, taken aback a little by the terminator’s philosophical turn. “How do you know it won’t come true?”

“Because I can’t change the past.”

“The past?” Sarah asked in confusion, shaking her head.

“I can’t give you all of your Halloweens back.”

The terminator’s words were mild to provoke such a strong reaction in Sarah. She swallowed hard as tears sprang to her eyes. Blinking them away, she swallowed past a lump in her throat and managed, “That’s what you wished for?”

Cameron tilted her head, no doubt puzzled by Sarah’s reaction. “Yes. I made a wish to give you back all the Halloweens you missed with John.” When Sarah didn’t answer she asked, “Was that wrong?”

Sarah reached out hesitantly and brushed a few loose strands of Cameron’s hair away from the terminator’s cheek. The girl’s big, brown eyes watched her curiously, looking deep and fathomless in the moonlight. “Not wrong,” Sarah whispered. She dipped her head and brushed her mouth over Cameron’s, a feather soft touch that lasted seconds, but it seemed to cause a seismic shift under their feet. Sarah eased back and watched as Cameron’s eyes slowly blinked open.

“Happy Halloween, Cameron,” Sarah murmured before getting to her feet and returning to the house, the door drifting shut as she headed for the kitchen.

Cameron watched her go before touching her lips with the tips of her fingers. Her head tipped back and she watched the stars, content for the moment to watch them shine. She had a new appreciation for them now.

And Halloween.

And wishes.

And Sarah.