TITLE: Home Fires Burning
FANDOM: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Don't know who does.
TIMELINE: varies, but mostly during
SUMMARY: Of all the painful lessons Sarah
struggled to teach her son, the ones she hadn’t intended him to learn were
the ones that burned the most.
It was a Tuesday. She was
sitting in a booth at Denny’s trying not to notice the duct tape on the vinyl
seat and the sticky dribbles of pancake syrup clinging to the tabletop. It
wasn’t time for an epiphany and yet, it happened. Somewhere between juggling
parent teacher conferences and target practice, Sarah came to the realization
that for her beliefs to be vindicated (for her to be vindicated), the world had
The realization burned.
The more she thought about it, the more her head hurt. Or maybe that was just
all the second hand smoke and high fructose corn syrup.
Sarah Connor had never embraced her destiny with grace. She fought it tooth
and nail. And not just when she was hiding under that bridge, railing at
Kyle about her checkbook. Even after.
After Kyle died. After she destroyed the machine.
After all that, she still fought it.
She fled. First Arizona, then Texas, finally into Mexico, running from herself
and her future. She tried to lose herself in the bottle. But that only lasted
until she discovered she was pregnant. And even then, knowing the child she
carried was a boy, that she would name him John, that he would one day wage
war against the machines, she still fought it.
Until one day, she couldn’t fight it anymore.
John was four years old. They were living in a crappy little apartment in
Oklahoma with nothing but cinderblock houses and hard packed earth as far
as the eye could see. And Sarah Connor finally stopped running from her future.
It wasn’t dawning awareness. It was a frying pan. And a fucking can of Spam.
She’d been digging around in the cabinet trying to find something to feed
her infuriatingly picky child when she found the can of potted meat left
by a former tenant and saw the expiration date, S120997. December 9, 1997.
And she thought to herself that the can of Spam would outlast human civilization.
For ten hours, she sat in the middle of the kitchen floor crying.
And then she was done crying for a long, long time.
Sarah dedicated everything she had, everything she was to training John to
be the leader he had to be. She gave up her dreams. And herself. She sacrificed
everything for John – and for the future.
But even when she was teaching her seven year old son how to hotwire a car,
Sarah always had hope. It was the one thing she never sacrificed. Hope fueled
her. Hope drove her on her mad quest. Not the hope to change her fate. Her fate was set. But the
hope to change John’s fate.
For his entire life, Sarah stared at her son without ever allowing herself
to truly see him. She lost many things in her personal war, most of all herself.
But that was an acceptable loss. Because she was expendable. And John Connor
Sarah accomplished her primary goal, the one she had told Kyle was impossible.
She, who knew nothing of warfare or planning or strategy, molded her son
into a man who could shape the future of the entire human race. Her son was
a man to be reckoned with. If there was anything the incident with the T-1000
taught her, it was that John would be the man who could guide humanity through
Provided there was an apocalypse.
Because parallel to her primary goal, was always the goal to stop it all,
to head off Judgment Day before it happened. To avert the apocalypse. To spare
John his fate.
It took her a long time to realize how at odds those two goals were. There
was the old adage, hope for the best and
prepare for the worst. Problem was, it wasn’t actually possible to
do both. She tried. And failed. You had to side with one cause or the other.
And at the end of the day, even after she blew Cyberdyne and Miles Dyson
all to hell, Sarah Connor was a glass half empty kind of girl. She erred
on the side of caution, hedged her bets and prepared for the worst.
So there it was, a Tuesday morning a couple of years after she busted out
of Pescadero. She sat in the dingy little booth at Denny’s, grabbing a bite
on the way to John’s parent teacher conferences, her hands still aching from
firing round after round of ammunition only an hour earlier. Sarah sat there
and watched her fourteen year old son assess the building for exits and tactical
vulnerabilities with a casual ease that felt completely natural. And bone
For the first time, Sarah truly looked at her son and realized …
She did this.
Under the guise of protecting her son, she sacrificed her baby boy to the
vague idea of a John Connor who could wage war against the machines and win.
But if there wasn’t an apocalypse, all she’d done was damage her son so extensively
he could never function in the society she fought so hard to save. He would
never be able to appreciate a normal life. He would never be a normal man.
Sarah panicked. She scrambled. She moved John to Nebraska - of all fucking
places - and gave him his father’s name and tried with everything she could
to tie him to his life, to his humanity, to a normal childhood that he’d
only ever glimpsed. John was understandably bewildered. Sarah changed the
rules on him mid-step. But he recovered quickly and seemed to thrive. He always
beamed with pride when he identified himself as John Reese. He adored Charley. Sarah started
to think that maybe he could live a normal life.
But then the nightmares returned. And Sarah found that a lifetime of habits
couldn’t be undone in one grand gesture. She found that as much as she loved
watching her son participate in normal life, that she worried about him more
and more with each passing day. She worried his reflexes were getting slow.
She worried that he didn’t pay enough attention to his surroundings. She
worried he was taking it for granted that everything would go on like this
It built and built, like a stray ember catching kindling only Sarah could
see. Charley Dixon asked her to be his wife, for them all to be a family.
She was offered a normal human existence on a silver platter. Flame after
flame scorched Sarah’s mind, burning away everything else.
And like that, she was done hoping for the best and leaving John’s future
No one is ever safe. Half an hour. One
bag. Plus the guns. I'll make pancakes.
It wasn’t John’s anger that disturbed her. Anger she could take. She was comfortable
with anger. It was the resignation in his eyes.
He knew the flames were building. He knew she would bolt and rip him out
of his school, his identity, his home, his life. He expected it. And he was angry.
But he wasn’t shocked. Because a lifetime of lessons couldn’t be unlearned
in one grand gesture. And he knew this was going to happen. Because this
was what always
Of all the painful lessons Sarah struggled to teach her son, the ones she
hadn’t intended him to learn were the ones that burned the most.
John knew his future was inescapable. He knew the world would end. She just
never realized that it would end a dozen different, excruciatingly personal
ways (Pescadero, Todd and Janelle, Nebraska) so that when the machines finally
declared war, it would be a perverse sort of relief for him. John Connor
would be the man to pull humanity back from the brink. He would be hardened
and honed for battle like Damascus steel, forged in fire again and again.
But it wouldn’t be the fires of Skynet’s war that would shape him into the
man he needed to be. He would be that man long before Skynet struck. The
fires of his own childhood would burn into him the lessons he would need.
Despite all the skills she sacrificed so much to give him, John would learn
the most valuable lessons simply from being her son. Grace under fire, thinking
on his feet, the ability to turn on a dime, duality, the will to survive.
None of those were skills she explicitly taught him, but they were skills
that as her son, he was required to learn. And those childhood lessons would
serve him far better than the tactics of warfare.
For John Connor, surviving the apocalypse would be a piece of cake compared
to being Sarah Connor’s son. She didn’t know if that filled her with pride
or shame. Probably both. If he survived her, he could survive Skynet. And
so could humanity.
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