TITLE: Home Fires Burning
FANDOM: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
movies, S1.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Don't know who does.
CHARACTERS: Sarah-centric
TIMELINE: varies, but mostly during the pilot
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 to end.

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 was not.

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 the apocalypse.

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 chillingly disturbing.

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 forever.

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 to chance.

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.

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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