TITLE: Gnothi Seauton
CHARACTERS: Sarah Connor, Derek Reese, John Connor
WARNINGS: Spoilers for Season 1.
TIMELINE: set several weeks after the season finale
John stood in the cramped galley kitchen absently tapping the cd against his leg. When Sarah walked in, his attention snapped to her and he wondered how long he'd been standing there.
"You okay?" she asked quietly. She'd been like that a lot lately. Motherly. He felt kind of stupid thinking that, but it was true. Sarah was his mother, but there were times when she was far more emotionally available than others. Lately, she'd been more available than usual. He liked it, even though he was pretty sure he shouldn't.
"Fine," he said, putting on a fake smile. He held up the cd. "Just burned this for Cameron."
Sarah frowned and took the cd. It wasn't labeled, but she looked at him. "That music again?"
John nodded. "Nocturne in C-sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin."
Sarah shook her head and handed the cd back to John. "Any ideas why she likes it so much?"
He shrugged, turning away.
"Or why Derek hates it so much?" Sarah continued, but she said it absently, rhetorically like she didn't really expect an answer.
John looked at her meaningfully.
Sarah's eyebrow quirked. "What?" she asked, stepping closer. The new apartment was a shithole. And temporary, Sarah assured him. Two bedrooms, one bath. He and Derek were crammed into the smaller room. Sarah and the guns were in the larger room. Cameron spent the bulk of her time standing in the living room corner healing. Needless to say, it was a challenge to keep anything secret stacked on top of each other as they were.
John looked at her, wanting to say more, but unable to do so.
"We're going to get some milk," Sarah yelled pointedly, grabbing John's shirt and pulling him toward the door.
They were a couple blocks from the apartment in their newly liberated truck before Sarah spoke. "Talk," she commanded.
John took a deep breath. "Derek's not right."
Sarah snorted. "Uh, I really don't think we needed to leave the house for you to make that revelation," she said dryly. "Derek Reese is broken in ways you can't fix."
It was true enough. Derek had moments when he was capable of integrating, of acting like a normal human with normal human connections. But for each of those moments, he had darker times. His thousand yard stare, his absolute ruthlessness. The way he drank coffee by the gallon and snorted Adderalll so he didn't have to sleep. He was a soldier, and a damn good one. But he often failed at being a human being.
John sighed. "That's not …" He swallowed thickly trying to think of some way to voice the dread that kept him awake nights. "I'm not worried about fixing Derek. I'm worried about what broke him."
Sarah looked over at John, her expression concerned. And there it was again, that shameful joy in his heart that even in a moment like this that he was speaking to his mother and not his commanding officer. Turning her attention back to the road, she quickly scanned the horizon and found a place to park on a busy residential street. She turned off the engine.
"What are you thinking?" she asked pointedly. "Derek lived through only god knows what in his time. He lived through the apocalypse. Of course he's broken."
"Kyle wasn't," John replied defiantly. It was a gamble. Sarah spoke of Kyle in specific terms so rarely John really had no idea if his father suffered from the same missing pieces that kept Derek from fully integrating. But somehow in his heart, John doubted it. Somehow in his soul, he knew that Kyle's humanity was soundly in tact.
Sarah's gaze shuttered immediately and she sank back against the seat, staring blindly out the windshield. She did that, sometimes. When she thought of Kyle. But it had been a long time since John saw so clearly just how intensely his mother loved his father. How much she still loved his father. And there it was again, that satisfaction.
John spent his entire life trying to live up to the reputation he had yet to make. It was such a bittersweet relief after Sarah was institutionalized to learn she was a textbook psycho. Messiah complex. Even his initials, J.C. John Connor. Jesus Christ. Savior of mankind. His father existed only in death, never in life and John always thought his might as well have been a virgin birth.
But then he was the target. And the machine saved him. And he learned that Sarah wasn't crazy and the destiny that weighed so heavily on his small shoulders was twice as heavy. Because he saw it with his own eyes and textbook or not, it was real. He really did have to figure out how to save humanity from the machines.
But he watched Sarah, still lost in painful memories of Kyle and it comforted him the way nothing else could. Because maybe he was one big, literal, self-fulfilling prophecy. But he was also human. And his mother loved his father. And vice versa. John might have sent Kyle back. He might have orchestrated the circumstances. But the emotions were real. His parents' love for one another was real. And because of that, he was real. He was a real boy. Not a construct. Not a machine.
"No," Sarah finally said, her voice hoarse with emotion. "Kyle wasn't broken. Not like that. Not like Derek."
This time, it was John's turn to look away. "I sent Derek here for a reason."
"To help us. To wait for us. You sent the whole team."
John shrugged, still unable to meet her gaze. Sarah had a suburban middle class upbringing, but by and large, her education was at the school of hard knocks. One of the only Greek phrases she knew was Gnothi Seauton, the term carved into the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It roughly translated to know yourself. Sarah liked it, she liked what it meant to her. She took strength from the phrase. But for all of his mother's love and compassion, she had no idea what that phrase meant to him. Sarah Connor could know herself. She could know the girl she used to be as well as the woman she had become.
But knowing himself wasn't so simple for John. He had the absolute mindfuck of having to deal with another version of himself that existed in the future. Another self that made decisions and took actions which directly influenced John in the here and now. John hated his future self. He hated the cold blooded general who could cavalierly send Kyle Reese back to his death without ever once betraying their relationship. John didn't know how he could ever get to that point. He didn't want to believe he would one day become that man.
But inside he knew. He knew it would happen. Because that's how it had to happen. He would one day become the savior of the human race, the man who would treat people like pawns and do whatever was necessary to secure the future.
But every now and then, John realized that his future self had a few vulnerabilities, that he made a few concessions for the emotional comfort of his sixteen year old self.
"I could have sent someone else. I didn't have to send Derek."
"He's one of your best soldiers. That's what Cameron said. And you know it's true."
It was true. John would never dream of denying that. Derek was a damn fine soldier. He would do anything necessary. Anything. Flexible morality. Heh. That term always amused the hell out of John. For Derek, the ends justified the means. And more and more, John was embracing that concept himself. Because as much as he was drawn to Derek, drawn to the stories he had of Kyle, drawn to a flesh and blood father figure, John knew he sent Derek back for a very specific reason.
John studied human behavior. Not just in the sense of watching people, though he did do that a lot. But really, seriously studied human behavior theory. He knew that family units tended to find their own level. Derek performed a very specific function in their dysfunctional nuclear family. He was the extremist, the soldier, the voice of distrust and constant vigilance. And because he was so extreme, so damaged, Sarah became softer to offset him. Not soft. But softer. And the natural friction between Derek and Sarah was so pronounced that often, she went farther to her own extreme than any natural instinct would have guided her simply because she liked to argue with him.
Having Derek in the house meant that John got his mother back. A version of Sarah he'd only ever really glimpsed before. She could still beat a man to death with her bare hands, but somehow they all acknowledged now that it was Derek's job, not hers. She was still their leader, but more and more, she was free to be more compassionate, more caring. And she could do that only because Derek maintained his portion of the equation so vigilantly.
And Derek held up his end of the bargain so well specifically because he was so broken.
"Derek was tortured."
Sarah looked at her son with a wry expression on her face. "It doesn't take a genius to figure that out, John."
John held up the cd. "While this music was playing."
Sarah stared at him blankly for a moment. She shook her head. "How do you know that?"
John shrugged. "And I think Cameron is the one that tortured him."
He knew Sarah wanted to voice some denial, but she didn't. She sat there, blinking, taking in the words he said. He took a moment to marvel at how all the family dynamics were changing. She trusted him on this. She didn't demand to know how he came to these conclusions, she just accepted them. Which was just as well, because he couldn't have explained, even to her, how he knew. Only that he did know. Maybe because he knew himself better than he wanted to think possible.
Sarah took a deep breath. "That would explain why he hates her so much. And why he keeps torching those cds."
"Yeah," John said wryly, "but it doesn't explain why she keeps replacing the music."
Sarah shrugged. "Maybe the Tin Miss likes it."
"Cameron said she had her memory wiped," John replied. "She said it was standard protocol, that it increased odds of mission success."
"That sounds reasonable," Sarah said. "You wouldn't want a machine to retain its original programming."
John shook his head. "No. No you wouldn't."
"But?" Sarah prompted.
John looked up at her and held her gaze for several long moments. "But if Cameron tortured Derek while playing that music, and Cameron still likes that music ..."
Sarah swallowed thickly. "You think Cameron tortured Derek after she was reprogrammed."
"Do you think she's working for Skynet? Or maybe that she's losing it?"
John shook his head. "I think Cameron did exactly as she was ordered." He took a deep breath. "I think I sent her there to torture Derek."
Sarah stared at her son blankly. "That doesn't make any sense, John. Why would you do that?"
He laughed mirthlessly. "So he'd hate them," John replied. "So Derek would specifically distrust Cameron." He scrubbed a hand roughly over his face. "I think I did it to break Derek, so he'd never be able to forget, so he'd never let any of us forget what happens when you trust a machine."
Sarah shivered despite the oppressive warmth inside the cab of the truck. "You can't know that John."
"Yes I can," he said sadly. "I know myself."