Fandom: Terminator 'verse
Character: Sarah Connor
Pairing(s): Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor/Derek Reese, Sarah Connor/Charley Dixon
Recced on LiveJournal By: stars_inthe_sky
Spoilers: Spoilers for The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator: Genisys, and all of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Blurb: If you thought the Terminator franchise was mostly about a time-traveling robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger hunting down interchangeable White Action Guys, think again. It's really about Sarah Connor: the impossibly resilient, incredibly messy, and deeply caring woman at the heart of the 'verse (and, I suppose, what a time-traveling robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger—or Summer Glau—hunting down interchangable White Action Guys sparks in her). Frankly, there's an argument to be made that the less-successful films in this franchise, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation, suffered in part because they lacked Sarah.
When viewers first meet Sarah Connor, she's portrayed (by Linda Hamilton) as aggressively average: a waitress with a kind streak who's close with her mom and by her own admission can barely balance a checkbook. But the revelation that her unborn son, John, will save humanity from a heavily armed artificial intelligence with a penchant for nuking things completely changes Sarah's outlook—and she rises to the occasion better than just about anyone. The transformation is stunning, even as you can see the hints of steel beneath her skin in the first movie and the suggestion of her past softness in later installments.
By T2 and especially by TSCC, when Lena Headey takes over the role, Sarah has remade herself into someone extraordinary and yet completely grounded. Her son is meant to save the world, but her only focus is protecting him from it. She's at once disconnected from the world she's trying to save, stealing and shooting as needed to ensure John's survival and Skynet's eventual defeat, and yet wholly committed to the few people she cares about on a personal level. Her entire life is premised on keeping John safe and prepared for what's to come—the TV series has often been described as an extended metaphor for single-parenting—but she frequently misses the forest for the trees as he grows into himself, and he ends up caring for her emotionally as much as vice versa. (When he talks her down from shooting the Dysons in T2, my heart aches for both of them.) And no matter which of many canonical timelines we're operating in, her actions have ripple effects across decades and continents—and she never forgets that.
T:G brings us to yet another timeline, where Sarah (played by Emilia Clarke) has been raised by a friendly Terminator to fight back against Skynet from a far younger age. In the process, she essentially usurps John's role, both on a personal level (she's got his bratty streak from T2, angst from TSCC, social disconnect from T3, and determined desperation from T:S) and a storytelling one, as she leads the charge against the machines. Yet she's very much the same character she's always been, and even as she considers a future free of Skynet and destiny and perhaps even John, too, you're left wondering what equilibrium she could feasibly find—if the fire in her veins ever goes out, if her fight ever really ends.
In short, what's compelling about Sarah is how she, as a character, answers the question of what an ordinary person does when faced with the extraordinary—and what living in the extremes does to that person. And how she still comes out the other end determined to save the world.
From a shipping perspective, the Terminator 'verse isn't quite what you'd call a gold mine—a lot of the best installments and thus the best fic tends to be gen, given the overall focus on a mother, her son, and the machines trying to help and/or kill them. Plus, most of the main characters are either relatives or robots.
But there's an extent to which a romance kicks the whole thing off, which is why Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese is one of the most popular ships in the fandom, and certainly for Sarah specifically. Their initial relationship, such as it is, is really only lasts about two days—two whirlwind, violent, bloody days that end in Kyle's death and Sarah's pregnancy—but the franchise makes a case for much longer-running feelings between them. Sarah frequently hallucinates Kyle when she's at her most desperate, and he spends years staring at her picture and wondering about the woman who raised his beloved commander (who's of course also his son—ah, time travel); together, they take strength from the other's memory to survive. In the Genisys timeline, we finally get a glimpse of how they function together as equals, and the results are deeply meaningful. Fic about the pair tends towards the nostalgic sometimes, but anything worth reading usually has a touch of competence porn (or regular porn, in the case of a lot of the post-T:G stories!), mutual affection, fears for the future, and probably some complicated feelings about their once-and-future son.
In TSCC canon, Sarah also frequently gets shipped with Kyle's older brother Derek, who travels back to help her and John prevent Skynet's rise. Onscreen, Sarah and Derek make excellent allies but keep too many secrets from each other to allow for true intimacy...not to mention that Kyle's ghost is practically a palpable presence between them. But they share an undeniable chemistry, as well as a near-suicidal commitment to their shared mission, so a lot of the fic for this ship tends towards more adult themes—and secret, angry, and/or angsty sex—as well as hurt/comfort. And more complicated feelings when it comes to John, the poor kid.
Sarah has a few other potential het love interests—most notably TSCC's Charley Dixon—and while there are shippers interested in her with various iterations of the original T-101 model played by Schwarzenegger, there's no AO3 fic for that. So, unless you're looking for gen or f/f, it's usually one Reese brother or the other for the mother of all destiny.
If we're being totally honest, a lot of my favorite Sarah fics have already been recced (including by me), especially the shorter ones, and Terminator isn't that fic-heavy a fandom to begin with. So, if you like what you're seeing, I encourage you to check out the Sarah/Kyle and Sarah/Derek tags and enjoy the existing goodies there, too!
Rec #1: Search For Shelter Near The Mines We Swept
Pairing: Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese
Rating/Warning(s): Mature (non-procreative sex)
Word Count/WIP?: 5,178 (complete)
Why This Must Be Read: This fic is one of many "post-Genisys, Sarah and Kyle adjust to regular life—and each other" stories out there, but it does what it does so well, with moments of tenderness and emotion that hearken back to the original movie as well as the new lives these characters get to lead. It's also one of the best assessments I've seen of Genisys!Sarah's relationship to John—which is to say that she doesn't really have one, but she understands that Kyle does.
Rec #2: Waking Up (At the Start of the End of the World)
Pairing: Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese
Rating/Warning(s): Explicit (sex)
Word Count/WIP?: 25,880 (complete)
Why This Must Be Read: Another post-Genisys story, this one stands out in its ability to distill just how young Sarah and Kyle are without making them immature. Canonically, she's about 19 and he's in his mid-twenties (although the actors are older than that, as were Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in the original movie) when they meet, but they've both been raised with limited interpersonal experience—and certainly no romantic experience, even if they know what goes where. Alyse balances their tentativeness and desire out nicely, and the story bridges the time between the destruction of Genisys and their visit to the "other" Kyle nicely.
Rec #3: The Darkness In My Eyes
Author: Eustacia Vye
Pairing: Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese
Rating/Warning(s): General Audiences
Word Count/WIP?: 1,049 (complete)
Why This Must Be Read: A short fic that's too new to be in the archive already! But I like its look at Kyle in a quiet moment, and the oddly right balances of his and Sarah's fledgling relationship.
Rec #4: "Never A Good Day" series
Pairing: Sarah Connor/Derek Reese
Rating/Warning(s): Mature (canon-typical violence, injuries, and related gore)
Word Count/WIP?: ~175,000 (complete)
Why This Must Be Read: Possibly the ultimate Sarah/Derek fic, in the sense that this story is part one long h/c fic, part secret-season 2-sex, and still mostly about taking down Skynet. The characterizations are terrific, though—as is the chemistry and partnership between the pair—and the layered twists and turns of the plot both keep you guessing and having you thinking that, had the writers known they were going to be canceled, they'd have ended TSCC with something like this. (This series isn't collected as such, but if you start with "Never A Good Day" and follow the stories as they were published, you're good.)
Rec #5: Picking Up the Pieces
Pairing: Sarah Connor/Charley Dixon
Rating/Warning(s): PG-13 (mentions of sex and alcohol)
Word Count/WIP?: 68,331 (complete)
Why This Must Be Read: So this is one of only two Sarah/Charley fics on AO3, but fortunately it's a good (if lengthy) offering. I'm a sucker for fics where Sarah raises little Savannah Weaver after the events of the show's finale (having written one myself a while back), but this story stands out in that it imagines a post-finale arc where Charley is still alive. The slow burn between him and Sarah while they attempt to keep Savannah safe, work with Ellison, and stay alive is nicely rendered, and I particularly like that the author wove in Charley's care for John as well as Sarah throughout the story—it's a nice touch, given their distinct relationship—as well as movie!Sarah's penchant for recording messages to her son.