Soon after it happens, they’re in Nevada, because Cameron heard a rumor and because John’s having a hard time learning to say no. And Sarah’s starting to worry that if she doesn’t learn to follow, she’s going to be left behind.
So they’re in Nevada.
Sarah would swear under oath that Cameron sniffs the air before she turns, facing her whole torso southeast, and says “There.” Pointing. John swerves onto the dirt road without a thought, and Sarah inventories their ammunition in her head, alphabetized and sorted by weapon, weight and clip size. They’ve sweated their way along Route 95 - some of them - and now, bouncing over rut after rock after pothole, Sarah doesn’t quite wish her own spine was made from mimetic polyalloy. But it’s a close thing.
At the place where the road gives up even pretending to be a road, there’s the usual mutual ambush and wary waving of weapons. Then they’re being escorted to a bunker two hundred feet below Groom Lake by a woman who looks like a not-particularly-bright cocktail waitress and who could, if Sarah’s any judge of these things (and she is), kill them as easy as her smile. Sarah keeps her teeth behind her lips, and her son behind her.
Cocktail waitress swings her pigtails over her shoulder and holsters her energy weapon as she sidles through the last fire door, opened by an unsmiling tattooed black man. “Hi, Muscles,” waitress croons, and slaps him on the rump, backhanded.
“I do not believe the end of the world constitutes a license for workplace sexual harrassment, Vala Mal Doran,” the man intones, stone-faced, and Sarah starts, because whatever she was expecting here, in a secret lair beneath a secret military base, it wasn’t humor . Waitress - Vala - smiles back. “Since when did I need a world to end before I snuggled up to you, big guy?” - and wait, where was the definite article and what has she stumbled into, here?
“Vala, don’t scare our guests,” a careworn voice chides, and Sarah evaluates him and his companions as they’re getting looked over, just as assessingly. “Jack O’Neill, general of - just about nothing, these days,” he says, hand outstretched, not quite smiling.
“Sarah,” she says, hands at her sides, ignoring John’s puppy eagerness to take charge of this conversation. Her spine might be just flesh and bone but it’s rigid enough to choreograph this. “We might be able to help you with that.” She watches O’Neill’s eyes skim across John, then narrow at Cameron.
“Not with that, you won’t,” and, oh, doesn’t this get more interesting by the second.
Sarah’s right about Vala, and Cameron’s lying on the floor beneath her before John can even turn around, the blond woman training another of the energy weapons at Cameron’s head. Cameron’s letting it happen, eyes blinking just a little too slowly, always curious. “She’s all right,” Sarah says, though she’s not sure of much, these days. “She’s here to help.”
The ensuing conversation takes five hours, tech Sarah’s never seen, wielded and interpreted by several of O’Neill’s colleagues, and a break for snacks. Their operation is seamless, yet Sarah’s gotten through it sharing only the most basic of intel - that they come from Skynet, which came from us - and when this surprises them, she feels the first frisson of fear. These people are trained, battle-scarred, and almost worn down, and they’ve been fighting something else entirely. Sarah has never imagined there might be a second war waiting behind - or before - the one she’s always been expecting.
It’s edging up towards midnight when O’Neill finally groans, rubs his face, and shakes his head like a dog. “Can we stipulate that no one on this base is going to kill anyone else here tonight?” he asks, almost plaintively, and seems satisfied when Cameron nods, once. “All right, folks, check the locks on the windows and the doors and let’s get back to this thing in the morning. I’m too old for saving-the-world all-nighters.” His team briefly conferences, low tones and mostly body language, and then the blond woman - Carter - smiles at them, tightly, and breaks away from their group. “I’ll show you where you can sleep,” she says, and leads them down one of the endless corridors.
It’s the other side of 2 a.m. when Sarah finally gives up trying. She pads silently into the kitchen and is somehow not surprised that O’Neill is there, with a mug of not-coffee grown cold and his feet on the table. “Whatcha doing?” he asks, without turning around. He’s been reading a sheaf of papers, binder-clipped together, and he turns them upside down as she draws closer.
She rummages through the cabinets for a mug, her back never quite to him, and finds a lone bag of herbal tea. “Same thing as you, I imagine,” she says, carefully measuring water from the kettle simmering on the stove. “Trying to decide if I have it in me to fight two wars.”
“Eh,” he says, noncommittally. “It’s not that bad. You lose count after a while.” This is so far from the answer she’d expected that she just sips at her tea, feet tucked up on the chair, and lets her thoughts run again over the tracks she’s been laying down in the past few hours.
“What is it that you’re not telling us?” she asks, later, when O’Neill’s given up watching her drink tea and is reading through his stack of papers again, carefully shielded from her line of sight.
“Oh, only about a decade’s worth of intra-galactic bickering and how to come back from the dead,” he sighs, and the crazy thing is that he might be telling the truth. She sees the lines on his face and the tension in his neck and thinks she’s finally found someone who’s been carrying more on his shoulders than she has. She wants to trust him, and that makes her nervous.
“You’ve been with your team a long time,” she says, and it was supposed to be an opening, to get him talking, but somehow her voice catches on the penultimate word. He just gazes at her, curious. “I just - I guess I’m jealous,” she admits and tightens her grip on the mug. “I thought by now he’d be ready, but he’s still just a teenager, stupid in the ways teenagers are stupid, and I don’t know if he’ll be grown up in time.” She’s never spoken this fear out loud - who would she tell? - and she can’t fathom why she’s telling it now.
She’s staring into her mug, like the manual for how to parent a post-apocalyptic guerrilla commander might be there, and she’s startled when his hands envelop hers around the cup, warm and just barely touching her skin. She looks up.
“It’s no cakewalk with this crowd, either,” he says, and he’s not laughing at her, not at all, but he is amused. “They mostly never do what I tell them. So at least you have that going for you.”
She laughs, once, a quick huff of breath, and then sighs, stretching her neck. “Not going to change any of that tonight, I guess.” Her tea is done, and she’s accomplished nothing, while sharing more than she intended. She should have just stayed in bed. She slips her hands out from his light touch and stands. He stands, too, reflexively - a woman is leaving the table - and she is again somehow not surprised. He takes her mug from her, fingers brushing hers, and places it in the sink.
“I don’t really know how to do this,” he says, quietly, and she didn’t pin him for false modesty, because he clearly does, so she meets his eyes and realizes he’s not talking about waging war against a superior force. He waves a hand, gesturing at nothing and everything, and she thinks that maybe he holds himself apart from his team, too - different reasons, but the same outcome, here at three in the morning, in an kitchen built below bedrock. She wants, suddenly, longing for a connection with someone who understands this burden, and - oddly - she can’t think of a reason why she shouldn’t.
She steps closer, reaches out to cup his face in her hand. “It comes back to you,” she says, feeling the rough texture of his day-old beard beneath her palm. And just like that, his lips are on hers and she feels the long lean length of him pressed up against her, his fingers tangling in her hair. They stand there, kissing, their desert-chapped lips sliding roughly together, his tongue in her mouth, persistent and bitter with the not-coffee. He breaks the kiss, a little out of breath, mumbling, “Oh, crap, if Carter - or Daniel -” and then he’s pulling her along, out of the kitchen into the next room down the hall.
There’s a bed there, and she takes over and steers him towards it, nudges him down on his back, gazing up at her. She pulls her shirt off her head, ignoring the kick of adrenaline when, for a moment, she can’t see around her , and steps forward to straddle him, hands working at his shirt. His gaze is, gratifyingly, flickering between her face and her breasts, and she remembers again that she’s a beautiful woman. Easy to forget, sometimes, that her body is more than just a weapon. He shrugs out of his unbuttoned shirt and tosses it away, lying back down as she skims his chest with her hands, thumbs flicking at his nipples. He shivers, and she leans forward to kiss him again, long and slow. She feels his hands along her ribcage, encircling her waist, then sliding up her back. His hands don’t linger on her scars. Her bra is gone in a moment, and he breaks the kiss to take one nipple in his mouth. She arches against the perfect wet friction of his tongue on her breast, sucking, just grazing her nipple with his teeth, and she grinds her pelvis against his.
And then they’re moving, wriggling out of their clothes with clumsy urgency. His hands are everywhere, stroking her back, her ass, her thighs, and then there’s one hand between her legs, one finger, two, stroking between her labia, curling deep inside her wetness. He looks her in the eye, intently, as if waiting for her to speak. She doesn’t. Then his thumb is on her clit, gently moving, and she’s braced above him, up on her elbows, legs twining together, his mouth on her breast again and his fingers deep inside her as she comes.
She catches her breath, licking her lips, then slowly lowers her body onto his, her tongue in his mouth and all their skin against each other. Rolling her hips, he slides into her easily, stretching her in that way she’d thought she’d forgotten. She runs her hands up his sides, his arms - and there’s a bad moment when she pins his wrists above his head (she should have known better) and she sees his eyes flatten, feels his body tense. She lets him go with a wordless apology. Tucks her head against his, forehead against his cheek, and drops soft kisses along his neck, his shoulder until his arms come up to circle her, stroking her back. She rocks against him, feeling him harden again inside her. They move together urgently, Sarah gripping his shoulders without being careful and just as another orgasm is cresting through her, she feels his quick inhalation and his muscles clenching beneath her.
They lie together for a while, catching their breath, feeling their sweat evaporate into the cool dry air. She moves first, kissing him gently as she rolls away, his cock sliding out of her, then stretches out on her side along the length of him, head propped on her hand. “Well,” she says, the first words they’ve shared in a while. “I’d say you know exactly how to do this.” She’s happier than she’d expected when he smiles.
She realizes she was drowsing only when she awakens, the scent of warm human sweat pleasantly thick around them. He’s looking at her again, stroking her hair gently. “We should go,” he says, quietly and she nods.
“Long day ahead of us on not much sleep,” she agrees, and stretches across him to retrieve her bra from the floor. She’s startled when his fingers graze the hollow of her spine. “I don’t want to say thanks,” he whispers against her shoulder, his warm breath puffing against her skin. “But thanks.” She shrugs.
“We’ll get you an army either way,” she says, knowing that’s not what he means. “But it was nice to have a bit of quiet before the storm.” They’ll be here no more than a few days, and then it will be back to dusty roads and trying to weave together a resistance movement with shoestring and duct tape. It will be good to know that there’s at least one cell they can count on.
“You could have a place here,” he says, casually, like he’s offering to join her for an after-dinner stroll.
“My place is with my son,” she snaps, more forcefully than she’d intended, and she tugs her shirt back on.
“Well. If it ever isn’t.” The words hang in the air, and she thinks that this is a man who probably has six contingency plans just regarding breakfast. “We’ll be keeping our ranks human-only. Or, really,” he amends, “non-metal, at any rate. If that ever becomes an issue,” and she’s suddenly furious for no good reason. No reason she wants to name.
She’s dressed now and turns to leave, but he grabs her wrist, loosely. She stops anyway. “It’s always good to have an ace in the hole,” he says, not stridently but earnestly, like he’s giving her sound advice.
“Okay,” she says, and shakes her wrist free, his fingertips leaving spots of fading warmth, a bracelet in infrared. As she passes Cameron’s room, she hears feet sweeping along the floor and a soft thump, like a barefooted jump; nothing at all as she passes John’s. Sarah lets herself back into her room and stares at the ceiling until she falls asleep, hard and sudden.
In the morning, she can’t help but see how Cameron’s eyes are a little brighter, her posture a little more correct than everyone else’s. How John looks to Cameron before he speaks. (How he doesn’t look to her, anymore.) She doesn’t know what O’Neill sees, but he raises an eyebrow when he catches her looking.
They should leave tonight. Sarah can’t afford these kinds of doubts and distractions.