“How many are there?” Blair asked quietly.
Jim shook his head, extending his hearing as far as it would go, a hand on Blair’s shoulder to steady himself. “At least a dozen. We’re going to have to clear the way to the gate before reinforcements arrive.”
“Doable?” Blair asked. “And how are your dials?”
Jim hitched a shoulder. “The dials are fine, Chief, and if I don’t take out the Jaffa around the gate, we’ll be SOL anyway. We can’t afford to wait any longer for help.”
“Alone or with company?” Blair murmured.
Jim considered the question carefully. He knew how much Blair hated for him to go off on his own, but he was pretty sure he’d be better off.
McConnell cleared his throat. “Sir? I can keep up. I’ve been working out with Teal’c.”
Jim fixed McConnell with a glare. “Don’t disappoint me, Devon. I can’t afford to leave you behind, and I won’t let you hold me back either.”
McConnell was a closet smartass, and he said, “Or you’ll shoot me?”
“Don’t tempt me,” Jim said. “I’ve got two other team members and five rescues. You drag me down, and I might knock you unconscious, put you under cover, and come back for you later.”
“Jim,” Blair protested. “I can go.”
“Your stamina isn’t as good,” Jim said apologetically. “Give it another month, and you’ll be outpacing me, but we have to get to the gate.”
Blair nodded reluctantly. “Be careful, guys.”
Over the last two months, ever since they’d come through their trial by fire and emerged with an intact team and a clear-cut mission, they’d been working the kinks out of SGSR and their communication styles.
Jim remembered O’Neill’s snarking, “What, no number?” and Hammond had said, “They don’t need a number. They have a mission.”
That mission, of course, was search and rescue, and if it wasn’t exactly police work, it still used a lot of the skills he and Blair had honed as detectives, as well as all of Jim’s Sentinel abilities.
Those abilities meant there weren’t many who could actually keep up with him in the field, but McConnell has been training hard, and Jim had seen him sparring with Teal’c. He knew that if anybody on SGSR had a chance of keeping up with him, it was McConnell.
Stranger was the best at making sure they could actually complete the rescue. Their newest member, Lieutenant Tammy Drake, was as green as grass, and had been given to them to train up. She had definite potential, but wasn’t quite able to keep up with Jim yet.
“Stranger, you take perimeter, and make sure nobody gets through,” Jim instructed. “Drake, Sandburg, keep the others secure. McConnell, you’re with me.”
The planet was covered in dense undergrowth, and Jim moved as carefully and quietly as he could. McConnell’s movements were loud to a Sentinel, but he wasn’t doing too badly as far as a mundane or Jaffa would be able to tell.
Jim paused about twenty yards from the gate at the edge of the brush. As on most planets, folks had ensured there was plenty of open space around it. He could see four Jaffa standing guard at the gate and sensed more in the woods, and he gave it a moment of thought.
They had done what they’d been ordered to do, and rescued the surviving members of a naquadah mining operation. The SGC hadn’t even been sure that any SGC personnel had been left alive when Ba’al’s Jaffa had taken control. Technically, Jim and his team were supposed to do recon, then report back for reinforcements as needed.
He’d determined that the chances of the five SGC personnel remaining intact—mentally, physically, or otherwise—were slim to none if they delayed, so they’d rescued the other SGC personnel, blown the base, and had been hiding out in the woods for the last four days, expecting the cavalry to appear after two missed check-ins.
Jim hadn’t slept more than 15 minutes at a time the last few days, but he still felt like he was at the top of his game, although he’d crash hard once given the opportunity.
The lack of reinforcements meant nothing good, and two of their rescues had serious injuries that were going to be life-threatening if they didn’t get back to the SGC soon.
Jim had been ordered by General Hammond and O’Neill not to take ridiculous risks—what O’Neill had called “suicide missions, and no, I don’t care if you’re Superman, Ellison,” but Jim didn’t have a choice this time.
“I need you to do something for me,” he murmured to McConnell.
“Yes, sir?” McConnell’s expression was fervent, like a new convert at a tent revival, and Jim made a mental note. Just because McConnell thought Jim could do anything didn’t mean it was true.
“Stay here, pick off the ones that come close enough, and let me do my thing,” Jim replied. “I know what Blair probably said, but your job is to stay out of my way and ensure no stragglers survive.”
“Done,” McConnell replied, his jaw set.
Jim wanted to get home, wanted to know how the rest of the SGC was doing, and wanted to be sure that Sam was okay. He was more than motivated at this point, and his adrenalin was singing through his veins.
There were enemies to kill and friendlies to get home, and Jim began moving silently, blade in hand, slitting the throat of every Jaffa he came up against with an ease that would probably cause him to lose sleep later.
When the only heartbeats he heard were his own and those of the other SGC members, he told McConnell to get everybody to the gate while Jim made sure that the Goa’uld couldn’t dial in to send reinforcements.
Moments like this, even when he was filthy and exhausted, Jim felt good—the senses working, Blair’s heartbeat and scent clear even five klicks away, ready for anything.
Moments like this, Jim could almost be grateful for his gifts. Almost. Because there was no one capable of doing what he could do, and without him, five soldiers would be dead.
Even if he sometimes felt like he was good for nothing other than the battlefield.
Jim dialed home, sending through his IDC. “I’m waiting for the rest of my team,” he said. “We’ve got five alive, with multiple injuries, but my team is intact.”
“That’s good, Ellison,” General Hammond replied. “What’s your ETA?”
“I was hoping we could keep dialing to prevent any additional Jaffa from coming through while we get the injured to the gate,” Jim admitted.
There was a long pause, and then Hammond said, “Give it twenty minutes, then keep dialing, Major. The other teams out there can wait a little longer.”
Jim did as ordered, but he wondered at the time frame, and he knew something big was going on at the SGC. His mission, and Blair’s, was to rescue stranded or endangered SGC personnel, but there were always others, and for every five rescued, there were ten more at risk.
No other Goa’uld came through in those twenty minutes, though, and Jim began dialing. He was on his third run, with no orders to cease, when the rest of his team with their rescued captives broke the tree line.
“We need medical standing by,” Jim radioed. “We’re coming through, but not hot.”
McConnell and Stranger were half-carrying Hamer, whose nasty leg wound was the major reason Jim hadn’t wanted to wait any longer. Hsu, who was in relatively decent shape, supported Miles, while Blair helped Keith, and Drake looked after Bradford.
Keith waved Blair off as soon as they reached the gate, and Blair stopped next to Jim and asked, “Okay?” as the others went through.
“Don’t know,” Jim admitted. “But at least Ba’al didn’t send reinforcements.”
Blair shook his head. “I think Hamer might lose his leg.”
“Shit,” Jim said. “If I’d—”
“The infection set in before our rescue, and the antibiotics in our packs helped,” Blair said quickly. “Don’t do that to yourself.”
The last of them were through the gate, and Jim breathed a sigh of relief, waving Blair through before he brought up the rear.
Jim was a little surprised not to see Dr. Fraiser, but there was a flurry of activity as medical personnel loaded up the gurneys and whisked the injured away to the infirmary.
He looked for Sam but didn’t see her, and when he glanced up at the control room, Walter was there with Hammond, who appeared sterner than usual.
“Jim?” Blair queried. “Is something wrong?”
Jim shook his head, dialing back, having extended his senses out of reflex. Now that they were home, he was crashing fast, and he couldn’t risk overextending. “I don’t know. Let’s get checked out so we can go home.”
They had nearly reached the infirmary when Jim saw Sam, her eyes rimmed with red and face pale.
“Sam!” Jim called.
She looked at him, and to his surprise, walked straight into his arms.
As a general rule, they didn’t indulge in displays of affection at work, but she held him in a tight grip, and Jim didn’t really mind. The hug felt good after days of being on edge. “I’m going to get you dirty,” he murmured.
Sam shook her head, and he could feel the movement against his shoulder. “No one told you yet.”
“Told me what?” Jim asked, and pulled back slightly to look at her face. “What happened?”
“Daniel took a lethal dose of radiation on our last mission,” Sam replied, her voice shaking slightly. “He’s gone.”
Jim glanced at Blair, who had gone white as a sheet. “Gone?” Blair asked faintly, his face smudged with dirt.
“It was a mess, which is why Hammond couldn’t spare anybody to get you guys,” Sam replied. “O’Neill said that if anybody could come through unscathed, it would be you, and…”
She trailed off, and Jim pulled her in close again. “We were fine. A few bumps and bruises, and some of the folks we rescued are going to have a long recovery, but we’re fine.”
Sam gave him a look that said she knew better. “You’re dead on your feet.”
Jim was, but he straightened. He would let himself grieve later, in private. He hadn’t known Jackson well, but Sam had, as had Blair and Teal’c and O’Neill. For Sam and Blair, he could push through the fatigue. “I’ll be fine.”
He glanced at Blair and raised an eyebrow, and Blair squared his shoulders and nodded. Right now, Sam needed Jim more, and the two of them could go just a little longer.
“You should get to the infirmary,” Sam said.
Post-mission medical was non-negotiable, so Jim asked, “Your place or mine?”
Sam gave him a grateful look. “Yours, if you don’t mind. I don’t really want to be alone right now, but…”
Jim understood all too well. Sometimes you didn’t want to be alone, but all the usual places held too many memories. Sam had only been at his place a few times, and never with her team.
Blair patted her on the shoulder. “Why don’t you put in a pizza order? We’re going to need food sooner rather than later.”
Sam nodded and straightened her shoulders. “I’ll see you guys soon.”
“You don’t mind, do you?” Jim asked in an undertone as they headed for the infirmary.
Blair shook his head. “Why should I mind? Hell, I don’t really want to be alone right now either.”
It was a typically gracious gesture, and Jim said, “Thanks.”
Blair grimaced. “At least we saved a few lives today.”
Jim nodded his agreement, but his earlier elation was gone, replaced by a bone-deep weariness and a sadness that wasn’t entirely due to the loss of Dr. Daniel Jackson.
Can’t win for losing, Jim thought, and wondered if their luck would ever turn around, or if, for every victory, there would be a corresponding loss.
Sometimes, he couldn’t help but think things their losses might end up outweighing whatever small gains at the end of the day.