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Twenty-Four

Chapter 6

Day Nine

He opened his eyes. Pain instantly crashed into him, swept over him as he sat up. Gone. Casey had seen him in the infirmary, watched him grab Sarah and run to the 'gate room, desperate to save her. He had pushed his Wife away; Janet had told him that Casey had hit the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of her. He wiped his hands over his face. How could he have done that? His brain continued to tell him that his body had still been full of that drug, the drug that had totally screwed with his mind. His heart told him that he should have recognized that soft voice, those amazing green eyes, that sweet, beautiful face. But he hadn't. Not at that moment.

He stumbled to the bathroom. Stared at that empty counter. Didn't think it was possible to hurt any more than he was now. He fought back the memories of having to wash for Yu's entertainment as he hurriedly took his shower. Jack had told him that Candy Johnson was waiting for him to sign the papers on the house. He was going to do that as soon as he was dressed and shaved. When he brought her home, he wanted it to be to their home. To the house that they had bought…together. They would start over…start fresh in their own home. Together.

The coffee didn't taste like hers. She made great coffee. He glanced into the fridge, closed it quickly. The remains of the party trays she had fixed were still there. Should've been tossed out days ago. Why hadn't she done that? They had thrown a party for Cinco de Mayo. Nearly sixty people had shown up, including all of their neighbors. Except Mrs. Trumball. That woman, however, had not uttered a peep of complaint about what had been some excessive noise. The party had been loud, boisterous, and a hell of a lot of fun. The following Tuesday Jacob Carter had shown up at the SGC. He bit back a curse. Wondered if he would ever be able see that man again without wanting to strangle him.

He pushed thoughts of that mission from his mind. As soon as he had the keys for the house, he and Jack were heading to the airport to see if anyone could tell them about Casey. Daniel had no doubt whatsoever that anyone who had seen the beautiful blonde would remember her. She had that affect on people. Men especially. All he needed was a clue. He continued to search his memory. Where would she have run? He had already called Kelley. Explained what had happened as much as he could. He could tell that the woman had been upset at him, but she'd promised to call him if Casey showed up in Tacoma. He really didn't think that she would. She'd cut her ties with that place, left behind the shadows and the grief of her childhood.

Jerry had told him about the moving company. General Hammond had been instrumental in getting the information needed to find her things. The boxes were stacked in front of the bookcases in the living room. He walked over, ran his hand over them. Understood how deeply she had been hurting as she had packed them. As deeply as he was hurting right now. He ran his hand over his face. She still wasn't…secure…in their love, their marriage. Too many years of abuse to overcome. The first note she had written had screamed that to him. She was still convinced that she didn't deserve happiness…love. If she could only understand how much he loved her, that he would never let her go. Not willingly.

He put his glasses on…plain glass lenses now. His immortality provided him with perfect vision. However, his allergies were a well-known fact. Most people he worked with knew that he couldn't wear contact lenses. So, he continued to wear the glasses so that no one would suspect that anything about him had changed. He smiled when he thought of Casey's opinion on the subject. She liked the glasses. She thought they were sexy. That reason alone would keep him wearing them.

Putting the empty mug in the sink, he glanced around again. She hadn't taken anything that she hadn't arrived with. Everything was the way she had left it…with the exception of her things. His heart broke just a little more.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Candy Johnson had noted the haunted look in those incredible blue eyes, but said nothing as Daniel signed the final papers. She had watched as he ran his finger absently over Casey's signature. He had accepted the keys and her congratulations with a small smile. Then he had left the office, his broad shoulders hunched forward, a crease on his forehead. She had no idea what was going on. She did know that the man was suffering. None of her business, she thought. With a sigh, she turned back to the other deals she was working on.

Daniel walked through the house. "It's ours, Angel. Our home…you and me together," he whispered. "You have to come home, Case. I can't make it without you!"

He sat down on the bare hardwood floor in front of the fireplace. He was waiting for Jack to come pick him up. They would go to the airport today. What came next depended on what they learned. The older man had told him that there was only so much that they could do in the search for Casey. There would be a lot of time just waiting for leads to be followed up. Daniel wanted to be the one to search out every lead, talk personally to every witness. But he knew that it wouldn't happen. No matter how much he wanted to, needed to. He would spend the time getting her house ready for her. He would paint. Get everything moved in. Then he would bring her home.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Jack glanced at the silent man in the passenger seat. "We'll find her, Danny."

Haunted cerulean blue eyes turned toward his best friend. "I can't live without her," Daniel whispered hoarsely.

"I know," was the quiet reply. Jack parked the truck, led the way to where a group of cab drivers stood talking, waiting for the next group of airline passengers to arrive. "Hey, guys, what's up?"

The men took on looks of suspicion.

"We're looking for someone. A woman," Jack continued. He held up one of the photos of Casey.

"What for?" one of the drivers asked.

"She's my Wife," Daniel replied. "She…she left before I could explain," he said, his voice as haunted as his eyes.

Two of the men shifted uneasily. Both recognized the beautiful blonde.

"She would have been here yesterday, maybe the day before," Jack said quietly. He watched the two men exchange a nervous glance.

"I was called away-" Daniel started.

"National security," Jack interjected, his eyes still on those two drivers. They knew something, he could tell.

"When I got back-" he broke off, shook his head.

"National security?" one of the men asked.

Jack nodded. "Utmost secrecy."

The man nodded in return. "She didn't understand that?"

"She understood," Daniel replied. "She just…look, have you seen her?"

Again a look was exchanged.

"I can't live without her," the young archaeologist said quietly. "All I want to do is find her. Beg her forgiveness."

 

Second looked on hopefully. "Please?" she begged.

First and Third exchanged a look. "Very well." First touched the forehead of the driver.

 

One of the men shook his head slightly. This man was as distraught over his wife's disappearance as she had been about…whatever it was that had happened. Miscommunication. That was the problem with the world. Too damned much miscommunication. He looked at the dark blonde haired young man. The pain in those blue eyes was deep. Familiar. "Bus terminal," he said finally.

"Excuse me?" Jack said.

"She stood in front of the door for a few minutes, then got into my cab," the man replied. "I took her to the bus terminal in Silver Springs."

Daniel smiled. "Thank you!"

The man couldn't help but smile in return, at the flicker of hope that now danced in those eyes. "Good luck," he said softly.

The young man nodded. "Thanks." He ran back to the truck, waited impatiently for Jack to get the engine started, to get to the bus depot. I'm going to find you, Angel, I promise. I'll bring you home, he vowed silently.

 

A   A   A   A   A   A

 

She had sat on the wooden bench in front of the motel office when she had finally arrivedhaving walked from where the bus let her offuntil the older woman, the owner of the 'Sands Inn', had unlocked the door shortly after sunrise. After showing her ID, and paying for a week in advance, she'd been given a room. She looked around. It was…adequate. There was a small refrigerator. A microwave. Neither were new models. She wasn't even sure either worked. It would do for now. 

She unfolded the paper she'd purchased in the lobby of the small, aging motel. Settled onto the bed. First things first. A job. Thirty minutes later she sighed. There were two ink circles on the newsprint. Both for waitressing jobs. It had been a long time since she'd been a waitress. Damned hard work. But it was better than nothing. The biggest problem was that neither were in this small town. And she had no transportation other than her own two feet. She continued to peruse the paper, unaware of drifting off to sleep.

"Get a move on, Danny!" a voice shouted.

Startled from her slumber, her heart leapt to her throat as the name rang in her ears. She ran to the window to look out. Two men were tossing bags into the back of a dilapidated pickup truck. A third emerged from the room two doors down. Her heart sank. Tears filled her eyes. The walls of the room seemed to close in on her. She grabbed her purse, locked the room carefully, put the key in her pocket and began walking.

The building was metal. Had most definitely seen better days. A sign in the front proclaimed that she had found Shady Dan's. Her heart pounded. Would she ever be able to see that name, hear it, without feeling as if she were being carved from the inside out? She had no idea what propelled her forward. But she found herself standing in front of the door.

The door was wide, and dirty, and looked as if it had hung on a meat locker in a previous life. She pulled it open, stepped inside, waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. The ceiling was low, not much more than six feet, she thought. To the left of the door was a long, scarred bar; with backless round, vinyl upholstered barstools that had seen better days bolted to the floor in front of it...no doubt to prevent the patrons of the place from using them to bash one another's skulls. The mirror and glass shelves behind it were clean, and reflected the depressing surroundings with perfect clarity. The linoleum tiles on the floor were old, yellowed, chipped. To the right of the door was a collection of tables, round and square, the tops showing the abuse they had withstood. It seemed that none of the two dozen or so chairs matched. A jukebox was pushed into the far corner.

Across from the door, in what appeared to be added on space, was a pool table. A single incandescent light bulb hung over it. Though it wasn't even noon yet, two men were shooting a game. They paused to look up at the newcomer, eyes widening at the sight of such a beautiful woman.

He took his time appraising the newcomer. Long blonde hair. Big green eyes. Slender. Jeans that covered great legs and a firm ass, and a dark red tank top that couldn't hide the curves of what appeared to be damned perky breasts. "What can I do for you?"

Casey's attention was pulled back to the bar. The man standing behind it…both hands pressed against the wood top, leaning slightly on his outstretched arms…watched her, curiosity in his dark eyes. "Tequila. Salt shaker. Limes," she said softly.

The man watched the beautiful woman approach, sit down on one of the stools. A woman like her didn't belong in a joint this! She should be in a country club, sipping on champagne. There was no mistaking the pain in those amazing green eyes. Which, no doubt, was the reason for the tequila. "Coming right up," he said quietly.

She watched the bartender as he gathered what she had asked for. He was wearing tight black jeans and a white 'wife-beater'. The man obviously worked out, his tattoo-covered arms were muscular. He had been…she cocked her head sideways, picking up the same…shadows …as those that moved around Jack. He had been Special Forces. Probably had been on ops as black as those her friend…former friend…had been on. He shaved his head, it had been a day or so, she thought, noting the black stubble. 

John 'Tank' Murphy made it his business to stay out of other people's business. He was a good bartender, he would listen to anyone who wanted to sob out their life story over a beer, or whatever their drink of choice happened to be. He never offered advice. Never offered anything other than another drink, or to call a cab when his customer was too drunk to drive. Something about this woman had every protective instinct in his body in overdrive. He put the bottle, a shot glass, a salt shaker, and a plate of lime wedges in front of her.

"Thank you," she said softly.

"You bet," he replied. Years of standing behind the bar alerted him to the fact that this woman needed to talk. He never, ever encouraged a customer. If they wanted to talk, fine. But he let it be their choice. He shocked himself when his mouth seemed to open automatically. "So, what brings you to lovely Los Noche?"

The small town wasn't more than a wide spot in the road. This bar, the motel she was staying in, an old movie theater with a broken marquee, a combination gas station and general store, a small grocery store with a cracked blacktop parking lot, a café with a wide window in front so that customers could look out, or passers-by could look in, a red-brick church with a steeple in need of painting, and half a dozen houses and four mobile homes comprised the entirety of Los Noche. She smiled. "Interesting name."

That smile lit up the whole damned place. And obviously she wasn't interested in talking about herself, or how a beauty like her had wound up here. "Yeah, well, I have no idea why they called this particular piece of desert 'the night'. Unless it was meant metaphorically," he added, with a grin of his own.

"Possible," she admitted. She glanced around. The two men who had been playing pool were settling on the barstools on either side of her. She fought down the panic that began to fill her.

"Why don't you two go take a walk," Tank said. One didn't have to be brilliant to see in her eyes that these men frightened her.

"Kiss my ass," one of the men growled. "Hey, Beautiful! How about sharing that bottle?"

Casey refused to reply. When the man reached out to take her hand, she jerked away from him. "Don't touch me," she said, her voice shaking.

"That's not very friendly-like," the other man said, leaning close, breathing deeply of the intoxicating perfume the woman was wearing.

She had been working with Teal'c almost every day for over four months. She'd learned a lot about self-defense in that amount of time. The first man ran his finger from her shoulder to her wrist. She took a deep breath. "If you touch me again, I'll break your fingers."

The two men exchanged a glance, began to laugh. This woman probably couldn't tip the scales past one-twenty dripping wet. No way could she be any sort of a threat.

Tank recognized military training. Something in the way she squared her shoulders told him that this woman had some. At least a little bit. Another interesting puzzle piece, he thought to himself. The fingers of one hand were already closing around the baseball bat that he kept behind the bar for those patrons who just could not seem to behave themselves. Just in case.

"Now, darlin', Pete and I are just trying to be friendly," the first man said. His fingers moved over that satiny skin again.

Another deep breath. She grabbed the offending fingers. Bent them backwards, snatching a handful of the man's shirt and jerking him forward with the other hand at the same time, pulling him to his feet. Still holding tightly to those bent fingers, she shoved her knee between the man's legs as she stood up, at the same time the fingers of her other hand turned loose of the shirt and moved up to wrap around his throat. All in a matter of seconds. "I asked you not to touch me," she hissed, her heart pounding against her ribs. "I can either choke the life out of you, or let you go. If I turn loose of you, I expect you and your friend to walk away. Do you understand?"

Eyes wide, gasping for breath both from the pain in his groin and the hand tightening around his throat, the man nodded.

She dropped her hands, settled back down onto the barstool. Watched the two men in the mirror behind the bar.

Tank took the baseball bat and laid it carefully on the scarred counter. Yep. Military training. "I suggest you and Pete go home now, Tilly."

Tilly looked at the beautiful blonde. "I…uh…I never meant no harm," he mumbled, rubbing his throat, just barely resisting the urge to rub his aching balls as well. His fingers were throbbing as he stuffed them into his pants pocket.

Casey looked at the man. "Neither does a rabid dog."

The two men frowned, but left quietly. Hoped that Tank wouldn't take it into his head to tell everybody in town that a skinny little blonde woman had nearly beaten the crap out of them.

Tank chuckled. "What branch?"

"Excuse me?"

"Those moves aren't your basic self-defense course moves. That was military training."

Her cheeks flamed. "I'm not in the military."

"You were."

She shook her head. "I worked…for…the Air Force. For a couple of months," she finally admitted.

He frowned. There was hell of a lot more to the story than that. He offered his hand. "John Murphy. Everybody calls me 'Tank'."

"Casey Jack…Casey Webster," she replied, shaking his hand.

He didn’t miss the slip. She was running. Probably from the husband who belonged to the ring that had been on her finger. The skin was slightly lighter where her wedding rings had been.

She cocked her head sideways, studied the man in front of her. "He didn't hurt me. Not like you're thinking," she said softly.

The bartender jerked. "What?"

"You're thinking that my Husband beat me…abused me. He didn't."

He was stunned. He had been thinking that very thing!  His eyes went wide, he gaped at her.

She sighed. "I have a…gift," she said, her voice ever softer.

"I see," he said finally. "So why did you leave him?"

Tears filled those green eyes. "Because he loves someone else."

"Then he's a fucking idiot!" The words were out before he could stop them.

Casey smiled. "Actually, he's a brilliant, wonderful man."

"You still love him."

"I never stopped loving him. I never will."

Tank took that information and tucked it away. Something told him that it was going to be important…in the very near future.

"I don't suppose you need a waitress or a bartender? I mean, I don't know anything about bartending, but I can learn," she said. "I'm a quick learner, and I'm not afraid of hard work," she added.

He grinned. "Maybe I should hire you to be the bouncer for the joint."

She giggled. "I might be persuaded."

That was the most delightful little sound he had ever heard in his life! "I can't pay much. Minimum wage."

"As long as the rates at the motel don't go up, I should be able to manage," she replied.

He studied her. Couldn't shake the feeling that she wouldn't be here that long anyway. He grabbed another shot glass, poured two shots of tequila. "Here's to my new bouncer."

She giggled again, raised her glass, clinked it against his. At least she wouldn't be reduced to stripping in order to survive!

 

A   A   A   A   A   A

 

Daniel adjusted his sunglasses. Tightened his grip on the steering wheel. Santa Fe. He still couldn't recall her ever saying anything about Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had talked about Sedona, Arizona, and the desire to visit what was rumored to be a very mystical area. But never New Mexico.

Jack shifted in the passenger seat. Daniel had been determined to trace Casey's steps himself. When the man at the ticket counter had warned that she could have gotten off anywhere along the line, the young man had paled. The young archaeologist had been halfway out the door before he had caught up with him. And he had known that he would go along on this search. No way was he going to let his best friend do this alone!

He would stop at every place that bus had. He would find out if she had stayed on, or changed destinations. No matter how long it took he was going to find her. He had to find her!


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