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Twenty-Four

Chapter 7

Day Ten

She groaned when the slamming of doors brought her from what had been a very restless sleep. Her dreams had been full of Daniel…and that woman…Sarah. Watching them together. She squeezed her eyes closed, forced the damned images from her mind.

It had been almost three-thirty in the morning when Tank had driven her back here to the motel. She'd spent the evening behind the bar, learning how to pour drinks. Mixing drinks wasn't much of a problem. The crowd that called Shady Dan's their home away from home liked their liquor straight up.

Tilly and Pete had returned, both polite, but wary of the beautiful blonde. Within an hour of their arrival, everyone in the bar knew that Tank's new 'bouncer' was not to be messed with. Everyone who spoke to the quiet, beautiful woman could see the pain that haunted her green eyes. Every man in the place wanted to be the one to ease that pain. The half dozen women who were regulars, none of them pleased at the sudden appearance of a woman who could be a model, were more than relieved when they realized that Casey didn’t see any of the men who competed for her attention. She was polite, friendly in a quiet, reserved fashion, but very…aloof. Of course, Casey was completely oblivious to all of this.

She pulled herself from the bed. It was just barely nine according to the clock beside the bed. Oh well, she could always take a nap later. It wasn't like she'd anything better to do. 

Tank had told her that Los Noche was located ten miles from a silver mine that employed almost everyone who lived in or near the town. It was dirty, dangerous work, and the people who mined them played as hard as they worked. Which was what kept the only bar in town open every night of the week. He'd also told her that she could come in whenever she wanted, shoot pool, sit and talk, or just sit. She'd help him serve drinks at night, clean up when the regulars finally shuffled and staggered out at closing time.

Pulling on jeans and another tank top…it was already quite warm, and the room didn’t have air conditioning, she grabbed her purse and walked up the street to the small grocery store. The choices were somewhat limited, but she was able to pick up a couple of oranges. She avoided the apples. Those were...his...favorite. A package of lunchmeat and a loaf of bread. Bottled water.

The clerk, an older woman, studied her intently, curious as to how and why a beautiful woman like this was in Los Noche. She wasn't related to anyone here. Nor was she friends with anyone. If so, the clerk thought, she'd know about it. It wasn't like there were that many people in town! No, this woman was a stranger.

Casey bumped into an old woman, a Native American, as she walked back out into the sunlight. The wrinkled face brightened with a smile, dark eyes moved over her. "I'm so sorry," she said softly, her hand on the elderly woman's arm to steady her.

"No harm done," the old woman said. She started to move away, then turned around. "Follow your heart. Don't listen to what your head tells you. Listen to your heart."  She started for the door once more.

She jerked, stared at the old woman. Felt the connection, one seer to another. A feeling she hadn't experienced since Miss Eloise had passed on. "He doesn't love me any more," she whispered, every word revealing her pain.

The old woman turned back around. "Don't be so sure. What your eyes see may not be the truth." With a nod, she walked through the automatic door.

Back in the relative safety of her room, Casey began to pace the floor. Relived every heart-wrenching moment in that infirmary. The look of determination, of love, that had filled those incredible blue eyes as he'd reached for…Sarah. How could that not be the truth? her heart begged to know.

 

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There had been three scheduled stops for the Greyhound bus that Casey had taken. He wasn't surprised that the people he talked to remembered her. One older woman remarked that she'd looked so very sad. His heart had broken further upon hearing that. This was the third stop and final stop. Santa Fe. If she was here, he'd find her. No matter how long it might take. Daniel practically ran into the building as soon as he saw the woman inside unlock the door.

"I'm sorry, sir," the woman behind the counter said, shaking her head. "I've never seen that woman. Her name isn't on the list, either. The bus would have pulled in at around five-thirty in the morning. But the driver always leaves a list of the passengers getting off and getting on for the files."

"Does the same driver work this route?" Jack asked.

"Actually, there are two drivers for this route," the woman, Pam according to her nametag, replied.  She handed the photograph back to Daniel.

"I don't suppose that we could talk to either one?" Hope flared in Daniel's eyes as he waited for the answer. His heart was pounding. Casey had left the bus somewhere between Maxwell and Santa Fe. How in the hell was he supposed to find her now?

The woman glanced at the clock. "There's a bus from Phoenix due in about twenty minutes. Griff does the overnight run from Colorado Springs. He does this run, too. He'd be the one to talk to."

Jack nodded. "Let him know that we'd like to talk to him."

"Is this woman…she's not in any sort of…trouble, is she?" the woman asked worriedly.

Daniel gave a small smile. "She's my Wife. There was a…misunderstanding. I haven't been able to talk to her."

Suspicion filled the woman's eyes. Maybe this man had abused the lovely blonde in that photograph. He didn't look like a violent sort, but then, you never could tell, could you?

Jack recognized the look. "Doctor Jackson was called away on a matter of national security. There were some…mixed messages. Casey was gone before he returned."

She thought the man looked…important. Still…well, if she had gotten off of the bus before Santa Fe, she could be anywhere by now. "Griff will be here in about half an hour," she said, then pointedly turned away.

"Let's go get some breakfast, Danny," Jack said softly.

The younger man was shaking with fear. She could have asked the driver to stop anywhere; she could have gotten off anywhere. They knew for certain she was in New Mexico. Well, no, they didn't. She'd ridden the bus into New Mexico. Right now, they had no clue where she was. He was no closer to finding her than he had been yesterday!

"Come on," Jack said, putting his arm around the young man's shoulders, propelling him toward the door.

 

 

 

A café nearby offered the much needed cup of coffee. Neither man was particularly hungry. When his cell phone had rang, Daniel had hoped against hope that it was her calling, wanting to come home…willing to let him explain what had happened. It was, instead, General Hammond. He gave permission for the two men to speak to the bus driver. If they were able to locate Casey from any information the bus driver had, they could go pick her up. Otherwise they were to return immediately to the SGC. Daniel had wanted to argue. Something in the general's voice stopped him from doing so.

Jack cringed at haunted look in his best friend's eyes. Deeper even than the pain that had filled them when Sha're had been taken by Apophis. The bus rumbled by on the street out front. The older man was hard pressed to keep up with his younger companion, and thanked whatever gods were responsible for the immortality that kept his knees from aching.

Pam, the woman who worked behind the ticket counter, was talking to the bus driver. She nodded toward the two men who pushed through the throng of people.

"Griff?" Daniel asked.

"That's me," the man replied. He was in his sixties. Not quite a year from retirement. He didn't want any trouble that would cause him to lose his job. And the retirement benefits he'd worked so hard for.

"My name is Doctor Daniel Jackson. I was wondering if you've seen this woman. My Wife," he added softly.

Griff looked at the photo. "Yep."

"She didn't ride all the way here. Where did she get off?"

"Don't know as I can tell you that," the driver replied.

Daniel fought the urge to shake the man, to demand everything he knew. "Please, I have to know she's all right. Even if she won't…speak to me."

The pain that filled the man's eyes, was etched in every feature of his face, caused Griff to rethink his stance. This was a man grieving, a man torn apart by the loss of his wife, the woman he obviously loved a great deal. "She got off in Springer. There was another bus, going west. She got on it. Don't know where she went from there."

He closed his eyes. That hadn't been one of the scheduled stops. "Did she ask to get off there?"

The older man nodded. "Yep. She saw the bus, asked if I could drop her off. I stopped, let her off."

Jack frowned. Either Casey was deliberately trying to throw them off the trail, knowing that they'd be looking for her, or she was simply drifting, not really knowing or caring where she was going. He was hoping for the latter. If it was the former, it could be weeks…or months before they caught up with her. He didn't think Daniel would survive that long.

 

A   A   A   A   A   A

 

Tank looked up when the door opened. Grinned when Casey walked in. "Hey, I was just getting ready to shoot a game of pool. Interested?"

"Sure." The last time she'd shot pool was with Sam…right after that horrible mission…she pushed all of the memories aside. Tried to force the image of incredible blue eyes, dark blonde hair, that sexy, shy smile from her mind.

There it was again. That haunted look. The pain that filled those beautiful green eyes. He'd seen it several times the night before. She'd readily admitted that she still loved her husband. She'd also admitted, while they cleaned up after closing, that she'd left without actually talking to him. There had been no details, and he hadn't pried. Unless the guy was an absolute moron, he had to be upset that she'd just disappeared from his life. If he were Casey's husband, he'd tear the friggin' country apart looking for her. He had friends in high places. Or low places, depending on how one looked at it. He'd made a phone call earlier. If any inquiries were made, he 'd hear about it. He wanted to meet this guy face to face before agreeing to let him know where she was. "You play?"

"A little."

He grinned. "A little, huh? Okay, break."

She chose a cue stick, waited for him to remove the rack as soon as the balls were arranged properly. She broke. Sank three. Two stripes and a solid. She examined the table. Took her next shot. Sank it. Managed to sink the twelve without letting his five drop. Missed her next shot.

"You're a beautiful liar," Tank said.

She jerked. "You're a beautiful liar…" She shook her head, trying to dispel the sound of Daniel's voice, the look of love that had filled his blue eyes when he'd looked at her as they discussed what had happened that day on the mission she'd warned them against...the mission she'd been certain was going to bring about Daniel's death.

"Casey?"

"Hmm?"

"You okay?"

She looked up at the man she called friend. Wondered how that had happened so damned quickly. Daniel. He'd shown her a world where she didn't need to be afraid of people, of men. A world where she was free to be herself without the fear of being what those horrible names implied. Tears filled her eyes. She shook her head.

Without saying a word Tank crossed the floor, pulled her into his arms, held her as she began to sob. When at last she seemed to be finished, the front of his blue tee shirt was soaked. Not that he was complaining. He led her toward the bar. Poured two cups of coffee. Sat down beside her. "Call him."

She'd been staring into the cup. Her head flew up. "I can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"He…I don't want to bother him. I couldn't handle it if…she…answered."

Ah. A new piece to the puzzle. "Mistress?"

"Old girlfriend."

Tank frowned. Flexed his arm, watched the tattoo of the tiger move. "Did he leave her, or did she leave him?"

"They had a bad fight…she broke up with him. He left the area a few days later. He said…he told me…" she shook her head. "He said that it took him awhile to realize that he'd cared deeply for her, but that he hadn’t loved her as much as she loved him."

"What was the fight about, do you know?"

Casey smiled. "Daniel is an archaeologist. He's a linguist as well. He's brilliant. He was working on a project, got involved in some research, and forgot about their anniversary. They'd been together a few months at the time."

He nodded. Watched her from the corner of his eye for several minutes. She stirred the coffee, but hadn't drank any of it yet. "What makes you think he loves her?"

"Because he was screaming out her name, reaching for her…" she bit off the rest of her comment. Everything that she knew was classified…restricted…top secret.

"In a dream, you mean?"

She shook her head. "I can't tell you, Tank. It's all…classified. She was there, he was there…reaching for her, calling for her…his eyes filled with...love...for her..."

He frowned. "Drugs involved by any chance?"

She started. "Drugs?"

"Yeah. I take it that his behavior was…out of the ordinary. That could mean drugs."

Her brow knitted into a frown. He had been kidnapped by Osiris…would the Goa'uld have used drugs on him? She shook her head. When Sarah had called for Daniel, it had been Sarah, not the Goa'uld. That thought alone prodded her…she knew damned good and well the Goa'uld was still inside her when Sarah had been taken to the infirmary. She shook her head again. "I don't think it matters," she said softly.

"Why not?"

One slender shoulder moved up and then back down. "I left. He doesn't have time to…deal with it. Not and take care of Sarah. He loves her-" she broke off, turned her head, willed the tears not to fall.

"I won't push," Tank said gently. If he could find out this Daniel's last name, and where he lived…where they'd lived… maybe he'd give the guy a call. At least let him know that his wife was okay…if he was at all interested. He wouldn't tell him where she was at, not until he'd made sure that this guy really did love Casey.

"Thank you."

"So, want to finish that game?"

"I think I'd like to just go lay down for awhile," Casey said softly. Hopefully she wouldn't dream about him…holding him… loving him…being held and loved by him. The only man her heart would ever love.

 

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Jack was driving. Daniel had his head back, his eyes closed. No one near the bus stop in Springer remembered seeing the beautiful blonde woman. There were three possible buses that she could have climbed aboard. A quick look at the map had proven that there were at least a hundred small towns she could be in…if she hadn't left New Mexico.

He glanced over at the young man. "I have a couple of friends who owe me," Jack said quietly. "We will find her, Daniel, I promise."

Daniel snorted. "Yeah, right. I'm getting the feeling she doesn't want to be found." He opened his eyes, stared out of the window. "I destroyed everything we built together," he said softly.

"I don't believe that," Jack argued.

"You said yourself that the light just faded out of her eyes."

"She was hurt, Daniel, I'll admit that. But she doesn't know the details, doesn't understand that what was going on was out of your control…wasn't you."

"It was me who slammed her into that wall when I pushed…no…when I shoved her away. God, Jack, I didn't even recognize her! My Wife, and I didn’t recognize her!"

The pain in his voice nearly did Jack in. "That's right, Daniel. You didn't recognize her. Because that goddamned snake had drugged you! As soon as Casey understands that, she'll be begging you to take her home."

"I hope so." His voice was so soft his friend barely heard the words.


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