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It's Hard to Say Goodbye
Dawn was breaking over the horizon. Daniel had stopped to let Casey rest. A quick look with the binoculars told him that his little ruse hadn't fooled the Jaffa for very long. They were no more than twenty minutes behind them.
"I know you're tired, Angel, but we have to keep moving," he said softly.
She nodded, was barely able to pull herself to her feet. She was completely worn out. She couldn't even think, everything in her world had narrowed down to putting one weary foot in front of the other.
"We need to double time it," he continued. "Can you keep running?"
Again she nodded.
"You're amazing, Angel, so brave, so strong," he whispered, holding her tightly against his chest. He smiled when he felt her arms go around his neck. He nuzzled her cheek. "We'd better get going. Or they'll catch us with our pants down," he said softly. The burst of giggles told him that she was fatigued, but otherwise all right. They took enough time to tuck their night vision goggles safely into their packs, hoisted them onto aching shoulders, and started out again, jogging away from the approaching Jaffa patrol.
Their weariness was a danger to them. The adrenaline that flowed through them would counter it for only so long. They needed to find a place to rest for more than just a few minutes, or they would collapse from fatigue. That thought went through both minds as they continued to follow the barely discernable path through the thinning forest.
The path was moving up into the mountains, and was becoming steep and rocky. The upside was the men following them were just as tired, and were dressed in full body armor. The weight of that armor wasn't conducive to long bouts of travel, especially if the bearer was already spent physically. Daniel was hoping that this would give them a bit of a lead on their pursuers.
When the path narrowed to nothing more than a trail along one side of a rocky outcropping, Daniel held Casey's hand, talking to her about the Cardorian tablets they had been translating, keeping her mind focused on something other than the drop-off just inches from their feet.
"So, there hasn't been any mention of Dagon at all?" he was asking, moving slowly, testing each step before putting his full weight down.
"Nope. Which means that either he destroyed them before they had a chance to bitch about him in print-"
He couldn't help but chuckle.
"-or we haven't found all of the tablets there are to find. My personal, and favorite, theory is…they kicked his sorry snake ass, he left to lick his wounds, and their civilization fell because of politicians. The people just moved out and moved on and left the yammering fools to just die off alone. Being politicians, they didn't have a clue how the real world worked, and their cities just crumbled around them." She was trying so hard not to look down, but she needed to pay attention to where she put her feet. She continued to fight the vertigo that bedeviled her each time she found herself in such a situation.
The path was so narrow now that they were holding onto the stone face of the cliff, grasping at every protrusion that their fingers could find, inching along the ledge that was barely wide enough for their feet.
"Interesting theory. Which could mean that somewhere is a tablet that will give us the key on how to get people to stop listening to politicians," he said, reaching for the next handhold.
"That's easy. Hook 'em all up to a Zatarc detector every time they give a speech, and show the results in a split screen with their faces," she said, sliding another step, her fingers wrapped tightly around a jutting stone.
"Nice touch. That would certainly make for some interesting speeches," he chuckled.
"Yep. It would be pretty much, my fellow citizens, vote for me because I promise to be the best crook you can get, you'll never be able to prove I've done anything wrong." She slid her booted feet slowly along the ledge, her heart pounding against her ribs.
"Or just, my fellow citizens, vote for me, because," Daniel replied. "Big rock here, Angel, you're going to have to step over it."
"Got it," she replied. Her first step took her safely over the large stone that lay in the middle of their path. Her boot caught the edge of the rock on her second step, causing her foot to slip off of the ledge. She grabbed at the wall, her fingers screaming in protest. "Daniel!"
He glanced over at her, realized she was split seconds from falling. His heart lodged into his throat. "Easy babe, don't move, don’t even breathe," he whispered. He inched his way closer to her, reached out, and grabbed the back of her pack with one hand. "Okay, easy, move your foot up, nice and slow."
Her heart seemed determined to beat its way out of her chest. Shaking with fear, she brought her foot slowly up, felt the ledge, put her toes on top of it. "Okay," she said, the tremors in her voice alerting him to her fear. "Got it."
He reached out slowly, gently caressed her, tried to ease the fear and the worry that flooded her mind. "We're almost there, babe. I can see where it starts to widen out again."
"Good. I hope there's a place big enough for me to pee. Of course, if I slip again, it won't be a problem. I'll just piss my pants."
Her sense of humor was the only thing that had saved her many times over the course of her life. He couldn't help but chuckle out loud. "You slip again and I'm liable to piss my pants." His heart was still pounding from her near-fall.
The ledge was so narrow now that only the toes of his boots were on top of it. He was sure that her smaller feet fit much tighter against that rock wall. He glanced over his shoulder. The worst thing that could happen would be the appearance of Jaffa on the other side of this canyon. It was close enough that their staff weapons would have no trouble reaching them.
"Are we there yet, Daddy?" she asked.
He grinned. "Almost. Just a few more steps. You're an incredible woman, Casey Jackson," he said, so very proud of her. She had a paralyzing fear of heights, yet she was beside him, literally hanging off the side of the mountain, cracking jokes.
"Yeah? Think so?" she asked breathlessly, moving slowly, wishing that she could just think herself to the safety of the other side of the ravine.
"Know so," he replied. "Almost there, Case, I promise. Three, maybe four more steps."
"For you or for me?"
"Three or four steps for you, or for me? I figure you're two steps ahead of me," she explained.
"Okay, five, maybe six steps," he replied, grinning at the way her mind worked.
"I liked three or four better."
"Well, now, see, it is three or four. You just took at least two steps."
"Good point. You'd better be jumping up onto a nice wide safe place in about ten seconds, or I'm gonna get pissy. We won't even talk about the fact that I haven't had a cup of coffee in almost ten hours now."
"I could use a fix myself," he said, his voice low and suggestive.
She giggled. "I'll bet you could. Just keep moving, Stud Muffin. I'll dose you up good when we're not at risk of falling a million miles to a very messy death."
He chuckled again, sighed when he put his foot firmly on the other side of the mountain they had just crossed. "It's all over, babe. We're on the other side."
She took his hand gratefully when she was close enough. "I really need to go, Daniel."
He nodded. "Five minutes. Then we have to get moving. This pass won't slow them down much."
"Should we try the radios again?" She dropped her pack to the ground, unbuckled her belt as she headed for a large boulder.
"Might just as well." He reached up and turned on the transmitter near his mouth. "Jack?…Sam?…Teal'c?…Do you read?" Static filled his ear. "I guess we're too far from them," he said.
"They'll find us," she replied confidently.
"Yep." He had unzipped his pants, needing to empty his own bladder; tried hard not to look at the sweet curve of her ass as she squatted a few feet away from him. They didn't have time to get distracted. Okay, he didn't have time to get distracted. While she redressed, he used his binoculars to check on the progress of the Jaffa who had been chasing them. They were nowhere in sight. Which meant one of two things. They had stopped following them, or they knew of a different, less dangerous route to this side of the mountain. He hoped for the former, assumed the latter.
She heaved her pack onto her back. When she got home, she was soaking in the tub for at least two days. She wasn't moving. Not even for…well, maybe for Daniel. A little bit. But she sure as hell wasn't hiking anywhere, and she wasn't carrying anything, either!
"No, but we don't have a choice, do we?"
"Then let's go."
He laced his fingers with hers, and led her down the muddy path that led deeper into the forest that surrounded them.
A A A A A A
Jack squinted slightly as he looked through the binoculars at the Jaffa moving toward a narrow path on the side of the mountain. "Now I'm thinking those boys wouldn't be up there unless there was something interesting going on."
"Casey and Daniel?" Sam asked.
"That would be my guess." He sighed. The radios still weren't working. Sam had suggested that it was possible that something had happened to the units that Casey and Daniel had. The fact that all of the equipment had been checked thoroughly before they had left the Persephone wasn't mentioned.
"Do we pursue?" Teal'c asked, also watching the progress of the Jaffa through his binoculars.
"Yep," Jack replied. "He bought them some time with that false trail, leading them up the side of that mountain might tire those Jaffa enough to either give up or slow down enough for us to catch up with them."
"Daniel Jackson has indeed become a formidable warrior," Teal'c said quietly.
The thought brought a smile to Jack's lips. Yep, Daniel had come a long way from the annoying, geeky scientist he had been when the two had first met. The fine caliber of the man had shown through even then, earning at first his grudging respect, then his full friendship. Right now the young man who had become his best friend was being chased by Jaffa. Which meant he was going after those Jaffa. He wasn't leaving this planet until the entire team was together, safe and sound. "Let's go."
The three teammates adjusted their packs, and set out on the narrow path that their best friends had followed not more than an hour earlier. Jack had contacted the Persephone. Colonel Bradshaw had informed him that the two al'kesh had indeed been in orbit above the planet when the temple had exploded. He had attempted to keep the two ships preoccupied by attacking them. The bad news was, they had fired off a dozen volleys each. A lucky shot had taken Persephone's hyperdrive engines off line, and left them with barely any shields. Apparently both Goa'uld ships had then immediately landed. Best guess was that Dagon was on the planet right now. Jack had ordered the ship to withdraw to safety immediately, until the drives and shields were repaired. He had wanted to send Sam back to the ship; she would be able to repair the engines in record time. She would also be much safer. But she refused to leave. SG-1 left together, or not at all.
Bradshaw had tried to argue, telling the general that it would only take a few minutes to scan the planet for the team members. A quick discussion with Sam and Teal'c, and Jack decided that SG-1 would stay on the planet. As soon as Daniel and Casey were located, the entire team would see what was going on. There was still a chance to take out Dagon. He was too damned dangerous to pass up even a long shot, if the chance to get him presented itself.
The fact that the ships had landed indicated to Teal'c that there was possibly more on this planet than just that temple complex. Colonel Bradshaw had told them that the ships appeared to land near the temple site, but he couldn't be sure.
"It is possible, O'Neill, that Dagon has another facility on this planet," the large Jaffa had said. "To leave before acquiring more information on this matter could result in difficulty in defeating him later."
Jack had agreed.
The three soldiers double-timed their way up the narrow trail. They all exchanged glances when they came to the narrow ledge. Casey must have been scared out of her wits!
A A A A A A
They hadn't gone very far when a scream of terror filled the air. Daniel looked behind them. No need to guess what had just happened. A Jaffa had just fallen from that narrow ledge. "Come on, Angel." He took her hand and began to run through the woods, knocking limbs and vines out of his way.
Casey was hovering on the point of exhaustion. She stumbled, fell to the ground, landing hard, scraping her face on a piece of fallen log. "I'm sorry," she whispered, tears slipping down her cheeks.
"Shh, it's okay, don't cry honey," Daniel crooned softly, running his hand gently over her head. He looked around. If only they could find a place that would offer them protection, keep them hidden until the Jaffa passed them! He helped her to her knees, felt her body trembling. She wasn't going to be able to travel much farther, and he was tired enough that there was no way he could carry her. He brushed his fingers over her cheek as the Quickening healed the broken skin.
He led her off the path, into the underbrush, trying to be careful, not wanting to leave any signs of their passing. He almost cried out with relief when he saw two fallen trees, both of them giants. They had landed almost side by side, and a large bush covered the small distance between them. "We'll hide here. We're still close enough to that path that we'll hear them go by."
Too weary to even nod, she followed him to the downed trees, let him take the pack from her back. Her knees buckled, and she sank to the ground, watched him as he prepared their hiding place.
He pushed the packs in first, using them to clear some of the dead foliage away. They would be able to lay side by side, on their stomachs, and see anyone who approached them from the front and one side. The side visible led to the path they had just left. "Okay, Angel, crawl in there."
Daniel held her P90 while she scooted feet first into the shallow hole. She held her hand up, and he gave her the weapon. She held is while he slid in beside her. She cuddled close to him, his presence giving her all the reassurance she needed.
He smiled. "Rest, Angel. Go to sleep. I'll take first watch," he said softly.
She didn't have to be told twice. Resting her cheek on her arm, she closed her eyes, and was asleep within seconds.
Daniel waited, watched, listened. Prayed that the Jaffa wouldn't see any sign that they had left the path. He was as tired as she was, but the need to protect her, the adrenaline that raced through his veins helped him maintain, and keep watch over her. He continued to strain his ears, listening for the first sounds that would tell him where those damned Jaffa were.
He tried to recall just how many he had seen the last time he had checked on the progress of those who were hunting for them. He couldn't remember exactly. It had seemed like a small group. Not more than ten, he was sure. He heard another sound, a scream? He couldn't be sure. Didn't really matter. Unless all of those damned assholes fell, he and Casey were still in danger.
A A A A A A
Jack, Sam and Teal'c heard the two screams. Two Jaffa had just fallen to their deaths. As bad as the ledge was where they were at, it must get worse around that curve in the mountain, they realized.
"I can't imagine Casey being able to make it over this," Sam said breathlessly, waiting for Teal'c to move before taking her next step.
"I can," Jack replied. "She's a tough kid when she needs to be."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "Casey Jackson would be a fierce Jaffa."
Sam smiled. Her companions were right, Casey always did what was expected of her, what had to be done, and never uttered one word of complaint. However, knowing the woman's fear of heights, added to that the fact that she was being hunted by Jaffa, on top of whatever injury she had suffered, and she was probably as close to the edge physically and mentally as she could get.
"You realize we'll have to do this again, coming back," Jack said, carefully shifting his weight from one foot to the other, effectively moving himself across the ledge.
"Maybe we'll be able to find a different way back," Sam replied. Heights didn't bother her. She sure as hell didn't want to take this route again!
"Be extremely careful," Teal'c said, his voice strained. "The ledge becomes increasingly more narrow."
"Damn, if they came over this…" Jack shook his head.
"The good news is, it slowed the Jaffa down as well," Sam said. "Maybe even enough to let them get farther ahead."
"After this, Casey is gonna need a rest," Jack said, more to himself than his companions. Find a place to hide, Space Monkey, he thought. Give us a chance to catch up with you.
A A A A A A
The air was filled with the sounds of birdsong. Several species, if his ears weren't deceiving him. When a sudden hush fell around him, he felt his body tense. Then he heard it. The familiar clanking of Jaffa armor. No way those guys could sneak up on anybody, unless their victim was deaf, he thought to himself.
He held his breath, listened as the sounds grew louder. They were getting closer. Had they left the road? The sound halted abruptly. They had stopped, and were looking around. No doubt examining the place where Casey had fallen. Go on, follow the path! he thought irritably. Casey stirred at his side. He reached over and placed a finger over her lips. 'They're out there. I don't know what they're doing.'
He moved toward her, smiled when she raced into his arms. She kissed him gently, the sensation almost as pleasant as a real kiss from her sweet lips. He wrapped his arms around her, held her tightly, watched her eyes close as she began to reach out and search.
Safe, secure in his arms, she moved quickly above the place where they lay hidden. Nothing was visible that would give them away. She pulled her lip between her teeth. She could bring them to the spot where they were hiding, it would give her and Daniel the chance to get rid of them once and for all. But the nagging thought that if even one of these Jaffa could be freed… okay, let's just see if they'd figure out for themselves that their prey had left the path.
One of the Jaffa, apparently the leader, was looking around carefully. Two others were already wandering down the trail, away from the place where Daniel had led her off of that dirt path. Three were looking around where the leader was. The last one was staring into the woods, a frown on his face.
That Jaffa moved away from the path, knelt down and examined the grass. His fingers reached out and touched a limb from a low bush. He was staring at the fallen logs that were just visible among the vines and bushes near the trail.
'One is looking over here, four are still checking around the road, two are heading up the path,' she whispered to him in the quiet of the meadow.
'Okay, if they come this way, we'll have to get them first, and fast.'
Something caught her attention. That was Teal'c! He was almost to the ridge, ready to leave that damn skinny ledge. Sam and Jack must be…yep, there was Sam. 'Sam, Jack, and Teal'c are almost off that ledge. If I could get those Jaffa to just hesitate long enough, then get them this way, we could catch the Jaffa between us.'
Daniel did some quick calculating. It had taken him and Casey ten minutes to get to the place where she fell, after leaving that ledge. They had been here a total of twenty minutes so far. That meant that Jack, Sam and Teal'c had started out after them not much more than ten minutes after the Jaffa had.
Casey continued to watch the Jaffa. There seemed to be a discussion going on. The leader was listening to the man who had examined the grass. All eyes swung in the direction of the fallen trees. 'Okay, they're all looking this way now.'
'Just relax. If they don't see anything, they'll move on.'
Now they were gesturing. What she wouldn't give to be able to just brush past them, scare them a little. She giggled mentally at the thought.
'What are you giggling about?'
'Just wishing I could stir things up a little bit.' Her giggles turned into full-blown laughter as three of the Jaffa moved off to the side to relieve themselves. No, I won't, she thought. No, I really shouldn't. Okay, maybe just a quick peek. In the meadow she was nearly rolling on the soft grass with laughter.
Daniel couldn't help but grin, he was chuckling mentally. 'What are you laughing at?'
'If they're all built like that, it's no wonder they're grumpy! That armor would pinch!'
'Teal'c once told me that the Jaffa had been genetically manipulated - the brightest, the prettiest, the strongest, were all chosen and bred and their beautiful children chosen and bred, all for certain characteristics. That's why so many of the Jaffa look the same, coloring, size, etc. I guess one of those characteristics was…um…well hung. Almost as well endowed as you! You can't tell me that the chain mail those guys wear is comfortable.
Daniel was in danger of laughing out loud. They must be taking a leak, and his wife was watching! 'Get your ass back here and quit gawking at other men's dicks!'
'Hey, I'm married, not dead, if the chance presents itself, I'm gonna look! Just like you check out the tits and ass when we're at the mall.'
'I do not!'
'Uh huh. So you really intended to push the stroller into the wall when that woman with knockers that jutted five miles in front of her walked by? Your eyes nearly popped out of your head!'
He remembered that woman. He remembered staring. Not because he found her attractive, necessarily, but because he wondered how on earth she stood upright with breasts that large. 'I was in shock. Those things weren't real. They couldn't have been!'
She giggled mentally again. 'Okay, tell me again, why are we hiding from Jaffa, and talking about willywackers and knockers?'
He ducked his head, willed himself to remain silent. It wasn't easy.
'Hey, the guys are almost here!'
'Okay, Angel, get back here. Let's wait and see what happens.'
With a sigh, she returned to that meadow, kissed him lightly on the lips before he slowly pulled away.
The sound of movement nearby alerted them to the choice the Jaffa had made.
'Don't move, just relax.'
She did her best to follow his instructions. They watched four pairs of boots walk by, one pair stepping over the logs carefully. Did they know that she and Daniel were hiding there, and were just toying with them before killing them?
The boots continued to move around. It seemed that they were looking for the two Tau'ri. For some reason didn't think, or realize that they were hiding beneath the bush between the two fallen logs. Maybe they didn't think there was enough room. Maybe they didn't think the Tau'ri were smart enough to hide in such a manner. Whatever the reason, they moved deeper into the woods. Not more than five minutes later they returned, moving again toward the path.
Teal'c held up his hand. Jack and Sam dropped immediately to their knees. "Jaffa," he whispered, pointing to the figures that moved among the brush off the side of the road. They were obviously looking for the man and the woman they had been pursuing.
Jack pulled his P90 up, flipped the safety off. From the corner of his eye he had seen Sam and T do the same. The three SG-1 members eased to the side of the path, using the brush to camouflage their positions. It wouldn't matter if the Jaffa saw them, by the time their brains had registered what their eyes were really seeing, it would all be over.
The Jaffa began to walk back to the road, single file, each of the looking left and right, still searching. The leader was already facing away from them when he stepped back onto the path. The others followed.
That intuition that had kept Jack alive during some of the most brutal situations in which a man could find himself, kicked in. He signaled to hold fire. Something told him that taking out that patrol would only cause them more heartburn in the long run. He and Teal'c would check out the area, it was possible that Danny and Casey were hidden. If not, then they would follow, and stay on the trail of the Jaffa.
When the armored men had been gone for nearly five minutes, Teal'c stood to his feet. He moved quickly to where they had emerged, and began to retrace their steps.
Casey looked at Daniel and grinned when a pair of size thirteen military issue boots appeared in their line of vision. "Hey, T, what took you so long?" she asked softly.
Teal'c crouched down, moved two branches of the bush out of the way, and looked down into the dirty, tired faces of his friends. "It is good to see you both well."
"Yeah, likewise," Daniel said. He crawled out from under the bush. Casey pushed the two backpacks out to him, then eased out from between the logs and joined him.
"Well, you two gave those boys the slip just slicker'n shit," Jack grinned, clapping Daniel on the back.
"Do your radios work?" Sam asked.
"I guess not," Daniel replied. "We kept calling you guys, but never got a response."
"We did too, same results," Sam said. She frowned. "He must have some sort of jamming system set up."
"Who? Huh? What?" Daniel said.
"Very articulate, Stud Muffin," Casey giggled.
"Bite me. I'm tired," he retorted, his lips and eyes belying the tone of his voice.
"Two al'kesh decided to drop in and check out our fire works. They damaged the Persephone in the process. Goa'uld ships are on the ground, Colonel Bradshaw has the Persephone hidden, working on repairs. Haven't heard from him, so he's not back yet," Jack told them. "He wasn't sure how close to that temple compound they actually sat down."
"He could have another facility here," Daniel said slowly, nodding. "Which would explain why he was so anxious to return here. Any word on those escape pods?"
Jack shook his head. "Not yet. Okay, we need to find out what's going on. Best way to do that is get back to that compound and look around."
Casey's face paled. "I'm not sure I can do it again," she whispered softly. No one had to ask what she was talking about.
"Let's just see if we can't find another way back," Jack said quietly. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "I don't want to push our luck. We all made it once. That makes me happy. I’m not going to tempt fate to make me unhappy."
With a relieved smile, Casey nodded, then made her way toward the path. "We could always see what's at the end of the yellow brick road," she said, pointing the muzzle of her P90 in the direction the Jaffa had gone.
"Lead the way, Dorothy," Jack said with a grin.
She adjusted the pack on her back, gripped her P90 firmly, and began to move down the narrow dirt path. Her teammates fell in behind her, Daniel almost on her heels. SG-1 was together. Their good luck was holding.
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