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Artistic Differences 

 

Chapter 8

She knew it had to be done. She’d volunteered for the job...fool that she was. And she knew that when it was finished, the database would be very helpful for planning missions. There were days when she just didn’t want to have to deal with it. It was bad enough to have to think about the Goa’uld in the usual course of the day, when dealing with mission reports. But to have to sit here, hour after hour, typing in what was nothing but lies and propaganda...it was enough to make her pissy! It was particularly irritating to have to do entries for the Goa’uld she had met, up close and personal. Those who were already dead, taken down by the intrepid soldiers of the SGC, didn’t bother her nearly as much as the entries for Ba’al, Ares, Tuoni...and now Zeus. Damned arrogant bastard anyway!

She had planned her day around the database she was struggling to complete. What with missions and days off, it seemed she hadn’t made significant progress in weeks. Daniel had actually picked her up and carried her, over his shoulder no less, the one night she had kept putting him off about leaving for the day, determined to finish just one more section. Jack had made a smartass comment about the fact that only she seemed capable of reminding the Space Monkey that there was a world outside of the concrete walls of the SGC, and if she was picking up her Husband’s bad habits, he was going to have to have a long talk with both of them. Jack’s long talks usually consisted of a lot of grumping and demanding that he be obeyed. She smiled. They were also full of a lot of concern...and love...for his teammates.

She sighed as she walked across the room to Daniel’s desk. He was in the lab, in his element as he worked with the pieces of a mural brought back by SG-10. He had been anxious to return to the task of putting each piece of the mural in the correct order; the large pieces of the wall that had been saved strewn across the floor, or leaning against the concrete lab walls, smaller pieces laying on the work table, all of unbelievable quality and beauty. The actual walls of an ancient temple, built by the hands of humans who had been taken from Earth thousands of years earlier. Mind bending stuff. She’d have to check on him later to make certain he had eaten lunch. Chances were high that he’d still be up to his elbows in photos and videos and notes, lost in the world of Ancient Egypt and long forgotten civilizations that very few even remembered by name, when lunch time rolled around.

She dropped onto the chair, pushed her hair back. Truth be told, today the daunting and annoying task of working on the database held a bit of appeal. She could bury herself in her work, and not have to think about...she shook her head. Not going to think about it. She had managed to push the thoughts, the worries, to the back of her mind for the entirety of their day off. She wasn’t going to...couldn’t...deal with it now. Not here. Later. She’d think about it later. Maybe by then her subconscious would have worked things out, and she’d be able to deal with her conflicting emotions.

She flipped the computer on. Reached for her oversized coffee mug. Damn it! They had moved the coffee maker into the lab because they'd been doing so much work there. Well, she’d just have to go fill her mug there, no doubt Daniel had a pot already brewed. She glanced at her watch. Yep, they’d been on base for twenty minutes. It should be just about ready by now.

She was walking past the first storage room, one that had been used as a makeshift lab off and on over the years, when she heard them. She wouldn’t have paid a bit of attention, had she not heard her name. She stopped to listen.

"Casey Jackson?" She didn’t recognize the voice. "Are you serious?"

"Yep, totally serious. It’s awesome. The Venus in that painting is really Casey." That was Tony Sabotti, of SG-6.

"No shit?" She wasn’t certain, but she thought the voice belonged to Matt Fremont. He hadn’t been with the SGC very long, arriving a few months after she and Daniel had been married. He was an anthropologist, although she often doubted that he had majored in anything other than frat parties and bad pick up lines during his entire college career. She knew for a fact that his work often had to be checked and redone by the other anthropologists in the mountain...Daniel had caught several of his mistakes and corrected them. And then tried to kindly remind the man that the work he was doing could literally mean life or death for the SG teams depending on his expertise. Why he hadn’t been fired was a mystery to her!

"Hey, would I lie about something like this?" Tony asked. Several male voices chuckled; the SF was notorious for his ability to lie convincingly about anything. "She’s as gorgeous as ever, totally naked, and it looks like she’s walking out of the water onto a beach. And we’re not talking a little painting, either. That thing has to be ten feet tall. We’re talking a fully life sized Casey Jackson!"

"Damn!"

"Yep. The guys from 7 and 12 drove up there yesterday to take a look at it. Me, Texas, and Murphy went up on Saturday and saw it. We didn’t stick around for the judging or anything. Had to take Texas to a titty bar for his birthday." The men once again chuckled loudly.

"That explains why I heard the guys from 13 talking about making a drive up there later today. Guess they’re all gonna get really bad headaches," another voice said. This was one she didn’t recognize immediately.

"Yeah, headaches. They’ll have ‘headaches’ all right," Tony laughed.

She stood frozen in place, her heart pounding, her hands shaking, wrapped so tightly around the mug that her knuckles were turning white. Oh goddess! She should have known something like this would happen! The rumor mill of the SGC was the fastest in the west, Janet claimed. By now everyone in the mountain was certain to know about that damned painting, and the fact that she was in it!

She glanced toward Daniel’s lab. Gave an involuntary shiver. If...no...when he found out, he would be so angry! Oh, lord, how humiliating would it be, to think that every man who worked for the SGC would know exactly what his wife looked like naked? Would they fantasize about her? Daniel was a very private man, he didn’t like a lot a attention. Nor was he one to flaunt his love life. He didn’t discuss the private and intimate details of their lovemaking. She'd heard him laughing about the fact that Jack often complained because he never ‘anted up’ when the men were talking about wives and girlfriends. Sam said it drove Jack nuts to think about what he might be missing. So to have his wife on display...

Slut. Whore. Tramp.

The words reverberated around her as if they had been shouted. No matter how hard she tried, no matter her intentions, it seemed she was always doing something to prove Helen Webster right. She closed her eyes. Put a hand against the wall to steady herself.

There was no way she could stay here. Not knowing that those men had seen her. She wanted...needed...to go home. Just for today. She could deal with this there...if she was at home she could think... Guilt began to writhe inside her; guilt that had been a part of her for so long she didn’t know that it wasn’t hers - that it was the bitterness transferred from a hateful woman to an innocent child. Guilt that she had never had the courage to examine...or let go. Fueled by her raging emotions, feelings of dread began to take hold in her mind.

She’d clean out her closet. Then she’d know exactly what she had that she could pack and keep...no doubt Daniel would want her out of the house as soon as possible...if he couldn’t forgive her. After all, a man like him would never love a slut. He was too decent a man, had too much pride in his reputation, had too high a set of moral standards to allow himself to be involved with a woman who was less than reputable. Oh, he was gentle and kind and goodhearted, he would do whatever he could to help a woman who found herself in a bad situation. But love her? Share his life with her? No way.

She slipped back into the office. Glanced around, wondered briefly if she would ever see it again. Her purse was on the floor by the desk. She grabbed it, and made her way to the elevator. Time. She just needed a bit of time. If she could only find the right words to use...to explain...to plead...to beg for his forgiveness.

There were three Airmen she didn’t recognize waiting for the elevator. They all smiled at her, and she was certain that they comparing her as she was, dressed in the obligatory BDU, and the naked version of herself in that painting. She ducked her head, her cheeks burning with shame, tears filling her eyes. Her hair thankfully hid her face from their view.

She was back in her jeans and sweater in less than three minutes. She raced for the stairs, not willing to take the chance of having anyone else see her, stare at her. She was breathless when she reached the eleventh level.

Sergeant Dieter looked surprised when she signed out, her fingers trembling so badly she could barely hold the pen. She pressed her palm against the scanner, watched as it turned green.

"Are you all right, Mrs. J?" the soft-spoken New Jersey native asked.

"I’m okay," she replied, sniffing softly. Before he could say anything else, she was racing toward the elevator that would take her to ground level. For the first time ever, the walls of the facility felt as if they were closing in on her. She struggled to breathe as she rode to the surface.

Mr. Dausey was driving the bus, and though he watched her, his eyes full of questions, he never said a word as she rode to the main gate. There was a city bus that ran on a regular schedule; she’d catch it, ride as close to the little house on Baldwin Street that she could get, and walk the rest of the way. It was cold, but not bitingly so. Besides, the exercise would be good for her.

You’re behaving like an idiot, she told herself firmly. Daniel had been all smiles at the gallery. He had kept his arm around her, telling anyone who asked that yes, the model for the painting was his wife. And yes, he was very proud of her.

Right, she grumped silently. What else was he supposed to do? The man was an accomplished diplomat. If he had been furious, no one would have known. She blatantly ignored the part of her mind that insisted that Daniel was honest above all else, and if he hadn’t liked the painting, he would most assuredly have said so. He would have been polite, and very tactful, but he would have told Tiesha the truth if he was at all bothered about the fact that his wife was in that huge painting, damned near naked. He had, in fact, told the artist that he was totally enraptured by her work, and that she had captured ‘Venus’ so completely that he was certain the goddess could walk right off the canvas.

What about the ride home...when he tried to talk to you, her heart demanded. That’s just Daniel’s way, she retorted. Even if he had been livid, he never would have said anything to upset her, or hurt her feelings. What about the time spent at the IHOP, or how sweetly he made love to you that night? She wavered slightly...then shook her head mentally. He'd needed his fix. And Daniel wasn’t the kind of man to take without giving, she thought.

Nothing had been said about the painting at all the day after the gallery exhibit. She had done laundry, he had worked on translations, and then they had spent the evening on the sofa, cuddled together, reading novels.

She closed her eyes, leaned her head back against the headrest of the seat. Time. She just needed a little bit of time. If she could just explain to him that the painting was nothing like the black and white photograph that Tiesha had shown her...that she had agreed to...that the photograph hadn’t been as...revealing...that she'd had no idea that her friend was going to turn that simple photo into a painting...that huge painting...Time. She just needed a little bit of time...

 

 

 

She stepped off the bus at the stop in front of the Piggly Wiggly. Stared at the storefront for a few minutes. Did she have any walnuts in the pantry? Daniel loved chocolate walnut cookies. Before she was aware of making the decision, her feet were moving her toward the grocery store. She should pick up a couple of steaks...he loved a good steak, too.

What she was doing, she knew, was planning one of his favorite meals. To appease him. To try and garner his forgiveness. It was a desperate bid to keep his love. When it came to loving Daniel, she would willingly admit to having no pride. She would do whatever it took, whatever he demanded of her, in order to hold onto that love.

Grabbing a hand basket, she wandered the aisles of the store, taking mental inventory of what she could remember being in the refrigerator at home. Gathered the ingredients for the salad. Searched through the offerings on the meat counter and selected two steaks. Tossed the package of walnuts on top of it all.

Her thoughts continued to spin. Tiesha had no right! She shouldn’t have changed her plans, at least, not without asking first! It was one thing to agree to do the photo. And in black and white it had been very...muted. Very...tasteful. Why had her friend painted that huge monstrosity, without at least warning her ahead of time? So she could have pleaded for the woman not to do so...to spare Daniel the anger and embarrassment. So that she could have spared herself from feeling this way. So that she could have been prepared for the feelings of shame...of anger...of dread. Of guilt.

The walk home, carrying the bags laden with groceries, did little to ease her mind, or to soothe the ache in her heart. If Daniel would just yell at her, get it out of his system, then she could explain to him. She could try to make him understand that she'd had no idea that Tiesha would do a painting...one that was so damned big! She could beg for his forgiveness...

 

 

 

As soon as the meat and the vegetables she had picked up were tucked safely into the refrigerator, Casey stood in the kitchen. She loved this house. While she'd been happy with Daniel in his apartment, this house felt more like her space as well. This was home...the first home she’d ever known in her life. Goddess, she’d miss this house, if Daniel wouldn’t...couldn’t...forgive her.

Lydia been in three days earlier. Everything was clean, and neat and tidy. There were certain areas that Casey insisted that the housekeeper not bother with. Daniel’s den. The bathroom counter. Those places that felt the most personal.

She stepped into the living room. There were smudges on one of the leaded-glass doors of the book shelves. Daniel had been in and out of the unit several times the day before, as he worked on a translation that was needed by one of the SG teams who would be dealing with a group of people sitting on a gold mine...literally.

She hurried to the utility closet, grabbed the glass cleaning spray and a clean cloth. Daniel had insisted that Lydia continue working for him when they had moved. Was that because he doubted her housekeeping abilities? She pushed that thought aside. He had told her on numerous occasions that she worked damned hard, and didn’t need to come home to more work. He had the housekeeper, her heart insisted, because he loved her...because he wanted her to be able to enjoy their days off. Her mind suddenly wasn’t so certain. For the first time since seeing the painting, she let the tears flow unchecked.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Sam poked her head into the lab. "Hi, Daniel."

The archaeologist looked up, pushed his glasses...which had slid down while he worked...back into place. "Hey, Sam."

"Have you seen Casey?"

Daniel frowned. "She said she was going to work on the database today."

"Well, maybe she’s just taking a break," the major suggested, also frowning slightly. Daniel’s office was the first place she’d gone...the young seer had not been there. "I’ll find out if Teal’c has seen her."

He gave an absent nod, his attention already back on the section of mural that was laying on the table in front of him.

With determined steps she hurried for the elevator, her mind working on the puzzle that she had discovered among the devices taken during a mission one of the SG teams had been on, searching the latest laboratory discovery, another of Nirrti’s hideous lairs. The hand device was small, and at first glance, resembled a healing device. However, Sam had been unable to activate the device, which prompted her to suspect that the power source was dead. When she had opened the gold case, removing the cleverly disguised access panel, one no larger than a postage stamp, she had discovered the alignment of the miniaturized crystals within were not that of a healing device. What she needed was a hint, a clue of some sort. And Casey was often able to hold an item and offer the information that would lead to further understanding.

She nearly ran into Teal’c as she rounded the corner on level twenty-one, near the locker room doors. She flashed a warm smile of greeting.

"Good afternoon, Major Carter."

"Hi, Teal’c. I was just coming to see you," Sam replied.

One eyebrow went up slightly.

"I thought Casey might be working out with you."

"She is not. I have not seen Casey Jackson yet today."

That was odd. Usually the young Mrs. Jackson sought out the Jaffa for lunch, or a coffee break, either with or without her husband. Sam frowned. "That’s odd. She wasn’t in Daniel’s office, or with him in the lab."

"Perhaps General Hammond requested her assistance," Teal’c suggested.

"Good idea. I’ll check there. And if you see her, tell her I need to talk to her."

"I will do so."

With another warm smile and a wiggle of her fingers, Sam headed back to the elevator. Teal’c, she observed, was heading for the gym. The number of hours that the Jaffa devoted to physical training was astounding. And very obvious in the strength and bulk of his body. She had often wondered if he had continued the demanding workouts that he had been subjected to as a Jaffa out of habit, or the desire to remain useful to the SGC. His intellect, his knowledge of the Goa’uld were every bit as important as his physical strength. Whether or not he would recognize that fact, whether his Jaffa training would allow him to recognize that fact, she didn’t know. She'd been in the gym and watched Teal’c as he trained. If there were cadets waiting, they’d be exhausted by the time he was finished with them, she thought absently.

A quick check on level twenty-six and the cafeteria provided the proof that Casey wasn’t indulging her love of chocolate. Nor was she in General Hammond’s office, the control room, or the ‘gate room. Back up to level twenty-three, and the room that housed the team CO offices. No one there had seen the slender blonde.

A frown on her face, Sam leaned against the wall of the elevator as she made her way back to level eighteen. Usually during the course of the day anyone working in the facility would be on any number of levels for various reasons. Which meant running into colleagues also running errands and moving from one level to the other. It was odd that no one had seen the slender seer.

"Daniel, when was the last time you spoke to Casey?" Sam asked without preamble when she strode into the room.

Startled, Daniel jumped slightly, muttered a curse beneath his breath and carefully erased the mark the pencil had made across the paper. "When I kissed her this morning in my office," he replied. The implications of Sam’s question failed to register in his brain...which was still working on the puzzle of the ancient language he had been trying to decipher. An interesting mix of three distinct Egyptian dialects, as well as one that had to be Nubian. The fact that the mural had been on the wall of a temple on another planet only added to the mystery.

She shook her head, snapped her fingers in front of the archaeologist’s face. "Daniel, no one has seen her. Teal’c said he hasn’t seen her at all today."

His head jerked up as the meaning sank into his brain. "No one?"

Sam shook her head.

Translations forgotten amid the thoughts of dread that began to storm through his mind, Daniel was darting out of the room, running toward the elevator before Sam had a chance to respond.

She followed, catching up with him when the lift doors opened. "You have an idea?" Sam asked hopefully.

"None," he replied, his voice hoarse with worry...and barely suppressed fear. The klaxons hadn’t gone off, but there was always the chance that someone had managed to spirit his Wife away. Zeus immediately popped into mind. If he had the capability of pulling a ship into his ha’tak with an energy beam, it wasn’t a stretch to believe he might have Asgard beaming technology as well. And unless there were witnesses to the event, no one ever knew when Thor swooped in and zapped Jack up to his ship.

He ran toward the checkpoint, his heart pounding. Slid to a halt in front of the desk, grabbed the clipboard that held the days’ sign in/out sheet. Ran his finger down the list of names. There. Casey R. Jackson. Signed out at eight thirty-seven. Relief that she hadn’t just ‘vanished’, taken captive by an unknown enemy, was short lived. Damn it! Why hadn’t she said something to him?

"Is there a problem, Doctor Jackson?" the guard asked.

"Yes, there is. My Wife left the base without saying a damned word to anyone," Daniel sighed.

"She seemed pretty upset when she signed out," the young man offered. "Looked to me like she'd been crying."

Sam, who had followed silently, cringed mentally. Casey dealt daily with the emotional scars left after a childhood full of abuse. There were times when the phobias ingrained into her as a result of that abuse overrode her common sense, her understanding. What in the world could have triggered the tears, and the subsequent flight? And where would the young seer have run off to?

Without a word, Daniel signed the sheet, slapped his hand onto the electronic ‘reader’, and was dashing toward the elevator that would take him to ground level.

The blonde major watched him for a moment, sent up a silent prayer, and then turned to go back to her interrupted work. The mysterious device would still be on her work table tomorrow. With luck, Casey would be at the SGC as well. She could take a look at it then.

She was heading to the gym before she realized it. It was just the way SG-1 operated, she supposed. She pushed open the door, her eyes searching the room. Teal’c was lifting weights. He met her halfway across the room, and said nothing, just put his arms around her. No words were necessary. No explanation needed when the two sought out Jack, and the three sat in the commissary. They would know when to call. They always did. It was that link...the bond between them, the connection of their hearts, the thing that made SG-1 unique among all of the SG teams.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Daniel pulled into the driveway, barely waiting until the Jeep had stopped rolling to shove the gearshift into park, turn off the engine and bail out. The guard at the first level check point of the SGC confirmed what Sergeant Dieter, the guard on level eleven, had told him - Casey had been very upset when she had left. She'd left the base without saying a word to him...to Teal’c...to anybody! If Sam hadn’t been looking for her, he wouldn’t even have been aware she was gone...at least, not until she failed to meet him at the end of their workday.

According to the sign out sheet, she'd left thirty minutes after they had arrived. They usually had lunch together, true, but there were days when their respective schedules conflicted, so not seeing her in the commissary when he'd wandered down for a sandwich hadn’t alerted him to a problem...and today he'd been busy with the pieces of that mural, which was intriguingly difficult to piece back together, and the fact that it appeared the wall had been intentionally destroyed...he shook his head...not a good enough excuse, bucko! He took a deep breath, rage and panic racing through him, competing for control. Way to go, Danny! You couldn’t even be bothered to find out where your Wife was at lunch time! Couldn’t be bothered to find out if she had eaten. If you’d been the kind of husband you should be, bucko, you’d have known hours ago that something was horribly wrong!

The anger he felt surged forward. Damn it to hell! If only she'd talk to him! She'd left...run away. He shook his head, his heart clenching in his chest. If she'd run away, there was a reason. In her heart, in her mind, there was a reason. His anger burned toward the woman who had so wounded an innocent child.

Up the back steps. If Casey wasn’t here...he pushed that thought away. She was here. She had to be!

He raced through the back door, came to a sudden halt. It looked as if the place had been turned upside down. Every book that had been in the bookshelves was scattered throughout the living room...on the coffee table, on the chairs and sofa, on the floor...the dining room table was covered with books, some were even stacked on the island breakfast bar. The leaded glass in the doors of the massive shelving units sparkled. The wood glistened under a coat of fresh polish. He frowned, glanced at a few of the stacks. Alphabetical order, by author. And sorted by category...and then it looked as if they had been further organized into groups according to size..

Fresh chocolate walnut cookies were cooling on the counter. He sniffed, appreciatively, then the frown deepened. Two steps had him in front of the oven. Where black smoke was beginning to wisp around the door. He pulled it open, waved his arms to stave off the cloud of smoke that greeted him. He reached for two potholders, yanked them from the peg where they hung beneath the cupboard, and grabbed the tray of now completely charred cookies.

This was not like Casey! She never burned anything when she cooked, she was too careful! He glanced around. The plastic storage containers that held the seasonal decorating items: framed prints, decorator pillows and soft fluffy throws for the sofa, towel sets, comforters and bed ruffles and shams, one box each for spring, summer, autumn and winter, were open as well - the contents strewn across the floor on the dining room side of the island. But there was no sign of his Wife. Heart pounding harder now, hands shaking slightly, he dumped the tray, cookies and all, into the sink. "Casey?"

She wasn’t in the bathroom. Although the counter, which resembled an antique, marble-topped dresser, had been straightened, and cleaned it looked like; the gray-veined white marble gleaming in the light that poured in through the window. Which appeared to be freshly washed as well.

Not in the den. He took a moment to see if anything had been disturbed there. Nope, everything was just as he left it. Well, she'd vacuumed the carpet, it seemed. The vacuum cleaner was still in the middle of the room, the cord plugged into the outlet. He stepped into their bedroom. Her closet door was open, and the light was on. He moved closer. She was sitting on the floor, shoe boxes around her, journal in hand. Tears rolling down her cheeks. He squatted down beside her. "Angel?"

"It’s so damned big! And Tiesha worked so hard on it and she’s so proud of it and all of the guys from the base are making special trips all the way to Denver to see it and I’m not wearing any clothes in it and I really didn’t know she was going to do that and I didn’t know it was going to be so big!"

He couldn’t help but smile. Okay, that explained a few things. He'd wondered about her unusual silence the day before, she'd spoken only when he had directed a comment or question to her. Which, he admitted, had been a carryover from the night they had gone to the gallery to see the painting. "It’s a beautiful piece of art, Casey. I think Tiesha did an incredible job. And you’re breathtaking in it."

She sniffed, wiped her nose on the tissue that was bunched up in her hand. "But I’m damned near naked! Except for the shell, which was cloth by the way, even though it looks like a real shell, and the little cloth shells that don’t cover much more than my nipples, I’m naked! And all of the g-g-guys on the b-b-base have s-s-seen it!" she wailed, sobs wracking her slender frame.

Daniel settled onto the floor, put his arms around her and pulled her into his lap. He gently guided her head to his shoulder. Felt her arms go around his neck. "Shh. Cry it out, Angel."

"I’m s-s-so s-s-sor-r-ry!"

"For what?"

It was a moment before the sobs subsided enough for her to be able to speak again. "You must be humiliated...and pissed off...and embarrassed...and pissed off..."

Aha. He was supposed to be embarrassed...or humiliated...because his Wife appeared practically nude in a painting. Which, apparently, the men who worked at the SGC had taken pains to go and look at. And because of that, he was supposed to be pissed off. Just how much trouble would it get him into to admit that he was far from angry? That he saw the beauty of the painting; that he recognized it as a piece of art that just happened to feature his very beautiful Wife...and that he was far from embarrassed. He was, in fact, so damned proud that he'd caught himself strutting through the corridors on the two occasions he had left his lab; accepting the compliments about her, from those who had seen the painting, as his due, simply for being married to such a beauty. Besides, all things considered, he didn’t believe the painting showed any more than her little bikini...or not much more. Another admission that would probably get him into trouble.

"Daniel?"

He looked down into tear-filled green eyes. From the look of her face, her cheeks blotchy red, her eyes swollen and bloodshot, she'd been crying most of the day. She looked miserable, and it broke his heart. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I’m not angry. I’m not embarrassed or humiliated. What I am is honored...totally blown away that a woman as beautiful as you loves me. Casey, that painting is worthy of the prize it received. Not just because you were the model. But because Tiesha captured the feeling of the myth completely. People don’t see you, Angel. When they look at that painting, they see the goddess Venus rising from the sea."

She took a shuddering breath. "Really?"

"Really. Honey, it’s art. Beautiful art at that. You should be proud of your contribution, your part in the making of it."

"I should?"

"Yep. Tiesha couldn’t have found a more perfect model. Her artistic vision, her dedication to producing a piece of work of such high quality speaks volumes about her talent."

"People really don’t see me?"

"Sorry, Angel. When people look at that painting, they don’t see Casey Jackson. They see Venus. One of the most beautiful goddesses in mythology."

"But I overheard Tony, and he said that all of the guys were driving up to the gallery to take a look, because it was a nude painting of me!"

"I’ll bet they were damned disappointed when they saw it then," Daniel chuckled. Knowing the young SF, Tony had probably said that just to see how many of the men from the SGC would drive to Denver. That man had a twisted sense of humor at times! The fleeting thought that Ferretti might have a private bet going with the SF flashed through his mind. "You’re not nude, Angel. Your hair is over your breasts, you can’t even see them, just that sweet valley between them. And that sexy little twat is completely covered by the shell, and since you’re facing forward, there isn’t even a hint of your ass. What do you say we go over and take another look at it?" he asked softly.

She wiped her eyes. "I can’t go anywhere...I look horrible. And I have to put the books away, and-" she leapt to her feet. "Cookies!"

Casey had bolted out of the closet before Daniel could tell her that he’d already dealt with the forgotten cookies. He stood up, shook his head. Most women would be preening with self-importance if they had been the model for a prize winning painting. His Wife, however, sat in the closet and cried. He silently damned Helen Webster to hell for the wounds, and the resulting scars, that she had put on Casey’s tender heart and soul; the soul-wrenching fears that his Wife lived with as a result.

When he made it into the kitchen, she was leaning back against the island, staring at the tray and the black lumps that had once been cookies. Her arms were around her slender waist...from the look on her face, he expected more tears at any moment.

Another deep, shuddering breath. "Maybe we should order out tonight. I don’t think I’m capable of getting anything right today," she said softly.

"It’s just one tray of cookies, babe," he replied, his voice just as soft.

"I was going to get out the autumn linens and prints, because we’re halfway into fall already, and I haven’t done that yet, although that’s mostly because of the damned Goa’uld and that freaking database. Then I couldn’t find one of my favorite floral prints, because the damned thing is already hanging on the wall, so obviously it’s for summer and not fall...I really like it, and I was going to just leave it up, but it won’t fit in with the other colors. And then I cleaned out the bookcases, only I couldn’t remember exactly how you had your books arranged, and when I tried to sort and alphabetize them, there are so many that fall into multiple categories, and when I cleaned the bathroom, I noticed how dirty the window was...do you realize I’ve never washed that window? How gross is that? And then I was going to vacuum, but the bag is full, and the package of vacuum cleaner bags is empty..."

If he laughed now, she’d never forgive him. It seemed that when she was upset, really upset, cleaning was her way of dealing with it. He’d had a foster mother who had been the same way. The kids in the house all knew that if she was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor, someone was in deep trouble. In Casey’s need to clean, she'd been beset upon by circumstances that only exacerbated her feelings of frustration. "How about I order a pizza, have it delivered? You’ve been hard at work all day. And just so you know, I don’t have any particular way of putting the books on the shelves. Just as long as they fit, that’s all I care about," he said quietly.

She gave a very unladylike snort. "You have a system, whether you realize it or not. You could go to those shelves and pick whatever book you needed, and not have to look for it."

If he had a ‘system’, it was something he achieved subconsciously! And he recognized most of the books he used by sight, not actually by the title. It wasn’t difficult to locate the volumes he needed when he was so familiar with them. "How about I help you put the books away? Some of them are yours, and you should have them arranged the way you want them to be," he suggested.

Casey gave a weary nod.

When she started to move past him, he caught her arm, tugged her close, pulled her into his embrace and held her tightly. "The next time you think I’m humiliated and pissed, talk to me about it?"

She snuggled closer. Put her head on his shoulder. "I promise."

Something told him that her cleaning spree hadn’t been just about him, or his feelings. "Are you humiliated or pissed?"

"A little embarrassed, I guess," she admitted, after a moment. "I wish Tiesha had talked to me before she created a painting out of that photo, and made it so damned big!"

He smiled against her hair. "I don’t know much about art, but I do know what I like. And I like that painting. Not just because I know that gorgeous Venus personally, and intimately, but because it’s a beautiful painting. It took my breath away."

She pulled away slowly. If the painting was beautiful, and so far, everyone was saying that it was, she was having a difficult time seeing that beauty. All she could see was her face, her naked body...on a canvas the size of a wall. It was so damned big! She sighed. "Let’s get these books put back. I can’t let the pizza delivery guy see the house like this."

He wouldn’t point out that the pizza was always delivered to the front door. And that there was no way anyone could see down the hall and into the Great Room, especially if he was standing at the door paying for the darned thing. Instead, he followed her into the living room. Watched as she stood, arms around her waist, looking like a lost little girl.

Slut. Whore. Tramp.

Again the words seemed to fill the very air around her. "Only a slut would pose for something like that."

Well, there it was. The actual crux of the matter. "That is not true."

His voice was quiet...firm...brooked no argument..."But-" she started to object.

"Casey, you are not, never have been, and never will be a slut. I don’t care what Helen Webster told you. I don’t care what your mother did to survive. You are not that type of person! I should know!"

Yes, he should know. Daniel knew her better than any person could. Sometimes he seemed to know her better than she knew herself. "Then why do I feel this way?"

He crossed the room, wrapped her once again in his embrace. "Because a hateful, vindictive woman beat down the self-esteem of a helpless little girl," he said softly.

She thought about that...her mind knew it was the simple truth. Her heart continued to battle the feelings of shame, of inadequacy, that she had lived with all of her life. "You’re really okay with all of...this?"

"I’m really okay with all of this."

"You’re not just saying that to try to make me feel better, are you?"

He couldn’t help but smile. "No way, Case. You deserve better than that. The painting is awesome. You’re beautiful. Like I said before, you should be proud of the fact that you’re a part of something so incredible. To be perfectly honest, Tiesha didn’t do you justice. You’re much more stunning than that painting portrays."

She looked up at him. "Liar. But thanks for saying it."

He caught her chin in his hand, held her steady as his gaze bore into hers. "You are much more stunning than Tiesha portrayed you in that painting," he repeated slowly. "I should know."

Casey took a deep, shuddering breath. Surrendered completely when he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. Standing in the living room, safe in Daniel’s embrace, his words caressed her worried heart as surely as his hands moved gently against her body, up and down her back, from her hips to her shoulders. No matter her fears, he was able to soothe them. When she felt the most vulnerable, he was there to protect her. What had she ever done to deserve a man like Daniel? she wondered silently. For some reason, one that she didn’t dare question, the God and Goddess of all had seen fit to bring the most incredible man in the world into her life. A man whose love and devotion were healing, slowly but surely, all of the hurts she had endured as a child, as a teenager, as a young, insecure woman. That she had been able to pose for Tiesha at all was a testament to his success in making her secure in who she was, what she was.

He held her, and she knew that he wouldn’t move until he was certain that she was once again in control of her emotions. His love was so deep, so strong that it was unfathomable. Her own love for him was just as deep, just as strong, and if her love buoyed him during his battles of insecurity, she was unaware of that fact. She knew only that his quiet, gentle strength was all that kept her from slipping into the darkness of despair and crippling self-recrimination. Daniel stood between her and a world of bleak loneliness, a world where she had dwelt for far too long. Another deep breath, released in a soft sigh. "I love you," she whispered, the words sounding woefully inadequate.

"I love you, too," he whispered in return.

She frowned, finally noting the time on the clock that tick-tocked loudly on the wall. "You’re home early."

"Sam was looking for you, and when no one could find you, we checked to see if you had left the base," he explained softly. "I had to get here, to make certain you were-"

"Here?"

He shook his head. "To make certain you were all right."

She had no doubt that he had feared that she had run away again, left without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’. "I promised I’d never run away again. I meant that. I just...I had to be here. I’m...I feel safe here. I could think here. I couldn’t face them...all of them looking at me like...that."

"Looking at you like what?"

The demand was made gently, but it was a demand nonetheless. He wouldn’t leave it be until he knew exactly what she was talking about, understood what she perceived. It had nothing to do with control. And everything to do with love. "They’ve seen me...mostly naked. I know they’re trying to imagine me totally naked."

He snorted softly. "Casey, I hate to break this to you, but that’s nothing new."

Her head flew up, she stared into his eyes. Saw a hint of amusement in the cerulean depths. "What do you mean by that?"

"Angel, the guys at the SGC have been trying to imagine you naked since the first day you walked down the corridors. Just like they try to imagine every other woman there naked."

She studied him for a moment. There was no deceit in his eyes. Lots of amusement, though. She shook her head. "That’s just wrong!"

"I suppose so," he admitted, chuckling. "But honey, it’s what we do best. Watch a beautiful woman walk by, and try to imagine her totally nude."

"You, too?"

"Hey, I’m only human," Daniel said defensively. "And I don’t do it any longer. I have you, and I know what you look like naked. Besides, you can’t tell me that women don’t do the same thing."

Never in a million years would she admit to him that women did the same thing. Not with every man who crossed their paths, of course. But a nice smile, warm eyes, a broad chest, long legs, or a tight ass could have a woman undressing that body in her mind, no doubt about that. "Hmmph," was her only response.

He shifted slightly, pulled her closer, his hands holding her tightly against his body. "Feeling better?"

"Much," she acknowledged.

"Let’s get these books put away."

She nodded. "Let me toss the sheets into the washer. I’d like to have the autumn bedding ready to put on the bed tonight."

"Fine by me." He grabbed the closest stack of books, while she hurried to the open containers. He couldn’t help but smile. He could clearly remember the conversation they'd had concerning her desire to decorate seasonally. Held after she had spent nearly an entire paycheck on three comforters and the associated bedding, and matching towels and bath rugs and assorted accessories. The smile became a grin as he recalled walking into the house that evening...

She had taken that day off, presumably to make the casseroles that were their mainstay during the week. He had come home to find her pacing the living room, packages strewn about, and her eyes full of guilt. It had taken him two full hours to convince her that he didn’t care one way or another how she decorated the house, that if she was happy, he was happy. Her taste was exquisite, he already knew that, and he trusted her completely. Three facts that she'd had difficulty comprehending. She had taken an assortment of rooms, and turned them into a warm, inviting place - a true home. The first home he’d had since the death of his parents. Once he'd convinced her he wasn’t angry about her purchases, or the fact that the casseroles hadn’t been made, she had taken such joy in putting out the new linens and accessories. She’d spent their next day off making casseroles...and cookies for him. Chocolate walnut. His favorite...

"Daniel?"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

He turned to look at her. "For what?"

One slender shoulder moved up, then back down. "For putting up with my...my meltdowns."

He shoved the books he was still holding onto one of the shelves, turned to cup her face with his hands. "Angel, you were upset. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing to apologize for. I’m just glad I was able to help you work through it."

Her hands closed around his wrists, she pushed her cheek against his palm. "Just when I think I’ve moved past all of...that, something happens to bring it all up again."

"Time, Case. You just need time. You were abused for thirteen years. It'll take time to deal with all of those hurts."

"Time, and you," she said softly.

The look of love, of trust in those amazing green eyes did wonderful things for his ego. In her eyes, he was capable of so much more than what he believed himself able to do. If his words, his feeble attempts to soothe her worries, ease her fears, were successful he couldn’t ask to do more. "I’m here, Angel. Whenever you need me," he replied.


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