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Deceptions and Illusions
The fundraising dinner was being held in the large auditorium that would be used later for performances and the showing of special collections. The room had been decorated to resemble the interior of a pyramid. Columns decorated with hieroglyphs, thanks to the help of three willing grad students, created three 'sections'. Large statues towered in strategically arranged groups; several ornate chests topped with Egyptian busts, perfume boxes, lamps, and other objects lined the walls. Braziers scattered throughout the room, and sconces on the walls provided most of the lighting, the track lighting that crisscrossed the ceiling turned low. A stage had been erected at one end of the room - there were four large statues and four upright sarcophagi that made a semi-circle at the back of it; tall candelabras provided mood lighting around the stage perimeter. Dozens of round tables - with gold colored clothes draped over them, and beautiful floral arrangements in the center of each - covered the remainder of the floor. All were surrounded by well-dressed men and women, the Who's Who of Hope; as well as those hoping to catch a glimpse of the local celebrities.
Daniel led Casey towards the front of the room. One table had been reserved for the archaeologists from the Center. He and his Wife would be sitting with SG-1, but he wanted to stop and say hello to the people he worked with, who worked for him.
The men at the table stood to their feet when the couple approached. Steven Rayner struggled to hide the pure lust that filled him when he saw Casey. The black, beaded, halter-styled gown she was wearing exposed supple shoulders, the creamy skin making his mouth water; showed him just a hint of the curves lay beneath the bodice, and the rise of the asymmetrical hem showed off her shapely leg. The gown hugged the rest of those tantalizing curves in a way that made him physically hungry for her.
"Casey, you look exquisite," Susan said, taking the young woman's hand and squeezing it affectionately.
"Thank you, Susan. You look lovely," Casey replied with a smile. Susan's dark coloring was enhanced by the strapless red sheath that she wore.
"Thank you, my dear."
Casey looked over at Stephanie. The young woman looked darling in the spaghetti strapped gown the same shade of green as her eyes. "You look lovely as well, Stephanie."
"Thanks, Mrs. J. You look incredible," Stephanie bubbled. Her smile was as bright as Casey's.
Daniel smiled, and put his arm around his Wife's waist, pulled her close. "Ladies, you all look beautiful. I just wanted to say thank you for being here tonight," he said, addressing all of the people at the table. "You've worked hard to help make tonight a success, and I appreciate it. The exhibits look fantastic, and I think the people of Hope are going to enjoy them immensely."
Faces covered with smiles beamed at him. "Our pleasure, Daniel," Arlen said graciously. The lights dimmed slightly.
"Guess we'd better get to our table. Enjoy yourselves tonight, you’ve earned it," Daniel said to the group in front of him.
"You too, boss," Mike said, grinning broadly. He'd been helping with the set up in this room, and had seen the dress rehearsal of the entertainment. He was sure that every man sitting in the audience was going to enjoy every minute of one particular act.
With a nod and a smile, Daniel led Casey to the table where the rest of SG-1, and the MacLeods, sat waiting. The men all looked handsome in their tuxedos. Sam was wearing a strapless sapphire blue gown, Carly was wearing a beautiful red silk gown with a sarong skirt, and Tessa was wearing a silver gown with long fitted sleeves and a neckline that plunged deeply.
Casey grinned as she sat down in the chair Daniel held for her. "We all look great, you know."
Carly's smile matched that of her young friend. "We do indeed. It seems that everyone is looking their best tonight."
"Hey, this is a big to-do," Jack grinned. "The event of the season, according to the newspaper."
"I just hope that the coverage by the news crews will bring in even more donations," Tessa said. She avoided looking at her girlfriends.
Casey nearly choked on the sip of wine she had taken. "News crews? As in cameras? Please tell me they're not going to be here for the entire…thing…night," she said hastily.
"Well, I think they planned on taking pictures and getting interviews all evening," Tessa admitted.
"Not even funny, Tess," Sam muttered.
"I had forgotten about it when we planned…made our plans," Tessa said. Husbands at the table knew that their wives were going to be performing during the entertainment portion of the evening. They just weren't aware of exactly what their better halves were going to be doing.
Casey giggled. "You realize that it will be all over the front page tomorrow." Her three best friends moaned loudly.
"Unless we break their cameras tonight," Sam said, grinning at her young teammate.
"Now that idea has some very interesting possibilities," Casey replied, winking at Sam.
The men were exchanging frowning glances. Something was up. All of them were beginning to worry about exactly what that something was.
Robert deValicort walked to the middle of the stage amid polite applause. "Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor, and a pleasure to welcome you tonight to the Hope Museum of Art and Natural History, the central element of Hope's new cultural center. It pleases me - both as the mayor of this amazing and quickly growing city, and as an individual - to see that the citizens of our community recognize the need for cultural growth and appreciation. It makes me realize that the very heart of Hope has remained the same in spite of the changes that have occurred in the past year. To me, it means that everyone who has arrived here has opened their arms and embraced all that Hope stands for, and are just as determined as those of us who founded this city to continue to make Hope a place where people of all cultures can live in peace and harmony, working together for the good of all." Robert smiled down at the crowd of people below him. "Of course, you didn't come here tonight to listen to me ramble on, especially when everything I say sounds like I'm running for re-election." Laughter filled the room. Robert had just been inaugurated into the mayor's office…again. "So, before I bore you to the point of falling asleep, let me introduce the lady who has worked so hard to make the Hope Cultural Center, and the Museum specifically, a reality, Tessa Noel MacLeod."
Tessa smiled and walked onto the stage. She hugged Robert, then turned to look out at the crowd of people. "Thank you so much, Robert, for all that you have done to make this Museum a reality." She led a round of applause for the mayor. "Thank all of you for being here this evening, and I hope that you will enjoy the dinner, and the entertainment that will be provided afterwards. Please remember that this is a fundraiser, your generous donations will be greatly appreciated. What we accomplish tonight for the Museum will live on for generations to come. We owe it to the citizens of Hope, to the children of Hope, and to all of those who choose to visit us, to have a place that reflects who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. So please, give generously! And now, without further ado, dinner is served!"
A A A A A A
Casey found that the closer it came to the time when she and her friends would excuse themselves to get ready for their act, the more nervous she became. She was pushing the food on her plate in tiny circles, hadn't taken more than three bites.
She looked over into blue eyes filled with concern.
'Are you all right?'
He smiled. 'I have no idea what you're up to. But you'll do great.'
'Thanks.' She lowered her eyes to her plate, rearranged the vegetables once again. Daniel didn't know what was about to happen. How would he feel, seeing her dressed in a harem costume, dancing in front of a room full of people? He hadn't minded when she had danced for Jarha and his people. She'd been dressed like a Bedouin at the time, however, in a long, thin linen dress, with the sash that wrapped around her waist, and the long linen robe. She sighed. If he became angry…well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it. If she came to it, her brain argued, insisting that Daniel wouldn't be upset. The dark fears in the back of her mind refused to be silent, however, whispering that she was about to bring heartache upon herself.
Daniel watched her, sensing that she was more than just nervous. He sighed. Whatever it was, he would deal with it, help her deal with it. He glanced at the table beside them, where the group from the Center was sitting, all of them enjoying their meal. Well, all of them but Rayner. He was staring at Casey. Again the warning bells began to go off in the back of his mind. This time he didn't silence them.
Rayner found it nearly impossible to keep his gaze from straying to the beautiful blonde sitting beside Daniel Jackson. He noticed that she wasn't eating. He frowned slightly. She was upset about something, even from here he could see it in those amazing, expressive green eyes. Had she and Daniel fought? Now that was a pleasant thought to contemplate. It would most certainly be advantageous. He hoped that she would glance up, look over at him, so that he could smile at her. Women were always telling him what a sexy smile he had. Instead, he found himself looking into hard, cold, blue eyes. He turned his attention to the young, dark haired grad student sitting beside him.
Their eyes had met for only the briefest of moments, but Daniel felt the contact as if the man had struck him. He didn't like the way that Rayner was looking at Casey. He had recognized the brief flash of lust in the man's dark eyes when they had stopped to speak with the group at that table. It was still there, lurking behind the affected smile and interest that he was now paying to Stephanie. For not the first time, something told him that hiring Dr. Steven Rayner was the biggest mistake of his life.
A A A A A A
The first act of the evening was a young woman who worked with SGI-7. She took the stage, and began her stand-up routine, bringing round after round of laughter from the crowd. Carly nodded, and the four women excused themselves, slipping toward the back of the room. They were using Tessa's office to change in, and once there began helping one another out of gowns and into the skimpy harem costumes. Casey had worn her hair down and loose for this very reason, and Carly brushed it quickly before putting the veil over it.
Casey adjusted the veil over her face, then carefully attached the navel jewelry. She and Carly were wearing identical outfits, Tessa and Sam were dressed the same. The differences in the costumes were subtle, but noticeable.
"Oh, goddess, I think I’m going to be sick," Casey moaned, a hand on her flat stomach.
Carly handed her a mint. "Here, take this. It will help. You will be wonderful, my beautiful young friend. You were amazing during rehearsal. You know the dance well, Casey. Remember, focus on Daniel. Dance only for him." She turned to Tessa and Sam. "Dance for your husband, no one else. Those watching will not notice that your eyes see only one man. They will see only the illusion that we have created."
The three women nodded. Sam and Tess both took mints as well. They were all very nervous.
Stephanie had been tasked to let the women know when it was time to move onto the stage. A soft knock on the door announced her arrival. Todd and Ramir had been drafted to 'open' the act. They took the stage as soon as the Hope High School Jazz Band had stepped down. "The guys just went up," Stephanie told them.
Carly nodded, led her friends to the back entrance of the room that would allow them to get onto the stage without being seen by the audience. The only light in the room came now from the sconces on the walls, and the tall candelabras that graced the room and the stage.
"It's an amazing find," Todd was saying, caressing one of the sarcophagi.
"Yes, it is. I wish that these statues could talk, tell us about the things they have witnessed," Ramir replied.
Todd continued to walk around the stage, as if reading 'walls'. "You know, they say that there was a ceremony, a final dance for the Pharaoh, just before the tomb was sealed."
"I have heard this also," Ramir said. "Come, we will work more tomorrow."
The two men left the stage. A fan created a breeze across the stage, which moved the sheer lengths of fabric that hung down between the statues and the sarcophagi. Bright colored lights began to dance over the walls of the room, focusing momentarily on different funerary objects scattered throughout the room. White streaks of 'lightening' flashed, and the sound of thunder rolled from the speakers, all designed to pull attention away from the stage just long enough for the women to 'appear' in front of the statues. When the music started, four spotlights lit up the stage, focusing on each of the dancers. A collective gasp went up from the audience, proof that the diversion had worked.
Casey was in the very front, Carly just behind her to the right, Tessa and Sam behind the two of them, all four easily seen. The lights prevented her from seeing him well, but when she was able to make out the outline of his face, she relaxed, set her gaze on him, and began to move. Slowly her hips began to sway, her arms moved up, until her hands were above her head, the finger cymbals keeping beat with the music. Carly's hips began to mirror the movements, then Sam, then Tessa, until all four women were moving to the music.
Daniel bit back a gasp when the spotlights went on. She was breathtaking! He could see her eyes looking…searching…and when they stopped on him, he could see her visibly relax. He smiled, and watched as his beautiful wife began to dance…for him.
Rayner felt his body go hard. Dear god but the woman was beautiful! She looked as if she had stepped out of the pages of time, a slave for some unnamed Pharaoh, dancing for his pleasure. He was close enough to see that her eyes were focused on her husband. The look of love on her face told him that she was dancing for Daniel, and him alone. He'd heard rumors about their love…its depth, its intensity. Challenges had never frightened him, even when the odds were stacked against him.
The tempo of the music was picking up, and Carly had the audience clapping as Casey began to move and twirl. Sam and Tessa did little more than sway in the background at this point, their arms over their heads, clapping along with Carly and the people who were watching intently. Another change in the tempo, slowing the pace down, and all four dancers began to move in unison once again. This time, when the drums reached a fevered beat, four sets of hips were moving in a blur, and when the room was suddenly thrust into silence, the women were on the floor of the stage, faces lowered. For a few seconds there was no sound at all. Then, as abruptly as the music had ended, the room erupted into applause. Cheers and whistles filled the air, the loudest coming from a table where four men stood to their feet, clapping in appreciation. Soon the entire crowd was on their feet as well, giving the dancers a standing ovation.
Carly stood up, signaling her companions to do the same. They clasped hands, faced their appreciative audience. The four women bowed, then slipped to the back of the stage and out of the door.
Stephanie had already brought in cool, damp towels so that the women could freshen up. They were excited at the response to their act, and practically bounced into Tessa's office.
"They liked us!" Casey said, her eyes wide and shining, her smile as bright as sunshine.
"Yeah, they did!" Sam agreed. She was looking as pleased as her young friend.
"Did I not tell you that we would do wonderfully?" Carly asked, beaming.
"I think we deserve this," Tessa said, opening the small refrigerator hidden in one of the wall cabinets. She pulled out a bottle of champagne, and four plastic cups. "I figured we'd either be celebrating, or drinking to forget," she giggled as she opened the bottle.
"You were all just incredible," Stephanie said. "And I have to get back out there and help set up for the next act. I feel sorry for them, following the four of you won't be easy," she grinned. With a wiggle of her fingers, she disappeared out the door and to the back of the stage once again.
Thirty minutes later, dressed once again in their gowns, hair combed, and make-up freshened, the women slipped back into their chairs at the table.
Daniel smiled when Casey sat down, reached out and took her hand, lifted her fingers to his lips. 'You were amazing, Angel.'
'Thank you. I was dancing for you.'
'I know. I saw your eyes, felt them on me.'
'I felt yours. You're not upset?'
'No, I'm not upset. To be honest…'
She looked at him when he laughed out loud. 'Go on…tell me.'
'I'll bet every man in here, well, except for Duncan, Jack, and Teal'c, are all jealous as hell right now. I get to take home that incredibly beautiful, sexy, harem girl.'
She blushed prettily, squeezed his fingers. 'Yours, and yours alone, Beloved.'
His response was to lift her fingers to his lips once again.
Steven Rayner watched them. Stephanie had been a veritable fountain of information about the lovely Casey Jackson. She had even told him about the 'special' method of telepathic communication that the Jackson's possessed. He could tell by their eyes that they were 'talking' to one another. Daniel was looking at his wife with love and adoration. Casey's green eyes were sparkling, and filled with just as much love for the man beside her. When Daniel lifted her fingers to his lips the second time, she turned her hand in his and caressed his cheek. Rayner's dark eyes glittered. Oh, yes. He enjoyed challenges.
A A A A A A
There had only been five 'acts' for the entertainment portion of the evening, and the dance that Casey Jackson, Carlotta Sanchez, Tessa Noel-MacLeod and Samantha Carter-O'Neill had performed had been the 'crown jewel' of the show. When the fifth act was over, and the last of the applause had died down, dessert was served, and the mingling began.
Casey stood with Daniel, his hand on the small of her back, chatting with this person and that, accepting congratulations on the opening of the Museum as well as compliments for the act. She bit back a yawn as the president of one of the manufacturing companies that had just moved to Gamma led his wife away.
She nodded. "I'll be all right," she said softly, as another group of patrons approached.
"Casey, my dear!" Barbara Keeler was the first Terran to be elected to the City Council. She took herself far more seriously than any one around her, including many of her supporters. Hers had been one of two dissenting voices on the council during the vote to fund the Hope Cultural Center with tax money, insisting that it wouldn't fairly represent the Terran citizens of Hope. Robert deValicort had pointed out that Hope was not just a city of Immortals, or Tau'ri, or Terrans or Langarans, but of Gammians. Most pundits didn't believe she would see a second term due to her efforts to push for more stringent laws such as existed on Terra. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, very few Terrans favored her, in spite of her insistence that she was the 'voice for all Terrans of Gamma'.
"Mrs. Keeler," Casey said, smiling graciously.
"I must admit your performance was a bit, risqué…for my taste anyway," she added hurriedly, as several people nearby glanced at her and frowned at the comment. "I guess we're just a bit more provincial on Terra."
"Good thing we're on Gamma," Casey replied drolly.
Daniel bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud.
Barbara Keeler raised an eyebrow, and turned her attention to the handsome Dr. Jackson. "It must have been difficult for you, watching that…act," she said. She barely kept her lip from curling in a sneer.
"Not at all. It was a beautiful dance, one that was performed for thousands of years for dozens of Pharaohs," Daniel replied. "In fact, I was delighted to witness such an incredibly accurate performance."
The blonde-haired woman stuttered slightly. "Oh…yes, yes of course."
"Since the first exhibition will be of artifacts related to the Egyptian dynasties, and those people taken from Egypt by the Goa'uld, and settled on other planets, we thought that the dance was quite appropriate," Casey said.
"And beautifully done," Robert deValicort said. He had seen the council woman zero in on Casey, and had agreed with Gina that a rescue was in order. He leaned over and kissed the young Immortal's cheek, shook Daniel's hand. "I thought it fit perfectly."
"As did I," Gina smiled. She placed kisses on both Casey's and Daniel's cheeks. "Carly did a wonderful job in choreographing the dance."
"Ah, yes, the Immortal. Gypsy wasn't she?" Barbara asked. In an instant she realized her mistake, as the knowledge that the four people she was standing with were Immortals crashed through her brain several seconds too late. "Excuse me, I believe I see a friend of mine that I haven't spoken to in some time." She hurried away.
"Probably been avoiding you," Casey muttered, making her companions laugh out loud. "Robert, how do you do it? How do you keep from strangling her…and the other bozos on the Council?"
Robert grinned. "Lots of counting and breathing exercises."
"Really, people like her actually help to get things done. The more she rants and raves against something, the more people begin to look at the issue, and decide for themselves. She single-handedly gave the spaceport to us," Robert said. "The more she talked against it, the more people were convinced it was a good idea."
"I have to admit, the minute I hear she's against something, I'm for it," Casey grinned. "And if she's for something, then I know it's not good for Hope! I still don't know how she managed to get elected!"
"Money," Gina replied. "She had the money to pay for more ads and 'volunteers' to canvass the neighborhoods of her precinct than her opponents."
"Isn't that the way it goes?" Casey grumbled. "Well, according to the Sentinel, she won't make another term."
Robert laughed. "I have learned never to rely on polls and the opinions of pundits. Now, you and Daniel go get another glass of champagne and enjoy the fruits of your labors," he said, smiling at them. He kissed her cheek again, put his arm around his wife, and walked toward another group of council members.
"I hate these things," Casey murmured.
"They are a bit boring, aren't they?"
Both Casey and Daniel turned to see Rayner standing beside them. "Most times," Casey replied softly. She unconsciously moved closer to Daniel, her hand reaching for his arm, coming to rest instead on his chest.
"I have always found that fundraisers try one's soul, and definitely test one's commitment to whatever it is you're raising funds for. I've always wondered how people who raise money for such causes as 'Freedom for Dingos' manage to get through an entire evening without just throwing in the towel and going home," Rayner said, grinning.
Casey giggled in spite of herself. "I suppose that 'Save the Alligator' groups would be sorely tempted to just give up."
"Without a doubt," Rayner bantered. "Perhaps that's why we've never heard of a 'Rest Homes for Rats' group."
She was laughing now. "Or 'Save the Spiders'."
Rayner forced a shudder. "I hate spiders."
"Me, too. I can walk on water if there are spiders around," Casey admitted.
"Now that would be something to see. Of course, seeing it would depend on whether or not I got to the other side before you did and could turn around and watch." He grinned broadly as she giggled again. A small step, but a successful one.
Daniel watched the exchange, his features revealing no emotion. Yesterday Casey had expressed concerns to her mother about this man. Now she stood here, laughing and joking with him as if they were old friends. He studied Rayner. The man was charming. Very charming. And he was using every ounce of it on his Wife…successfully, it seemed.
"I found a spider in the bathroom the size of a small cat one night," Casey was saying. "I had to get Daniel to surface from his work just to get his attention long enough to go kill it. The bad thing was, we only had one bathroom, and there was a reason I had gone in there in the first place!"
Rayner laughed, glanced at Daniel, noted the guarded look in his eyes. "I remember that about him. Get him started on a research project, and he wouldn't come out of the office for days!"
"Oh, yeah," Casey agreed. "When he gets 'that' look in his eyes, I know he's already 'gone', and I might as well just talk to the wall."
"I don't think I'm that bad," Daniel said quietly. "Would you like another glass of champagne?"
She shook her head. "No, thank you."
"Well, I would." He turned on his heel and walked toward the table where the champagne was being served.
Casey watched, surprise in her eyes, tugging her lower lip between her teeth. "I've upset him."
"He'll get over it. He always was too sensitive," Rayner said softly, moving slightly closer to her. "Daniel never did take it well when people pointed out any of his…foibles."
She looked up at the dark haired man beside her. "Fortunately, he as very few, and quite small ones at that."
Lesson number one. Never criticize her husband, Rayner thought to himself. He smiled inwardly. But poking in jest would be…tolerated.
"Excuse me, but I think I'd better join him," Casey said softly, watching Daniel talking with Sam and Jack.
"Of course. You were spectacular tonight, Casey. I found myself transported through time, watching the most favored of the Pharaoh dance. Thank you for that." His voice was soft.
"Thank you. Excuse me," she said, suddenly uncomfortable. When she arrived at Daniel's side, she slipped her hand into his.
Daniel had already berated himself for walking away from her, leaving her alone with a man she didn't like, didn’t trust. He had been on his way back to her side when Sam and Jack had caught him, congratulating him on the exhibits. 'Are you all right?'
'I'm fine. I'm sorry.'
"Let's step outside for some fresh air," she suggested. She smiled and winked at Sam and Jack. They both grinned, and turned to find Teal'c and Carly. She led him through the open door and toward the terrace that surrounded the Museum building.
"You have no reason to apologize," Daniel said when they were alone.
"Yes, I do. I never should have…encouraged…him. You know that I love you, and that I wouldn't change anything about you. Your passion for your work is one of the many things I love about you," she said softly.
"I shouldn't have walked away."
"I hurt you. You had every right to."
Daniel sighed, and pulled her into his embrace. Typical Casey. Take the blame for something she certainly hadn't done on purpose, and exonerate him for reacting badly. He searched his heart. Found that her words, her laughter, had stung. But not enough to justify leaving her alone with Steven Rayner. "You didn't hurt me, Angel," he said.
Casey was intuitive enough to know, without going into his mind, that she had hurt his feelings. "Yes, I did. I'm sorry, Daniel. Please, forgive me," she whispered.
"I forgive you," he whispered, knowing she would harbor guilt for the slight, until he absolved her of the sin that she was convinced she had committed. "Do you forgive me?"
"Leaving you alone with him."
She smiled, snuggled deeper into his embrace. "I'll forgive you. But the next time you walk away like that, I'm going to take a running leap and jump onto your back."
He chuckled. "I'll consider myself warned."
She looked up at him, caressed his cheek, ran her fingers lightly through his hair. "I don't trust him."
Daniel jerked slightly. He had been convinced that she had fallen for Rayner's notable charms. "You don't?"
She shook her head. "It took me awhile to realize what it was about him that bothered me. He's like Kenny. A snake-oil salesman. And he's up to something."
He smiled at her, kissed the tip of her nose. "I was thinking the same thing."
She gave him a wicked grin. Then began to whisper in his ear. He couldn't help but laugh out loud.
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