Title: Reindeer Games
Author: Celievamp
Feedback address: jo.raine@ntlworld.com
Date in Calendar:
Fandom: Stargate SG1
Pairing: Sam/Janet Sam/Replicarter Sam/Vala
Rating: Mature
Word Count: 6747
Summary: 'Tis the Night before Christmas and Sam Carter is in danger of losing herself.
Spoilers: Takes place some time early Season 10. Christmas Eve.
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW07

Disclaimer: The story, and characters and anything and everything else concerning SG: SG1 belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions etc, they are so not mine and no money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.

I do feel the need to apologise to Charles Dickens, however.

Note: Written for the DDOW Advent Calendar 2007.


REINDEER GAMES

NORAD was busy tracking him across the globe. Their website had had a couple of million hits already and it was still Christmas Eve over half the world.

Several levels below NORAD a grey haired man was singing at the top of his voice. "Oh, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer..."

Samantha Carter, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, genius and currently resident Grinch resisted the twin urges to bang her head on her workbench or throw the heaviest blunt object on said worktop at her superior officer.

"... had a very shiny nose..."

"General O'Neill, with respect, sir," she said at last with some vehemence.

"... and if you ever saw it... what's on your mind, Carter?"

"Not that it's not great to see you, sir, but... is there anything in particular you want?"

"Just bringing you some Christmas Cheer, Colonel." She could tell that it still gave him a buzz to call her that even though it was over a year since her promotion.

Sam smiled. "Thank you, sir. Really. It's just that..."

"Busy. I see. You do know what day it is?"

"Yessir. 24th December. Christmas Eve."

"Exactly!" He smiled brightly, the grin only fading slightly as she continued to stare at him.

"I volunteered to work Christmas duty, sir. Cassie's away at Janet's parents for the holiday season. And so I thought... Well, it gives those with families like Colonel Dixon a chance to spend time with them. And... I need... like to keep busy. It's better for everyone this way."

"So, no reindeer games for Carter," O'Neill said mournfully.

"Sir, I'm fine. Really." Sam said.

O'Neill shrugged. "Well, if you can tear yourself away from your doohickeys, come have dinner with me and the guys tonight Mitchell's coming and I believe Miss Mal Doran is also planning to put in an appearance. I'm over at the Ramada. Washington's paying."

"Thank you sir, I'll do my best to come," Sam said. She did mean it but she would also take any excuse she could to get Jack O'Neill out of her lab before he either fidgeted something to death or got round to asking her something personal like how she was doing since...

She went home at just after five. General Landry's orders. Which he had delivered in person. Fleetingly she wondered if Jack O'Neill had put him up to it. Still mother-henning her even if he was no longer her commanding officer and Washington-based most of the time.

With Cassie away and her own plans to stay on base Sam had not bothered with the Christmas decorations this year. It seemed silly just for herself. Janet had always been the one who decorated the house, who had made a big deal of the season. The doctor had loved Christmas. Sam was far from being a grinch but she had never really made a thing of it, not since she was a kid, in the days when her mother was still alive.

The weather had closed in again, the ground temperature well below freezing. Sam took it easy on the residential streets, some of which had been salted, others left to the elements. With a sigh of relief she eased the Volvo onto the drive and after reaching over to snag her laptop and briefcase from the passenger seat, got out of the car and locked it. The house was cold, dark and empty as she approached. She really did not want to be here. She had somewhere else to go of course, out to dinner with Jack O'Neill and the guys but she was feeling too raw right now. They were bound to be sympathetic, to try and give her comfort, ease her spirits. And as none of the three were exactly emotionally equipped for empathy, the results were bound to be horrendous for all concerned. Better that she stay here alone and spare them all the hideous embarrassment.

The smooth tarmac underfoot gleamed with ice. Her house keys weren't in her coat pocket as she had thought. Leaving her bags on the step she turned back to the car thinking she had left her keys in the glove compartment. Better there than in her desk drawer back at the mountain. Suddenly she lost her footing and went down hard.

Winded, she lay still for a moment, the back of her head throbbing where it had made contact with the ground. Groaning she sat up, examining herself for injuries. There was a rising bump on the back of her head but no blood; her coccyx was throbbing and her left ankle distinctly unhappy with the way her life was heading. Easing herself to her feet again she limped over to the car and retrieved her house keys from the glove compartment before locking up the car again and carefully heading back to the house.

Unlocking the door she went inside, paused as a shiver of 'something' iced down her spine. There was a light showing under the door of the den. She hadn't noticed any lights from the drive but there was certainly one there now.

She drew her gun from her purse. She had carried one ever since the Adrian Conrad incident both Janet and Jack O'Neill had insisted. There was definitely a light on in the room. She could not hear anything. She took a deep breath and gun held ready pushed open the door.

The fire was lit in the hearth, the lamp in the corner sending its light across the wall and floor. The room was warm, inviting, as it had been before... the way Janet had liked it to look, especially at this time of year. It had always reminded her of childhood Christmases. Her mum had always made a big thing of Christmas.

"Happy Christmas, Sammie."

It was impossible. "Mum?" Sam whispered, staring at the tall yet slight figure standing in front of the Christmas tree. The one she had not bothered to even buy this year. Yet here it was, filling the room with the fresh scent of pine, loaded with decorations and blazing with lights. "Mum?"

Her head throbbed. What was it with her and concussion-induced hallucinations? She shut her eyes, concentrating on clearing her dizziness for a moment and then opened them again. Her mother smiled at her. "Yes, Sammie. It's me. We haven't much time I'm afraid and I've got a lot to tell you."

"I don't understand..."

"Baby, you don't always have to understand, you just have to trust me on this, Sammie. Your actions lately, your neglect of Cassie, of your friends, especially of yourself has set various things in motion. Tonight you will have three visitors who will help you to reclaim your path."

"My path... I'm a Colonel in the United States Air Force. My path is pretty clear, mum."

"Do not try to fool yourself, Sammie my dear. In your heart of hearts you know what I mean. When you lost Janet Fraiser you lost the best part of yourself as well. But it need not be forever. It hurts me so much to see you like this. It is not something she would ever have wanted and you owe it to her to recover yourself. This night you will receive three visitors who will help you to do just that. You have a second chance my love. Don't waste it. For your sake as well as mine."

Sam sank to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I don't understand. What visitors..."

"The first will come at the eighth hour, the second at ten, and the last at midnight. You've always been good at your lessons, Sammie. Learn from them, please. Before it's too late and you lose yourself forever." The figure of her mother came forward, the glow from the lights on the Christmas tree creating an aura around her body. She paused before Sam, and gazing up at her mother, Sam saw the sadness in her eyes. She managed not to flinch as her mother's long cool fingers threaded through her hair for a moment. "Remember that I love you."

"I love you mamma," Sam whispered reverting to the childish endearment. "I love you so much."

She blinked as the light flared, her mother bent down and pressed her lips to Sam's brow. "Goodbye my girl."

Sam was alone again.


For a time she was unmoving, staring into space. Her legs started to cramp, the pain intruding on her reverie and with difficulty she pushed herself to her feet again, wincing at the pain in her swollen ankle. Her head swam for a moment and she remembered the heavy fall she had taken. "God, I must look an absolute sight," she muttered.

If she was going to have visitors she might as well at least make the effort to be presentable, she told herself. Glancing at the clock she saw it was twenty past seven. Somehow she had lost at least an hour though the ghostly encounter with her mother did not seem to have taken that long. Perhaps she had passed out after all. Sam went back into the hall to retrieve her bags and close the front door which was still ajar, almost tripping over her gun which she had dropped in her surprise at seeing her mother. The safety catch was off... she was lucky she had not shot herself. "I really am not safe let loose at the moment."

She limped upstairs and into her bedroom. Once their bedroom. Some of Janet's things were still here where she could see them, where she could remember. Her white fluffy robe still hung on the back of the door. Sam pressed her face into it for a moment, "God, I miss you," she whispered, the faint scent of Janet's perfume stealing into her nostrils. "I miss you so much!"

Carefully she undressed, turning to examine the reflection of her back in the mirror to see if she was scraped or just bruised. There was a tender redness over her hip and across her lower back that was certain to be black and blue by morning. She reminded herself to get Janet to rub some tiger balm into it before... the hot bitter tears that slid down her cheeks at her realization of just how impossible that would be surprised her.

"I'm such a damn mess!" she berated herself. She shivered out of the rest of her clothes and headed into the ensuite, intending a hot shower both to warm her through and ease her aching muscles.

Wrapped in her own fluffy white robe, her wet hair tucked into a towel Sam was able to face her reflection with more equanimity. She had hit her head hard after all. Perhaps she had passed out, experienced a particularly vivid daydream. Accepting the truth that her mother's spirit had visited her promising more ghostly visitations that night... perhaps dinner with the guys over at the Ramada would not be so bad after all. Yeah, right.

She reached into the bathroom cabinet and dryswallowed a couple of painkillers then searched out a support bandage for her ankle, knowing it would be more comfortable and heal a lot quicker if she wrapped it tightly. For good measure she gingerly rubbed some tiger balm into the bruises across her hip and lower back, at least as far as she could comfortably reach.

There was no way that she was going out again. She couldn't even be bothered to dress. She pulled on a comfortable set of sweats and shrugged back into her robe. She towel-dried her hair, careful of the 'egg' at the back of her skull and gingerly pulled a comb through it.

A hot cup of lemon tea and maybe a slice or two of toast... that would do her just fine and give the painkillers something to work on. She limped downstairs again into the kitchen, filled the kettle and set it to boil and searched in her freezer for the loaf of sliced bread she kept there for occasions such as this. Setting a couple of slices in the microwave on defrost setting she found herself staring at the door into the den. If her mother's ghost had been an hallucination then so were all the Christmas decorations and lights.

Unless it was a prank by the guys. She wouldn't put it past Jack O'Neill to have organized something on this scale. Or Vala... she presumed Daniel had got round to explaining the whole Christmas thing to her by now. But surely if it was them, they surely would have rung her by now to check on her reaction or even turned up on her doorstep to see for themselves. In the old days...

Ah yes, the old days.

Moving as carefully as she could she limped back into the den with her mug of tea and her toast. The lights and the decorations were still there. She blinked back tears of confusion. Placing her tea and toast on a side table, Sam went over to the tree. All her carefully hoarded decorations were there, the ones she remembered her mother unwrapping from their individual shrouds of tissue paper to place carefully on the tree. Every decoration was a family heirloom, every decoration had its own story. She remembered them all.

A clock she didn't have struck the hour.

The first will come at the eighth hour...

A second before there had been no one in the room with her. Now a small, slight figure with tumbling dark hair stood before her, dressed in a simple white dress, her dainty feet bare. She smiled up at Sam and the world seemed a little brighter.

"Janet?"

She was on her knees. The pain in her chest under her ribs was like a knife wound. Her hand pressed against her ribs but there was no blood, no sign of injury but it was there all the same. She sobbed. She kept her eyes to the floor not daring to look up, half afraid that the impossible figure would still be there, half afraid that she would not.

"Oh, my love, why do you do this to yourself?" Janet whispered, kneeling beside her.

"Not real... you can't be real," Sam gasped. "Hallucinating... head injury." Like on the Prometheus. Only of all the people who had come to her then, Janet had been conspicuous by her absence. Janet's fingers brushed a hairsbreadth from her cheek and Sam shied away from her touch, falling onto her side and curling into a foetal ball, her eyes tightly shut. She didn't want this apparition to touch her and to feel nothing. At the same time she didn't want to be touched and to feel it... only for this time to pass and Janet to be lost to her again.

"You've got a very hard skull, Samantha Carter, thank goodness," Janet said. "You're going to have a bit of a headache but the concussion is only minor. And it has nothing to do with seeing me. I'm something completely different. You were warned that this would happen."

"Did you ascend? Is that what this is because..."

"Sam, please stop trying to analyse everything and just listen to me for a moment. I'm worried about you. Everyone who cares for you is worried about you. You're pushing yourself so hard right now. And you're pushing everyone else away..."

"Because the one person I want to be with... the one person I want to share my life with, I can't. You died, Janet. You died! And I can't stand it... I can't... I miss you... I miss you so much!" Sam cried.

Janet pulled her upper body into her lap, cradling Sam in her arms, allowing the distraught woman a few moments to weep. "Sam... shhhh, it's okay. It's going to be okay. We just have to go through some stuff. We have to get you back on your proper path."

"I don't understand... what do you mean?" This was starting to sound like she was back on the Prometheus again with her father of all people giving her advice on her love life.

"Sam, what we had... it was great, it really was, but you've put it and me up on some kind of pedestal. I know you think I was the love of your life that you'll never love again but you deserve more, Sam. You have a long and wonderful life ahead of you if only..."

"I'd look up from my desk once in a while?" Sam said. "It's hard... it so hard every day. I do my job, I let it fill my life because then I don't have to think about how it feels to have lost you."

"You have to move on, Sam." Janet's fingers stilled in her hair. "You're doing your job, no one could ever say that you're not. All your intellect, all your strength is poured into your work and you are accomplishing amazing things. But what about your heart, Sam? If it wasn't for your heart, we wouldn't have Cassie. Remember that. Don't close yourself off from feeling just because it's painful. If you do that it's never going to get any better. I'm not asking or expecting you to forget me, love. We have so many beautiful memories together." A small hand settled over her heart. Sam slid her own hand on top of it, holding it close. Janet's hand solid and warm, a small shift of her fingers over Janet's wrist and she could feel her pulse beating slow and strong. So many beautiful memories...

Instantly, she was back there... their first kiss...

A girl's night in at Janet's house. Cassie had long since gone to bed. The first kiss was tentative, lasted mere seconds and was extraordinarily chaste considering the wealth of emotions both women were experiencing. Sam's fingers caressing Janet's hair as they just stared at each other each waiting for the other to say that this was a mistake that it must never happen again.

It didn't happen. Their lips met again, mouths opening against each other, tongues touching, tasting each other, examining the different textures hard soft rough smooth. And that was just the mouth. Janet found herself half-straddling Sam's slender body, Sam's shirt pushed up to expose her breasts, Janet's hand cupping one, her thumb rubbing gently across the taut nipple. She could feel the tall woman's heart thudding in her chest and knew that her own was pounding out a similar rhythm.

Sam's eyes were darkened with need, a smile quirking her lips. "You have no idea," she whispered. "No idea my sweet Janet how long I've wanted to do that. I hoped you would be okay with it. I hardly dared hope you might feel the same way."

"Are we doing this?" Janet whispered. "Because I think I've loved you since the first day I saw you." She laid her head in the crook of Sam's neck, running her fingers along the ridge of collarbone, flicking out her tongue to lick at the sheen of sweat on the soft skin of her throat, smiling as she heard and felt Sam giggle.

"Tickles," Sam explained.

"So my big bad major is ticklish," Janet grinned. "How many more secrets can I weasel out of you tonight?"

The memory was so exact, so perfect that Sam willingly lost herself in it as she never had with one of Fifth's illusions.

On recovery time at home after another bad mission. Catching up with paperwork on her laptop with Janet who had just come home from work and was still in uniform trying to distract her, Sam playing along, pretending to ignore her whilst burning up inside just at the sight of a sliver of pale caramel skin as Janet slowly undid the buttons on her shirt. She knew that Janet must be aware that she was no longer typing, her fingers stilled on the keyboard. Janet slipped off her shoes and undid the button on the waistband of her skirt, slowly pulling down the zipper. Sam could feel how hot her cheeks were getting and knew that she must be blushing.

Janet's skirt slipped down over her hips and fell the rest of the way to the floor, the white satin half slip following it. Sam could not hold back the gasp of wonder at the sight of Janet's far from regulation underwear. Fire engine red satin and lace. Garter belt and sheer stockings. She raised one leg and placed one foot on the coffee table, just in case Sam had not noticed. There was no mistaking what she wanted. "Sa-am?"

Sam looked her up and down not holding back anything of what she was feeling for this remarkable woman right now. It was time to turn the tables. Janet was the rabbit and Sam was the very, very hungry predator. Her smile was more feral tiger than Cheshire Cat and she watched Janet's arousal levels peak and they had not even touched each other yet.

The laptop was shoved unceremoniously to the floor. Sam got up, crossed the room and knelt at Janet's side. Her hand brushed over the top of the slender foot that rested on the coffee table then circled Janet's ankle, her thumb rubbing and down the base of the tendon. Sam nuzzled at the strip of bare skin between the top of her stocking and the edge of the shirt she was still wearing.

"What do you want, Sam?" Janet whispered.

"You... you smell so good," Sam whispered. "I want you, Janet."

"I'm yours," Janet told her. "All for you, just for you, Sam. My Sam." She feathered her fingers through Sam's short blonde hair as Sam unfastened the catch on her garters and started to slowly roll the stocking down my leg, pausing every now and then to kiss and nuzzle at the bare skin that was revealed. Sam paused for a moment at the fold of skin at the bend of Janet's knee, lavishing particular attention on that spot. Janet tightened her hold on her as Sam slid the stocking down her calf, Sam's hand smoothing over her skin. The sensation of Janet's skin beneath hers was electric, the signal going straight to her centre. Making sure that Janet was securely balanced, Sam lifted Janet's foot and eased the stocking over her toes and then placed her foot on the floor which had the effect of turning Janet's stance slightly and placing Sam face to face with her crotch. Sam nosed against her and touched her with the flat of her tongue through the thin material of her panties. She could feel Janet's legs beginning to tremble. Easing herself back up Sam pressed her face to Janet's belly, kissing her navel and upwards reaching up under Janet's shirt to touch the clasp of her bra nimbly unhitching it, freeing Janet's breasts for her attention.

She feasted on them, tongue and lips and fingers, suckling and chafing and gently biting until she had Janet almost purring. Janet's fingers roamed through the short hair at the back of her neck.

"Take me to bed, Sam," she whispered. Sam rested her hands on her waist as Janet jumped, easily lifting her upwards. They had done this before. Janet's legs went around her hips, her ankles locking over Sam's butt. Sam straightened herself, their faces almost level as with little apparent effort Sam carried her lover upstairs to their bed...

"We had some good times," Janet whispered. "So many good times."

"The best," Sam said brokenly. "What happened between us... I wouldn't change a thing." Apart from the end of course.

"Fraiser's been hit! Fraiser's down!"

"No!" Sam shuddered. Not even Fifth had been strong enough to make her relive that. "Don't make me go back there."

"Shhh..." Janet soothed. "I know... I know last year when you were experimenting with the time ship, I know what you thought, what you made plans to do."

Steal... no, borrow the ship for a few hours, set the time and place co-ordinates to P3R-666, three years previously, the day the time burned into her memory. Take the biggest baddest weapon she had and take out a Jaffa before he had chance to take his shot... But the possible consequences of such a selfish action had given her even greater nightmares and she hadn't gone through with her plan.

"I'll be leaving soon," Janet said softly, "our time is almost up."

"Don't... please... I don't think I could bear to lose you again," Sam begged. "I'll do anything... please."

"There's nothing you can do, Sam," Janet smiled. "I have no regrets... I died well, I know that, I died doing the work I was born to do. I died saving a life. You are stronger than you know, Sam, and you must continue to be strong, for all of us. This world will have need of your strength and your intelligence more than ever in the times ahead." Janet's voice was little more than a whisper now, and to Sam's horror she realized that her lover's flesh was becoming translucent, fading away from this world little by little.

"What must I do?" Sam begged. "What am I supposed to have learnt from this?" Tears pricked her eyes almost painfully before tracking down her cheeks.

Janet's long cool fingers brushed them from her cheek. "Live," she whispered. "Learn." Sam could no longer feel her touch, the lights on the tree shining clearly through her. "Love."

The image of her lost love became as fine as mist surrounding her and seeming for a moment to pass through her before vanishing entirely. The last time Sam had felt anything resembling that was when Orlin had merged with her. The sensation of being perfectly, uncompromisingly, eternally loved.

*********

... the second at ten...

Sam barely had time to gather her thoughts when she heard the clock strike ten. As the last chime died away her second visitor appeared. For a second, Sam thought she was looking at herself. She realized at once who it must be. "Eighth... you're dead!" A beat later she hung her head. Everyone she had talked to this evening was dead. If the ghost of her mother and the ghost of her lover could come and talk to her why not the ghost of the machine?

"I never understood you," Eighth said. "I tried so hard. At first so that I would please Fifth and then to please me. I went through your memories time and time again. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't make that leap."

"I don't know what you mean," Sam said shakily.

"I know... feelings, emotions... you're almost as clueless as I am," Eighth smiled without any trace of humour. "You keep so much hidden even from yourself. When Fifth tortured you, when he put you in that white picket fence scenario, the horse farm in Montana with Pete... you knew it was fake straight away because it was the fantasy good little girls like you tried so hard to be were supposed to have. But it wasn't your fantasy..."

"No..."

They were no longer in her living room, but back in the cell on the replicator ship. Sam could feel slight unevenness of the replicator tiles under her bare feet. Eighth ran a finger down the front of her black leather top and it parted as if it had been sliced by a knife revealing creamy white skin that matched Sam's own to the smallest detail.

She reached out to touch Sam's face and Sam shied away from her but there was nowhere to go. Replicator tiles were at her back and she knew from previous experience just how fast and strong her Replicator double was. She steeled herself as Eighth grasped the front of her robe and pulled it off her body letting the thick toweling drop to the floor. Cool air prickled her skin. The tank top she wore underneath hid nothing. Eighth's smile went from enigmatic to carnal in a moment as she watched Sam's body react to the change in air temperature.

"I know it has nothing to do with desire but it is quite gratifying nevertheless," Eighth said. "You seem quite pleased to see me after all, Samantha."

"What are you doing?" Sam whispered.

"Giving you a reality check, Colonel. You've wallowed in nostalgia long enough this evening with your dead mother and your dead lover. You're mine now."

Briefly Sam wondered if she had been 'hers' all along. Perhaps Eighth had contrived to kidnap her and everything she had gone through this evening was part of some strange twisted scenario much as Fifth had once done. Eighth reached up and touched her cheek, brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear. Two fingers touched her temple, rested there for a moment before penetrating her skull passing through skin and bone as if it were air. Eighth moved to hold her up, draped against her as if they were embracing, her lips close to Sam's cheek.

"Ever since you learnt of my existence you've wanted this. You've always wanted this, to be known so completely, to be understood by someone who was your equal physically and intellectually with no need for explanation or all those messy heart to heart talks and naked emotions. I am you and you are me and we are the same, my love."

Sam fought against the paralyzing lassitude. "N... no!" she choked out. "I... am... I."

"Shhh..." Eighth crooned. "There's no need to be afraid. Not of me. I'm here to protect you, Samantha. No one will ever hurt you again. You'll never be alone again. I will always be with you."

They were back in the den. Eighth laid her unresisting body down on the rug in front of the fire. Sam and Janet had made love here many times. Memories bubbled through her, sounds and tastes and sensations, Janet's pale caramel skin against her creamy white, Janet's small hands tracing the contours of her body, the scars that marred her skin, mapping the constellations of freckles and moles across the plane of her stomach her back as Sam rested her hands on the perfect curve of Janet's hip that fit her hand as if it had been made for it, which if you believed in any kind of divine plan, perhaps it had.

She wasn't so lost in memory that she didn't realize that Eighth was touching her, her lips and tongue nuzzling down her sternum licking away the droplets of sweat that had formed in the valley between her breasts. There was no exploring, no fumbling, Eighth perfectly knew how and where Sam liked to be touched.

And it had been so long.

"You want this, don't you," Eighth whispered. "You want to be touched like this, to be reminded that you are flesh and blood. That you breathe and you bleed. That you love and you fear and you hurt. I know you're not thinking of me, that it's not me that you see touching you but that doesn't matter. I see her too. I remember everything that you remember."

Her sure fingers put pressure on a sensitive spot at the base of her spine that had Sam arching her back and moaning.

"I remember everything that you remember," Eighth repeated. "Can you imagine what that feels like, how much I want to make them my memories for real but I never can, can I? You lived those memories, not me." She flicked her tongue over Sam's nipple through the material of her top. Sam tried to stifle a moan but the sensation was too intense, doubled and tripled by all the memories of Janet and other lost loves that Eighth was bombarding her with.

She realized that she was touching Eighth, her hands gliding over the replicator's back, tracing the length of her spine touching her in all those places she liked to be touched because she knew that Eighth must like it too, her fingers skimming the outer edge of Eighth's breasts, feeling the Replicator's body mimic her own reactions to such stimulation, her nipples tightening wondering if she too felt the ache inside the knot deep in her gut pulling tighter and tighter waiting to explode.

Just how deep did it go?

Fifth had claimed to have emotional responses, did Eighth have them too? Fifth had created her for that purpose, had trained her, tortured her some might say so that she would love him, only him. But it hadn't worked.

She knew that Eighth was picking up on what she was feeling now, that they were spiraling down into something that could never have a happy ending. What lesson was she supposed to be learning from this? The more she felt, the more Eighth felt however ersatz and 'learned' the response was. It was her own body she was touching after all. The ultimate feedback loop.

"I'm not doing it for that," Eighth spoke. "I don't want your ghosts, Samantha. I want this for myself. Because I can."

"Are you still out there, somewhere?" Sam asked shakily. "Is this what this is all about?"

Eighth just gave her that enigmatic half smile that meant everything and nothing, an expression that Sam knew very well. She didn't quite practice it in the mirror before she left the house on a morning but she knew that it was her 'default' expression. It seemed to convince most people that she was fine even when that was far from the truth.

"It's not over, Sam. Nothing's ever over. However much you might want it to be."

"Are you talking about you and me...because that never was? What was never begun..."

"You are so lucky... and so very stupid. You have all of this inside you, such a capacity for love... for feeling. And you wall it away. All I have, all I am is a shadow. How did you think of me the ghost of the machine? Very apt," she sneered. "Especially as you appear intent on being a ghost in your own life."

"You don't understand, you c-"

"Can't," Eighth finished for her. "Right. What I really don't understand is why you are so afraid to feel, to let go. You deny yourself, what you are, all that you are capable of being. You might as well be the machine."

Well, she was certainly feeling now. Tears welled up, her throat closed with the wealth of emotion overwhelming her. She was beyond speech. Eighth reached out, touched Sam's cheek, transferring the teardrop to her fingertips. She held it up to the light. It glistened as brightly as one of the tree lights. The Replicator chuckled softly. "There may be hope for you yet, Samantha. There may be hope for you yet."

And she was gone.


and the last at midnight

The clock she didn't have struck midnight. The room was silent. Her final visitor was late.

The doorbell rang. Shaken, Sam pulled her robe around her again and went into the hall. As she approached the door, the bell rang again. She froze. She had no idea who was out there, who her third visitor was likely to be. There were such horrors in her past, horrors that made her Replicator double...

"Who... who is it?" she asked.

"Sam? It's me, Vala. Are you okay? Erm... I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"Vala... what are you doing here?"

"I came to see if you were all right... Jack er... the General mentioned that he'd invited you to dinner as well. When you didn't show... we were worried.... The boys wanted to come check on you but I persuaded them that I would be the best person..." She fell silent. "Sam you need to talk to someone about what's going on with you. We talked... you won't talk to any of them, you haven't for along time. We thought... well, I thought... you might talk to me."

Sam could not speak. She had no idea what she was feeling. Horror and embarrassment that her 'friends' had seen fit to spend their 'fun' evening discussing her, a blooming sense of hope that this terrible spiral of isolation she had got herself into might soon be over.

"Sam? Are you there? Uhh... could you let me in? Please. It's... well, it's freezing out here and you know me, I'm not exactly dressed for it."

Sam unlocked the door and opened it. Vala was visibly shivering but gave her one of her trade mark bright smiles. She had also been on the button about not being dressed for Colorado Springs on Christmas Eve. The little black number was just that. "At last. Daniel said I was supposed to wish you a 'Happy Christmas'."

"Thank you... Happy...er, Christmas to you too." Sam stood aside as Vala rushed in going through to the den it being the place where the heat and light in the house was emanating from.

Vala stopped short when she saw the tree. "Wow... so you did do it. The boys reckoned you wouldn't have bothered. Mitchell said something about Scrooge and gruel... whatever they are. They were so sure they didn't even bother to bet on it."

"I see..." Sam's last hope that this had been some sort of jape on the part of the General disintegrated. "Yeah, I er... my mother and Janet... they always made a big thing of Christmas, the tree and the decorations and lights. I... It's more in remembrance of them, I suppose. Did you have anything like it on your world?"

"Well, Daniel went on and on about all the Christmas traditions as you can imagine and I have to say, they are very strange and it does explain a few things about you humans that you spend your childhood being terrorized by this strange man appearing mysteriously in your homes and asking if you've been naughty or nice. We don't have anything like that. We did celebrate the solstices, but it pretty much just an excuse for a big party and the drinking of anything that could be fermented. Sometimes there were sacrifices but that was pretty much frowned on as being terribly old fashioned. Qetesh demanded gifts of course, but she demanded gifts most days..." Vala fell silent for a moment, reaching up to finger one of the coloured glass balls that hung from the tree. "I think I like your celebration better," she said wistfully.

Sam smiled. There was something about Vala that was strangely loveable she found. "Can I get you a drink?" she asked, remembering her duties as a hostess. "I have..." she racked her brains. As she had intended to work over the Christmas period she had not bothered to do much in the way of shopping, "beer, I think. And there may be some whisky." Janet had liked the occasional finger of good whisky. Sam found the stuff pretty undrinkable. There was still half a bottle of Glenmorangie in the cupboard, untouched since Janet had died. "Or a hot drink. You still look cold."

"Sergeant Siler introduced me to the concept of putting whisky in coffee," Vala said. "I like that. Could I have that?"

"Sure," Sam said. "I'll go and make the coffee." She got up and started towards the kitchen.

"Sam?"

Sam paused on the threshold. "Yes?"

"Look up."

Hanging from the doorframe was a sprig of mistletoe. Sam could have sworn it had not been there a few minutes earlier.

"That is one tradition Daniel told me about. Kissing under the mistletoe..." Vala sauntered towards her, a dangerous smile on her face. "Are you familiar with that, Sam?"

"I've had some experience with it, yes," Sam said.

Vala pressed her lips almost chastely to Sam's for a moment obviously unsure how Sam was going to react. After a few seconds, Sam deepened the kiss, her hand cupping the back of Vala's skull under the fall of thick dark hair. They stayed like that longer than Sam would have thought possible until oxygen was becoming an issue. It had been a long time since Sam had felt anything like this. And it felt right.

Vala's uncertain smile brought her back to the moment. "Was that all right?" she asked.

"It was perfect," Sam said. "Happy Christmas, Vala."

"Happy Christmas, Sam."