DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Ryan Murphy and the WB. No infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Redlance for her incredible assistance during this process. Couldn't have done it without her!
CONTINUITY: This is next in line after 'How Lily Found Out, Parts I & II', 'Her Favorite Fantasy', and 'Christmas, 2:33pm'.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Christmas at the Palace
By Quatorz


It was the 'most wonderful time of the year'-or so the song had declared, and there would be no argument from Lily. She loved Christmas-if for no other reason than it was the only time of year where the radio provided the perfect soundtrack.

She and her friends had congregated at the McQueen family homestead-nicknamed 'The Palace'- for the third in what was now the Joint McPherson-McQueen Christmas Party.

Lily drank in the festive decorations and jubilant atmosphere and felt an irresistible tug as the holiday spirit pulled her expression into an unconscious smile.

Either that or someone had spiked the eggnog.

Lily always looked forward to the Christmas get-togethers. It was one of her favorite parts of the holiday.

Sam had been so funny this year, handing out written invitations for the party instead of just telling everyone like she normally did. But the reporter had shrugged-in an embarrassed sort of way-and insisted that she took the time to make invitations because of how thankful she was for the people in her life.

Lily suspected that her revelation had everything to do with a certain blonde who came that close to not being in Sam's life this Christmas-instead being memorialized with her own page in last year's yearbook.

How different would this house look then?

Lily shrugged off her morbid thoughts before they took root. It was a Christmas party, and Brooke was still here with them.

But it was the legacy of Nicole Julian that they were all a little more in touch with their mortality than the typical high school senior. Like Josh had said the night of the prom: the accident made them realize how quickly it could all be taken away.

Lily looked over at Mr. McQueen. He'd been so funny earlier, greeting her with a hug, and Lily had the impression that had started his party a little before the rest of them.

He was watching Brooke with the most adoring smile, and he surreptitiously wiped at watery eyes. Lily knew that he too was thinking about how different today could have been for their family.

Goddamn Nicole. Her careless actions had affected so many of them-and almost ruined people's lives. Did she even care? How was she spending Christmas?

Hopefully in hell, Lily remarked, and then chastised herself for her uncharitable thoughts. Especially at Christmas, she rolled her eyes.

Despite Nicole's best efforts, Brooke had survived. And maybe some good did come of it. Like Sam and her invitations: you appreciated what you had to be thankful for while you still had it-instead of lamenting its loss after it's gone.

The invitation had thrown her for a completely different reason. Hers was addressed to: "Mr. and Mrs. Josh & Lily Ford."

When she arrived at The Palace Mr. McQueen had asked her how married life was treating her.

Did that take some getting used to? And her first Christmas being married had certainly been an eye opener, she laughed to herself. It was interesting how she and her husband had combined their individual traditions to create new ones together. She liked that.

And last night-on Christmas Eve-she'd had the 'pleasure' to find out which was Josh's favorite Christmas movie of all time.

'It's a Wonderful Life' was her first guess. That was the obvious choice: who didn't love that movie?

No-that wasn't it.

'A Christmas Story'? Now there was a Josh movie if there ever was one-but wrong again.

She ran down the entire gambit of Yuletide classics: 'Miracle on 34th Street'? 'A Christmas Carol'? 'The Santa Clause'? 'Scrooged'?

"Christmas Vacation!" she finally blurted in desperation.

All wrong.

So what was her husband's favorite Christmas movie...?

Die Hard.

They watched 'Die Hard' on Christmas Eve. Lily just shook her head. Men. At times like that she wondered if she shouldn't have given the whole Sapphic thing just one more try.

Of course, if she'd known Sam was gonna be on the menu...

Yipee Ki-yay, she smirked, quoting Bruce Willis' famous catch phrase.

She chucked to herself and suppressed naughty thoughts. She had work to do, after all.

The revelry was in full swing, and Lily marveled at how different things were this year. The entire gang was infected with the spirit of the season and were talking and laughing with one another. Gone was the friction that would have characterized bringing the two social groups together in the past.

Lily wondered how much of that was Nicole's presence and her constant antagonism-or lack thereof in this case.

Of course, both Lily and Sam had bridged the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. She (of all people) had married the quarterback of the football team, and Sam had forged a relationship with Brooke McQueen-the most popular person in school.

Lily grinned. The exact nature of that relationship had yet to be determined.

Speaking of the aforementioned relationships...

She scanned the crowd for her husband. Josh was around somewhere. Ah, there he was: off talking with Harrison and Sugar Daddy.

That suited Lily just fine. She was on a mission tonight and operated much better by herself. She didn't even want to involve Carmen: too much explaining to do. Best leave everyone else in the dark for now.

So the pretty Latina stood by herself, observing their hostesses and shaking her head in wonder as one thought kept repeating itself over and over:

How did I never see this before?

Because now that she was looking for it-now that she'd stop telling herself that it was utterly impossible-it was obvious. It was blatant. It was about as subtle as a billboard on I-10.

Lily had gotten a kick out of watching them greet guests as they arrived. They stood together and worked in tandem: Sam received coats and gestured to the food and drinks, and Brooke pointed out the entertainment.

A far cry for their first joint Christmas party at the Palace, she smiled to herself. Although that had ended up going very well-Nicole had even masqueraded as human for the event-but in the beginning it was very much Sam greeting her guests and Brooke welcoming hers. This year it was clearly their party.

Lily also noticed a physical component that wasn't there before: Brooke frequently placed her hand on Sam's arm as they talked. When they greeted Carmen upon her arrival, Brooke put her hand on Sam's shoulder.

It was always Brooke who initiated the contact, Lily observed, and Sam drank up those brief touches like a plant absorbing sunlight.

"Hey, Sam?" Brooke called across the room.

Sam, chatting with Harrison and Emory Dick, raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"We're low on nachos," Brooke informed her. "Can you grab some?"

"Sure thing," Sam grinned.

'Dear', Lily added. Sam had totally said it-it was just in the subtitles. Lily watched her excuse herself from her companions on the way to the kitchen.

"Sam!" Brooke called again. The brunette turned. Brooke smiled in the most endearing way. "We need ice from the garage," she pleaded.

Sam rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, and sighed melodramatically. "Anything else?"

"That's all for now," Brooke grinned. She called after Sam: "Thank you!"

'Honey', Lily supplied for her.

Lily shook her head again in amazement. They were so adorable-like an old married couple. And Sam was totally whipped, she noted wryly.

Who would have ever thought the two of them would be the picture of domestic bliss?

And they don't even see it.

Lily wondered now how everyone didn't see it. Their parents lived with them every day. Were they that clueless? Maybe. But maybe clueless with a healthy dash of denial.

Lily figured it had to be the legacy from the volatile beginning of their relationship. But in retrospect, wasn't that obviously passion-the kinetic energy between them due to sublimated sexual tension?

You know who would have seen it, Lily realized? Nicole. Nicole totally would have spotted it months ago. As much as Lily hated the bitch, she could acknowledge Nicole's freakish intuition when it came to the laws of attraction.

Lily took a quick census, and realized that everyone was accounted for in the living room. It was now or never.

She followed Sam into the kitchen.

Sam was still smiling when she entered the kitchen, and she didn't even know why. She felt good inside. It was Christmas, and the party--

She caught sight of her reflection in the glass. She was grinning like an idiot. God, have I looked like this all night? she wondered.

But try as she might, she couldn't make it go away. And she knew it was all because of the way a certain blonde cheerleader was smiling at her tonight: like she was special, like she had eyes only for her.

Part of her (most of her) knew her it wasn't true, but she decided to ignore that part. It was Christmas, after all, she laughed.

They impulse struck her to do a pirouette in the kitchen and she went with it-because at that moment it seemed like the best idea she'd ever had.

Her shoes squeaked in protest-the new sneakers her mother had gotten her for Christmas. But who needed footwear? She was walking on clouds tonight.

"You're in a good mood," Lily laughed.

Sam stood up from grabbing the nachos. She had come out of her pirouette and reached into the cabinet for the chips. "Saw that, did you?" Sam grinned cheekily. "Yeah, I guess I am."

"I know why," Lily broached.

I doubt that, Sam thought to herself. "You do, huh?"

Lily nodded. "I don't want you to get upset with me," she began. "I think I can help."

"Help? Help with what, Lil?" Lily was confusing her. "What are you talking about-er, what do you think you're talking about?"

Lily put her cards on the table. "I know who the song was about, Sam."

"What song?" It took Sam a second to realize what she meant. She laughed. "Lily, if you really did get me that CD for Christmas, I'll, well-I hope you kept the receipt."

"Sam, I know it's Brooke."

Wow. That guarded expression-the one Sam wore perpetually in the early days at the Palace-made its return engagement with frightening speed. All trace of humor vanished from the brunette's expression, and Lily felt guilty because she had obviously just ruined Christmas.

And-perhaps a little too late-she wondered if maybe this was such a good idea after all...

"Lily," Sam retorted. She stammered for words. "I-I don't know--"

"I'm sorry, Sam," Lily pleaded. "It was wrong to ambush you like this. I'm just trying to help, I swear."

Sam looked anywhere but at her. "I've seen how you look at her, Sam," Lily began. "Once I was looking for it, I couldn't miss it. I don't know how I didn't see it before.

"Please, Sam. Don't hate me. I thought it might feel good to talk to someone about it."

Sam looked up, and her eyes were shiny. "Yeah," her voice was husky. "I guess it might. I've only ever mentioned it to my Dad, but yeah..."

Lily had wanted to hear Sam say it. It was possible that Sam hadn't realized it yet, Lily reasoned. These two were incredibly dense when it came to seeing what was right in front of them.

But Lily wasn't the only one who eagerly awaited Sam's answer.

Brooke had followed Lily to the kitchen, figuring she might be able to corner her and grill her about the 'mutual' comment.

But here was Sam confessing to Lily directly. She put her hand to the wall, wishing she could be there to see the look in Sam's eyes. She would know from the look-she was certain of that.

"Yeah, it's pretty pathetic, I know," Sam chuckled morosely. "I'm in love with Brooke McQueen."

Brooke's breath caught in her throat. Lily was right!

"When did you--?" Lily began, but words failed her.

"Find out?" Sam supplied for her. There was a shuffling of fabric, and in her mind's eye Brooke could see Sam shrug. "I began to suspect last year that my compass didn't exactly point north when it came to boys," Sam explained. "Brooke and I watched this tape," Brooke could hear the grin affecting her voice. "It was pretty foul, actually. There was a midget--"

Brooke smiled as well. She could remember watching one of her father's old pornographic videotapes that she'd found in the garage. One of her father's many pornographic tapes, her subconscious helpfully reminded her.

"Anyway," Sam said, apparently shaking off disturbing mental images as well. "There was this part where the midget was with two girls at once--"

"That's some midget," Lily offered.

"I suppose so," Sam acknowledged. "But for a minute it was just the two girls. They started kissing, and I sort of..." She sifted for the right words. "I felt it," she admitted.

"How long have you been in love with Brooke?" Lily queried.

You go, Lily! Brooke roused.

"Forever?" Sam ventured-another shuffling of fabric. "A while at least," she offered.

"It was the accident that made me realize how much she meant to me." There was a pause, and Brooke wondered if anything else was forthcoming. "I don't remember much about that night, to be honest. But I remember just after it happened-when I was thinking she might already be gone," Sam recollected. "She was lying there, covered in--"

Sam couldn't finish the thought.

"In one second I saw...everything. I saw the doctors telling us that they'd done all they could. I saw her funeral, and the casket being lowered into the ground--"

Sam's voice broke slightly, and Brooke heard her sniffle. Sam inhaled a shaky breath. "I saw another grave to visit on holidays. I saw Mac growing up and me introducing her to the sister she never knew...

"In that one moment I saw my entire life without her, Lily, and it was unbearable."

Oh God, Sammy! Brooke wiped at her own eyes.

"It took me a while to call it love, but that's what it was. That's what it had always been."

Sam's chuckled: a hollow laugh devoid of mirth. "Now I get to join the ranks of the lovelorn Brooke McQueen worshippers-only I get to be so close to her it kills me. I'm a bathroom away from what I want most but can never have."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Lily interjected.

Oh shit! Brooke's eyes widened. This wasn't part of the plan. She wanted to find out how Sam felt so she could make a rational, informed decision. But now Lily--

"I don't think your feelings are one sided, Sam." Lily stated.

"What are you talking about?" Sam demanded.

"I've seen how you look at her, Sam. That's how I knew how you felt. She looks at you the same--"

"Stop it!" The hairs on the nape of Brooke's neck stood on end. She'd never heard such acrimony in Sam's voice-even when they'd said the most horrible things to each other.

"Sam," Lily treaded on thin ice, and she knew it. "I--"

"I thought you were my friend," Sam protested.

"I am!" Lily replied defensively. Brooke could hear the emotion just beneath the surface. "I just want you to be happy, Sam!"

"Happy? How? By rubbing it in my face that I'm stupid enough to fall for Brooke--"

"I'm telling you: she feels--"

"I don't want to hear that, Lily!"

Silence. Then Sam's voice again, quietly pleading: "Don't you understand? I can't-even for one second-entertain the idea that she...

"It's so hard," she confided. "Because sometimes when we're together I feel so good-like tonight..." Brooke could feel Sam's heart soaring with her words. "And then I'll remember that it's just me-and that I'm not part of an 'us'. And it all comes crashing down...

"That's why I can't listen to you. I can't get my hopes up like that--"

She shook her head. "It'll kill me, Lily." Sam took a shuddering breath.

"I've accepted the situation for what it is. So I continue to torture myself by being with her, but in my heart I know that Brooke would never be with someone like me," she conceded, voice trembling.

It broke her heart to hear the pain in Sam's voice-and in her words. How could someone as amazing as Sam have such a low opinion of herself? Brooke clamped down on her first impulse: to go in there to comfort the brunette. That would only confuse things now.

"Sam, I'm sorry," Lily confessed. "I really was just trying to help. I thought..."

"It's okay," Sam replied. "Listen, I'm going to take a walk and clear my head for a few minutes." Brooke heard her sniffle. "If Mom asks, I went to--"

"I don't know," Sam interjected. "Think of something."

Brooke heard her footsteps recede away from the kitchen, and the outside door open and close. She debated going after her, but that would cause more problems than it solved.

Lily was dabbing at her eyes with a paper towel, and froze in mid-motion when Brooke entered the kitchen.

Lily appraised her with an icy glance. "You were listening," she stated. Brooke couldn't tell if it was a rhetorical statement or an accusation.

Little of both, probably.

She stayed silent, assuming the former.

"She loves you," Lily pronounced. She waited for an answer, but seeing none was forthcoming she prodded: "Do you love her?"

"I don't know," Brooke replied.

"Bullshit!" Lily fired back.

"It's the truth, Lily," Brooke retorted. And it was the truth. Sort of.

"You cast quite a spell," Lily sneered. "Sam's just like the others: she thinks she's not good enough for you-not good enough for 'Brooke McQueen'." Brooke wasn't sure she liked Lily's tone.

"She is, you know," Lily declared. "Samantha McPherson is one of the finest, most caring, decent human beings I've ever met."

"I know she is," Brooke agreed.

"Then why--?"

"It's not that easy, Lily," Brooke argued. "You can't just--"

"Yes it is, Brooke," she contested. "I always knew that when Sam fell in love-really fell for someone-it would be for forever. That's just how she's wired. That's how her soul works. And she's offering that to you."

Brooke averted her gaze. She suddenly couldn't look Lily in the eye anymore.

"Harrison told me about the night of the accident," Lily broached. "He said he'd never seen her fall apart like that-even when her Dad died. It scared the shit out of him. He reached out to check your pulse, and she batted his hand away-screaming at him not to touch you."

There was a lump in Brooke's throat.

"She was hysterical. She begged and pleaded with you not to die. When the ambulance came she had to be treated for shock."

It all made sense now. Brooke recalled the vivid nightmares that still plagued her about the accident: there was always a frantic voice in her dreams beseeching her not to give up-not to leave her.

For some reason, she'd always considered that voice a fiction-a contrivance of her subconscious mimicking a scene from some movie she saw.

It was Sam's voice, she realized now. Sam's voice-crying and distraught-pleading for her to hold on-as if the girl's own life had depended upon it.

And in light of what she'd just heard, maybe it had.

The weight of it all was becoming unbearable. She wasn't used to emotion like this. Things were normally very...orderly, very controlled in her universe-and that was how she liked them. Now she felt raw and exposed.

She'd wanted to talk to Lily to find out how Sam felt so she could determine the proper course of action. Instead Lily had opened Pandora's Box and it was spilling all over her kitchen floor-and her life.

The life Sam had saved.

Because that's exactly what had happened-as surely as the surgeon who stopped the internal bleeding, Sam McPherson's reaching out to her just after the impact-when it had been all too tempting to just close her eyes and make it all go away-had pulled her back from the edge.

She'd stayed because Sam had wanted her to stay. Despite the crushing pain, she'd held on because Sam was on her knees praying not to lose her.

Words from one of her father's old songs popped unbidden into her head: 'Someone saved, someone saved, someone saved my life tonight...'

Her head was spinning. It was all too much, and Lily was still talking.

"Are you listening to me?" Lily snapped. Apparently she'd interpreted Brooke's brief tangent as indifference. "She's fallen for you-utterly and completely.

"And don't you dare tell me it's unrequited! I've seen how you look at her, Brooke. I've seen it all night tonight. I saw it at the store the other day!"

Brooke wondered what happened to the Lily that was always so nice to her. She didn't like this new Lily. Her head ached, and this cross examination was irritating the hell out of her.

But irritation was good-it was the on-ramp to anger. She could work with that: that was familiar territory-her old fallback with Sam for when things got too complicated.

"It's not that simple!" Brooke retaliated.

"I know it's not, but I just jeopardized my friendship with her because I want her to be happy. And as bizarre as it sounds, I think you can make her happy.

"You can make each other happy." Lily implored. "Look, I know it's probably not what you pictured, but love isn't always convenient. I mean, look at me and Josh. Who'd ever thought--"

Why won't she shut up? Brooke was sick of arguing. She was sick of talking-agonizing-over this whole situation. It was all she thought about anymore.

"I'm not you!" Brooke argued. "I care about..." she tried to think of a way to say it without sounding incredibly shallow.

You know what? She didn't care anymore. Maybe she was as shallow as Sam had always accused her of being. "About how I appear to other people," she admitted. "I'm not brave like you. I couldn't have worn the frog purse."

They both remembered the incident in sophomore year where Lily had refused to dissect her frog in biology. Glass made her wear a purse (a see-through purse, of course) with the dead frog suspended in a formaldehyde solution. It smelled almost as pleasant as it looked.

But Lily, ever the crusader, had carried that thing around for days.

"Jesus, Brooke," Lily stared in astonishment. "You almost died! Aren't you supposed to come away from that kind of experience with some great insight or something? Didn't that give you perspective beyond Captain of the Glamaz--"

"Shut up, Lily!" she bellowed. She was officially over this now. "I don't need to hear this from you!"

"You're right," Lily agreed. "But she loves you, Brooke. And I think you feel the same way. If you would actually give up a chance at happiness because of what some fucking stranger might think--"

Lily just shook her head. "Maybe it's you who's not good enough for Sam."

She stormed out, leaving Brooke alone and fragile.

"Merry Christmas to you too, Lily..."

The End

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