DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Ryan Murphy and the WB. No infringement is intended.
CONTINUITY: This is next in line after 'How Lily Found Out, Parts I & II'.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Her Favorite Fantasy
By Quatorz


Frantic holiday shoppers swarmed around them, scurrying to and fro looking for something-anything-to give loved ones. They had the stench of desperation among them, but they smelled far better than tomorrow's shoppers.

Tomorrow's shoppers would reek of it.

It was the 23rd, two days before Christmas-the third in the joint McPherson-McQueen household.

For Brooke McQueen-who always had her shopping done early-the idea of going anywhere near a store this close to the holidays would normally have been inconceivable. But Jane had needed a few last minute odds and ends for the Christmas party, and Sam had thought of the 'must-have' accessory to finish off their decorations.

Trust Sam to think of the tackiest of all Christmas decorations: icicles.

"Tacky?" Sam had stared in stunned disbelief when Brooke protested. "They'll go great with the tree. They're the perfect accessory for--"

"A very special James Bond Christmas?" Brooke challenged, referencing one of Sam's smartass remarks from their very first Christmas together.

"Remember that one, do you?" Sam grinned sheepishly. She poked her tongue in her cheek and looked suitably chagrined for Brooke's tastes.

"Oh, I remember," Brooke informed her. "Even though I loathed you at the time I did think it was funny.

"I couldn't let you know that, of course." she added.

"Of course," Sam concurred-in complete understanding.

Brooke had played one last card, and cited their sister Mac's fledgling mobility-coupled with her desire to put everything within reach in her mouth-to argue that maybe icicles weren't the safest idea.

To her credit, Sam agreed that the baby's safety was infinitely more important, but was determined to find an acceptable substitute for the icicles. Sam felt the Palace's decorations were lacking that certain 'je ne sais quoi'-the cherry on top, so to speak. And she was determined to find it.

Brooke thought the Palace looked absolutely beautiful, and figured that Sam's idea of the perfect Christmas decoration was the aesthetic equivalent of getting a gold cap on your front tooth.

Sam's taste in decorating aspired to reach the level of her fashion sense, but-sadly-still had a long way to go. And that was really saying something.

She thought it wise to accompany Sam as they searched the endless aisles for that 'special something' (and if Sam said 'je ne sais quoi' one more time, Brooke was going to kill her).

Besides, since the accident the night of their junior prom, she was thankful to just be anywhere at all. She also knew how lucky she was to not be restricted to using the handicapped spaces at the front of the store.

She still had dreams where she lay on the road on the night of the accident-in overwhelming pain-and hearing a frantic voice pleading with her not to die, not to leave her.

In the dream, the voice forces her to hang on and not give in to the numbing cold or the beckoning temptation to sleep. In the dream, that voice saves her life.

She shook her head to dispel her maudlin thoughts.

"Are you okay?" Sam asked-the concern evident in her voice. "Is this too much walking?

"We can go home," she added hastily, and Brooke was touched that Sam was ready to abandon her whole shopping trip for her.

"I'm fine," Brooke smiled to allay her fears. "And I don't think I'll ever have too much walking, believe me."

Which wasn't exactly true. Her body had its limits, still. She had roughly the stamina of the spry septuagenarian-but that was an improvement from octogenarian, she reminded herself.

Cheerleading was out of the question for her senior year, and probably forever. She could walk for maybe an hour-an hour and a half tops-before she got tired. But she was getting stronger every day. And she tried to focus on what she could do-and what she'd be able to do tomorrow-as opposed to what she couldn't do today. They'd taught her that in physical therapy.

Sam, who'd been with her through the therapy process, would remind her to look forward when she was having a particularly tough session-even when Brooke was in no mood to hear it, she remembered with a smile. She wasn't always the best patient, but Sam had weathered the storms of her temper with aplomb, keeping an even keel and never snapping back. Which was amazing considering their history.

How had she managed that? Brooke wondered.

Sam's brown eyes held a blend of emotions that Brooke couldn't quite decipher. "Well, just make sure you're using the cart. I know you don't like using anything for support," she interjected, "but we might be here a while."

Sam had insisted they share the cart. Sam pushed, and Brooke held the handle to give a little added support. It was a good idea, she had to admit. Especially at this time of the year, just waiting in the check out line could take thirty minutes.

"I will. I promise," Brooke smiled. It was sweet of Sam to be so concerned.

"Hey, look who's awake," Sam nodded to Mac. The baby had awoken from her car-ride induced nap. Sam had her car seat wedged securely into the child seat of the cart where they could interact with her while they shopped. "Hey, cutie. Are you ready to do some shopping?" Sam cooed.

Sam's voice elicited a yawn from Mac. They baby's vision became unfocused and heavy lidded eyes struggled to stay open. "Well that does a lot for my self confidence. Those were some of my best faces."

"Those were your best faces?" Brooke teased. "No wonder you wear your hair like that-it draws attention away."

"Speaking of my dwindling self-esteem," Sam groaned. Brooke just laughed.

They walked in amiable silence, Sam pushing the cart and Brooke holding the handle for support. Brooke glanced down at their hands in close proximity. She stretched out with her pinky, and brought it in contact with Sam's.

She looked ahead, feigning ignorance. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sam gaze at their hands, and then over at her. It was all Brooke could do not to smile.

Sam's hand move away, and felt cold where she'd lost the contact. A tingling sensation faded that she hadn't been aware of.

Sam was staring forward with a forlorn expression.

"What's wrong?" Brooke asked gently.

Sam looked up, and it seemed to Brooke that she forced a smile. "Nothing," she answered. "I don't know where anything is in this place. Where do you think the decorations are?"

She was changing the subject, but Brooke didn't call her on it. "I don't know. I want to get some stuff to make cookies, too." She narrowed her eyes at Sam playfully. "And no cracks about my cooking."

It had the intended effect. Sam held up her hands in mock surrender and favored her with an honest smile. "I didn't say anything!"

Sam spotted someone over Brooke's shoulder-dressed in the red and khaki finery that served as a uniform.

Brooke thought was a pretty cool idea actually. You didn't have to wear the same shirt-or even the same style shirt everyday. And as long as you had a red shirt and a pair of khaki's you were set.

It was better than having to buy a uniform that you would never wear again-like Lily and that horrible Mr. Cluck's outfit. Where could she ever wear that?

Maybe to a bowling alley-on retro night, or something?

"Excuse me, Ma'am," Sam broached politely. "Can you tell me--"

"I don't work here!" the woman protested vehemently. "I wish everyone would quit bothering me. Do I have a nametag on? No! Do I know where anything is? No!

"Talk about rude!" she huffed, storming off. Sam, who'd been staring at the woman with alarmed round eyes during her entire diatribe, just watched her walk away in stunned silence.

"What the hell just happened?" the brunette asked.

"I don't know," Brooke laughed. "But I got the impression she doesn't work here."

"You think?" Sam chuckled. "Wow: 'Stressed Holiday Shopper Snaps, Goes Berserk on Innocent Teens!'," Sam announced, pantomiming the layout of the headline in midair.

"Like it's our fault that she was dumb enough to wear red and khaki," Brooke chimed in.

"Exactly," Sam laughed. "It was her mistake. She can't get indignant about it!"

Brooke liked it when they agreed, and when they laughed like this. It was so much better than the alternative.

Although it had been months since they'd had a real knock-down, drag-out, emotions-laid-waste Battle Royale like they used to. Since before the accident.

After that it was all about recuperating, and Brooke was just so thankful to still be alive, and to have Sammy keep her company in that dreary hospital.

It was like they put aside their bickering during the crisis, and when it was over she couldn't remember why they bickered in the first place. Now she couldn't even remember what she'd initially disliked about the girl.

Now let's be honest, Brooke. Okay: she could remember. Sam could be pompous, arrogant, spiteful and judgmental-not to mention she thrived on writing articles that bordered on libelous about her and her fellow cheerleaders.

But she was also thoughtful, sweet, caring, loyal to a fault, and a devoted friend. And-not that she would admit it to Sam-many of those articles about the Glamazons didn't fit the traditional definition of libelous because they were-in fact-true.

Nicole and Mary Cherry did steal the chemistry test-the fallout over which cost the Glamazons their funding. And what was the end result: the lesson learned?

Money talks. Mary Cherry appealed to her mother, and she anted up the money not only for the rest of the year's budget, but for new uniforms as well.

Some lesson. Looking back, she was surprised that Sam hadn't written an article about that.

Her reign as the Glamazon captain was bittersweet now. The incident with Nicole had left her with a different view of her former 'friends'.

Never in her wildest imagination would she have guessed that Nicole was capable of attempted murder, but she had witnessed enough of her handiwork to know the kind of person she had become. Maybe it wasn't who Nicole really was deep down inside, but it was the heartless bitch persona-dubbed succinctly as 'Satan' by Sam-that she had embraced wholeheartedly, facilitating her meteoric rise in popularity.

And if Brooke was honest with herself, she had to admit that Nicole had helped to serve her own ends more often than not. All Brooke had to do was turn a blind eye to what Nicole was doing (hooray for plausible deniability!) and things magically went her way. She was quite happy to use Nicole for all her nasty talents. Her hands stayed pristine and white while the dirty work still got done.

She may not have created the monster, but she encouraged it, enabled it, and certainly benefited from it.

She'd come to that realization not long after the accident. It wasn't an easy one to face, but she made her peace with it-and accepted the fact that part of the responsibility for her lying there broken lay squarely on her own shoulders.

That had been a pleasant epiphany.

She knew what Nicole was capable of from the moment she became cheerleading captain, and she made little attempt to reach the Nicole she'd caught occasional glimpses of: the human being hidden beneath the platinum dye-job, the wicked sneer, and humorously bitchy sarcasm.

Nicole-the spawn of the Devil Nicole-was more fun to hang around with, and she always made things interesting. But there's always a chance that an attack dog can turn on its master, and that's what happened.

Between her and Mary Cherry, was she channeling her inner Sun Tzu and keeping her enemies closer? She had done that, and meanwhile waged war with one of the few people she knew who was genuine, constant and true-and would challenge her to live up to the ideals she professed to have.

Well, to hell with Sun Tzu. In the aftermath of the accident, the genuine soul who'd crashed into her life two years ago had become the only person she could really trust, and she found herself wanting to spend more and more of her time with the brunette. Often during the day her thoughts turned to Sam, wondering what the girl was doing at the moment.

Somewhere in the back of her mind Brooke knew there were questions waiting to be answered-questions specifically about the aforementioned reporter. But she didn't want to think about that now.

In her car seat, Mac opened her eyes and yawned adorably. She topped it off by blowing a spit bubble. Brooke laughed and gazed over at Sam. Sam was grinning from ear to ear, and their gaze held for a moment-and then another-before Sam looked away bashfully.

Mac started to fuss and fidget, getting restless in the car seat. "Hold on," Sam chided. "I'm coming. I'm coming." She worked to free Mac from the five point harness that held the infant in place, fumbling with the buckles because she was racing Mac's building tantrum.

Mac started crying in earnest as Sam undid the last buckle. Sam freed her from the seat and laid Mac on her shoulder, bouncing lightly. "Can you see if she's wet?" Sam inquired. Brooke snaked her hand around and felt the front of the infant's diaper.

"She's dry," Brooke replied.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another shopper shoot a look at the two of them as she passed. Brooke took in the sight of her and Sam doting on the newborn, and grinned. She could only imagine what they looked--

No. That wasn't true, was it? She knew exactly what they looked like.

It was why she had volunteered to bring Mac in the first place.

A few weeks ago they were on their way to the mall when Jane had begged them to take Mac because a client meeting had suddenly been rescheduled.

Much to her surprise, they had fun with the baby in tow. They stopped in the restroom to change Mac's diaper, and Brooke realized they were getting the 'eye' from one of the other patrons.

It took her a moment to realize that the woman assumed that they were together-like together together.

More than that: she thought they were a family.

Brooke looked at Sam changing the baby and imagined it was true. For that one, brief heartbeat she experienced an elation and contentment so intense it made her heart ache. A void she hadn't been aware of was filled, and when the blissful moment passed she felt the loss of something she'd never really had in the first place.

But she wanted to feel it again, so she dragged Sam to furniture stores under the guise of redoing her bedroom-soliciting Sam's opinion and pretending they were picking out drapes and furnishings for their own home.

And from time to time she would forget that none of it was true and the feeling would return-and she would be whole again.

So when Jane said she needed a few things for the party Brooke jumped at the chance-volunteering her and Sam and offering to take Mac with them so they could find the perfect accessories for the kitchen they didn't have, and peruse furnishings under false pretenses, and maybe be mistaken by strangers for something they weren't.

It was her favorite fantasy.

And all the while she continued to ignore the voices in her head clamoring for an explanation, because she just didn't have any answers for them right now.

Mac burped, and the disproportionately loud noise coming out of such a tiny baby combined with the look of stunned surprise on Mac's face enticed a warm laugh out of Sam.

Brooke felt the smile come unbidden to her face. The feeling was coming again, a warm glow welling up inside of her.

But she wanted more this time. She reached out and placed her hand on Sam's back, just between her shoulder blades. Her thumb moved of its own accord, stroking back and forth lightly.

Sam went completely still, and then looked up at her with a hesitant, worried expression. Brooke beamed a warm smile upon her, hoping to express all she felt at that moment-even if she herself was hard pressed to put it into words.

It seemed as if Sam understood on some level. Those brown eyes softened, and--

"Hey guys!"

Brooke gasped, and retracted her hand as if burnt.

Lily approached the two of them, waving energetically.

Sam cleared her throat awkwardly. "H-Hey, Lil," Sam answered. "Um, finishing your Christmas shopping?"

"Yeah," she rolled her eyes. "Procrastinator here still hadn't gotten anything for his mother." Lily indicated with a nod of her head as her husband Josh caught up to the cart.

He beamed a toothy smile. "Hey, you two. Hey Mac!" he directed at the baby, waving at her.

Brooke felt horribly exposed, like she had been caught doing something wrong.

"This place is huge," Josh commented. "Do you guys know where the vacuum cleaners are? This place has vacuums, right? Ours has been acting up for a week or so and finally gave it up last night."

"Yeah, Merry Christmas to us," Lily frowned.

"They're toward the middle," Sam began, "but just before the food section. Kinda between--

"I suck at directions," she shook her head. "I'll just show you."

Brooke watched Sam walk away carrying Mac and as Josh fell in step she felt an irrational pang of jealousy. Now people would see Sam, Mac and Josh together and make false assumptions about them instead.

"Hey Brooke," Sam stopped a few paces down the aisle. "Can you hold the baby?" she asked, turning back to present the infant to her.

Brooke nodded, and tried to answer "Sure," as calmly as possible. Sam smiled as she handed Mac to her, and went off to help Josh find his new vacuum.

Brooke watched her go, a cauldron of emotions brimming just beneath the surface. Whether she had intended to or not Sam had preserved her fantasy, and it meant more to her than she could imagine.

"I'm glad to see it's mutual," Lily's voice pierced her awareness. The pretty Latina scrutinized her with a knowing smile.

"I-I don't know what you mean," Brooke answered, not really sure to whom she was making the denial. She wasn't even sure there was anything to deny.

"Yes you do," Lily just grinned.

There was silence where it seemed Lily was waiting for her to respond, but Brooke had no idea what to say.

"I'd better go find my husband," Lily excused herself. "He's been researching those Dyson's-which, coincidentally, he mentioned they just started carrying here. Imagine that," she shook her head. "What is it with guys and their toys? He'll spend our entire Christmas budget on a vacuum if I let him."

She turned her cart down the aisle. "See you at the party, Brooke." she waved.

Brooke waved absently, thinking over what Lily had said.

Sam passed Lily on her way back, brandishing what looked like a can of hairspray. But judging by the look on her face, there was no way she was that excited about hairspray.

Nicole: she might get that excited about hairspray, but not Sam.

"I found it!" Sam declared. She held out the can for Brooke's inspection.

"Canned snow?" Brooke asked.

"Yeah," Sam beamed excitedly. "You spray it on the window sills, and on the tree, and it looks like fresh snow just fell. Isn't that great?

"Oh: and its non-toxic," she added, wisely adapting her strategy based on the icicle argument.

"What do you think?" Sam asked, and Brooke realized that Sam was actually granting her veto power. That was amazing in itself.

She looked at the brunette, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. "I think it's perfect," she half-lied, but she couldn't bear to see Sam disappointed. "As long as it's tasteful!" she amended quickly.

"Of course," Sam agreed. And while Brooke knew that in her heart the other girl meant it, it was their divergent ideas on 'tasteful' that would cause the friction. But that was okay. It was Chritsmas.

"Let's go home!" Sam said, and held her arms out for the baby (getting Mac in and out of the car seat was strictly a Sam job).

Sam had found her 'je ne sais quoi'-her special something. Brooke watched the grinning, happy brunette twirl Mac around in a pirouette-eliciting an excited squeal from the baby-and for the first time gave voice to an astonishing, exhilarating, and thoroughly terrifying possibility:

Have I?

The End

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