SAM'S CHRISTMAS DREAM

Summary: Sam experiences a Dickens-esque Christmas Carol. AU Season 8 before Threads.

Samantha Carter was bored. A generally upbeat, energetic woman, there wasn't much she hated worse than terminal boredom. Now at 2330 hours on Christmas Eve, the leader of SG1 sat in her lab at the SGC, contemplating the total lack of excitement in her life today.

What a time for everything to be quiet on the intergalactic front! It wasn't fair. Must be a cosmic joke, she thought. Here she was on what was arguably the biggest holiday of the year, with very little to keep her mind occupied. Sure, she loved the ongoing challenge of the Stargate program, loved it for the scientific challenge it presented. But more than that, these days it kept her from looking at the incongruous, sometimes painful holes in her life.

This Christmas Eve Sam faced an unfamiliar dilemma. In the past, she'd struggled a bit with not having close family connections to celebrate over the holidays. Even with the recent rapprochement with Jacob and Mark, those connections were sometimes tenuous. With Jacob spending so much time with the Tokra and Mark effectively distanced from the central realities of her life, holidays were often spent without family.

In recent years, SG1 had become her family. When on Earth, they celebrated holidays together. In was nice, more than nice in fact. Yet this year, even that was gone. Her engagement to Pete Shanahan had trumped her close friendship with SG1. Jack, Daniel and Teal'c, though not exactly Pete's fan club, were willing to include Sam's fiancé in their celebration. Pete, however, had other ideas; he wanted Sam all to himself for their first Christmas together.

In a moment of weakness, Sam had agreed to spend a romantic evening by the tree, alone with her fiancé. That was a big mistake.

As luck would have it, the magnitude of the mistake hadn't hit Sam until tonight. Normally proud of her ability to make decisive choices, at least in the field of battle, the past few days had been an exercise in waffling extraordinaire. Feeling less than happy about bailing out on her team's celebration and not willing to admit standing them up in favor of Pete, Sam had begged off, claiming a backload of work in her lab. Then, this afternoon, irritated by Pete's frequent phone calls, trying to firm up every last detail of their Christmas Eve together, she'd given Pete the same less than truthful tale.

"Lying seldom goes unpunished," was a phrase her mother had used on more than one occasion. As usual, Sam's mother had been right. Tonight was a case in point. Having begged off on two counts, Sam was alone on Christmas Eve, holed up in her lab, with very little work to distract her from the conflicting mass of feelings even now scratching their way to the surface.

Frustrated, frightened, feeble and furious … enough already, Sam thought, stowing the boring paperwork in her top right hand drawer. There is nothing that has to be done here tonight. Secretly she craved the sirens that would signal an "unscheduled off world activation". At least an emergency would give her somewhere to focus her troubled mind, somewhere safer and less confusing.

I might as well try to get some sleep, she said to herself. I can't very well go home; Pete will think I'm trying to avoid him. Hell, he's right. I am.

Spending Christmas Eve in her quarters at the SGC wasn't exactly an appealing thought. Still, she'd put herself in this position. If she could fall asleep, at least she wouldn't have to think about the mess she'd made of her personal life. If she were really in love with Pete, why wouldn't she want to be with him tonight?

No, no, no … don't go there, Sam thought, as she felt the pesky tears pushing to get out.

Feeling anything but festive and merry, the disgruntled Air Force major made her way to her stark personal quarters. Usually a warm, friendly person, Sam did her best to smile at the airmen she met along the way, many of whom wished her a Merry Christmas.

Fortunately, Sam Carter was tired, a least emotionally. Entering her quarters, she threw herself on top the regulation, hard as nails twin bed she loathed. By the time she hit the bed, the tears had won out. And as the clock struck midnight on this momentous Christmas Eve, Major Samantha Carter cried herself to sleep.

OoOoOo

"Samantha"

Who was that? Sam wondered.

"Samantha," the voice called again, more persistently.

"Who's there?" she asked.

"It's me, Orlin," replied the shadowy figure materializing on the far side of her vision.

"Orlin?" Sam questioned. "But you're …"

"Dead?" He asked. "Not exactly; the others took me back."

"They did?"

"Yes, at least for the purposes of this dream."

"Dream? I'm dreaming?" Of course she was, Sam realized. "Okay … but why am I dreaming of you?"

"Because you need to," Orlin answered patiently. "That's how it usually goes."

Even in her dreams Sam Carter made every attempt to think things through logically, to find rational, scientific explanations for out of the ordinary events. Her memory of Orlin, however, warned her that logic might not apply in this case. Still that didn't keep her from trying.

"So…?"

"So … I'm here to show you some things."

"About the Goa'uld? Do you have information for us?"

"No, Sam," Orlin replied calmly. "Not about the Goa'uld. About you."

"About me?" Sam asked, now totally perplexed.

"Easiest way is to show you," Orlin replied, remembering how difficult it was for Sam Carter to accept less than tangible evidence. "Here, take my hand."

Without hesitation, Sam reached out and placed her hand in Orlin's glowing palm. In her dream, the scene changed. She was standing in the observation room over the medical procedure bay. Directly in her line of sight sat Jack O'Neill, strapped into a chair, a thick leather band around his forehead. When she surveyed the medical area more closely, Sam could see the monitor wires leading from Jack to a machine … the Zatarc detector. Without thinking, Sam scanned the area for Anise, but only Jack and the machine were in the room.

"Push the intercom button," Orlin urged her. Following his directions, Sam turned on the speaker that allowed verbal communication between the medical bay and the observation area.

"Ask him, Sam," Orlin prompted.

"Ask him what?"

"Why he wouldn't leave you."

Sam knew the answer. Still, she followed directions and asked. Jack's response came back, much as she'd remembered it.

"I didn't leave her because I'd rather die myself than loose Carter."

"Why?" Orlin prompted, as Anise had nearly four years earlier.

"Because I care about her a lot more than I'm supposed to," Jack responded

In her dream, Sam felt her emotional response to Jack's carefully chosen words, as if it were yesterday. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly to calm her racing heart.

"Ask him again," Orlin prompted.

Puzzled, Sam asked, "Why?"

"Ask him, Sam."

And she did.

"Jack, why didn't you leave me?"

This time Jack looked directly at her, gave her the slightest hint of a smile and answered, "Because I love you."

His words hit her hard. Before she could begin to process her reaction, the scene changed again. Once more, Jack was at the center of the scene. This time his hair was grayer and he was seated at General Hammond's desk, now his desk, at the SGC. Daniel and Teal'c were seated in chairs to the side of his desk. They were having an animated conversation. Jack looked exhausted.

"Come on, Jack," Daniel was saying. "We'll have a good time, just the three of us guys tonight. You don't want to stay here by yourself. It's Christmas Eve!"

"Yeah, so?" Jack replied. "Daniel, I've got work to do," he said, gesturing to the pile of personnel folders on his desk."

"O'Neill," Teal'c said, "those folders are always there. You have told me on many occasions that Christmas is a special time among the Tauri."

"That's right. For some people, it is, Teal'c," Jack answered flatly. "But not for me, not anymore."

"This is about Sam, isn't it?" Daniel stated. Then, not waiting for a reply, Jack's friend forged ahead. "Jack, if it's that bad, you should talk to her, tell her how you feel."

"She's with her fiancé tonight," Jack answered. "Don't you see? It's too late; Sam's getting married. She doesn't want me. She wants him."

"But Jack," Daniel protested.

"Daniel, for crying out loud," Jack called, a bit too loudly. "It's what she wants, she's happy. I'd never take that away from her."

"Even if you're miserable?"

"Even if …," he answered sotto voice. "Now would you two please get out of here and let me get some work done?"

"Merry Christmas, Jack," Daniel said sincerely, standing up to take his leave. Teal'c followed suit, silently fixing his comrade-in-arms with his usual, all knowing glare. Seconds later, Jack was alone in the office. In her dream's eye, Sam caught Jack's final, unmasked reaction to the conversation with the guys. As soon as the door closed behind them, Jack slowly lowered his head into his hands. He breathed a heavy sigh. When his head came up again, Sam could swear there was a tear in his eye.

OoOoOo

Before she could get a closer look, the scene changed once more. Sam didn't recognize where she was. A hospital, maybe, she thought. There were men and women in the halls dressed in scrubs and carrying clipboards. But the furniture was all wrong. It looked warmer, homier than a hospital. Then she noticed other people, several in different areas of a spacious common area. They were older, some in wheelchairs, but all white haired and elderly.

A nursing facility of some sort, she thought. But where was it? Why was she here?

"Keep looking, Sam," Orlin prompted.

"For what? Why am I here?"

"Do you recognize anyone?"

Sam knew before she saw him. He must be here. So far Orlin's little dream had a definite focus, and he was it. Then she saw him.

Lt. General Jack O'Neill, Ret. walked into the sitting area. Pushing a rolling walker in front of him, the hunched over, elderly man carefully made his way to one of the empty chairs. A few staff members and residents greeted him perfunctorily. Others simply got out of his way. Jack acknowledged none of them. Once he made it to the chair, he gingerly lowered himself down. He sat silently.

"What happened to him?" Sam asked.

"He got old," Orlin answered her.

"But he looks so … empty," she persisted.

"Empty… yes, empty is a good word for what happened to Jack," Orlin agreed.

As Sam watched the scene unfold, she realized the sitting room was filled with tasteful holiday decorations, including a stately Christmas tree. Of course… it was Christmas. Most of the older folks, probably residents of the home, were surrounded by younger holiday visitors. Actually, only Jack sat alone by himself, staring blankly out the window. Depressed and forlorn couldn't begin to describe how he looked.

"Why is he all alone?" Sam asked.

Orlin looked at her. He said nothing. He didn't have to say a word. Sam knew.

"He pulled away from everyone, didn't he?" Sam asked rhetorically.

To Sam's eyes, Orlin's face radiated pure love. Angel, ascended being or merely a figment of her subconscious, he did love Sam. And Orlin realized Jack O'Neill did as well.

"Jack never recovered from losing you," the Orlin of her dream revealed. Then, after some silence, "And yes, gradually, he alienated everyone else who cared about him."

Sam snorted. She knew Jack O'Neill was perfectly capable of doing just that, pushing people away. She marveled that he'd been able to accomplish it so completely.

"He's totally alone now," Sam observed sadly. She watched as the frail man that was once the epitome of strength and vitality sat motionless and isolated.

Orlin nodded slowly. "He wasn't the only one to suffer like this."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked, walking directly in front of Jack, realizing he could no longer see her.

"Samantha Carter died alone as well, over one year ago now," Orlin revealed.

"So they never …"

"No, never," Orlin replied. "You see the time was never right and then it was too late. Time runs out for all of us, Sam."

OoOoOo

Deep underground, in the top secret Cheyenne Mountain complex, Sam awoke with a start. Sitting bolt upright in bed, she breathed in short, shallow gasps of air.

It was a dream, only a dream, she told herself. Not real, it wasn't real. Gradually her heart rate slowed and her breathing returned to normal. There were tears in her eyes. The dream was as vivid in her mind as any reality she'd ever experienced.

On weak, uncertain legs, she made her way to the restroom and proceeded to splash cold water on her face. Wake up, Sam..

One shower and a fresh pair of BDUs later, she didn't feel a heck of a lot better. It was Christmas Day and she was still alone. She wondered what Jack and the team were doing today. Were any of them here? Probably not, she thought. Still, she thought she'd check it out.

Without much conscious thought, Sam made her way to the place she most needed to be at that moment, General O'Neill's office. Sure enough, through the closed door, she could hear voices.

"Jack," it was Daniel speaking, "you can't sit here feeling sorry for yourself all day. It's Christmas!"

"I know it's Christmas," Jack replied in a less than friendly tone. "SG1 has down time, so get out of here and celebrate. If I want to feel sorry for myself, I'm entitled."

"But I thought you were seeing that CIA agent," Daniel persisted. "You know, Kerry something, the one you think we don't know about."

Jack shook his head and grimaced, "Not the same."

"Not Sam, huh?"

"Honestly? No, she's not," Jack admitted morosely.

Sam had heard a rumor Jack was dating someone; now that rumor was confirmed. Couldn't say she was sad things weren't exactly working out for them. Deciding this was as good a time as any to make her presence known, Sam knocked on the closed, less than sound proof door.

"Who is it?" Jack called.

"Carter, Sir," Sam replied, wincing at the less than hospitable tone.

"Oh for crying out loud," Jack groused, "Carter's not supposed to be here! What's going on?"

"Don't know," Daniel said. "Why don't we let her in and find out."

Without waiting for permission, Daniel opened the door and greeted Sam.

"Come on in, Sam," Daniel said brightly. "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas, Daniel," she answered warmly, kissing him lightly on the cheek. Then turning to Jack, Sam took in his 'I haven't slept all night' appearance. Her heart sank. The look reminded her of the last miserable part of her dream, a future she was determined to head off at the pass.

"Merry Christmas, Jack," she said.

"Jack?"

"Yes, Jack," she said again, locking eyes with the object of her affection. Jack held her eyes in spite of himself, likely transfixed by her smile.

Daniel took it all in. He knew his interpretation was correct.

"I think I'll leave the two of you alone," the archeologist volunteered.

"Good idea," Sam replied. "Thanks, Daniel."

Jack stayed in place, silent. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He nodded absently as Daniel took his leave.

Once the door closed behind their sensitive friend, Sam broke the silence.

"We need to talk."

"We do?"

"Yes," Sam smiled.

"About …?" Jack queried, daring to hope.

"About us," Sam answered.

Jack returned her smile.

And so it began, a very Merry Christmas.

The End.


A/N: Hope you enjoyed the story! Merry Christmas to all!