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it takes 40 years

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"Sam," Bailey says, "put that down before you hurt someone."

It's Christmas Eve, and Jack has yet to surface. Sam Waters, newly married, and Bailey Malone, newly divorced, are stuck in Virginia, at FBI headquarters, to write a report about a guy who cuts the heads off horses.

"See," Sam tells him earnestly, "what he does is." She picks up the letter opener, stares at the tip. "He cuts the heads off. Clean. Let's just call him the Godfather."

"Sam," Bailey warns.

She slumps down in the chair across from his desk. Right now, it's still his task force. They've been up for two days, and the strain is starting to show; Sam's a bit giddy. "You're right," she says, carefully sticking the letter opener back into the jar of pens next to his computer monitor. "Hollywood would sue us."

"Don't worry," Bailey says, "you'll get him."

Sam nods. It's seven PM on Christmas Eve. She believes him.

--

Sam's beeper goes off in the middle of dinner. Tom looks at her, and Chloe, at three, just continues to push peas around on her plate, occasionally putting on in her mouth. "I'll be right back," Sam says. "I promise."

As she steps out of the room to take the message, she hears Tom's mother say something under her breath. The turkey's going to get cold, probably, or maybe something more disappointed. Dinner with Tom's family was always strained, even at the best of times. Christmases were always worse. At least Chloe didn't notice.

Her pager has 'VCTF-B' on it. Sam picks up the hall phone and dials Bailey's number. "Hey kid," he says, "Merry Christmas."

"What is it?" Sam asks. Already the case is flooding back into her mind, already she can see victim number nine, lying on his back.

"Just that," Bailey says through the phone. "Merry Christmas. Just that."

Sam sighs, and peers around the corner. Chloe is laughing as the dog eats all her peas. She says, "Bailey."

"Okay," he admits. "But it can wait until tomorrow. I swear."

"I'll call you tomorrow then," Sam tells him. "Merry Christmas, too."

"Kiss Chloe for me," Bailey says, and then he hangs up. Sam stands there for a moment, trying to push work out of her mind before she goes back into the dining room. Tom's parents might notice, but it's Tom she doesn't want to see her like this, engulfed in darkness on Christmas day. It takes a moment, but Chloe's blond hair does it. She goes to sit down and eat.

--

The first Christmas without Tom, Chloe's five. Angel helps her unwrap all the presents, smiles at the wrapping paper and takes pictures of Chloe with a box and bow on her head.

Sam sits on the couch and bites her lip to keep from crying. She doesn't want Chloe to see. She bites it so hard she can taste blood in her mouth.

--

Sam has nightmares of Jack coming down the chimney, in a Santa hat. She wakes up in the middle of the night two days before Christmas Eve. She sits up, looking at the firehouse fireplace, the fake gas and glass fireplace, and wonders if Jack could find some way to use it.

"What are you doing up?" Angel is standing by her bedroom door, eyes blinking sleepily in the dark.

Sam turns around. "Just can't sleep," she says, and then, "thought I'd think for a bit."

Angel grins slightly, and sits down on the couch. "Thinking is what usually means you can't sleep." She studies Sam. "Is it work?"

Sam shrugs, nods, shakes her head. Stares at the fireplace. "Is Chloe asleep?"

Angel gives a little laugh. "All of Atlanta is asleep, Sam," she says.

To prove her wrong, Sam's beeper flashes, meaning someone opted to go straight to her voicemail rather than have it ring. Sam picks it up, and presses the button. It flashes 'VCTF-B-MC' and Sam smiles.

Angel shakes her head. "you want me to stay up?"

"Nah," Sam tells her. Angel stands, and so doe Sam. "I'm going to bed," she tells Angel, "right after I make a call."

Angel shakes her head again, disbelief plain. She crosses her arms, and tilts her head. Finally, she rolls her eyes. "Say hello to Bailey for me."

--

Grace brings in the wreath.

It's full of pine and evergreen and holly, and where in Atlanta Grace found fresh evergreen Sam can't even picture. Some specialty plant store, maybe Sam just doesn't know anything about buying decorations. "And it's going on my lab door," Grace says, "and all of you grinches can just stare."

John, of all people, brings in the christmas tree. It's three feet tall but it's fresh, too. The whole command centre smells like evergreen.

"Shut up," is what John says to Bailey. Sam smiles, shakes her head, and goes back to her computer.

No one sees him, but Sam knows that George brought in the candles. They're lit, one by one, and now the command centre smells like fresh pine and fire and wax.

Chloe wants to see what mommy's office looks like during the holidays, and so Sam brings her into work the morning of the 24th. Someone strung up Christmas lights on the tree while she wasn't looking, and now the office twinkles. "Where are all the presents, mommy?" is what Chloe asks, of course.

"Well, we'll have to ask Uncle Bailey," Sam tells her, as Bailey shows up. "Where *are* all the presents?"

"They're in the mail," Bailey says, smiling. Sam raises an eyebrow. "All right, Uncle Bailey hasn't bought them yet," he says to Chloe. "I'm going right now."

"You left it a bit late, didn't you?" Sam asks.

"Leave me alone," he tells her, and grins, "or you'll get coal."

Chloe runs off and Grace picks her up, takes her to see the lab. Sam sits down as Bailey's phone rings. She turns to Bailey, waiting; Sam has a feeling. They're going to get bad news. Bailey shakes his head. "No word yet." Sam sighs, and Bailey adds, "don't worry, Sam, you'll get him."

"I feel like," and Sam stops. It's not Bailey's task force anymore, but Sam feels like she's sinking.

Bailey says, "we'll get him." Sam finally nods.