She traces your scars and rebuilds your world [3/4]
Summary: You are a crumbling building in desperate need of restoration; and this, for all intents and purposes, makes Sam your architect.
Notes: First off, you guys are amazing. It’s been great meeting so many of you Lara/Sam fans and your comments have been so kind and lovely. Secondly, there’s a bit more background plot in this part, so I hope that’s okay; I needed Lara to ramble and so… she did!
Dr. Abernatch is a man who is, by customary standards, more than a bit insane, but he hides it well, so he almost comes off as normal.
It’s rather concerning, in fact, how ordinary he appears at the beginning of your first meeting, when you come armed with your journal and a couple of his books (bursting with Post-it tabs of assorted colors). Because when you mention Roanoke he at first gives you the by-the-book answer, and that’s not at all what you’re looking for. Not anymore.
“Assimilation is the only conceivable possibility,” the professor says, running a hand over the stands of grey hair that will not lie flat. “And the Lost Colony DNA project will assert this, I am certain. This is why I have moved my research to other areas, Miss Croft.”
You nod, but do not abate in your attack. “I agree, Professor, that assimilation with the Croatoan tribe occurred to a certain extent, but the archeological evidence does not suggest a mass integration of all the colonists. And soil erosion cannot explain the lack of this evidence; it is, quite frankly, a weak explanation at best.”
“What is your theory, then, Miss Croft?” The man sighs, removing his glasses and placing them on the table with care.
“You said assimilation is the only conceivable possibility. But what about those that are not, in fact, seemingly possible?”
He gives himself away in the twitch of his right hand—it jumps several centimeters across the table in a motion erratic and almost nervous. “I’m not sure I understand you.”
“Of course you do, Professor. I am implying that the cause of the colonists’ disappearance is something that cannot be explained via traditional means. And I am saying that you know this very well, and have evidence to this fact.”
Dr. Abernatch’s eyes are narrow and blue, and you see the exact moment when they clear in comprehension.
“Well? How’d it go?”
It’s late when you return, and you flop onto the couch next to Sam (heedless of the way it causes a bit of pain to shoot through your chest); you’re exhausted in a way you haven’t been in a while—in a way that only comes after a day spent debating and discussing—and you feel surprisingly pleased. You love exploring the world and uncovering the past and future in one full sweep—but that is not only done through diving into caverns and journeying into old tombs; sometimes, exploration is accomplished in a stuffy academic office.
Still, it is draining, and you feel grateful when Sam slides an arm around your shoulder so you can lean into her.
“Well. It went well. But we have a lot of work to do. Dr. Abernatch thinks the key to it all is underground.”
“Underground the island? Um, sweetie? That place is like the width of my pinky. Seriously, dig too far down and you’re going to hit water.”
“I know. But… the professor’s research seems to indicate the possibility of a network of caverns and— well, the entrance has not been discovered yet, but… As I said, a lot more research.”
“How fun. I am absolutely overjoyed,” Sam says flatly.
“Well what did you do today that was so much more interesting?”
“I went shopping. Got clothes, equipment, and a membership at the rock club in Raleigh.”
“Yeah, I figure I ought to spend some time on the wall every day or so. That’s a handy skill to have for an adventurer, right? Good thing I have an awesome teacher. Not that you’ll be doing any climbing yourself for at least six weeks.”
Sam gives you a look; you attempt an innocent smile, and she lets it go (hesitantly).
“I also looked at the local gun range. We can rent weapons there to shoot, and it’s …
It’s your turn to give Sam a look, though it’s softer and doesn’t contain the warning that Sam’s had.
“Sam, you know you don’t have to do all this. What happened… you shouldn’t feel like anything less, because you don’t know how to climb of all things. Or shoot.”
“I want to be prepared, Lara. I know it won’t happen again. Probably. But I want to be prepared. If something happens, and you need me, I—” Sam licks her lips and you’re glad her eyes are not focused on you, because you’re not sure if you’d be able to concentrate if they were. “I don’t want you to be alone like that again. And—and I don’t want to be alone like that either.”
Sam does look at you then, and you swallow. You know pain and you know regret, but you wish Sam didn’t understand these things in the same way. Clearly, though, she does because it’s vividly on display in her eyes.
“You won’t, Sam.”
“You’ll help me?”
There is only one answer available to you, because saying ‘no’ to Sam is not an option now.
The firing range is not the largest you’ve seen, but it’s well-maintained and the Range Officers are knowledgeable (ex-military, you’re pretty sure, because they take one look into your eyes and do not offer you a course in basic self-defense, like they do with the three other people you see walk in while you’re there).
You and Sam complete the safety orientation briefing and multiple choice indoor range test with ease, and are assigned to lane three (which Sam requests, citing it as her favorite number with a wide grin that even the burly Range Officer cannot deny).
“So, you wanna show me your skills first, hotstuff?”
Sam wiggles her eyebrows at you, and it’s just one more instance of her trying so hard to distract you from… everything. It works up until the point when you step forward in the booth and actually pick up the Glock resting on the counter.
That’s when your hands start to shake.
(Rough hands digging into your wrists—a snarling face overhead—fumbling and kicking—and then a noise, deafening and ringing and echoing—and blood slipping down from behind the torn away skin of a broken skull).
They hadn’t done that during your time on the island, and you wonder why you suddenly feel as though you want to throw the weapon across the room and give in to the nausea burning at your throat.
But Sam’s there, and she’s stepped closer than is probably acceptable in terms of gun safety, and the shakes turn to trembles that turn into the slightest of quivers. You remember to breathe and try not to think about the way it feels to pull a trigger and watch the spraying arch of blood that results.
Sam’s hands are warm as they guide your hands down to put the gun on the counter before you, and they’re still warm as they cup your cheeks and press into your skin.
“Hey. Look at me, okay?”
Her eyes are warm too, and you feel like you might freeze without that warmth—freeze and get stuck in some sort of void where you are perpetually hollow and feel nothing but cold.
And it occurs to you then for the first time, that you must love Sam.
It’s a shock, but it shouldn’t be.
You’ve thought about it before, of course.
Maybe not about loving Sam—not in those words—but about the kinds of things that might go along with it.
Romantic relationships have never really been something you felt the inclination to pursue; you have a hard enough time with friendships with your peers, honestly, because while you find people, as a whole, interesting (civilizations, and societies and cultures), individuals have a tendency to disappoint. It takes a rare person to catch your interest, and maybe that vain or elitist, but it’s also true. You would much rather put your time to better use—reading, exploring, learning, discovering—than deal with the nonsensical histrionics that people (and doubly so college students) bring to the table.
But Sam is one of those rare people, and you’ve known that since you met her in that freshman community kitchen—since she challenged you to a game of rock, paper, scissors to see who would be able to use the microwave first—since she grinned at you (in that way she does) when you had won, but let her go first anyways, just so you would have an excuse to stick around a while longer.
Sam is light and sunshine and creativity and spark, all rolled into one. She is deep and inspiring, but intuitive and not at all heavy, even in her introspective moments. Sam is electric and when she is near you, you feel a current of emotion, and so of course you’ve thought about it from time to time.
Like when she presses her lips to your cheek (after you pick the handgun back up and drill a bullet through the forehead of the paper target) and you think that if you turn, just the slightest bit, you would be able to find out if the ampere of that current increases when her lips brush against yours.
You suspect it would.
Once you start thinking about it, you can’t stop.
Nothing has changed—not really—but your entire perception of everything has shifted and you feel strangely out of touch. Or dishonest, which is worse, because you don’t know that you’ve ever purposefully hidden anything from your best friend.
Sam, of course, likely notices approximately three seconds after your realization, but mercifully waits a couple of days (which you spend buried in the Duke library) until she brings it up.
“You okay, Lara?”
It’s probably the time when you should start talking about your feelings, but you’re more than hesitant to do so for a multitude of reasons, so you divert, but it’s with something that isn’t untrue, at least.
“I keep thinking about something Mathias wrote. On the wall of his… study. Or shrine. Or whatever. It’s been stuck in the back of my head and I don’t really know why; ‘the answer lies with the star’.”
Sam freezes slightly at the mention of Mathias, and you curse yourself for being an idiot; Mathias had been a carefully avoided subject and now…
“It’s fine. You can say his—you can say his name, Lara. Why is it bugging you?”
You think about going back to Mathias—apologizing, or something—but you refrain at Sam’s steely look.
“I… don’t know. I have no concrete evidence, but…”
“You have a feeling. You’re supposed to trust those, remember?”
“I think it’s connected to Roanoke; something from Dr. Abernatch’s research; ‘Sie ist der schlssel’.”
“And that means…?”
“Well, my German’s a bit rusty…”
“Yeah, mine too,” Sam cuts in, with a roll of her eyes.
“But I think it’s, ‘it is the key’? Schlssel is an archaic form of German, but if the phrase originates from…”
“Yeah, yeah. ‘It’s the key’. Got it. Don’t nerd out on me, Croft. Point is, what’s the key? And how does that relate to some of Mathias mad scribblings?”
“Lara! Out with it, girl.”
“That the star is the key?”
“Um, okay. And…?”
“And I don’t know, Sam. It’s just a weird feeling that it’s all connected.”
“Well I sure hope not. If the goddamn Sun Queen pops up here, well… I love you, Lara, but I am seriously running for the hills and you better be behind me, no matter how much you want answers and shit.”
You laugh; glad to be distracted from what you had meant to be a distraction in the first place (but then that sort of puts you right back where you started and—well—bugger).
“I’d follow you, Sam. Don’t worry about that.”
A routine develops after a few weeks; you spend your days in the library, meeting with Dr. Abernatch when you can, and Sam does research of her own; collecting video on the background of Roanoke and on the more credible ideas about the colonists disappearance, as well as (for her own amusement, you’re pretty sure) the various more insane ones. She also goes to the gun range and the climbing gym, and you join her at both when you can.
But Sam in her climbing clothes, you’ve discovered, is of special note, as it’s a unique brand of torture.
You can appreciate her fashion sense (though, not so much the mass amounts of clothing she had acquired in her first week here, filling up your closet in a way that is not at all equal), but there’s something about Sam in a tank top and athletic shorts—chalk still on her hands and thighs, and sweat matting the hair at her temples— coming back after a long day on the climbing wall that…
Well, it makes a flush threaten to break out on your cheeks, and a sort of nervousness washes over you that makes you feel like a typical college student about to take a test that you haven’t prepared for (or so you would assume, because that’s not a situation you’ve ever found yourself in). Regardless, it’s an entirely new feeling, and you’re not sure you like the way it causes your stomach to clench or your brain to go somewhat fuzzy or reckless impulses (involving brushing the tips of your fingers over Sam’s skin, tasting the sweat on the side of her neck, pulling the girl towards you in some sort of Neanderthal gesture) to develop.
“Guess who nailed a 5.9+ climb today? This girl! I’m gonna make that 5.10 soon—I can feel it!”
It’s fortunate, really, that Sam enjoys climbing so much, because she always has a story about her day on the wall, and without fail, launches into it immediately after bursting through the door; it prevents her focusing her attention solely on you, which is very, very good, because you’re focusing keep your attention on Sam’s words and not on other aspects of her. And you probably wouldn’t be able to hold your own in terms of actual conversation if prompted.
“Hell yeah! The cave is next! I’m going to be upside down before you know it! Gravity is gonna be my bitch.”
You laugh, but you’ve noticed a particular wisp of hair has escaped from Sam’s heavy bobby-pinned ponytail and attached itself along her jawline, and it takes all of your self-control (something you had at one time viewed as considerable) to not stride over and run your hand along Sam’s skin to brush it away.
“Anyways, shower time. Any plans for dinner?”
“Uh—I was thinking take-out?” You had, really, but now it’s a struggle to remember the specifics. “Um—Korean? Inter Korean House?”
“Mmm. Yes! The bibimbap. You are a genius, Lara Croft. Order it while I’m in the shower and I’ll love you forever.”
And it’s more than a little ridiculous, the way your heart beat falls into an irregular pattern when you dial the restaurant’s number.
“Why do you do that?”
The next day brings an early night for once; Sam had taken a day off from the gym, and you’d hit the kind of wall in your research that only time would help dismantle, so you find yourselves in bed at a ridiculously early hour (it’s all sorts of wonderful).
“Touch my scars like that.”
The pressure abates as Sam lifts her hand away. “Does it bother you?”
“No.” The hand returns immediately. “I’m just curious.”
Sam pauses and you look down to catch her eye; her gaze remains fixed though—centered on the scar above your collarbone that her fingers are currently running over.
“I keep thinking I’ll be able to erase them, if I run over them enough times.”
You lick your lips, and your tone is more serious than your response calls for. “I don’t think that’s how it works, Sam.”
“Hmm. No, probably not.”
Her lips quirk upwards, and that’s the only warning you have before her fingers are replaced by her lips—smooth and soft and coated with the lip balm you’d seen her apply not long before.
“How about that?”
You want to say yes, just to see if she’ll do it again, but the word (simple, one syllable, toddler level) sticks in your throat.
“All civilizations fall,” Dr. Abernatch is saying, as you wait for his intro history class to end, sitting in the back row. “It is an inevitability; they will crumble apart just as surely as the buildings and tools and monuments they build, even if such things will certainly outlast them.”
“Without outside influence, you mean.” The words slip out of your mouth at a volume much louder than you would have liked.
Dr. Abernatch smiles though. “Ah, Miss Croft. Office hours are not enough for you, anymore?”
You shake your head, ignoring the teasing jibe. “It’s lack of care that causes these things to crumble, Professor, not inevitability.”
“Yes, but will there not always be a storm? A war? An earthquake? Will there not always be something to tear apart the creations of man?”
“Perhaps. But with care those things can be rebuilt.”
“Hmm. That is true, Miss Croft. But not in the same way as before, no?”
You suck in a breath. “No. Not in the same way. But different does not necessarily mean worse.”
The man lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. “Indeed. But the point is that they will be wrecked, inevitably.”
You don’t think that’s really the point at all. But then, you and the professor aren’t remotely talking about the same thing.
“When something’s remade, do you think it’s possible for it to be better than it was in its original form?”
The question comes out of nowhere, but Sam doesn’t blink; probably because she immediately thinks you’re referring to her medium of choice.
“Sure. Rarely, but sure. True Grit for one. Who would have thought you could remake a John Wayne movie well? But the Coen Bros did it, and it was a glorious thing. You just need the right director.”
“The right person,” you reiterate softly, but Sam doesn’t hear you—she’s already off the couch and heading over to the TV. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing? We’re obviously watching True Grit now. C’mon, Croft; you brought it up. Now let’s see how a remake is done.”
“I think you’ve already showed me, Sam,” you say with a quiet smile.
“Well, watch again.”
Of course, you hadn’t been referring to the movie.
You take a deep breath and there is no pain.
You hadn’t quite realized how prevalent that pain had been (how you had carried it with you during every day and every breath) until now, when its absence is so very noticeable, and you have the ability to breathe fully for the first time.
(In theory, at least, but you’re still not sure if that ability is one you know how to utilize just yet).
“Lara? Are you…?”
“I’m fine.” You reassure her quickly, suddenly realizing how it must look—you standing in the middle of the bedroom with your shirt fully unbuttoned, frozen in place in the middle of dressing.
Sam disregards your words, of course, and steps around the bed and moves closer—her eyes roaming over the expanse of your skin normally not accessible to them—until she is close enough for you to see the moisture on her lips from the glass of water she had just sipped from.
“Are you in pain? Do you—is it your ribs? Are they—?”
She pushes your shirt back even further, and then suddenly you are fully employing the capacity to breathe deeply (and sharply) again, because her hands are ghosting along the skin over your ribs and you need all the air you can get to combat the feeling of light headedness that nearly overtakes you.
“I’m fine,” you say again, resorting to repetition when your cleared mind makes everything else suddenly impossible.
Sam doesn’t step back, or even remove her hands. You think her eyes might be darker than you remember them being (or maybe that’s the way her pupils have dilated to the point of overtaking the naturally dark color of her irises), but you’re having a hard time remembering or thinking or focusing, so you might very well be mistaken.
“I—was simply… surprised. They—they don’t hurt. At all.”
“That’s…good,” Sam breathes, finally stepping away from you (and yet, it happens far too soon, at the same time). “That’s really good.”
A grin spreads across Sam’s face and you feel yourself responding without any hesitation.
Your body feels healed.
Miraculously, your mind is getting there as well.
“It won’t even last that long, I swear.”
“C’mon, I really need you.”
The gears that keep your brain functioning catch on that particular phrase in a way they shouldn’t, and the brief moment you need for recovery is all Sam needs to deliver the final blow, complete with a protruding lower lip that she knows very well you’ve always had a hard time saying no to.
“Ugh. Fine. I don’t see why this is necessary. You’ve been filming people for months.”
“But I like filming you. And besides, you know this stuff better than anyone.” She winks and flips the side display of her camera open, settling herself on the arm of the chair that rests along the same wall as the desk behind which you now sit.
“What do you want me to talk about?”
“Everything—Roanoke, Croatoa, all the weird shit that went down, your theories and thoughts and… Well, whatever you’d like!”
The red light blinks on, and it’s a good thing Sam’s more than decent at editing, because the shot begins with you rolling your eyes.
“Fine. I’m sure you have plenty of background information on the colony and the basic facts and speculation behind the disappearance, so I will supplement that with some facts that have not likely been brought up in your previous sessions. As you know, the Roanoke colony was founded in 1585, but the particular group of interest is the one lead by John White, who brought an entirely new group of colonists to the island in 1587. They were as hopeless as the first group of colonists, of course, so they shortly after urged White to set sail for England to collect supplies and aid. He left, leaving behind his granddaughter, the iconic Virginia Dare—famous of course, for being the first English child born in the Americas— and all the others. But when he returned in 1590, the colony was deserted—not a trace of a single colonist to be found. The only clue was the word ‘Croatoan’ carved on one of the fort posts, and the first three letters of, presumably, the same word, carved into a tree.
“But this is information you know. The interesting bit comes from Dr. Abernatch’s research. Nearly a hundred years later, you see, colonization was still, of course, very much ongoing, to the point that even the Germans were taking part in the exploitation. Of course, German occupancy was mostly located in Africa, but of special note were those involved in the slave trade, which the Germans thought would benefit from having a base on one of the Caribbean islands. The more well-known result of this was the Brandenburg colony on St. Thomas, which was essentially rented from the Danes. It ended poorly for the Germans, and the colony only lasted for a short while, but during this time, ships traveled in between the colonies in Africa, and the one on St. Thomas.
“This is mundane and not of any use to us, aside from the fact that ships were occasionally lost while undertaking this journey, and one of these ships belonged to the otherwise historically inconsequential Joachim Falk, who was transporting a small shipment of slaves in 1688 when something went horribly wrong. What went wrong, exactly, is unknown. What is known is that Falk was found by the British colonists of the Albemarle Settlements, washed up on the banks of the Chowan River, absolutely stark, raving mad, repeating a single phrase over and over again, ‘sie ist der schlssel’; meaning, ‘it is the key’.
“There was a colonist who understood bits of German who tried to get more of the story out of Falk, with little success. In fact, aside from ‘sie ist der schlssel’, Falk only spoke a few other terms, translating to ‘white woman’, ‘spear’, ‘cave’, and ‘island’. He died shortly after, and the story would have been lost to us, if not for that settler who spoke limited German recording the event in his journal—a journal that, through a twisted series of inheritances, ended up in Dr. Abernatch’s possession when he was a young man, first investigating the Roanoke colony disappearances.
“It is Dr. Abernatch’s hypothesis that the fate of Joachim Falk is connected to that of the Roanoke settlers, for finding a white woman east of the Albemarle Settlements would have been… well, there were no settlements in the direction Falk had presumably come from, aside from the abandoned one at Roanoke. It stands to reason that this key he spoke of, especially when viewed in the context of his own and unexplained madness, could be that to the mystery of the Roanoke colony, whether that key was related to the woman, the spear, or something else entirely. It could also presumably be truly mad ravings, in which case all of this would be a colossal waste of time, but…”
You trail off, taking notice of your surroundings for the first time, and more specifically, the odd look in Sam’s eye as she watches you on the fold-out screen of her camera. It throws you off-balance, because you’re not sure that you’ve seen that particular look on her face before, at least not with that same level of intensity, and you don’t know what to make of it.
You realize, belatedly, that you’ve probably just ruined a take for Sam, but the girl doesn’t seem to mind in the least, glancing up from the screen to look at you, only emphasizing the strange glint in her eyes and (upon further inspection) the faint blush to her cheeks.
“It’s just… you light up, you know? When you get caught up in this stuff. I haven’t seen it in a while and I forgot how it makes you light up and I…”
Sam’s eyes do not leave yours and you find you can’t look away; there’s something behind them—something that needs to be uncovered and deciphered and examined but you just can’t quite…
The moment is broken when Sam blinks and shakes her head, turning off her camera as she stands. “It’s good film, is all. Really good film. And I think I’ve got all I need from you for now, Lara. So I’ll leave you to your research for a couple hours. But then dinner, okay?”
You should say something, you think, but the words slip from your skull—before you can figure out what they might even be—and remain unsaid.
In early Mesoamerican cultures, courting was done through the use of a professional matchmaker, called an ah atanzah. To not use one was a sign of dishonor and pettiness on the part of the groom, and such matches were rarely a success.
In the 17th century, Welsh men would express their intentions by offering the object of their affection a lovespoon—a fastidiously detailed wooden spoon, carved by the admirer for his lady love. Should the spoon be accepted, marriage plans would result.
In Finland, up through the 18th century, unmarried girls wore a sheath on their girdles, and interested males would construct or (if not possessing of the proper skill) buy a puukko knife to fit into that sheath; the offer could be denied or accepted, of course, but once the knife was placed, the couple was considered betrothed.
In 19th century rural Austria, an unmarried woman was required to keep an apple slice under her armpit during formal dances. To any man who caught her eye, she would bestow this honor, and should he find her attention favorable, he would then eat the slice of fruit to signify his interest.
You know all these courtship rituals and more.
But you still feel at a complete loss when it comes to telling Samantha Nishimura how you feel.
You think it can wait.
(Hope it can).
Because you’re not ready, and you’re not quite sure why.
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