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Gathering Storms

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The remainders of the Endurance's crew were picked up by a cargo vessel bound for Tokyo. Given the sorry state of their supplies, it had been a good thing, too. After a warm meal and a hot shower, Sam had slumped on the bottom bunk of the cabin she'd been given to share with Lara, and had tried to get some seriously needed rest.

Lara was still with the ship's doctor, and had been there for a few hours now. Sam tried to ignore the feeling of all-too distracting worry gnawing at her stomach.

Lara is gonna be okay, Sam told herself as she stared at the bottom of the bunk above her, her hands tucked behind her head while she tried to will herself to sleep. I mean, if Yamatai didn't kill her...

The injuries had looked so extensive though, and Sam had caught sight of the mottling of bruises over Lara's ribs when Jonah had tried to patch her up a little after they'd left Yamatai's waters. That puckered, weeping and angry red wound on her side had been practically the size of Sam's own palm, and the colour had slowly been sucked from Lara's face as the adrenaline faded.

Lara nearly killed herself for me, Sam had realised. In the silence of the cargo ship, she couldn't escape from the harsh reality of what had happened on Yamatai.

Every creak of the ship around her seemed to drag across her frayed and exhausted nerves. Panic would well up inside her, and for a few terrifying heartbeats, she was back in the Solarii fortress. The Solarii had caught her with the radio, and Nikolai had roared at her in Russian before throwing her against the splintering palace wall. His hands had wrapped about her throat, her vision had darkened, and then he'd spoken.

"We may need to keep you alive, but there are so many fates worse than death."

But Yamatai was over. Lara had scaled the mountain, ended Mathias and burned Himiko. So why hadn't the nightmares ended? Sam felt like - like she'd been nothing but a gullible idiot that whole time, and now she was paying the price for her ignorance.

During their early days on the voyage, Alex had mentioned Japanese government cover-ups and conspiracies. They'd all laughed it off, like it'd been a joke. None of them had been prepared for the horrifying reality of Yamatai. Alex and so many others were dead at the bottom of the island's reefs or murdered by the Solarii.

Once upon a time, Himiko had even been one of Sam's childhood idols. She'd looked up to the almost mythological figure, because who wouldn't have wanted to be a queen with magical powers? The stories had been so wrong about the Sun Queen, and so had Sam's grandmother.

It filled Sam with a cynical bitterness - cold reality had taken those childhood dreams and smashed them into pieces in front of her. Sam slung her arm across her eyelids, exhaling and trying to ignore the way her breath shook.

Crying wasn't going to do her any good, Sam knew that, but she couldn't seem to convince her body.

The almost whimsical legends that her grandmother had told her as a child had hinted at nothing of the rage and sheer sadism that Sam had sensed on that island. Himiko had hated everything with a blind obsessiveness - Solarii, Stormguard, and the whole damn world

Even having sensed all of that background static of Himiko's anger and hatred, nothing had prepared Sam for the full onslaught of emotion that flooded into her mind when Mathias had linked them together in the ascension ritual. The only way Sam could describe it now was that it had been like an avalanche of power.

The terrifying memory of the ritual made Sam's breath catch in her throat almost painfully. Along with that power had come emotion, and Sam had experienced everything as if she'd been Himiko herself. She'd hated everything with the same intensity that Himiko had - she'd even hated Lara. Maybe that was the worst part of it all.

She'd genuinely wanted Lara to fall, ripped from the mountain by the storms Himiko had summoned. It made her feel ill and untrustworthy. Sam rolled over to stare at the barred door of the cabin room, and she could feel her heart pounding against her ribcage.

It had been during the ritual that Sam had understood exactly what was happening - that the Sun Queen had been very much alive in that decaying, partially preserved body.

Himiko - whatever was left of her - had been completely mad, and had been that way for a very long time.

Sam kept trying to tell herself that it was over, and that the ritual had ended before the transferral had been completed. Some of her still wondered if she'd been infected by Himiko's bone-deep madness anyway, especially given the way she kept cycling through her own failures and nightmares obsessively -

Lara still wasn't back yet. No matter how much Sam needed her there, needed Lara to talk to her and to convince her that it was over and that the Sun Queen was really gone - there was really nothing for it.

It took some time for Sam to will herself into an uneasy sort of sleep, and it didn't surprise her in the slightest that her dreams were full of anger, twisted bodies and blood on the wooden palace floor.

###

The ancient palace smelled about as old as it actually was. The floorboards were rotten, the very structure of the building compromised, and Sam could hear it sway and creak in the wind as she stood at the open window.

Yamatai stretched out before her, deserted and abandoned. Sam knew with certainty that she was alone in the world, and she looked up into endless blue sky.

###

When Sam woke up in her narrow hospital bed, everything was dark. The walls felt close and the entire room felt almost claustrophobic - Sam had sat bolt upright in her bed, almost paralysed in fear. The air-conditioned air felt freezing on her sweat-slicked skin, and after a few tense moments, she buried her face in her hands.

Nightmares seem to be the story of my nights now, Sam thought miserably. Things hadn't exactly gotten much better since they'd left Yamatai and returned to Japan, and the awful feelings and horrible nightmares that Sam had hoped were just temporary had lingered on.

Her restless dreams were filled with harsh voices in Russian, tortured bodies, fire and gunshots. Those things were all terrible, but the worst part was always the Sun Queen. In the dead of the night, as Sam struggled to regain her bearings after a nightmare and blindly reached for her phone or camera... It really felt like Himiko was still there in her mind, sharing poisonous emotion as she pulled Sam apart at the seams -

Sam sucked in a shallow, painful breath. The air felt way too cold and thin, and it reminded her of the mountain air on Yamatai. She made her decision quickly - it felt like she was going insane. She had to get out of there and away from her dimly lit room where the Sun Queen's corpse seemed to wait in every shadow.

Her breath coming in short gasps, Sam swung her legs over the edge of the narrow hospital bed and pulled her IV line free with a shaky jerk.

Sam needed to see someone that she knew she could trust - Reyes, Jonah, Lara -

She made her way down the dimly lit hallways, wondering if she was just imagining the feeling of being watched or the crawling feeling of wrongness in the pit of her stomach. That feeling of mindless terror seemed to ignite like a firestorm in her chest. What if something actually was wrong? What if Mathias was somehow alive and was going to kill Lara as she slept, what if he was going to grab Sam and drag her back to Yamatai again? Those thoughts spurred her on faster, until she was nearly running down the quiet corridors of the hospital.

Swallowing her growing terror, Sam made her way toward the room she knew Lara had been placed in before the doctors had taken her in for surgery. Sam had memorized the number, and that deeply anxious part of her mind had been certain that she'd need it. As she skidded to a halt outside the room that Lara was supposed to have been returned to - Sam shook her head, feeling ill. The bed was empty and freshly made, and the room was bare of all of Lara's possessions. Her heart pounding, Sam turned around and began to run again.

Where the hell had Lara gone? Suddenly those paranoid thoughts about Mathias and the Solarii seemed less crazy. She feverishly checked every room for her missing best friend, the one who had been with her through it all and would understand exactly what Sam was so scared of -

She finally found Lara's room at the end of the hallway, and sagged against the doorframe in exhausted relief. There she was, unconscious, drugged from her operations and seemingly bandaged from head to toe - but there was no Mathias there to cut Lara's throat from ear to ear, and no corpse of a queen in the shadows.

Lara was still safe from Yamatai and Himiko's insane rage, and so was Sam.

If only she could bring herself to believe in that truth...

She lingered in the doorway, feeling conflicted as she watched Lara sleep. As much as Sam needed the comfort of her best friend's steadying presence, Lara also desperately needed her rest and she objectively understood that.

Sam was going to have to deal with this awful feeling in her gut on her own, and her throat began to feel raw and tight again. She didn't know what to do - she didn't know how to cope. How had Lara kept it together so well? What was wrong with Sam?

She couldn't bring herself to leave the room, and she shakily crossed the space to occupy the seat at Lara's bedside. Even if Lara wasn't awake to help her, the world didn't seem nearly so stark or terrifying, and maybe that was enough.

When Sam awoke at some early hour in the morning, she knew without looking up that Lara had awoken long before her. In spite of herself - and the fact that it was Lara - Sam sprang away from the mattress, crossing her arms against her chest and feeling blood rush to her cheeks.

"I just - I couldn't sleep and I -" Sam could hear herself trying to say, a million excuses racing through her mind in a blur. None of them seemed like the excuses of someone even remotely sane, so Sam shut her mouth and looked off to the side to retain as much dignity as she had left.

She could feel Lara's eyes on her, and it was weird to realize that her gaze had never before felt so weighty.

"Oh Sam. Come here." Lara smiled then, lifting her arms just a little and the invitation had been as clear as it had ever been.

Sam swallowed her pain and darted forward, wrapping her arms around Lara bandaged chest and shoulders in a tight hug that she wanted to last forever. Things felt so simple when she held onto Lara. The shadows in her mind seemed to ease, and some deep and frightened part of her mind felt a little less painful. Sam exhaled into the crook of Lara's neck, smelling disinfectant and cotton overlaying the familiar warmth.

So long as I've got her, Sam repeated to herself silently as she felt Lara give her a reassuring squeeze, Maybe things will turn out okay after all.

It was then, really, that she began to wonder exactly what it was she was feeling for her friend.

###

The old palace on Yamatai was deserted. Sam knew that she should have been bothered by that, but as she leaned out through the wide windows, she found that she couldn't summon the will to care. After all, she'd badly needed a bit of peace and quiet. The onslaught of the media and everything else had been close to suffocating.

The endless hounding, the slews of scientists, historians and even business corporations... It all seemed so far away as Sam looked up into those endless blue skies. Wisps of cloud had started to form, though, and they grew thicker and darker as Sam watched.

She shivered, a sudden chill forming in the air as the breeze picked up - what was going on?

When she glanced down to her hand, a red thread was tied about her finger in a looping but expertly tied knot. It didn't seem tight, though, and Sam's gaze followed the string until it passed over the windowsill and out the side of the old palace. From there, Sam couldn't make out anything.

She looked up again, crossing her arms against her chest and hugging her robes about herself tighter. The sky was darkening, and a storm was coming.

Sam tugged experimentally on the red string, and it gave easily. Satisfied with that, Sam hurried deeper inside the old palace.

###

The anger was the first thing that felt a little off to Sam, and in retrospect, she should have put the pieces together back then. The anger was both sudden and fierce, and it was mostly directed toward petty things that normally she'd never paid any attention to.

Once, Sam had a missed cab. The next time, someone had unthinkingly gotten in her way in the street, and then she'd received a latte instead of a flat white. She wished that it had simply ended at "petty and embarrassing" things, but the situation had only spiralled downward from there.

Sam's father - who had been so proud of her for making it out of Yamatai, and with a story that captured the world's imagination to boot - had started to disengage from her. Her mother hadn't said a word to her since Sam had thrown her new phone across the room, and no matter what she did, she felt more and more alone. She'd acted out before, of course, but half the time it had been a cry for attention from her less-than-present parents. Not actual destructive impulses that she could barely control!

This time took the cake, though. Her father had set up an interview with with one of his favoured journalists, and Sam hadn't exactly gone into it without knowledge. On paper, she'd been more than happy for the chance to sell her story of what happened on Yamatai - but she'd signed that paper over a week ago.

A week ago, things had not been like this. Somehow, things had changed, and five minutes into the scripted interview, Sam had just snapped. It was the false way the journalist had given her his sympathies for the dead, and had then gone on to insinuate things about excessive force and murder.

In her own eyes, her reaction - throwing her glass of water in the journalist's face before slapping him - had been completely justified. Nobody had moved to stop her as she'd stormed out of her father's news studio, and given the way her mood had blackened in what felt like seconds, it was probably for the best.

I just need a bit of fresh air, Sam told herself desperately as she made it out past the glass doors of the studio lobby and into the throngs of people in the street outside. Even out here in the crisp fall air, Sam felt like she couldn't breathe, and the tang of gas in the air and smoke from the oncoming traffic made her think of a burning, ancient palace.

A lot of air, Sam amended, feeling sick to her stomach as the people streamed on past her. She looked around her, and up at the skyscraper stretching on above her, before she started to run.

They - her father, the journalists that had been hounding her since she'd left hospital, even the people on the street - they had no idea of what a hellhole Yamatai had been.

They had no idea of what it had done to her, or of how close it had come to killing all of them. Lara had done what she'd had to do, and friends - people Sam had grown to love - had kept on dying. People like that reporter and all the historians hounding her had no idea of how Lord of the Flies the place had been, where men had been reduced to killers all in the name of the Sun Queen. People like her father and the reporters had no idea of what it felt like to have a crazy demi-god lodged in their mind, even for just a little while.

They still didn't understand what it had done to Lara - Lara, who would always carry the scars the Solarii and the Sun Queen had given her.

Sam slowed to a stop, her breath harsh and raw in her throat while her eyes burned with angry tears.

Lara, who was already planning another trip to escape from the scrutiny, another adventure into the unknown. She'd been looking at maps en route to Tokyo, after they'd been picked up by the cargo ship, and Sam had figured it out. Sam still wasn't sure how she felt about that - that Yamatai had burned away the Lara Croft she'd gone to UCL with, and that the island had awakened something brutal, awful and desperate in her closest friend.

God. Sam wasn't sure if she even felt properly at all, with all of her emotions buried under this stupidly hair-trigger temper of hers.

Lara hadn't asked Sam to go, nor had Sam asked to accompany her. She hadn't even asked for details - wasn't even supposed to know. It was the elephant in the room when Sam had stopped by her motel room the last time.

Sam kept telling herself that she understood, that no matter how bad things were in Sam's head, it wasn't Lara's problem to fix her. She kept telling herself that she loved Lara too much to drag her back to Yamatai, not when she seemed so determined to put those horrors behind her.

No matter what she kept telling herself, none of it made her feel any better and she had hurled her new video camera across her room. She'd rushed to pick it back up, but the old card inside was damaged and her files on Yamatai had become corrupted. She'd lost everything that remained of that trip.

The whole experience had been for nothing.

Conflicted, angry and hurt, Sam didn't see Lara off on her new expedition either.

It was only when Sam looked at herself, the pieces of her new camera in her hands and wiping helpless, angry tears on her sleeve, that she realised that she wasn't coping. It was a stunning moment of clarity in what had felt like endless, fuzzy anger.

Sam needed help, because Yamatai was poisoning her.

###

The shrinks that Sam ended up seeing - both paid for and hushed up by her dad's seemingly bottomless bank account - told her that it was classic PTSD. They talked about murder, torture, warfare, and how it was 'understandable' that she'd find herself angry, lost and confused by all that had happened. They linked everything neatly back to Mathias and the Solarii, and the atrocities that the work crews kept unearthing on Yamatai now.

Sam could understand those conclusions, she really did, because who was going to believe that the worst of it came from being mind-raped into near-submission by an immortal sorceress that had been trapped for a millennia in a decaying body?

It was crazy, even when Sam herself looked back, and she'd been there.

Sam was given strict instructions by the men with cold eyes and false smiles - she had to talk about her issues, discuss it with her loved ones, search for the flashpoint to her rage. She was meant to question things, keep a diary, and she had to call those same shrinks when 'things became too much'. It was all so damn complicated, but none of it ever seemed to help her. Not when she really needed it, when she woke up sweating and biting down on the inside of her cheek to keep herself from screaming.

None of what the shrinks told her helped the crawling memory of another thing in her head, mad and sapping away at the control she held over her own body while she wished death on her best friend.

Sam was pretty damn sure PTSD never involved any of that.

She wasn't sure what to do - who to talk to, what to say, what would get her help and what would get her dragged off into a psychiatric ward to live out another horror film of a different variety.

Her first thought was - as always, it seemed these days - Lara. Lara was gone, though, off on another adventure and Sam had no way of reaching out for her now.

A reluctant but fast-growing part of Sam hated Lara for not being there, to save her once again when it felt so much like she was drowning alone.

###

She dreamed more frequently of that ancient palace, the Solarii fortress where she had been kept by Mathias for 'safe-keeping'. The whole situation had been about as safe as Russian Roulette. In her dreams, it was thankfully empty of the insane zealots, and she could no longer hear the screams of the tortured.

Even so, the palace seemed all the more threatening in its deadly silence, and Sam had seen enough horror films to understand that things were 'too quiet'.

Outside, Sam could hear the gathering storms as thunder rumbled and the winds continued to gather speed, and she made her way deeper inside the palace to escape it. She wasn't really sure where she was meant to be going, but she continued on regardless, the rotting floorboards creaking dangerously underfoot and the sound of the storms fading from earshot.

Almost without realising it, Sam had found her way back to the old throne room - as she entered through the heavy double doors, she remembered that it had been here that Lara had rescued her the first time. With a bone-deep bitterness that surprised her, Sam knew that Lara would not be there to save her now.

She made a slow circuit of the throne room, her gaze sliding over the rows and rows of red candles set up against the walls in the Solarii's tribute to the Sun Queen. It was only when she heard the floorboards shift behind her that Sam whirled and looked toward the head of the throne room.

The Sun Queen was propped up on the shattered throne, her partially preserved body now rotting again in the warmth of the palace. The smell was overwhelming, and the room was filled with flies -

Red, silken thread was wrapped around Himiko's decomposing hand, mirroring the thread still knotted all about Sam's own. The Sun Queen's head rolled to the side, looking jerkily down at the red thread, as if considering it with her blank, empty eye sockets. She raised her hand, and Sam could see in gruesome detail how the thread had been wound through very flesh and those exposed, yellowing bones. Sam felt a flood of overwhelming terror as she felt her own hand raise into the air, completely unbidden.

Sam's breath came in ragged, desperate gasps as she stared into where Himiko's eyes should have been, and outside, she could hear the storm raging and lashing at the wooden palace.

But that thing on the throne room wasn't Himiko, not really, and not the one in control of the thread. Sam knew it with the certainty that only came from dreams.

"Many have given up their souls willingly for this," Mathias had said, and it resonated in Sam's head.

The palace shuddered under her feet as lightning cracked overhead, and Sam backed out of the throne room, away from the thing on the throne, and she ran with everything she had.

###

When Sam awoke from the dream, it took her a few long moments to realise that she wasn't clamping down on her lower lip - and that she wasn't screaming. Something felt horribly wrong, though. She turned the light at her bedside on, climbed out of bed and walked over to the mirror.

Her skin crawled and she clapped a hand over her mouth, her breath growing ragged and fast.

She was smiling - no, it was far worse because she was grinning. It took the rest of the night for Sam to rid herself of it, and in the pale hours of the morning as her face finally relaxed, she wondered if she was going crazy after all.

###

It was almost two months after everything in Yamatai went to hell that Sam's new cell buzzed in her pocket. Lara's familiar email address came up on her screen as Sam drew it out with short and shaky movements. She hadn't heard from Lara since she'd left on her latest adventure, and hadn't expected to for a long time. A big part of her just wanted to delete the email without reading it, but their battered bond of friendship won out in the end.

Lara was coming back to Tokyo, the email said in the familiar, almost rambling way Sam had memorised from their days back in college. Lara said that she had loads to share with Sam about what she'd done and where she'd been. More than that, Lara had missed Sam so much, and could they see one another since it had been so long?

As Sam had stared down at the cell's screen, she felt like she was torn between a million emotions. It was a war inside her between warm affection and cold, aching hatred. She didn't understand how it had even gotten to that point - how she could have gone from trusting in Lara and needing her, to outright hating her and wanting to turn their friendship to dust.

Maybe it's better if I just say 'thanks but no thanks', that I'm busy, Sam idly wondered, even if she'd made no plans and did not intend to. Maybe it'll be better to accept, show up and act like nothing is wrong.

Sam's grip on her phone tightened, and she stared down at the brightly lit screen without really seeing. Sam resented Lara for leaving, and the toxic emotion that had been so carefully dammed up in her chest hadn't ever felt to clear to her before.

Maybe I'll ask her 'why', Sam thought, a little savagely. Why did you abandon me? Why didn't you stay and help me, instead of running away to wherever the hell you went to hide?

Maybe she wanted to beg Lara for help. After all, Lara was the only one who really knew what insanity had gone on up in the monastery, who understood the nature of the connection that had been formed between Himiko and Sam.

Sam needed to talk to someone who wouldn't try to drug her out of her mind if she told them that she suspected Himiko was still in her head, lurking under the surface and in her very dreams. She needed to talk to someone who would get that it wasn't just echoes of memories left over from the ritual, but something far more sinister...

No matter how toxically angry she felt with Lara, there was still something horribly wrong with her. Sam tapped out a quick response and hit send before she could reconsider - before whatever lurked in her mind could make her second-guess herself.

If anyone could help her, could make sense of whatever was wrong with Sam, it was Lara. It was the only truth of the world that Sam had any remaining faith in.

###

The weather was dreary and bleak when Sam arrived at the Narita International Airport. The likeness of the weather to her mood was not a coincidence lost on her. The light, misty rain that had started up not five minutes after she'd arrived on the open-air observation deck had already soaked through her jacket, hair and shirt, and she really wished she'd had the forethought to bring an umbrella.

Sam tucked her hands further into the pockets of her jacket, and she shivered without actually feeling the cold. The observation deck around her was packed with people in spite of the disgusting weather. Everything - the wind, the rain, the rapid conversations of the people standing beside her as another plane landed on the runway - faded in and out. Sam faded in and out, caught up in the whirlwind of her own emotion.

The feeling of volatility from when she'd received Lara's first email had flooded back in force as she watched the planes taxi down onto the runways. It brewed in her like an approaching storm, and had only grown worse as she'd learned of Lara's flight encountering more and more delays.

Lara. When the name came to mind, Sam was filled with... the feeling of having been abandoned, flowing through to anger. But buried deep under that was love, dizzying and intense.

Sam remembered the old cliche, about absence making the heart grow fonder - but the thought was jumbled and unclear, half the words in her mind coming from an old dialect of Japanese that Sam has never spoken and yet somehow knew instinctively.

What's happening to me? Sam asked herself, watching another plane accelerate down the runway but not really seeing it at all. The old Japanese, the dreams, the anger - she already knew the answer.

Lara could help her, though. On Yamatai and even before all that, Lara had always been there for Sam.

Except for the part where Lara left me here for Himiko.

The abandonment, even if it had been completely unknowing on Lara's part, still hurt. The feeling rose up rapidly in Sam's chest, choking her like bony fingers wrapped around her throat -

The storms formed above them all without warning even as Sam shook herself to dispel the feeling. The grey clouds growing black and heavy, and thunder rumbled like an approaching landslide. Sam looked up, her breath hitching in her throat as she caught sight of the next plane, the dark shadows of the storm forming about it like a grasping hand as it began to land. It was far too late for the plane to pull out of the landing.

Oh god. Oh no.

Sam had no real way of knowing, but with a sudden nausea, she just knew that that was the plane that Lara was on. Raw terror rose up in her chest, and she clasped both of her hands over her mouth in horror as lightning cracked through the air behind the plane.

The plane landed roughly, and it skidded and wove on the slick tarmac until finally, it came to a shuddering halt. Smoke poured from one of the engines, and the tail of the plane was on fire.

Unbidden, Sam felt the muscles in her face draw back in a rictus, mad grin at the sight, and her mind went blank with horror.

The lightning, the sudden storm - it was a line in the sand, and Himiko's declaration of war on Sam herself. The threat was clear. Himiko could summon a storm to kill all of the innocent people around her - god, Lara too - and Sam wouldn't be able to stop her.

Sam had to leave the airport, had to forget her arrangement to give Lara a ride to her hotel, had to forget begging her friend for help.

She knew where Himiko wanted her to go, and she couldn't waste a single moment.

###

Sam packed her bags feverishly and lightly, taking only the necessities because time was fleeing her at a rate that Sam could hardly believe. God only knew how long Sam had before Himiko rose up again to swallow her - worse, she didn't know how long her parents would be out for.

No matter what she did or how fast she moved, Sam kept losing chunks of time and she had no idea of what was happening in those moments. She held onto her sense of self with her fingernails, and her acceptance of the Sun Queen's direction - run - was making things both better and worse.

Sam had just finished stuffing an odd assortment of clothing into her bag when she heard a voice calling out from somewhere inside the Nishimura building. Every muscle in Sam's body froze, and her hands began to shake.

Sam would have recognised that voice anywhere - from all of her fondest dreams and worst nightmares.

Lara.

Please, please don't hurt her. I'm doing what you want, just please don't hurt Lara.

Sam felt herself smile.

###

Sam's back was to the door when Lara finally found her. Lara had spent a good few minutes jogging through the over-sized and seemingly empty Nishimura building, before she finally arrived at Sam's apartment.

Maybe Sam had been sick, Lara had thought - maybe that was why Sam hadn't showed up at the airport. But it was just so unlike Sam not to have at least sent a message... She'd been sure that "meet you at the airport" was what Sam had sent to her. Instead of the reunion that Lara had been so looking forward to, the plane had had such a rocky landing. She'd felt tense for a good few minutes as she'd gripped the armrest of her chair, feeling sick with the too-sharp memory of the Sun Queen bringing the helicopter down, but in the end it somehow had worked itself out. When she'd landed, though, Sam had been nowhere to be found.

Lara had waited for a while, wondering if Sam had simply forgotten - she'd been strangely subdued in the few emails they'd exchanged - but when Sam had failed to answer Lara's follow-up call, she'd headed for the Nishimura building that Sam had set herself up in.

When she'd finally come across Sam, Lara couldn't help but feel a surge of relief.

Lara had to admit that she had been a little worried, but if Sam was home, then she was safe.

Wait a moment, Lara told herself, the darkness of Sam's unlit room beginning to resolve itself into detail at last. The room was a total mess, with clothing, paper documents and even camera parts strewn haphazardly about the floor. That was not like Sam, either - when they'd been to school together, Sam had always been tidy, if ultimately unorganized.

That was two strikes, two things that were very unlike Sam in quick succession. That survival instinct Lara had relied so heavily on, starting back at Yamatai, flared to life with sickening intensity, and immediately, Lara knew that things were definitely not okay.

Is it Yamatai? Lara wondered, shaking head as she approached Sam quietly. Abruptly, Lara felt a prickle of guilt - she'd been so focused on looking to the future and leaving Yamatai behind, on running towards that next adrenaline rush to lose herself in that she'd forgotten Sam.

That wasn't right of her, but if she worked to solve the unknown to take it out before it killed more of the people she loved - her parents, Grim, Roth, Alex and so very nearly Sam - then maybe things would be okay. She'd thought that maybe a good offence would make a great defence, as well.

Lara realised that she had been an idiot to believe that it would solve everything, but at the time it had seemed like the best way forward.

Sam was packing though, Lara noticed suddenly. Why? The motions were jerky and uncontrolled, and it rang alarm bells that Lara couldn't quite understand.

What exactly did she have to fear from Sam, of all people?

"Sam, I thought you were going to meet me at the airport?" Lara tried, careful to make her tone light and almost playful. She wished with a sudden fierceness that Sam would look around, that she'd smile and grab Lara in one of those all-too affectionate hugs.

There was no answer from Sam, and Lara cast another eye over her in the darkened room. Sam's shoulders were hunched and defensive, and there was a tenseness to her actions that seemed so off. The pieces tried to slot together in Lara's mind, but there was some vital bit of the puzzle missing.

Regardless, Sam was not okay.

God, Lara thought, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment as she rallied herself. What exactly has gone on here while I've been gone?

"Sam," Lara said again, because getting Sam talking to her was the first step. "Please talk to me. What's going on?"

Sam didn't answer, but her movements had stilled and that had to count for something.

"Sam-"

"Lara, please just go." Sam's dismissal of her - cold, but so scared sounding - made the hair rise on the back of Lara's neck, but she refused to back down as she laid a hand on Sam's shoulder. Sam tensed at the contact when she never would have before, and something broke in Lara.

"Whatever it is, Sam, I'm here for you. You know that -"

Lara did not expect the lightning. It was by gut instinct alone that Lara threw herself back as the window in front of Sam lit up like a beacon and exploded inward. It showered Lara with shards of hot glass and charred brick as she impacted on the ground painfully. The fall set Lara's mending ribs afire again, and she could smell the sharp tang of ozone and smoke - but she played dead, a skill that had gotten her out of trouble more times than she could count.

She could feel glass all over her. The shards had gotten in her clothing, caught in her hair, and some of them had bitten in deeply. No matter the pain, Lara still didn't dare to so much as breathe as storms rumbled outside the broken window.

She cracked an eyelid open as Sam swept past her, not even pausing to see if she was alive or dead.

Oh god. Lara did not like where her gut was telling her things were going, and it was only when she heard the door to Sam's apartment slam shut that she pushed herself onto her hands and knees and shook the shards of glass from her body and clothing.

She buried her face in her blood-streaked hands, her breath coming hard.

"Sam... Oh god, Sam, what's happened to you?"

###

Sam was running through the ancient palace, stumbling as the old wood gave under her feet with every desperate step. The red thread was tight around her hand, digging in deep until it almost cut the skin, but still Sam ran and tore at it.

The foundations of the old palace shook as thunder rumbled outside, and Sam wondered, for a few breathless and desperate moments, whether the entire structure would just collapse all around her.

Sam's breath caught as she spied flickering fluorescent light spilling from one of the doorways down the darkened corridor to Sam's right. It was so bizarrely out of place when compared with the candle light and decorative timber, that she ran for it immediately.

As she approached the room, she noticed that it wasn't even constructed like the rest of the Yamatai palace at all - the door swung open on heavy, iron hinges, and it was built from reinforced steel.

It was a door that Sam recognized from the Endurance, and as she darted into the room, the door slammed shut behind her. She spun as she heard gears lock into place, her heart in her throat. No matter how hard she pulled at it, none of the levers so much as moved, and a little out of breath, Sam looked over her shoulder at the room she'd found herself trapped in.

It wasn't just a room from the Endurance, it was the actual room that she had shared with Lara on the ship, before the Sun Queen had torn it all apart. Sam had no idea what to think, had no idea what it all meant.

Everything seemed in order, with not even an article of clothing out of place. Sam trailed her fingers over the ladder, over sturdy bunks bolted to the wall of the room. If she hadn't just been running through that old palace just moments before, if her hand wasn't still wrapped tightly in red string, Sam might have been fooled into believing that it was all real.

As it was, the room made her feel... safe.

Sam sank down onto the bottom bunk - Lara's, Sam realised vaguely - and with a jolt she realised that a battered, mud-streaked camera was propped up on Lara's pillow. Sam took it in her hands quickly, folding out the LED screen and hitting the play button.

The video began to play, blurry and indistinct at first as Sam settled herself back on the bunk. It was a video of her life - of her parents, her childhood. She saw her first day attending a private boarding school after years of tutoring, saw herself sitting around with her grandmother as she heard the story of the Sun Queen and Yamatai for the hundredth time. She acted out, played the rebel to hurt her parents and catch just a bit of attention no matter what it was for. The video blurred and jumped, repeating some sections several times and skipping past other things entirely.

She saw her days in at the last boarding school she attended - a last chance, and a new beginning. She saw it more clearly, and the video flickered back and forth over the day she'd first run headlong into Lara on the grounds. Sam watched her cooling coffee bursting free all over her hand and jacket as she'd bounced off of Lara, and the sight of Lara wincing, apologising and helping Sam to her feet seemed even more vivid than Sam recalled.

Sam watched the video run through Lara offering her own jacket to replace the one of Sam's she'd helped ruin. Even on film, the way Lara smiled, open, caring, so focused on Sam and Sam alone, still made her heart thump oddly in retrospect. At the time, she'd brushed Lara off with a sneer and a rude gesture regardless.

Lara hadn't been put off. Stunningly, she'd had gone on to become Sam's best friend. Even from the start, she'd always been there to lend Sam a helping hand.

But Lara had also taken the Endurance to Yamatai, and had set them all up to face the horrors of the island. Even though Lara had had no way of knowing what they'd sailed into, she had still been there to make things right, and she had still done her damnedest to make sure Sam made it off the island.

Sam thought that, maybe, she could spend forever just wrapped up in her memories of her childhood and her friendship with Lara. She could let herself admire that kindness, passion, flexibility and hidden steel. It was better than reality.

Mathias and the Solarii, the Sun Queen and the storms... Sam didn't want to think about all of that anymore. After having spent so long fighting back the unseen, she wondered if maybe it was time to rest.

Sam let herself get drawn into the video of herself and Lara backpacking around Europe, and forgot all about the ancient palace coming down around her head.