There's always that moment when Sam's in company and one of the people she's with realises that no one else is around or paying much attention. That's when they lean in and ask: "What was it really like on Yamatai?"
Sometimes the questions are more specific. Sometimes people want to know about the greatest danger she faced or the most horrifying thing she encountered. Sometimes they want stories of heroics, of survival against the odds.
The first time it happened, Sam had responded to a moneyed young man at a charity dinner by saying that it might be like getting stabbed in the balls with a dirty steak knife and, by sheer luck, they were in a position to test that theory.
He'd left her alone pretty quickly after that.
Later, with the benefit of time and therapy, Sam would find a way to laugh it off, point them at the documentary, or the old interviews she gave that still float around on Youtube. These days, Sam just puts on a grin and tells them they can read about it in her book, and ask if they prefer digital or the feeling of a hardback in their hands.
Sometimes, though, they ask about her. Were she and Sam close? Does Sam ever hear from her?
Sam has to fight not to tell them the truths she and the other survivors left buried on that island. Sometimes she has to fight not to talk about her, because Sam knows that once she starts talking, she won't stop. Because when it comes to her, Sam has no easy answers, no defences, too much and nothing to say. Because the truth is, it's been three years, but Sam thinks about her every single day.
Imagine you've been kidnapped by maniacs, rescued--only to discover that in the attempt, some of your friends have died--then betrayed by someone you trusted and dumped back into the hands of the maniacs again.
Imagine that your ancestor was not a glorious leader but a witch, a demon queen, an immortal parasite. Imagine that you were going to be erased, and that your body would become the medium through which said parasite--an ancient evil of terrifying power--would be reborn into the world. Imagine you'd just discovered, on top of all that, that you didn't have a soul, but that you were a soul. The context of that discovery is that the body that you had believed to be you was just real estate you'd been leasing, and you were about to be evicted.
Imagine that you had been dragged to an ancient temple at the top of a mountain by a fanatical cult of maddened, broken castaways, so that they could perform a ritual that would destroy your soul--destroy you--so that they could bring Himiko the Sun Queen out of her cursed sleep and let her walk the earth again. Imagine the power she wielded in near death, the power of the storms that kept Yamatai isolated, the power over death itself that kept her trapped in a corpse and kept the souls of her warriors preserved in deathly physical shells.
Imagine the power that she could wield if she was free to walk the Earth again.
Imagine what it would feel like to lie on an altar in a raging storm, surrounded by an army of heavily armed cultists and an even larger army of ancient undead warriors, knowing that your final moments of life were upon you. Imagine knowing that there were only a few people on the planet who might be able to help you. Imagine knowing that they were at the foot of the mountain, on the wrong side of two armies and two different forces of nature. Imagine coming to the understanding that, realistically, no one was coming. Not through all the forces arrayed against them.
Then realise that all of this happened. And realise that someone did come for you.
Someone climbed the mountain, in defiance of the storm that hurled men and monsters and even pieces of the mountain itself to the ground. She was too stubborn to yield to a mountain, too resilient to fall to a storm.
Understand that enemies lay in wait for her. Desperate men and monstrous creatures of bone and withered sinew with no fear in them stood against her. Swords, bows, guns, knives, clubs, flames, explosives...all of those were arrayed against her. But she carried death in her hands and the fearless learned to fear her, and even the deathless fell before her. For of all the deadly things on Yamatai--the traps, the monsters, the beasts, and the men who were a combination of all those other things--she was the deadliest of them all. She had been refined in their crucible and now her fury and her vengeance was upon them, because they had taken you.
Because they had chosen to stand between her and you.
Realise that she was wounded: a mass of cuts and bruises, strained muscles, a serious abdominal wound only partly healed, in the early stages of infection. Realise that she was grieving, that she had had too little sleep, too little food, too much loss. Realise that she carried guilt for every death that had occurred since your ship had been broken by the storm. Realise that her weapons were nothing more than things she had been able to scavenge and improvise over the previous days.
Realise that her weapons were her will, her wits, and her inability to accept even one more loss. Realise that those things, those human things, she pitted against evil for you.
Realise that when Himiko pushed her fingers into your soul and began to tear you apart, that when you screamed for a saviour, when you had almost no hope left...you still had hope that she would come. She was the one who saved you the first time, after all, when it seemed impossible. It seemed even more impossible now, but you still had hope that you she would save you.
And she did.
She climbed the mountain and became the storm, falling upon those who sought to harm you. She came for you, and she had death in her hands for everyone but you. When it was over, even the mountaintop was shattered, even the storm was broken, and no one and nothing else was moving.
She walked away, the skies clearing above her, with you in her arms. Her voice was cracked, raw, and achingly tender when she told you, over and over, that you were safe. That none of the things that had tried so hard to hurt you, to end you, would ever hurt anyone again. She carried your body down the mountain. Her voice carried you back to your body. She laid you down gently on the deck of a boat. She held your hand until you were awake and aware again. She held your hand until you felt life flowing into the veins in your fingers, your palm, bringing you all the way back.
Bringing you home.
Now realise that a week before that you'd been hanging out in the room you shared on the ship, both of you in your PJs, drinking cocoa from battered tin mugs. Imagine you had taken the easiest excuse going to touch her and were braiding her impossibly soft hair while she read and reread her notes, looking for mistakes she hadn't made. Imagine you were telling her dumb jokes because she was anxious and nervous and you wanted her to forget her worries for a little while. Imagine her laughing, giggling, blushing slightly. Imagine her gazing at you with gentle brown eyes, shining with affection. Imagine how young she was, how kind, how brilliant, how full of doubt, how full of hope.
Imagine in that moment how much you loved her, loved being close to her, loved the idea of introducing her to the world and watching the world fall in love with her, too.
Imagine two weeks later, sitting by her hospital bed as she fought off infection and a catalogue of injuries that would have slowed, stopped, maybe killed many other people. That maybe had killed the sweet, kind girl you'd called your best friend. Imagine hoping that she'd come back to you, after she'd had enough time to heal. Imagine hoping that whoever she was now, she'd still let you be her friend. Imagine how badly you needed her to know that you would always be her friend, that you would always be there for her, that if she needed anything, any time, ever, you would be there for her.
Imagine how much you loved her. Imagine accepting, in that moment, all of the ways that you loved her.
Imagine that she discharged herself from hospital while you were sleeping. Imagine that she left you and you didn't see her again. Imagine never getting to adequately thank her. Imagine never getting to tell her how much you loved her.
That's what Yamatai was really like.
And, even after three years of silence, that's who Lara Croft is to Sam.