Lara tensed up the first time Sam hugged her.
Sam had dragged her out to see a film that was playing at the artsy cinema in Bloomsbury. She knew it wasn’t really Lara’s thing, but she was happy that Lara had agreed so quickly when she’d suggested it earlier in the day, while they were both queueing for desperately needed coffee.
They walked out into the cool night air, pulling their coats tighter around them. It was a clear late November night and there was a very definite chill in the air. Their breath was showing against the dark of the city.
“That was so cool,” Sam said. “I love the cinematography in Von Trier’s movies. I mean, it was super sad, but so pretty. I mean, I see myself as more of a documentary maker, but I would love to make something that provoked that level of emotion as well as looking as good as that …" Sam realised she was talking about herself quite a lot and trailed off, even though Lara showed no outward sign that she was bored. “Thank you so much for going to see that with me,” she continued after a few seconds, changing the subject. “I don’t mind seeing movies by myself but sometimes it’s so much better to have someone right there, you know?”
“No problem, and yeah definitely.” Lara’s smile was hesitant but visible.
Sam doubted that Lara actually went to movies that often at all, let alone enough to be able to easily compare going to a movie by yourself versus going with other people.
“Fuck, it’s cold.” Sam had bravely (stupidly) decided to still wear a short skirt despite the cooling temperatures.
Lara, who was dressed a lot more sensibly for the conditions in jeans, a sweater and a ski jacket, just laughed at her. “I did try to tell you, Sam.”
They walked quickly till they reached the point where Lara’s flat lay in one direction, and Sam’s in the other.
Sam moved quickly on the spot to keep herself warm. “We’ll catch up soon? Coffee?”
“Sure. Sounds good.”
Looking back, Sam didn’t quite know what made her do it. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was that Lara just looked simultaneously so huggable, and also so in desperate need of someone to hug her.
She took a step forward, reached out and wrapped her arms around Lara, and realised quickly that Lara wasn’t really used to being hugged. She tensed up, and for a second Sam really thought she’d fucked up. She hadn't meant to cross a line. Some people just didn’t like to be hugged, and she needed to accept that, but Lara’s arms eventually came around and hugged her back, even if the touch on Sam’s back was light and little awkward, and when they pulled away from each other, Lara was looking at her in that weirdly endearing way of hers.
It was probably okay. Probably.
“Um, so see you later.”
She walked very quickly back to her flat.
Sam put her head down on the keyboard. Fuck this. It was 1:30am, her friend Anton, who had promised to stay with her and help her out, had disappeared at midnight and not returned, and she still had so much to fucking do. Go to London and be a film major, her eighteen year-old self had thought, that sounds cool.
She didn’t like Past Sam very much right now.
There was a knock on the door of the editing suite. Sam jumped. Maybe it was Anton finally dragging his ass back to help ...
“Lara?” That was a surprise.
Sam got up from her chair and opened the door, and saw one of the most beautiful sights she’d ever seen. Lara with a shy smile, in her beat-up leather jacket, carrying two large take-away coffees.
“I ran into Anton and he said you were still at it, so I thought you could use this,” Lara said, as she handed over the tray into Sam’s eagerly waiting hands.
“Oh my god, you are the best thing I’ve seen all day.” Sam was torn between wanting to cradle the coffees close to her and giving Lara a hug, having now figured out that Lara was a slightly hesitant but not resistant hugger.
She put the tray down carefully on the small table just inside the door and stepped into Lara’s arms, wrapping her arms around her carefully and muttering “I am so tired” into Lara’s shoulder.
Lara’s arms wrapped around her. “I can stay for a while if that would help?” she said, to the top of Sam’s head. “I mean, I don’t know much about editing, but if you want the company … someone to keep you awake?”
Sam pulled away and looked her in the eye. “Oh my god, I would love that. You’re the best.”
Sam let herself into Lara’s flat, deftly balancing (if she did say so herself) the take-out, her messenger bag and the four large cans of Carlsberg as she turned the key.
“Lara?” She yelled out as she stepped inside, “I picked up Indian on the way, I got you saag paneer because you said you liked it from this place last time … ”
There was no response, which was weird. Lara had definitely said she’d be home tonight. They had plans to curl up on the couch and watch Whitman’s World together. There were many episodes on Lara’s DVR and Lara finally had a night off work and they both had no assignments imminently due.
Sam put the take-out and beer on the small kitchen table, and set down her bag by the wooden chair.
“Lara?” she called again, heading towards Lara’s bedroom that was down the short hallway.
She found Lara sitting at her desk, staring at the her laptop screen. She was very still. Something was not right, Sam could see that right away.
“Lara? Did you hear me?”
Lara shook her head, as if to clear it, and looked up at Sam. “Oh, Sam. Hi. I didn’t … " she wiped her hand across her eyes.
Looking right at Lara only proved Sam’s suspicions correct. Lara’s cheeks were tear stained, and Lara was not a crier. Sam? Sam was a crier. Lara bottled up her emotions in uncomfortable and unhealthy ways. She didn’t cry.
Sam went right over to her, kneeling down by Lara’s chair, one hand on Lara’s knee for comfort, feeling the rip in her jeans.
“Oh sweetie, what’s wrong?” She stopped herself asking if Lara was okay, because the answer was incredibly obvious.
Lara was quiet for a little while, looking in the direction of the computer screen, but not quite looking at it, obviously weighing her words.
“I’ve been busy all day …" she started quietly. “And I guess I didn’t really realise what the date was until I sat down to check my emails.” She rubbed her hand over her face again. Sam left her hand on Lara’s knee.
“My father died today. I mean it happened years ago, Roth has basically raised me since I was 11, and some years I don’t think about it as much, but …”
Sam didn’t know much about Lara’s father, just that he was an archaeologist too, and came from money. Money which Lara had decided to renounce. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise. Were you close?”
“No.” Lara laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “After my mother died he became obsessed with some weird theories and spent longer and longer away from home, tracking things down. He used to bring me gifts from his trips, but even they stopped after a while.” She paused taking a deep breath. “Roth has been more of a father to me than Richard Croft ever was, but today … today I’m sad about him because Roth sent me a scan of a photo he found of us all together with my mother.”
Sam slowly rubbed her knee. “I don’t know what to tell you, sweetie. Families are weird, and you can’t help the way that you feel. You just need to ride it out.”
“Feelings fucking suck, Sam.” Lara laughed again, but this time there seemed to be some humour behind it.
“They really do.”
Sam stood up slowly and grabbed Lara’s hand, pulling her towards her bed, which was only a few steps away in the small bedroom. Sam sat down on the edge of it. For a second she thought Lara wasn’t going to move, but she sat beside Sam with a bit of a thud on the mattress.
Sam wound her arm around her and rubbed her back. Lara just let her do that for a while, Sam just listening to Lara breathe in and out, before she curled up a little and rested her head on Sam’s shoulder.
They stayed there for a long while. Thankfully, curry warmed up well, and Whitman could wait.
Backpacking had been Lara’s idea. Of course. But Sam had let herself be talked into it because she didn’t want to be nagged into seeing her Mom or Dad over the summer break in whatever city they were living in at the moment. While there would be a few brief moments when they’d be all happy to see each other, it was never going to end well. She’d been through all this before, and now she knew better. Best to avoid it all together.
Also, Lara had seemed so excited to check this place out, and the stories she told Sam, curled up on one end of her raggedy couch in her apartment, reading enthusiastically from a huge archaeology book balanced on her knees, punctuated with huge smiles, even had Sam intrigued.
So she’d agreed, and one plane ride and rickety bus journey later, they were walking, boots, packs, tents and all.
The path wasn’t very steep, but it was a bit of challenge and took them pretty close to the edge of a cliff. The sun was high in the sky, and Sam was hoping they’d find somewhere shady to stop for lunch, but looking ahead on the trail, she wasn’t sure shade was in their immediate future.
Sam had her camera out and was snapping pictures every now and then, taking video when Lara paused to tell a story about a particular viewpoint or something that they might have been able to see if they had been on this path two hundred years ago. Lara didn’t think she had much of a gift for telling archaeology stories, but Sam disagreed. She not so secretly wanted to do a documentary starring Lara one day. She'd told Lara this one day when they’d been a little drunk, and Lara had gone red and told Sam not to be stupid, but Sam hadn’t let go of the idea. One day.
They went around a corner, and there was a really nice shot, framed by the forest on one side of the valley and some interesting rocks on the other. Sam stopped to set up her shot, not quite realising where her left foot was.
It happened quickly.
Sam was usually very good about stepping exactly where Lara had and keeping her head up but she was distracted by the shot in front of her, wanting to get the angle just right, and then she overbalanced and she was slipping.
Shit that was pretty far down. “Fuck” she cried out, and tried to counterbalance her fall, but her pack was working against her, and she felt the world tip a little and she overbalanced very much the wrong way, the way that led over the cliff ...
… until she felt her arm wrench and Lara had grabbed her, grappling her firmly by the wrist and lower arm and pulling her - pack and all - towards Lara in a hurry, back onto the safety of the track, in quite a feat of upper body strength. Those push-ups, sit-ups and yoga moves that Lara did every morning certainly paid off.
Sam’s heart was hammering in her chest. Holy fuck, that was close. Too close.
“Oh my god, Sam! Are you okay?” Lara’s was crouched down beside her, hand on the side of her face, warm and sweaty. Sam hadn’t seen Lara look so worried. Ever.
“I - I think so,” Sam said, between sucking in deep breaths.
Quickly Sam found herself pressed up against Lara’s chest, Lara holding on to her just on the tight side of comfortable. “Fuck, Sam, I was scared I’d lost you. I don’t know what i would have done …”
Eventually Lara let Sam go, but she kept a hold of the hand that she had minutes before grabbed to save Sam’s life as they kept walking.
Sam took few photos and was very careful to step where Lara had.
They stopped early for the night and slept cuddled closer in the tent than they had the night before. Lara’s sleeping bag right up against Sam’s back.
Sam thought she felt Lara looking at her in the night, checking to see that she was still there and in one piece.
They were hanging over a rail on the dock, looking at the Endurance on the water, standing so close that their arms were rubbing together.
“This is it,” Lara said, quietly. “We’re really doing this. Going to find the lost city of Yamatai.”
“Hell yes we are!” Sam said, bumping their shoulders together.
Lara looked over at her, and Sam noticed she was chewing her lip. Sam turned her around so they were facing one another, grabbing both of Lara’s arms and looking her right in the eye.
“Lara, it’ll be fine. Come on. You’ve planned and researched an insane amount. You’ve done as much as you can. It’s time to get this show on the road.”
“I know, I know, I’m just nervous.” Lara blew away the lock of hair that had fallen across her face. “What if something happens, or we don’t find it and we’re just burning your family’s money away …”
“Lara, you know you’ve got Roth, and Jonah —”
“And you,” Lara interjected. It was a statement, not a question.
Sam pulled her closer and gave her a crushing hug, burrowing into Lara’s jacketed shoulder. “You’ve always got me.”
Lara held her close for a long time, longer than Sam thought she would, and she felt Lara’s lips press into her temple.
“I’ve always got you.”