A Croft Christmas

Note: This uni days one-shot takes place in the same universe as my other fics Can't Go Home and Easier to Run.

For a split second she panicked when she realised that her alarm hadn't gone off. Then she remembered why. She hadn't bothered to set it.

She rolled onto her back and blinked at the ceiling.

It was 8am on a weekday and London was silent. No dull roar of the urban ocean outside the flat. No traffic. No murmuring, clip-clopping pedestrians on the pavement. There could be only one reason for that.

She exhaled slowly and pulled the covers back up to her neck.

"Merry Christmas, Lara Croft."

She really didn't enjoy Christmas. Beneath all the hyper-consumerism and gluttony, it was a day for family, which made it an especially painful reminder that she didn't have one. It stung as much as the air that time of year.

And with it came the unwanted memories of all those Christmas holidays she was unable to join Roth, and simply stayed at boarding school – throwing herself into study and any solo physical pursuit she could think of. Girls would come back with all sorts of stories from their skiing holidays in the French Alps, or shopping expeditions in New York; Lara would have set a new school record for the barebow or cross-country mile. And, probably have already completed her 1 000-word essay on feminism and folklore revisionism in The Mists of Avalon.

Well, she wasn't going to let herself sit brooding over her melancholy past today if she could help it.

She threw back her duvet, pulled on a robe and went to make tea. She returned with her mug, a couple of Sainsbury's mince pies on a plate, and slipped back under the covers.

Normally her morning routine would include a run or a yoga session, but this was her Christmas present to herself. A good ol' lazy lie-in.

She picked up her phone and thumbed through the contacts list.

A familiar gruff voice answered. "Hello."

"Merry Christmas, Roth."

"Is that today?"

That sucked the momentum from the conversation.

She was about to respond to fill the sudden lull when he chuckled. "I'm only joking. Merry Christmas, girl."

She smiled. "How's Indonesia?"

"Warm. Too warm. I wish I was back home griping about the gas bill and the cost of a decent-sized gammon."

"Please wish Grim and the others a happy Christmas from me."

"I will. Oh, right, Alex said to wish you the same when I spoke to you. And to ask if you got his message."

God, Alex. It was obvious that he liked her, but she was completely disinterested. At the same time though, he was sweet and dorky, and she really didn't want to hurt his feelings. Which made being confined with him on the Endurance really awkward. At least it was easier to avoid him and his misguided attempts at impressing her when she was on land half a world away. Literally. Technical difficulties was always the easiest excuse to haul out when confronted about her lack of response.

Roth added, "I hope you're doing something fun with Sam today?"

She hadn't expected that question.

"Oh… yes, of course." She added swiftly, "You don't have to worry about me."

"I never do, Lara. You're your father's daughter."

"I'll let you get back to what you were doing. Merry Christmas, Roth."

"Good to hear from you, girl. Merry Christmas."

She ended the call. And was right back in the dumps.

A week earlier she'd actually, uncharacteristically, been excited for Christmas. She and Sam had been living together for almost 6 months and this was going to be their first holiday as flatmates. Lara didn't have a family; Sam was distant from hers, so they were going to celebrate together – be their own family unit.

The plan was to start the day with eggnog, open presents and stay pleasantly sozzled right through the day, including their small, shared Christmas dinner. The latter would be prepared by the friends together, and the end result would hopefully go unaccompanied by the usual array of burnt pots and roasting pans.

Lara had also been secretly entertaining a fantasy for weeks. She didn't believe that she could ever generate enough Dutch courage to actually initiate it in reality, but she liked to replay the scene over and over in her head. She would wait until Sam was her happy drunk self and then dangle a sprig of mistletoe over her head. There was no arguing against that. Eggnog. Snog. They were equally important holiday traditions.

Lara would make light of it as a one-time thing; Sam would chuckle and throw her arms over her roommate's shoulders... and no matter how chaste the end result, Lara would still get the one gift she wanted most – one that she had realised she craved only one month before.

Already they had put up a little tree and strung some lights – including across the Men at Work sign suspended above Lara's bedroom door. The little flat was looking quite festive, and Lara, for once, was feeling quite festive.

After an afternoon at the campus library – her never-fail happy place – she was humming as she hung up her coat.

While she was still busy, she felt arms ensnare her from behind. "Lara! You won't believe it."

The embrace made her blush but it also made her smile broadly – the perfect innocent cover for her real, far from platonic feelings.

She turned around to face her jubilant flatmate. "Hey, Sam. What's up?"

"My dad has arranged a surprise ski trip to Niseko for Christmas and New Year's. The entire Nishimura clan. My uncles and aunts, my cousins, even my obaasan."

The English girl's face fell. As did her heart.

Sam was still bouncing up and down. She seized her companion's hands. "Lara, you have to come; be my bastion of sanity amidst all the family cray-cray."

"I can't."


"Sam, I can't afford it." She extricated her fingers from her friend's.

That was the truth: Last minute, peak season flights would be hellishly expensive. And she refused to believe that Takahiro Nishimura, as much as he liked her, would pay well over a thousand pounds for her to gate-crash a family gathering.

Of course, as soon as the issue of money came up, Sam's jaw clenched. Lara supposed she should be grateful that her flatmate didn't start muttering "Call Mr Dorchester," which had become her refrain whenever Lara looked pained because of her financial situation. Sam just couldn't understand why her friend didn't take the easy way out and accept her inheritance. Along with Sam's relentlessly awful choice in boyfriends, the topic was the most frequent initiator of sulky, snappy rows between the two friends.

Still, the American girl had enough sense just then not to start a fight. She could see how the news of her suddenly changed holiday plans had deflated Lara.

Sam frowned, "Will you be okay, sweetie? I mean I know you were really looking forward to celebrating with just the two of us."

"I'll be fine."

"Honestly, Lara? Because I haven't responded to my dad yet. I can still turn him down."

"Don't be silly. This is your father reaching out; making an effort. Which is what you wanted. You have to go."

And that was that. Sam had left two days ago and Lara was once again alone for the holidays.

Back in the Christmas Day present – without a jolly drunken giant for a guide – Lara's phone pinged. She retrieved it from the side table. Despite herself, she couldn't suppress a smile at the message on the screen.

Merry Christmas, Pom:)

Lara wrote back, Merry Christmas, Yank.

I thought ud b up by now. Probab run a marathon or finished ur Masters thesis, amirite?

Just lying in bed, thinking of you.

Typed out, the truth sounded more jokey than tragic. She swiftly added a winking smiley for extra emo- and ambiguity-squashing effect.

LOL. What can I say? Its my superpwr.

The gift that keeps on giving…

Speaking of gifts, I thought we werent doing them?

I have no idea what you're talking about.

BULLSHIT, CROFT! I found da package in my case, hidden inside da smoking Dior I brght 4 Christmas dinner.

How curious. Did you open it? Maybe there's a clue who it's from.

I know exactly who its from.

The text was followed by a photo – Sam, dressed up to the nines, sitting at some kind of banquet table. The glamorous effect was undone by her wide-eyed, wide-mouthed look of surprise as she pointed at the gift in her other hand. It was kabuki-level overreaction, and the sight of her made Lara chuckle. Although it also needled at her heart, especially when she read the message under the pic.

Impossibly adorable more like… I love it, Lara! Thank you:)

The archaeology student ran her thumb over the image, wishing she was on the other side of the planet, squished at that very moment in a grateful embrace from her best friend.

She had hoped Sam would appreciate the gift: a soft, leather-bound journal embossed with the Nishimura name in Kanji. On the inside cover the English girl had also scrawled, "Now write it down! Love your impossibly nerdy flatmate."

She grinned as she reread Sam's response. Impossibly adorable more like…

Realising it was her turn to restart the conversation, Lara hastily typed, I know you like your gadgets for voice memos and notes, but the book is for your great ideas. Handwriting gives them the gravitas they deserve.

Thanks, Charles Dickens;)

Lara had to ask the obvious question. Are you drunk?

Only if its possible 2 b drunk on fried chicken. Jesus. Evrythng that went into that 3 mnth diet undone in like 1 hr. FML.

Lara laughed.

Anyway, gotta go.

Theres this cutie from Canada here & hes so out his depth with Japanese. Its adorable. Im gonna give him a helping hand so to speak. Get him up to speed with da local tongue & totally make his day;)

Ho ho ho!

Chat soon, babe.

Lara flopped back on the mattress. She could feel her smile beginning to wane. She didn't want to think about Sam getting it on with yet another bloke. And she certainly didn't want to think about Sam's tongue...

She drew the pillow over her face, and groaned into it.

No, Lara, just no. You stop your mind right there. Stop being disgusting. She's your best friend. Get a grip on yourself.