Note: Special thanks to the individual who suggested this as a "What If" vignette; you know who you are :)

Vig #18 – Unexpected

Sam followed Carter to the swimming pool, stopping just inside the gate as she looked about for the popular girl who was the object of their search. Casting a sidelong look at him, she spied the popular girl on the other side of the pool and a sense of the surreal struck her. Carter was crazy if he thought Shelby wasn't going to chew him up and spit him out.

"I cannot believe you're going to tell Shelby it was you."

"Sam," Carter touched her elbow, drawing her attention back his way. "Once she realizes that she's found her Zorro, she'll be... thrilled."

Sam secretly doubted it, but she wasn't about to burst his bubble. Carter's optimism was one of the things she liked best about him.

He grinned, confident. "Watch... and learn."

Sam waited where she was, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned against the gate, unwilling to subject herself to the kind of humiliation she suspected Carter was courting. Her eyes widened in surprise when Carter approached Shelby, bending to kiss her hand and covered her mouth as Shelby snatched it away.

Here it comes, she thought miserably, cringing for her friend - only nothing happened.

Shelby froze as Carter, she could see, dropped the "Z" word with a slightly less certain smile. The popular girl glanced to her friends and then back to Carter and then, to Sam's surprise, repeated his admission. She could almost hear Shelby's incredulity.

"Zorro? You're Zorro."

Sam saw Carter nod braced herself for the worst... and nearly fell over when Shelby gave her friends a rude gesture and smiled - actually smiled - at Carter. She couldn't begin to guess what was going through the other girl's mind, or Carter's, but Shelby then pulled Carter away, leaving her friends behind.

Blinking in surprise, Sam watched as Carter went with Shelby willingly, tilting his head attentively to whatever she was saying. It looked something like... "Oh... my God! You? Really? Wow... I've been dreaming of you all weekend." or something. Carter was over the moon, his grin wide, as he disappeared on the other side of the pool with Shelby, ditching Sam without a second thought.

With a shake of her head, her gaze slid back to Shelby's friends, managing not to laugh at their stunned expressions. Shelby and Carter. Who knew?

Still... she was glad the normally shallow girl had proven to have hidden depths; that she hadn't torn Carter's heart out of his chest, stomped on it and given it back with a smile. If Shelby could accept someone as radically different as Carter, surely Austin - whom she knew far better than Shelby - could accept someone like her.

Right?

Squaring her shoulders, she turned on her heel and left the pool area. Carter wasn't going to be coming back for her any time soon with Shelby as a distraction and Sam, for the first time since she'd dropped her phone, found herself wishing that she had it. It had been nice not to be pestered since losing it - by Fiona or Nomad - and all of a sudden she wished she could ask him where he was. Where he could meet her; because she felt she needed to do this now while Carter's success was ringing in her ears.

If I were Austin, where would I be?

It felt strange thinking it, but Sam knew it was the question that needed answering. She paused in the main courtyard, looking around at a loss, only to have her eyebrows hit her hair line as she took in Dave, Ryan and Austin at the friendship circle. Standing queued up beyond them was a long line of girls - and David seemed to have a place card for each one.

A laugh gurgled up in her throat as she realized what she was seeing; a Cinderella search courtesy of David and Ryan.

Poor Austin!

As David was introducing one of the girls, the warning bell rang, catching her attention, but the guys and their line up seemed oblivious. At least until Ms. Wells jumped in, like a dog catcher wielding a net, and scattered them to the four corners of the courtyard.

Two minutes until class if her mental count was right, and Austin was being given a 'pep talk' by David; Ryan's encouragements seemed to be there to temper David's enthusiasm. Taking a deep breath and buoyed by Carter's success with Shelby, she planted herself in the center of the pathway that the guys were walking, Austin obviously the focus of their attention.

It wasn't until they were closer that Sam noted how dejected Austin looked; not amused as she'd have expected. Bracing herself, she squared her shoulders. She'd have preferred to do this without David or Ryan present - and then her courage deserted her as they noticed her and moved to go around.

Accidentally, because suddenly she didn't want to subject herself to David's ridicule, she move the same way as Austin and nearly tripped him up.

She stumbled.

He stumbled.

And Austin recovered first, reaching out to steady him. "Woah! Easy there."

Blushing, her face now the color of crimson, Sam ducked her head. She apologized without thinking, making to move away, "Sorry, Nomad."

"Watch where you're going, Diner girl," David scolded, "You-"

It was the diatribe she'd been trying to avoid, but Sam found Austin had caught her, his fingers having curled about her forearm, his eyes narrowed when she glanced up to meet them. David's comments drifted beyond her and, for the first time she could remember, she didn't hear everything he'd said.

"What did you call me?"

Austin's question was almost lost under David's scathing tone, but Sam caught it none the less. And it was only then she realized what she'd said. Her gaze flew to meet his squarely, her eyes widening with fear as she tugged on her arm; but Austin wouldn't let her leave.

"Dave," Austin's sharp tone cut through the scathing comment the other boy had been making.

"Yeah, bro?"

"I don't need you to harp on her for me; I can do that on my own," despite his words, there was no harping forthcoming. "Give us a minute, would you?"

"Dude, it's Diner girl - and you'll be late for class. It ain't worth detention."

"One minute, man."

Austin tilted his head, indicating Ryan was to take David away - and the second string quarterback did just that, drawing a protesting David back into the school. It wasn't until they were gone that Austin's grip loosened, but he didn't let her go entirely, his fingers contracting again when she tugged half heartedly at her arm.

"You can let me go now, Austin."

"If I didn't think you'd bolt, I would."

Swallowing hard, Sam came to a decision; she'd made Carter a promise. He'd kept up his end o the bargain, now was the chance to keep up hers. Tilting her head at an angle so she could see him as clearly as he saw her, she nodded once, sharply. "I would; except I promised Carter I'd talk to you."

"Carter."

"Yeah; drama guy - went to the dance as my escort, Zorro?"

The long moment it took for her words to sink in had Austin exhaling sharply. There was very little emotion in his voice when he finally identified her properly. "You're Princeton Girl."

Eyes darting left and then right, Sam once again nodded - once. "I am."

His expression changed, taking her in from the top of her head to the tips of her feet, as if trying to resolve the girl before him with the girl at the dance. He looked for such a long time that Sam shifted her feet, her gaze on the doors to the school behind him.

When his gaze finally came back to hers, his comment was inane. "I didn't see you in my line up."

"Should I have been?" Her words, when she found them, were dry. "Your friends obviously set that up and they probably think I didn't even go to the dance."

"You mean they probably don't think about you at all."

"Do you?"

"All the time," he smiled faintly for the first time since stopping her and it held a self-mocking edge. "I just never knew it was you."

"I see. Still believe in love at first sight, Nomad?" her lips twisted. "It's a little cliché for my taste."

The bell for class rang, drawing them from their conversation and saving him from answering. Austin reluctantly released her, his fingers trailing over her forearm. "I've something that belongs to you; something you dropped at the dance."

"My phone!"

He nodded. "I'll get it back to you later, okay?"

"I..." Sam didn't have a chance to do more than start her sentence before he was gone. With a shake of her head and mumbling about frustrating high school boys, she crossed the courtyard at a full sprint. She was going to be late for class, but she'd done it. She'd told Austin who she was and now, even if he never spoke with her again, she could honestly tell Carter they were even.

Her stomach knotted as she slid into her chair in time to answer roll call, a belated shaking taking her by surprise as she opened her book to the appropriate page. She'd told Austin Ames she was his chat buddy and he'd not run screaming.

Amazing.

Yet, even as she marveled, she couldn't help but wonder if it wouldn't have simply been easier if he'd turned her away; things, she suspected, were about to get complicated.

fin