DISCLAIMER: I in no way or under any circumstances am claiming any part of the Tomb Raider Franchise. It is owned by whatever group of pure intellectual minds created it. In fact, I bow down and kiss the ground they walk upon for creating all that is Tomb Raider. Your devotees thank you and are humbled by your genius.
A/N: So, first of all, let me apologize for the long wait for this chapter. The past two weeks have been crazy busy for me and I wasn't able to do much writing. But, atlas, I could not leave my poor, faithful readers waiting too long for another update. So please! Forgive me! Just to show how sorry I am for keeping you all hanging, I murdered no gnomes since the last chapter. Now they sit around my living room playing on my gaming consoles and ordering delivery pizzas with my money. Now do you understand how sorry I am?!
Anyways, on the bright side of things! I officially have a new Beta! Everyone, please give a big thanks to Mddlmn23!
Now, on with the show!
In Her Wake
Chapter Three: When It Won't Save You
"Lara, we have to go!" my voice sounded extremely loud because of my close proximity to the internal microphone. The camera was angled toward Lara, as expected, but it was still able to capture the nervous glances I kept casting at the library's main entrance.
My best friend was taking her time packing up the ragtag messenger bag she's had since boarding school. I swear she must have found it on some mock archeological dig as a kid in some decrepit, abandoned schoolyard. Most of its edges were frayed, the material finally giving away under the weight of college textbooks and neatly filed binders. I eagerly awaited the day her persevering satchel bust open, spilling its entrails of research papers and ink pens.
"If you would just give me a moment, Sam…" Lara trailed off, clearly frustrated at my urgings. "And stop yelling. This is a library in case you've forgotten."
I hadn't, of course, and neither did the librarian sitting at the front desk. I picked up the video camera, toying with the zooming mechanism in order to better capture the malicious glare being leveled at me. "Yeah," I dragged out the word as I turned the video camera in my hands to catch the way I contorted my face into a comical expression, clearly ridiculing the elderly woman. I panned the display back over in time to catch the librarian's dismay. It didn't take long for her shock to morph into outrage at my actions. The unhealthy shade of red that her tired, wrinkled face had turned was alarming. "Sheesh. Someone needs to get laid."
"Who?" Lara asked distractedly, more focused on shuffling her papers around in their correct sequence. She was always so particular about unparticular things.
The camera continued to film as the librarian struggled to hoist her large frame from the chair beneath her. When freed, she began a quick shuffle towards us, pushing up the glasses that had fallen low on her nose with frightening determination.
"Alrighty then. Lara, we really have to go." I noted that the incoming lady had increased her awkward hustle by pumping her arms, her feet shambling across the carpeted floor with surprising speed. "Like now."
Lara took a deep breath, letting it out slowly before facing me. "Sam," she pronounced my name very deliberately, her tone one a parent would use when carefully explaining a difficult concept to a young child. "As soon as I get my stuff together, we—"
By this point, the bookkeeper's chin had tucked in close to her chest, strangely akin to a bull going in for the kill. Beyond caring that Lara was bizarrely irrational about keeping her papers as unblemished as possible, I snatched at the reminder of the pages stacked on the desk we had used and shoved them into the tiny camera bag dangling from my shoulder. Her incredulous expression would have made me laugh at any other time if I weren't so intent on making a speedy departure. I knew how to pick and choose my battles and this wasn't one I'd win.
Seizing Lara's hand, I all but dragged her from the library. Chancing a glance back, I saw the elderly woman waddle ever faster when she realized her target was beating a hasty retreat. Luckily, I had youth on my side and managed to safely burst through the double doors leading outside. Even with a protesting Lara digging in her heels, we managed to get a relatively safe distance away and thwart the librarian's pursuit.
Stopping to catch my breath, I noticed the camera had an unflattering sight of my blue jean clad knees and the pavement so I quickly angled it towards Lara. She appeared to not have even broken a sweat from the unexpected sprint out of the library. Such a contrast to my painful gasps that could easily be heard off screen.
Lara placed her hands on her hips unhappily while she waited for me to recover enough to explain myself. Wordlessly, I pulled out the crumpled papers from the camera bag which had somehow managed to wrap itself around my neck at one point in our grand escapade. The offered papers were a sign of truce but Lara still snatched them from me, eyeing their crinkly appearance distastefully.
"So," she began, fully intending to get to the bottom of things. "Care to explain what that was all about?"
I was about to rush into a full apologetic tirade when the last person I wanted to see showed up—Alex Weiss.
He always came looking for Lara around this time every day since he knew he could always find her in, or around, the library. He was the reason I was so anxious to get Lara away from there in the first place. He was why I kept throwing apprehensive glances towards any and all exits.
Should have known he'd find us regardless by using his creepy 'always-lurking-about-the-shadows-and-waiting-to-s trike' superpower.
"Lara!" He chirped happily, his megawatt smile already in place and cranked to its highest setting as he jogged over to where we stood. I was extremely pleased when I took notice that he was just as out of breath as I was. I realized that he must've run after us like a lovesick fool when Lara and I had taken off so quickly.
Lara, being the ever-clueless and courteous girl, greeted him with a warm smile that made my blood curdle with jealousy. I practically gag as he melts into a gooey puddle at her feet.
"Hey, Alex," she acknowledges. He stumbles and stutters out his own greeting, completely ignoring my own presence.
God deems fit to further demonstrate his dislike of me when the wind chooses that very moment to shake loose a page from the crumbled mess Lara still held in her grasp. The camera follows its motion as it flutters to the ground near her boot. Naively, she bends down to retrieve it, completely mindless of the fact that from this angle Alex has a perfect view of her cleavage. An ugly mixture of jealousy and protectiveness rears its ugly head and the camera quakes in my grasp.
I know I have to do something so in a stroke of ingenuity; I bodily block his free show by throwing myself at him in the disguise of a big hug. I hit him with enough force that the breath leaves his lungs forcefully and I silently rejoice inside at the painful bark that leaves him. My celebration is short lived once I realize that my arms are latched around his sweaty neck and his unruly hair is scratching my face.
Using the best cheerfully-fabricated voice in my arsenal, I exclaimed, "Alex! Aren't you going to say hi to me too?"
"O-oh," he stuttered stupidly, as if he's only just now noticed my presence. "How are you, Sam?"
I pulled away from him as if I'd been burned by his nearness, the camera thumped against the back of his head; completely accidental, of course. "Terrible. Just terrible," I lowered my voice conspiringly as I continued. "You see, I literally just started my monthly cycle and let me tell you," I paused to emit a short patronizing chuckle before turning serious once again. "It is gushing out of me."
"Sam—" Lara tried to intervene but I just raised my voice over hers.
"Erupting like a geyser, and the pain. Oh God, don't even get me started on the pain."
"I think that's enough information about that," Lara frantically interrupted my tirade. Alex just gaped at me, horrified.
As Lara tried to apologize to Alex for my unnecessary outburst, I wordlessly imitated the motions of stabbing my stomach with a knife while my face morphed into silent agony. Embarrassed, Lara quickly spouted out some excuse for my behavior and pulled me away by the hand. Alex was left staring after us disbelievingly, adjusting his glasses awkwardly.
Walking away, my inner wickedness starts up a little jig full of self-righteousness but it isn't long before the guilt starts picking away at my resolve. We're halfway back to our dorm when I begin to feel terrible about my actions once I realized how quiet Lara had been since leaving Alex. I couldn't help but lift up my camera in order to capture the indecipherable look on her face. Even with her face set in stone, walking slowly with the sunset at her back, she's beautiful.
If I'm honest with myself, I'd admit that Alex isn't such a bad guy and Lara could have done much worse. It's obvious that he's completely crazy about her. Plus, I guess he isn't totally lacking in appeal. I could see how Lara could find him attractive in that geeky, cluttered kind of way.
It just hurts to think of the two of them together. For as long as I could remember, Lara has never shown interest in anyone. She was much too involved with her books and part-time jobs and I was able to put my deeply rooted fear of losing her to another on the back burner. Now, it seemed I was going to lose her and I still wasn't prepared in the slightest.
I was broken out of my thoughts when Lara finally decides to speak up about whatever has been on her mind. She had been throwing wayward glances my way for some time as we walked quietly together, our fingers brushing every so often. "You like him, don't you?"
"Him?" I questioned, completely confused where this conversation was going.
"Alex," Lara stated, her face still uncharacteristically blank and carefully giving away no secrets. I'm in the process of trying to figure out how she came up with that ridiculous notion when she once again says, "You like him."
I cautiously scan her face and realize that I can't read her usually expressive eyes and it scares me. I'm trying to formulate something to say, anything to say, but I must have taken too long. Lara gives me this slow nod, like a confirmation or a promise before once again looking straight ahead.
I finally find my voice and timidly ask, "Why do you say that?"
She's quiet for a long time, our footsteps against the sidewalk the only thing to disrupt the awful silence that has descended upon us. She still won't look at me. "I'm not stupid, Sam. I see the way he looks at me and I see how much it hurts you. You had to practically throw yourself at him back there for him to notice you."
As soon as Lara's words trailed off, it was as if the floodgates that had been holding all her emotions back had finally gave way. A torrent of feelings crossed her face so quickly that I had a hard time identifying any of them. Lara quickly looked away but I was able to isolate and bring to light one apparent emotion; grief.
My heart broke.
I didn't bother to correct her assumption because if I told Lara that she had gotten it all wrong—that I wasn't jealous of her—that it wasn't Alex that I liked—then she would know. She would realize that it was her that I longed for. That it was her that I was completely head over heels in love with.
And she would hate me for it.
So I stayed silent and fought the painful knowledge that I was the only thing standing between Alex and Lara's happiness. I stayed quiet because I knew deep down that as agonizing as it was to be so unfair to my best friend, my heart would cease to beat altogether if I lost her to another.
It was dark by the time I dragged my weary body up the small flight of stairs to bang on the door to the humble two-story house. I saw a light turn on from somewhere inside before I could hear various locks being disengaged and the door was pulled open abruptly.
The porch light was switched on sharply and I had to shield my eyes for a moment. It wasn't long before I was able to make out the familiar figure standing in the doorway.
"Long time, no see, huh Reyes?" I waved awkwardly, giving a drowsy smile. I had been walking all day and most of the night to get here, only sticking to back alleys and not stopping to speak to anyone who tried to approach me.
"Sam?" Joslin Reyes stands in the doorway, quickly putting away the handgun she must have grabbed on the way. It seemed that Lara and I weren't the only ones to become a bit paranoid after Yamatai. "What the hell happened to you?! Is that blood?"
I glanced down at my clothes and tried to wipe away the stains of blood from my shirt. My half-hearted attempts were ineffective, of course, since I gave up trying to staunch the blood flow from the slice near my hairline hours ago. I had summarized earlier that I must have gained it when the shards of glass from my window rained down on me. Even now, the wound wept sluggishly, trickling blood into my eyes.
"What happened to her?" Another voice asked unexpectedly. I jumped slightly at the young face that appeared from behind Reyes, my nerves coiled and pulled taunt.
"Go back to your room," Reyes demanded, her tone brooking no arguments.
"But—" the girl, who looked no older than fifteen, began to protest.
"Not now, Alesha! Do what I say."
Alesha looked very displeased but wisely obeyed her mother's request. Reyes just stared me down as if I were some puzzle she couldn't quite put together until a door could be heard closing from somewhere upstairs. The ex-cop ushered me inside quickly, steering me into the small living room. It was cluttered but in a controlled chaos kind of way. Pictures of Alesha at every stage in her life hung on the walls and rested on end tables lovingly.
Reyes disappeared into the connecting kitchen where I heard the sound of running water. I stood in the middle of the room, dripping blood on the carpet and falling asleep on my feet. I was jarred from my exhausted state when Reyes appeared once again, several towels and rags in one hand and a bowl of water in the other.
"Take a seat," Reyes managed to request without sounding too harsh as she laid out several large beach towels where I was expected to sit.
When I finally lowered myself, my body cried in relief and I couldn't stop my eyes from fluttering shut. Unconsciousness was a very real and possible bliss that beckoned to me powerfully.
"Oh, no you don't missy. You're not passing out on me with a head wound like that," the ex-cop shook me until I opened my eyes. "Keep your eyes open and your head back."
Wordlessly, I did as she said. Now I understood why Alesha didn't argue too much with her mother earlier. Reyes was definitely not one to cross. Somehow I had forgotten this since Yamatai.
I hissed when a cool, wet rag was dabbed at the still bleeding cut above my right eye.
"Hmm," Reyes hummed approvingly after looking into my eyes for a long period of time. "No concussion as far as I can tell. So, you going to explain what the hell happened to you and why you showed up on my doorstep looking like some abused runaway?"
I was so tired but I managed to slur out my account of the absolute hellish experience I had been through. It was hard to believe that all of it had occurred just several hours before. Somehow sitting on Reyes' couch made it seem like it had been lifetimes ago. The ex-cop listened to the whole account in silence, a hard look in her eyes.
When I finished, she just kind of shook her head as if disgusted with me before saying, "Look, from what you're saying, this has obviously got to do with something Lara has gotten herself involved with. I think you have just somehow managed to get yourself caught in the crossfire. You need to go to the authorities with this, Sam. They can keep you safe until all this blows over. Did anyone follow you here?"
"N-no," I stuttered out, sounding way more uncertain than I meant to.
"Well it doesn't matter now. If anyone did, they already know you're here," this revelation threw Reyes into motion. Pulling her cellphone from the pocket of the night robe she wore, she dialed a number quickly. I was only able to catch Reyes saying, "Mike, there's been some trouble. I need…" before she disappeared up the stairs.
I sat in the comfortable living room quietly and I realized that all I wanted to do was sleep until all this mayhem that surrounded me disappeared. I was too exhausted to even cry at the unfairness of it all.
"Lara, where are you?" I asked the empty room. Loud footsteps on the level above me were my only answer.
Against my better judgment, I dozed off, the backpack still strapped to me pressing into my back uncomfortably.
I was shaken awake once again, coming face to face with a now fully dressed Reyes. "I've sent Alesha to stay with a friend and I have a couple of old coworkers camped outside, keeping watch on the house. We go to the local precinct first thing in the morning. Now, do you still have the cellphone Lara called you from?"
"Uh…yeah," I answered after my sluggish brain finally caught on to what Reyes was asking for. Reaching into my back pocket, I offered up the device willingly. "Here."
"Good," the ex-cop stated, already tapping away at the touch screen. "Go back to sleep. This will take some time anyways."
"Time?" was the only stupid question I was able to formulate with my muddled mush of a brain.
"I'll be tracing the call Lara made. If we're lucky, we can locate where the call was made."
"You mean we can figure out where Lara might be?" I asked; hope blossoming in my chest and bringing me back from dreamland. Finally, some good news to be had.
"Like I said, if we're lucky. It depends on a number of things but most of the newest phones like this one," she paused to hold up my cellphone, "make things a lot easier to track."
I silently vowed to do my best not to let this particular phone succumb to the same fate as most of my past devices; a long, painful fall to the hard ground.
"Now, get some sleep. If you feel up to it, you can take a shower in the bathroom across the hall," Reyes ordered tossing me a pile of folded clothes and a blanket. Once she left the room, I quickly changed, extremely grateful to lose the bloody clothes I had worn all day. I decided to forgo the shower until morning since I felt dead on my feet.
Stretching out on the couch, I stared up at the ceiling. Before I succumbed to sleep, I held an image of Lara in my head and hoped with all my being that she was safe.
Chapter Song: "Over My Head" by The Fray
A/N#2: Okay, so I must confess that a lot of my reviewers really don't care too much for the gnomes (which I can totally understand). Which is why I've decided to do away with the gnomes altogether. As of now, my new hostages are cutesy forest animals! Bwahahahaha! So save the Easter bunnies and baby reindeer by dropping me a review!
Now, be very quiet, I'm hunting gnomes.