A/N: Starting this earlier than planned, as part of a challenge to myself to see if I can finish C:P before November. Wish me luck! :D (And feel free to let me know if you notice any inconsistencies. I'm writing this fast and a handful of details have been changed since I started.)

This story's got a bit of a mix of AU elements. The most prominent one here is that Sam comes onto the scene roughly two years earlier (I'm using season five time frame, though whether or not episode elements will appear is still up in the air).


Sam watched the shape dropping rapidly from the sky. He crouched, ready and tight as a coiled spring. He only had one chance, and he couldn't mess it up.

"Closer…. closer…"

Hands raising, Sam started a mental countdown.


His eyes flashed down, then back up. Last-second calculations raced through his head.

"Two… a-and-"

Sam's finger went down. His camera clicked in rapid succession, Sam's eye not leaving the view lens.

A screech echoed across the tarmac as the jet's wheels touched down in a burst of white smoke. The nose pointed briefly toward the sky before lowering to the tarmac.

As the jet coasted to a stop, Sam lowered his camera in satisfaction. He didn't have to see the developed film to know how it had turned out: crystal clear. His skills were good and his camera was even better.

His mom had had good taste in cameras.

Sam rose from where he'd crouched in the weedy stretch with his back against a chain-link fence. It was the closest the security guard had allowed him to get… and a little beyond that.

Sam stashed his camera in his shoulder bag to nimbly clamber over the fence. He dropped to the weeds, then trotted alongside the fence. Half a mile from the nearest office held the perfect vantage while conveniently being far enough that security wouldn't be able to be sure which side of the fence Sam was really on. Because, really, how did they expect decent photos shot through a fence?

Sam knocked on the door and waited for the guard, Niles, to open the door. Sam's happy grin faded when he saw the frown on the older man's craggy face. Maybe his perfect vantage point hadn't been quite as perfect as he'd thought. He opened his mouth to defend himself, but Niles interrupted by shaking his head.

"You like to get close, don't you?" Niles asked.

Sam blinked, then his grin returned at Niles' grudging smile. "The closer the better."

"Any closer and you'd be a pancake on the tarmac." Niles waved him inside. "I hope you at least got some good shots."

Sam hurried past, saying, "Not much risk on the pancake part. I've never seen a jet with such a short landing."

"Boss is pretty proud of it," Niles said.

A fact Sam was glad for. There wasn't much call for a sixteen-year-old photojournalist. Or any. He had more jobs with everyday photography, practice and pay he gladly welcomed.

Sam and Niles checked the film, both satisfied with the result. Niles gave Sam the agreed-upon pay, then offered to let him stick around. Sam gladly accepted the offer, eager to see more of the planes.

Niles brought Sam on a lazy patrol of the airfield. It was small, commercially speaking, but the range of aircraft was impressive. Sam saw everything from a one-seater crophopper to a big commercial plane that sat in a hanger, awaiting repairs.

Sam wished he could fly some of them, but was on the move too much to learn. He'd have to be satisfied with watching.

"Soon," Sam promised himself as the tour ended.

"Where are you headed next?" Niles asked.

"Wherever the road takes me," Sam said easily, though he was instantly on guard.

Niles glanced at him. "You don't live around here?"

Sam shrugged. "Well, yeah, I just mean for the pictures, you know?"

"Uh-huh." Niles studied him. "I didn't catch where you live."

"Didn't mention it," Sam said. He'd claimed to have walked from his home when Niles had first spotted him poking around the airfield. "I don't usually throw that little detail around on duty."

"Where do you live?"

"Well, he got right to the point."

Sam quickly pulled up the name of a random street he'd passed earlier on his way through the town a few miles away. He had a flash of panic when Niles just looked at him. Was his made-up number wrong? It would be just Sam's luck to have named the very street Niles lived on.

Niles finally nodded, accepting the answer. Sam mentally relaxed. All he needed was an answer to give Niles for the moment; by the next day, Sam would be far away, probably in another state.

Sam nearly frowned at the thought, but forced a cheerful nod and wave as he walked away. Niles was still watching him, looking as if he wanted to chase after him.

Sam wondered what he'd said or done to catch the guard's attention so intensely. It wouldn't be the first time someone had suspected Sam lived on the street, but Niles' expression was one of concern. Usually, people were just wary or suspicious.

But, Niles didn't follow and it wasn't long before the airfield had disappeared behind a strand of trees. Sam stopped and looked over his shoulder. His fingers worked worriedly, and Sam glanced down at the realization he'd plunged one hand into the pocket of his leather jacket. He slowly withdrew the object he'd unconsciously clutched.

It was just a Swiss army knife he'd found two years ago in a ditch. Nothing special about it. It had been rusty and missing the plastic casing. In time, Sam had cleaned away the rust and found the tools still in perfect shape. He'd whittled a wooden casing with the knife, and then painted them red. Sam frequently rubbed the tool when he was nervous, so the paint had been redone many times with whatever red paint he could find, leaving the casing an interesting marbled design.

Sam rubbed his thumb pensively along the latest groove he was steadily wearing into the paint. The motion was calming, and it wasn't long before he was able to get moving again. He slipped the knife back into his pocket and zipped it up.

Before long, Sam found where he'd stashed his dirt bike. He checked the sky, then winced. He'd spent too long at the airfield, so it would be dark soon. But with Niles' suspicion, Sam had to put some distance between them before he stopped for the night.

Sam started his bike and eased it onto the road. He took a moment to ensure his camera bag was secure and the Swiss army knife was safely stowed, then he gunned the bike and raced into the darkening evening.

Sam rode an hour before stopping. There was just enough sunlight left for him to find a patch of trees thin enough to roll his bike into their cover. He gathered a pile of fallen leaves before it was too dark to see.

"Need a flashlight," Sam mumbled to himself as he took inventory of his supplies by feel.

His shoulder bag was stuffed with his camera, film, demo pictures, and cleaning supplies. His bike had two saddlebags; one held extra clothing, soap, rags, his pistol, and a box of bullets, and the other held food, a repair kit, duct tape, screws, zip ties, two screwdrivers, and a bolt cutter. A flashlight had been included until a spill two days ago had broken it beyond repair.

Sam emptied his pocket to stash the money he'd earned into the dented flashlight shell. He then had to spend a few minutes fumbling in the dark to find the matchbook that had come out with the money.

Sam hesitated with the matches in his palm, then shook his head and returned them to his pocket. Niles had left him antsy about lighting an attention-grabbing fire. Besides, the sooner he slept, the sooner it would be daytime.

Leaves made a poor bed and blanket, so Sam was glad for the warm night. He burrowed into the leaves, his jacket wrapped tight to keep branches from jabbing him. Sam rolled onto his back and stared up at the twinkling stars until his eyes drifted shut.

Sam dreamed of fire. He always did.

Flames leaped to life around him, seemingly from nowhere. Sam's dream self ran from the flames, even while a distant corner of his mind told him it was pointless.

He didn't care. While his legs ran of their own free will, Sam scanned his surroundings.

Trees were all around him, close and narrow like a tunnel. The only way to run was forward. Fire roared behind him, licking at his heels with burning fingers. Sam wished he could run faster, but his legs denied him.

Sam's eyes flicked down to the rock in his path. He mentally screamed at himself to move aside, but was helpless to his dream self tripping over the rock, sending him tumbling to the ground.

Their prey fallen, the flames lunged. Sam's body flopped uselessly, only able to raise one hand, either to fend off the flames or reach for help that never came. All he could do was watch the flames wash over him, burning through his limbs, fire in his veins-

Sam jerked awake, covered in sweat and panting as if he'd really been running. Sam growled in frustration and rolled over to pound a fist into the leaves. It was the same as always.

Adrenaline coursed through him, forcing Sam to his feet. He tried to pace off the energy, only to trip over his camera bag in the pitch black

The dream had haunted Sam for two years now. Usually only once a week, but occasionally two nights in a row such as this night.

Sam shook his head and ran his fingers through his mussed hair. If he believed in such things, he'd say that the dream was trying to tell him something. But dreams were just dreams, and it was more likely that he'd had the dream again because he was stressed about Niles finding out the truth about his living situation.

Forcing the pointless speculation to the back of his mind, Sam laid back down. Adrenaline still had him on edge, but he needed rest. He'd decided while still half asleep that he'd push inland the following morning, to find a cooler state before summer.

No matter his efforts, Sam couldn't relax. The dream had put him absurdly on edge, making him feel as though something was missing…


Sam's hand clapped against his chest. He sat sharply up, panic running through him anew when he didn't find his prized locket where it belonged. He scrambled upright, then immediately wanted to kick himself. The locket must have fallen when he'd startled awake. Flailing all over would only make the locket more lost.

Sam sat still and made himself take a deep, slow breath. The locket wasn't going to run away on its own. He needed an efficient way to search for it. In the dark.

A few seconds later, Sam rolled his eyes at himself. He carefully reached to the side to where he'd set aside the larger branches he'd found while making his bed. He found a solid branch as long as his arm. Out of his camera bag, he pulled strips of cloth, the remains of an old T-shirt he'd torn up a few weeks before. The cloth was wrapped tightly around the branch a few layers thick, then lit with a match from his pocket.

Sam squinted as his torch flared. Luckily, as terrifying as being consumed by flames in his dreams on a weekly basis was, the fear hadn't carried over to real life flames. Except for when he was extremely tired or on edge. Camping during those times could get… tricky.

Sam raised the torch to light up his small camp. He moved it slowly from side to side until he saw a glint of metal. His free hand dove into the leaves, then emerged, triumphantly holding the locket aloft.

Before putting the torch out, Sam carefully opened the worn clasp. He smiled slightly when he saw both pictures in place and intact.

Seven years later, Sam wouldn't ever forget his mom's brave, determined face as she faced down Chung's gun. But, he preferred the easy smile she offered in the picture in his locket. Tender memories flooded Sam's mind, of photographing with his mom, of hiking into unknown regions, and of their numerous camping trips.

The picture in the other half of the locket was a stranger to Sam in everything but his face and a name: Angus. It was all Sam had of his father. That, and a few stories his mom had shared.

As a young kid, Sam had been more interested in his mom's daily activities, not the adventures she'd had with a man he'd never met. And maybe, a little bit, Sam didn't care. Sometimes it was hard to want to know the man that had, essentially, abandoned them both.

A chill ran through Sam, making him shiver. He clasped the locket shut and looked up as the tree branches above rattled. His torch flickered in the cool breeze until Sam swept aside some leaves and plunged the torch into the dirt.

A/N: Bear with me, peeps, the first two chapters are world-building a bit, getting to know Sam and all that.

Since Mac and Sam both state that Kate loved the name "Angus," I decided in this AU that Kate referred to Mac as Angus anytime she talked about him. And since I don't have a 45-minute time restraint, I'm toying with the idea that maybe Sam isn't so eager to know anything about his father. Yet.