Disclaimer: Not owning a thing. Well, except for the DVD version of this movie. That's about the extent of my ownership.

There wasn't a hell of a lot that Sam Hall hated. In fact, he liked to think of himself as a pretty laid-back guy. He didn't mind people (unless they were complete idiots), he didn't mind school (unless some moronic professor was failing him for no reason…Sam's blood boiled at the memory of his last math test), he didn't mind his family (although his father was almost never there—he had to admit that got on his nerves a bit).

But there was one thing that really grated on his nerves. And that was feeling helpless. Sam hated feeling helpless more than anything in the world.

What had he done that was so wrong, he wondered, that God had to put him in the most helpless situation ever?

He was seated on a plane, of all things, hundreds of feet in the air. He groaned to himself as he looked around for something, anything, with which to occupy himself.

"Peanuts," he mumbled to himself, ignoring the look Brian shot him from two seats over. "Thank you, God."

"I never knew you were such a spaz for nuts, Sammy," Brian teased. Sam glared at him briefly as his shaking fingers tore at the package. It refused to open and he cursed.

"Damn it! Can't anything go my way today?"

Beside him, Laura glanced up from her notebook and offered a warm smile. He felt her hand close gently over his own and looked up; she took the bag from him and ripped it open with her pencil.

"There," she told him with her usual sweet smugness. "Enjoy."

"Thanks," he mumbled, irritated with himself. What kind of guy needs a girl to open peanuts for him?

Brian appeared to be thinking the exact same thing. He smirked. "Aww, wittle Sammy needed Laura to open his nuts, eh?"

The slightly dirty undertones weren't lost on Sam, who threw one of the beloved bits of edibility at his friend. "Shut up," he mumbled, refusing to even peek over at Laura. Her head was bowed as her brown eyes perused the notes she had made. One hand twirled a lock of dark hair absently; Sam bit his lip.

This was another bit of his life that he wasn't quite so fond of. He normally wasn't this bad with girls, but when Laura came within twenty feet of him, he tended to become a slightly-clumsy mute. He couldn't be absolutely certain, but he was pretty sure that women-folk weren't big on doting on the shy, klutzy types. At least, Laura wasn't big on it. She seemed to like the intellectual guys…which was why he had opted for joining the team.

Sam had always been a smart guy, but teams? They weren't really his thing. Yet here he was, on a plane (Why?!) headed to New York. He must've been losing his mind, he realized blankly as he stuffed a handful of peanuts into his mouth. No sane person would put themselves through such hell.

His hands were still trembling. He cursed his phobia, finished the bag, and reached for another one.

Time passed. He couldn't be sure exactly how much time, but enough for him to munch on more peanuts than the average human should ever consume. He debated counting the packets on the tray in front of him and decided that that would probably only make him sicker.

One more bag, he announced mentally. One more and we'll be landing. We have to. There is no way we can stay up here for much longer.

One handful. Two. The salt was starting to make him a bit nauseous but he didn't care. This was all he had to keep him sane.

"You all right?"

The voice, as sweet as the owner, made him jump slightly in his seat. Laura was looking at him, head cocked to the side as sympathy shone in her bright eyes. Sam nodded through a very faint smile and made a dive for the next handful.

"He's afraid of flying," Brian explained in a monotonous tone of voice, his eyes skimming his book. Sam looked up sharply and frowned.

"I'm fine," he insisted, shoveling yet more peanuts into his mouth. Oh, God, I think I'm starting to sweat salt…

A tiny ding caught his attention and he looked up at the sign above his head. Fasten seatbelt? Shit…

Brian didn't help. "You know, statistically, the chance of a plane going down because of turbulence is less than…what? One in a billion?"

Sam closed his eyes and held back a whimper. His friend continued.

"Or is it a million? I can't remember if its—"

"Shut up, Brian," Laura interrupted. Sam made a mental note to kiss her for the intervention, assuming his ever gained the strength to admit that he'd been pining for her for years.

She turned to him, inching closer in her seat. If he hadn't been feeling quite so panicked, Sam might have taken the opportunity to admire the way she smelled or the fact that she was paying attention to him at all. He stared straight ahead. I won't move. If I don't move, nothing will happen…

"Listen, Sam. Don't listen to him, okay? Everything's fine, they're still serving drinks."

And this makes it fine? He nodded, still staring at the back of the seat in front of him. She smiled lightly and turned back to her notes.

A stewardess clomped by in high heels. She said something in hushed tones to another woman, then came clomping back up the aisle. Sam smiled hopefully up at her, but she ignored him and kept going. Well, this is filling me with a sense of security.

The plane gave a violent rumble. As Sam watched, the woman went to the back, pulled at a pair of curtains, and sat down. She fastened her own seatbelt, looking anxious. He swallowed.

Another ding preceded the captain's voice. "Folks, it appears we're going to have a bit of a bumpy ride here for the next few minutes. We ask that you please fasten your seatbelts and put your tray tables and seat backs in their upright positions until we get through this. Thank you."

Sam hurriedly obeyed the instructions, his hands shaking harder than ever before. Beside him, Laura placed a hand against her heart as if to gauge just how freaked out she was becoming.

The plane shook and there was a loud and collective, "Woooaaahh!" from the passengers. Someone yelled, "Grab it!" and Sam turned to look over his shoulder at whatever it was that was supposed to be grabbed.

A tray came hurtling past him, just missing his head. He turned his attention back to the seat in front of him, one hand instinctively reaching for the nearest thing. Mommy, he thought, feeling very much like a little boy.

Laura started and looked up at him; it had been her hand that he grabbed. Well, she'll do…

He leaned back against his seat and gripped her fingers harder, trying to concentrate on the softness of her skin, the way heat radiating against his palm. For a moment, he hated his shyness and wished to God that he could get through this, just to be able to tell her how he felt. The words pressed against his lips; he opened his mouth, but all that escaped was a terrified gasp.

Out the window, he could see the wind rushing. Discomforted by the sight of what would surely be death, he turned away—and a downpour of luggage landed on his head. Beside him, Laura gave a tiny moan of fear.

Closing his eyes and gritting his teeth together, Sam willed it to be over. A backpack bounced off his shoulder; he resisted the urge to cry.

And then, quite suddenly, it was done. The plane righted itself and the passengers stopped screaming. Sam's breath continued to come in short, jerky gasps and he tried to pacify himself. Deep breaths, Sam. Deep breaths. Inhale, exhale…man, her hand is soft…

"Sam?" Laura's voice was soft, questioning. At first, he thought he'd imagined it, but no. She repeated herself, a bit more forcefully. "Sam."

He looked up. She was smiling, but she looked a bit off-put and he realized blankly that he was crushing her fingers beneath his own.

Sure enough: "Can I have my hand back?" she asked quietly. He looked down at the armrest and released her; she clenched and unclenched a fist as if to make sure it was working properly. He nodded at her, trying to smile in a suave fashion. Yeah right. Suave. I'll be lucky if she doesn't sue for broken fingers…

She laughed, a bit nervously, he thought. It was a pretty sound; would have been beautiful if she hadn't been laughing at his stupidity. He was debating whether or not to slam his head against that lovely seat in front of his own when oxygen masks fell from the ceiling, scaring the crap out of him once more. He sighed. If this was how the entire trip was going to be, he was in for more than Hell. He was in for all nine circles.