Have you ever spun out of control
Like you never saw the road ahead
Have you ever just kept looking back
Ever closer to the edge.

- Delta Goodrem

Fall semester: Week 1: Wednesday

It's an unbearably warm day - roasting, toasting, unbelievably hot. In a few short weeks, autumn will settle in with a rustling of the leaves, and the climate will temper out, but in the meantime, Cato is developing heat rash. At least, that's what he's telling himself as he squirms, readjusting in the passenger seat of Finnick's patrol car. And it smells.

It's so entirely pungent that he's convinced that the entire roster of the Cavaliers ditched their sweaty jockstraps in the backseat. The longer Cato entertains the possibility, the longer the blonde doubts that's even plausible; The University of Virginia football team blows. Like, seriously blows, and he hopes their "johns" are paying them a fairly competitive rate, because they're a rather disappointing bunch of sad sacks - or at least they were the last time he watched a game - his freshman year, 09, when they barely managed to win a quarter of the season's games.

He hasn't kept up since.

He defies stereotypes.

As he settles down into the seat, Cato notices the coffee shop down the road. He can almost imagine the ring the bell makes as the door to Java Java creeps shut. His eyes shift to an elderly man walking his dog (well, more like the dog is walking him) with one hand while shuffling his copy of the Daily Progress in the other. The aroma of freshly baked croissants wafts in a gentle breeze, and Cato's stomach growls in protest.

Cato's is about 193% sure that if he has to stick around this festering pile of puss (the hot, angry leather of Finny's passenger seat) any longer that he may in fact hijack the old cruiser and dive straight for the Arctic. Fair is fair, Finny.

Since Marvel is uninterested in contrived politeness, Cato texts this instead to the moody twenty-year-old junior. For someone determined to be grown up, you're sinking, squirt. The least you can do is let me know you made it home okay.

He's a man of few words today and none of them are nice.

Where the hell is Finnick?

12:42, and still no sight of the bronze-haired Adonis anywhere.

one... two... three...

Maybe he should have majored in theater like Marvel.

four... five... six...

"Personal call," Finnick says as he rejoins the blonde in the driver's seat of the old Victoria. He adjusts the walkie-talkie on his belt, and blasts the air. That's much, much better. "Possible domestic dispute off of Commonwealth and Peyton."

Cato tries not to let envy pinprick his skin as a couple of sorority girls walk out of the coffee shop with delightfully sweet iced coffees and their world-famous cinnamon buns. "Who called it in?"

"Confidential informant."

Okay, whatever. It's not like Finnick has to trust him or anything. That's fine. Not like he's totally seen him drunk off his ass and total wreck. Not like he's taken him home after his wild nights out, and promised not to tell that priest. Finnick is the catholiest of Catholics, and isn't trust supposed to be a virtue?

The engine is roaring before Cato can think to utter such a complaint, and then Finnick is looking over to him with a whimsical, slightly smug smirk. "Cut out the Eeyore crap. It's supposed to be an adventure - you, me, and the patrons of Charlottesville at our feet."

Finnick has that about as twisted as it can get.

"You make orphans look cheery," he whines.

"Fin, I'm going to spend another thirty minutes with me, myself, and Queen Victoria, so there's not really a lot to look forward to," Cato says breezily.

"It's Elizabeth, Cato. Elizabeth is the queen. Victoria died in, like, 1901 or something. I took Modern Britain in summer school, and-"

"I was talking about the car, you putz," Cato remarks, leaning his head back, exasperation dripping from every surface that is the 6'2, 180-pound grouch. He checks his phone once again, and to his disdain, there is still no reply.

Autumn Hills Apartments is a rather rundown place, with the sticky, garish trash containers overflowing in nearly toxic measures, and last night's dinner oozing down the side. The Health Department would have a field day. Fire ants line the bounty of empty two-liter bottles clustered around the base of the can, and broken glass is littered throughout the lot sporadically. Cato wouldn't be surprised to find an obese rodent or two making it out like kings.

He wobbles up the three-flight trek, every step ricocheting off the pavement and magnifying as the sound disperses. Forget subtlety. With every clink or clatter, Cato quickly learns that this complex is dangerous. A sneak escape would be near-impossible. Every step is an avalanche. So, before they press their knuckles to the door, Cato already knows the outcome of this call.

Finnick knocks, about to call out, when there's a shuffle inside the apartment. A man yells angrily, before trudging across the floor, and opening the door. "What do the fine men of Hoo-ville PD want with me today?"

Their perpetrator, Mr. Cray, is a caricature of Captain Hook: long, greasy hair, and unforgiving eyes. "We received a courtesy call, and are here to ensure that everyone in your home is safe. May we come in, sir?"

Captain Hook's eyes narrow in suspicion, "Call from who?" he spits.

"We need to ensure everyone in the home is safe. May we come in?"

"Aren't you the bartender at McGrady's?"

Cato's never really thought about the fall-out, the consequences of such a transition. By the unflinching waver in Finnick's sea green eyes, this must happen often enough that he's become wholly unaffected by the recognition of his glory days. And boy, Cato doesn't mind recognizing them either.

"Sir, you can either allow us in, or we will enter ourselves. I'd prefer the courtesy of your permission," he grits.

That's most certainly a bluff. Anyone who's watched two minutes of Law and Order SVU could tell you that, but Captain Hook seems to buy it.

Mr. Cray rolls his eyes, and hurriedly gestures his hands wildly for the two to come in. "Hurry your business, boys. I don't have time to wait for the rest of fucking of your fucking frat party to show up."

Arching his brows up slightly, Cato follows Finnick into the musty apartment with mild curiosity. Crumpled up beer cans fill the hallway, and the vomit's scent lingers in open air. His nose finds the source, immediately, and locks in on the repulsive, severely degraded carpet.

"Anyone else live here?"

"No," Mr. Cray replies firmly.

But it's a domestic dispute, and it takes two to tango. So on a hunch, Cato slips into the bedroom while Finnick takes Mr. Cray aside. Easiest tactic in the book.

For a moment, Cato looks out the window. Maybe she climbed down the fire escape, maybe she-

A small rustle steals Cato's eyes away from the window.

Grimacing at the carpet, he resorts to getting onto his knees and looking for weapons under Mr. Cray's bed. The least he can do is check. His blue eyes widen immediately as they capture a thin, red-haired woman biting her lip, trying her hardest not to cry. Cato whispers, "Are you injured?"

She shakes her head as much as she is able to in such a confined state.

"Do you need medical attention?"

There's no reply, and for a minute, he thinks she'll flee. "I can help, you know, get you to safety if you let us."

This seems to startle the woman even more, and the redhead begins to shake erratically. "Finnick!" Cato calls.

It's the wrong move, entirely the wrong move, and he realizes this a moment too late. "It'll be okay," he tells her softly, grimacing slightly at the booming steps. He offers his hand, but she doesn't take it, doesn't even look at him.

Finnick rounds into the room, Mr. Cray looming behind. "I thought you said no one else was here," Finnick says, an edge in his voice.

"You asked if anyone lives here. Lavinia doesn't live here."

"Are you injured?" Finnick asks, his voice cool.

Again, she shakes her head. "Would you like to tell us what happened?"

"Nothing happened," Mr. Cray interrupts gruffly. He looks expectantly at Lavinia, and she shies away.

"I need a statement, mam."

"Lavinia doesn't have anything to say to you."

"Sir, intimidating a witness is a felony. I need you to please step back," he says roughly, creating space between all parties. Lavinia stands on wobbly knees, unable to look either of them in the eye. "One last time, madam, are you hurt, or need medical attention?"

Mustering the energy, Lavinia shakes her head one last time. Finally, Finnick mutters, "In case of emergency, call 911. Have a nice day, mam." He looks up to Mr. Cray, "Sir, because of the noise complaint, I will be issuing you a disorderly conduct citation. The court should mail you a hearing time within five business days."

Finnick bristles towards the door, but Cato's encapsulated in ice. There's not a chance Lavinia will escape the night and unscathed, and it leaves a hollowing in his chest. "Cato, let's go," Finnick calls unsympathetically.

He trudges out of the apartment, dead weight in his feet. And he's too distracted by the heaviness within to attune himself to anything the bronze-haired man is saying as they return to the old Victoria.

"Think of it as an autobiographical exposé."

Clove's eyelashes flutter slightly, the lines under her eyes pronounced. They'd done a round of two truths and a lie as their class icebreaker. It's in Clove's most modest opinion that they are a few years too old for this practice, but her opinion hardly matters, because apparently that was a segue.

Cato informed their peers that he owns every season of Scrubs, he knew Snape was innocent, and that loathes anything coconut flavored.

He's leaning forward, his chin comfortably nestled in his arms. Every so often he sips from his coffee canister and checks his phone, but today the blonde has been impressively docile. If Clove had a conscience, she'd ask him if he was alright. As it stands, she doesn't.

"You and your partner are about to become very intimate."

That draws the collective's attention, and suddenly Professor Abernathy - eccentric, dramatic Professor Abernathy - is gesturing wildly at the crowd.

Uneasiness falls over the collective as he nears. Clove's mind goes to all the wrong places. There are laws, university policies, and the concept of basic common decency that most certainly wouldn't be amenable to any lascivious conduct.


But none of the students can pluck enough guts to falter the long-winded lecturer, so the conversation dances on. "You will be painting a metaphorical portrait of each other's strengths, adversities overcome, and most minute weaknesses."

"Could you be any more vague?" Clove mumbles into her sleeve.

A couple of the other students are dragging and refreshing the Facebook feed on their phones while Professor Abernathy sweeps around the classroom in a manic, erratic rant.

"The reason we endeavor on this project is to come to an understanding that while we all come from various walks of life, that often there is more than meets the eye."

Clove notices how Cato's head rises at the assertion, a tuft of his messy hair sticking up. Though no less worn-out, he's suddenly intrigued, invested, intensely drawn.

Maybe he'd be better off as a philosophy major.

"You two, you two, you two, and you two," Professor Abernathy begins, pairing off from left to right. Clove prays for- "And you two."

Damn it.

"Can we skip the whole you hating me thing?" Cato asks as he turns towards her, "We can pick it up again tomorrow, and you can call me a brainless Delta Mu Phi or whatever gets you hot. Seeing as how this thing we have is now a Monday through Friday thing."

"Delta Mu Phi?" Clove asks tiredly.

"Dumb motherf-"

Clove's mouth gapes slightly, and then her jaw tightens quickly into place. "Wow," she deadpans, secondhand embarrassment radiating off of her in hot waves, "and I thought I didn't have a sense of humor, but that was... that... I'm pretty sure you could hear a pin drop... in Japan! Maybe even in outer space."

Offense crinkles his eyes and wrinkles his nose, followed by his own shade of embarrassment as he rubs at the back of his neck. "But it's not even my joke. I heard it from a drunkard in a compost heap!"

"And you thought it was worth repeating, Leno?" Clove retorts, still uneven.

"Fine, not my best, but five bucks say I make you laugh by the end of this project."

"Too easy," Clove scoffs.

"That's what I've been told." Hunching his shoulders inward, Cato effectively narrows the space between them, and gives her a seductive wink.

"Not really making a good case for yourself," Clove remarks, entirely unamused. After a few uncomfortable moments pass, Clove swats him with a folder, "Cut it out!"

His attention is on the professor once more, who has made his way around the room, passing out death certificates and stealing candy from small children in record time. Resuming his former position of relapsed junkie, Cato leans into his arms, and attempts to listen attentively as Professor Abernathy further explains the project.

With a soft sigh, Clove digs into her mess of a messenger bag and fetches a plastic bottle, drowning her desk in crumpled up papers and post-it notes. Reaching over him, Clove places the peace offer on the blonde's desk, and prods him to accept.

He has half the bottle down his gullet in three seconds flat.

"Thanks," Cato replies. "Truce?"

"Don't get ahead of yourself," Clove returns, mostly in jest. With a little bit of hydration, Cato looks volumes healthier. Much less like a strung-out meth addict, and more like a Disney kid gone rogue, so not great, but not darn awful either.

As the girl aside Cato hands him a stack of papers, Clove marks down the date of their first assignment - the one that has been artfully titled [the] 'getting to know you' assessment. And on this wondrous assessment, it seems both parties ask reciprocal basic information about one another that seems better apt for a Myspace bulletin straight of 2006.

"You're not getting my middle name," is the first thing out of Clove's mouth as she peruses the questions detailed.

"Is it Mildred?" Cato inquires, chewing on the cap of his pen.


"Bet it's-"

"This isn't Caesar's Palace, sweetums."

"So it's definitely not Gladys?"

"My birthday is August 31st," she cuts.

"That's my brother's birthday," and there's a smile that brightens Cato's tone. Dropping his phone with a thud onto the desk, Cato adds, "My very melodramatic brother."

"That's question number 7," Clove announces, "And if you want melodrama, you should meet my sister, she's 22. Bet she could out-drama your brother any day."

"Marvel's 20, and you'd lose that bet" Cato orients his desk towards Clove, and then opens his mouth, "And then ther-"

"Number 8 is about allergies. My kryptonite happens to be mangy, tick-infested felines, and yours are...?"

Cato closes his mouth, then muses for a moment. "No allergies. 'Less you're counting hospitals."

"I'm going to assume that was a smart-mouthed remark, and strike it from the record."

"Good idea," he says, a half smirk edging its way up his his face, before he settles on number nine. "Six words you would place on your headstone?"

"I wanted to be cremated."

"That's five words."

"comma 'morons'"

Stifling a laugh, Cato cocks his head to the right. "Think mine would be along the lines of 'And they never saw it coming.'"

And there's a pit in her stomach, where Clove isn't too sure what the blonde's angle is, because despite the ease he makes the remark in, there's weight to the statement, significance or something. She retracts, looking him over uncomfortably, with a slur of words on the cusp of her lips when Professor Abernathy cuts her off.

Cato's chin sinks into his arms, and Clove's suddenly left with more questions than answers.

AN - I've been working on an outline for this story, which is more like a clutter of ideas I am trying to tie together. Cato and Clove's project will explained more thoroughly in the following chapters, as it will set the tone/pace for the chapters.

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