Now, I don't have to climb the highest mountain,
and I don't have to sail the seven seas,
no, I don't have to push myself through desert sands,
'cause she's gonna find me here.
And I don't have to put on all my best clothes,
And I don't have to put on a show,
No, I don't to act like a total stranger,
'cause she's gonna find me here.

- Melee

Fall Semester, Week 3

It's Thursday night.

Popcorn kernels dot the carpet, and the four of them have moved solely in two-hour increments to switch the films. Cato's bundled himself in a heavy fuchsia blanket Glimmer stole from her parent's penthouse, his head draped across the loveseat's armrest, while Thresh, Finnick, and Glimmer are vegging out on the couch, their feet rested in warm socks on the coffee table like a bunch of uncultured swine.

They have been marathoning Marvel Avenger movies since four, with this 'brounion' in the works since the end of the summer, in preparation for The Avenger's DVD release next Tuesday.

In chronological order, they've watched Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and are about to pop in Iron Man 2, when Finnick's phone buzzes. He contemplates not answering, not withdrawing from the bet, when he lets out a sigh.

"Tough break, Finny," Glimmer teases as he draws his phone out of the cell phone tower with a frown, sending the rest tumbling.

"It's okay," Thresh says grandly, slapping a hand on Finnick's right shoulder, and using the other to form a wide canvas before them. "Our young chap is a working man, a protector of the citizens of Charlottesville," he says dramatically.

Cato and Glimmer hardly stifle their laughs. "Yeah, well next round of pizza is on you, Officer Odair," Cato says, grinning.

"Odair," Finnick answers with a sigh, dropping his phone reflexively at the ear-shattering shriek that reverberates from the other line.

"Finnick!" the voice pleads hysterically, choking violently on her words. He hears a few practiced breaths, before the sobs continue.

"Who's that?" Glimmer asks, the four them suddenly on edge.

Finnick locks up, panic permeating his skin, when Thresh grabs the phone hastily, and asks, "Where are you?"

"Fabs," she chokes. "Please hurry."

Then the line cuts off.

six hours earlier

"Order up!"

Clove bustles past the steaming kitchen into the office, a kick in her step as she drops her bag over her shoulder and onto an empty seat. "The prodigal child returns," a voice murmurs, not looking up from their paperwork. The young man crunches more numbers, a stream of paper pumping out of the calculator.

"You look like you need a drink," Clove observes, pulling her hair back and securing it into a taut bun. She leans over the olive-skinned man's shoulder, and watches as he continues his work.

"That's what happens when your right hand man disappears for three weeks," he replies acerbically.

Clove slinks back, and drags a black pullover cardigan over her head, fastening her badge, and collecting the mail from the shelf above his head. "Ever considered hiring another assistant manager, Titus?"

Titus looks up, quirking an eyebrow, and says with conviction, "I don't think you realize how poor I am."

Clove doesn't bother to mention that he's 23, single, and has two jobs.

"You're hardly poor," Clove says with a roll of eyes.

Nor does she mention it wouldn't be his pocket to pick in the first place.

"Am too. The babysitting gig goes straight to my tuition," he cuts.

"They're both babysitting gigs," Clove replies, glowering at her mail, then flippantly throwing it back into the slot.

Titus runs a hand through his dark hair, pulling the cuffs of his dress shirt up. "Yeah, begs the question, what's the real difference between spending all night watching a bunch of squirmy freshman try to grasp basic psychology and spending all day watching a rag-tag team of freshman run around the restaurant trying to take down orders."

"Cool story, bro. Tell it again."

"You make me regret promoting you everyday."

"That makes two of us," she says, lightly, and pushes his shoulder in an attempt to be encouraging.

"Keep an eye out on Bonnie," Titus presses, his lips thin, and eyes narrow, "She and Twill spend more time shooting the breeze than getting anything done. I tried to sit her down the other day, but she acted like I was going to eat her alive."

"Maybe with a little hot sauce," she says in jest.

Titus doesn't dignify that with a response.

"Oh, c'mon. You hired fresh meat without me." Clove goads, her bottom lip forced strategically over the top in a pout, "I wanted to be a part of the torture panel Mr. Flick made me suffer through when he hired me."

Titus crosses his arms, "Then next time you take a 'vacation,' make sure you have a valid excuse besides bird flu or syphilis."

He makes his exit before Clove can snap back with a retort of her own.

"Nice to see you too, Tightass," Clove mutters, dabbing a glob of hand sanitizer on her hands, and preparing for the night ahead.

Old timers have the option of taking their patrol cars home, but Finnick is hardly eligible for health insurance, let alone that. And truthfully, though his bartender days are far behind him, he's still a few years from 25, so he'd prefer it if the old cruiser didn't cockblock him.

With his Old Victoria at the station, he and Cato are racing past late-night drivers on the 250 in his old Honda, making their way through the southern edge of town in a haze.

Most days, this would be a ten minute drive. At least, a ten minute drive.

Cato is still, watching the dark highway signs with curiosity, but maintaining a cautious disposition. He doesn't speak, only watches, and it takes Finnick back.

They're two minutes away when he realizes he has to send out some on-duty officers, that he should have when he first got the call.

"Call the station, tell them we have a 10-65."

Cato sets the cell on speakerphone, it rings twice, before the standard, "911, what is your emergency?" picks up.

"Possible 10-65 at Fabios Southside," Cato repeats steadily. "Off-duty officer Odair, badge #64971 and intern en-route, bout' a minute from location."

The dispatcher reigns in backup, sirens soon ringing in the distance as they pull into the lot. Fabios, a popular pizza joint for locals and students alike, is rather poorly lit. Impulsively, Finnick bolts towards the door when the blonde pulls him back.

"We need to think this through."

They met three years ago - Labor Day Weekend 2009.

Finnick nods, discreetly trudging towards the door. It's been at least ten or eleven minutes, and that's more than enough to rearrange his stomach into practiced knots.

"Look," he says, pointing to the cash register. On the counter are several crumpled dollar bills and the till has been disturbed from its rightful place. A vase that once held business card lies in pieces on the floor.

He can vaguely piece a scenario together where an unwelcome intruder pounced on the unsuspecting assistant manager, just minutes after closing hour.

Is it her, or are there others? The thought trips him up, makes him take pause. Cato's right, they need to think this through.

Finnick could tell Cato had just grown into his limbs. He was tall, somewhat broad, and he stuck out like a sore thumb among the other boys in his fraternity recruitment group.

He looked like anyone you could have picked out of any boy band of the 1990s. Despite his first reservations, Finnick found Cato was far more loyal to his rush group, even the undesirable parties, than to any fraternity in particular, and he'd liked that, he liked that a lot.

He edges inside, mustering all his energy to do this as tactfully as possible. The dining room right beyond him is a blanket of darkness, a death trap if he makes one false step and raises alarm. "Stay outside," Finnick hisses.

"Fin," Cato protests.

"No," he cuts.

"What if you-"

"I don't have time for this. There are people in danger," Finnick rebukes. Cato hesitates, and draws back. Finnick shakes his head, and smirks, "Don't worry. I got everything handled, little bear."

He didn't know who was luckier - Theta Chi for getting Cato, or Cato for being the only one quite that rough around edges to become a member of Theta Chi. He was going to make the frosh his little brother.

His efforts were promptly thwarted when one of his brothers thought it would be a good idea to drag the pledges to the old Maplewood Cemetery as a class prank. The original plan been for the brothers to coerce the freshman into uncovering old confederate graves, with the lingering reward that the first to get a bone would become pledge class president.

Course, they hadn't prepared for what truly followed.

With a shaky nod, Cato steps idly towards his old Honda while Finnick makes a discreet entry into the pizzeria.

His eyes struggle to find light as he gingerly sneaks into the narrow hallway. With his gun tucked into his pants and his badge leveled in his pocket, Finnick leads towards the closest source of light - the kitchen.

Truly, the trip to the graveyard had been supposed to be a joke to spook em. All in good fun, as they say.

Except that this pledge class had been fully armed with thirty-one up and coming sociopaths, who apparently had no qualms around digging up hundreds of years in in rich Charlottesville history, and the initiated brothers, too arrogant to lose face, let the joke develop into its own nightmare, and suddenly 73 freshman and sophomore brothers had quickly become grave plunderers.

A squeak of feedback alerts Finnick to the burglar's approximate location."Fuckin' bitch, I'll find you," echoes from the loud speaker.

Finnick looks up, his face darkening.

This is the asshole's first fucking mistake, he decides, trekking towards the kitchen. With a second rustle, he ducks, then inches his way up to peer through the window.

The burglar is a picking through various kitchen supply drawers, and howls an expletive or two when he jabs one of his fingers on a particularly impressive knife. Finnick attempts to appraise if the burglar had a weapon on arrival. Either way, even if he didn't then, he does now.

He hisses, scrambling to find something to nurse his wound.

It was only fifteen minutes in and three feet deep and Cato had already fallen to his knees shaky, irate, and about to vomit. When he'd pulled the blonde away, Cato been hasty to shift the blame, crediting his reaction to the putrid smell of the rotting corpses.

When one of the mouthier pledges had called into question the older fraternity brothers' nerve, asking why they weren't digging, Cato had brazenly spat something to the effect that they were all talk, no balls.

Reasonably speaking, the likeliness of there being more than one burglar is low. However, at the moment, Cato's wary disposition yelling at him in the crevices of his subconscious to 'be careful' is the only thing saving this guy's neck, and he's willing to bet this charity case is a rehab reject straight outta hell.

At the moment, there are more important matters to attend to anyways.

He doesn't risk a glance at his phone, but by now it's been a quarter hour - 900 seconds, and all the burglars needed to put a bullet through her head was one.

This thought alone inspires motion as he glides past the narrow hallway. Finnick's eyes clench shut forcefully at the fluorescents, inching open after a few haste blinks.

As far he can see, the back office has been left undisturbed. There's little down the hallway aside employee lockers, an unlocked restroom, and the back door to a walk in freezer.

Finnick frowns.

Isn't that peculiar? As he tries to create a mental floorplan where the freezer's location could possibly make sense, he slams his fist against the wall.

That lapse in judgement leaves him scrambling, when the freezer door blows open and Clove stumbles directly into his arms. "Finnick," she breathes heavily, and then gets to her feet. "He's coming, we gotta move, we gotta-"

Unsteady, she clings to him, and he pulls her into his chest, willing his body to warm hers.

one hour earlier

They ask her her what it feels like to be a bona fide college girl.

Venia, Portia, Bonnie - all of them take turns prodding into her personal life while they flip over chairs, and collect any stray debris.

Collectively speaking, Clove thinks, it feels like: Sage, homework, Rec Club, Fabios, Gale, her new shrink, hot cocoa, Enobaria, Probation, her creepy neighbor x1, her creepy neighbor x2, and too many video diaries for class.

"I missed Dance Moms last night."

Which launches a long, intrepid conversation on her [lack of] taste in television.

Portia's seasoned, a veteran who teaches cosmetology by day, but strawberry blonde Venia, and bob-cut Bonnie are novel to the pizza joint. And what that means for Clove is that she's artfully diverted an inquisition into the status of her relationship with 'that hunky wilderness man.'

There are small miracles.

She turns off the dining room light. The sole evening glow emanating from the led sign that Clove switches to 'closed.'

"Alright, Gossip Girls, I gotta close up. Good night," she says with a faint smirk, as they flip over the last chair.

"Night," they say in cheery unison.

They disperse into the lot, each of them revving up the engines, and making conversation as they trail out one by one. She locks up, and rounds the register.

After keying in her code, the register pops open, and she moves to remove the till, when a stream of light erupts from the customer restroom. A figure comes forth, staring her down.

"Oh, sir. We're closed," Clove babbles, "I'm so, so sorry. Let me see you out. Again, I apo-"

"I need a copy of my receipt," the man murmurs lowly.

She bobs her head in agreement, "Certainly. Let me-"

His hands sneak into the register, and that's when Clove slams the till shut. Coins burst forth from the register with a clatter, "You bitch, I'll get you for that!"

That's when she runs for cover.

"Is he-"


"I told ya I'd find you, bitch," the man spits, barreling through the door after Clove with a manic look in his eye. His hand is still bleeding, but it's the knife in his left hand that catches Finnick's attention most.

"Drop your weapon!"

He comes to a standstill, Finnick in his line of vision, and stalks forward. "Who the fuck are you?" the man snarls, before grabbing Clove by the coattails of her long locks, and dragging her back towards him. She falls away from his arms and barely catches her footing.

"Finnick!" she screams, panic settling in.

"Police, drop your weapon!" the redhead barks.

The burglar has the audacity to smirk. "Don't look like a Hoo to me," he taunts. The man's eyes lock in on Finnick's hand inching towards his waist, when he says, coolly, "She'll be gone before you draw it."

"If you want the money, you can have it," Finnick assures.

"And why the fuck should I trust you?"

"You can leave. Take whatever you want. I won't follow, I promise," Clove reasons. "It's against the rules, I'd lose my job. Pleas-"

His grip on Clove's shoulder tightens, forcing her to look at him. "Like you give a fuck about rules, lying cunt. Made my job a lot harder than it had to be by running. Brought this on yourself."

She cries out, "I won't fight, please just stop. I want to go home, I want to go home to my daughter."

The burglar throws her to the ground, and says to himself, "Sadie won't let me see my kid. Consider yourself fucking lucky."

Clove crumples to the ground, her face a sickening, harsh red as she struggles for air. That's when Finnick decides to level the playing field.

With the new promise that he'd have the sole responsibility of climbing into the graves and excavating the bones himself, Cato had levied a heavy threat to call police, and tear down 95 years in fraternity history.

In retaliation, the collective reduced him to a bleeding slab of skin and bone. Cato had put up a tough fight, went down swinging, but in a fight 30 to 1? He didn't look much better than Gibson in Passion of the Christ.

"What do you want?" he asks the burglar affirmatively.

Clove's fetal, entirely away from the situation. A cocoon might be a fairer description.

He vision shifts to the perpetrator. The burglar is hardly older than he is, with scruffy brown hair, biting, bitter brown eyes, dressed in a black Steelers' sweatshirt, and athletic shorts. Finnick wonders if he woke up this morning and thought to himself, 'I think I'm going rob Fabios today.'

"We've agreed to allow you the money, that we won't follow, there's not much more that we can do, but we're trying to be cooperative. What do you want?"

The burglar spits, "Flickerman. I want the old man."

"Who's that?"

"The owner, but he's out of Richmond. He doesn't- It'd be hours," Clove whimpers.

"You don't have hours," the burglar threatens. His menacing aura dissipates for a flash as he works to keep himself warm. Finnick doesn't have that problem - the adrenaline is enough, but Clove is along the same lines. She's cold, fetal, and has been in the freezer for an extensively longer period of time than they have. There's only so much time before hypothermia sets in.

"And what's he got?" Finnick interrupts, "Maybe we can help."

He scowls. "Get me his home address. You-" he points at Clove, "You can open the files, right?"

She nods within the cocoon. "You can have any of it, just get us out of the freezer. It's so-" Clove shivers.

Cato picks the worst moment to makes his dramatic entrance.

"I'm deactivating," Finnick informed the chapter president the following Monday afternoon.

"Don't be hasty-"

"You don't think the police aren't already scouring the city looking for suspects?" he asked pointedly.

"Admittedly, it was a joke that got out of hand, but Finnick, your brothers look up to you. You're a leader, we've all seen it. You recruited one of the most impressive pledge classes in chapter history."

He raised his brows, "I recruited a band of thugs. Doesn't matter what you're wearing, Dalton. Uncovering the dead is illegal. Pretty fucked up too."

"Young men often make colorful decisions, but boys will be-"

"If you say boys will be boys, I'm gonna wreck your ugly mug. You're going to be a teacher for fuck's sake."

The president sighed, "There must be something that can be done. I'm trying to be cooperative."

"Look," he cut off shortly, "I can't control much, but you better believe I can control which assholes I decide to call my friends. Desecrating graves, then nearly murdering one of our pledges is not the Theta Chi I gave the last year of my life to."

"What do you want me to say?"

"I don't want you to say anything," Finnick said finally. Resigned, he added, "Have fun putting out the fire, Dalton."

Despite what every episode of COPS tries to convince the general public of, most police work is traffic tickets, drunk people, keeping old ladies company, petty theft, and disorderly conduct.

He doesn't solve homicides or scour the city for sexual predators. He's arrested two panhandlers, and even that left him ethically conflicted.

Police work, to be summed, is not speeding down the highway to save a friend from burglars. It is also not leaping onto said burglar, who is armed with a fucking knife, because one's intern has extremely poor timing, and has walked into the freezer where they've been being held hostage for the last ten minutes, and is consequently about to get all involved parties killed.

"Get the knife," he coughs, the burglar's calloused hand at his throat, his back flat against the floor, "Ca-"

Finnick knees the man in the stomach, and flips him over. It's only seconds after that the burglar is successfully detained, the kitchen knife collecting a layer of vapor from the corner it's been nudged into by the edge of Cato's Converse.

"Perimeter is clear," one of the officers shouts from the kitchen. "They're in here, Rowlands."

"Both of you, out," Finnick pants.

"Maybe it's better," Cato begins.

"Out!" Finnick roars, turning his face back towards the two. Clove doesn't hesitate, moving uncoordinatedly towards the door. Cato trails after her, keeping her steady.

The officers make their untimely entrance, securing the area before Officer Rowlands handles the burglar, pulling him from the ground harshly. "Not bad, rook," Teller says offhandedly. "Not the smoothest technique, but a good damn effort. Your arm, that's gotta be checked."

That's when the adrenaline wears off, and he becomes painfully aware of the long, diagonal cut across the exterior of his forearm, one certainly liable to scar. Finnick grins to himself a little, despite that, musing over the gash.

Teller presses a kitchen rag to his wound, scoffing at his hiss of pain, "Pay attention, kid. You really don't want to turn this guy's charge in a felony murder."

"Medics on the way," Rowlands adds, clenching the burglar's arms carelessly in the bonded cuffs.

Finnick nods. "Weapons over there," he gestures, cocking his neck to the right. "I gotta check on the others, make sure they made it out alright."

Clove is comfortably perched in Finnick's driver-side seat, oriented with her feet outside of the vehicle. Cato returns from the redhead's trunk with a quirky smile. "Look what I found," he says, offering her a black hooded sweatshirt. Embedded on the back is University of Virginia - Department of Criminal Justice in white text, encapsulating the scales of justice.

She accepts the jacket. "This one's a classic."

"He's gonna give you a piece of his mind," Clove informs him, sliding on the jacket.

"Yeah," he slumps, slightly. "First day of the gig he said not put myself in any dangerous situations."

"Beginner's luck."

"My brother's up in Baltimore, and he's never been mugged. Says he's never been, anyway," Cato muses. "Makes me wonder how sleepy Charlottesville fell prey."

The two hush up as Finnick approaches. Torn, he finally says, "You need me to call-"

"There's no way to finish that sentence without more headache," Clove pipes up, "Just give me a ride home?"

Finnick frowns, "Not until you're medically cleared." He waves down the paramedics, makes an agreement to answer statement questions with officers on-scene, and then adds, "Mind Cato tagging along? Because it's either him, Gale, or-"

"But I'm fine!"

"You were locked in a freezer for twelve minutes, Clove. You're not fucking fine."

"I locked myself in the freezer for twelve minutes," Clove corrects.

Cato arches his eyebrows, adding, "Yeah, you definitely need to be medically cleared. What if you got hypothermia?"

"Or twisted something-"

"What if you wake up and have a seizure, or an aneurysm, or-"

"Catch frostbite and have to saw off your own foot," Finnick adds louder than he meant to, with Officer Rowlands and Teller shooting him a look.

"I am not a damn toddler, Fin," she snaps, pushing him away. "Thank you for saving my life, really, but I can make my own decisions, and right now all I really want to is go to bed, so if you can shut the fuck up for two minutes and listen to me like an adult, I promise to be the world's best witness, but right now I really just want to be alone, and you're making everything worse!"

Finnick gives the best hugs. Clove's sure he has a lot more going for him than just that, but Finnick has always been qualified with safe. For a cop, he's particularly non-threatening, the right sort of temperament to break stereotypes.

But back to his hugs - Finnick gives the best hugs.

And once she'd started crying, he'd drawn her into a supportive hug, disclosing in an uneven tone that he was so grateful that she was okay. There were a few sentences here and there about God, prayer, and grace, before he'd pleaded with her to be medically cleared before going home.

That's when she noticed the old dish rag wrapped around his forearm.

"It's not hot chocolate," Cato prefaces lightly about an hour later, "But look what I got you."

Clove fails to a suppress a yawn, mumbling a faint "thank you" as she unwraps the six pack of Oreos.

Cato slumps into the seat beside Clove's bed, looking very disparaged by the entire experience, and inquires cautiously, "Can I ask you something?"

"Guess so," she says, nestling closer to the pillows.

"It was your first time, wasn't it? That's why you looked so panicked, right? I didn't mean to scare you."

"Oh, no, this is the late night routine at Fabios every Thursday. Sorry if I bothered you," Clove spits, her eyes suddenly narrow.

Cato cringes, "I meant seeing Effie. Fuck, I'm sorry."

"Cato, I can only handle one episode of the Clove-trauma train at a time," she replies warily. "I'm seeing a shrink, and you're seeing a shrink. Alas, dear soldier, your quest to find the world's pointiest hair gel continues."

One thing that's kept him considerably in tact in the last ten days has been taking Clove Holloway with a grain of salt, and so he responds with a grin, "It's a perilous journey, commander."

When she offers him one of the Oreos, his grin widens. "I fixed the report," reading in a theatrical tone, "Clove Holloway, born in Shaler, Pennsylvania to Balthazar and Elma. By the way, your hometown? Mega wonderbread. 97% of the population is white. I looked it up on city-data. You think they kept the 3/5s law?"

"Get a life," Clove groans, dragging the blanket above her head.

"You have one sister, Annie, and your best friends are Gale, and Volpe. No dog, though. That sucks. No wonder you're seeing a shrink."

"Bet Marissa loves that you've got a special nickname for her," Clove chortles.

"That's alright," he counters cheekily, "I got a nickname for you too."

Warily, she peels the blanket off. "If it's any form of the words pipsqueak, short stuff, or little one, you'll wish our neighborhood burglar had put the knife to your throat instead."

"Snivellus Snape, actually. Holds a very dear place in my heart."

"Gee, thanks."

"If you had any taste, you'd realize it's a backhanded compliment," Cato retorts defensively.

"Yeah, nothing sweeter than to be compared to a greasy, neo-nazi stalker. How did I miss the symbolism in that?" she says, dripping sarcasm.

"Snape was innocent."

"We're on that kick again?" Clove asks. "Alright, fine. And how exactly did you know this years before the rest of us muggles did?"

Cato bites down on his lower lip and then smiles, slightly off-kilter. "Most people's intentions can be read by the consistency in their patterns of behavior. Hence the nickname."

"Snape was a colossal douchebag."

"But most good people are. I'd rather be friends with an unkind good person, than an amicably evil one instead. That's what really seals it," Cato informs her, "Over the span of seven years, Snape tries to save Harry from falling off his broom, being attacked by his parent's murderer, deatheaters when he tries to save Sirius from the ministry, and then when Dumbledore tells him Harry has to die, his response is anger. Who do you know who would put in that much effort to save someone they don't even like?"

Clove scoffs, "You missed the part where he had a boner for Harry's mother."

"That's a harsh generalization."

"You keep telling yourself that."

And that is how the pair ends up debating the merits of Severus Snape between five packs of Oreos and two bags of Cheez-Its until sunrise.

AN - The first semester takes place in fall of 2012, with the second semester continuing into spring 2013. For the reviewer who was upset by the Dicey cameo last chapter, he won't actually be appearing. So the flashback between Finnick and Cato takes place in the fall of 2009. Theta Chi is supposed to be shorthand for The Capitol in this scenario.

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